Archive for the ‘power cuts’ Category

House Hunting

March 6, 2008

There is a chance we will have to move house.


And so we are house hunting. In most parts of the world this would mean an exercise in box ticking:

Proximity to work? Access to schools? 3 bedrooms? Or four? Number of bathrooms? Parking facility? Large garden? Or just a patio?

There is rather less choice here and so, in order not to miss any unlikely gems, we are forced to view every property that every obliging Outpost resident comes up with. (And when word is out that some fool who’ll pay a rent and renovate a place is looking, dozens do).

The first that we visit, excitedly, because it means an outing for Hat and I at any rate,  belongs to Hanif who is a very fat Swahili of Arab descent. He has brought a mate along with him, whom I have met many times and who, for reasons I have not yet fathomed, is called Parish. Parish is proprietor of a petrol station.  He chews betelnut and is generally font of all local knowledge.

I regard the house, when we arrive, tailing Fat Hanif and smaller Parish, is some dismay. It is huge, granted, plenty of space for all my assorted children, animals and books. But the garden is tiny. Indeed it is almost non-existent. The house fills the available walled space. It is also, rather bizarrely, unfinished: the walls are unpainted, the windows devoid of glass, the doorways of doors and the first floor of a staircase to get up there.  There is little in the way of plumbing (except for an outside water tank which – considering the healthy crop of sugar cane growing alongside it – has a serious leak) and no electricity. Husband politely enters the doorless doorway for a guided tour of the ground floor (we can only admire the first from below). Hat and I wait outside on the pretence of admiring the ‘garden’ whilst I try to stifle my giggles and Hat her disappointment. Hanif, judging by appearances, eats too well to be able to afford to finish the grand residence he optimistically began.

We promise to be in touch but not before husband enquires as to how peaceful the neighbourhood is. I could have told him: the house is a spit from the biggest hotel in town which runs a disco with live band every night.

‘Oh it is lovely and peaceful here’, promises Parish (who is clearly in line for some commission).

‘Except for the hotel …’ adds Hanif looking at Parish doubtfully.

Oh but that’s very far, says Parish, chewing and waving our concern dismissively away.

It’s not: I can see it just around the bend.

We move onto the second house. Husband has high hopes of this one because he is an eternal optimist. Hat and I, on other hand, have been quietly laying bets as to how ghastly it’ll be on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being ghastly beyond any redecorating redemption). Hat has bet a 2.  Her wager an informed one; she’s seen enough of the Outpost to know.

We meet the owner and follow him to the house. First impressions are promising: the area is quiet and secluded and shaded by huge old trees.

This looks better, says Husband.

It’s not. Though there are windows and doors and electricity and plumbing, it is all – along with 3 bedroom and 2 bathrooms – squeezed into the tiniest space. The flat I shared in London was a veritable broom cupboard. This was smaller. That was when I merely needed a place to lay my head and change my clothes. This needs to accommodate assorted children, animals and books. Not to mention a husband of almost 6ft2. We politely viewed the property, husband doing three point turns to get into and out of rooms. The kitchen is a lean-to of corrugated iron sheets. Water, we are promised, is not a problem (funny that; it is in most parts of the Outpost). I can’t help but notice the ranks of plastic drums which are being used to store same.

The house is a bit on the small side, admits Husband trying to turn around in corridor, shall we have a look at the garden he suggests?. We do. It is vast. Acres of space. An acre, to be precise says the owner, of – at the moment – mostly maize and beans and sweet potatoes. I imagine a pool and chickens and enough grazing for my much missed geese. I imagine bowling nets for my son. I imagine a treehouse for the girls. I imagine space to play badminton. I image a vegetable garden and herbs in tubs.

What’s that, I ask, pointing towards a derelict building on the boundary of the land.

‘That’, says our guide cheerfully, ‘is the old Hindu crematorium. But is is no longer in use’ he adds hastily when he sees Hat’s face.

Thank God. Though his attempt at reassurance doesn’t stop my vivid imagination running further amok with ghosts, ghouls and insomnic children too afraid of next-door departed to sleep. Not least because somebody has graffiti’d the word Phantom in bold black letters on the walls.

We leave – promising to be in touch. If we can come up with a realistic plan as to how to extend the shoebox to fit (unlikely), and the necessary wherewithal to carry out any extensions we might have dreamt up (even more unlikely).

