Selected Yambient Words

Friday, January 12, 2007

Week 9: To Everything Turn Turn Turn

Week 9: To Everything Turn Turn Turn

Firstly: Shout-outs to the amazing people who sent us DVD's of the
Eastenders Christmas specials. Big up yourselves…



I'm turning into an alpha-male. It started last week, a little, with
the introduction of touch rugby into my life. In the last week, I've
lit barbeques, played football, been a football coach and started
'torching fat' with the aid of a lad's mag supplement. Next week, I
plan to wrestle a crocodile, burp the theme tune to Match of the Day
and read some Andy McNab books, before hunting some deer and starting
a fight at my local. All the while this strange change is happening,
I'm living in a block we have dubbed the 'woman's hostel.'In 9 flats
in our block, there are 9 women living here, and one guy… me. I am the
protector of the Mombasa Academy Woman's Hostel, the only bloke
around. I feel so male here. It's strange that I should be leaning
towards alpha-male-ism though. Surrounded by female teachers, all I
hear is talk of students, make-up, celebrity gossip, make-up, boys,
the benefits of different types of bra, make-up and periods. And we
watched a Hugh Grant film last weekend. And I laughed a couple of
times. These girls are trying to turn me into a sissy.



So there is a strange battle raging in my head. The Alpha-Male versus
the Pansy Boy. I'm not entirely sure who's winning. I know the soft
sensitive poet in me is suffering. He can't take all this conflict and
is hiding in the corner, whispering 'It's going to be okay' to himself
over and over again.



It is a strange feeling though. Much as I exaggerate my alpha-male
behaviour, I do find myself missing male company. I never thought that
possible. All of my friends out here are female. I miss talks about
stupid videos on YouTube or a particularly vicious Jimmy Carr quip or
just good ol' fashioned blood'n'guts. Or do I? Maybe I will emerge
from this whole experience a lot more feminine.



I have getting more and more involved in school life in the last week.
Today I start a Rap Club for young'uns in the school, where I will be
doing workshops in positive lyrics and hopefully getting the kids
involved in some slam poetry competitions as the term moves on. I have
also been asked to help pick the school football team, seeing as I
play football with the kids twice a week. Shame I know next to nothing
about football beyond see ball… kick ball… score goal… elaborate
celebration.



I have never had any interaction with Katie's students before, so it's
bizarre being in such close proximity to them. I'm not their teacher,
yet they still address me as 'sir', unsure of my level of authority.
They then go and whisper and gossip that I'm going out with one of
their teachers. Other teachers refer to me as 'Mr Shukla'. I can't get
used to it. Even when I was doing workshops in schools last year, I
was 'Nikesh'. I am not a teacher, so prefer some level of familiarity
as a workshop leader. The kids here can't deal with it. They feel
uncomfortable calling me 'Nikesh', so 'sir' or 'Mr Shukla' it is. I'm
a little nervous about Rap Club. I've only once run workshops on my
own. It should be fine. But this time, I'm walking into the classroom
with a stigma attached to me. I'm going out with one of the teachers.
It's common knowledge. It's hard not to notice. We live on campus at
the bottom of the school field. Kids have been curious and asking
Katie why on earth her boyfriend would be running a Rap Club. People
will turn up out of curiosity, just to see what on earth I think I'm
doing.



Another curious thing I am finding is the lack of interaction with
black Kenyans and Africans I am having. There appears to be some sort
of segregation going on, along class and race lines that I am not
entirely comfortable with. The whites hang out and live with other
whites and they all live in white areas and go to white-friendly bars
and clubs. The Asians hang out and live with the Asians on their
walled and fenced and secure compounds, and go to each other's houses
for dinner, and the black Africans… well… I see them out and about but
have no idea what they do or where they go. My life is mostly dictated
by the school and school life, as I live on campus. Not many black
Africans can afford to go to the school. Sadly, the most interaction I
have with black Africans is through our cleaner, Gladys. It doesn't
compute in my brain how this social segregation can still exist.
Appearance-wise, Mombasa looks cosmopolitan. There is a healthy mix of
black, brown and white faces, through residents, economic migrants,
ex-pats and tourists… yet they do not mix. They aren't really seen out
in public together. A friend's dad was moaning about how when he had
gone out for lunch with a business associate, a black female, his
friends had assumed that she was a prostitute. He was appalled at the
insinuation that anytime anyone white or Asian is seen with a black
male or female, there must be some sort of transaction happening
there. It's an appalling stereotype and mostly perpetuated by the
immigrants here. The Brits are the immigrants here, the Asians are the
immigrants here, and they really are 'stealing jobs, stealing women…'



Whenever I get on a matatu, there is a double-take…. Why is an Asian
man taking public transport? Shouldn't he have his own car and driver?
This makes people clam up. Whenever I am walking about, people do a
double-take at my smiley face. Shouldn't the Asian man be in a car?
The assumption is that the brown and white people want to segregate
themselves in their cars and their compounds and they want nothing to
do with the black Kenyans, so I look out of place doing what is deemed
normal back home (walking and taking buses). Much of it, I am sure is
not down to race itself. I think a lot of these problems are down to
money and class. All the Asians and whites out here are incredibly
wealthy, and have servants and cars and gated houses. The majority of
the black Kenyans are not. It's sad. People made to feel like second
class citizens in their own countries by economic migrants, who have
turned the indigenous population into their workers and their slaves.
It's incredibly sad.



Last weekend was incredibly quiet. The teachers were so shocked by
having a month off and then back to school again for three days that
by the time the weekend rolled around, everyone was tired and in
desperate need of somewhere to sit. We spent evenings watching telly
and eating, grazing… and days by the pool or at the beach. It was
incredibly lazy.



This week, I have been working more and more on my Britishness
project, which is starting to really take shape. I have been reading
articles and articles about the notion of Britishness and getting a
notion of where this project is headed. The folk album continues to
take shape as songs are being rehearsed and fine-tuned. There are
about 12 songs finished. They need to be recorded. Vee-Kay has kindly
offered to mix the album at his Sweatbox on my return. I have also
booked my return flights. Back in the country in March for a short
break, and then back for good, Take That-style, at the end of July.
Life here is slow and quiet and different and occasionally
frustrating, but there is something comforting in the solitude I am
experiencing. I am teaching myself discipline. I am learning to be
entirely self-sufficient, creatively, professionally and emotionally.
I have no one creative to bounce ideas off. I have no 'boys' to be a
boy with, just my girls. It's a simple life, akin to that of an
ascetic. Except with occasional Eastenders DVD's sent out to you. In
the absence of the constant entertainment/numbness of television, we
are making our own entertainment. The website www.housegymnastics.com
has given us much hilarity and we are now in the process of using our
block of flats to finesse some of our own house gymnastics to win us
the much-coveted prize of 'move of the month'. Lack of television is a
glorious thing.



To everything… turn, turn, turn…

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Week 8: New Years, No Tears

Week 8: New Years and No Tears

This last week has been without incident thankfully. There have been no attempted muggings, corrupt coppers or hospitalisations. It has been relatively quiet, and all the more enjoyable for it. Now enough time has passed and all our friends are back in town, we are able to laugh at our disastrous holiday. Otherwise we’d still be crying. Luckily, it’s starting to be funny. This week has been pretty quiet compared to the last few weeks.

We spent most of our mornings at the airport, doing airport runs for various returning teachers, all bringing back with them tales of home and tales of Sadaam’s execution (we are a little news-starved out here) and NME’s and cheese. The cheese was greatly appreciated.

Friday night saw us visiting a friend’s dad, who lives here, for drinks. He has a flat on Nyali beach and a vast selection of red wine. He had friends over from Canada and the UK, and invited us to join them for a few drinks. Sitting with his friends drinking and discussing the finer points of Nyali’s restaurants, talk soon turned to my dad living here in the 60’s. Both of the friends lived here in the 60’s, one even went to dad’s school. I fished for information about the school and the off-chance of whether the guy knew my father. He did not, but gave us precise instructions on how to find the school, and confirmed that it still existed. This filled me with hope. The one thing I have yet to do here is retrace my dad’s footsteps and live in his shoes. I have mostly been living in Nyali, not really venturing into the city centre for much, aside from exchanging traveller’s cheques and giving bribes to coppers. We drank copious amounts of red wine and chatted with these amiable Gujarati fellows. My friend’s dad talked of the past, and of growing up. He even told us some of the stories that inspired my friend to write a song about them. When I informed him of the existence of the song, he was quietly proud of his son.

More booze was drunk, and talk soon turned to that Gujarati sore spot of race: do we like Africans and Muslims? A heated debate emerged about whether you could accept a black or Muslim into your family. My friend’s dad and one guy said of course you could. The other, the more he drank, became quite stubborn about his beliefs that it was essentially not right and whatever you told your kids, deep down you would always know that it was wrong. The others argued with him that he needed to evolve and adapt to his surroundings or else he would find it hard to deal with the events before him. Katie and I sat back and watched the debate. It was much more interesting to see these old dogs fight rather than get involved. By playing Devil’s Advocate, I got a clearer insight into the older generation of Gujarati men than I will ever have I think. We took our leave shortly afterwards to go to the airport to pick up a friend. A phonecall en route told us that she was stuck in Nairobi for the night and would be back the following day.

