Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stowaway, nature matches art, smoke that thunders and clonks.

1. As we were leaving Lake Kariba, Lucky the dog walked on to the truck and looked as if he were considering coming with us.

2. Baobabs because they look like trees the way I draw them.

3. At first we thought it must be smoke from a fire a long way off, but it wasn’t. ‘That’s the spray from Victoria Falls, explained Bob, who had been this way before.

4. Frogs that sound like bells.

Livingstone, Zambia

Monday, February 27, 2006

Home, Man Friday and seven sisters.

1. Other Claire, Rosey and I have our own little cabin with cupboards to put things in and our own shower in which we can leave our washing kit.

2. I have seen the Pleiades -- all seven of them. They are the blurry group that you can only see if you don’t look straight at them. Then I remembered my binoculars -- so I lay on the sundeck, and there they were, clear as anything, even Electra who is supposed to have hidden her face at the fall of Troy. At this point I realised that my binoculars make a lot of things appear in the spaces between the stars. Wow. If you’ve never had a good look at the night sky through binoculars, do it now -- don’t wait until you’re 28.

3. We moored on an island that afternoon. When the sun was less fierce, Rosey and I went for a stroll -- we found bare footprints on the beach and followed them to the edge of the bush, where we found a pair of flip-flops. We took the path towards the interior, and discovered a spider the size of a soup plate and a shack with a vegetable garden. These (except probably the spider) belonged to the men paid to watch the island to keep it safe from squatters and poachers. Back on the beach, we found some fragments of a crocodile skeleton and two of the crew who were following us at a polite distance to make sure we didn’t do anything stupid. Dead trees stick up out of the water -- no-one cleared them when the lake was made and now they are a mournful sight and a menace to shipping (apart from canoes which zip in and out of them).

Lake Kariba

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Swoop, feeding time and starshine.

1. Swallows landing on the boat as it goes along. These little fellows have brownish caps. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

2. The delicious shuddering induced by the horrible sights at Lake Kariba Crocodile farm. They are farmed for Malaysian handbags and meat. Some of the carcasses are fed to the breeding crocs. We rode in a mini-bus behind the feeding truck and ohh’d and eugh’d as the farmers chucked lumps of meat at 20ft reptiles that reared up out of the stinking water, snapping and thrashing. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. Stars reflected in the lake. For the past few days I’ve had some lines from Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib in my head:

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

I always thought that simile was a bit odd -- when do you ever see starshine reflected in a lake? But tonight, there they were. And the way the reflection gets smudged into a line -- it does look a bit like a spear.

The other stars reflected on a lake image I thought of was the game Pocketful of Stars by Ferry Halim. You are a little girl skidding about on a frozen lake and you have to jump up so that your reflection can catch stars. It’s so beautiful it will make you cry.

Cruising on Lake Kariba

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Supporters, readers, spectrum and stars.

1. The crowd that gathered to watch us having our windscreen replaced -- a seller of tools, a lady collecting for a charity and various windscreen mending groupies.

2. Finding a bookshop that sold cheap Penguin classics -- I got Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Moonfleet. I’ve also seen Wind in the Willows knocking about and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim.

By the end of the trip many of us had read Wind in the Willows, encouraged by Rob’s enthusiastic quotings of Mr Toad’s boastful song and perhaps also by Arusha Alex; Rob and I were groaning ‘The horror, the horror’ to signal our fellowship in Heart of Darkness; and Iris and I were disagreeing about the merits of Moonfleet. Wayne had also read some of Andersen while he was having malaria. It’s probably not the most reassuring fever reading, as a recurring theme is talking kitchen utensils.

3. The windscreen mending meant we really had to cane it down the dirt road to the houseboat on Lake Kariba. Stine spotted a strange cloud rainbow -- we spent half an hour squatting on the floor trying to get a better look at it while Wayne raced the truck along the road. I thought it was a sundog, but looking at Atmospheric Optics it might have been iridescent clouds.

4. Watching the stars from the houseboat -- I’ve seen the Southern Cross for the first time.
Ilongwe to Sinasongwe, Lake Kariba, Zambia

Friday, February 24, 2006

Instructive, career choice and safety first.

1. Selfless sacrifice. We ran out of bread during the morning lunchmaking session. This wasn't due to bad planning on the cook's part -- it was lovely fresh bread with a crust from the bakers, which means it gets cut very thick. Julie says: 'Wayne giving up his sandwiches to the three of us who had none was a beautiful thing.' and Wayne says: 'Rosey giving me her sandwich was beautiful too.'

2. African jobs. We met a witch doctor selling 'SEX POWDER -- Doctor physician approved' with a metal sign. The sign showed a lady who had been pregnant too long -- the powder had helped her give birth to a big baby wearing trousers and a jumper. Wayne said he would have tried it 'but then I saw the spoon.' We asked how long it would take to work: 'Depends on how good your blood is,' was the mysterious reply. Later we were stopped by the tetse fly man. His job is to make sure vehicles don't bring tetse flies on to his patch. Tetse flies are little buggers -- they steal your blood with a painful sting and they spread sleeping sickness. We learned all about them in Serengeti -- they fly into the back of the truck causing an ecstasy of slapping and jumping and shouting and waving. The tetse fly man was wearing a blue shirt -- blue and dark colours attract tetse flies. First he checked the sun visors in the cab in case Wayne and Anne had any concealed there; then he waved his net around. We invited him into the back, but he wasn't interested. Probably because we weren't swearing and slapping each other with newspapers. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. Our leader not being beheaded by a snapped tow rope. We were halted by a jack knifed lorry on a narrow mountain road -- with his brakes failing, he had chosen the cliff rather than the drop and had spun right round. He was OK, but an impatient coach had got stuck trying to pass the lorry on the verge. George, our truck, sprung into action. We hooked up the tow rope and piled out to watch Wayne save the day. But the strain was too much -- the cable snapped and flew backwards hitting the windscreen, making a dent the size of your head in the top slightly to the left. Wayne was so surprised he didn't even swear. Anne, who was videoing the whole thing, did it all for him. So Francis and Bob and some others went round and helped dig the coach out and the traffic started moving again. The coach passengers thanked us warmly and we continued on our way. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

Chipata to Ilongwe, Malawi

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breakfast, decadence, language and fruit.

1. Francis’ French toast. French toast is what you get when there aren’t enough eggs for scrambled -- and scrambled comes when there aren’t enough for fried. Anyway, it’s brilliant French toast, and goes very well with some two per cent maple syrup.

2. Drinking instead of having a shower. First of all it was too rainy to get from the bar to the shower and then when I managed to get to the truck to pick up my stuff, I got involved in a conversation about life with Rob and Wayne and then it was supper time and after that it hardly seemed worth it.

3. Darren: Danish for Hubba Bubba is ‘Hoobaboobagum’ said really fast.

4. Iris: Finding easy-peel oranges.

South Luanga National Park, to Mama Rula Camp, Chipata, Zambia

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Markings, giraffe collection and prints.

1. The stripes and spots on the flanks of bush bucks.

2. So far we’ve only seen Thornycroft’s giraffe from a distance. But our driver spots some and takes us down a side road so we can get a closer look at them. They are different to Rothchild’s giraffes because their markings are smoother and they have long pale socks.

3. The ground is soft so it holds tracks well. A hippo has walked along the road, leaving a dinosaur-like trail and the occasional rosette of Nile cabbage.

Wildlife Camp, South Luanga National Park, Zambia

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scarlet, fishing, dusting, leaving too late, medicinal and flood.

1. Craig says: ‘Red bishops’. They are little birds, about starling size, and you see them sitting on tall stalks in maize fields. They are a startling shade of red that is so bright it makes you blink. In the park we saw them in flocks of 20 or so.

2. Seeing a hammerkopf fishing in a weir. These dowdy birds are pretty non-descript apart from their hammer-shaped head, the fact that they are supposed to be unlucky for game drivers and their vast untidy nests. But I liked stopping to see him stabbing at the water and quickly gulping something down.

