All in a Day’s Work

driving to the shops

I invariably wake in those dead hours. 3am. It’s hard to get back to sleep with squadrons of mozzies bombarding and thoughts whirring. I do, much later, and then it’s difficult to rise at 7.

I wish I could stay in bed I say to husband.

You can, he says, there’s nothing you have to get up for.

Which is precisely why I must get up. He doesn’t understand; he works a nine to five with the incessant demands of global conference calls and meetings.

I operate in a void. Getting up is imperative to getting going. Keeping Going.

So I get up, down my tea, and walk the dogs.

Today I augmented the usual routine of dog walking/chasing fundis tails/gardening … with a trip to Mafinga.
Mafinga is the closest town of any scale close to where I live. For close read 40 miles. For scale read a sprawling tin roofed village that has morphed as a town full of the usual Chinese tat and enough basic provisions to keep one going between visits to the swinging metropolis of Iringa (80 miles away …) where you can buy butter. Which you can’t in Mafinga.

I slipped and slid across the farms and met the asphalt road with relief. Tanzanian tar roads are better than those to the north but any speed one might pick up is compromised by eternal police checks; the cops lurk in bushes and leap out wielding speed guns. Apparently the vigor with which they do this is the consequence of a government directive that the first three fines, of about ten quid each, are bound for the top. The rest they can take. It’s why we have fat policemen in Tanzania; a thin one is new on the beat.

Along with inevitable police checks are inevitable accidents. Today I met one truck on its side and another that had driven directly over a huge culvert and smashed into the forest, the occupants quite unscathed clearly as all sat cheerfully on top of the tarpaulin waving at passersby.

Mafinga’s single ATM was out of action. As of six weeks ago. According to the sign on the door. Shows how often I get out. ‘Try Makambako’ said the askari on guard the – presumably – empty cash dispenser from his reclining position in the shade. Makambako is fifty miles away. Lack of cash limited options somewhat as I was forced to eke out the little I had on essentials: 25 litres of diesel, mainly so I could get home, telephone credit, mainly so I can stay connected (and sane), 5 kgs of chick mash for growing and greedy quail, jembe for gardener Atinas who says the last one broke because I made it work too hard. It note. Not him.

But the visit to Mafinga, despite reduced spending power, was not wasted entirely. I was to rendezvous with the farms store manager, Wanda, who has hair the color of gentian violet. Wanda had sweetly agreed to assist in purchasing rudimentary essentials so that we can move into and camp in our own house as personal effects still incarcerated in transit. Wanda was afraid her taste may not match mine so wanted my input.

We will buy plates first of all, announced Wanda. Right I agreed.

The tiny shop we entered was floor to ceiling cheap houseware.

Can I see your dinner plates asked Wanda importantly?

The sales lady behind the counter produced a plain white plate.

Is it ok, asked Wanda, proffering the plate.

Is there anything else, I asked?

No, she said, this is it.

Oh. Right.

And thus we trailed around Mafinga: with Wanda pointing out what was available, assuring me there was nothing alternative available, me, in that case, acquiescing, and after ten minutes being dispatched; ‘that’s all now’, said Wanda, ‘you can go now’.

I have thus acquired 6 white plates, 6 entirely ordinary water glasses and a set of stainless steel cutlery.

How could Husband assume I have nothing to get up for?

PS I have absolutley no idea why the truck at the top won’t get up. Unlike me.


Growing Green Fingers

Camellia Sinensis or the Tea Bush Blossom

I am astounded at this new found passion for gardening.
Is it an age thing I wonder?
Or an imperative I must develop to fill long, damp, often lonely days?
My nails are engrained with dirt. The knees of my jeans eternally mud caked. My wellies well-worn.
It’s good therapy said my husband in defence of his own green fingered habit years ago. Years ago when I was younger and faster and busier. Much, much busier. Far too busy to garden goddamnit!
I cannot go into a garden now without the compulsion to thieve overcoming me. I furtively pull up bulbs or snip quick cuttings. My secateurs are permanent companions. My mother in law said it was mandatory to steal from other gardens, ‘things grow best when nicked’, she said. The satisfaction of witnessing transplanted ferns furl new green or bulbs sprout promisingly lime-life is a new delight to me.
On a moist Saturday afternoon, when the mist shrouded the tea and drizzle laced the air, we came upon the long lost home of an English tea planter. How loved it must have been once; the evidence abounded in the garden, packed with lilies running riot, creepers clambering without restraint, shrubs gamboling across a lawn where the grass was high and wet. I pulled and tugged and cut.
The garden that I am striving to develop, landscaping beds, planting lawns, cultivating vegetables, it won’t be mine forever. It might only be mine for a handful of years. If that. Is this frenzy of planting about keeping busy?
Or about putting down roots. Literally. Metaphorically?