That evening we see the third and final property of the day. We are obliged to collect the owner and give him a lift to the house which he swears he owns. It is a charming little cottage, remnant of the days of Colonial administration, in a big garden. A watchman appears as we drive in. He does not look as if he has any clue who the owner is. Nor does the housegirl who stands on guard by the backdoor.

How many bedrooms does it have? I enquire.

Two …? No. Um …3, says the owner, thinking hard..

And bathrooms?

“One”, he says, more emphatically. “I think?”.

A toto appears and sweetly greets us all.

Is mama in, asks the ‘owner’?

Yes, says the child, venturing towards the door. Eagleeyed, watchdog house girl quickly hisses, ‘no, she’s not’.

I giggle.

Do your tenants know that you are planning to rent this house out to somebody else? asks husband suspiciously.

Oh yes, says the owner, ‘I have given them notice, they will leave at the end of this month and then you can move in’.

I’m not moving in anywhere until I’ve seen the inside, I say quickly.

The owner shrugs. He clearly doesn’t see the necessity of viewing the house inside and out. But he’s going to work to accommodate this quirk.

Assuming, of course, the property really belongs to him.

Given that he was due – but has failed – to call me today to fix a time to re-view, this seems unlikely.  You’ve got to hand it to him though: bloody good try.




December 27, 2007

My protracted silence has been borne of many things – Christmas amongst them, naturally. A house bursting happily at the seams too, strewn with discarded wrapping paper and the scatter cushions I acquired when I aspired – long ago – to be a proper housewife lie, well, scattered but not elegantly upon tidy sofas, rather as ankle twisting ambushes across the sitting room floor.

The mince pies are dwindling. I thought about Kate Reddy, the heroine of Allison Pearson’s book I don’t know how she does it as I crossly and hotly pummelled shortcrust pastry and urged it unwilling into pie tins: Kate Reddy buys her mince pies, decants them from giveaway packaging and – in a bid to appear a proper mother – knocks them about with a rolling pin to make them look a little more homemade. I didn’t need to knock mine about; they looked knocked about all by themselves. And I’m not sure I projected the image of proper mother as I made my own, swearing in frustration as bloodyminded pastry sprang back into the shrunken shapes I was trying to avoid or clung to the worktops in a desperate last attempt to dodge a hot oven. No matter; they are being eaten.

We sourced our Christmas tree in the bush during a picnic when it rained and the dog ate the roast chicken, we decorated it outside where it looked quite ordinary until night fell and the strings of lights reflected merrily in our small pool. Christmas Eve came and my children – presumably to prove my lessons in trying to live with a Glass Half Full approach to life were reaping reward – hung pillow cases for Santa in lieu of stockings: why, after all, hang something so meagre when – being the optimisists your mother aspires to mould you into – you could aim much higher.

Christmas lunch was mellow, cold roast chicken and ham alternated with chilled beer and dips in the pool, and all between cloudbursts. The rain which falls in torrential sheets as I write has, in recent days, drowned the services of the internet, the telephone and the satellite television connection several times.

So the year fades. And all before I managed to write a single Christmas card; does the time really pass faster as we get older or does it just seem that way?  Will I manage to compose a Round Robin letter in the New Year to crow about my children’s achievements and aspirations (which include Amelia’s second ear piercing in 2007 and plans for a belly ring in 2009). Or will good intentions lie scattered – like the cushions and the mince pie crumbs – across a floor strewn with discarded wrapping and damp towels?


Rallying Cry of a Rooster

May 14, 2007


I ought to have anticipated that the move would finally catch up with me.

It has. And now I feel overwhelmed.  And sad. Camping in the hiatus between packing up here and unpacking over there has lost any novel value it might – briefly – have had. The house is cold and cavernous and I feel dreadfully sad at witnessing, at such close quarters, its soullessness after enjoying it as home for so long.  I am impatient to move on but I have to wait until the end of the school year. I’m not good at waiting. And I’m especially not good at waiting in the dark.

The power cuts are endless. As is the rain.

The weekend seemed so too. It got off to a shaky start.

The cow, which I had been told had died on Friday evening (and was too queasy to investigate for myself so serves me right) had not. Instead she had lain, semi-conscious, in the cold and the wet all night, shivering and labouring to breath. 

Very early on Saturday morning Rehema informed me that the night watchmen had woken her up in the middle of the night asking to kill the cow themselves – not on any humane grounds but because they are hungry, having not been paid for months, and wanted the meat.

