Archive for the ‘precious water’ Category

Stuck with him

March 31, 2008

Yesterday we planned a picnic breakfast in the bush as we did so successfully 2 weeks ago. Saturday night was wet though, very wet; incessant rain which after a first initial showy downpour dribbled on for hours. But it had stopped by morning, so I packed up the requisite and off we went.

As we drove I made concerned little comments to husband like, ‘’it was very wet last night’’, and ‘’gosh it looks soggy in there’’ indicating the bush on the side of the road. He ploughed on regardless, ‘’it’ll be fine; stick with me …’’.  

We took a track off into the bush in the direction of the dam and within a few hundred meters of the road were in a wheel spin. We clambered out, put the wheel locks on, engaged 4WD and tried again. Too late. We had begun to sink into ground the consistency of a sponge. The water table here is very high anyway, six months of rain and it’s saturated, overflowing, nowhere left to go. We tried pushing but all that happened was the wheels spun and the car dug itself in deeper. We tried digging the wheels out and pushing but all that happened was the wheels spun and the car dug itself in deeper. We were in mire up to – almost – our axles.  


I think I’ll just call Tom, said husband a mite sheepishly. (I had held my counsel and didn’t said anything tempting like, ‘’tried to warn you’’ or ‘you were right … stuck with you’). Luckily we still had network coverage. Just. Tom, poor bloke, had been up partying till 3am the night before. I don’t think he was pleased to hear from a mud bound family at 10 on a Sunday morning. Not that he said so, he graciously promised to come and rescue us.


With that husband and dogs disappeared off to the road to flag him down since he’d have no clue just by looking which portion of the bush had swallowed us up.  The kids and I continued to dig and collect branches to lodge beneath the wheels.


And an hour later husband appeared – on foot, sensibly this time – guiding Tom towards our car. Tom inspected the mess we’d got ourselves into, backed his car up, keeping what he hoped was a safe distance from the boggy ground we’d sunk into, hitched us up with a tow rope and began to pull. To no avail. Indeed worse than no avail. All that happened was his wheels spun ineffectually and began to sink. First one rear wheel and then the other.  


The sky had begun to abandon all promise of blue for the day and big, black clouds were banking to the north. If it rained, we thought, we’re here till June.  

We gathered more branches, jacked Tom’s car up, first one side and then the other, with the jack slipping and sliding and sinking a foot into the quagmire, and we lined branches beneath the wheels. After several attempts we got Tom’s car unstuck. Tom drove his landcruiser to higher, safer, sandier ground whilst ours continued to languish muddily in the swamp we’d driven it into.

I don’t think we’ll try towing again he wisely said. On my suggestion – what would they do without women these men? – we jacked up every single one of our four wheels, one at a time, with the jack balancing precariously on a raft of wood in order to try to steady it and stop it from submerging beneath the gloop, and lodged branches beneath each of the wheels.


With fingers crossed husband piled into the drivers seat, we all pushed like crazy and the car popped out of its muddy dilemma like a cork out of a bottle.  With that the rain began to fall in earnest. We – and two somewhat bemused dogs (I could imagine them commenting to one another on the drive home, ‘was that a walk then?) – clambered back into the car, all of us covered in mud and foot sore having lost flipflops in the stickiness and trodden on umpteen thorns, and were home before 2.


We were stuck for more than 3 hours. An afternoon of hot baths and television ensued as the rain continued to fall. We have decided to abandon any more excursions to the dam until the rains have well and truly gone.

 Stick with me, he said; I didn’t need to be asked: tomorrow – April Fool’s Day -we celebrate 19 years of marital bliss. Irony abounds


I have woken much earlier than the rest of the house, before half six, in the demi gloom that is the Outpost at dawn – our distance from the east coast means sun up is slow to reach us, that and everlasting rain darkens our mornings. As I wrote my office came to life with a million flying ants; their nests or eggs or whatever it is that lies dormant beneath the floor – both probably ? – have come rather splendidly to life under the cement (they must have extraordinary teeth? To chew through that and emerge?). The rattling of one or two pairs of wings has – with ten minutes of my putting the light on – morphed into the howling of a squadron that persistently dive bombs me as I sit at my desk – what with flying ants and – I notice – two toads hopping about, the place is a veritable wildlife sanctuary borne by weeks of rain. I never thought I’d be longing for the dry – for the interminable dust and irksome water shortages – but I think I might be now.

