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Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Sayonara

This blog is now closed. Copyright still applies however; thieves will be taken out and bullwhipped. Feel free to browse the archives, telling the story of an Irishwoman working in rural Zambia, for a British NGO, from 2004-2006.

Monday, 12 December 2005

Swimming

Muscle pushes against water, chlorinated limbs working their way from one end of the garden to the other. To my right, Venus, cupped by an Arabian sickle-moon. Left across the Prussian-blue sky glares Mars, hot orange. I lift my arm out of the water to turn, droplets trail and the planets switch sides.

Dragonflies bounce off hot bricks as a canopy of fruit bats flies low overhead into the dusk, scalloped wings outlined against the thumbprint-whorled clouds. Lights buzz into life; immediately the winged termites blizzard round them, a malevolent snow.

The heady wafts of potted basil trigger memories, a train of scents - parmesan, sweet tomatoes, garlic.

An arc of light from a car's headlamps sweeps over the gravel; a dog's plangent barking is echoed from one gated enclosure to the next. And in that space what I love is what I also don't. What is fenced out? What fenced in? A curlicued prison.

There is of course the delicious freedom of nakedness in the water; not here the sudden appearance of screeching hordes of children, nor a thousand eyes intrigued by every move you make. But not here either the laughter of those children, nor the giggling gossip from know-all neighbours. Silence, save for the changing of the guards. Toughened vehicles zip out of gates and zip into other enclaves.

The prisoners do not even think to use their feet to exit, say hello to workers tending lawns, buy some roasted groundnuts from the street vendors. Behind the walls you are anywhere. Behind the walls you are nowhere.

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Conversation With A Housekeeper

It's good to laugh. Today I am amused by an advert in the local press. No, not one of those ones for a Dr Love Chinganyi, purveyor of herbal miracles for bad accounts and heartsick pains, all worries eased by traditional Congolese juju. No, it's an advert calling for tenders to provide the entire security set-up for the UN in Zambia. Heh. I wouldn't even be advertising here. You'd be better off with Dr Love. And the conversation with the housekeeper? Went something like this...

"Hey William, how are you today?"
"Yes, I'm good."
"We had a bit of a problem with the security last night."
"Is it?"
"Yeah, we tried to go out at about twenty hours (to the pub! to the pub!) but there was no guard on duty and we don't have keys for the gate." **
"Ooooooh-oh." William thinks. "But the night guard was there when I was leaving yesterday."
"Really? Cos there was no-one on duty when we were trying to go out (to get booze!) at twenty hours."
William considers. "Yes, but these people. They come. Stay a little bit. Then they go home to sleep. Then they come back early in the morning and pretend they have been here all night."
"I see. Perhaps you'd better help me sort through the five squillion keys in this room until we find one that fits the gate."
"Shuwah."

I think I will apply for that UN job myself. Am now square-eyed from watching several seasons of 24 and utterly convinced I could kick ass way better than any Zambian security firm. Back at the weekend when I will have to - sob - relinquish the swimming pool, the satellite tv, the washing machine, the hot and cold running water and proximity to food and booze.

** see now I understand what people mean when they say the rich are imprisoned in their ivory towers

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Transmission Interrupted

The house-sitting gig appears to be all set. Blogging may be sporadic or not at all for the next few weeks, due to lack of internet access and abundance of swimming pool.

My Absolutely All-Time Favourite 'They Cannot Be Serious' Moment In Zambia To Date

Overtaking on the main highway between Lusaka and Ndola, a 'vehicle' travelling at about a half a kilometre per hour. That's some long journey. The 'vehicle' in question? One of those little trucks with the airplane stairs on them. You know, they're like an electric milk cart and when your plane lands they drive up and position the steps so you can get off. Yeah. Heading off down the highway...out for a jaunt. The word incongruous was invented for stuff like this. What's even funnier is that each step was laden with bags of charcoal, although I guess that's only funny if you live in Zambia.

The Husband's Favourite to date is learning that the workers at the oil refinery seriously suggested using a grenade launcher to keep their flare alight.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

That time of day

My favourite time of day, in this life I'm living right now, is evening time. I come home from the office, sling my work junk in the corner, and go find my cats. Their white coats are somehow always immaculate, like those starched-shirt missionaries who seem to repel the red dirt out here and fling it over the rest of us.

The cats smell happy, of dustghosts and sunshine, fur soft and warm on my nose. Neat little paws bat butterflies, chase chickens. Sometimes, I lay down on the forest floor with them. Tree bark and stones press into my arms and legs, are crushed by my back. Crickets jump over me, ants tickle the hairs on my skin.

