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Our little home is shaping up nicely in terms of food production.

I've expanded our vegetable garden quite a bit, so now we have about twenty beds (each about six feet by three) up here, as well as the ten down below. This winter, it'll be my winter favorites - five beds of peas, spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, broad beans, broccoli, and chard. The orchard now has little trees of all sorts - lemons, limes, oranges, kumquats, plums, peaches, figs, almonds, olives, and nectarines. The only fruit we've had this year is lemons, oranges, kumquats, and one precious plum, but it'll happen. I've also been lucky with my passion fruit vines, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, plus a mulberry tree by the river.

The summers harvest was not so hot, mostly due to a rainy season that started out strong, then fizzled. I ended up with about fifty butternut - none bigger than a can of coke. But I have a freezer packed full of the usual suspects, and I finally got my tomatoes right. The secret is elephant dung, as it turns out.

My chickens are laying now, and I love it. I have four hens (a caracal got the fifth) that are each laying an egg a day, and three chicks who should start soon. One is a koekoek, who is a little brat, the other two are the cutest polish chickens you've ever seen. Google images polish chickens. You're welcome.

My pond produced six eating sized tilapia this year, and about 400 fingerlings that we had to give away. We need a bigger pond, really. I didn't know how I'd feel about killing and eating my own pets, essentially, but they were delicious. My husband wants meat birds, chickens, geese, and ducks, but I'm a bit leery. I'm too attached to my chickens.

We also have recently acquired a source of good meat. Some idiot released European wild boar into our area. They're breeding like flies, and threatening our native warthog. They're also aggressive, invasive, and destructive. But a neighbor is a fine hunter, so they are now our source of local, free range, completely organic meat. No factory farms, no slaughterhouses, just a quick, "what's that guy over there doing?" If you think about it, it's much more humane.

So dinner tonight should be good. Wild boar sausage, a late season marrow I found growing by the river, corn mash from the late harvest, and some baby broccoli from my early winter crop.

Sure, it's all kinds of healthy and so on. Sure, it's better for the planet. But damn, it just tastes better.
I did post about this, but at the time, I was so damn busy being in the middle of it all, I don't think I did it much justice.

After months of happy times in Lusaka, we were finally on our way. One plan after another of trying to get new shocks for the Polo had failed. I even flew a friend up, with shocks in her bag, but they were the wrong shocks. We had parts shipped up, taking a month to get to us, and as it turned out, the shocks were right, but we need some other part to install them properly. Our visas had been extended several times, and now there was no way of staying in Zambia. The Polo had to do her job, and get us home. The dodgy mechanic installed shocks from a light pickup truck, and sent us on our way.

We cried as we loaded the car and said goodbye to the Crisp family, who had been our gracious hosts for all of these months. The kids had become our best friends. Long days spend in the pond, waging wars with orange slime and air mattresses, fishing at sunset off the raft we made with oil barrels and old planks, long walks in the bush, helping their homeschooling with lectures about aviation - it was all over. No more discovering snake skins, playing clue, baking bread in the little kitchen by the pond. They all set off with their towels to go swim, I was miserable as we pulled out, blasting The Final Countdown. Yet - excited. We were going home, back to my cottage, back to a place where you can get McDonalds and pesto and sushi.

We drove slowly down the 20km of dirt track, made it through Lusaka's crazy traffic, then headed out on the Great South Road (there really are only four roads in Zambia, bet you can guess the names) and were off.

50 kilometers out of Lusaka, as we were preparing ourselves for being back on the road, a giant thunk happened. And then a wherr-wherr-wherr. Brevis and I looked at each other with the resigned look of two people who had just spend six months of having a calamity a day, and turned around. This time, we were under no delusions of the car being fixed. We had two days left in Zambia, and had to make another plan. We drove it to the workplace of our gracious host, who happened to work in shipping, and started to fill in the paperwork to have the car shipped back to South Africa by container. It would be expensive - $1000 or so - and take weeks. But given that the drive is also expensive, and we had no options, we agreed. We had to list every item in the car ("1 salt shaker. 13 cable ties. 14 Ladies shirts. 1 shovel.") which took hours, and give away every scrap of food, drain the oil and fuel, and do the customs forms.

