One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

I’ve just finished reading a book called “One fine day in the middle of the night” and now I can’t get an old poem out of my head I remember from my childhood.

It’s an author unknown “nonsense poem”…read it and you’ll see why!

One fine day in the middle of the night,

Two dead boys got up to fight,

Back to back they faced each other,

Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t see

So they chose a dummy for a referee.

A blind man went to see fair play,

A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,

Kicked the blind man in the eye,

Knocked him through a nine inch wall,

Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,

And came to arrest the two dead boys,

If you don’t believe this story’s true,

Ask the blind man he saw it too!


Love is honey, life is jelly

Tuk tuk, rickshaw, bajaj, auto, 3 wheeler…

Call them what you like but anyone who has visited Asia will have probably spent a fair amount of time being jostled about in the back of one of these things whilst being driven at the speed of light, dodging traffic (just) and being gassed out by exhaust fumes.

Out here in Sri Lanka it never fails to make me smile when I read the little ditties pasted to the back of these little beasts…sometimes I wonder if their owners actually understand what they’ve had proudly painted onto their pride and joy!

Here are some of the best…

1. Don’t follow me

2. Jesus alive God bless you

3. Love would never leave us alone

4. We have got a life to live

5. Thunder bold driver

but the best yet and by far my absolute favourite…


I thought I didn’t like…

…coconut water. It’s the cloudy water you get in young green coconuts. You find it being sold all over Asia with the top sliced off and a straw jammed into it.

I’m not sure why I thought I didn’t like it.

Maybe it’s one of those things I THOUGHT I didn’t like even though I hadn’t tried it or maybe I had a bad ‘coconut water’ experience once…you know, one of those  deep dark memories from your childhood!

Do you know what I mean?

A few years ago whenever I was asked (pre-dinner party for example) “Is there anything you don’t eat?” my only reply was “well i’m not too keen on apricot jam”.


Because when I was a youngster we went on a family holiday to a gîte in France. Mum made crepes which were meant to be topped with apricot jam. The crepes were slightly (!) charred so I opted for just the jam….and LOTS of it. Then felt sick for days!

Hence the bad memory…even though I hadn’t tried it again since the crepe event!

The same with peanut butter…pureed peanuts…urgh! The sheer thought of it made me feel rather queer!

A friend doesn’t like pineapple because his mum piled it onto pizzas when he was a child…bad memories!

Big sis won’t go near sultanas because of games of ‘pile the sultanas on the toy train’ which we played as little girls. The train carriages were loaded up with sultana ‘cargo’ which she greedily over indulged in as the train chugged round the little train track!

So what’s your ‘no go’ food or drink?

(and no, vodka, gin or whisky don’t count simply because you knocked back 10 too many as a 14 year old getting blotto for the first time!)

Well here’s a thought for the day….GIVE YOUR “NO-GO’ A GO!

I like apricots, I like jam so I tried apricot jam again after all these years and no great surprise – I like apricot jam!

A friend left some peanut butter at my house, I thought I’d try it to see what all the fuss was about… it’s actually jolly tasty!

And today I was obliged to drink some freshly cut off the tree coconut water. It was offered in hospitality and as with many cultures it’s rude to refuse. So I drank it and actually quite enjoyed it!

My no-go list just became extinct!

So go on…. give your no-go one last try…I DARE you!

Cheap as chips

Everytime anyone (me included) drives out to a minefield you invariably get someone running behind the car frantically waving and shouting to catch your attention as you drive out of the compound gates.

 It’s inevitably for 1 reason only – so they can put in their ‘order’ (either that or you’ve got a flat tyre!)

Let me explain…

The majority of the fruit, veg, fish, meat and the like you buy at the markets here is farmed by the rural guys out in the countryside then walked, cycled or driven into town to be sold at the markets…at a premium price obviously to make it worth their while!

If however you happen to be out in the bush where these goodies are all grown you can, shall we say, cut out the middle man and get absolute delights for a bargain price (plus your shopping tends to be in significantly better shape having not spent several hours in the back of an overloaded pickup truck or being bounced around on a bicycle being brought into town

(I swear I have seen maybe 30 chickens hanging off bicycle handlebars squawking to high heaven and goats strapped to the back of bicycles bleating pathetically resigned to their sad fate).

Depending on which minefield you are going to will depend on your shopping list. So head out west to one of our minefields next to a dam and requests for fresh fish come in abundance. Head south east and its pineapples, south west and its mangoes and bananas. Head north and I guarantee you will get a request to buy a goat!

