Domestic Matters


My mattress is like blancmange. It rises up around me as though I am about to be swallowed up. The lighter parts of me seem to float on the surface, but my buttocks sink deep into the foam. I don’t think it is a “memory foam” mattress; it’s more Alzheimer’s really. I try to trick it by changing position and lying diagonally across the double bed, but it finds me out.

The bottom sheet is actually a duvet cover, complete with buttons. I think that there is another sheet for the other bed in the house, but it isn’t the same size. For the moment it doesn’t matter, because I sleep like a semi-enclosed log, but it shouldn’t be difficult to sort out. The top sheet is just a sheet, so it can take over as a bottom sheet and I’ll go topless. Needless to say, there is no need for a duvet in this weather.

I have four pillows, all of different consistencies, three of them have pillow protectors (how did they know that I drool?) and only one has a pillow slip. One pillow must be related to the mattress because when I lie my head back onto it, the sides pop up like blinkers on a horse. I eventually swap the pillows around until I find a comfortable position.

The bed is surrounded by a cage of fine mosquito netting attached to a wooden frame and suspended from the rafters. On one side, there is an overlapping layer which allows me to get into bed and keep a reasonable seal, akin to an airlock. On my first night, I sprayed the room with knock-down insecticide (“Doom”) before going to bed, but since then I haven’t bothered. I occasionally find crickets, ants, spiders, and mosquitoes have found their way in. No nkorokoro (a fat brown millipede) has joined me yet (read about the encounter in April 2014 when I first worked in the Valley).

I have an open wardrobe, like a bit of Ikea garage shelving, but as I don’t have many clothes, it doesn’t bother me. I have a pair of flip-flops, a pair of old sandals and a pair of boots which are not totally waterproof. The flip-flops have melted a bit after I sprayed my feet with insect repellent (DEET). F bought me a pair of soft wellington boots which are a godsend. I don’t like to keep my shoes outside the house because creatures might start using them as a home. I have already had to kill one black scorpion in the bathroom (“Oh, the black ones are not so bad. Just twenty minutes of agonising pain after being stung. Now the brown ones, their stings hurt like blazes for eight hours. And they like playing (sic) in those baskets where you keep your laundry.” Thank you, Victoria.)

There is a floor-standing fan which keeps me cool if it is exceptionally hot and humid. I haven’t used the air-conditioner yet. There are mosquito netting frames on those windows which open, but not those which don’t. One of the windows has been broken, but I keep the curtains closed in the bedroom so I don’t see it. The anti-mosquito mesh is torn in places. I think this may have occurred when the house was invaded by baboons which trashed the place a few weeks before I arrived. Someone left a window open and they forced their way in. Now there is a toy rubber snake coiled around the window bars to deter further forced entry.

P1360349I have two useful bedside tables, for a reading lamp and a place to leave my on-call phone charging. My bathroom is around the corner, with a shower, toilet and hand basin. There is a table to store toiletries, but no towel rail (it’s on order). It is difficult getting towels to dry in this humid weather at the best of times. They tend to smell after a few days of being hung from the rafters. My neighbour, Victoria, has very kindly offered to pop them in her tumble drier (luxury). This avoids my getting attacked by tumbu fly, a medical condition where Cordylobia anthropophaga botflies lay eggs on laundry drying in the open air. The eggs hatch and larvae burrow into your flesh if you wear non-ironed clothes or use a towel. This gives rise to a boil which contains a maggot. The treatment is to cover the air tube (spiracle) of the maggot with Vaseline, so it is forced to escape into the fresh air. Charming. This is not as uncommon as you might think. The previous doctor in 2016 was affected after she did some sunbathing on a towel by the pool of a lodge.

The kitchen/diner/living room is large and spacious, perhaps because there isn’t a dining table. I eat off a small table which doubles as a desk. The kitchen units are concrete, painted with enamel paint. Unfortunately, the surfaces are cracked, chipped and uneven so it always looks grubby, even when it has been scrubbed. Pots, pans, plates and glassware stand on wooden racks; the knives, forks and spoons are stored in tin cans which have been covered in brightly-coloured cloth. On the first day, I washed all the crockery and cutlery, because it felt gritty with dust and grease.

I have a propane gas oven with a hob and an electric fridge freezer. There is no washing machine, as Theresa, who comes in four mornings a week, hand washes for me. I have plans to get her to prepare n’shima maize porridge and bean sauce for me at least once a week. It’s easy, you just set it going on the stove and leave it for four hours.

Theresa has given me a list of essentials to buy from the village stores. I need “Harpic Cleaning” (I got Jif), “Tile and Floor” (there are no tiles and the floor is concrete), “Dettol Germs”, “Lifebuoy” soap, “Mr Muscle” and “Handy Andy” for window glass. A third of the dishwashing liquid has gone within three days so I may be looking to buy industrial quantities.

I have a lockable store cupboard, but it is possible to enter it by climbing over the wall, as there is no ceiling enclosing it. There is another smaller bedroom with ensuite on the other side of the bungalow. Outside, I have a verandah, covered in corrugated iron sheeting and built around an existing tree. I have three Lloyd Loom wicker chairs and a coffee table outside. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is so dark and humid that it is perfect for mosquitoes, so I rarely sit on the verandah unless it is hot and dry.

The roof is corrugated iron, with an interesting dormer window feature, just for show (and a possible bat entry point). Baboons scamper over the roof as soon as it gets light, squabbling and playing, making a hell of a racket. At night, it is usually quiet and tranquil. But something falls onto the roof from the overhanging tree in the middle of the night (Could this be baboon poo? Rotten branches? Small creatures that have fallen asleep and lost their hold? Heaven knows.) Rain, however, sounds much heavier than it is and can be deafening.

P1360414I have a Huawei wireless cube internet gateway strung from the roof (the mosquito netting forms an insulating Faraday Cage inside the house). I buy 12GB of data for about £13 per month. I hope this should last me. I can access WiFi from inside the house. The service is rather poor, especially when everyone gets home after work, so I fire it up at 6am when it seems more lively. Perhaps that’s when the Chinese Intelligence Service is listening.

I have a garden, but it is just grit, gravel and sand at the moment. There is a new grass fence giving me some privacy but I am a bit concerned about the resultant heap of rotting grass stalks from the old fence which I have to walk past to get to my car parking stand. It is the perfect home for snakes; I have already seen a junior black-necked spitting cobra nearby.

P1360422Since I wrote this, I now have lovely new (I don’t care if they are mismatching) sheets for my bed, the pile of grass stalks has been shifted (at first I thought a group of marauding hippos had devoured it), and my bathroom has been painted with bright yellow gloss paint. I feel quite at home, even though we have killed another intruding scorpion.