Friday, 25 February 2005
Thursday, 24 February 2005
So here I am, surrounded by kids stunted by malnutrition, and whilst I myself am in no danger of dying from starvation, a large part of my time is spent wishfully thinking of vegetables and meat, not to mention booze and chocolate. And what does Heat have in store for us? “65 Celebrity Diet Tips That Really Work.”
To be fair, they had me howling with laughter. Let’s just say I don’t think these slebs are famous for their intellect. Although, who can say if these things are actually true? Anyway, some of my faves:
Madonna never eats food in restaurants.
Wow, she must make a scintillating dinner companion.
Sophie Dahl apparently dropped 2 dress sizes by drinking green tea.
Well sure honey, if you don’t ingest anything else.
Kim Cattrall puts lemon juice on her chips as she swears it dissolves the fat.
Sweetheart lemon juice may break down large fat molecules into smaller ones. However it does not alter the fat or calorific content of your plate o’ fries. Duh.
Kate Winslet claims to have dropped 25 kilos by eating oatcakes and cucumber for breakfast.
WTF did she have before???
Liz Hurley eats nothing but watercress soup when she wants to drop weight.
What would be the point in living? But then, what is the point of Liz Hurley?
Mariah Carey eats an ice cube when she’s hungry. Best of all it takes the body 40 calories to melt the ice, so she’s burning calories without consuming any.
NUTS. Where's the sectioning officer?
When Beyonce craves chocolate she eats a banana instead.
Woo woo! Party girl.
What is the matter with these people?
Wednesday, 23 February 2005
I was sitting in the bath-house merrily pouring water over myself. I could feel something on my back. I flicked it away – the night is full of mosquitoes and moths. Seconds later the tickly feeling had returned. I swiped at my back again. After a third time I turned around. The wall was alive!!
It was covered in small white worms. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Worms which were crawling up the wall, and slipping off. Off onto my back. And probably into my hair and lord knows where else.
Where were these things coming from? Down from the night sky, or up from the earth? I looked up. They didn’t seem to be arriving from that direction. I looked down. I probably shouldn’t have. For the water on the floor was also alive. The worms might have had trouble wall-climbing, but they sure could swim.
How could I not have spottted these before now? Oh yeah, because it was dark. It was a cheap schlock horror movie with no director to call ‘cut’. Were the worms in my towel? In my clothes? In my washbag? Who knew?
I figured I probably shouldn’t make a naked dash back to the house, but who would want to wear worm-infested items? I shook the towel, hoping to rid it of any residents, and gathered up my things, all the while slapping at the worms which were slithering out of the water and up my legs. I got back to the house and shrieked at The Husband to check me for worms.
Not quite a Relaxing with Radox evening.
Monday, 21 February 2005
It certainly does not hold true in this country when purchasing toys and books, practically all of which have to be imported, due to lack of indigenous industry and a stagnant economy. They are as expensive as in Europe.
It strikes me that people ‘back home’ who donated money to the creche here were expecting miracles. The total sum of money raised in our appeal was probably equivalent to the sum of money spent on one child’s birthday presents back in the UK. And we have 50 kids here who need textbooks, toys and learning materials.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – the money has been well spent. But sometimes I despair of people’s ignorance, and their unwillingness to move beyond it and open their eyes.
We take Camilla the creche teacher with us to Lusaka. She has never been to the capital before. Her excitement at the thought of being able to purchase supplies is infectious.
We start off in a bookstore and rapidly fill a basket full of activity books and colouring mats. The books are nice, but stocks are very limited, and we cannot get a class set of anything. The kids will have to share.
The next store has tumbleweed blowing about in it. The staff do not know what a jigsaw is. We do, however, pick up some coloured wallcharts.
We head for one of the open markets. Camilla has asked if we can get some blankets for the babies for their naptime, as at the moment they have only a mattress. The blankets she is thinking of are ubiquitous. They are also hard, scratchy, dull-coloured. I spy some gorgeous primary coloured fluffy duvets. Camilla is shocked at the price. Screw it, I think and give them to her to take to the till.
