Archive for the ‘walks’ 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.

How to have a Jolly Good Funeral

January 8, 2008

Yesteday evening we witnessed a funeral cortege whilst out walking. My options for a ramble here are limited – it’s either snake infested dam walls or sandy paths that circumnavigate the local cemetary.

The coffin, which was huge, more of a hefty square than loosely corpse outlining polygon, was draped in a vivid red and gold blanket and held aloft by four men who were jogging towards the graveyard. Why are they running, I wondered? Perhaps the coffin’s heavy, suggested Mum. Perhaps they are worried the rain is coming? Perhaps, I mused, it’s just the end of the day and they’re tired and hungry?

The pall bearers were tailed by sporadically straggling groups of people, mourners you might imagine, some dragging children, one or two with goats and the occasional attendee on a bicycle. Most looked remarkably cheerful given they were presumably, though not certainly, grieving their dead: some were likely just interested passers-by who fancied the opportunity for a little social intercourse on the way home.

Citizens of the poverty stricken Third World are more pragmatic about death than we are. Probably because they have to be I explained to Amelia, ”because they face so much illness and disease” I said solemnly.

”Duh, Mum, Illness and disease are the same thing”.

Ah yes. So they are.

And as a consequence funerals are both regular and well attended occasions. It’s rare to see mourners arrive on foot (except in a place like the Outpost), frequently they follow a make-shift hearse (usually a pickup truck festooned with flowers) in long cavalcades of slowly moving vehicles bedecked with vibrant bougainvillea, their hazard lights blinking and horns blaring in a noisy semblance of untidy union, all full of women weeping, ululating or catching up on the latest gossip.

I hope my funeral’s that well attended I say to Amelia.

She tells me that in some societies, in the old days (which because she’s 14 could mean as recently as the 1980’s) people would leave money in their will in order to pay people to attend lest mourners were a little thin on the ground.

I hope she’s not suggesting I do the same?

The Sun, Storms and Scarabs

January 4, 2008

We had a walk yesterday evening, not on the dam, for fear of snakes, but along a sandy path outside town where I was afforded a good view of what was, or wasn’t, lurking on the ground before me. And we came upon a colony of dung beetles busily rolling their bounty.

Dung beetles, sometimes called tumble bugs, don’t just feed on the moisture they extract from the droppings of livestock which they find on account of their extraordinarily strong sense of smell, they gather it and roll it neatly into brooding balls which they bury underground where mating takes place. The female lays her eggs inside the readily prepared nursery-cum-larder so that her offspring are afforded something to eat when they first hatch and so that she has nourishment whilst she waits and watches.
Sometimes a female will help her mate roll – aiding him in pushing the egg sized ball along the ground in a dead straight line, regardless of obstacles (we watched a pair determindetly trying to roll their ball up a steep incline); sometimes females (presumably those not as concerned about keeping fit?) merely hitch a ride and roll with the ball; frequently ball rollers are ambushed by robbers lying in wait to pinch their ready-made ball – we watched one male fiercely defending his hard work.  
The dung beetle is of the same family as the scarab which was linked to Khepri, the Egyptian god of the rising sun; the people of ancient Egypt believed Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it up above the horizon.
I wondered, as I lay in bed last night listening to another advancing storm, whether Thunder might also have adopted the manoevering tactics of the dung beetle; wasn’t he up there rolling enormous black clouds of heavy rain around the heavens until he found a satifisying dumping ground? Somewhere where there might be an audience to witness his dramatic theatricals of sound and light.
The Outpost as it happened.  


A Last Walk

May 28, 2007

A last walk

Was it my imagination of were the mountains more beautiful? The evening light more syrupy? The birds more vociferous? I don’t think so. It’s months and months since Kilimanjaro was as clear; it had tossed aside its habitual cloak of cloud so that it was adorned with only wisps, like tulle. It wore a crown of snow, heavier, far heavier than in recent weeks and its every valley, every nuance of its shape, drawn out by shade and sun. Even Mawenzi, the little peak, had bravely stepped forward where it normally hides in its big brother’s shadow. Meru, not to be outdone, stood tall against a blue, blue sky (one that for most of the day had been heavy with mist and rain). About its circumference was a perfectly level frill of cloud, like a tutu. Even the distant Masai Steppe, to the south, was clear. The sun, spilt low through bottom branches and ignited the tops of the star grass so that it looked like so many blushing heads.

