All posts by wheatypetesworld

The times they are a Changin’ – Cloud Farm, Devon

You know how you may have a favourite haunt: a campsite, hotel or out-of-the-way town? Well, Cloud Farm in the Doone Valley on the edge of Exmoor was one of those places for us. The valley itself is unspeakably beautiful: a place where you feel re-energised after a short stay there. It never failed to deliver. It is just a short drive up across Exmoor from where we live now. The perfect getaway for a short break.

The story of Lorna Doone has reached notoriety in English literature. On Exmoor it divides opinion: fact or fiction? Legend or nonsense? Cloud Farm is situated near the village of Oare in the heart of this country.

The origin of the Doone legend is obscure, but it existed by the early 19th century. It focuses on a band of outlaws – the Doones – who were supposed to be descended from a noble family of Scottish origin. The legend claims that they were busy on Exmoor in the 1600s, robbing and pillaging the locals. This is a great story; it is a story that tantalises, mainly because Exmoor has been seen for a long time as beyond the law…for example, by the very early 1800s it had an established reputation for smuggling, with a group known as the ‘banditti’ terrorising Simonsbath.

The novelist Richard Blackmore, living at his father’s rectory at Oare knew of the legend of the Doones, and it inspired his historical novel Lorna Doone which was published first in 1869. It went on to become a national treasure, devoured by the nation’s readers on a huge scale.

The novel is drawn against the upheaval of the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 (in which Exmoor became, albeit obliquely, involved). The hero is John Ridd of fictional Plover’s Barrows Farm near Oare.

Cloud Farm was run by a corpulent “farmer” when we first discovered it. In true Doone tradition he was not so far as beyond the law, but certainly had a healthy disregard of rules, like booking, arriving or leaving on time, or for that matter being overly fussy concerning health and safety. The showers and toilets were totally inadequate for the size of the site, you took your chances when trying to enter the river from your pitch (fences have now appeared near some) and some of the reviewers on websites found it disgraceful. We loved it. He would ride around the campsite on a quad-bike and collect money each morning and if you took the time would engage in friendly conversation in his thick Devon accent. We once stayed here for a month between moving houses whilst waiting for the legal stuff to be completed. He was worthy of the Doones’ legend. You could not book, there were no marked pitches and you made a campfire wherever you fancied. Despite often being seen with a wry smile on his face, he still managed to come across as a bit gruff. But friendly at the same time. When he passed away in 2019 the land went to probate and the National Trust, who, having had their eye on it for some time, jumped at the chance. So now it is a National Trust campsite.

The new proprietor assured us that she did not want to change it. It was perfect in its rustic glory and laid-back approach. Except that it is is now a completely non-smoking site (I couldn’t work this one out). You can still have a campfire (if you use one of the fire-pits provided); there are arrival and departure times; you have to book with your car registration, make, model and length of vehicle, details of storage tents, gazebos, home address and phone number, party members and their ages, size of pitch required etc… The various fields now have twee names. The reception/shop/tea room is still running, but I suspect it will not be long before National Trust merchandise appears there and there are numbered pitches. What sums it up is the old farmhouse. I had always seen it as ramshackle, in the same way that the farmer was ramshackle (if a person can be that), with its rotting windows, collapsing roof and guttering sagging down against the walls – it now has more of the appearance of dilapidated rather than ramshackle. No more rock up, pitch up and enjoy. No more big, friendly farmer. Something has been lost.

Trinidad and tobago – nah leaving.

It must be a good thing if you leave a country with a song in your head, musn’t it?  Leave only footprints and take away only memories?  That is what it was for Trinidad.  The memories were dominated by one song we kept hearing around the place – Nah Leaving by Denyse Plummer. 

Here she acknowledges the problems of the country, but then when she weighs them up against the positives, decides that she will not, like so many others, leave the country of her birth – a country she loves – in search of the good life elsewhere.