The next day, we returned to the airport and picked her up. We feasted on cheese on toast in the afternoon, revelling in the creature comforts of a toaster and a block of extra mature. We tried to get into the New Year’s Eve swing of things and started planning what party frocks we would all be wearing. A trip to the beach and a hot sweaty day full of heavy air and heavier food meant that by the time dinner rolled around, our eyes were drooping and we were all ready for bed.

We headed out up the coast to Splendid View Café (which turned out to be a misnomer as there was not a splendid view of anything). Splendid View was offering a buffet dinner till half midnight, at which point it would close. We were with some other older teachers for dinner. Our plan was to stay with them till midnight then head up to a haunt up the coast called Il Covo, where they have loud cheesy music, cheap drinks, and the social life of the local white community seems to revolve. Splendid View Café was empty. Which was surprising as the tunes the live DJ was spinning were suitably cheesy for New Year’s Eve and the buffet was tasty, if a little meat-tastic. We stayed and chatted and ate and ate. The venue was practically empty and we were right next to the food so it was all too easy to go and refill your plates. By 11, our grazing had taken its toll and we were in need of serious dancing. We looked up and found we were the only people left in the venue. And we were all flagging. Too much food, sitting and wine had made us all extremely tired. We needed to dance. However, the dancefloor (and the venue) was empty and the DJ kept shouting an embarrassing cry of “The Place To Be For 2007”. We decided to leave at 11.45pm, to find a vantage point on the beach to watch the fireworks that most of the hotels had at midnight. Traffic going up the coast towards Il Covo, where we were hoping to end up, was at a standstill, so we headed back towards our beach. We headed to a Shiva temple on the beach, speeding along the dirttrack, trying to ignore our driver’s erratic fast driving. We reached the Shiva temple. It was closed. Plan B was quickly formed at 11.57: head to our beach at the school. At 11.59 we swerved on to the tiny path that led us down to our beach. At 12.00, the car parked as far as it could go up the path. At 12.01, we realised it was 2007. At 12.02, we decided that without a torch, taking the treacherous steps down to the beach was a little foolhardy. At 12.03, the house we were parked behind starting doing fireworks right on the other side of the fence to us. We saw rockets lift up and explode through trees, we saw the glow of roman candles between the brickwork of the fence. It was a strangely serene moment, subdued, but calm and all the more poignant for it. We had been so up for having a large night out to dance away the demons of our disastrous holiday, that we forgot what we were celebrating: The passing of time. And here we were, stood with everyone who really mattered. We all hugged for the 07 dream and headed back to our apartment block to watch more fireworks from the roof. We sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ along the way, well, hummed the melody. Not much firework action was going on. We decided that perhaps it was a little silly venturing out now seeing as we were all knackered and headed to bed early.

The next day, we were fighting fit and up for a party. We headed down to Diani Beach on the South Coast. This is a beautiful stretch of beach further down the coast. You have to take a ferry to get there from the other side of Mombasa. We drove through Mombasa at midday, revelling at how much of a ghost town it was. It was amazing. My favourite time in the city centre. No cars, no traffic, no matatus. Diani Beach is gorgeous. The sea is gloriously blue. The waves are choppy. The reef is further out so there is hardly any seaweed. We parked up at a beach bar called 40 Thieves, and ran into some Nyali friends still revelling from the night before. They were all a little worse for wear and still drinking. We swam, drank and listened to a calypso covers band sing multiple versions of “I Will Survive.”

The rest of the week involved all the girls preparing for the return to school and me preparing to get stuck into work. Just as I was getting into it last term, the holidays started and my routine was broken. Wednesday saw me playing football with the schoolkids again, scoring a spectacular free kick goal and colliding with the heaviest guy on the pitch, winding me thoroughly. In the evening, I indulged some alpha-male impulses and went to play touch rugby for the first time. Even though I am rubbish, I managed 3 tries. And because I was rubbish, my team only passed to me when absolutely necessary, preparing to showboat and team up with each other. It was fun playing touch rugby, and though there was a little of the overly masculine attitude on the pitch, I managed to keep my sensitive side intact. The next day, I ached. Two and half hours of exercise and my body was killing me. Muscles that I didn’t know existed ached. Muscles in my feet, in strange parts of my arm, multiple hamstring muscles all ached. Maybe touch rugby isn’t for me, I wondered.

Not much doing this week, thankfully. It has been quiet and slow and relatively free of incident, which I’m proud to say. More to report next week.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Week 7: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells...

Week 7: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

We arrive back in Mombasa on Friday morning and immediately get down to the task of retrieving our Christmas presents from the Kenyan post office (see Week 5 for a run down of the horrific procedure we have to endure every time we do this). We retrieve our parcels, and head back to the car to come home and feel Christmassy.

In central Mombasa, the main parking spaces line the middle of the road, like a spine of parked cars. We try to reverse out of the middle of the road so we can leave. A boy helps us by stopping oncoming traffic and ushers us out when appropriate. A matatu, thinking it has spied a gap in the traffic, cuts in front of the boy helping us and it drives into the back of our car. We are momentarily confused as to what has happened. Katie quickly re-parks her car and I get out to inspect the damage. The matatu, a beaten up thing, has been parked on the side of the road, and the driver is ushering off his passengers, while the conductor inspects the damage done. We are unsure of what has happened at this point. We think it may have been our fault. A copper approaches us and tells us we have caused an accident. The ‘law’man tells us we need to immediately settle this matter privately with the matatu driver or he will have to get involved and impound the car. We tell him that we are insured. He demands to see our papers. Every time I try to get involved, he hushes me and speaks to the white driver, Katie. We say that we are insured and that we wish to get the insurance details of the matatu driver, knowing that they are probably not insured. There is negligible damage to their matatu. Where the damage we have caused ends and pre-existing cuts and scrapes begins is not obvious. We wonder whether we have done any damage at all. They still insist we have caused a potentially dangerous accident. The policeman tells us that regardless of our insurance, it is better to sort this out privately, as for claiming insurance we will have to obtain a police report, from him, and pay for it, amongst other administrative charges. And he will have to impound the car. He takes his leave so we can negotiate with the matatu driver. The driver asks for 1500 shillings (a tenner) for the damage. It may not sound like much, and the fact that he is asking for such a low amount means that there probably isn’t that much damage and they want to scare some beer money out of the ‘rich’ Westerners.

A crowd of staring children gather. We negotiate. They demand money. We demand their insurance details. We are locked against each other. We do not want to give them cash and they do not want to give us their insurance details. A completely unnecessary fuss is made and we are fighting a losing battle because the policeman hovers in the background, waiting for a private settlement. More bystanders continue to stare, menacingly and Katie is visibly upset, to the point where it is just easier to give them the money to go away, rather than try to pursue the course of what is true and just and procedure. I shove the money into the driver’s top pocket angrily and take my sunglasses off to glare at him. ‘Merry Christmas, you horrible man’ I hiss at him and he walks off, smiling at his personal victory, in the direction of the bystanding police officer. To give him his thirty pieces no doubt. We drive away, upset and shaken. It is only through replaying the event later that we realise we have been had. We were vulnerable and confused and we got taken for a ride. We need to toughen up, or be eaten up here.

It puts a dampener on the rest of the day, and we lose our festive cheer… again. What a trying few weeks it has been. Well, NWA said the be all and end all of my opinions about the police, and my mum reads this so I will spare you the profanities they use. The rest of the day we spend trying to gather up some Christmas cheer. Thousands of miles away from our loved ones, in the land of crap robbers, unwashed vegetables and bent coppers, means we are simply NOT having a wonderful Christmas time.

On Saturday, I perform at the local Cinemax complex, at a café. Two weeks ago, when I had arranged the gig, the venue had assured me of a sound system. When I arrive to soundcheck, there is nothing there beyond a stereo clamped to the wall behind the counter. I am to perform outside, and unfortunately, the system will not move. I am whisked away to a nearby music shop, where we are refused permission to hire equipment out.

When the gig actually arrives, we faff about with the microphone for about 30 minutes, trying different ways of holding it up and positioning it before settling on taping it to a hookah pipe. Then, when I go to use the microphone, as it is cordless, it is too far from its receiver, and my words keep cutting out. I give up and perform anyway. My acoustic guitar and the power of my voice, compete with coffee drinkers, cinema-revellers, and boy racers testing out their speakers with dancehall beats. It is nearly a disaster but luckily, I have an attentive audience for the first song. By the third song, I have lost them, because only the table directly in front of me can hear me. I try walking around and singing, which people appreciate, but makes me feel like a performing monkey. Eventually, I give up and sit down, dejected… That dream of being Kenya’s next big star is momentarily crushed.