Our final destination is a large toy store. We fill the trolley high with games, puzzles, balls, bricks, anything we can find, and soon the money is spent.
The next day at the creche is mayhem. Despite the fact that most of the kids have never even seen toys, they waste no time launching into the booty. Smiles are wide. The biggest hits are some plastic spectacles and wind-up chickens. In true child-style, one little girl wants everything and refuses to share. She howls.
Usually when I go to the creche the kids start bawling, unused to seeing a muzungu face. But today they are happy. I guess bribery works everywhere he he. One little boy becomes besotted with me. He follows me around with his wind-up chicken, babbling away very earnestly in his language. I have no idea what he’s saying to me, but it’s all very urgent and important. I correctly guess he is the son of one of the guys in the office, as he is a total mini-me. I take lots of photos. Later I print off a photo of mini-me and give it to his dad. His grin is wider than his son’s on seeing the toys.
“Is this photo from today, this morning?”
“Yes, Simon is loving the new toys.”
The dad stares at the photo again. “But how did you get into town so quickly?”
I laugh, and explain about photo paper and colour printers.
He is amazed. He will treasure the photo, because of course most people here don’t have photos of anything, least of all their kids.
Wednesday, 16 February 2005
But just for you, some random ramblings...
Theft update: They have caught the guy who was trying to burgle my room. He is in jail. No doubt they will beat the hell out of him and then let him go. The latest thing to be stolen is a flowering plant from our garden. Nothing left but a great big hole.
The Husband has harvested the first of his vegetables, 'ray!! This is good news indeed, as I fear I may have scurvy due to lack of fresh food.
There will be no posting tomorrow either as I am off to Lusaka on a toy-buying mission for the creche, 'ray! There may be a happy story on Friday. Alternatively there may well be a story about vehicle breakdown, non-functioning bank machines and shut shops. You never know.
Monday, 14 February 2005
Blogging about work - dodgy at the best of times. Blogging photographs of work - pretty dumb. Hence the peculiar photo of a detail from a bike. Let's face it, it could be any bike, anywhere, anytime. But it's not.
A Child Sponsor in the UK has sent money to us to get her child a bike. We normally don't encourage gifts as it can cause rivalry between kids, but in this instance it was money well spent. Let's call this girl-child Mary. And I'm pleased it's a girl-child because girls are always bottom of the pile here.
With the advent of this bike Mary no longer has a three-hour long round-trip walk to school every day. It means she can get home again in daylight, less tired and better able to study. So hurrah, this is Monday's Happy Story. I am trying to push to the back of my mind the fact that she is 12 years old and due to malnutrition she looks like she is 6.
Sunday, 13 February 2005
*Pause while considering the hilarity of Irish Tuber Chompers. Twinge in side possible indication of laughing pain, but on further consideration it is identified as wind*
Actually that pause has reminded me of something. At a music lesson in primary school we were forced to sing a terrible tune, which I believe was made famous by Makem and Clancy. (In later years by coincidence I ended up sharing a flat with Clancy's daughter, but I didn't really feel I could take revenge on her. Sins of the father and all that.)
This dreadful ditty was called 'A Place In The Choir' and the chorus went like this:
All god's creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they've got now.
Except I didn't hear 'paws', I heard 'pause'.
My mind has never so much thought outside the box as outside the box and away off in a parallel universe. It wasn't good enough for me to hear 'pause' and smugly think everyone else was wrong. Oh no. It had to be implemented.
And so when it came to the chorus all the children in my row would clap, stop singing (pause!!) and stare goggle-eyed into space before rushing in again on the last phrase.
I don't know if Makem and Clancy ate a lot of potatoes, but they were very fond of Aran jumpers. Always in a woolly geansai those boys. I mean it's cold in Ireland, but not all the time. And it's hot in pubs.
