And now this week's letter question to the panel is from Mr and Mrs Hotchkin, in Chad, which is, if I'm not mistaken, somewhere down south.
''In hopefully a wise move, we are in the process of acquiring a new home with a west facing rocky hillside garden at an elevation of 3000 feet in the Sahara. It has only a small amount of poor soil that has been imported to the plot arranged in two small beds. The first in the middle of the yard contains a flourishing young fig tree, the second has a tenacious small vine that is starting to grow over one of the outhouses. What other suitable preferably edible plants would the panel suggest to complete this biblical picture of peace and prosperity. A photo of possible candidates from our current plot beside the local wadi (dry river bed) is attached.''
PS: the fig tree is currently bearing fruit, however the vine has yet to show any sign of doing so, any suggestions as to how to resolve this unusual problem''
PPS: basically this is a quiz, how many edible plants can you spot? (answers at the end of the post).
You will have gathered that we are moving house, we have been borrowing our current home from a Swiss couple who work as linguists for the project and are due back at the beginning of June. We have told you a bit about the garden but for those of you that don't listen to radio 4, let's try another tack for the house itself.
Location is apparently all important in the choice of a new property, and then although it may not yet possess all the features that are required for modern living if it has potential it can be bought up to scratch without too much effort and expense. So how does our new house measure up?
Location, Location, Location -Yes .The view is fantastic, the house is in the foreground above, and the place is ideal for us, being attached to the other properties of a friendly local family .It is within 5 minutes walk of the hospital, ideal for call outs at night without being too close. Finally being half way up a hillside, that nicely eliminates the possibility of flooding that is believe it or not a real risk amongst the date palms in the floor of the valley.
BUT what about the house? The main building of the house itself is a traditional local stone built flat roofed structure, ideal for retaining warmth in winter months, but rather hot for the summer. No problem as there are a number of semi-permanent rushing covered outhouses in the walled yard that can be useful for day time shade and sleeping when needed. (the rushes grow in permanently damp areas of some of the Tibesti wadis, as climate changes and the water table falls, they are harder to find, and no longer grow at Bardai).Just a small change needed inside with a concrete floor to replace the sand.
The kitchen is basic, with a low reed roof and poor ventilation. So more changes this time. The walls are being raised, and rendered and a less flammable metal sheet roof has been made. The removal of the open fire, and the replacement with a kerosene burner takes away some of the charm but will make it much less sooty. Soon a concrete floor will replace the sand making it easier to keep clean and rodent resistant. Wood for simple shelves will have to come from Ndjamena at a later date, meanwhile we can use metal trunks to store our food -it will soon be high standard living for the area.
Water now that was a different issue - here we nearly had to change our minds. The town water supply has an open pipe about 50m from the front door, a long way to walk to fill the kettle so 4 large barrels have been obtained (ordered especially from Libya) that we can replenish on alternate days when water is pumped. To save us having to carry it in buckets we have also bought a small pump to boost the intermittent supply up to our house.
And then the all important bathroom, being less than basic it needed improving. There is a simple outdoor shower but no latrine. With difficulty one had to be dug/hewn from the rock and an outhouse will be built around it- a perfect solution.
All this takes time but thankfully we do have an expert Changing Rooms team of 3 Chadian builders and local team members as well, giving supervisory and logistical help. One of them is related to our new landlord, what more could you need? There is no shortage of sand and gravel here, and cement was for sale on the local market, but all the wood and roofing sheets had to be brought specially from Libya and all we have to do is provide the builders tea (green, no milk and lots of sugar) and money for bread and sardines for lunch.
So for us this fits the bill and we are excited to be moving in soon.
Meanwhile we are free to continue to learn the Teda language, help to reorganise the work at the hospital and do a weekly outpatient clinic there too. Putting down roots and getting bedded in takes time, perhaps that is what the vine is doing too.
Answers to the plant quiz: Basil, male melon flowers ( can be fried), flowers from local rocket salad, yellow sprouting broccoli, moringa ( an edible tree leaf). The Zinnia is ornamental only as far as we know.