On Sunday, we travel up to the impossible posh Serena Beach Hotel to meet a relative who mum has sent a care package with. She has included my post (a bunch of bills – great), a weekend broadsheet (a delectable read), some proper mince pies and our presents. My mum is made honorary queen for the day. We have a quiet lunch with my relatives and their friends at the beach resort. My relative was an 11 year old refugee from Uganda in the 70’s when Idi Amin rose to power, and it was interesting to hear him effuse goodwill and passion for Britain and good old fashioned Britishness.

On Christmas day itself, I wake stupidly early, filling myself with as much excitement as I can muster. Katie and I are both cheer sections for the spirit of Christmas today, for each other. With no Christmas holiday saturation around us, it is imperative we keep our spirits up all day. Luckily, our spirits are raised when we see Santa has left us some stockings. Santa has left me a stocking full of men’s hygiene products. Santa thinks I smell obviously. We phone both our parents at 7am their time, and wake both sets up from their Christmas Eve hangovers. This is enough minor revenge for all those weekends they have forced us out of bed at unnecessary times. We swap presents. Katie has bought me a toaster, and I have bought her a kettle… aren’t we thoughtful? We celebrate with tea and toast and open up presents from home. At midday, I light the barbeques and we set about having a barbeque roast. It is semi-successful, despite the roast potatoes falling in the charcoal as we lift them off. Despite our lack of oven, we manage to have stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. It is a Christmas miracle. We are triumphing against the elements. After some board games, we decide to take a walk down to the beach to limber us up for the evening, where we will go to the next building and eat more barbeque with the Bombay-ite deputy head and his wife. A walk on the beach brings more phonecalls from home. We return to the flat for dusk, and more phonecalls from home come.

We head over to the deputy head’s house with our smouldering barbeques and I try to reignite them with a dribble of meths. A bystander shouts: ‘Get one of the guards to light it. That’s what these Africans are there for! They’ll have it up for you in 5 minutes! They’re masters!’ I’m sure there’s a compliment in there somewhere. A guard is summoned while I trooper on with trying to do it myself. The guard comes anyway, and has a superbly fierce barbeque lit in about ten minutes. I am amazed and a little emasculated. Here I am, in Africa, trying to be the alpha-male: all-barbequeing, all-footballing man, and someone betters me in 10 minutes flat. I do learn some barbeque tips from this African genius. The bystander gives me a look to say, ‘why try when they’re here for your beck and call?’ and I note loudly that we should take the guard some chicken for his effort.

More food is cooked. This time, we have barbequed red snapper and tandoori chicken, and we find new ways to shove it all in. Our gracious hosts keep loading our plates up or noting we have no drink or food, and by the end, we’re double the size. We return home, tired but contented in a surprisingly pleasant Christmas so far from home.

The rest of the week we spend at the pool, reading books, playing our new board games and working out an exit plan for Kenya. The sun occasionally rears its head. I catch a nasty cold and spend the rest of the week in bed. The perfect end to our Christmas holidays.

See you in 07.

Week 7: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells...

Week 7: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

We arrive back in Mombasa on Friday morning and immediately get down to the task of retrieving our Christmas presents from the Kenyan post office (see Week 5 for a run down of the horrific procedure we have to endure every time we do this). We retrieve our parcels, and head back to the car to come home and feel Christmassy.

In central Mombasa, the main parking spaces line the middle of the road, like a spine of parked cars. We try to reverse out of the middle of the road so we can leave. A boy helps us by stopping oncoming traffic and ushers us out when appropriate. A matatu, thinking it has spied a gap in the traffic, cuts in front of the boy helping us and it drives into the back of our car. We are momentarily confused as to what has happened. Katie quickly re-parks her car and I get out to inspect the damage. The matatu, a beaten up thing, has been parked on the side of the road, and the driver is ushering off his passengers, while the conductor inspects the damage done. We are unsure of what has happened at this point. We think it may have been our fault. A copper approaches us and tells us we have caused an accident. The ‘law’man tells us we need to immediately settle this matter privately with the matatu driver or he will have to get involved and impound the car. We tell him that we are insured. He demands to see our papers. Every time I try to get involved, he hushes me and speaks to the white driver, Katie. We say that we are insured and that we wish to get the insurance details of the matatu driver, knowing that they are probably not insured. There is negligible damage to their matatu. Where the damage we have caused ends and pre-existing cuts and scrapes begins is not obvious. We wonder whether we have done any damage at all. They still insist we have caused a potentially dangerous accident. The policeman tells us that regardless of our insurance, it is better to sort this out privately, as for claiming insurance we will have to obtain a police report, from him, and pay for it, amongst other administrative charges. And he will have to impound the car. He takes his leave so we can negotiate with the matatu driver. The driver asks for 1500 shillings (a tenner) for the damage. It may not sound like much, and the fact that he is asking for such a low amount means that there probably isn’t that much damage and they want to scare some beer money out of the ‘rich’ Westerners.

A crowd of staring children gather. We negotiate. They demand money. We demand their insurance details. We are locked against each other. We do not want to give them cash and they do not want to give us their insurance details. A completely unnecessary fuss is made and we are fighting a losing battle because the policeman hovers in the background, waiting for a private settlement. More bystanders continue to stare, menacingly and Katie is visibly upset, to the point where it is just easier to give them the money to go away, rather than try to pursue the course of what is true and just and procedure. I shove the money into the driver’s top pocket angrily and take my sunglasses off to glare at him. ‘Merry Christmas, you horrible man’ I hiss at him and he walks off, smiling at his personal victory, in the direction of the bystanding police officer. To give him his thirty pieces no doubt. We drive away, upset and shaken. It is only through replaying the event later that we realise we have been had. We were vulnerable and confused and we got taken for a ride. We need to toughen up, or be eaten up here.

It puts a dampener on the rest of the day, and we lose our festive cheer… again. What a trying few weeks it has been. Well, NWA said the be all and end all of my opinions about the police, and my mum reads this so I will spare you the profanities they use. The rest of the day we spend trying to gather up some Christmas cheer. Thousands of miles away from our loved ones, in the land of crap robbers, unwashed vegetables and bent coppers, means we are simply NOT having a wonderful Christmas time.

On Saturday, I perform at the local Cinemax complex, at a café. Two weeks ago, when I had arranged the gig, the venue had assured me of a sound system. When I arrive to soundcheck, there is nothing there beyond a stereo clamped to the wall behind the counter. I am to perform outside, and unfortunately, the system will not move. I am whisked away to a nearby music shop, where we are refused permission to hire equipment out.

When the gig actually arrives, we faff about with the microphone for about 30 minutes, trying different ways of holding it up and positioning it before settling on taping it to a hookah pipe. Then, when I go to use the microphone, as it is cordless, it is too far from its receiver, and my words keep cutting out. I give up and perform anyway. My acoustic guitar and the power of my voice, compete with coffee drinkers, cinema-revellers, and boy racers testing out their speakers with dancehall beats. It is nearly a disaster but luckily, I have an attentive audience for the first song. By the third song, I have lost them, because only the table directly in front of me can hear me. I try walking around and singing, which people appreciate, but makes me feel like a performing monkey. Eventually, I give up and sit down, dejected… That dream of being Kenya’s next big star is momentarily crushed.

On Sunday, we travel up to the impossible posh Serena Beach Hotel to meet a relative who mum has sent a care package with. She has included my post (a bunch of bills – great), a weekend broadsheet (a delectable read), some proper mince pies and our presents. My mum is made honorary queen for the day. We have a quiet lunch with my relatives and their friends at the beach resort. My relative was an 11 year old refugee from Uganda in the 70’s when Idi Amin rose to power, and it was interesting to hear him effuse goodwill and passion for Britain and good old fashioned Britishness.

On Christmas day itself, I wake stupidly early, filling myself with as much excitement as I can muster. Katie and I are both cheer sections for the spirit of Christmas today, for each other. With no Christmas holiday saturation around us, it is imperative we keep our spirits up all day. Luckily, our spirits are raised when we see Santa has left us some stockings. Santa has left me a stocking full of men’s hygiene products. Santa thinks I smell obviously. We phone both our parents at 7am their time, and wake both sets up from their Christmas Eve hangovers. This is enough minor revenge for all those weekends they have forced us out of bed at unnecessary times. We swap presents. Katie has bought me a toaster, and I have bought her a kettle… aren’t we thoughtful? We celebrate with tea and toast and open up presents from home. At midday, I light the barbeques and we set about having a barbeque roast. It is semi-successful, despite the roast potatoes falling in the charcoal as we lift them off. Despite our lack of oven, we manage to have stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. It is a Christmas miracle. We are triumphing against the elements. After some board games, we decide to take a walk down to the beach to limber us up for the evening, where we will go to the next building and eat more barbeque with the Bombay-ite deputy head and his wife. A walk on the beach brings more phonecalls from home. We return to the flat for dusk, and more phonecalls from home come.

