Memories of Africa keep coming back
Published on: Sunday, August 30, 2020
By: Sylvia Howe
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Electricity off

I am sitting in my apartment with no electricity. The lifts are working in the building but that’s it. So no WiFi, no computer, no nuffink. I have boiled a pan of water and am enjoying a cup of drip coffee which is delicious and I am finishing a David Baldacci thriller with no shred of guilt.  I will record the WPS quiz tomorrow and am doing this column on my lovely iPad with its wizard keyboard that makes it almost as good as a laptop.  It would have been nice to have had a bit of notice so we could have charged up all the phones and power banks, but it’s a lesson.  And if it rains this afternoon the temperature will fall from sweltering to tolerable.  I have had a cold shower and have a cold water spray to hand which I use frequently on my fevered brow. I am a wussie Brit, and I like weather - even if it is cold, muggy, hot, rainy, foggy whatever. In cold weather, you can always light a fire and wrap up warm.  Less easy in hot, away from a cooling river or sea but cold water splashes always help. 

Out of Africa 

I remember in Sierra Leone when the electricity went off all night, my husband was outstation (or upcountry as we called it there) and I had a six month old baby.  We had to use mozzie nets as the little varmints were/are lethal there so that didn’t help a bit.  Tom and I wailed together as I walked up and down with him on my shoulder, spraying us both with cooling water, and diving under the shower when things got too bad.  The longest night of my life, although the little horror remembers nothing about it, of course. 

Kenya was always easy - we lived in Limuru which is 6,500 feet above sea level and so there was always a need for a fire at night. In good weather the sunlight is clear and searing, and in bad there is soggy fog which can lower the spirits as well as the thermometer. Air con wasn’t fitted - simply not necessary. If one wanted a dose of the tropics, we went to the coast and booked into a hotel on residents’ rates, like many people. 

Sometimes we flew down, at others we took the train.  It was a real experience. This was in the early 1990s - I don;t know what has happened since then. We learnt it was best to book a whole second-class compartment to ourselves, which gave us privacy and room to spread out.  It didn’t cost very much, although I believe there is talk of jazzing it up and making the whole experience a glossy tourist one. 

That would be a shame in a way. The old train would rumble out of Nairobi in the dusk, through the edges of the city and through Nairobi National Park. If we were lucky, there were rhinos on the horizon, or hippos and giraffes silhouetted against the darkening sky. If we felt brave we would go to the dining car, where the food was pretty horrible, unless you stuck to the curries.  The waiters, in their slightly grubby white uniforms, were very nice to children, and a law unto themselves. I heard of one person ordering - insanely - a bottle of wine. It arrived, and was opened at the table. ‘We need to try it,’ he told the waiter, who clearly agreed. He poured out a glass, raised it to his lips, took a swig and pronounced it ‘very good’.  The plates and cutlery were stamped East African Railways, and there may have been a crest on the top pocket of the waiter’s jacket. I can’t exactly remember, but I recall the journey took about 13 hours, unless there was a delay (which often happened).  It was important not to be in a hurry. There was something exciting and soothing at the same time about the night trains, with the crisp (if thin) white cotton sheets and wooden shutters. Clackety clack clackety clack is, oddly, an effective lullaby. 

I have tried to take the train in Sabah, but for various reasons to do with timing and location, I have not yet been able to do this. It too sounds an intriguing adventure so I hope I manage it before I leave. I’m  not so interested in the smart one to Beaufort and back, but would like to try the Padas Gorge and Tenom. The problem I have found is that the timetable means you can’t go there and back in a day... Perhaps this will change.

Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet - and exercise...

I have had a busy week of exercise. And some careful healthy eating. I decided I needed a blast - not particularly to lose weight but to get the systems working - so every day I have done about two hours - in the pool or at Bukit Padang. Emily my trainer allows no shirking alas, so we stretch and squat and bend and reach. I like the watery bits but the Bukit bits are hell. I am also not drinking alcohol, or eating sugar or carbs and am drinking fresh juices that are quite delicious.  I had to celebrate my husband’s birthday on Monday (rude not to, do admit)  thought it would be harder that it is, although around four pm I could murder a cheese and pickle sandwich. However, so far I have risen above this yearning, and comforted myself with apples and carrots and melons and papaya. I am alert to the local tendency towards sugaring everything and firmly ask for kosong, and so far it’s been OK. On Sunday I shall raise a cold glass of Rose wine to myself and tuck into perhaps a baked potato.  Not a very big one, though.

Travel rules...

...remain unclear. Or is it just me? I am not sure who is allowed in and out of the country - not as a tourist but as someone with a husband who has a working visa. I hope things will be clearer in a couple of months and that this vicked little virus (I’ve been reading all about Alexei Navalny so am going a bit Russian spy) will start to know its place. Perhaps it already does, but I hope at least it will accept that if it tries it can conquer the world, so now it can settle down and relax. Anyhow fingers crossed -  it’s been a long time. 

Cat snip

I am sad for poor old Amber who has been snipped today, and is now officially gender neutral. No babies, no boyfriends, and thank goodness no more yelling.  We are emotionally scarred by all her shrieking after she spent a little time in the general vicinity of an unneutered tomcat, who definitely gave her ideas.  Four long days of yowling and howling, in a puzzled sort of way, as I am sure she didn’t know why she was feeling so keen. How true this is of life itself. She is back from the vet, but still asleep after the anaesthetic.  I wait nervously for her fury when she wakes up and has to wear a cone. I am catpecked, clearly.

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