3. Watching elephants eating. They pull up grass with their trunks and dust it on their legs -- elephants die when their teeth wear out, and eating clean grass slows this down. But the baby hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet and keeps swinging wide.

4. We had an evening game drive and sat on the bank of an ox-bow lake with our beers watching the sunset on our right hand side and the black clouds massing on our left hand side. We were being dive-bombed by swallows, which is never a good sign. Sure enough, the rain got us as we were driving home. Within minutes, even wrapped in waterproofs we were soaked through -- undies and all. But something in the situation -- was it the fact that we were in open topped Land Rovers, that the air was so wet that breathing was like drinking or the brave efforts of the guides to keep on looking for game in the near-zero visibility -- made us yell with laughter.

5. Remembering that I have a medicinal bottle of Cane Spirit in my locker. Julie and I added it to hot chocolate and all of a sudden felt a lot drier.

6. The Grants discuss a crisis:
Rosey: Our tent is ankle deep in water.
Clare: Our tent?
Rosey: Yes.
Clare: Tent Seven?
Rosey: Yes.
Clare: That we sleep in?
Rosey: Yes.
Clare: How ankle deep?
Rosey: Ankle.

We ended up sleeping in the games room -- Rosey on the pool table, and me on the floor.

Wildlife Camp, South Luanga National Park, Zambia

Monday, February 20, 2006

Just the good bits, going by and made it.

1. It’s raining and the sides of the truck have been rolled down, so it’s a bit stuffy inside. One by one we fall asleep. But Wayne and Anne wake us up to look out at a lively market full of women selling tiny heaps of tomatoes and garlic and pineapples and melons and roasting corn and bicycles. A short time later we are all asleep again.

2. Sitting in the bar at the campsite watching the Luanaga river slip by under the setting sun and hearing hippos grunting and moaning. The make a huh-huh-huh noise, a bit like fat cartoon villains.

3. When asked for a Beautiful Thing, Wayne says: ‘We’re here.’ We’ve made a border crossing today and travelled 310kms, jolting down miles of dirt road, followed a mud track covered in vast puddles through the bush. For the last few days rumour has come back that the park has been inaccessible; and this last bit of road might have been impassable.

Salima, Malawi to Wildlife Camp, South Luanga National Park, Zambia

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Oh yes, banishment and responsibility.

1. 6am conversation in the Grant Tent:
Clare: What are you writing?
Rosey: Nothing.
Clare: Is it a note to that cyclist from last night?
Rosey: It's just my e-mail address. I told him I'd leave it for him.
Scribble scribble scribble pause
Rosey: How do you spell ganglion?

2. Discovering that telling pestiferous traders to go away really does work.

3. I am a godmother to Eleanor Beatrice Lyra Walker (otherwise known as Ellie B, Ellie Bright, Ellie Brave and Ellie Beautiful). Cat and Alan, what an honour for me -- but she'd better not turn out as naughty as her Northern Lights namesake.

Blantyre to Selima, Malawi

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sandy, it works and romance.

1. Lake Malawi -- love you loads, what with the freshwater swimming, the many coloured fish, your thrilling rocky islands and falling asleep to the sound of your blue waves washing on clean shores, but I have to say: I'm thrilled to be leaving the sand behind -- it gets into our tents, our clothes and our food.

2. The enormous satisfaction I get from finding a cashpoint that will take my card and give me money.

3. Catching Rosey chatting to a BOY in the campsite garden -- apparently he has cycled from Holland.

Blantyre, Malawi

Friday, February 17, 2006

Up you go, corroboration and danger.

1. Rosey finally finding some climbable rocks jutting out of the lake shore.

2. It’s never nice to feel cross with someone for reasons that you can’t put your finger on, but when someone else tells you that they are cross too, it makes me feel better about it all.

This is exactly what is written in my diary -- and now I come to write it up, I have no idea who I was cross with, or who my collaborator was. I suppose this counts as beautiful, too!

3. A sign on the beach warns about undertow and hippos.

Salima, Malawi

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pancakes, up the table leg, one fish two fish, drummer boy and greens.

