This was my first attempt at a novella. Its working title is The Orphans. It is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. Another first: here’s its blurb.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
From 10 January 2016, I am publishing The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Seven, scene three: Road trip.
I hadn’t experienced a safari before, so didn’t know what to expect. Pande didn’t have any of the most famous African animals – elephant, lion, hippo, rhino and so on – but there were a few assorted monkeys visible at the forest edge, and some baboons. I recognised duiker, having seen one before, although I couldn’t remember where. The bird life was impressive. We didn’t see any vultures, but I did recognise the unmistakable outline of a Bateleur overhead, and other eagles and hawks were around, as well as many other types of birds. This was probably a birdwatcher’s paradise, but my interest is only superficial, so it pretty much left me unmoved.
We drove on to Zinga, where Kanene’s friend lives. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen some village dwellings near the orphanage, many if not most of which were made from what is euphemistically termed ‘local materials’. That normally means baked mud brick, roofed with corrugated iron under bunched dried grass. Kanene’s friend Sekelaga (Kanene told me the name means ‘rejoice’) lived in a small, tin- and thatch-roofed, block-built single-story dwelling with electricity, mains plumbing and drainage. Her house had two main rooms and an adjacent building that housed a bathroom. Each room in the main building had a small window at each end, and was illuminated after dark by a single light bulb hanging from the roof trusses. None of the building was lined, the interior and exterior walls being untreated lightweight grey building blocks, pointed with a white chalk mix. One of the two rooms served as a kitchen/living area, the other as a bedroom for Sekelaga and her two children, eight-year-old son Habibu and his sister Zahara, who was five. Sekelaga’s husband had died in a road accident three years earlier. The living area had two electricity outlets, one at each end. A small table at one end of the room housed a relatively modern television set and a telephone. At the other end was a small stereo radio/cassette player, from which a local music radio station was playing quite loudly when we entered.
In the traditional way, Kanene pushed open the door and shouted “Hodi!”
Sekelaga was in the kitchen, preparing food, when we arrived. She left the kitchen area, turned down the volume on the radio, and skipped to the door to give Kanene a hug that would make a Grizzly Bear cringe. I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, and hoped to avoid that particular greeting. I offered her my hand, which she grasped with both of hers and shook vigorously.
Kanene and Sekelaga conversed at extreme speed in what I later learned to be Kikamba, the language of their shared tribal roots. One of them had obviously recognised the blank expression on my face, as they switched to a mix of English and Swahili, allowing me to keep up with them and even take part in the conversation.
They mainly talked about mundane, everyday topics that would normally be of no interest to me, but it did give me a view of the daily life of ordinary Tanzanians that I may not otherwise have had. Sekelaga carried on working while we were all talking, and after a few minutes, started placing food on the table. She had prepared fish stew with ugali (maize flour cooked to a dough-like consistency) and cabbage from her own shamba (smallholding). I had heard horror stories about ugali: that the European constitution was not adapted to digest it, that it tastes awful, and more. Once Kanene had shown me how to eat with it (I was to break off a chunk, form it into a ball and make a depression with the thumb; it then became an edible spoon with which to scoop up the stew), I found it not unpleasant. With the possible exception of the consistency to which it was cooked, it could be compared with porridge in UK, grits in the southern US or, more closely, with polenta. We rounded off with an orange freshly picked from the tree in Sekelaga’s shamba. Excellent fare.
We spent the afternoon slowly walking around the village in the sunshine. I wasn’t fully acclimatised, and found the afternoon a little too hot and stuffy, but didn’t want to let on to the other two, who appeared supremely comfortable. Sekelaga was interested in my background, and although I didn’t discuss any details of my mission, I did mention in vague terms what I was doing in the country. I may have omitted a few details; they now believe that I am here to audit the accounts of my employer’s local interests and, since his accident, to stand in for Hannice.
Sekelaga said, “Good or bad luck doesn’t just happen. It is always arranged by…”, but before she could elaborate, Kanene fired her a look that stopped her in her tracks. “That’s what the superstitious people believe in some of the villages, anyway,” she hastily added.
Kanene quickly eased the subject around to territory with which she was more comfortable. “Luck doesn’t exist, according to my father,” she said, “‘everything has a cause,’ he says, ‘control the cause and you control the effect.’ I’m not sure if he is right, but he thinks it is better to believe that you can control things, than to rely on luck that you can’t control. I suppose that makes sense.”
“Your father sounds like a man it would be interesting to meet,” I said, wondering if she was, indeed, Afolabi’s daughter. “I don’t like to think that things just happen, or that they are decided by someone or something unreachable. I like to think that I can control my future, at least in part.”
With that, we were back at Sekelaga’s house, and our most pleasant afternoon had to draw to a close. During our drive back to Nocturne, I suggested to Kanene, that she should prepare at least one traditional Tanzanian meal each week, and not stick with European fare, and that I would like to try food from other ethnicities, too.
Overall, I felt that the day had brought us closer together – although I still didn’t totally trust her.