Going to Europe
I’ll be making a trip to the UK between 22 June and 15 July when I’m aiming to get a new passport, stock up on various supplies – including some for the baby due in August – and of course to visit family and friends. I’ll likely be hanging around the Oxfordshire region for a while, hop skipping and jumping through London, ending up in Brighton.
Advance warning to anyone feeding me: I may react unpredictably to any rice-fish combination.
Sadly I won’t be able to bring Khady (or therefore Gulliver) at this late stage of bumpiness. Although he’s eligible automatically for a British passport, we’ll probably have to jump through hoops to get her a visa (hopefully next year when I’m on a mega-successful book signing tour, I dream) and it doesn’t seem to matter whether we are a genuine couple or not.
Note: if anyone has any unwanted baby gear, ladies shoes etc, old ipads/phones, anything else – I have no shame – please let me know as I’m sure I can find excellent homes for it all.
It’s still a small world: Njaya Lodge
A decade or so ago, I was sat in a bar on the shores of Lake Malawi chatting to a bloke called Paul from London who had left the rat race and built a lodge that was employing and supporting half the local village. After a few beers, he let it slip that I could buy an island in Mozambique for around ten thousand pounds sterling. Well, this was at a point when I had some money as I’d just received a chunky redundancy pay packet. It was one of those comments I wish I’d never heard. From that point on I started dreaming of a life in Africa. In the end I took the “sensible” decision and went home to Brighton, bought a house and got a job – but I never stopped dreaming of what might have been.
Paul and Njaya Lodge are one of the inspirations behind the Little Baobab. I wrote this story in my book and relayed it to a Dutch friend Jake (who also has a lodge in nearby Niafarang), a week or two back. He was amazed and replied:
“I stayed at Njaya Lodge maybe ten times – it’s my favourite guest house in Africa. It’s also because of that place that I’m here.”
The next day I was chatting to Sean from Bradt Guides. He also said that Njaya Lodge is his favourite place out of the 15 African countries he’s visited and he’s friends with Paul. I’ve now remade contact with Paul via email. It’s a small world indeed.
Since building our house, I’ve been planning to add a new layer of pie (straw: I don’t think this is the correct spelling, but is how it’s pronounced) to the roof. The current roof should last about six years, but if we add a layer of plastic over the top, then sandwich this with another thick layer of straw then we can potentially get 15 – 20 years service. The previous roofer was good at thatching but terrible at managing my expectations. Before starting I requested a rough idea of how much straw and other materials were required so that I could decide whether or not I could afford it and whether to go ahead or wait a while. That simple concept, which I’ve attempted on every project so far, seemed impossible to grasp. It seems that here, people just start with whatever they have and then carry on with a little work as and when they have more money – which explains the many unfinished houses lying around. It doesn’t really work like that with a straw roof though.
Eventually he suggested 300 bails. I thought that was underestimating but figured on maybe double that. In the event it was more than triple at 1000 bails and that only gave us a thin roof that does the job but won’t last too long.
So I was thrilled when I met Atab, a professional pailleur (thatcher). He took a brief look and told me to improve the roof I’d need 1700 bails, 10kg wire, one large roll of plastic and a roll of fishing net (that holds the straw down at the end). Compared to the back of cigarette packet scrawlings I normally get, I felt relieved to be clearly talking to a professional.
Last Friday, under a hot blazing sun, the pie arrived but was dumped about 300 meters away as our track was too narrow for the truck. So I made 16 journeys back and forth, loading up the roof of Kermit. That was fun.
Now Atab’s here and they’re also going to help me tackle the terraced tree house thing we’re building above the kitchen. They’ve finished the main house and it’s looking good.
After shifting the straw all day I was very happy that…
…I have a Fridge!
You’ve no idea how much this has improved my quality of life. It’s not a case of nipping down to Comet and then the delivery man turning up a few days later. I have to travel 100km or so to either Gambia or Ziguinchor. The Gambia brings its own problems with Customs. Then I have to transport it on the roof of the car – that is if I can find somewhere selling a fridge. The fact that we’re running our power on solar makes a regular fridge problematic – solar fridges are prohibitively expensive. So when Khady told me she had a surprise and I walked in to see a gas fridge that her friend had given her, I was very happy. A single gas tank lasts a month or so and we can now produce ice, store some cold water, beverages and food so that we no longer have to go to the market every day.
Khady always has new business ideas and if possible, I help her with the initial investment so she can fly with them. The latest was when she visited a marabout in a remote village and she discovered the entire village has no fish. The next week, she was down at Kafountine fish market at the crack of dawn, buying large containers and stuffing them with fish and ice. Then she found out she didn’t have the correct permit to transport it, so came with me to Ziguinchor to get this. They told her that as she was born in Dakar, she has to go there for it – a 12 hour journey. No wonder the region is so under developed when officialdom puts up every possible barrier for entrepreneurship.
One of the three cashew trees I planted when we first bought the land has started fruiting. And three seeds I collected in Guinea last month have started growing into trees already.
Each fruit – the pleasant tasting, but moisture sapping, cashew apple, has a nut growing by the stalk. We place the nuts on a piece of metal and roast them over the fire. They give off an oil that flares up, lighting the forest behind. Then Khady, Yama and Jumbo sit patiently tapping each one open with a hammer on a log. And I sit waiting patiently to eat them, fresh and hot from the shell.
We’ve also just harvested our first crop of aubergines: