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


Zambia, 2005

The sound makes me turn from the post office counter.


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.


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.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

This Is How We Live Now

The editor of the only independent newspaper in Zambia is threatened with imprisonment for criticising the president. It is a crime in this country to do so. Imagine not being able to say 'George Bush sucks' or 'Tony Blair is an asshat' ? Truly, Zambia, you show your utter odious stupidity with this act.

Committee to Protect Journalists

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Conversation With A Bank Teller

In which I manage to get to town and attempt to lodge money to my account.

"Can't put money to your account."
"Why not?"
"Access nothing computer card flashy here."
"Excuse me?"
"Nothing number screen now."
"Excuse me?" I think he is speaking Gerbil. It may be that I am not hearing him right, as I have malaria yet again and I fear that my brain is now permanently damaged. I give him the benefit of the doubt and try once more.
"What's the problem?"
"It's finished."
"It's finished, the account."
"What do you mean? I just opened it."

It transpires that Barclowns Zambia have a unique way of operating their banking system. To open an account you must first fill in 957 pieces of paper, provide them with photographs, fingerprints and the right foot of your firstborn child. Then, after several months, they will open an account (if you're lucky). They will not, however, notify you that the account has been opened. As soon as they open it they will immediately charge you fees, which you have not been notified of either. This will send your account overdrawn. You are not allowed to be overdrawn. Then they will add lots of interest onto the illegal overdraft. Rinse, repeat. Then they will close your account even though you have only just managed to get it open.

*Note: previous mentions of using the ATM refer of course to my UK bank cards. Now imagine the horror of losing them in this country.

Monday, 7 November 2005


Ah, the blessed rains have finally come. Lightening the load of the temperature which has been in the mid 40s C for weeks. And, of course, bringing also the delights of the termites in flight.

For the first couple of rainstorms of the season the termites come out of hiding in their millions and fly about. Mostly at me. They are particularly attracted to light, making the start of the rains at night-time hazardous. I am reading a book when the sound of the rain begins to thunder on the roof and the temperature drops. I breathe a sigh of relief at the sudden coolness, but fail to notice the profusion of winged things which have wiggled their way in to the house through the cracks in the windows, the doors, the roof. The torrent of water makes me want to pee, but when I look up from my page my exit is blocked. A wall of termites is between me and the door. Well, actually between me and everything else. But I need to pee.

I put my hands over my face and race through the termite wall. Running to the outhouse my torch-holding hand is covered in critters. In the outhouse I switch on the lightbulb. A mistake. Not even Hitchcock in his finest moments could have envisioned the horror. I am immediately swarmed. Covered from head to toe in flappy flippy termites. I am not dropping my pants in there.

But I do not want to use the longdrop in the dark, in case I fall in and drown in poo. I run out of the outhouse spitting out wings so that I can scream, and tearing at my clothes to rid myself of the persecutors. A neighbour hears my yells and asks if I have been bitten by a snake. Um, not this time, but that might be preferable to a bazillion flickering fliers hellbent on tickling my nether regions.

Yelling, I fling away my cumbersome umbrella and the torch which is attracting my attackers mid-run, getting soaked in the process, and head back towards the house. In desperation I squat down in the dark beside the verandah.


I have peed on a frog.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Conversation With A Security Guard

"Hello, we've come to see Mr & Mrs Smith."
"I not Mr Smith."
"No, we've come to see them, they live here."
"John and Mary? Are they in?"
"John and Mary Smith. They live here. Are they in? Can you please tell them we've arrived."
"I don't think so. Not Smith."
"Who lives here?"
"I don't know."
"But you are the Security Guard, working at this house?"
"Yes, it's me, the security."
"Can you find the owner of this house please?"
"Ah, I am not owning this house."
Sound of my head banging off the gate and Mary running out into the driveway yelling at the Security Guard. Damn sure no-one's going to get past him.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Welcome To Nutsville

Which of the following are true, and which are false? Prize to the first person with the correct answers. It may be a virtual prize:

Regular residents of Ndola are now afraid to go to the service stations, after a group of taxi and minibus drivers physically lifted up a private vehicle and literally flung it across the forecourt of one station, claiming that as their livelihoods depended on fuel they should get priority.

Some kids from our community who have progressed on to a secondary school in the area have been sent home because of rioting. See, the Headmaster died. Because the Deputy Head bewitched him. And the Deputy Head has now run off because the students were rioting and harassing him over the juju.

The Prez pulled up alongside me at the weekend, as we were trying to hitch into town. He gave a little wave, then ZP1 pulled off again.

I tried to stash my bag in the 'Parcels Here' section of the supermarket, but there was no server there. A live chicken sitting on one of the shelves clucked helpfully at me though.

I managed not to throw up in one vehicle which gave us a lift, as in the 40degree heat the 5-day old remains of a slaughtered pig which had not been washed out of the vehicle began to hum along to the radio.

We realised there was a potential burglar lurking outside the house by the sudden presence of an overpowering stench of smelly feet.