I traded Paris for Africa; what have I gained?

"Decent television," said one woman at a dinner party here lately. "That's what I miss most: good TV programs."

She got me thinking. After two years in Africa, what do I miss most about Europe? Of course I miss my family and my friends (half of whom are convinced I am mad). But what things do I miss most here, thousands of miles from the busy bustling cosmopolitan life I once had?

Sitting here on a cold winter's morning in Zimbabwe, I'm tempted to say that what I miss most is a bath. A deep white bath with bubbles and hot, hot water to wallow in.

I'm not dirty, in case you're worried. We do have a shower. But it's a dribbling little thing, with a half-hearted excuse for a water jet. You have to wash yourself on one side, then turn a full 180 degrees to wash your back.

It's a bit like turning over a piece of bread in one of those old-fashioned swivel toasters.

And it would be nice to have more toiletries. Rows and rows of jelly-pink soap in the stores can get a bit monotonous.

I miss the metro. Two years ago, I lived and worked in Paris. My metro stop - Pigalle - was a few feet from the entrance to my apartment. Sometimes there were strikes, but most of the time you knew you'd have a maximum of seven minutes to wait before the next train swished up to the platform.

Now that is real luxury. Here, there's no reliable public transport system. There's very little fuel, too, which means car trips have to be carefully rationed.

I miss the bookshops. Looking back from half a globe away, Western bookshops were enormous. You could go to a store knowing exactly what book you wanted and come out with it 10 minutes later.

Here we have flea markets. There's no use going with a title in mind: You have to take potluck. Sometimes that means turning up real treasures, like the blue leather-bound Jane Austen I found last week. It cost less than a pack of rice.

But there are lots - and I mean lots - of Mills & Boon romance novels.

So what did I get from moving here?

First, a husband. That was a big bonus. And - though it wasn't exactly a by-product - a feline, a wild-eyed kitten named Jezebel. Our cat's favorite delicacy is lizards. Jezebel likes spiders, too, the hairier the better.

I got trees, whole encyclopedias of them. There's the silvery flat-topped abyssinica, wonderful for picnicking under. There are the flaming-red msasas and the jacarandas with their floating clouds of lilac flowers. Then there are the eucalyptus trees along the road, with their pungent scrubbed smell after the rains.

Just now, the cherry trees are blossoming. Their lacy pink-and-white pompom flowers lighten my daily trudge to the shop.

I got time. No longer do I have a 9-to-5 job (it was 8 to 3, actually: I worked shifts in a news agency). I have time to watch the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon and the way that the lime-green of the lemon tree leaves changes subtly each day.

Ems, a friend from college, is envious. She works long dark hours, and lunch isn't always possible.

"Lucky you, for getting out of the corporate rat race," she e-mails me.

I've got space, too, Ems.

Remember those dark oak-paneled rooms we shared at college? Or my rented deux-pièces you visited in Paris? My cottage here is far from huge, but the thatched roof soars and the marble floor is uncluttered enough for me to be able to trace out ballet steps half-remembered from lessons years ago.

"Sunbursts and marble halls," was what Anne of Avonlea - my childhood heroine - thought she wanted. Somehow, in the middle of Africa, I got these things.

My husband promised me a life less ordinary. It's less luxurious and there are fewer baths, but just now I wouldn't change it for the world.

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