I had travelled to Trinidad for work to witness at first hand how and why this country is a world leader in Citizenship education.  The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most educated countries of the world, with a literacy rate of more than 95%. This is largely due to democratic access to free education given to all.  On the second night there, some adventurous visitors went to check out the lively bar down the road.  It was always so full of raucous sounds of people enjoying themselves and lively music.  On the way back the group were help up at gunpoint and everything taken.  At least because it was at the start of the visit they had plenty of time to spend at the embassy trying to replace passports.  Unless, as one canny man did, you had stashed everything in your underpants.  Immigration officers should be aware of this before they lick their fingers as they thumb through your passports.  We visited quite a few schools and despite a lack of what we would see as modern classroom facilities, they were obviously doing a fabulous job.  Patriotism and citizenship were in abundant evidence and echoed Denyse Plummer’s sentiments and presumably supported the combatting of any “brain-drain” abroad.   We were invited to the Ministry of Education to meet with the Minister and visited several schools where we were greeted with music – choirs or steel bands.  The students were unfailingly polite, full of smiles and words of welcome. 

So, if the education system, in particular citizenship education, is so spectacular, then why is there apparently so much crime?  A Trinidadian friend told me that it is part of the backlash from colonialism and its legacy of a society divided into haves and have-nots.  When I returned to the UK, I discovered that someone at the hotel had taken advantage of the credit card details I left to cover incidentals not covered by the sponsored trip (such as a beer by the hotel pool) and cleaned out my bank account.  OK, the bank did cover the fraud, but by the time this came through I had been doing a 12-mile round trip walk to work and back for a month due to lack of funds.  I am agreement with my friend who said she was: “hurt to read that this happened to you in my native country. These things happen, even to us, too. Guns, and drugs, and poverty, lead to criminal opportunism, and a traveller is often a walking target. Of late, criminal incidents have become more frequent, especially in Port of Spain and vicinity. Trini is rich in natural resources but somehow its wealth does not trickle down sufficiently. It’s an uneven society with the historical trauma of slavery, indenture and colonialism (various) fuelling the melt-pot. Trini has always been edgy, and not a poster tropical island. I understand it, but do not condone the violence and criminality. In defence, I would say this kind of behaviour is not exclusive to Trinidad. I am not excusing what happened to you, and my heart is saddened for the fear you experienced. The other side of the coin is that Trini is a very creative country with writers and artists coming out of the woodwork, and you experienced some of that, too.

This is what Denyse Plummer is getting at in her lyrics.  There are so many good and wonderful things about Trinidad; these need to be considered equally.  I have already spoken of the music.  But it was not just Denyse Plummer.  We may think of the music of Trinidad and Tobago as Calypso, Soca and Reggae.  But there are many different forms.  Compulsive, happy music, often with hard-hitting messages in the lyrics, but with a sound that drags you to your feet: cross-cultural interactions have produced other indigenous forms of music including Rapso, Bacchanal, Parang, Chutney, and other derivative and fusion styles.  From the busker at the roadside stop by the sea, to the fabulous gig by Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste), to the steel-drum band in school, the music of Trinidad and Tobago, all leave me in no doubt that Denyse Plummer has a very good point.  Black Stalin, who has been performing Calypso since the 1960s, was given an honorary Doctorate from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, for his tremendous dedication and contribution to Calypso music and culture in Trinidad and Tobago.  His lyrics against European colonial oppression and demands for better handling of the Carnival are reminiscent of Denyse Plummer’s pride in her culture (albeit from a generation earlier).  It was like seeing a classic band, like the Stones, or Bob Dylan and stayed with me.

Still with Denyse Plummer, we can not forget the beauty of the country and the people.  Trevor was our driver and became a friend after two weeks.  He showed us how to tear open a bar of chocolate (which simply melted in the hot sun) and suck it out like a drink (“This is how we like our chocolate here.”), introduced us to the best coconut seller in Port of Spain and searched out street stalls to try local food.  He took us to the Oval and reverently told stories of the times he had seen Lara bat there and was also responsible for getting us tickets to a Black Stalin Gig.  The lady from the ministry was a tall, striking woman and she actually bent her knees inside her long dress so she did not look like she was a good foot taller than me for a photo.  Here were some lovely people of Trinidad. 

Food in Trinidad and Tobago is fabulous.  I will let Denyse Plummer whet your appetite…

If, like me, you love spicy food, then Trinidad will be a bit of a treat for you. My friend told me; “We have some weird stuff going on but it’s all good, hot and tasty fusion food.” I can vouch for the split pea and rice, a traditional Trini dish, rich with coconut milk and vegetable stock. My very favourite street food was doubles – normally eaten for breakfast, and a popular hangover cure. They are made with two baras (flat fried dough) and filled with curry channa (curried chickpeas) and various chutneys. Callaolou is a dish with distinctly African made of young dasheen or taro leaves, okra,  pumpkinonionscoconut milkpimento, and green seasoning like chivescoriander and culantro (sawtooth coriander). Cascadoux is a fish curry, but being a vege I did not try that.

