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Saturday, 31 July 2004

The Small Matter of Visas...

There has been a fuck-up. TIA. We are told that we cannot collect our work permits – apparently we shouldn’t even have been in the country while they were processing them. Our tourist visas are about to expire and we are advised to leave Zambia, and wait for someone from the office to bring us our permits. We plan to take the –allegedly now repaired – Land Rover down to Katima Mulilo in Namibia, where we can stay with friends.

Friday, 30 July 2004

My Yogic Tendencies

This morning I do some yoga. Why is it that all the models in yoga books have REALLY fat tummies, and wear weird shiny all-in-one lycra suits? My yoga book is great. It’s a 12 week programme but I keep quitting and then I’m so unfit I have to go back to the beginning again. I think once I got as far as week 4, but no more.

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

The Mouse Must Die

Extermination procedures must be undertaken. Most mornings we wake up with at least one corner of the mozzie net collapsed. I swear The Mouse is chewing through the ties. Also, HE HAS EATEN THE BROAD BEANS!

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Germination Trouble

The Husband is frantic because the seeds he has planted are not germinating (I am of course referring to vegetables). I suggest that the soil is crap. He thinks he has been sold some duds. Or that taking them in a plane has damaged them (??). Perhaps Milly has been cleaning them? She’s probably been wondering why there is a row of plastic bottles full of dirt in the kitchen. Casting my mind back to kindergarten days I vaguely remember germinating seeds on cotton wool. Of course I also have vague memories of making a Santa Claus out of toilet tube with a cotton wool beard. And a Christmas tree decoration made from a potato (ah, the Irish!) also with a cotton wool trim. My mother found the potato thing months later, sprouting in a cupboard. But I digress. The Husband raids our medical supplies for cotton wool. He selects cotton swabs which I don’t think are quite the same thing. He puts the swabs in some cut down tonic bottles, damps them down and puts some broad bean seeds on top. We shall see what happens.

Sunday, 25 July 2004

The Day of the Long Hunger

We get up late and laze around. I eat a bag of fruit chews for breakfast. Two of the mechanics left at 10am to collect the Land Rover. We figure it couldn’t take more than 3 hours, totally max. So we think we will wait for them to return and make some brunch with the groceries that have spent the night in the back of the LR. Oh, how wrong we were…

By 5pm I am almost faint from hunger, but am steadfastly refusing to eat yet more rice and beans. Finally the vehicles show up. I launch myself on the bags thinking that I will at least scarf some chocolate to keep me going while I cook. The chocolate is in a liquid state. It has been a very long day.

Saturday, 24 July 2004

An Awfully Big Adventure

Spirits are high today as we have borrowed a vehicle and are going in to Ndola. We need to get some food, and also plan to have a steak and chip lunch at a ‘proper’ restaurant. We are however going in a 40 year old Land Rover. Me: Hulking Piece of Break-Down Shit. The Husband: Great Boy-Toy Adventure Vehicle. Spirits are dashed again when we discover there is no petrol on site and there’s not enough in the LR to get into town. Spirits hovering again when we learn that there are men by the side of the road who will sell us petrol from a plastic container…Not sure if this is a good thing. We decide to go. We take Frank with us to show us where to stop, as Delboy is unavailable today.

The petrol seller’s venue is off the tarmac road, behind a broken-down bottle store. In the middle of some fairly tatty traditional huts is a crenellated, turreted house painted in garish colours. Clearly the dodgy petrol business is a profitable one.

We barely make it in to town. The LR breaks down on the way home. We have to abandon it complete with groceries. Oh the anguish! We hitch and hike back to the project. So far we have spent about 8 hours travelling 200 kilometres, and still have no food.

Friday, 23 July 2004

Sam is Dead, Long Live Sam

One of those huge flat spiders has been living on the wall in the long drop for as long as we’ve been here. Today I notice that he is now hanging from the door in a collapsed state. He looks like a jellyfish, all dangly legs. I think he’s dead.