We head over to the deputy head’s house with our smouldering barbeques and I try to reignite them with a dribble of meths. A bystander shouts: ‘Get one of the guards to light it. That’s what these Africans are there for! They’ll have it up for you in 5 minutes! They’re masters!’ I’m sure there’s a compliment in there somewhere. A guard is summoned while I trooper on with trying to do it myself. The guard comes anyway, and has a superbly fierce barbeque lit in about ten minutes. I am amazed and a little emasculated. Here I am, in Africa, trying to be the alpha-male: all-barbequeing, all-footballing man, and someone betters me in 10 minutes flat. I do learn some barbeque tips from this African genius. The bystander gives me a look to say, ‘why try when they’re here for your beck and call?’ and I note loudly that we should take the guard some chicken for his effort.

More food is cooked. This time, we have barbequed red snapper and tandoori chicken, and we find new ways to shove it all in. Our gracious hosts keep loading our plates up or noting we have no drink or food, and by the end, we’re double the size. We return home, tired but contented in a surprisingly pleasant Christmas so far from home.

The rest of the week we spend at the pool, reading books, playing our new board games and working out an exit plan for Kenya. The sun occasionally rears its head. I catch a nasty cold and spend the rest of the week in bed. The perfect end to our Christmas holidays.

See you in 07.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Week 6: Meeting Ghandi and Gujarati Hospitality

Week 6: Meeting Ghandi, and Gujarati Hospitality



The next day in the farmhouse, we wake and are bombarded with a full English breakfast that really sets us up for the day. Over breakfast, we agree with the Dutch family to all go to the swamp together the next day. That way, they can drive us and we can split the charge of the expensive swamp guide, much to Mad Jo's annoyance. She is essentially losing money here. She attempts to convince us that the Dutch family's car is too small, but we ignore her. The Saiwa Swamp is famous for being the home of evolved antelope who are now semi-aquatic and spend their time submerged in water. It's also a good place to spot debrazza monkeys.



We head out with our guide from yesterday to a nearby waterfall. We take a matatu to the next village where we take a taxi up to the hills. There, we trek down towards the waterfall. We are high up in the green and tree-filled hills, and have a clear view of Mount Elgon in Uganda. As we start to descend towards the edge of the waterfall, my vertigo kicks in. I start to feel like the wind is pushing me to the edge and I am being dragged down. My legs are shaky and my mind is all over the place. Katie and the guide continue down to the edge, while I sit in a field of grazing cows and try to calm down a little. They return and we walk back to where we left the taxi, to find that the taxi is no longer there. Our guide loses his cool and starts cursing the driver, who is apparently a friend of his, who has driven off, leaving us stranded in the hills, next to a crazy Pentecostal church where they are singing in tongues, and a red soiled dirt track. Plus, the driver has driven off with the guide's only waterproof jacket. He is not happy. We trek 2 miles back up to the main road and wait for passing cars.



Some kids come out to play with us. Their mad dad soon joins them, wild dreads under his beret, slightly insane tone to his English accent, he is a great conversationalist. He keeps us company. He asks where I am from. I say, 'England' and he tells me he doesn't believe me. I don't look white. I run him through the gamut of my parent's origins in India, Kenya and Aden and he laughs and says that I could not say I am an international because it is obvious my heart is in England, so I must be English. He says, it's important to know where your heart feels most at home. He calls his brother-in-law, who has a taxi and he comes to pick us up and drive us back to the village where we got the original taxi from.



In the village, Katie and I decide to go back to the farmhouse and tell our guide to point us to the right matatu and leave us to it, as he lives near this village and it makes no sense to drop us off and come back again. He explains that he cannot bring us back early as Mad Jo will be angry. We tell him that either way it's our choice as it's our holiday. We say that we will go back but he should just go home. He says that Mad Jo will tell him off for allowing us to go home unaccompanied. We note aloud that she sounds like a difficult boss. His knowing smile speaks volumes. We decide to wait for the taxi driver who stranded us, so the guide can get his jacket back. We wait an hour and the guy eventually returns, leading to a tense showdown between the taxi driver and the guide. The guide, looking like he may lash out at the driver, catches sight of us in the corner of his eye, remembers himself, wrenches his jacket off the passenger seat and leads us away. It turns out the driver's excuse was nothing more than 'I didn't know if you would be coming back.'



Back at the farmhouse, we meet a new arrival, an American called Jenny travelling on her own. Mad Jo approaches Katie and orders her to make friends with Jenny, 'unless, of course, Nikesh values his privacy too much' she adds snidely. Jenny is travelling alone and came to the farmhouse on the same pretext we did, that it appeared close to the swamp. We learn that Jenny has been subjected to some Mad Jo-isms in the last hour. She has been banned from coming to dinner tonight as this will upset the table arrangements. She has also been forbidden from going to the swamp with the Dutch family and us the following day. This will not be appropriate. Mad Jo sends us over some tea and cake.



Over dinner, we learn more about Mad Jo. She is not in Saiwa out of choice. Her mum is ill, and so she has been summoned from the coast to help with the running of the farmhouse as her mum refuses to move. She has been here since 1997. She grew up in Kenya. Mad Jo's family were some of the original settlers. They are now the only ones left in the area and Mad Jo's father helped turn the swamp into national parkland. We understand her Victorian attitude to servitude and money a lot better now that we know that she is not in fact an ex-pat. She is a white colonialist, one of the originals and one of the last few remaining. This does not excuse the horrid attitude she carries towards her black staff.



We are able to sneak Jenny into the farmhouse for dinner on the pretext of her having tea and sitting by the warm fire. During dinner, the Dutch family invite Jenny to come with us all to the swamp. Mad Jo's face turns sour. We eat a hearty roast. As we all say our goodnights, Mad Jo, in an attempt to confuse Jenny, asks her what her plans are for the next day. Jenny states that she is going to the swamp. Mad Jo asks her how she plans on getting there as the Dutch family have said they have no room. She says she will manage, deciding that ignoring her is better than fighting her on her home turf.



Saturday morning and we are up at 6am to go see these semi-aquatic antelope. We all squeeze into the Dutch car. Mad Jo comes out to note surprise at all the tag-alongs. We go on a nature trail around the swamp, seeing rare monkeys and those fabled antelope and other creepy crawlies. It's an amazing experience. The swamp is quite a sight. We return to the farmhouse, pack up and settle up with Mad Jo. We discover that Mad Jo is charging us for all those benevolent cups of tea and pieces of cake. We inform her that we are all splitting the cost of our swamp guide three ways and we will be paying her by cheque as we do not have enough cash. She makes us add a handling charge, and a service charge for all her staff. She tries to test our honesty by writing the wrong number of beers down on the bill, before questioning us on how many we drank, just to see what we say. She catches me out, as I am unable to remember how many beers I have drunk, it being her responsibility to keep tabs not mine. We pay, worry about cash and head back into Kitale.



We end up staying at the Bongo Lodge, which is a dingy dirty tiny sweet little hotel next to our bus station in Kitale. Our room is right outside the huge water tank that seems to be in constant use, despite the lack of running water in our taps, showers or toilet. It is noisy every night and we lie awake listening to the cleaners work through the night, arguing and singing their ways through their twilight tasks. That night in Kitale, we want to head to the swankiest restaurant in town to watch the Miss Kitale 2006 competition. When we arrive though, it is dark and we're still shaken up by the effects of Kisumu so we end up going to a bar a few doors down from our hotel. There, they make a calypso and ska version of traditional Kenyan lingala music. People throw shapes, dancing all over the shop. Katie and I watch and learn a few things, laughing at the young men pointing their gyrating hips at Katie, thinking obviously that one thrust of their crotch at her and she would be theirs. Obviously not. As we leave, a drunk man tries to talk to us. Another drunk man tells him to leave the Westerners alone and they end up having a fight at the top of the steps as we leave quickly. Crazy town. Sunday, we spend mostly walking about museums and swimming.



Monday, we decide to head to Nairobi as we are running out of money and need to go to the bank. We wake up early and go to the bus station. Our hotel in Nairobi is in Westlands, which is where all the Asians and ex-pats live and is considerably safer than other areas. We worry slightly about arriving after dark but are anxious to just get there all the same. The bus journey is surprisingly painless. We have a bumpy 8 hours, but the sight of the Rift Valley, baboons, zebras and quiet mountain idylls are enough to keep us entertained till the suburbs of Nairobi. The bus is full of proud fathers and their pained sons all returning from a mass circumcision ceremony near Kitale. There are chickens trapped in boxes too. When we reach Nairobi, serendipity caresses our worries and we see our hotel on the side of the main road on our way in. We jump off the bus early and head up to the hotel. The hotel is manned by a security guard who locks the gate all the time. Taxis have to sign in and out of a book each time they enter. The hotel is perfunctory. We walk down to the Westlands Mall, ten minutes down the road. It is a big Western shopping mall, full of shoes and T-shirts and places to drink. We have returned to civilisation, it feels like. Am I that much of a city boy. I wonder, that I equate commerce with civility?