Anyway, I was taking some spuds out of the bag when the lettering on the outside started to move. I thought maybe I had had one too many gins, so I looked again. It was nasty. GREEN MAGGOTS. Or more precisely white maggots which had created such a slobber that the dye had come off the bag and turned them into luminous monsters.
I gingerly tore the bag open, and sure enough the bottom two-thirds was a pulpy slimy writhing mess. Yum! I thought, this is the Irish people's favourite way to eat potatoes. No I'm kidding. Really. I mean maybe in a famine situation or something, but not nowadays. I mean we have cappucinos and shit like that now. I threw the spudworms away.
But I want to know where maggots come from. I mean, if you put a bag of potatoes in a cupboard and they're fine, and then you come back a day later and they're full of maggots, how did they get there? And why are wriggling maggots on your spuds bad, but it's ok to eat termites and caterpillars? And how do these differ from the kind of worms where the doctor says "You have worms. Worms are bad." (Not that this has ever happened to me. I saw it on tv once).
Worms: A Mystery Available In Many Parts.
Friday, 11 February 2005
No matter how great we think we are, we are only ever part of a bigger system. Out here there is no room for a man or a woman to be an island.
On any given day I must encounter at least a hundred life forms different from my own. A walk will inevitably mean being enveloped in a spider’s web at some point along the way. A toilet trip means checking the hut for snakes first.
If I inadvertently stand in the middle of a harried ant column, they will bite and sting my feet, but they won’t go round.
Sleep comes gradually not suddenly, waiting for a lull in the vole shrieking and bat squeaking, nodding off to a chorus of crickets and frogs.
A barefoot move to another part of the house often results in a squashed insect on my sole.
The beauty of sitting outside under a starry sky must be weighed up against the nipping of mosquitoes.
But what joy to witness a flower which against all odds has pushed its way up through some concrete, to sit still enough for jewelled butterflies to land on me, to have my day brightened by the sight of some magnificently coloured bird. To delight in multi-hued dragonflies dancing round my head. How far removed from anything other than myself was I in a sanitized house in a polluted town back home. Other life? I can’t even remember the last time I saw a bluebottle there.
I think with this detachment and isolation in the West often comes an arrogance that we are top of the heap, King Creature, invincible. I think about this sometimes as I sweep away the piles of dust in my living room, a result of the termites munching their way through the rafters.
I think about it as I look at the sky, wondering if enough rain will fall to let the crops grow. I think our lives are lesser without the presence of other creatures. I could spend my days trying to kill the ants, the bats, the termites, but haven’t they all got their part to play? Perhaps the termites hold the key to a malaria prevention, maybe the bats hold the cure for cancer. And yet most of us cannot even live together with humans who are different from us, never mind animals.
We would do well to remember that it is not all about us, and that harmony is more productive than destruction.
Wednesday, 9 February 2005
This country's labour laws were originally set up to protect poor black labourers from the dismissive whims and bad treatment by rich white people. Unfortunately the legacy of those laws is that it is now almost impossible to get rid of staff, no matter what their conduct.
We recently made some people redundant, with plenty of notice and solid redundancy packages. They are now trying to sue us.
Re theft: There is always the argument here that people are so poor and with so few opportunities that they will seize anything they can to make their lives better. And maybe that's how it should be. There is the comparison with back home which I have already posted about, whereby people claim false lunch expenses, take stationery, use company cars for private use etc etc. But who does that really hurt? Some big wealthy fat cat company director?
The thing that bothers me is that every time something is stolen here it is less money we have to spend on people who really need it. I appreciate that I will never know what it is to be so destitute and desperate, but you know what? In my opinion stealing is just WRONG. Until we can worm these people out I have to work with them. I'm hoping I won't have cause to use any of these Office Insults:
1. Ahhh...I see the fuck-up fairy has visited us again.
2. I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.
3. I don't work here. I'm a consultant.
4. It sounds like English, but I can't understand a word you're saying.
5. I can see your point, but I still think you're full of shit.
6. You are validating my inherent mistrust of strangers.
7. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don't give a damn.
