Naked bathers, stone tools, the eleventh tuna sandwich and the last straw

Rising with the sun I slide out of our tent feet first, past the sailcloth ‘Ratbags’ containing all our (present) worldly goods.

Sierra Exif JPEG

The thatched area is for sitting or food preparation – it has a stone table in the middle and bench seats which are part of the wall all around.The bathing area at the top of the falls is down a steep flight of steps just beyond it

At the far end of the campsite stand three women, calling at us.

They lapse into silence and stare at me. I’m tired, stressed (I know, I should try yoga) and – I’m sorry to say – irritated. I wish they’d go and look at something – or someone – else.

I’m stomping around thinking how best to get breakfast started when Collins tells me what the women want.

Had I noticed they were carrying pumpkins on their heads?

Um, sort of.

They’re for sale. If we buy one or more it’ll save them carrying them down to the harbour on Lake Tanganyika, some distance away.

Shame on me. I buy them all. The delighted women leave, laughing like the three little maids from school.

Things are perking up.

We rekindle the fire from last night’s smoking embers. I take the pan I’ve put on the lid of the water barrel for scooping out water, pour some into the new kettle-cum-teapot and set it to boil.

A nice Japanese woman, who’s doing something scientific that involves grains of quartz and light (thermo-luminescence dating) asks how many teabags I want taking out of the box. She thinks, rightly, they should be rationed.

‘Ten or so?’

She looks surprised.

A while later, when the porridge is ready, I go to make myself a cup of tea.

Tabs from ten teabags dangle from the kettle.

No wonder she looked surprised. She thought we were making it in the pot.

It’s a strong brew, worthy of Yorkshire.

The coffee drinkers shrug and take their coffee with added tea this once.

Dishes done, the gang troops through the burnt grass (it promotes new spring growth) to the nearest village.

We start by visiting the head man. He emerges from his grass and mud hut, chickens running around his legs. Thin, wiry, wearing a stripy t-shirt and ragged trousers, his smile is welcoming. We offer a few small gifts and make for the river.

A giggle of children dances behind us as we follow the riverbank to the location Anthro-man has pinpointed for excavation.

People making bricks, piling them to dry in the sun, look up, curious, but don’t stop.

In the river, semi-naked women are washing clothes – and themselves – totally unperturbed by our presence.

Children splash and play in the water, diving down to bring up the most amazing stone tools I’ve ever seen.CNV00025

Not from the river bed this is one they dug up

Beautiful 400,000 year old handaxe – not from the river bed this is one they dug up

Apologies for the quality - a scanned hard copy of a printed photo

Apologies for the quality – a scanned copy of a printed photo

I wait a while, watching, till they’ve started preparing the ground, but then it’s time for me to head back. Lunch to prepare.

The caretaker’s still at the site and it’s not till after lunch that I realise I’m going to be stuck here, day in, day out. Because he leaves. Leaves all our tents, all our belongings, our vehicles, unattended.

I am shackled to the site.

Sierra Exif JPEG

Would you call it a retro style kitchen? The counter has seen better (more hygienic) days

It gives me time to think what to make for dinner, to check my stocks and arrange a ‘kitchen’ in the back of the most accessible vehicle.

By mid afternoon I discover the first flaw in my planning.

I’d intended to use the lid of the plastic bin as chopping board. It’s concave when it’s on the bin. I turn it the other way up, chop my onions on the inside and turn to find the garlic. Ping! It pops back into shape. Onion shards everywhere.


As the diggers return it’s time to get the mbaula going. Anthro-man lights it and I stand swinging it – until it cracks my shin and showers me with charcoal embers when I stop paying attention.

It’s turning into that kind of day.

I serve up macaroni cheese, and tomatoes. It seems to go down well, but I can see our Zambian colleagues aren’t too impressed.

Next day they hatch a plan to give us all chicken and nsima for lunch. We’ve brought a big bag of maize meal to make it, a big pan and a big wooden implement for stirring it.

The deal was that the Zambian men would cook their own nsima – it’s not something I can do. But they don’t. The caretaker is going to do it – or I think that’s what’s happening.

Nothing is clear to me.

By the time they’re due back from the site I’m still not sure what’s happening or when – and make sandwiches anyway.

The nsima and chicken are ready, it seems. It goes down so-so. I pick at a wing with next to no meat on it.

It feels like rivalry on the kitchen front – and I can’t work out how to deal with it.

But it’s more than that – something’s going wrong.

Another day and the rest of the team has arrived, the stools have arrived. But the atmosphere hasn’t improved.

Three people who were students together are forming a close clique.

The two Zambians are heads-together talking politics – always fascinating, but I haven’t the time or energy to try and join in.

Three of the experts on the team put themselves out to help me – but one is downright rude and another simply unaware.

Things begin to fray.

Not everyone likes everything.

And no-one likes me doling out the food.

Next day Rude One pushes me to the end of my tether.

I’m carefully apportioning the canned tuna that I’ve eked out with other things to make 11 sandwiches (our one vegetarian’s having peanut butter.) Rude One watches me spoon it out. As I’m about to put on the second slices of precious bread, he speaks.

‘I’d rather have peanut butter, I’ll make my own.’

That night portion control becomes an issue. People want to serve themselves.

I put the two pans of sweet potato, coconut and soya chunk (it has the texture of chicken) stew by the pile of tin plates and leave them to it.

I hold back till last, along with Anthro-Man and an expert from Aberystwyth.

Everyone else is sitting around the fire eating. In their cliques.

And they’ve eaten it all. Sauce is all that’s left.

Fuming, weary, close to tears, I raid the precious bread supply.

The others see us, dart pointed looks at me, but I don’t care. No bread for them – they’ve already eaten.

I sit down on my three-legged stool and it tips me backwards, onto the ground. Someone starts to laugh. I start to cry and bend my head to hide it. Only Anthro-man and the other bread-winner notice.

I’m not enjoying this.

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3 Responses to Naked bathers, stone tools, the eleventh tuna sandwich and the last straw

  1. John Kemp says:

    Oh dear! Poor you.
    How is it some people can be so awful? Especially under difficult conditions. *@!!,*#!,*@#.
    But I can’t get enough of your Africa photos. Thank you again. 400 kya! Whew.


  2. John Kemp says:

    P.S. I forgot to thank you for the link to the Antiquity article you posted a couple of posts ago. Thank you very much, I’m vey pleased to have it – throws light on your present series too. The article is now safely stored and printed.


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