We wake up the next day and Katie has been struck with food poisoning. She is vomiting and toileting like no other. She cannot keep down water without throwing it back up. She is incredibly weak. I find a chemist and get her something to settle her stomach. Unfortunately, she soon throws the pills back up along with the water. We worry about dehydration. There is no way of hydrating her without her vomiting the water back up. Worried it may be something more serious, we take her to the hospital. We find there, that her medical insurance will only kick in if she is admitted. Otherwise, everything is going to cost money. I pay the 1000 shillings initial consultation charge. I panic a little. Luckily, the unluckily-named Dr Rajiv Ghandhi, a kind slightly goofy goateed young doctor takes pity on a slumped Katie and takes us straight through to be examined. We bypass an incredibly long line. Katie is eventually put on a saline drip, and they begin the process of re-hydrating her. However, when I take her blood samples to the lab for analysis, they demand money from me. I have none. I panic and call the aunt and uncle I stayed with when I first arrived. Dr Rajiv Ghandhi (lucky for some) and I discuss the money situation. We have none. Katie was taken ill before we could head to the bank. We are screwed. We will even need to pay for the saline drip. I panic. Katie is shivering. She has a slight fever. She is getting worse to get better. Shame I can't pay for it. The option we discuss is admitting her for a night so her medical insurance will cover everything. She agrees that this is best. We are otherwise looking at a fee of 10k shillings.



When the decision is taken to admit her, I become three people all at once: the worrywort, the signature courier (carrying an endless number of forms between the ill and the administration) and the loving fiancé.



My aunt and uncle arrive and meet Katie for the first time, lying half-asleep on a gurney, on her second saline drip and turning from blue to red again. They invite us to stay with them. We agree. First things first, my uncle and I go back to my hotel and pack up our stuff. My adventuring spirit has broken by constant disaster over the past 10 days, and I am ready to be embraced back into the Gujarati bosom. We take our stuff to my aunt and uncle's house. I pack an overnight bag for Katie and return to the hospital. We walk to her ward, where she is put at the back of the ward where all the beds are empty. It's deathly quiet and eerie and we asked to be moved to where there is people. I stay with her. She is starting to feel better. She feels hungry. The doctors have confirmed it was a severe case of food poisoning and dehydration and not malaria. We breathe a sigh of relief. We have to, though, go through the admissions bit now. I stay with her while she eats her first meal in 24 hours: chips and soup. We pay cards and then I return to my aunt's house for a Gujarati vegetarian feast. I eat heartily, warm in the bosom of Gujarati hospitality. I've come full circle to the creature comforts I've always had and the familiar glow of family life.



My parents phone, worried. My dad tells me he told me so when I tell him about our adventures. "I told you this was a lawless country," he says. My grandparents also phone to check on Katie. She is fast asleep three miles down the road.



The next day, I am anxious to see her. The doctors have told her she should be out today. I head over to the hospital an hour before visiting hours start. I lie and say I am her husband so they'll let me in. She is fine and glowing, feeling nearly back to normal. There have been more saline drips and blood tests during the night. It appears this hospital is leaving nothing to chance. We spend a lazy day talking and playing cards and sitting outside in the sunshine waiting until 4 when she will be discharged. This is the most time we have spent together since she left for Kenya in August. I leave for the lunch period when visitors are not allowed. I head to a mall nearby and doing some Christmas shopping. I return and am told by the security guard that my constant presence by Katie's bedside is upsetting some of the other patients. Katie is in a female-only ward and they were perturbed when I sat at the end of her bed to play cards with her. I sit on a chair facing Katie's bed, not moving my head at all to my surroundings. We wait 2 hours for the doctor to discharge Katie. He eventually comes and we leave, marvelling at how trying our holiday has been and how we haven't explored Nairobi much and how un-Christmassy we feel. We walk outside to wait for my uncle to pick us up and find 10 members of staff all decorating Christmas trees on the front-lawn with tinsel and lights and baubles and ding dong merrily on high… our festive faith is momentarily restored – it's a Christmas miracle.



Our bad luck prevails though when our uncle's car, on our return journey, leaks all its petrol out on the road and we break down a mile from home.



The next day, we spend in Nairobi, doing some museum sight-seeing, some recuperating and some shopping. We feel a little more Christmassy now. We try to soak up the town, going to a display of modern Kenyan art. We buy some bits and bobs and end our day eating dhal and rice and marvelling at a day spent like a typical holiday should be.



It's Christmas in a few days and it's the end of our holiday. We are grateful to my aunt and uncle for their amazing hospitality and the rescue job they did for us. We hope that our return to Mombasa will signal the end of our bad luck, and all our Christmas presents from our families and friends will have arrived safely and Christmas will be a relatively normal affair, without muggers, hospitalisations, car troubles and feelings of paranoia.



Next week: some tropical festive fun, our run of bad luck continues, and more bent coppers…

Week 5: Bent Coppers and Bungling Robbers

Week 5: Bent Coppers and Bungling Robbers



We are driving over new Nyali Bridge when a copper spots the Asian guy in the new Japanese car with two white girls, one of which is blonde and he smells money. He pulls us over. The cop walks around the car trying to find something wrong, looking for something to cause a fuss about. He notices that the backseat passenger does not have her seatbelt on. He motions for us to wind down our windows. He demands to know why she is not wearing her seatbelt. We apologise and she hastily puts it on. He demands to know what possessed her to think she could get away with not wearing her seatbelt. We apologise. He asks for the driver's licence. The driver does not have her licence with her.



"Well, that is your second mistake," grins the red-toothed leering man as he leans into my window and looks the blonde driver up and down. "For two mistakes, I am afraid I will have to impound your car. What do you say to that?" We all apologise once more, desperate to get out of here. He ushers us to shut up and speaks directly to the driver. "How will you get out of this?" he asks. The driver, flustered, apologises once more. The woman in the back bellows that he wants money. The driver says that she is happy to go to the station with the copper if need be and fill out any necessary paperwork. The copper shakes his head and says, "For two mistakes, I have decided to forgive you. How will you show your gratitude?" The driver says that she can apologise again, that is all she is prepared to do. The copper says, "I have already forgiven you. You have to give me something to show your gratitude. How much gratitude will you give me?" We are all furious at his insinuation. Every time a non-driver tries to speak, he shuts us up and stares at the driver. "Two thousand shillings (£20)?" she offers. He says that this is low for two mistakes. She says, well, we can go to the station. He motions to get into the car and then stops, telling us we will need to pay more if we go to the police station and there will be a lot of paperwork. It is easier to sort it out now, but two thousand is too low. We settled on 3000 and drive off, our cheeks burning with shame and anger.



I don't know who I'm more afraid of here, the cops or the robbers. Either way, I don't want to get into trouble with either one.



We drive into Mombasa to the post office. This is how the post office works when you receive a package. You get a yellow slip in your letterbox telling you to go and collect the package. You go on down to the post office, give your yellow slip and ID to one person. They retrieve the package, you check the address and name on the front and sit down. You are then called by another person, who gets you to open the package in front of them (imagine if this is presents or pants, or in our case this occasion, both) while they write down and itemise everything you receive. They then, using the power of imaginary mathematics, work out how much duty you should pay on the items you have received and give you a bill. Your package is taken away from you. You are ushered into a room where you present the bill. They explain to you that the duty you owe them is the amount on the bill. You sign somewhere to prove you understand this. You then go and stand in the cashier queue and give them the bill. They write you a new bill and take your money. You are paying to receive presents and gifts and care packages your friends and family have already spent a fortune sending around the world to you. They stamp your bill, the receipt they have just given you and a copy of the original yellow slip you came in with and give them back to you. You take these pieces of paper back to the original person you started with and he writes your passport number on each bit of paper. You give him 70 shillings each per parcel for handling. He writes you a receipt for the 70 shillings. You then get to take your package and go home and wonder what the point of having a birthday or Christmas is while trying to enjoy the contents of the package, but instead you sit in disappointment, your spirit broken by bureaucratic procedure and paperwork.



The day after Katie finishes for the Christmas holidays we fly to Nairobi and from Nairobi (or Nairobbery – as a friend referred to it once) we catch an incredibly bumpy 7 hour bus to Kisumu on Lake Victoria in the Western Highlands of Kenya. The bus driver is fast and reckless and the roads are worn and feckless. The roads are terrible. We shake and rattle and roll with every nut and bolt holding the bus barely together. What at first feels like a thorough back massage starts to eventually feel like systematic bodily trauma. The journey is fun though. We drive through the Rift Valley, see giraffes and zebras and try to read despite the shaky journey. We arrive in Kisumu, tired and worn and unused to being still. I retrieve our backpack from the boot of the bus. Katie and I look around for a taxi. The bus driver glares at me and screams at me in Swahili, like I have done something wrong. I shrug at him dumbly. I cannot help him. We walk out of the bus station towards the main road assuming we will find a taxi to our hotel.