My request list this week;

2 freshly caught bream…£1

2 medium mangos…20 pence

10 bananas…15 pence

1 big pineapple…20 pence

5 oranges…10 pence

(just for the record a live goat will cost you about £15).

Stuck in the office last week I popped out to the supermarket and bought 1 apple…60 pence!! (the only fruit NOT cheap out here but sometimes you just REALLY REALLY want an apple)

Now am back out in the bush where life becomes…well…back to basics


This is how we pay salaries



This is how we commute to work


This ‘office’ is how I cope with staring at a laptop screen all day!!!

Incorrect use of indicators!!

A phrase shrieked at volume to any pour soul unlucky enough to be stuck in a car with me after dark. But SO true!

Basically over here in Moz as soon as the sun goes down – as elsewhere in the rest of the world – car headlights are switched on. No problem.

Cars over here – as elsewhere in the world – have indicators to ‘indicate’ to other drivers. No problem.

However…for some absolutely inexplicable reason, which can only be explained by the phrase uttered with alarming regularity out here TIA (This Is Africa), drivers over here have an inability to correctly use them…

BIG problem.

This is how indicators are used in Moz to ‘indicate’;

1) when about to turn left or right – correct.

2) outside indicator on to inform the driver behind you that a car is coming in the opposite direction and therefore you should not attempt to overtake – INCORRECT!

3) inside indicator on to inform said driver he may now overtake as the coast is clear in the opposite direction – INCORRECT!

4)…and this gets the biggest shriek…to inform the driver coming in the opposite direction where the outside of your car is!!

I am absolutely not kidding here!! It’s to inform perfectly sighted, perfectly able, perfectly intelligent drivers where the outside of the oncoming car is!! Bear in mind here cars out here are not some special design where the headlight is not placed…oh yes…on the outer edge of the car…oh yes….right next to your indicator!


I’ve stopped driving after sundown!

You look fat

I SWEAR it’s a compliment over here! And the first words to tumble out of the mouth of my Mozambican accountant. It means you look well or you look healthy…but even so!

After a nice long break back home for Christmas and a journey back to Mozambique something akin to Planes, Trains and Automobiles thanks to the British snow, I have swapped my minus 3 degrees for plus 30 degrees.

 Snow in England looks picturesque but makes getting anywhere quite a challenge!

Mum and I slip and slide to the shops!

Everyone needs a break once in a while to recharge the batteries and simply switch off from work mode but now I’m back and raring to go.

I wondered to myself on my journey back what this year has in store for me.

2009 was quite a learning curve year, not just work wise but on the culture front too!

I was educated by my Mozambique colleagues on the finer points of what life is REALLY like in Mozambique…not surprisingly it’s not all seafood and scuba diving!

Stories from the slightly scary of being forced into hiding in the reeds of the riverbank every single night for several years during the war through to the slightly surreal of having an audience will you consummate your marriage on your wedding night peppered my working day!

And without a shadow of a doubt I have laughed til I’ve cried from some of the single funniest one liners from my ops manager!

The oddities which once made me wonder whether I was mad moving here have now become the norm (and are actually quite fun!)…I am confident in the pitch black of an evening powercut I could locate torches, candles, matches within 30 seconds, could rustle you up at least a 2 course meal to be enjoyed by candlelight, we could watch a DVD movie and I would certainly have enough water stored for you to have a nice bucket wash!

In fact during one night time powercut, the laptop battery having run out, having finished my last decent book, it being too late to go out and take refuge at a friends house and at 8.30 was too early even for me to go to bed, that I managed to paint half decent looking butterflies on my wall (by the light of my trusty head torch)!

Let me explain…it’s impossible to get decent pictures out here! Ah ha…no problem for Misshelen…take one paintbrush, a pot of paint, sanddown and repaint a reclaimed window frame et voila!!

Oh yes, how different life is out here!

Every person has a story to tell and I learned last year that no matter how busy life gets it’s worth taking the time to stop and listen to their tales – I fully intend to practice what I preach in 2010!

 As for 2010; I’m going to be an aunty again, I’ve a couple of new year’s resolutions which i’m trying to keep and I think the big bosses might have a move in store for me…but other than that who knows what’s ahead…?!

 Happy new year to everyone!

Let me know what your new year’s resolutions are…

       …..have you broken any yet??!! 

                                 Never too old to build a snowman!