Here is where we hit the real snag. When we entered Zambia, you see, we had been told that we needed to pay tax on our way out. That was fine, it wasn't much. But since we'd broken down so badly, we had stayed for an extra two months over the time we had specified. No problem, the officer told us, pay on the way out! But it wasn't that simple. No, now we'd overstayed by months without paying tax, and our car was to be impounded. The fee for getting it out was about $7000 - on a car worth under half that, on a good day.

I suppose I should have just written it off, and left it with the Zambian government. But I just couldn't. That car had ben our home for the last six months. She had battled through tracks that most 4x4s couldn't face, she'd taken us for joyrides in the bush, she'd been with us in Zanzibar. She'd limped from Dar Es Salaam to Lusaka with no shocks, and handled potholes that you could park a truck in. She'd driven through potholes (no - ponds) where trucks were literally mired for weeks. I had to fight.

After many wrong turns, we ended up in the offices of the tax collectors. I had $400 in us dollars in my pocket, knowing that we would need it - and another $200 in my sock. After much being shuffled from place to place, we made it to the office of the Guy In Charge. We had a letter from the car repair shop, a letter from Our Gracious Hosts, and all of the paperwork in order, plus, bribes in the pocket. We came in smiling, complimenting him on just about everything, making jokes - all of the standard ways of dealing with African officials. He didn't seem interested, instead wanted to know the value of the car, our reason for being in Zambia, and so on. We nervously made jokes about our trip, how much of a wreck the car was, and so on, while he started stamping papers.

Finally, he turned to us and smiled. "OK! You are finished." I smiled and asked him how much our overdue fees were - time for negotiation. I knew this moment well. "No fees! I have waived the taxes. I'm sorry you had such a hard time with your car! Have a safe trip home."

Shellshocked, we wandered back to the taxi, and went back to our lodgings to get in the pond with the kids. The next day, we were on a flight home, after six months of living out of our precious Polo.

The Polo made it back, a month later. The lashings had been broken, and she had been slammed from side to side the whole journey. She was totaled.

Zambian memories..

This is an older story, but still so fresh in my mind.

We were on our way home from Tanzania in the beat up old polo. We were down to one source of funds, the money in my bank account that only had a mastercard logo. This had been an ongoing problem. In Africa, Visa is accepted at all ATMs, but Mastercard is only accepted at one or two. Standard Bank/Stanbic is one, Barclay's is another. We had been managing, but it took a lot of running around and making sure we could get cash - credit cards aren't accepted in most places.

As we fought tooth and nail to cross the Tanzania/Zambia border, it occured to me that we didn't have much cash. A check showed $20 and 100 Rand (about $12) - so we asked if there was a standard bank across the border. Oh yes, came the reply, ATM is right over there on the Zambian side. Lovely.

We made it through, without punching anyone, and proceeded to the ATM. Except, it wasn't there. It had been stolen. Don't ask me how. I didn't know that was possible - but leave it to the Africans to make a plan. But now we were in a bit of a situation. Lusaka was a three day drive, and the nearest Standard Bank was just outside of Lusaka. We had just filled the tank of gas, however, and had some very necessary wine. We didn't, however, have food. Our car had been badly overloaded when we hit a snag and lost our shocks, so we unloaded everything we had at a Tanzanian mud hut village, leaving trucker's wives with everything from capers and wasabi to the $100 mud masks that my sister had sent over. We had three packets of ramen noodles, and two cans of corn. So with that, and about $32, we set out to drive across Zambia.