We visited the famous Pitch Lake down south in La Brea and swum in natural hot water there.  You had to know which were tar and which were warm water (thanks Trevor).  There was also time to enjoy the wonderful beaches, including the heavenly Maracas Bay.

So how about that?  A few photo’s and some music.  Not a bad endorsement of a country.

And how could I not give you the song here? Nah Leaving by Denyse Plummer:

The Sounds of Silence – from our home in Stupava, Slovakia

Martin and Alison B reminded me of this. It still means a lot to me: that walnut tree with the rope swing chair; the woodshed full of wood we inherited at the end of the garden; those shrubs that all went pop with a big sound, all exactly on the same day they exploded each year; the constant rotation of flowers that the clever previous owners had planted to give constant surprises and pleasure; that fridge and rope swing seat on the terrace with the big table we salvaged when the kitchen was renovated; those big beams, similarly salvaged for seats around the fire pit under the walnut tree and that garage full of ancient communist days memorabilia – wood burners, old tools and cigar boxes etc… ; those birds that nested on the terrace outside the door and listening to the sounds on the terrace… https://wheatypetes.world/2016/08/15/the-sounds-of-silence/

Scotland

Sometimes, if you are lucky, a country speaks with such eloquence and beauty that words are superfluous. Scotland is one of those countries…

NEPAL: 3 WHEELS ON MY WAGON…

At the time when I visited Nepal in the eighties, Kathmandu was right on the cusp between the invasion of hippies in search of the Truth or ways to get high cheaply, and the high-trekking adrenalin junkies that have followed since then.  The hippies left behind graffiti – pictures from Fat Freddie comics and the like – on the walls of the cheap guest house we stayed at in Freak Street, whilst the climbers leave behind their own mountain of waste (tents, climbing equipment and do-do) on the slopes of Mount Everest.  The taxi from the airport (4 wheels on my wagon) deposited us near the guest house which was a stone’s throw from Durbar Square. 

The road’s official name is Jhochhen Tole; it was the final destination of the hippies in the 60s and 70s, but it is still commonly known as Freak Street.

Arriving from Europe, Durbar square assaults the senses with an outlandish otherness.  It is a series of intersecting squares where a collection of temples clusters, with tiered plinths and high steps up to graceful sanctuaries under graceful outward-curving roofs.  Hippies, orange-robed monks with shaven heads, or dread-locked sadhus with skin the colour and texture of rust, sit around on the steep steps.  In the mornings fresh vegetables sold by wrinkled women gift the air: a pungent aroma of carrots, radishes, cucumbers, peas, oranges, bananas and leafy greens.  Others sell beautiful, intricate yak-bone carvings of Buddhas, lions and the like. And then there was the heavy waft of the food being served from the restaurants around the square.  I never quite worked out what it was, but by the end of my trip to Nepal, I no longer wanted to eat in these restaurants – there was something that made all the dishes taste the same, whether this was attempts at Western food or local fare.  What was it?  As far as I can gather, you now have to pay to visit Durbar square.  This may not be a bad thing, as many of these ancient structures were reduced to mounds of splintered timber and brick dust after the earthquake in 2015 and the government are promising to restore the area.

Spirituality is omnipresent in Kathmandu and Buddhism alongside Hinduism co-exist.  There are many interesting holy places or deities to discover: even a living goddess, in the form of Kumari.  Legend has it that King Jaya Prakash Malla under the influence of alcohol, while playing a game with the visiting Goddess Taleju in the form of a human, started lusting after her. This offended the goddess and she ordered the king to make an oath that he would select a virgin girl within whom she would always reside. The tradition has been continued to this day.  This is where the practice of worshiping young prepubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy or devi in Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions came from.  In Nepal, a Kumari is a prepubescent girl selected from the Shakya caste (of silver and goldsmiths) or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari Buddhist community. The Kumari is revered and worshiped by some of the country’s Hindus. While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, with some cities having several, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the centre of the city. The selection process for her is especially rigorous.  She can be as young as four years old and must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the battis lakshanas, or thirty-two perfections of a goddess. So if you have a neck like a conch shell, a body like a banyan tree, eyelashes like a cow, thighs like a deer, chest like a lion and a voice soft and clear as a duck’s, along with hair and eyes which are black, and dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth, you may be eligible for further testing.  You will be observed for signs of serenity and fearlessness, and your horoscope is examined to ensure that it is complementary to the king’s. It is important that there not be any conflicts, as you must confirm the king’s legitimacy each year of your divinity. Your family is also scrutinized to ensure its piety and devotion to the king.