"OI! STOP IT! YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" I hear a scream behind me and whirl round to find a young boy trying to rip Katie's handbag from around her head. The bag is around her neck so every time he yanks it fiercely, he pulls her towards him, so savagely that she bites him on the nose. I run to her aid, grab the bag and wrestle it from his hands. He grunts and looks fierce. Katie starts to acquiesce and tries to take it off from around her head as he is getting nowhere yanking it off her. He continues to pull though. I continue to wrench it back, on autopilot. A crowd gathers and stares. The boy drops the bag into my hand, punches me square in my beautiful nose and runs off. A security guard blows a whistle and runs off after him.



Katie and I walk off quickly trying to find a taxi. The gathering crowd looks shocked. One asks if we are okay. We scream that we are fine and that they should have helped us. My nose is bleeding freely all over my face and the back of my throat is tinged with blood. Katie and I walk off. The curb is steep and she trips, twisting her ankle as she falls off the curb. A man asks if we need help finding a tuk-tuk. He leads us in the direction we were walking in, down the deserted main road. We eventually find a tuk-tuk. My face is covered in blood. My beautiful nose throbs. The tuk-tuk driver drives us two streets to our hotel and overcharges us in our hour of need. Opportunism. Thanks. We address my nose and Katie's ankle with some ice and eat and marvel at our luck that he didn't have a knife or worse and also that he didn't get the bag, which contained all Katie's money and passport and other useful bits.



I read the Lonely Planet's dangers and annoyances section about Kisumu. It warns us against steep curbs and glue-sniffing purse-snatchers. Why oh why did I gloss over that bit?



Our night is fraught with fear and paranoia. Should we go home? Are we safe? Is everyone under suspicion? All those friendly warnings our paranoid Asian friends gave us, are they all true? Of course, walking out of a bus station lamenting your disorientation and the lack of taxis and wearing a big Western tourist backpack does scream vulnerable but still, why us? We feel like victims.



The next day we get up feeling miserable. Both of us have dreamt about being attacked by unknown forces. I go downstairs to enquire about buses back to Nairobi as we are considering just going home. As I relate our tale to a worried receptionist, an American lady who overheard approaches us and tells me she is a relief nurse and will look at Katie's ankle and my nose. My nose is fine, just emotionally scarred. Katie has twisted her ankle. The nurse dresses the ankle and gives her some tiger balm to ease the swelling. We decide we need to regain our adventurous mojo so take a walk around the town in the daylight in an attempt to demystify the air of dark forces by facing them in the daylight. Unfortunately, it is foggy and cold and everyone stares at us menacingly (actually, or in our heads, we never quite decide). Kids follow us, sucking on bottles of booze, their eyes glazed and fiercely red. We do not like this place. We contemplate going home the next day. Katie suggests a field trip out of the town to a fishing village on Lake Victoria to raise our spirits, as we cannot go back today. We hop in a taxi and go to Dunga, by Hippo Point, on Lake Victoria.



Dunga is tiny and thin, on a long stretch of road. People are surprised to see Western faces pass through and all look at us. The kids are fascinated and smile at us, shouting 'how are you?' as we walk past. We cut up the coast of the Lake towards a beach resort where we are spotted by a bunch of playing kids. Two of them stop, fixated by Katie and they run up to her. They stop in front of her and she greets them. They touch her skin, fascinated by its whiteness. One of them rubs a mole on her arm. One kid is playful funny and full of giggles. The other has a distended stomach, bites all over his face and legs and an unhappy grimace. He is extremely clingy. He takes to Katie the most and grabs her little finger with his entire small hand. The other kid does the same with her other hand and they walk with us as we walk to the beach resort. Everyone we pass laughs at them, obviously knowing who they belong to. There is no fear here, like in Britain where we fear the paedos and the crack so we lock our children up in front of playstations and sky boxes. Here, children are free and if they want to escort two fearful Westerners to a hotel on the Lake, then that's what they will do. The children are silent as we walk. The unhappy kid eventually grabs my little finger as well and we become a huge walking family. Our fears start to dissipate. These children are melting our hearts. I consider doing a Madonna. When we arrive at our destination, it takes some effort to disconnect ourselves from the kids. We consider taking them inside for a snack but disapproving looks from the doorman make them scarper. We have a drink inside.



Later, we go up to Hippo Point on Lake Victoria, which is the best place to see hippos in this part of the lake. We get on a rickety wooden boat with some other Kenyan tourists and a man I swear to this day was Sir David Attenborough, and we paddle out on to the Lake. Katie and I are careful to try not get too splashed by the water as it is notorious for being full of snail-parasites. We see hippos and monkeys and fishermen. A hippo rears its head not far from the boat and starts to give it chase, giving us a momentary panic. Everyone, it seems, is out to get us. Through conversation with one of the guides on the boat, we discover that Kisumu is changing. It used to be a thriving port town, but now there is nothing and children, with no hope of future employment, are turning more and more to robbery. He tells us of two incidents of vigilante justice in the last year: One, where a would-be mugger was shot by the guy he was trying to mug. Another, where a would-be mugger tried to mug a Japanese tourist. The Japanese tourist broke his arm first and then gave him the money anyway. That's gangster. The guide marvels at our luck that the would-be mugger didn't have a knife or worse. The sun shines off Lake Victoria as we sail about, the water itself is brown with mud and contains potentially violent hippos. We return to land.



The next day, Thursday, we check out of our hotel and drive up with a taxi driver to Kitale in the north. Our taxi driver for the day yesterday, it turns out, was planning to drive up to Kitale anyway to take his son there for Christmas. Our temporary fear of buses and matatus means that we offer to pay his petrol and a little extra to go with him. He agrees. As we drive out of Kisumu, we drive past an incident of mob rule. A would-be mugger is being beaten by a huge crowd of people. It is a horrible sight, one of real violence and contempt. I cannot watch. We wonder whether to call the police, until we see them idly standing by. Mob rule is more disturbing than actual mugging. Although, it does make me wonder whether petty theft is the crime of choice for Kisumu. None of them seem any good at it.



The drive to Kitale is slow. We are rising up and up into the Western Highlands and it is getting colder and colder. Along the way, we drive through 10 separate police check-points. We are stopped at 3 different ones, so the police can walk around the car and spot something wrong. Only once does a policeman spot something wrong with the licence plates. Our driver has all the correct official paperwork showing why there is a problem with the licence plates and that it Is in the process of getting sorted. The policeman causes a fuss though, and in the end, for the sake of ease, the driver gives him some money to not be difficult and we drive on. The driver notes to us that even when you are in the right, if they want to cause a problem they will, the easiest option is to always just give them money and move on. They can cause a fuss about anything, and they will. It makes you not want to get in trouble here. As I said before, who would you rather? The cops or the robbers?



In Kitale, we are dropped and we find transportation to 20 km out of Kitale, a farmhouse near a swamp we are visiting. The farmhouse is owned by Mad Jo's mum. Mad Jo's mum is away so we deal with Mad Jo. An eccentric 50 year old ex-pat spinster with a growth defect on his arm, a shrill voice and a career in meddling. She is short with wild stringy mousy blonde hair. She is bossy and confusing and commanding and irritating all at once. She greets us with a barrage of confusion about where we will be sleeping. She has so far neglected to send us a current tariff for staying with her, so when we arrive and find out how expensive the rooms are, we immediately downgrade ourselves to a tent at the back. We also find out that the farmhouse is not walking distance from the swamp, as inferred in our guidebook, but a good 6km away. The tariff also hints at hidden costs. She offers us tea and cake, which we accept. She is gracious and we are thirsty. She tells us she will only accept cash as cheque is useless. We worry about how much cash we have left. She coerces us into paying one of her guides (but paying him through our final bill, so she can take her cut obviously) on taking us for a walk. We are a bit annoyed at her subtle coercion but it ends up being an entertaining walk.



We walk. The guide tries to flirt awkwardly with Katie. She laughs it off. He tells me about his love for Wayne Rooney. We meet all the local children, who run up to us to say 'how are you?' and beg us to take their photo, which we do and show them the results immediately on the camera screen. They are amazed and shriek that they are now INSIDE THE CAMERA. We see fields of tea plants and fields of guava and avocado trees and coffee plant orchards and are amazed that this stuff is just there, growing. The kids keep coming, thick and fast, fascinated with Katie's skin. When she replies to their 'how are yous' we find that they cannot reply, so we switch to our pidgin Swahili and they are amaze that we speak their language. Later Mad Jo chides the guide for not shooing away the children and we defend him, saying it was the best part of the whole experience. We have our first hot showers in months and go up to her farmhouse for our expensive half-board dinners. She puts on a huge three course spread. There is oodles of food. She has three smiley Kenyan servants who she commands through the use of a bell on the table that she rings. We find it embarrassing, as do the other guests, an amiable Dutch family, staying there. We all smile at the servants and try to communicate to them with our eyes and our 'thank yous' and 'pleases' that we're sorry she's so bossy, and a bit Victorian England in her treatment of them. No one should be summoned by bell.