8. Thank you. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.
9. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
10. What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?
11. It's a thankless job, but I've got a lot of Karma to burn off.
12. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.
13. Do I look like a fucking people person?
14. Too many freaks, not enough circuses.
15. Chaos, panic, & disorder - my work here is done.
16. How do I set a laser printer to stun?
17. Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.
I particularly like No. 13. I think Oscar would approve. Mind you, I have actually asked No. 16.
Tuesday, 8 February 2005
At this time of year the getting there is a little bit hairy – the grass is thick and high and sheltering snakes, the insects are breeding like crazy and hanging about in their millions – but it’s worth it.
Technically speaking it’s not actually a lake. We call it a dam, but it’s not really one of those either. The landscape around here is full of depressions. If you find a suitable one and build a wall around it, it will hold water all year round, thus creating a stunning body of water.
Plains fall away behind the lake and I always wish they held elephant and rhino, but the game in this area has been killed long ago. If you time your walk right, you can watch a fiery orange sun fall below the horizon and a huge buttery moon rise above it.
At the lake you sometimes find a group of kids splashing about; occasionally you hear cows grazing in the undergrowth, but usually it’s just a handful of fishermen and a pervading sense of calm.
There is an abundance of ducks, and often there are hawks and other predatory birds circling overhead. Where do the ducks come from? Where do the fish come from? There wasn’t a lake before, and now there is, and it’s teeming with life. I have been told that the ducks come from other lakes, bringing fish spawn with them. How do they know there’s a new lake? How far away do they come from? How does the fish spawn survive the journey? Things to contemplate while watching the wildlife and listening to the echoes across the water as the fishermen call out to each other.
Last time I was here I met a man called Elvis. He was on his way home with his son, carrying his catch. We chatted for a while. His brother had been trained by the project in Beekeeping, and had passed on his skills. So he now has honey and fish to supplement his mealie porridge diet.
I asked him if he was going to fry the fish he had just caught and eat it with salt and lemon. “No,” he said, “Just boil it.” And then of course it dawned on me that this barefoot man standing in front of me in his ragged clothes didn’t even have enough money to buy salt and oil, and despite the fact that we have orchards with plentiful lemon trees, he had never heard of anyone eating fish with lemon.
It’s peaceful down by the lake, but all this is about to change. I will miss the serenity but it’s for a good cause. This lake has ‘settled’ enough to start a new training programme down there.
We plan to build a mini-village back up from the shores, and mark out plots for new crops. Most people here grow maize and little else. Provided we get funding we will initiate a training programme in cultivating different crops and irrigating them from the lake in the dry season. A group of trainees will live in the houses for the duration of the growing season and have practical lessons in taking care of soya, sunflowers and groundnuts to begin with. These trainees will then go back to their communities and their own dams, and train more villagers there.
Optimistically we hope that people’s nutrition will improve. But in a recent consultation with potential trainees, The Husband asked the people why they wanted to be shown how to cultivate and irrigate different crops. “To sell them!” was the repeated refrain.
The Husband asked them where they would sell them. Detailed descriptions were given of various bush markets.
“How will you get there?” The Husband asked. Silence. In fact the mood of the crowd swelled and dropped like a choppy sea. “If we offered you good credit terms, would you want to buy bicycles?”
“Yes!” they roared.
The project has been donated a lot of bicycles back in the UK, but we need to raise funds to ship them out here. Containers cost a lot of money to put on the high seas.
One man looked a little dejected. “We can’t really carry much on a bicycle though.” Disappointment was palpable.
The Husband then told them we could build bicycle trailers which could carry up to 100kg of goods. Joy once more.
But what kind of an isolated, insular, idea-starved, educationless life must a person lead where they could not even imagine a trailer??
Food for thought.
Monday, 7 February 2005
Climb into a 45 year old Land Rover and bear up for the 40km journey which will take you two hours.
We decided at the weekend to go visit some friends who live in a village 40km away. In real terms the road is actually worse than the depiction above. If we break down on this road we are screwed.