Once the priests have chosen a candidate, she must undergo yet more rigorous tests to ensure that she indeed possesses the qualities necessary to be the living vessel of Durga. Her greatest test comes during the Hindu festival of Dashain. On the Kalratri, or “black night”, 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess Kali. The young candidate is taken into the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard, where the severed heads of the animals are illuminated by candlelight and masked men are dancing about. If the candidate truly possesses the qualities of Taleju, she shows no fear during this experience. If she does, another candidate is brought in to attempt the same thing.  When her first menstruation begins, it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from an injury also causes loss of deity.  So now, in Kathmandu, you can visit the Kumari Ghar (Kumari’s House).  Don’t expect her to come down and have a chin-wag with you though; her feet must never touch the ground and she will leave her residence only during certain festivals.

Many people attend to the Kumari’s needs. These people are known as the Kumarimi and are headed by the patron. Their job is very difficult. They must attend to the Kumari’s every need and desire while giving her instruction in her ceremonial duties. While they cannot directly order her to do anything, they must guide her through her life. They are responsible for bathing her, dressing her and attending to her makeup as well as preparing her for her visitors and for ceremonial occasions.

Traditionally, the Kumari received no education, as she was widely considered to be omniscient. However, modernisation has made it necessary for her to have an education once she re-enters mortal life. Kumaris are now allowed to attend public schools and have a life inside the classroom that is no different from that of other students. While many Kumaris, such as the Kumari of Bhaktapur, attend school, others, such as the main Kumari in Kathmandu, receive their education through private tutors.

Similarly, her limited playmates must learn to respect her. Since her every wish must be granted, they must learn to surrender to her whatever they have that she may want and to defer to her wishes in what games to play or activities to play. Once they lose their deity, the Kumaris can expect a pension — the municipality pays R10,000 a month and the government pays R6,000.  But despite this, she may find it hard to marry.  There is a belief that if an ex-Kumari marries, her husband will die shortly thereafter.

At the Buddhist monkey temple (Swayambhunath) we spun the prayer wheels under the stupa.  The monkeys here were said to have morphed to their present form from lice living on the head of the monk Manjushri. 

Despite tendencies towards the hippie rather than the trekkie side of things, we could not leave Kathmandu without a glimpse of the fabled mountain.  OK, so it was rather small in the distance looking smaller than other peaks which were nearer, but we took a bus some four hours out of Kathmandu to Nagarkot to see Everest. Nargacot is widely famous for the incredible sunrises and sunsets along with the fantastic view of the whole Kathmandu valley.  We got up at dawn to fulfil this need before heading back to the city and taking a bus west to Pokhara in the Annapurna range (up to six wheels on my wagon now!). 

Here I loved coming out of the room in the mornings to the sinks on the terrace outside and looking at the fishtail mountain behind the reflection of my stubble.  We managed the first day of the Annapurna trek guideless, leaving before dawn, to catch the sun rising over the Annapurna range before the clouds came down.  It took about four hours to get up there.  We just got the last view before the clouds took over.  There was a café/guest house at the top.  We asked for our drinks and the young boy was sent down into town and came back up with said drinks in a fraction of the time it had taken us to get up there.  After this excursion into the trekkie side, we went boating on the lake.

Back in Kathmandu, it was our last day in the country.  Just time to hire some bikes (two wheels on my wagon) to get out to Pashupatinath, a complex of Hindu temples, ashrams, statues and inscriptions centuries old and lying along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river.  On the steps down to the water, bodies are burnt. 

As non-Hindus we were not allowed in, but it was worth seeing the complex from the hill on the opposite bank.  What a great way to spend the morning before our flight out… except for one thing… on the way back down the hill the front wheel spins off my bike, depositing me on my chin and leaving multiple grazes (one wheel on my wagon).   We had spent almost all of our money and were more concerned about getting back to the city in time to get to the airport and not being charged by the bike shop than my injuries.  How could we get back in time?  We just had to take the chance that one of the rickshaw drivers would take us and two bikes in his vehicle.  Eventually we found one that would (three wheels on my wagon), asking him to drop us a way from the bike shop so there were no witnesses to our crime. 