40 litres on your head

The last few weeks have been tough, and tiring, and frustrating…hence radio silence on the blog for a while. After a rough day in the field the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and re-live the day by writing about it. It would probably have been slightly therapeutic but still not enough to motivate me to do it.

In all honesty more often than not (don’t read this part mum!) I hit the bottle! Ok so not seriously but sometimes a strong G+T is the only thing which hits the spot. Anyhow, its medicinal..well the tonic part is…and the gin just makes it taste nicer!

So having set up one new programme I thought setting up the second would be child’s play. A few things I failed to factor in however – the first time round I had a good support team…an accountant, an ops officer, a storeman, a logistician…this time round the accountant was…well…me! Oh yes and the ops officer, the storeman and logisitician all rolled into one.

This programme is meant to be just an extension of my existing programme but that’s easier said than done when the 2 programmes are 7 hours drive away (NOT on a good road!).

In the words of a journalist who recently interviewed me, I was running the programme out of “a rudimentary shelter serving as an office” (The devil is in the detail) so after a few weeks of hardship I was ready to start sleeping in a bed again surrounded by 4 brick walls.

On one of my last days in the field I had a wee chat with a couple of young children. Next to our camp was the local well, the water supply for hundreds of families, and each morning I watch the local women lining up to fill their jerry cans before starting their long walk back home to begin their chores.

To be honest the whole thing was quite amusing as this water hole was quite the local mothers meeting…all sorts of gossip was passed down the line as the women patiently waited their turn.

This morning 2 children turned up so I went over to speak to them. Although shy at first the older, slightly bolder of the two girls eventually gave me a small smile, told me her name was Maria and she was 10 years old. She had been sent with her little sister to collect water for the family.

Walking 2 kms to the well she fills up a 40 litre jerry can, hoists it on to her head and walks the 2 kms home (her little sister is ‘in training’ so only has to carry 20 litres!).

As I helped her hoist her dripping bright yellow container onto her head I asked her if she goes to school, she said sometimes. I asked her how often she has to collect water and she said every day. She is 10 years old!

Maybe my few weeks living in a tent and working from my ‘rudimentary office’ is not so tough after all!


Goat testicles for breakfast

I absolutely kid you not…

We bought a goat today to spit roast for dinner. The province we are in is absolutely THE place in Moz for goat. They are everywhere. So it only seemed right – when in Rome….

I opened my tent at 7am this morning to see a man squeezing undigested food gunk out of the goats stomach. Next I saw the goat’s head waiting to be spiked and roasted (roasted goat brain is very tasty I’m told!). A plate was then proffered in my direction with what looked like little bits of chicken…

Not chicken I was told…goat testicle. I refused then clocked myself and thought if it’s good enough for my guys then its good enough for me, stop being such a wimpy foreigner (and a female foreigner at that!) so accepted the piece being offered to me and swallowed it whole.

Never let it be said that I don’t ‘go native’ when the opportunity arises!!

And the taste of goat testicle….let me just say this…DOESN’T taste like chicken…


If you look to the bottom of the picture next to the foot of the guy holding the goat’s head you can see the hairy ‘outers’ of my testicle breakfast!

Poor wee puppy

So am back from holiday and my relaxing break seems a world away after just a few days back in the land of confusao. Naturally there was all sorts of work stuff to deal with…like drivers who think they are Schumacher. That however is a whole other story!

Here’s one about my puppy instead…

3 things you should know…1) Normally my dog lives at my house and my maid cooks up cheap meat for him to eat. 2) My maid is currently ‘on loan’ to the office as my office cook has got TB. 3) Everyone at the office contributes a little bit of cash each month to supplement what I put in for office lunches.

So before I left town I had a wee think and came up with a  plan of how to feed my dog while I was away – leave money as normal for what would normally be for my lunch but in this case the food was to be dropped at my house for the puppy. Just in case (!) I left a few tins of dog food with my guards.

I thought all in all a simple solution. It would appear I just thoroughly confused everyone. I returned back on Sunday to a starving puppy…

I was reliably informed by my house guard that the tins of food had run out on the Weds….but the tins were only meant to be for  emergency!

When I asked at the office I was told – for some utterly explicable reason – my dog’s name had been added at the bottom of the lunch list (!)…that meant I pretty much insulted every single last employee by implying that I considered them to eat the food of dogs! Bearing in mind in Moz dogs are generally not kept as pets so it’s already quite an absurdity in their minds that I have this dog as a pet.

So THEIR solution was to NOT feed the dog with the lunch food but instead to send someone to buy dog food with the money I had left…. Sounds like another simple plan? That’s what they thought.