The road sees no traffic. There is no mobile phone reception. It would be about a 6 hour walk either back to the project or forward to the village. Our friends in the village get in and out on another road, but to use that one would involve a roundabout journey of about three days in the Land Rover.
There are however, lots and lots of people living in communities off this road, and I cannot comprehend how they get anywhere, as they have no vehicles and even bicycles are rare. Forget about schools or medical supplies. Get sick here, I think you’d die.
We have two checklists, one we go through before leaving, and one we go through on arrival. The first checklist is in case of breakdown. We must carry:
Litres of water. Dehydration v v bad.
Litres of fuel. The fuel gauge doesn’t work and the mechanics keep screwing with the carburettor so the LR eats fuel.
Blankets, in case we have to sleep in the bush.
Matches, in case we need fire.
Torches, in case we need light.
Penknife in case we need to perform emergency surgery. Just kidding. Well, not really.
Serious First Aid Kit. This includes magic bandages which Doc SIL swiped for us, which apparently will staunch a wound and stick you together even if you have a limb hanging off. I hope I never have cause to write and ask the manufacturers for a refund.
Gallons of suncream, hats and covers in case we need to walk in the sun.
Money for booze! V v important.
Huh. All that for a weekend having a few drinks with some mates. The LR just about makes it to the village, chugging along. Everyone stares as we drive up. It’s not surprising really, given we are making a noise like a herd of mechanical elephants.
The on-arrival checklist goes like this:
Fillings still in teeth? Check.
Ribs still attached to ribcage? Just.
Position of stomach? Somewhere around the throat region.
Physical appearance? A fine overall coat of red dust with a scattering of bruises.
We’re good to go.
We are actually staying with a friend who lives outside the village, but decide to stop off at the bars first and see some other people. Due to cholera-induced gluten intolerance I am not supposed to drink beer.
The Husband comes out of the first bar waving a bottle of brandy. “It’s a quid! You have to have it!”
Hmm. Sure I do. Later, it gets worse. In another bar they have no bottles of brandy. They do however have generic ‘grain spirit’ in a plastic pouch. It ain’t no London cocktail bar, that’s for sure.
Night falls like a fast curtain on a bad theatre production. You raise your drink to your lips in daylight, and when you put the glass down it is dark.
We get the LR going and head off to our friend’s house. The engine fails. We push the LR. It goes. Then the lights blow. Darkness. Silence. Outside stars are flung across the sky as though from an infinite barrel of twinkle.
We drive for half an hour with our torches out the window barely lighting the way. The rear door of the LR is screwed and keeps banging open. On about my tenth time jumping out to close it I peer in the back and realise that one of the back seats has slid out entirely. At home I would say the chances of finding it on the road in the morning would be relatively good. Here it is probably already ensconced in someone’s home as a sofa.
We carry on. This road is worse than the first one we have taken. We end up in a gulley and I fear we are about to tip over as we coast along on the two left wheels.
I think The Husband should be awarded the title Champion Off-Road Driver. I laugh to myself as I think about challenging one of those Mommys in their big SUVs to come and drive it out here.
We pull up outside our friend’s house. She has made cabbage curry. It is a windy night.
The next day we try to leave. We try very hard. By now the High Tension lead has worked its way loose and burnt up. The engine keeps cutting out. We have lost our penknife and cannot clear away some new wire. We poke it back and try to fix it with some twigs.
Some men help us push the LR again. Every time someone helps us push they ask for a lift. One man packs his bicycle precariously in the back. I laugh and tell him he would be quicker cycling. The starter motor dies. So does the alternator. We stop and look at the engine again. In the absence of a knife one man offers to clear some wire with his teeth. We decline.
A flock of bright orange birds darts back and forth in front of the shattered windscreen. The LR makes it back to the village mostly by wishful thinking.
We have to take the battery out to charge it. Luckily someone can do this for us. We spend the night in the village. I am not feeling well after my previous imbibing of grain spirit so I stick to soft drinks. I try not to think about tooth rot and Zambian dentists.