I watch the unfettered skies overhead and fancy I can feel the earth beneath me breathe. Sticks and straw decorate my hair; some crazy lady. We play simple games, the cats and I, with twigs and leaves. We are in our own Hundred-Acre Wood.

There are no willows here for the wind to whistle in, but I have a blanket of fallen bougainvillea petals, crisp like parchment paper and a faded glorious pink. Bigcat emits a low growl; Wild Ginger Tom is crossing the edge of her territory. Littlecat pounces on my midriff, winding me. They both run off after a bee out past its bedtime.

I sit on a rock drinking a blue gin and tonic, watch rivulets of water run down the outside of the glass and over my hand. The heavy heat of the day is gradually peeled off by the cool night; the incessant clamouring of people fades out into distant drumming and the low crackle of fires, a gentle peace before the rising hum of crickets and frogs.

As the sky-light moves off elsewhere in the world I start to think about dinner. Sharp, pungent garlic will feature. And juicy mangoes picked fresh from the tree, sliced and slithery on the tongue.

Monday, 14 November 2005

Cops

Zambia, 2005

The sound makes me turn from the post office counter.

Slapslapslapslapslapslappityslapslap

The post office security guard is belting some guy. I don't know what the man has done. Perhaps he has tried to steal something, perhaps he pushed someone, maybe he called the security guard's mother a ho. But whatever it was, it cannot call for this bitchslapping him upside the head. The man does not even retaliate. In fact, he has no aura of threat or aggression about him whatsoever. Neither is he shouting or causing any commotion. The only noise is that made by the security guard.

Slapslapslapslapslapslappityslapslap

The man tries to back away as the guard continues to hit him. A crowd starts to form. I get out of there, no desire to be caught up in it.

Out on the street I see a police truck pull up. The security guard and the police start to drag the man out of the post office. I am amazed. That there is an emergency number in Zambia. That works. That the police answer. That they have a vehicle. Which works. That they arrive quickly. In itself, this sequence of events is incredible.

The man is now quite close to me. He is still not resisting, despite the violence being inflicted on him. I would guess that he either has a slight mental disability, or possibly he is a bit drunk. The police manhandle him into the back of the truck and pull off.

************

USA, 1995

"Ma'am, ma'am! Is she gonna expire?"

The police officer is leaning over me. I am leaning over my friend Rosa. I am confused. No-one has ever called me 'ma'am' before, and I don't know what he means by expire. Rosa has stretched Happy Hour into Happy All Night Long, and suddenly the path - no, the sidewalk - looks like a great place to lie down and sleep off all the margaritas. I look into the officer's face, and I see that he has never had the need to feel a cold hard tile pressed against his cheek. And then my slow brain translates the copspeak and I realise what he is asking me.

"No, of course she's not going to die." I drag her up, and we stagger off, laughing.

************

Ireland, 1990

I am running late. Late, late, late. A crust of toast in one hand, packing my bag with the other, trying to wriggle into my coat, sprinting for the front door. Just as I get to it, the doorbell rings. Arse. I can't just ignore it, wait for whoever it is to go away, I am late! But if I open it, I will get caught up dealing with whoever it is. The bell rings again, insistently. I need to get away. I wrench open the door and try to step out. Four large men are blocking my path.

"Garda Drug Squad", says the biggest one, waving something at me. Big arse with cherry on top. I don't have time for this.

"Do you know Seamus O'Toole?" a Garda in the middle of the posse says.
"Mmm, not personally, but I think he lives in the flat upstairs."
"Fine," he says, elbowing his way in.

I brush past the others and race towards my bike. And I spend the next few weeks convinced that Seamus O' Toole is some major drug baron who will find me and cut me for confirming to the Gardai where he lives.

Friday, 11 November 2005

A Man Walks Over A Bridge

A Man walks over a bridge. He doesn't know it will change his life. Dark, but moonlit. Drunk, swaying. Spies somebody out on the water, fishing. Thinks he'll have a little fun, add a little buzz to the one he's already got. Hollers at the three figures in the boat hauling nets.

"Ha! I am reporting you! It is illegal for fishing here! I will get the police!"

In truth, the police get him. One occupant of the boat is startled, jumps out. He can't swim. Drowns. The other two concoct a story. The Man On The Bridge is imprisoned, awaiting trial for manslaughter. A nephew of The Man goes to see him in jail. Conditions are filthy. The Man asks his nephew to bring him a bar of soap. The Nephew runs to the market, returns with a block of soap. Now he is stopped by the police, who are bored, want a little fun.

"No entry. Visiting hours are finished. Go home."
"Can I just...."
"No!" A gun is pointed.
"But the soap..."
"You are tormenting us now, go home."
"Ok, I'm going. But could you give this soap to my uncle?"

The nephew is slung in jail too.