1. Pancakes with cinnamon, sugar and lime.

2. There was also a dish of golden syrup. It made a ring on the table and ants came to drink from it, lining up round the edge like little cattle.

3. Lake Malawi is described as being like a giant aquarium -- we saw little blue fish and some spotted ones.

4. Andi from Kande gave me a drumming lesson in his shop. He and his friends gather on the full moon for a few beers and bonfire on the beach. I tell him that I do the same with my friends sometimes -- we go to the woods though.

5. One of the souvenir sellers tells me that they roll joints out of maize leaves. ‘Do you get the munchies?’ I ask. He laughs. ‘It’s best right before dinner and then you can go home and eat two platefuls.’

Kande Beach, Malawi

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Trot, re-living, stewpot and silver road.

1. Rosey, Eva, Anne and I went riding. It must be 15 years since I was last on a horse, and my rising trot was never very comfortable for me, the horse or my instructor. But on our ride through the bush I managed to get the rhythm right a couple of times, so I didn’t feel quite so much like a sack of potatoes.

2. ‘Haven’t you finished that yet?’ I had seen Claire very near the end of The Da Vinci Code the day before. ‘I’m just re-reading the good bits.’

3. In the truck’s domestic locker is a cast iron little cauldron rather bigger than your head. It makes getting at bin bags, new Detol soap, sandwich bags and dustpans very difficult, and Wayne is determined it’s going back to Australia with him, but isn’t sure how he’s going to get it there. We discover that despite all this inconvenience, the potje is worth having along. Francis fills it with meat and potatoes and vegetables and buries it in the charcoal embers. A few hours later, dinner for 19 is ready.

4. The moon on the lake. It was very fat and full and made a silvery path across the water.

Kande Beach, Malawi

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Rain by day, waterbabies, local gossip and miracle cake.

1. It has been raining at night, but I wanted to see some rain falling by day. And I got it -- much to Anne’s disgust. I was forced to spend most of the morning sitting in Soft Sands Cafe eating chocolate cake.

2. There is an island about 500m from the shore. From the moment we saw it, Rosey and I knew we would have to swim to it. After a lot of umming and ahhing -- can probably make it there, but don’t know about back -- we set out, accompanied by Other Claire. It was a good slog, but we made it and felt very pleased with ourselves -- not one of the men thought they could do it. We clambered all over the rocks, gossiping with the local boys who had paddled out on their canoes and having our swimming prowess admired by a lady tourist. Once we were rested, we swam back without any trouble at all.

3. Andy from Kande telling me about the crazy old hermit who lived on the island. He came from Andy’s village, maybe 70 years ago and decided he wanted to live on the island. There was plenty of fish, and plenty of water, but not much else. He relied on people occasionally visiting him with other supplies. The headman of the village asked him to come back to the mainland, but he refused. Then one day the weather was so bad that no-one could get to him for five days. After that, he was more willing to leave.

4. A mysterious pot had been boiling on Francis’ camp stove all afternoon. ‘What’s in there?’ He shook his head and grinned. It turned out to be a beautiful brown cake. I would never have believed that it had been steamed, not baked, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

Kande Beach, Malawi

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shut up, don’t touch me, before supper and storm on the way.

1. Getting our tent battened down in the night. You can’t imagine African rain -- it comes from nowhere and falls in great sheets of crazy water, accompanied by thunder and lightning and blasts of wind. Trouble is, it was so hot that we left the flysheet off our tent, until we were woken by patter patter patter patter. If you’ve ever tried to get a fly sheet on in wind and rain, you’ll know that it’s a mad scramble. Rosey had no bottoms on and I was only wearing a babydoll nightdress (got to keep some clothes dry). Meanwhile Gill and Darren struggled with the next tent. Gill had a pair of trousers wrapped around her -- Darren says: ‘It was like flash! Gill clothed! Flash! Gill naked.’ What I like is crawling back into the tent, zipping down the flysheet, velcroing the canvas door and zipping closed the bug door, drying off on Rosey’s towel before she notices and snuggling back into my still-warm sleeping bag.