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.




January 16, 2008

I am struck by the Outpost’s voluptuousness at present; it (she?) seems fatly content and sleek in comparison to other regions. Driving as we do, across enormous distances, we traverse the country’s contours and some seem harshly barren and skinny, maize is stunted, skies white hot blue, clouds measly ribbons of papery inadequacy, melting to nothing under a merciless sun.

Not here though. Here the sky is full of fat black clouds pregnant with the promise of rain. More rain.  The earth has bled into deep puddles thick with mud. The mango trees are lushly emerald green and the flamboyant, stripped of flowers now, are sporting long sausage seed pods, a pledge that next season’s fiery blooms will be just as plentiful. More so. The grass is long, my lawn, from the dust bowl that it was, must be cut twice a week, it feels deliciously thick beneath bare feet: shagpile thick. The cress I planted at the base of a palm is long legged and gangly. The salad bowl beckons. The cattle and goats are no longer lean hipped and the women’s derrieres spill over the backs of bicycles so that it’s hard not to notice. One wears a kanga decorated with dollar signs. Apt. And hilarious. Booty as bounty.

Even the shade is plump. Gloriously plump so that there is ample under which to take refuge in the still heat before the storm.

Africa isn’t often fat. The extra poundage born of good rains won’t last long. But it looks beautiful whilst it’s here.

I wish the same could be said of my thickened post Christmas middle.


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?


A quiet dawn

December 12, 2007

It amazes me as I sit here, dawn just beginning to nudge the east awake, how quietly it has crept in and mollifed the skies which raged angrily with storm all night: thunder crashed rudley and lightening lit up my bedroom in neon strobes.  Rain battered down down upon the tin roof in rowdy percussion.

By dawn, though, and there is just the faintest patter of the last drops as they drip from the mango trees outside, politely. As if nothing had happened. Tiptoeing to sleep in the sodden soil – I wonder if they will find room there?

A chorus of birds has begun, I cannot see them, only hear their early morning greetings: I imagine them shaking off damp feathers and chatting animatedly to their neighbours about the rain:”what a night!”, they will exclaim to one another.

The thunder has crept off, a distant ominous rumble now, as if complaining as it is asked to leave by a lightening sky, ”you’ve had your say, now push off”.

My brother once remarked to me, ”why use two hundred words when two will do”.

He’d have said simply, ”good rain last night”.

Retail Therapy Outpost Style

October 1, 2007

We went camping at the weekend. That’s what you do when you live in a suburban Outpost (an anomaly, I know); you escape to the great outdoors to remind yourself that you do actually live in the middle of nowhere in Africa.

We camped at the big dam – our water supply.


 We share it – naturally – not just with other offical water rate paying residents of Outpost, but with the fishermen and the herdsmen. I wonder, often, what UK’s Health and Safety would make of that: hundreds of skinny cattle traipsing through the heat and the bush to the dam to drink, leaving evidence of their visits at the water’s edge.


We pitched the tent, built a fire, made tea, walked the dogs.  Hat found a tree to climb whilst we admired the sunset.

             hat-in-a-hat-in-a-tree.jpg                sundown.jpg         

And in the morning, before we drove home, we bought a couple of old fishtraps from one of the fishermen.  To add to the retired dugout we’d purhcased on a previous trip. Hat shook her head in disbelief as I battled to squeeze two traps into the car alongside her, dogs and camping paraphenalia. I told her she would thank me for my lessons in shopping one day; I told her retail therapy plays a valuable part in feminine sanity and that geography must never be allowed to thwart it.

Not quite new shoes, I know, but adds a certain something to verandah decor?