The Mouse has changed shitting venue. Apparently the bookshelves in the living room are no longer good enough for him, and only the kitchen worksurface next to the vegetables will do.

I notice that the soap in the kitchen appears to be stripping the paint off the surfaces. The Husband – who knows about such things – explains that a key ingredient of soap is caustic soda, any residue of which ought to be rinsed off during the manufacturing process. Clearly this is cheap soap which hasn’t been rinsed. I idly wonder what it’s doing to the skin on my hands.

Thursday, 22 July 2004

A day like any other

Thievery Corporation
Milly wants to do some ironing today, but is thwarted in her efforts because someone has nicked the iron which was on the veranda. She particularly wanted to iron the sheets. This is lovely when they are crisp linen or cotton in an expensive hotel, but raggy nylon that’s seen better days doesn’t really warrant it.

Sunny D
The office is furnished with beautiful hardwood chairs. They are stunning to look at, but ridiculously uncomfortable. I think Health & Safety (were there such a thing here) would have a field day. My arse is completely numb by mid-afternoon, so I take a wander over to what is affectionately termed ‘the market’. There are two shops selling cooking oil and warm Coke, and a trestle table with the day’s vegetables. I buy some onions and tomatoes and just as I’m leaving I am accosted by a drunk. He demands money. I suggest that he must have plenty of money because he can afford to drink. He stares goggle-eyed at me and then grunts in agreement. He is clutching something in a plastic bottle that looks like a luminous green version of Sunny Delight. But given the state he’s in I wonder if it’s some form of local absinthe?

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

The Birds, The Birds

Seemingly there’s no getting away from them. Back in the City by the Sea we were plagued by pigeons. Noisy bastards, day and night bellowing outside the flat. It would appear that we have merely exchanged pigeons for chickens. Chickens have got to be the stupidest creatures imaginable. Huffing and fluffing and squawking on those little legs that look like they belong on something else. The cockerels are the dumbest. They crow all night long as well as all day. Clearly they were never taught the sunrise rule. The Husband and I fantasise about ways of killing them. I favour smacking with a spade. Unfortunately they all belong to Chief, who is allegedly raising them as a money-making venture and would probably not take too kindly to rousal by carnage. We also contemplate moving the chicken-coop deeper into the forest, in the hope that the birds will be trampled to death by grazing bullocks. The chickens would be too stupid to wonder why the coop had moved, but possibly Chief would be unhappy.

Because of the Chickennoise we have to wear earplugs when we go to sleep. The Husband tells me that his earplugs are size large and that the ends stick out of his ears. I find this hysterically funny (hey, we got no cartoons, we gotta make our own amusement) and it is some minutes before I recover enough to find the packet the earplugs came in and check for myself. He’s right! Writ large on the side is ‘Large’. OMIGOD! What is that about? I picked them up at Boots Three for Two without even noticing – earplugs is earplugs. LARGE. What, do some people have like really big earholes? So big that they are in danger of losing a ‘normal’ earplug down there? I am FASCINATED. I want to meet these people! I might run an ad:

WLTM person with really big lugholes. Preferably someone who has in the past lost a normal earplug down there.

Man alive, it would make a great 70’s TV show – Giant Earhole Man… He could be a drug smuggler.

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Whining

I learn from a report on Natural Resource Management that the Food Preservation people have been making wine. And it’s on sale in the on-site "shop"! Lord knows it hasn’t come from grapes, so my curiosity is piqued. (That is the first time I have ever used the word ‘piqued’. Isn’t it great? I love words.) I have no doubt that it is completely undrinkable, but perhaps it has hi-strength cleaning properties. We could bottle it under Fair Trade Organic Lav Love and sell it to Waitrose, hee hee.