The first night, we got lucky. Not far from the border was a mission that lets people camp there - we'd stopped there on our way up. I'd caught Malaria there on the way up, but that's another story. The campsite was only $3 or so, and they sold us a giant bag of their homegrown produce for $1.50. It was wonderful. We had the leftovers from that on our second day, and made it to a wonderful backpacker's that had campsites for $10. Te place was 20km off the main road down a 4x4 track, which was a great deal of fun in the Polo. The sand was soft and a foot deep in some places, the trick is to keep the momentum going, and try not to skid too drastically.

We sat down to eat the corn and ramen noodles, and the worst happened. No, it wasn't stolen by a monkey. The large and loud group of Austrian tourists in the next campsite over started grilling their meat. Steak, Borewors, Lamb. The smell wafted over and nearly killed me, as I slurped down my slimy noodles and corn. "More chips? Oh, I couldn't possibly! Oh, this steak is too heavenly!" It took more than one glass of wine to ignore that.

The next day, we were hungry. We had some leftover corn and noodles to eat in the car, but I'll tell you, driving eight hours on some cold slimy noodles isn't fun. I couldn't actually stomach a bite. We had a bit of money left over, but weren't sure we'd make it without putting fuel in, so just gritted our teeth. I finally climbed into the back and started going through our assorted sacks, thinking that I might get lucky. Camping stoves, duct tape, a basic shovel, some tin foil - and then I saw it. A hershey's bar that I'd brought back from a trip to the states while we were in Zanzibar. It had been a favor at my friend's wedding, I brought back all of the extras as treats. I have never tasted anything so exquisite. We savored every little chunk. Amazing how much better things taste when your body seriously needs the calories.

Finally, late in the afternoon, we rolled into the small town where there was a bank. It was a typical dusty little Zambian village, with a few dilapidated shops and a bar with a few goats running around it. As the ATM spit out stacks of blessed Kwacha (exchange rate 5000 to the dollar) I finally could breathe easy. We hit those shops like a tornado. I don't think the shopkeepers have ever seen muzungus going on shopping sprees. Granted, the selection wasn't so hot, but we made out with bacon, eggs, potato chips, steak, vegetables, and chocolate.

Leaving town, we passed the town watering hole. It was a tin shack with a castle beer sign out front. We decided that a whisky would go down rather nicely, so stopped in. I don't think white people had ever been in the bar, from the looks we got. But the music was blasting, and overcome with giddiness of having made it, we started dancing. The local drunks beamed and started dancing with us. I'm pretty sure they thought we were absolute whackjobs, but it was a hell of a good time.

May. 28th, 2013

All is well over here. Toby is the World's Easiest Baby, II'm happy to report. He slept through the night at ten weeks old (11 hours solid!) laughs, smiles, and is generally a pleasure. He's thrilled to be left in his crib to play with his newfound hands and toys, and goes to sleep without being rocked, walked, etc. Just pop him in his crib when he yawns, and he does the going to sleep part. That's his job, not mine.

However, the cabin fever involved in having a baby in the middle of nowhere has really gotten to me. And in any case, even the world's easiest baby is still, well, a baby. They're a lot of work! So a dear friend of mine has encouraged me to start writing again. I'm a bit lost as to what to write, but I like the idea of setting time aside every day to sit down and get a bit lost in writing. So maybe I'll just reminisce. Tell stories that maybe I've told before here, but are still worth remembering. Or things that I've never put here. Who knows. I'll try to, at least. As I'm sure many of you know, it is often hard to find a quiet hour to just write with a three month old.

I'll start with a story from the last while.

It was an otherwise normal Saturday night, at about 8pm. I was cooking dinner - grilled chicken or somesuch - and idly chatting to Brevis about the baby room. Without warning, a car alarm went off outside the window. But it sounded strange. Do you know that Nokia ringtone that kind of sounds like the phone is running out of battery and trailing off? It was a bit like that. Like a broken toy that can't play it's little song quite right.
Brevis assumed we were bring broken into, and told me to stay away from the windows. Out of the blinds, however, something caught my eye. Fire. Fire a few feet away from the thatch roof. I ripped open the curtain, to see that my uncle's pickup truck, which had been sitting there for four days, had exploded.