The guys find a pool table in the back of the bar and proceed to play endlessly. I fashion a lounging spot out of some sacks of maize and nod off, watching out for rats. Michael tells us someone in the market has offered to sell him a monkey. I don’t think it’s to eat. The going rate is £5. I say it is a bargain, especially if it comes with a woolly jumper and can do chores.
This morning we put the battery back in the LR and push start it. Despite my best Charlie’s Angels high kicks I cannot get the back door to stay shut. Now we are in danger of the spare wheel falling out and rolling away into the bush. We are about half way home when the LR breaks down again. In a dip, with a steep hill on either side. A bunch of women washing in a river nearby start laughing.
One skinny lady comes running out. She wants a lift so she offers to push. We strain at the vehicle while I mutter to The Husband that he is so lucky I am not a Princess. The engine goes. I yell at the lady to jump in.
She has two daughters. The four year old carries a one year old on her back while their mother heaves at a giant bag. We are probably the only vehicle which will go on that road this week. Angela was prepared to walk with her kids for several hours to get back to her home. She has been to a relative’s funeral. Out here the coffins are tiny.
On our way we pass barefoot women walking on the hot sand, 20 litre drums of water on their heads. Just as we are about to run out of petrol the LR approaches the project. Lovely Milly is a sight to behold. She is decked out in full African celebratory regalia, including headdress and big skirts. She is hoeing the garden.
Thursday, 3 February 2005
They don't like hot dry heat however, so as long as you iron your clothes afterwards the eggs get killed off and all is ok.
I do not worry about this much as Lovely Milly does the laundry and operates the scary hot coals iron.
However I do possess some items of clothing which are not made out of industrial cotton, and therefore should not be subjected to vigorous pounding in fibre-munching washing powder (Gets stains out in seconds! Even in cold water! Even in dirty water! Watch your clothes disappear before your very eyes!).
These clothes I wash myself. I do not iron them. Partly because I cannot operate the hot coals iron, and partly because certain man-made fibres tend to become little more than a selection of holes held together by string if even brought in the vicinity of an iron.
So far I have blithely ignored the egg-laying flies matter. A case of, if I don't think about it, it won't happen. Frankly, the thought of these eggs hatching, burrowing into your skin, turning into big swollen hard lumps, and then flies busting out of various parts of your body is far too horrific to contemplate. Fingers in ears la la la.
Anyway, I went to take in a black top off the line the other day, and there they were. A little cluster of round, shiny, white eggs. The Husband did point out that they could just be some random eggs, and not The Eggs, but would you take a chance? I balled the top up and hid it in a corner of the bedroom, to be dealt with later.
The next day was a total batastrophe. Coming home from the office I discovered that our bedroom had now become The Place Where Bats Come To Die. There was one under the table, squeaking pitifully in its death throes. I fetched the broom and hurled him out the door.
Then I began to get a bit paranoid. Critters hide everywhere about our house. So I started a bat-hunt. Sure enough, there was another one - stretched out on the lovely new silk cushion I bought in Cape Town. Right on top, like some King Bat on his throne. He got chucked outside as well.
Then I thought that really I ought to wash the cushion cover, you know in case of bat germs. So that got thrown in the corner with the egg-infested top.
It took me a few days to work up the courage to do this particular set of laundry, but finally I caved in. There was a nagging thought in the back of my mind that maybe the eggs would already have hatched and I'd inadvertently started a fly zoo.
I boiled up some water. Boiling water is generally considered a Good Thing in such emergencies. I added half a box of fibre-munching detergent, thinking it would also attack the germs/eggs. I scraped the eggs off my top and plunged it into the boiling vortex of soap. I figured ten minutes was long enough.
Next up was the cushion cover. I was scrubbing away, but something felt not quite right. I lifted the cover out of the water, blew off the suds and had a closer look. And there, stuck in the middle of the cloth, was a BAT LEG.
And as Scarlett Johansson would say, 'That is just not sanitary.'