Things I am SO not missing: Television & Magazines.
Things I am: Chocolate. Help! Send me a parcel!
Although we are sitting in our own section of the office, barely three feet away from each other, The Husband and I have set up Instant Messaging. Perhaps we are suffering from tech withdrawal but we are finding IM hysterically funny. Keep taking them pills… Speaking of pills, we have debunked one myth. It is not malaria tablets that make you have crazy dreams, it’s just Africa. Currently not taking any prophylaxis (what a great word!), yet mad monster murmurings abound in the heads.
The fact that the long-drop has a stable door, and you can look out at the trees and the birds whilst doing your business, is a good thing. It distracts you from thinking about whether it’s a draft you’re feeling, or whether it’s actually lots of flies chewing your ass.
A man is cheerfully wheeling a very large and very muddy tractor tyre through the office.

Monday, 19 July 2004

Talk to the Animals Pt 2

The Husband’s latent farmer is alive and kicking. Tonight it’s ‘Making a Compost Pit’. He decides to dig a pit and put a lid on it. An old concrete slab lying by the long-drop is chosen for the job of cover-up. In line with such sayings as ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ and ‘Rolling stones gather no moss’ can I please add ‘In the winter season of hibernating animals, in a country where deadly critters live, do not go turning over old stones.’ There is a snake under the slab. The Husband skips away la-la-la. Word quickly spreads. About the snake I mean, not the skipping. A neighbouring man, who knows about such things, appears in a pair of giant rubber boots and wielding a spade. A couple of hits and the snake is dead. It’s a gunmetal grey colour, about 2 feet long. The Husband enquires about its status on the poisonous scale. He is told it’s right up there, very deadly, will definitely kill you. Of course we have no way of knowing if this is true or not, not being snake experts, but hey, it will make a great story.
Talk to the Animals Pt 1
I go into the kitchen to make breakfast and am greeted by a ginormous mouse sitting on the worktop eating tomatoes. Decide it is far too early to be dealing with critters and go back to bed.

Sunday, 18 July 2004

Worm-Dog

Never again when asked about my voracious appetite shall I cheekily say ‘It could be a tapeworm’. The Dog has got a tapeworm hanging out of its butt crack. It is DISGUSTING.

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Hey hey it's the Weekend!

Magnificent Milly
We have been waiting all week for the housekeeper to show up, and now she comes Saturday morning. The Husband calls for me to come and meet her. I can’t. My pores are being decongested by Lush’s Mask of Magnaminty. This is bright green and lumpy. I look like The Incredible Hulk and I fear that I would scare Milly, so The Husband speaks nicely to her instead.

Abu’s 24 hour shop
Already I am missing food and the ability to go and get a snack whenever and wherever I want. In no particular order, missing:
Chocolate (all kinds), Pringles (BBQ flavour), Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice-Cream, Toast, Wine, Cocktails, Pasta, Olives, Ham, oh this is torture….

Friday, 16 July 2004

African Logic

Delboy comes to inspect the lawn. He calls me out of the house.
‘Madam!’
‘Yes?’
‘Would you like me to set up some system here so the grass gets watered and the lawn looks nice?’
There is a pause as I digest this, unsure I have heard correctly.
‘Well Delboy, that’s a great idea. I can’t imagine anything nicer than a beautiful lawn. However, given that there is a water shortage and we have rationing, do you really think that’s a good idea?’
Delboy grunts.
‘I think if you want to do that you should speak to Chief about it.’
Delboy shuffles off.
Fair dues, the lawn looks great.
A lady has appeared outside the house and is sweeping the grass. No, not raking, mowing, hoeing or anything else. Sweeping. With a brush.

Thursday, 15 July 2004

International Diplomacy

The Great Town Trip
Today I cadge a lift in to Ndola with one of the project vehicles. Getting in to town is a pig – there is a 6km forest trail, followed by a 16km dirt road with not much traffic, before hitting the tarmac where you can hitch-hike. I need to get some groceries. I spend about 30 minutes getting some food, and about 12 hours sitting in the van while business is attended to.