2. Sensitive plants -- these were suggested by Anne. We were told earlier in the trip by Ali T not to be shy like mimosa. Today we found this sort of mimosa at the lunch stop and discovered just how shy it is. The leaves look like vetch -- tiny and arranged in a double row down a stem. When you touch them, they each fold in half and the plant flops down on to the ground.

3. Sundowners. I like sitting in a bar by a lake with all the people not on cook duty watching the sun set. The photographers arrange their cameras, and the rest of us just watch and wonder and try to decide if this isn’t the best one yet.

4. We have been watching a storm come in across the lake and just before it arrives, the wind comes rushing in and the air seems to be electric.

Chitimba to Kande Beach, Malawi

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ohhhh, horses and contructing.

1. Wind music. Eva and I were sitting outside the bar when we noticed the sound of the wind blowing across our pop bottles.

2. White horses on the waves in Lake Malawi. White horses is a cliche, but I've looked and looked at the water and I can't find a better way of describing the movement.

3. Elaine's penguin shed. It's built from sticks and woven grass and she is planning to photograph her mascot Jean-Jacques in it. She says that she enjoyed the making of it so much that she will make more little houses along the way on her year-long trip.

Chitimba, Malawi

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Career, observers, green and unequal match.

This is our first night on Lake Malawi. We arrived to find another truck parked. The group was having a dressing-up-in-women’s-clothes night and we were welcome to join in. ‘Um, yeah. Thanks.’

1. I like putting ‘writer’ on my immigration forms. It’s best not to put ‘editor’ or ‘journalist’ because sometimes border officers are funny about people who might associate with newspapers and a border officer with a funny feeling means hours of delay. The chap who processed my form was feeling chatty, and he asked me what I wrote about. I told him ‘beautiful things’ and we agreed that I would have lots to say about Malawi.

2. The 40 kids who joined us for our first meal in Malawi. You can stop anywhere in Africa for lunch, and within moments children will appear to watch. As soon as we put our stools out, they all sat down. I chatted to Baxter (said he was 15, looked nine) and Steve (said he was nine, looked about six) and another boy with a difficult name who said he was 130. Three tried my glasses on, heads tipped back to keep them from slipping off. When I took my specs back I polished the smeary lenses on my top before putting them on. The boys wiped imaginary pairs of glasses on their shirts and put them on, too. We asked if we could photograph them -- I have about ten shots of them pretending to be me taking a picture; and several of arms and hands as they pushed each other out of the way. Then Anne put some music on and they danced, one skinny little girl bobbing up and down with her eyes squeezed shut like a clubber. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. Francis says: ‘The mountains and the green fields near the border with Malawi. That’s where most of the food in Tanzania comes from.’

4. Rosey dancing with a six foot Dutchman who was wearing a short orange cocktail dress.

Tanzania to Chitimba, Malawi

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cooler climes, wonderbar and beef curry.

1. Going into the mountains and feeling the temperature drop after a week of general stickiness.

2. The bar at Farmhouse Camp. It’s in a hut with a thatched roof with eaves that touch the ground. We squatted on three-legged stools, warming our hands on pots of glowing coals. The only bad thing was that it closed at half past nine.

3. The magic curry that Francis whipped up from leather-like beef.

Dar es Salaam to Farmhouse Camp

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Temple of doom, the other side, whiter than grey and sideways while blowing bubbles.

1. Being rescued from a rabid Sikh man. We were waiting for George to have his starter motor fixed. A beardy man driving a 4x4 saw us and told Wayne that if we cared to come into his temple we could learn a little about Sikhism and have some lunch.

Too late -- having removed our shoes washed our hands, covered our heads and walked on our filthy feet across a pristine white prayer mat -- we realised we would be working for our lunch by listening to a 20-minute rant from a toothless and fervent man. He took in Revelations, Christianity, Reincarnation, Ancient Greece and the respect which Sikhs have for All Other Religions (apart from Hinduism). At the end, he asked if any of us had any questions.

