In this second excerpt from In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree it is still our first week in Zambia. I had to make our house a home, and one of the first jobs was to buy bedding, particularly as it was very cold at night. I sent my husband into the shop to purchase some double bed sheets while I waited with the children. Foolishly, I left him to choose…
On reaching home I got my first chance to look at the sheets. The packages were pulled out from their bags, displayed in all their glory. Each pack consisted of two sheets and two pillowcases, four packs in total, all identical. Over a foul creamy-brown wavy pattern there were large green leaf shapes and brown stalks the length of the sheet. I was horrified: this was not what I had envisaged. I was looking for something plain and simple, a solid colour that would give some basis for my room design. This was brash and unpleasant.
Still, I told myself, it is a sheet. It cost next to nothing and it would do. No-one needed to see my bedroom except me (well, and Stephen, but he had chosen them): it would serve its purpose. The thin grey flannel blankets would cover up the worst of the design faux pas, even if they provided little in the way of warmth.
How was I going to survive the cold? I wondered. We had been told before we left that June and July were winter and that it was cold, but we’d largely dismissed it. After all, this was tropical Africa, where the sun always shines. Our Ghanaian experience had been of stifling heat building up to sudden, heavy downpours. Even at night, air-conditioning was a necessity. Feeling cold, cold through to the bone, was out of the question. I sighed: it appeared that Zambia was different.
I looked out of the window at the scrappy garden, engulfed in shadows from the mulberry tree. It kept the worst of the sun away from the windows and roof and Richie, trying to help me see the positive side to life here, told me that we would probably be grateful for it by October when it would get really hot. He was right, but in June the cooling effect was unwelcome. The slat windows enabled light and wind to come in and, with the heavy mosquito netting, kept most of the bugs out. But the windows were draughty, particularly where there were panes missing. The heat of the sun was wasted high in the branches of trees and as newcomers to Africa we were shivering from dusk to dawn.
I went through and stripped the bed of the borrowed sheets. Then I discovered that our cheap double bed sheets didn’t actually fit our double bed…
In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree will be available as ebook and in paperback from 18 March 2013.
(c) Catharine Withenay