Had I been 30 years older, I would have marched back into the bike shop and complained at the state of the bike he had rented out to me and shown him the injuries that he had caused…  as a younger me, we snuck the bike back into the row of bicycles, with the front wheel loosely attached, then high-tailed it out of there for the airport.  I had visions of the guys in the shop chasing after us, like that band of marauding Cherokee after that old wagon, when they discovered the non- attached wheel and bent front fork.

It is not necessarily the right order (four wheels, two wheels, one wheel, three wheels) for the wagon song, but at least you did get a bonus six-wheeler and a vicarious trip to Nepal.  It was a great trip.  We made the plane and I was a-singing a higgity, haggity, hoggety, high.  And if you don’t understand that, then you are probably unfamiliar with the old song; here it is:

on the eve of brexit

I, for one, apologise to our children and their children for the mad mistake made by our generation.

I’m wearing all black tomorrow, I don’t know what else to do, such is the despair and disillusionment with what this country has become. I used to travel regularly to and from Europe with our dog… for one small example. Goodbye trips to and from, hello drawbridge. I am so, so sad. And the very second I can draw on my pure Scot Grandfather, if and when that ever makes a difference, I’ll be there! 40 years of co-operation have ensured peace in the the EU at least, and if Yugoslavia had joined then maybe there would not have been that fiasco. This is what my grandparents fought for: peace, stability, co-operation and tolerance in Europe. It seems that we have a government that does not believe in this. Ashamed to be British.

Iona’s story

Further to my post “Why I am so proud…” I asked Iona if I could blog this. She was set homework to write a 500 word story for the BBC competition. She said “Yes,” to my blogging question and I am so, so proud of how my daughter has the empathy to understand how the Shadow War in the middle East is so, so much more to do with people, who were once children, than about the games of international politicians, who will never see their sons or daughters risk their lives in this way. Iona is unlikely to win (she doesn’t even want to, because last year the prize was to meet David Walliams and this year it is only to go to Buckingham Palace). Anyway here it is:

The Shadow War

My name is Jamal Abdi and I am here to tell you my story. It all happened when I was just 7 years old; I had no idea that this would happen. I was out in the street, early in the morning, so I saw nobody, then this boy came out of nowhere.  He said his name was Amal Amari.  He started talking and he just said, “I want to be in the army when I grow up – not a soldier, a General.”

I looked back in astonishment.  Never in my life had I met a person who didn’t laugh at me for wanting to be in the army. From that moment I knew we would be great friends.   Every day we would meet on that street and play. He was 4 years older than me so he was a lot taller; he had brown hair and tanned skin. We would get rocks and bottles, pretending they were bombs and throw them at each other.  It was a lot of fun having someone who understood me, who liked being with the real me.

I remember when he turned 18.  He told me that he was going off to pursue his dreams, he was going to be a soldier. That day I was callous to him – I didn’t want him to leave. It was when I turned 17 that my mother told me about the war.  She said to me that Iran and U.S.A had been at war, she described it as a shadow war: whatever that means. But I never forgot what she said to me after that: “Jamal this war isn’t going very well for us, please be careful.” I just thought she was over-reacting and replied saying, “It will be over soon, I’m sure of it.” Looking back at it, I was being stupid and careless – I just wanted to go and relax after a long day. But what I seemed to forget was that war isn’t a game, it’s a serious matter and it’s not something you should play around with.

I went into the army when I was 23.  I was put into a regiment and soon found out our general was Amal.  He recognised me straight away and to my relief he wasn’t mad at me.  I told him how awful I felt about treating him that way and I never did it again. It was when I was out of the base that it happened.  I was on a holiday back at home with my parents when the news came on. It said that my base had been bombed and that there had been no survivors.  I knew immediately that Amal was dead. I didn’t talk to anyone for days, I just couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t dreaming. It has now been 3 years since that day and I’m still not sure if this is a dream, but if it is, it’s not my childhood dream.

By Iona (aged 10)

Related: Rich Man’s War

Zambia: Marketing skills

Let’s talk about markets.  All over the globe I have visited markets and shops where bargaining skills are the maker or breaker of the outcome.  But I have to admit that I am really rubbish in some people’s eyes here.  I see something I like and ask the price.  I may dabble in a bit of a haggle, but ultimately I know that I can afford it and rightly or wrongly assume that I am a richer person, so after a desultory haggle end up paying way over the odds for the said item.  It doesn’t bother me particularly.

