IN 2017, we made a decision to split the family. The civil war in Southern Sudan between the Dinka and Nuer tribes had ruined the newly-independent country and our house and chicken farm at Nimule on the border were now a target for armed soldiers and guerilla bands. Several young relatives had been shot dead, many others abandoning their homes and fields to flee with their families to refugee camps. Fortunately Anne Marie’s family had land at Atiak in Northern Uganda. While she built our new home there, I would stay working in Swaziland to earn some shekels to pay for it.

What I needed was a simple, affordable cottage in the country, half an hour’s drive from the medical clinic, with helpful and non-intrusive neighbours. For most folk in cities, this menu would be a chimera. Anne Marie delivered the desired package after four hours and the interrogation of five landlords, the clinching factor being female intuition. Walking slowly around one three-roomed house, chatting to the farmer, she sniffed the air, scratched the ears of his huge dog, talked soothingly to a noisy rooster (a common habit among chicken farmers, I’ve noticed), then announced, “This is the place for you. You’ll feel happy here. If I wasn’t going up back north, I’d love to stay too.”

It was christened The Pondok, a term used by a friend for his primitive retreat in Crete, but as a lone male faced with two years or more before the mast, minimalism as practised by the Japanese was more realistic than Mediterranean domestic mores: cleaning, shopping and cooking now being my bag. Thus the kitchen was arranged so that all activities – cracking eggs for omelettes, sourcing plastic container for unused food, slicing the superb locally baked wholemeal brown loaves, chopping and grating for the weekly bowl of raw coleslaw (the antidote to piles or haemorrhoids, formerly the bane of the British but now global) – could be performed within a tight radius, not unlike a squash player rooted to the T spot of the court. A lazy Susie was of great assistance – the present one rotates silently on its grass mat with peppercorns, ginger, sea-salt, tooth-picks, cinnamon sticks, dried tangerine and lime seeds, and a small jar of an unidentified but highly aromatic residue, all to hand. There is also a pepper spray for unwelcome visitors.

With eight hours of sun a day, I could test the theory that a few hours of solar radiation on the clothes line would remove most stains and odours, thus reducing washing to a minimum. My only attempt at using the washing machine had ended with the vibrating beast heading for freedom at speed towards the open kitchen door; my daughter later counselled me never to panic and press all the control buttons simultaneously.

Thanks to tiled floors, it was possible to clean the whole cottage entirely to my satisfaction in 15 minutes using a broom in one hand and an ancient feather duster in the other; the debris included several species of indestructible spiders with attached webs, termites and their small mounds of the building’s foundation, protesting crickets, centipedes and scorpions (stamped on), millipedes (innocent vegans, thus spared and pitched out of the window), and the occasional puzzled farm chick.

Rubbish is off-loaded into the communal pit once or twice a month where the nutritional and other habits of my neighbours can be studied. Empty containers of sour milk and amahewu, a mildly alcoholic maize drink, are much in evidence as are cheap red wine bottles (often identical to the one I buy in 5-litre boxes then decant into upmarket bottles and stopper with an old cork), but of supermarket packaging, fast food containers or soft drink bottles there is not a sign. My scant edible leftovers are pitched under a eucalyptus tree near the outside washing sink; within hours it has all vanished thanks to the birds, constantly watching from the surrounding bushes and trees, the ever-rooting chickens, and Sasha, our comfortably upholstered, fawn-coated senior farm dog.

The spell in the Pondok has been essentially selfish but no less enjoyable for that. There is no routine cast in cement, be it waking, sleeping or eating, no house maids or even a geisha, no television or videos within sight or sound, no urgent meetings with school teachers, aggrieved relatives or bolshie debtors. As Fleetwood Mac’s song puts it, “No questions asked.”

Dr David Vost studied medicine at Glasgow University and is currently working at a hospital in Swaziland. He and his family live on a small farm in Northern Uganda near the Albert Nile.