I don’t remember such a heartbreakingly beautiful evening. I like to think the mountains were out to say goodbye. And the birds – the pigeons called, the Hadada ibis sounded uncharacteristically mournful and even the guinea fowl’s giggle was subdued. Will they miss me? No. Of course not. But they may miss teasing the dogs.

And will I miss this? Yes. I can already feel the ache of sadness at goodbye.

But another part of Africa will be home now, different vistas will imprint upon my mind so that memories move over as new affections take hold.  The dogs will appreciate new smells. I will walk them to the evensong of different birds.

I will be still be beneath the same enormous African sky. The evening light will be unchanged.

And my beer will always be as cold.



The Importance of Company … any company

May 22, 2007

The cats have arrived safely in Outpost. I locked them in a room together the night before they flew. That way, by dawn, when I had to load them, they’d said all they needed to loudly say to one another: had hurled so much abuse, thrown so many punches that they were spent and complained only softly and briefly, peering in worried confusion out of the bars of the cage in which they were incarcerated to travel. Husband assures me they are now locked up in new house, with bowls of food, saucers of milk and buttered paws (cleaning themselves prompt necessary surge of happy hormones so that they begin to settle. And stop them skidding gracelessly across cement floors). 

Relating cat dispatching experience to fellow mother in school car park and describing what I planned to do with geese (since you ask: a friend will baby sit them until I am sufficiently well organized with lawn and pond of which there is neither yet, just dust and an expectant hole) and dogs (drive to Outpost with me when I go in a week), she told me I sounded Sad. I told her she needed to understand more about Outpost before she dismissed me as Sad; in Outpost you’d be wise to welcome all the company you can get whether it’s a cat rubbing up against your foot as your sit writing, a goose bossing a Hadada ibis outside or a Labrador pleading to be taken for a walk.  With the cats gone I was free to load the last lorry. Not a removals van or a sealed truck. No, a shaky sided, open-to-the-elements, affair which was packed in haphazard fashion with – amongst other things – half a dozen trees which I have carefully uprooted, including mango trees (if there was ever a case of coals to Newcastle, this was it: where I am going is Mango Tree capital of the world).  

Are you sure my trees are going to be OK? I asked the driver, Ali, anxiously. Of course, he said, wearing what I suppose he must have imagined was an expression of kindly reassurance but was in fact an impatient smirk that said, ‘listen lady, I generally have far more important things to transport than half an orchard and several pots of lemon grass, so wind your silly white neck in’. 

His cargo also included my desk, a double bed in bits and the fireplace from the verandah, wrought of aluminum and protruding from the rear end of his truck like a short, fat tail.   The house is now even more cavernously bare than ever.  But my Sally Worm indicates I only have to endure 6 more sleeps here.

What I will miss and what I won’t

May 9, 2007

When I move to the Outpost, my big kids will have to go to boarding school. I will miss dreadfully the seamlessness of their presence, the predictability of their return every night and the fact it is only ever a few hours away. I will miss their banter, their laughter, their reminder that I am still needed – even if it seems only at times to fill tummies, snack boxes and washing machine. I will miss seeing their sleeping forms at night when I check on them (which I still do even though they are 15 and 13 respectively). And I will miss marvelling at how sleep wipes from their faces the angst of adolescence so that they slumber semi-smiling.

I will not miss the laundry they generate, the fights they have for absolutely no reason other than to apparently hear the sound of their own voices and the daily slog to school.

I will miss my friends. My confidantes do not number many (an anomaly considering I spill my guts in cyberspace!), but they are precious. I have leaned hard on them in recent months; they’ve listened to me cry when I had to and made me laugh when I needed to. They have had the children to stay so that during this forced separation, Anthony and I can abbreviate the distance between us.

I will not miss the gossip, the one-upmanship and the small-town politics that come with almost-suburban African living. I will not miss that – despite living in one of the most poverty stricken regions of the world – it still apparently matters what you look like, how fat/thin you are, how well decorated your home is, how designer clad your children are and how artistically you have scattered cushions. No. I will miss none of that. I anticipate with relish the freedom that will attend bush living so that I can wear what I want, when I want and nobody will notice that my eyebrows need tweezing or that it is too long since I did anything about disguising the grey in my hair.