We go to sleep that night, freezing, with hot water bottles, outside with the creepy crawlies. I am cold and so is Katie and we huddle in one of the tent's single beds, shivering and trying to fall asleep in the pitch black surroundings…



TO BE CONTINUED…

NEXT WEEK: Nairobbery, hospitals and shopping!

Week 4: Crow vs Monkey; Man vs Ant

Week 4: Crow vs Monkey; Man vs Ant



This week has been fraught with battles of nature and throwing caution to the wind. Caution in this tale will be represented by my buttocks.



Last weekend was fairly sedate. On Friday evening, I sound engineered for Katie's first ever school music concert, which was a brilliant success, despite Katie not being a trained music teacher. She rocked it and so did the kids. The highlight was a gloriously silly customed version of the Jabberwocky poem, complete with sound effects. I sound engineered for the event and the student rumours started, 'That's Miss Thoburn's fiancé!!'



An aborted Christmas shopping trip in the old town left us with plane tickets to Nairobi for next week and a fistful of cash. I went to exchange some money at an exchange place in a hotel. It was caged and manned by a rifle-toting security guard in a cricket helmet. He led me into a booth with a teller who exchanged my traveller's cheques. It was a tiny suffocating booth with a time release lock and the teller sure enough left me with a strong meaty fart to contend with while he went to photocopy my passport. Nice.



After a spot of lunch and haggling unsuccessfully with market sellers for a pair of second-hand Etnies trainers, Katie and I decided to head to Kongowea Market, a little market on our side of New Nyali Bridge. It is a massive sprawling and dirty market, full of cool modern clothes. It's strange, you walk around surrounded by Top Shop and H&M and Abercrombie and Fitch's latest collections and you wonder, how on earth did it all end up here in Mombasa? Well, dear reader, this market is where the relief clothes sent by charity shops seem to end up. So all those donations you make to charity shops that aren't sold in the shops themselves, or the bags you take to those weird green nuclear containers in supermarket car parks, well the clothes all end up being resold in Kongowea Market for diggedy-dirt cheap. I bought muchos shorts and t-shirts for a total of 500 shillings (we are talking 150 shillings to a pound). Kongowea Market is a tough experience. It's extremely intimate and everything is close together. It's muddy and there was sellers everywhere. You step over them in the path. Everyone is chewing qat (that leafy stimulant). The shacks chocker with stuff back on to other shacks all chocker with stuff. As soon as the sellers see the musungu ('honky') and her strangely dressed boyfriend ('Nikesh') they all follow us and call for us to come visit their stall-shack. More often than not the clothes are those weird Hawaii shirts or t-shirts with company logos (Kudos: for all your photocopy needs; MacMillan Finance) that you can easily walk on by, Dionne Warwick-style.



My favourite bit of bartering came when I had agreed on a price for some shorts with a guy. His mum shouted out, 'And 50 extra shillings so I can buy lunch. Go on, 50 more shillings so I can eat lunch.' I peered around the man to see the woman talking to me. I found a plump lady, lying on pillows, with her feet up, eating a big plate of rice and lentils. I said, 'But you're eating lunch now.' The man said to me, 'Do you want my wife to starve?" I replied that she didn't look like she was in danger of starving, besides, she already had her lunch and was eating it. They wanted me to reimburse her for it. I declined.



After the sweaty perusals in Kongowea, we headed back home to cool down in the pool. No sooner had we dived in when we noticed… bloody pool is being chemical-ised again. All these chemicals I keep diving into, I might grow an extra leg or nipple by the end of the year.



Saturday evening brought with it some oppressive heat and my worst nightmare: a trip to see a Bollywood film, 'Dhoom 2'. I hate modern Bollywood. With all its apparent silliness, the derivative copying of Western films, the usage of rippling actors saying the most bizarre English phrases 'Do the needful', and the need to no longer bother integrating the songs into the plot structure, it's an all-singing all-dancing all-action day-glo nightmare. 'Dhoom 2' was a mixture of 'Heat', 'Entrapment', 'Mission Impossible 2' and a bizarre subtle hint of 'Brokeback Mountain' with songs. There was a scene with a garish transvestite playing our glorious queen. It was a nightmare. Sunday involved swimming and relaxing at the beach before the week's battles commenced.



Monday morning and I was the harbinger of death for ants. I found multiple ant trails all over the flat. Most heading for the warmth of my laptop. I got out the bug spray (handily called 'Doom') and I Doomed their asses, leaving trails of dead ant carcasses all over the flat, as a message to other errant guerrilla ant factions and their splinter cells that I was not to be trifled with. There was an ant trail from our toilet cistern all the way across the room to the shower head. I Doomed their asses too. I am the Ant-Killer. I will go down in ant history for this genocidal destruction. It all started when I found ants crawling all over my laptop, trying to get inside and eat things and cause mischief. Sufficed to say, I f**cking lost with those ants on Monday morning so I got trigger-happy and Doomed their asses. I felt a bit bad for all the destruction. But it was self-defence. They invaded my area first. Monday and Tuesday I spent working on 'Mantra' and recording songs. An album of little acoustic songs is starting to emerge. Loads of 2 and 3 minute poppy acoustic tracks, kinda anti-folk style. I'm enjoying it. This will constitute 'The Blatteroon' LP. Research on my Britishness project has started too.



Tuesday was the ultimate show-down: Crow vs. Monkey. It was quite the battle too. Outside our balcony is a tree. I was sat on the balcony innocently typing away when I noticed a commotion in the way of hastily rustled branches. I looked up to find a monkey trying to grab a crow from a branch and throw it to the ground. The crow resisted, using the power of flight to escape the monkey's clasp. The monkey bared its teeth and launched an airborne attack, jumping at the crow. The crow fought back though, and turned round and flapped in the monkey's face, pecking out as hard as it could, trying to peck the monkey's eyes. The monkey, blinded pushed the crow back and there was a flap and a tussle before two other crows arrived to help crow 1 out. The monkey had no chance so it lunged for glory, landing a vicious punch on the crow and falling to the ground as the crow and its mates flew away.



1-0 to crow I think. Although, we are checking the rule books to see what they say about getting your mates to help.



Wednesday night, Katie and I decorated a plant on our balcony with fairy lights, tinsel and baubles in an attempt to feel more Christmassy. Obviously, we are completely oblivious to Christmas saturation at home and it feels a little weird. We both felt tinges of homesickness for a regular Christmas this week. No adverts or omniscient Santa or present-shopping or roast potatoes. The Christmas plant kinda helped with our Christmas pines (:arf: what a pun!). We also have been learning Christmas songs on the guitar and piano. Our crowd-pleasing favourite is 'Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart' by George Michael. On a drive to a restaurant nights later with Katie G (another teacher) we sang carols the whole way. Well, I say sang, but the truth is we all sang the first few lines with confidence and hummed the rest with the occasional word thrown in because, hell, we can't remember the words. It was nice to see that other schools sang 'O Come All Ye Faithful' like our school did. A whisper for the first two 'Oh come let us adore him' before a loud and racous 'OH COME LET US ADORE HIM, CHRI-I-IST THE LORD!!' as loud as you can to upset the teachers. Yes, we're missing Christmas out here. I'm sure people are celebrating it but there aren't many decorations and we don't have a television so it's passing us by a little. Plus, it's ridiculously hot and neither of us associate Christmas with heat.



Crow vs Monkey round 2: Thursday afternoon. I came back in from football (two days in a row in the heat, running around breathing in hot air… suffocating) to hear a tussle going on. I ran to the balcony. I missed the fight but monkey was in the tree looking pleased with himself, a feather sticking out of his mouth (okay, I made the last bit up, but a metaphorical feather). So I reckon he's evened it up. 1-1 Crow vs Monkey.



That afternoon I had thrown caution to the wind. I had gone food shopping and decided to take a matatu home. Except, matatus are tiny and you have to contort your body into all manner of shapes to sit down anywhere, and I had a backpack on and two full bags of shopping. I struggled and twisted and tried to turn my body round to sit down but as I did so, the matatu started driving and before I knew it, my buttocks were hanging out of the matatu, I was holding on and standing up proud as a father. My bum caught the glorious wind and threw caution to it. It was a liberating airy experience and I emerged from that matatu journey a changed man.



So, people's Eastender updates have been a bit rubbish so allow me to ruin Christmas Day for you: Pauline Fowler dies.



Next week, Katie and I head to Nai-robbery then to Western Kenya to see some rainforest, a swamp and some tea plantations. The week after will be a mammoth entry with Christmas and our West Kenya adventure all in one. It's a bumper Christmas issue one might say.



Have a great Christmas people. We'll miss you. But then we're planning to have a Christmas barbeque and head to the beach so I imagine it's an even trade.