But when it comes to marketing skills, Tash and my brother Paul make me look like my beloved Aldershot Town playing against Man. United in the FA cup (we lost 4-1 at home).  They even had special commemorative tee-shirts printed for that one.  But that is a side issue.  Back to markets.  Tash is determined and hard, telling the seller exactly how much he or she is ripping us off and is quite prepared to start to walk away.  She has even been known to reduce the sellers to bad-tempered pleas of, “You’re killing me,” even teary emotional eyes, followed by a price much closer to the locals’ rate than I could ever hope to achieve.  It is all done with a smile.

Paul is in a league of his own.  It is sort of like the Monty Python of marketing approaches.  He will have the seller in stitches and offering a reasonable price whilst laughing like a drain.  The market just over the Zambian side of Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders, or Victoria Falls) was a great example.

After a few days exploring the Zambezi and the Falls from Zimbabwe we crossed the bridge into Zambia.  At the time, border guards were concerned to ensure that there were no entry or exit stamps from South Africa in your passport, sometimes at gun-point.  They did so quite aggressively.   The border sign into Zambia was tagged with the words “Zambia – the friendly country.”  Then there were the currency rules which stipulated that you could only take a tiny amount of Zimbo dollars out of the country.  We had to hide currency in our socks.  The Falls sent an incessant drizzle on to the bridge at this time of the year but if you could get across then you were rewarded by the experience of standing with your toes in the Zambezi a few yards from the precipice where the mighty river tumbles down over 100 metres into the narrow gorge.  This is over twice the height of Niagara Falls.  On the Zambian side, you could cross a footbridge over to an island above the cascade.  You could not even see the far end of the bridge which was obscured by the spray.  The river splits into a multitude of channels some 1700 metres wide before forming an incredible curtain of water, throwing spray up to 800 metres skywards, being visible from nearly 40 km away.  It is big.  You got very wet even crossing the bridge into Zambia.  On a full moon you can even see lunar rainbows against the big, starry, African sky. 

In Zimbabwe I had fallen in love with marimbas.  I can never forget the trio we saw on the Zimbabwean side.  One had a kind of wooden sound which reminded me of steel drums, the second wafted in and out like a pan-pipe, whilst the third thumped out a bass-line like a tuba.  Sometimes all would drop out except a single, quirky timber note, but a fraction of a second after the foot-tapping would expect.  Then another would interrupt with a crazy hammering, working up to a crescendo.  A second or so of absolute silence except for the night insects who take the sound-stage for a moment followed and then back into the melody they started with.  Try listening to that on the banks of the Zambezi, watching lizards climbing up the telegraph poles in the middle of the tables overlooking the lazy, upstream river and enjoying a beer and tell me you are not moved!

Apologies, I have gone off again, we must get back to the market.  We were first greeted by hopeful money changers, desperate for any hard currency.  These included the border guards.  A young boy limping along, one-legged with the aid of a single crutch, with a practised expression of pain, pleads for hard currency.  Bystanders are eyeing our bags.  Tobacco, biros or tee-shirts are all items which are suggested as “currency” in transactions.  Any currency is acceptable. 

“I’ll give you five Zimbabwe dollars and ten (Zambian) kwacha,” my brother is saying.  The man shakes his head. 

“You must give me 25 dollars.”

“No.”

“You give me 25 dollars and I give you a present.”  He holds up a kidney bean necklace.

“I’ll give you five dollars, ten kwacha and four Botswanan Pula.”  The man is shaking his head again.  It is not clear whether he is refusing or trying to work out the exchange rates.

“But I’m giving you a free picture of Kenneth Kuanda,” declares Paul, holding out the Kwacha for the man to see.  Criticising their president is certainly not a wise move here.  But my brother is smiling.  Several of the other curio-sellers within earshot burst out laughing.  Amidst the hilarity the deal is struck.  The ladies in our group manage to avoid taking off their tee-shirts to throw into other proposed transactions.  Then Paul comes up with what I can only describe as a silly but naughty look on his face.  “Happy Birthday, brother,” he declares, holding out a marimba.  It had cost him ten Zimbo Dollars, a biro and his David Gower cricket hat. 

Perhaps these sorts of markets and his time in a very poorly paid VSO posting in Zimbabwe were what honed his bargaining skills.  I don’t know.  But I do know that I have a way to go to get to that level.