‘Um,’ said Gill, who could see Anne, having bravely penetrated the organisation was waving at us from the back of the temple, ‘Our leader says we have to go now.’

‘Yes, but does anyone have any questions?’

‘We really do have to go -- there are people waiting for us,’ added Elaine.

We scrambled to our feet, and he tried to thwart us by getting the priest to give us sweets, but we retreated down the stairs, grabbed our shoes and ran. The 4x4 man was waiting by the gate, but numbers made us brave and all he could do was bellow: ‘It will take you FIVE minutes to eat lunch.’

2. Having said all that, I did like the paintings for Sikh gurus that decorate the temple, and the fanatical man did have a beatific, toothless grin. Also, I liked the priest, who seemed to hiding his face in a mixture of amusement and embarrassment.

3. Washing clothes -- normally it sucks, but doing it in the African sun, when you know you don’t have to get your whites perfect, is OK.

4. Watching crabs on the beach. They were doing crabby things on the dry sand just above the tideline -- chasing each other, digging more sand out of their burrows and scuttling around. When I tried to get nearer they disappeared down their holes, but if I stayed still for a moment, they came out again.

Dar es Salaam

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Smooth sailing, return and recovery.

1. When a ferry crossing expected to be thoroughly vomitous is not.

2. Wayne saying that he and Francis had missed us, and the joy with which we greeted George the truck. I think it was partly keeness to get back on the road and partly the vague feeling of insecurity I get from carrying my passport and money around with me.

3. Discovering that Francis has not only survived a motorbike crash but has also put up our tents and cooked dinner. He has, however lost his hat and sunglasses.

Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Beach holiday, stranded star and nails.

1. The water at Nungwi Beach is clear and blue and warm. Rosey and I were so entranced by it that we got sunburn from playing too long in the sea.

2. Rob found a huge and knobbly red and black starfish for us.

3. Having clean feet and fingernails. When you are camping, and when the nearest sink is over there somewhere behind those palm trees and there is no soap anyway, my nails get grimy, even with regular mealtime Detol scrubbing. But we are staying in a hotel room with a shower, and soap; and we have been swimming a lot, so my hands are purfickly clean.

Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar

Monday, February 06, 2006

Talking, colour, spices and appreciation

1. Ali T’s funny English. T stands for ‘tour guide’. He collects cockney rhyming slang from his groups and from the BBC World Service. He shared a few choice Zanzibar phrases including ‘cahmfortahble tahmes’, which is what the sultan of Zanzibar was hoping for when he visited his wives.

2. Anatto pods. Anatto is a red colouring. The seeds are juicy so you can squash them in your fingers producing a red goo that Ali T claims ‘Mijulie’ uses on her lips. I tried it and was swiftly told by Rose that the colour was unsuitable. This didn’t stop her from smearing it on her face and hands.

3. When mace -- the seaweedy membrane that surrounds a nutmeg -- is fresh it is a deep crimson. We saw two tiny little girls picking up windfalls in a nutmeg grove.

4. We lunched at the house of Ali T’s boss: his wife served us pilau beef and custard apple and lemon juice. Craig said of this last: ‘I wanted to put my face in it.’ Later in the bar he said chivalrously: ‘I’ve never seen so many beautiful women sitting round a table. Couldn’t have done better if I’d picked them myself.’

Stone Town to Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Something to look at, sundowners and style.

We left George, Wayne and Francis in Dar es Salaam -- with only saltwater showers, mosquitoes and vodka slushies to keep them company -- so that we could desport ourselves on the beaches of Zanzibar.

1. Being stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of a market because there is so much to look at.

2. We have got into the habit of meeting at about 6.30pm in the nearest bar for sundowners. We discuss the day and write our diaries and try to catch the colours with our cameras. Africa House in Stone Town is a good place to do this. It has a satisfyingly clumpy floor and a grand balcony that overlooks the sea, small boys doing acrobatics and bigger boys swimming, dhows and, of course the sunset. There was also a fine collection of scrawny yet elegant expats; and two men in banana leaf hats playing popular songs of the day -- most notably Jambo Jambo Bwana.