I mean it really exploded. The flames were about ten feet tall. The whole hood was on fire - three feet from my roof, which is made of dried grass. I started screaming like it was me who was on fire, trying to get the staff to come out and help. As always, we couldn't find the damn keys to the front door, so I screamed out the window for help while Brevis darted around trying to find the damn keys. (Super fire safe, I know)

The danger here is that this is often a ploy. Light the car on fire, then when the people come out of the house, hold a gun to their heads and rob them blind. We both well knew that, so we were rather terrified of going out to put it out. Screaming for the staff is one way to give yourself an advantage, I also called a neighbor.

The guys came running out just as we found the keys and made it out, and put the hose on the truck - which didn't help much, of course. Electrical fires seem to thrive on water. We emptied our two fire extinguishers onto it, which calmed it a little, but the undercarriage was still burning. The gas tank hadn't caught yet, and we were terrified of it doing so - I'd just filled up. Finally, two neighbors showed up with fire extinguishers, which made short work of the rest of it. Six fire extinguishers in total were emptied onto the truck.

Shaken up, we sat down inside after thanking the neighbors and staff profusely. I was pregnant, so couldn't even have a stiff drink after that scare. All was well, until about fifteen minutes later - the power went out. Looking around, we could see that it was ourselves and just four neighbors. It wasn't a normal outage, it had actually been cut. We called the police and our security company at this point.

The police detectives showed up and asked questions, the security company determined that the power had indeed been cut, and the cables had been in the process of being stolen. The truck was supposed to be a diversion, I suppose - but instead of making everyone look the other way, it alerted us that something was up. The thieves never got their cables, and we had power back the next day.

The truck, however, was a writeoff. Which is probably for the best, that thing had been trying to die for years. My aunt sounded delighted when she realized that this was the excuse she needed to make my uncle replace it.

The best part was the SMS I got to send to my uncle the next day.
Me: Your truck exploded.
Him: um, what?

Mar. 10th, 2013

Yes, I have had that baby. Toby was born on February 22, at 4:25 pm. By 4:26 pm, I was so madly in love with him that I've spent the last two weeks simply staring at him in total awe.

I can't post a photo. I've tried and failed on my laptop, iPad, and phone. Lj isn't what it used to be, I guess? But needless to say, he is cute as a button, with a head of blonde hair, and the cutest little feet you have ever seen in your life. He sleeps very well, has the happiest little disposition, and the animals all love him.

Sure, there are 3am parties on the couch, and the occasional fuss or cry. But nothing prepared me for how I'd feel when I look at his little face. Nothing in the world comes close to this.

Welcome to Africa, little adventurer. You have a lot of fun ahead of you.

Oct. 3rd, 2012

The little puppy, Matata, has turned into, well, a giant puppy. He is a bit over five months old now, and weighs almost 70lbs. Last week, he gained almost seven pounds. My small dog only weighs five.

No, I didn't know what a baby Boerboel looks like. I sure do now. Boerboels (known in the USA as the South African Boerboel Mastiff) are farm dogs, bred from the mastiff type dogs that came with the first settlers to the cape in the mid 1600s. They have been bred for centuries to protect the farm, and that is what they are very good at. They are also massive. The breed standard in this country doesn't allow them to be entered in dog shows at weights of under 160lbs.

I'm sure Matata is a mix of sorts, and not a purebred. He is, however, doing his best to make up for that. He has instincts that surprise me all the time. If a person is walking in the veldt, instead of joining the other dogs at running out and barking at it, he will run directly to me and raise his formidable ridge. His growl sounds like a dinosaur. He is incredibly good with children, as it turns out, and will sit quietly (at this age!) while the six month old baby across the way bites his ears. He is bossed around by the tiny dog and the cats, but when a neighbor's dog came up to the house, he wouldn't let any of the other animals anywhere near it, standing guard and growling. And I know he is an African farm dog for real - yesterday, he came home with his first dead cobra. Terrifying.