I – still in my pajamas – faced a stony Rehema (she is no better than I on too little sleep) across the gloom (dark, wet dawn, no power) and all I wanted was a mug of tea. I did not want to deal with the euthanasing of a cow I’d battled to save for two weeks.

My land line has been disconnected. And because of the rain, cell signal was out. I could not call the vet. And I dared not – even if I could have – call friend at 7.30 on a Saturday morning to beg him to come armed with shotgun and put cow out of misery.


So I asked watchmen what they suggested.


Slit its throat, they said, matter of factly.

But we don’t have a sharp knife said Rehema, ‘they have all gone on the lorry’. She proffered a bread knife.

This is too awful I thought; we can’t saw the poor thing to death with something I cut toast with.

No, I said, surely Ben (being a boy who likes to think he is bush savvy) has a knife.

He does. He wasn’t keen to loan it for cow-killing though. I had to beg.

It’s not sharp enough, Ben said, playing for time.

We’ll sharpen it then, I told him impatiently.

The watchmen all assured me the knife could be honed to razor sharpness.

I told them that I would pay them cash for their assistance, but that they could not take the meat which, I warned, would be full of disease (the vet had diagnosed two tick borne diseases) and drugs (syringefuls – which had clearly failed to work). They agreed to bury the animal intact. And told me later that her flesh was quite yellow with jaundice. Poor old girl.

I finally got my tea. And climbed back into bed. I could hear the plaintive bellows of the cow’s calf. And I joined in; big fat tears slid down my cheeks and into my mug. I couldn’t help it.

But later resident rooster made me laugh: he used to belong to neighbour to my left who has long moved on (abandoning rooster). Since then, rooster has moved into our garden and driven us almost to distraction by trotting onto the verandah at 6am on Sunday morning, crowing delightedly and then dashing for cover before he is pelted with assorted missiles from assorted family members.

Since rooster is considered – apparently – a farm asset, neighbour to my right (Englishman), who is still in employ of Directors and therefore firmly in enemy camp, determined to capture him. He sent his garden boy across to kidnap rooster in order to repossess him. Englishman and I are not on speaking terms; he’s also in enemy camp since he issued threats to husband to ‘get Anthea the kids’ (it’s been a surreal four months) consequently, I was not about to enter into an argument with him about ownership of a cockerel. I didn’t have to. Rooster was in no doubt as to where he belonged. The next morning he was back on my verandah crowing gleefully (I almost joined in). The charade continued for a bit: next door’s garden boy returned several times to reclaim rooster and every time he did, rooster scuttled home (bringing a girlfriend with him – one of neighbour’s layers – which was especially gratifying).

I have not been able to fathom rooster’s loyalty? Perhaps we have a better class of bug in our garden for him to breakfast on? Perhaps he enjoys the company of the geese? Perhaps he just thinks its home (as I have done, for so long).

Whatever. I have begun to appreciate his dawn calls.

A rallying cry in the face of damp, dark adversity.

Sue for libel …? I don’t think so.

April 20, 2007

This morning I have a meeting with the editor of the Arusha Times. Not in my capacity as journalist: I am reliably informed that as a freelancer for the local press once cannot expect to be paid. Instead one must buy space for copy from the paper much in the same way as one would buy advertising space.

No. I’m not going to see him because I want to write for him but because this week his paper carries a damning story about my husband which pertains to the court cases we endured two weeks ago. Editors here are not, apparently, as hot as they are in the UK regards timely news pegged pieces.

I have heard that the Arusha Times is anxious to present the facts in any of their stories accurately, which must make them unusual in the industry, so I am going to plead to the editor’s integrity and point out to him that the several facts he got wrong, very wrong, in his story about Anthony means that my husband comes across as the villian he is not.

Were I Victoria Beckham and the Mail had run a similar story on David I could sue for libel and claim millions.

Alas, for a paper that expects freelancers to buy copy space I wouldn’t get a bean, so such an effort would be futile. I shall simply – and politely – indicate that his journalist got her facts wrong.

The power has been off for several hours until just now.

Needless to say I filed a report with my friend Mr Dominic.

He told me that the power cut was the result of heavy rainfall last night.

I’m confused. During the rains the power is cut because of storms. During times of drought it’s also cut, because there’s not enough rain to fill the dams of national hydro-electric schemes.