April 2008

Sorry for my recent silence.  I’ve been run down and exhausted – what with

          looking after and cleaning up after little G when he had gastroenteritis so bad he was close to needing a drip

          worrying about finding the right nanny for the children for next year – it’s proving more complicated than I was expecting and is not sorted out yet

          trying to decide if R should go to the nursery class in E’s school next year or stay in the nursery she’s in at the moment.  The decision has yet to be made

          coping with the hot weather and a sudden complete lack of things to do in the afternoons, combined with a few national holidays (schools are closed, nobody works except M and a few hundred like him) where suddenly the entire day needs filling

          arguing with E, who is limit-testing in a big way at the moment.  It has been horrible – the points above being some reasons why I’ve not been dealing well with her – but I’ve made a few changes and now when she kicks up a fuss I can keep calm and deal with the situation effectively

Anyway, that brings you up to date, so enough of that.  I know you’re dying to hear about the weather here – and this month has provided plenty of excitement for a weather-watcher like me.  Up till recently, the weather’s just been hot, getting hotter, but then the duststorms started.  Sometimes you can see the big yellow cloud rolling towards you – and then you run for home or get coated with the dust.  It’s a messy business.  Don’t look at your windowsills or around your front door (inside or out) – and the drifts of dust currently outside our gate have to be seen to be believed…  Before it got too hot at 7am to be outside, we were having breakfast on the veranda – and when I came to take the highchair inside at about 10 o’clock, it would look as though it had been left there by a previous generation!

It is lovely, however, getting outside just as a storm is ending.  Early evening, the dust has settled again, but there is still a bit of wind – and you can feel cool!  Without AC!  Wonderful.

Doesn’t last long, of course.  Yesterday it was 46 degrees as we came back from the pool.  That’s Celsius, folks.  Someone told me it was 52 degrees last week.  I wish I’d seen proof.  Would’ve liked to know what that feels like.  It’s not too bad, given it’s escapable.  House to car (car, parked in the sun, is horrendous to get into till the AC kicks in) to house/shop/building and back again – not too much opportunity for sustained discomfort.  I can’t imagine being without AC in the house.  I think I’d probably loll about and get nothing done.  Maybe live in the paddling pool.  Or the swimming pool.  There are a few here – some require membership, but others you can pay by the day – any expense is worth it!

Actually, I have some idea of living without AC, because we had a little while last week without electricity.  Or at least…  It was very strange.  After a rainstorm, most of the lights didn’t work, or gave only the merest hint of light.  Most ceiling fans just rotated lazily, on any setting.  ACs, the fridge, the kettle and so on didn’t work at all.  But two lights in the house were blindingly bright and two ceiling fans spun so fast on the lowest setting I was scared to walk underneath!  I suppose these are the surges people talk about when they protect their computers and so on – but I didn’t realise they could be confined to small corners of one house!

It’s only rained that once so far.  One of the girls woke in the night and when I went to their room I heard a strange noise outside, like somebody had left the tap on…  It took quite a while to realise it was actually pouring with rain!  By morning it had stopped, leaving muddy puddles on every dirt road which worry cautious drivers like me who don’t like the thought of being caught in the middle of one when it turns out to be deeper than it looks.  The puddles have receded a bit now, so the roads are passable again… but the mosquitoes aren’t being so obliging.  After two or three months bite-free, we are being afflicted again…

Here in Africa, nature is at its most exuberant.  Why have a few cubic metres of empty air, when you can fill it with mosquitoes, flies and other insects, crickets (or grasshoppers? What is the difference?) and the odd spider dropping from the ceiling?  Soon after we arrived here, I was with someone celebrating her birthday.  She’d brought a few cream cakes which were in a paper bag, which she put on the grass while we all chatted.  (When I say “chatted”, I of course mean “attempted to finish a sentence between sorting out disagreements amongst our children, listening and watching the ones who wanted to be listened to and watched, and distracting the younger ones with a new activity when they got in the way of the older ones.”  Usual sort of stuff.)  Within ten minutes, the tiny little* ants had found the cakes and had organised a small army to eat as much as possible.  Being tiny, they’d left plenty for us, but I was still amazed by their speed and sheer number.

So, it should come as no surprise that the kitchen is very frequently a battleground, with me pitched against the insects.  Leave a glass on the worktop which has just been drained of juice, and returning later, you will find it covered in tiny ants licking the sticky remains.  Look under the table carefully after lunch and you will see that the crumbs are moving, as the middle-sized ants struggle out of the door with crumbs as big as them.   A more frenetic mother would clean everything instantly (and wonder why there’s no time left to play with the children); a more relaxed mother would enjoy the chance for a science lesson…  I’m somewhere in the middle and just find it all rather depressing, especially when R won’t sit or stand on the kitchen floor for fear of being bitten…

Worse, for some time now, there has been a scrabbling sound from behind the cupboards – and I can’t kid myself that that’s ants, which means it’s something bigger and probably mammalian.  (Well, we also have a huge gecko – that appears, incidentally, just to have had a cute tiny baby – but I don’t think it’s in the nature of a gecko to scrabble.)  This makes me feel something of a failure for not being the frenetic mother, so I have been trying to ignore the problem (good tactic!), every now and then hitting cupboards when I hear the scrabbling sound, hoping to give the small rodent a heart attack…

Eventually, I mentioned the problem to the man at the office who has responsibility for looking after the house and he kindly brought a couple of mousetraps round.  Vicious-looking things in black metal, they are, but the canny mouse got the first two morsels of food without springing the trap.  Just as I was beginning to feel utterly depressed about putting out food for vermin as though it were a pet, the trap claimed a victim.  And what a horrid surprise:  this was no mouse, but something two or three times as big.  Undeniably, a rat!  To have a cute little furry mouse behind our cupboards, nibbling our napkins, was quite bad enough, but that horrid grey thing!  Ugh!

I’d been steeling myself for a complete mouse family, so I relaid the trap, dreading how many rats we’d catch.  (I say we, but M was actually away through most of this – typical of this kind of life, as other oft-deserted wives here will agree:  the more you need them, the less likely they are to be around!)

 Oh, and it gets worse again.  What’s worse than a rat in a trap?  No rat in a trap… but the food gone.  Oh, there it is, look, behind the fridge!  The impudent thing actually came out, sauntered across the floor in full view of the children and trotted back again.  (Of course, it could well have been moving slowly because it was injured.)  I kept a close eye on it, half hoping it would die slowly and half fearful it would die slowly, out of reach…  Time dragged on, and the rat seemed quite healthy and unafraid.  But help was at hand.

While I was out picking up children from school, Lily was at home feeding little G, whose favourite new skill is dropping things (food, for example) on the floor.  The rat saw its opportunity… and Lily saw the rat.  Lily is made of sterner stuff than me.  She reached for the mop handle and, well, that was that for the rat.

Since then, no more scrabbling.  No more food disappearing from the traps.  Peace.  Only a few thousand ants to contend with now.  And a family of geckos with who knows how many babies!


*(writing this as a footnote or I’ll never reach the end of the anecdote…)  Ants here come in three sizes (names of sizes my own, might not be internationally recognised):  “Tiny little”, who seem to have the most voracious appetites of the three, “normal little”, the size of English ants, but with much more fondness for human flesh (especially R’s, poor thing) and “woah, that’s big!” which are the size of a small cat.  Ok, I exaggerate.