Unfortunately Chinese whispers then took the helm…the logistician told the maid NOT to cook food at the office but instead buy dog food. The maid went to the house and told the guards she was going to buy dog food. The guards told her there was no need as I had left tins of food already. The maid returned to the office, stopped cooking food for the dog and life continued as normal…so no food from the office, no food at the house….you can see where I’m going with this….

On the Friday the maid telephoned the logistician to say the guards had telephoned her to say there was no food for the dog….no s**t Sherlock! Then it was the weekend and no-one works on a weekend…hence by Sunday one heck of a hungry dog!

Welcome to my world!!!

Bribery & corruption

I went to Zimbabwe the other day. It’s only 50 miles away so just like nipping from Manchester to Liverpool…except a LOT more hassle it would seem.

A friend needed to do a border run to renew her visa…easy enough to do. I am a resident here so don’t have any problems…that didn’t stop Zimbabwe trying to make life difficult for us though.

We were travelling in her personal car so as to not be our usual conspicuous selves in our white NGO radio-clad trucks! She had only just bought the car so as in any country it takes a wee while to do change of ownership. However we had a piece of Government official paper to say it was her car, maxed out with official stamps and signature scribbles.

We made it out of Moz no problem and made our way through no-mans-land, slowly weaving past the tailback of fuel trucks trying to get petrol into Zim, towards the Zim border. As soon as we walked in to present ourselves, our passports, our dollars and our car papers we knew we were in for a long wait. We bumped into the Mozambican lady who had sold my friend her insurance…they chatted for a while as I queued for our immigration forms.

This lady is Mozabican and is married to a Zimbabwean. They both work in their respective home countries so the border crossing is a regular weekend event for them. She was having some issues because of some miniscule problem with her car – a cracked brake light or something totally insignificant like that. Hearing that we held our breath as we handed our car papers over.

Lo-and-behold (!) they were handed straight back to us accompanied by a shaking head. “Sorry madam, we cannot believe this car is yours”.

I won’t even bore you with conversation which then followed but is involved lots of very formal english being spoken (by them) and lots of clenched teeth smiling and nodding (from us) as we ping-ponged the papers across and back the counter.

Their problem was that our temporary ownership papers were in Portuguese (gee – what a surprise, we live in Mozambique) and their “Government designated official working language” (they actually said that) was English.

Their implication was that we could have forged our papers and therefore they could not allow our car into Zimbabwe. The problem was that they WOULD let us in (having just paid our $70 visa fee!) but not the car.

Maybe there was another solution we could offer them they asked? We knew exactly what they were implying …maybe we could ‘aid the entry process’. We were on the edge of a blindingly huge crevasse…if we jumped in feet first it would be blatently embracing the rife corruption which is crucifying this part of the world but at the same time how self-righteous and moralistic can you be whilst at the mercy of some jobs-worth immigration official.

Our Mozambican friend approached – she could see we were struggling – and said maybe her husband could help. He was a friend of the top-dog there. He spoke quietly to the guy behind the desk – I mean literally 2 or 3 words max – and before we knew it our papers were being stamped and we were waved through the gate.

What he said I don’t know, maybe they are the same tribe, maybe he was owed a favour…in any event by accepting his help we had still really accepted a corrupt favour.

Onward into Zim we had been told about a little known garden cafe, garden in the sun, chilled music, banana fritters, quiche and chocolate cake! We were sold. It was a bit of a mission (just to add to our day!) but find it we did. We walked in and straight over to the menu which indeed listed a multitude of sinful treats!

We went to order, my mouth watering, only to be told they were sorry but the only thing they had was….pork chops! PORK CHOPS!

My friend is a vegetarian – she was practically crying by this point…3 hours through immigration and no quiche, no cake…no nothing! They promised to make her some vegetarian pasta and I opted for the same (I mean…pork chops…come on!). We solemly sat down in the garden thoroughly hacked off.

Then…the pasta arrived…with sun dried tomatoes, olives, feta (all pretty much unobtainable in our wee town)…then they told us they had some chocolate cake left…things were looking up….then….

a girl came over to offer us her copy of Hello! magazine!! Yay!!

Sarah in Zim with Hello

3 hours later, fed, watered and filled with gossip we drove to the highest hill we could find to look down over the mountain range which marks the border between Moz & Zim…what a stunning view…not such a bad day after all but my word what a mission!

In Zim looking at Moz crop

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