Since I've only ever had adult dogs, and tiny ones at that, I've never really had to train a dog. Now, I learn. A badly behaved 5lb dog is fine. A badly behaved 200lb dog is, well, a dead dog. No two ways about it, he has to learn obedience. He already will wait for my command to eat, I make him wait and do tricks while chicken is lying in his bowl, feet from his nose. He knows not to walk through a door in front of me. He is good with "quiet," and was housebroken from two months old. But this is all so new.

Any dog advice from you all?
Spring is here, and with it, my yearly obsession with the garden begins.

Our winter crops are great to have, but so uninspiring. Chard, spinach, onions, leathery carrots, sometimes peas. But now that frost is over, the birds are returning, and the trees are in bloom, my mind turns to thoughts of tomatoes.

I have a vague goal of living off the garden and game meats. It is about 50% possible in the summer these days. We have about 200lbs of Kudu in the freezer, thanks to a client who went bow hunting and couldn't ship the meat home. he must have been an old bull, because the meat does need to be cooked for about six hours before it is any good, but it is free range, organic, hormone free, killed humanely, never caged, and eating it promotes saving land for hunting reserves, which are a heck of a lot better an using the land for intensive farming.

My orchard is still all abut waist high. The olive trees have been there for about four years, so I should have good homemade olive oil in another ten years or so. Last year, I added peach, plum, fig, and lemon, and this year, I've added almond, nectarine, orange, lime, kumquat, and more lemon and fig. My grand idea is to build a wall around the orchard - wind is enemy number one - then put chickens in. The chickens would have some protection from predators, and the orchard would have some pest control and fertilizer.

The sprouts coming up now are tomato, green beans, peas, potatoes, chilis, green peppers, more onions, spinach, tomatillos, pumpkins, butternut, cucumbers, wild cucumbers (a local variety which looks like a hand grenade and has brutal half inch long spikes) with corn yet to be planted. I actually think I've forgotten half of what I've planted. I just keep watering the little green things, and hope they work out. I've also put in three artichoke bushes, and now I'm trying to decide if I clip off buds this year to encourage growth, or just get greedy and munch the tasty little buggers. The strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries are all getting ready to fruit.

Best, my pond is now brimming with tilapia, about six of which are almost eating size. They have bred extensively, my numbers are starting to get a bit high, so before long, into the pot they go.

A lot of folks assume I do all of this for some fear of pesticides, or GMOs, or soil erosion. Others comment on how much money I must save. Those of you that grow food know the secret, though. I enjoy the side benefits, sure. I also enjoy the satisfaction of watching things grow and fruit. But I actually do it for the taste of a perfect fig, still warm from the sun, for the love of corn picked ten minutes ago, for the smell of a tomato seconds after it has been picked from the vine. It isn't morally superior. It's just about pure pleasure.
Well, I do have an excuse for my infrequency of posts. I've been a bit preoccupied. Just with something pretty small, though it is getting a bit bigger these days.

Yes, I am pregnant, due at the end of February!

Generally speaking, the first thing that people ask me (well, people who don't live around these parts) is if I'm going to move back to the USA, or at least into town. My answer is a resounding hell no. What a gift to give a child! To grow up with the songs of the veldt luring him to sleep, the noise of the jackals and the zebra and the lion softly roaring at night? To wake up to the symphony of thousands of colorful birds, of waving grass stretching out, to see a Kudu making its way into the thicket? I want to give this baby the kind of childhood where he can catch tadpoles in the pond out front, watch them grow into frogs, ride his bike down the dirt road, go fishing for dinner, climb trees, ride horses, and be able to build a good fire by the age of ten.