Petrol Station Politics
In town I meet some nice Somali men whilst hanging about a petrol station on one of our interminable ‘stops for business’. I know where Somalia is, I used to work with some cool Somali people, so we chat about that. Then they ask me where I am from. Ireland. Oh, UK. No, Ireland. Wales? One of them is obsessed with Wales. I explain how Britain owns part of Ireland but that I am from the Republic. There is a brief pause. Oh, you hate UK! I sigh. Politics doesn’t travel. I wonder if I can apply to somewhere like Moldova for citizenship?

The Bar Bar None
When I get home I hack into some mini bars of chocolate I've purchased. There are five of them sort of strung together with a piece of cardboard at the top. (When I was little neighbours with money used to go on posh holidays to Spain - imagine! - and bring us back sour fizzy sweets wrapped like this.) From the packaging and the ingredients I gather they are Mars bars. I eat one and it tastes nothing like a Mars bar. I eat another. No, not really getting that MB kick. I work my way through all five before coming to the definitive conclusion that they are really nothing at all like Mars bars. This is no mean feat as there are no perforations between bar wrappers - just paper, glue, bar, paper, glue, bar etc – rendering them difficult to get into. At the end it looks like a snake has shed its skin.

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Things You Think About Whilst Doing Domestic Chores

The housekeeper has not appeared, so I am avoiding the office by doing domestics. I don’t like doing domestics any more than I like an office, but this way it is easier to reward oneself on a regular basis with a gin and tonic.

The washing line is covered in ants. I find myself humming the theme tune to The Pink Panther. Which gets me thinking of Pink Panther strawberry chocolate bars. They were GREAT.

I can no longer bear the mouseshit in the living room, so I set about removing it. There is about a half kilo. It’s gross. I have a G&T.

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

What's with the Weird Foodstuffs?

Jam in a Tin
Why? What is wrong with the humble jar? Glass or plastic – I don’t mind. You couldn’t possibly eat all the jam before the tin starts to go that funny brown colour inside. Well you could, but then you’d be sick. Is jam in a tin found anywhere outside Africa?

Oats is Oats
Surely? So why is one packet ready after three minutes of simmering (or in my case boiling. I always think why simmer when you can boil the arse off it and get it done faster), but another packet must be boiled for one minute and left to sit for five. What does the porridge do, exactly, sitting around for five minutes, all la-di-da?

Monday, 12 July 2004

Gaaah! Socks with Sandals!

Now here’s the thing. This place is full of dust. It is a veritable dust mountain. So the idea is to wear flip-flops which can be easily shrugged off when entering a building so as not to traipse the dust mountains inside. Except it’s bloody freezing here at the moment! The dilemma being, obviously the foot needs more coverage than the humble flip-flop, but boots and shoes take too long to remove if you’re doing it every ten minutes. In an effort to stop my toes turning blue I put some socks on before the flip-flops. Certainly my feet are warmer. However I fear I resemble one of those German men with handbags and maroon trousers. Hastily re-shape eyebrows in attempt at keeping up Western (and non-German man) appearances and also hoping to distract from strange footwear. Now the cleverati amongst you will think why didn’t I bring some slip-on shoes which are easy to take off yet allow the wearer to have socks on the feet without fear of ridicule. Answer: it’s hard to think of everything.

Note: Do those Japanese kimono ladies have socks specially made with a forked toe? It’s bloody hard to get a flip-flop on over a sock.

Note 2: Like anyone here cares. The office is full of people in woolly hats and fingerless gloves.

Sunday, 11 July 2004

The Humble Green Bean

A ginormous bag of green beans costs so little that I can’t even do the currency calculation division thing. Minus pence, shall we say. I wonder why? They are even cheaper than the ubiquitous tomato. Ubiquitous is one of my favourite words. Along with innocuous, obnoxious and obsequious. Something to do with that sibilant ‘s’ sound. A bit like Sneaky Snake. Anyone else out there remember Wanderly Wagon??