3. Wearing a kanga as a skirt. A kanga is piece of printed cloth with a lot of uses -- you see them worn as skirts, aprons, head scarves, baby carriers. I tried to wear mine as a wraparound skirt. It’s not as easy as it looks, particularly before I noticed the special small step walk; and that most women wear a skirt or trousers underneath and often give their kanga a quick adjust. I could feel mine going as we walked to Africa House and it finally fell apart on the stairs. I almost tripped in my haste to get to the ladies. The beautiful thing in this story is the swift improvements made by other Claire and Rosey that allowed me to walk into Africa House with dignity.

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Penny, see the sea and icy.

1. Claire offers a successful bush toilet stop ‘Because no-one saw my arse.’ In the country there are no public loos so we must go where we can, and the avoiding crops rule means that you are quite desperate by the time you get there. If you are lucky, there’s a bush to hide behind: if not, it’s boys on one side of the truck, girls on the other. We squat together, giggling at the strangeness and wobbliness of it.

2. We sit by the pool taking a our first proper look at the Indian Ocean. Rob, who is an East Coast of the US boy, says he has never seen the sun set over the sea before.

3. Vodka slushies in metal cups covered in cool condensation. They are a lot stronger than they taste and quite soon I am feeling pleasingly lightheaded and reckless.

Marangu to Dar, Tanzania

Friday, February 03, 2006

Closer to God, disorder and campaign.

A night spent in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

1. The tree under which people pray. In times of difficulty, the Chugga tribe don’t abandon their Christian faith, but they do move it out of church. Among the banana orchards there are a few giant and ancient trees that are used as outdoor churches when important prayers need to made. Our guide Roderick explained that it happened after 9/11 when tourists stopped climbing Kilimanjaro, leaving him and his colleagues with no work.

2. We came to the village church and heard children chanting inside. ‘Kindergarten,’ explained Roderick. As we passed the chanting broke down into: ‘Jambo jambo jambo!’ -- they had the advantage because we couldn’t see them through the narrow fretwork windows.

3. The headmaster of a school we visited. Rosey liked him because he remembered her name -- he has a daughter called Rose. Rosey continues: “He sat us down in front of him and asked for money for his school in a non-threatening way. He seemed very on-the-ball and intelligent. I liked the way he wanted the school to get better and knew how he was going to do it. He was very passionate about it.”

Marangu, Tanzania

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Carry me, home thoughts and Anna’s shop.

Meserani Snake Park and Campsite has one of the livliest bars in all Africa. The owners, Ma and BJ, also run a health centre and they helped the locals build a superb Masai museum.

1. Masai children wanting to be picked up. I carried a toddler wearing a blanket, and he tried on my glasses

2. Alex, a British student running an adult education scheme for the village. He explained sheepishly, hampered by his out-of-control fringe, that he had been trying to read Wind In The Willows with his class. “I don’t think they get it so I’ve had to draw a map showing that Mole left his house, met the Water Rat, went on a picnic and then went to live at Ratty’s house.’’ I wondered if homesickness for the lush English countryside inspired his choice; and what the people in this land of browns and duns and dust made of it.

3. At the Snake Park some of the Masai women have little shops selling souvenirs. I had gone into Anna’s shop the evening before with no money and promised to return early in the morning. She remembered me and greeted me with a kiss on each cheek.

Meserani Snake Park, Arusha, Tanzania

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Care, dang and des res.

1. Rosey is ill and everyone has asked very tenderly after her.

2. Rosey has her camera trained on a German couple in the Ngorongoro crater picnic site. She is hoping that, since they have been foolish enough to sit outside with their lunch, they will have their sandwiches stolen by a kite. Sadly when it happens she misses the shot.

3. Bright yellow weaver birds building nests in the reeds over the crocodile pool at the Snake Park.
Ngorongoro to Arusha, Tanzania

Art book, gossip and watermelon.

1. Among my birthday presents is a new book of Tove Jansson's art, featuring lots of bits I've never seen before. 2. Stopping for a ...