We had a little cottage by a lake when I was growing up, a weekend house. My sister and I would wake mom and dad up at six on a Sunday morning, and they would sleepily tell us to go pick enough blueberries for breakfast. We would go out (ages six and eleven) with a bucket, jump on the little wood canoe, and pick berries from the bushes around the little lake. Yes, I know that you would lose custody for your kid by doing at these days. But my parents weren't worried. We had devilishly tricky canoe tests, even at age five, could swim for shore with a capsized boat, wore our life jackets, and weren't allowed to canoe unless we could steer the boat around the lake on a windy day paddling - with no help! - only on one side of the boat.

I want to give this little one that kind of childhood. Maybe it will be fetching fruit and eggs from the orchard, with no boats involved, but I still won't allow a TV in the house, I still don't believe that I suffered from not having video games, and I still think kids should play outside.

Anyways, it isn't like people have never had babies in Africa. As far as I know, it has been done before, for quite some time.

So, here's to the next five months or so passing fast! I'm eager to meet this little adventurer to be.
In honor of my awesome cousin Laura, and trying to write as interestingly as she does, I'm going to try to do justice to yesterday's anti poaching efforts. In truth, I thought it was one of the cooler ways to spend a Saturday morning ever, but it's a bit tough to write about, as it mostly involved teetering on unstable rocks, or picking through thorny thickets, and not a lot of charging rhino.

A few weeks back, a young male Kudu had been photographed with a snare around his neck. We have had a marked increase in game, which brings with it a similarly marked increase in people who want to kill said game. A camp was found in the bush, a makeshift arrangement of tarps and crates, complete with snare, knives, and pelts. We have a poaching problem.

Yesterday morning, an assortment of about 35 neighbors, activists, and police met at 9 to Do Something. We split into small teams, and set off to our chosen patch. I know poachers have a fairly bad rep, which is likely earned as a result of being armed and desperate men who know the bush twenty times better than you do. I felt mildly better being assigned to a group with my neighbor, sweet Mrs. Wessels. She will always have a lovely slice of cake for you, or a cup of tea, and dotes on her kids. She was also packing heat.

The area we were searching for snares was around one particularly rocky hill. Poachers put snares on game paths, as, well, that is where the animals walk. We had the hill plus two riveting gorges around it to search. When I say the terrain was inhospitable, I mean that three inch thorns and rocky scrambles - at the same time - got to be old hat pretty quickly.

The upside, of course, was a long ramble through some of thhe most stunning untouched bush around. I had no idea we were so close to valleys echoing with birdsong, quiet pools in the gorges alive with kingfishers and butterflies, and harsh hillsides covered with yellow and pink wild orchids, even in the dead of winter. We surprised some Kudu, who charged down the hill past us, and came across two bush pigs. Come to think of it, the boar did kind of charge us, but after the rhino charge last week, it seemed s bit tame.

Our little team found a few snares, and after about three hours, met the others back at the old barn that we were using as a base. In all, many snares had been found, as well as a pit full of poor dead jackal, several camps, and many stripped carcasses.

One group had a somewhat more exciting time, however. Luckily, this was the group of gung ho bush types, dressed in camo, and armed to the teeth. They had spotted a poachers camp, complete with three poachers. They quietly radioed for the police, who helped them surround the place and move in. I'm sure the details were exceptionally exciting, especially when told with a few beers by the fire, but I don't know them. I do know that this morning, three poachers are in jail.

So, a blow against poaching, many animals saved from the snares we collected, and a heck of a way to burn off Mrs. Wessels lovely cakes. I'm sure glad it wasn't me who came across the desperate and armed men, however.
My long lost cousin, whom I had never met, came to visit for a few days last week. Her blog is so hilarious (and makes us look so damn glamorous) that I'm just going to link to it right here.



All of this did happen, but she just makes it sound so darn exciting. I need to work on that. I guess a lot of this would be fairly uninspiring to me (border hassles, etc) or I'd feel like I was tooting my own horn somehow. Honestly, if I couldn't talk my way through a border by this point, I'd be a bit of a fail.

Nice to see your life through another's eyes sometimes.



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