Cover Me, I'm Going In

A properly-maintained long-drop toilet is a fine thing. One that has been left to fester and not cleaned is not. I have steadfastly been refusing to switch on the light (occasional solar power) or lift the seat. I think that it must be like the overflowing sink in Withnail & I and that if I attempt to clean it I will get the fear and endure years’ worth of constipation as a result. Better to squat and go. However, this is probably not hygienic. I knock back a double gin and tonic and go in with mask, gloves and a bottle of bleach.

The double G&T is followed later by a quadruple. My liver might be taking the strain but at least I know the facilities are not harbouring a new breed of MRSA.

Friday, 9 July 2004

The First Working Day, Not

Sun, garden, G&T, self-explanatory…

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Doing Some Business

Chief comes early in the morning to collect us and take us back to the project. But in Africa there is no such thing as a journey from A to B. It will inevitably meander and along the way business must be done. While Chief is attending to business we decide to buy new Zambian SIM cards for our mobiles. Despite our phones being from the UK they are able to unlock them here and away we go. Impressive.

The journey to the project is long and dull. We make a stop at Shoprite in Kabwe to pick up some groceries. The queues at the bread counter put Russia in the bad old days to shame.

Wednesday, 7 July 2004

More Beef Sir?

We finally get hold of Chief who had gone back up North after failing to find us in Lusaka. They cannot send a vehicle until the next day so we spend another night in Lusaka. We debate eating in the hotel before unanimously deciding that a return visit to the trendy restaurant is the way to go. The restaurant is cavernous and well-decorated and would not look out of place in the UK. There is a long sexy backlit bar at one end. I note the little touches such as vases and jars of spices and chillies dotted about. A wooden bowl of lemons is slowly going mouldy.

Tuesday, 6 July 2004

An Arrival...of sorts

Finger Drummin' Good In the inevitable in-between waiting time at Jo’burg airport I decide it might be an idea to get some food. I have already passed over an assorted handful of mixed currency when I remember that this is Africa, where fast food is not really all that fast. I wait half an hour for some fried chicken and chips. It’s good though.

Praise the Lord
In the queue for aeroplane number two we are stuck behind a Bill Clinton looky-likey and his raggle-taggle posse. Bill is speaking in a very loud Southern voice about Praising Jesus Christ Our Lord. I start to Praise the Inflight Drinks Trolley.

Paging Chief
Of course the airline did not notify Lusaka, where Chief is expecting to meet us, and the airport is deserted by the time we get through customs. We check into The Hotel in downtown Lusaka and ask if there are any messages. No messages. Are you sure? Chief would have looked for us here. No messages. We try calling Chief but of course his mobile is out of range and the radio phone at the project is out of order. We go out to dinner to a spanking new restaurant and eat a half kilo (each) of the finest African steak for about 4 quid. When we get back to The Hotel we are told there is a message. It’s from Chief – left much earlier that morning. Fat lot of good it is now.

The Hotel
The bathroom suite in the hotel room was probably once a fetching shade of candy pink. Now it resembles rancid marshmallow. I ignore the cockroach and the fact that the shower doesn’t work. Later I read that The Hotel is to have a US$1.5 million makeover. I think that perhaps they will change the bathroom. Then I read that renovations started three years ago.

Monday, 5 July 2004

Easy Money

Finally, after months of planning, we arrive at Heathrow. We are a bit apprehensive about the luggage, as it is very overweight. It seems that thing of standing on the scales in denial at the figures and hopping about from one foot to the other etc, applies also to suitcases. The allowance is 23 kilos each. We think we have ‘about 25, so that should be ok’. It’s closer to 30. We get to check-in and are told that there is no space on the plane as they have overbooked the flight. So near and yet so far.

Things look up when we are offered £500 compensation and a flight via Jo’burg a few hours later. Hey, what’s a few hours hanging around an airport when you’re being paid for it. They also ignore our very heavy bags. This is good. We go to the cashier’s desk (did you know airlines had cash desks???) to collect our money. This is the easiest dosh I have ever made. There is a three for two offer at Boots as well, hurrah!