From Waste to Watering

September 14, 2007


 Plastic water bottles are the scourge of Africa; discarded from buses, trucks and cars, they litter the bush for miles, like some mutant paperchase, leaving a trail of the passage of humankind from urban to countryside and back again.

In my bid to grow something in this patch of dust I optimistically refer to as a garden I am endeavouring to put the waste to good watering use.


I hope that in a few weeks time the bottles will be rendered invisible by feathery carrot tops, glossy green leaves of swiss chard and the fat flat pancake foliage of cucumbers and water melons. And if not, it will not be for lack of trying.

James and Sylvester (not as in Stallone, as in Sylvester the Shamba boy) thought I was mad before. That I asked them to plant several rows of bottles has doubtless convinced them of my insanity. I can imagine them guffawing when I was out of earshot, ”Silly old bat, she thinks she can solve the water shortage here by planting water bottles, haha!”.

Unfortuantely for them, I have begun a collection of waste bottles for their own vegetable patches. They will look as nuts as I. But perhaps we will all eat better as a result.  Mad or hungry? I’d rather have a full stomach and be regarded as  faintly potty, thanks.




August 17, 2007

I lay in the dark last night unable to sleep for the thoughts that were running a relay race in my head: my son is settling into boarding life, my daughter is not – not yet – there have been tearful phone calls and dozens of angst ridden text messages. I thought about them. I thought about what Hat and I had done at school; I thought about Priscus and Seneca and Attila the Hun.

In the distance the traffic rumbled.


In Outpost?

I think not.

I strained my ears and the distant growl came again, nearer now: thunder.

I lay waiting, holding my breath. Please let it keep coming.

It did, closer and closer. Then with a hefty roar it ripped the sky open with jagged light, so bright, so brief I could have sworn a torch was being flashed into my eyes.

Big African skies – and I live under one of the biggest, emptiest ones, devoid normally of anything but white-blueness – make for great stages. The tempest raged theatrically: a huge, brilliant son et lumiere show in the heavens. But the applause, I wondered, where’s the applause?

And then it came. Tentatively at first. Shyly. Like a crowd afraid to clap too hard lest they disturb the actors’ rhythm: rain on the corrugated iron roof above where I lay. But the storm’s drama soon overwhelmed its audience and the clapping reached a crescendo, a thousand palms slapping hard.

Why do I battle to sleep in any environment other than the absolutely silent. Why did I, racked with insomnia, fall alseep to the raucous standing ovation the skies were receiving?

Because there is no sound in Africa so good as a downpour. There is so scent so deeply intoxicating as rain on dust – and that outside my window was greedily sucking up every drop to quench months’ long thirst.

I woke to a dark dawn to hear the sound of birds happily bathing in puddles and the drip of water from the gutters: last night’s stragglers.

And then I went to brew coffee, and observed the pleasing dampness outside and the less pleasing sight of metal mozzi mesh and wooden slats that had been ripped from the back door.

The askari – nightwatchman- when he came to from where he was (perhaps not suprsingly) curled up asleep, told me the destruction was the result of the cat trying to get in. Not unless she was armed with a pair of wire cutters and wearing gloves could she have wreaked such damage. Besides, if she wanted to get in, why not use the perfectly good cat flap she has been using for the four months since I cut it?

 So rain and a potential raid, apparently.

Slovenly in the name of saving water

August 6, 2007

Today’s a water day: that means I get it. And everybody gets into action. Filling tanks and manning hosepipes. James and the unlikely named Sylvester, who help me in the ‘garden’, splash water over the ”lawn” and toss handfuls of fertilizer to try to encourage some growth and greenery. Sylvester is undoubtedly an optimist; he wears wellies whilst he works. James and I, on the other hand, toil bare footed because there is never enough water to make for mud, sadly. Every drop is sucked greedily up by parched earth.

Because it’s a water day it seemed appropriate to put a load in the washing machine.

Until I realised there was no dirty laundry to load. Clearly my children have taken my lectures about how precious water is several steps too far: they are apparently not changing their clothes as often as would perhaps be wise.