I will miss seeing my mountains, Kilimanjaro and Meru. I will miss watching how their faces change over the year and across the seasons so that in the wet and the winter they are shrouded with grey blankets which they are only warm enough to toss aside come mid afternoon when they coyly – and briefly – emerge. I will miss that, in the summer, Meru’s peak pierces an azure blue sky with such sharpness you wonder the colour does not leak out. And I will miss the plum pudding iced sugar topping of Kili. In the 16 years I have lived within view of Kilimanjaro I have never stopped marvelling at its beautiful incongruity, its sudden, majestic rise from arid plain to snow capped peak: no wonder the earliest explorers rubbed their eyes in disbelief, no wonder the Africans once believed it was capped with silver which they tried to gather but which disappointingly ran through their fingers as they descended the mountain.

I will not miss the urban sprawl that is eating the region up, spilling, ugly, from town centres and raping once virgin Africa so that blankets of forest and carpets of savannah are discarded in place of hotly glinting corrugated iron sheets and fences adorned with blue plastic bags. I will not miss daily evidence that trees are being lopped down with abandon, I will not miss noticing that Kilimanjaro’s snows recede a little more each year because it wasn’t designed to be tramped up by over 20,000 people every year. I will not miss knowing it’s one of the continents biggest rubbish dumps.

I will miss the farm. I will miss my walks. I will miss noticing the birds: comically fat and ungainly guinea fowl, elegant beaked yellow bill storks, bejeweled kingfishers, vociferous, argumentative weavers.

But I will not miss the attendant ache as I witness its demise. I will not miss the tight chested anxiety that has plagued me almost every day for the past six years because our security was so tenuous, our futures so uncertain.

I will miss my home, the house that we built from a barn with rafters a hundred years old and hard as nails. I will miss its generous proportions, its wide verandah so that when I walked up to it, it was like falling into the arms of a friend. I will miss every familiar contour of its shape, the sounds it makes at night, like now, small sighs or slams which you can pinpoint to precisely the right door.

But I will not miss waking every day and wondering how much longer we can live here.

I will miss the familiarity of a place I have lived in and loved.

But I relish the prospect of a new adventure. Perhaps that’s what’s keeps us young – new adventures – not Botox?

Lost Dog: Reward Offered

May 5, 2007

I had a horrible moment this evening.

Mum and I took the dogs, Kanga and her dippy daughter, Scally, for a walk as I do most evenings. Half way through our walk, Kanga disappeared. She does this often, charging off on the scent of a feral cat or in the hope of pushing a flock of guinea fowl into the air. And I yell, in exasperation, for about ten minutes and she always reappears looking delighted with herself, and panting hard.

But this evening, though Scally came back, Kanga did not. I called and called and called. To no avail. We walked home hoping to find her there but she wasn’t. I climbed into the car with Ben and we trawled the farm, calling her name and stopping to listen in the hope of hearing an answer.

We heard nothing but the quiet whisper of night fall and the odd agitated shriek of a bird.

We returned home, still no sign of Kanga. I was getting frantic; she has been mine since she was a pup, a constant companion for seven years in that adoring, trusting way that only Labradors can be (so that even when the whole world seems against you, they’re not). Ben offered to ride the farm on his bike and so off we both went again, me in the car, he on his bike, in the dark, calling, stopping, listening.

By this time we had attracted the attention of several of the farm’s night watchmen, ‘askaris’. Had they seen Kanga, I asked (most of them know her after watching us walk the farm every evening for six years). Nope, none had.

In the midst of our search, Anthony called from the Outpost and I promptly burst into tears, ‘I’ve lost Kanga’, I bawled. And with Ben pedaling barefoot around the farm in the dark without a light, I was at risk of losing him too. Anthony suggested I offer the askaris a reward (and reminded me that – at 15 – Ben really was old enough to find his way home).

I put out word of a reward, twice what Anthony recommended. The askaris responded with alacrity; they haven’t been paid for months. I don’t know why they still report for work, but this evening I was thankful they do.

We’ll search all night, they told me. Where did you last see her?

I showed them. And calling her name I finally, finally, after two hours of looking, heard a desperate yelp.

The askaris heard it too. We followed the sound – I was fearful Kanga had been caught in a snare, not uncommon here, and been injured. As it turned out, she’d fallen into a deep, sheer sided hole – made by an ant bear perhaps – and was unable to get out.

The askaris clambered in to haul her up and came out carrying her aloft like a trophy.

I don’t know who was more pleased to see who? Kanga me, or I Kanga?

The askaris deposited her on the back seat of my car and piled in after her; we drove home and I paid them their reward whilst Kanga raced off to find her supper. And then collapsed in an exhausted heap at my feet and I poured myself a large glass of wine.