Monday, 12 December 2005


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."

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