Touchdown


First big surprise, having been told that I was staying in a lodge – a basic hotel – I’m taken to someone’s home, introduced to a young couple and their baby and told I’ll be staying with them! I’d looked up the said lodge, and had been picturing myself in the room that was basic and straight out of the seventies design-wise but nevertheless where I had my own shower, an internet connection and some independence – although I was very worried about being lonely. No chance of that here: I have a bedroom with a bed, table and chair, and the door doesn’t shut. We’re in a small house with sporadic running water and concrete floors. The tops of the walls are simply rough cement, upon which sit the ceilings of large reed mats, resting on softwood battens. God only knows what lives up there on those mats, in the hot ceiling space, and could come crawling out at any time…

The couple, however, are absolutely lovely and their baby daughter is to die for. I’m torn between the idea of getting to know this lovely family, and goodness knows it’ll be fairly intimate, and the facilities and relative independence, albeit with risk of loneliness, of staying in a lodge. And how will the money work? I’d expected to fend for myself at least in the evenings, but if I’m going to be eating with the family should I pay them, or is my host organization paying them – with the money they would have been paying the lodge! All very confusing, but then it’s early days.

Leaving my daughter at the airport was the most horrible experience ever. What could be worse than seeing your child sobbing? Knowing that you’re the reason she’s sobbing, that’s what. I wept all the way through security. When the plane finally left the ground, I cried some more. When the plane touched down this morning, and I looked out the window and thought ‘oh look, it’s Africa’, it was with a heavy heart if I’m honest.

After unpacking some basics and doing some writing a wave of tiredness finally came over me and I flaked out for a few hours. I woke feeling very bleary, was looking round the room when I saw a spider only slightly smaller than my hand, which had appeared from behind the reed mat ceiling. In the corner above my bed, motionless – for the moment. I was thinking of asking Marijke or Cosmas (my hosts) if it bites, but then it occurred to me there’s no reason why they should know, I certainly don’t know what every single creature we come across in Wales is. Although I think I’d recognize a spider that big.

Spider number one then joined by spider number two – even bigger. Still thinking I should just learn to share with them, until I see that while I was out of the room spider number two moved; not on, so I hastily get Cosmas to come and dispose of them. His technique is a sharp slap with his slipper, but despite the size spider number two is bloody fast and soon back up behind the straw ceiling.

When I get home next day spider number one has also disappeared, perhaps they don’t like company. But next morning is back, in exactly the same position. That night I pop into my bedroom to make a phone call when out of the corner of my idea I catch movement, and turn to see enormous, shiny cockroach on the back of my bedroom door. There’s not the remotest, tiniest chance in hell I’m learning to share with this guy – straight back out to get Cosmas, who casually bats the shiny one onto the floor and kicks it out the back door.

I thought I might feel claustrophobic under my mosquito net, but it’s actually quite beautiful and I feel quite cosy. Plus, it has the benefit of keeping my roommates out.

Newsflash, in the middle of conversation with Marijke again a movement catches my eye and another whopper cockroach is scuttling towards me. I know Marijke doesn’t like them any more than I do but she’s very brave (I’m not) and whacks it with slipper, then takes the remains away. All this with a baby under one arm, marvellous. It’s time for me to shelter under my net for the night.

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