Love and avocados,

Nikesh

Monday, December 04, 2006

Week 3: Malaise and Work Days

Week 3: Malaise and Work Days


Week 3: Malaise and Work Days



Friday saw the start of Katie's birthday weekend extravaganza. We went to a Japanese restaurant in Bamburi up the coast and ate sushi. The restaurant, Misono's, was all decked out like a traditional Japanese kabuki place rather than the cool sleek feng shui-ed minimal design masterpieces I had come to associate with Japanese food. In any case, the food was nice and afterwards, we popped round the corner to a local Mombasa drinking hole: an outdoor Irish pub called Bobs. The music was loud 80's power ballads and the Tusker beers flowed like a babbling brook. Tusker beer here is cheap and tasty. Under a pound for a pint of Tusker (50p if you buy it in supermarkets and even cheaper if you take in your empty bottles for recycling), a tasty beer with a dozy elephant as its logo. Bobs was loud and crass and fun. A few drinks later, Katie and I headed back to the restaurant to meet our taxi. As we stood outside the restaurant, bearing our doggy bags, loads of workers walking home in the twilight stopped and asked us what promotion we were giving for the restaurant. We smiled them on. Not I, said the walrus.



Saturday morning meant old town for some Christmas shopping. Being so far away from home and the cold and the constant jing-jing-jingerling sleigh bells ringing, I keep losing perspective of what time of year it is. Christmas is approaching, we have no idea who's vying for Christmas number one, what the must have toy is this year and what we want for Christmas. It feels like summer here because it's hot and sticky every single day. In the old town, we ate at a local café called Kasims, where they served a simple meal of bhajis and chapattis with passion fruit juice. We headed over to Nakumatt, the Kenyan version of Tesco, to pick up supplies for the evening (for it was Katie's birthday celebrations) where we managed to win 5000 shillings worth of free shopping. However, while waiting to collect our vouchers, we experienced a power cut and the shop lost all recollection of our winning.



The evening brought much entertainment. We had a barbeque of burgers and paneer kebabs on the roof, star-gazing on the clear hot night. We let off some fireworks for Katie and lit some sparklers under the starry sky. We then got dressed up in fancy dress (theme: the sea) and headed out to witness Mombasa night life. Katie dressed as a star fish. I dressed as Katie at the beach (a daring outfit involving a sarong, a bikini top, a wig and a rubber ring). We headed out to Il Covo, an Italian restaurant/club on the beach. There we attracted many stares, some disparaging, others embarrassed, mostly horrified at our fancy dress. We laughed it off. Simon, one of our party, attracted the unwanted attentions of a huge scary man at the bar, who kept grabbing his rubber ring and demanding he eat with him. We protected Simon. We danced, drank and had a merry old time till 2 a.m. when the fabled Mombasa-based Russian prostitutes decided to jump on to the bar and pole dance for a captivated crowd. Which I found a lot more embarrassing and cringe-worthy than my silly little fancy dress outfit.



The next morning, we nursed our hangovers at the pool before giving Katie her final birthday surprise: a dhow trip from Moorings bar up Mtwapa creek. A dhow is a sizeable boat made of one tree trunk split in two. It is long and narrow. We sailed up the creek as the sun set and the lights started to flicker along the banks and the stars started to illuminate the sky. The hazy pink sky slowly disappeared behind the high banks of the creek. We saw swimming snakes and drunk Germans and listened as the delicate strains of Kenyan folk music echoed quietly over the silent creek.



It was most definitely an enjoyable birthday weekend.



The week brought me the beginnings of routine. I started working on songs and on poems and on finishing that pesky book I started writing so long ago. I wake up at 7 when Katie leaves, go for a run, eat breakfast, work till 12, join the teachers at the school pool for lunch, then return to work till half 3, when I play football with the kids, before returning to work till 5. It's a simple quiet life, with the beginnings of ascetism in there somewhere. So far, the book is starting to ressemble a novel finally, rather than a collection of short stories; my Britishness poems are being drafted and I've recorded two short songs, one about London and one about New York… oh ever the jetsetter. Katie and I even demoed a song called 'Mdudu (mosquito)' on Monday.



On Wednesday, we went to the Nyali premiere of the new Bond film at the local Cinemax. I really liked the film. The Parkur stuff is amazing, he's a surprisingly great Bond and the grittiness of the storyline and the focus on plot rather than big action thrills was a welcome change from the cartoonish elements that blighted Brosnan-era Bond. The film was probably thirty minutes too long, but I really enjoyed it.



The premiere itself was a charity premiere where you paid 1000 shillings, and received a vodka martini, shaken not stirred (except, they replaced vodka with gin for some unknown reason), a free bag of popcorn and a coke, and the chance to enter a lottery to win free bets at the casino next door. It felt like a community centre event, especially with the prize draw over a PA system before the film. My world at that instant felt incredibly small. We all stood for the Kenyan national anthem before the film.



Kenyans don't like to improvise, I'm finding. Everything seems to be down the middle, or by the book. In restaurants I am unable to make alterations to my meal, for it must be prepared exactly as shown in the menu. Rules are there to be followed. At the Bond premiere, there was a lot of standing around waiting for the film to start and the draw to be made, and so when I took my seat early due to tiredness and boredom, I was told I had to stand till instructed to sit. It's not a bad thing, just different from London life, which seems so far away.



It's all generally quite good though. Tonight, I am sound engineering and roadie-ing at Katie's first music concert for the school. This weekend, we Christmas shop and book our December holiday. Next week, who knows?



Things I miss:



Roast dinners (we have no oven)

Spider-man comics

Kopperbergs cider

Friends

Wireless internet

Simpsons/Eastenders

Newspapers

An ant-free life



Things I don't miss:



Bills

Last trains

Last orders

Metropolitan Line

A sun-free life

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kenya Chapter 2: Orientations in a Sweaty Nation

Chapter 2: Orientations and Sweaty Nations



Starting to slowly settle in now. The first weird thing to get used to is that we have a cleaner. It's a bit bizarre. Someone to do our washing and dusting. She's provided by the school but we pay her. Her name is Gladys and she is lovely. She sings while she cleans and gives me advice on songs as I compose them on the balcony. She tells me what she likes and she doesn't like. She is also teaching me a little Swahili. She speaks great English though, and her choice phrase is 'Bravo to you.' I just have to get used to the idea. It's a little weird!



The weekend brought English germs to Kenya. Katie was pretty much floored all weekend with a common cold. It was her first for months, and the heat didn't exactly help. So she was knocked out most of the weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went swimming in the school pool only to jump out when I noticed a huge sign saying it was currently undergoing chemical cleaning. Whoops. So far nothing has burnt off so I may be lucky. Saturday morning, two of Katie's colleagues had gone deep sea fishing with some visitors. One of them managed to catch an 18 pound momma of a fish. It was massive and juicy. Saturday night, we barbequed the fish under the stars on the roof of our building and listened Lily Allen and thought of London, so far away.


It's strange being away from popular culture. No NME's, no Scrubs, no Spidey comics. I'm having to learn to exist without all these stimulations, and find other things to keep me entertained. DVD's, cards, reading and playing the guitar all figure, as well as taking practice British citizenship tests in a book I have brought out here to help me with some research.



On Sunday, Katie felt a little more energetic so we went exploring the beaches up the coast. She took me to a picturesque hotel on the beach near some headland, where you could walk out to the reef, and sink your toes in squelchy white sand. We swam in the pool, I played some beach football with some local beach boys and some German tourists, we listened to an old Kenyan man play 80's pop classics on a Casio keyboard and went home. The beach boys are an interesting bunch here. They'll hawk anything. They will sell you things, guide you, give you company, take you fishing, anything to get you money. They'll even sleep with whoever pays. Some even dress as Masai-Mara for the tourists. Prostitution is treated quite blasé here. It's uncomfortable. In the evening, we drove up to Mtwapa, further up the coast and went to a bar in a creek called Moorings. Shane's dad had introduced Katie to this bar and it's quite majestic. It's in the middle of a creek, it's a little pier that you have to climb over a narrow bridge to get to. The sun sets over the creek and beauty throughout the entire surface of water reflecting off the trees. We had a few drinks there and watched the sun set over distant Mombasa.



Monday and Tuesday I got to work, reading and researching about Britishness for the poetry project I am about to work on. For lunches, I would meet Katie at a little shack at the school gates where the smiley Mama Fatuma makes lentils, spicy cabbage and chapattis for 30 shillings (5p or something ridiculous), all tasty and served with mounds of steamed rice. We then took our dishes and sat by the school pool with the other teachers. I have also been visiting a complex near the school where there is a cinema, English style pub showing football and a Café Mocha (the same chain as the one we performed at in India). Life is easy here. Quiet, sleepy and chilled. Well, it's too hot to be particularly urgent about much. On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, I went to the school cricket nets and played cricket with the 6th form cricket team. They are all great players and really helpful. They helped me get to a decent medium pace seam. Once I've warmed up next week, they'll see the return of my demon swing. Wednesday was spent working and in the evening, we went to the pub. Well I took a guy called Simon (who is visiting one of the other teachers) to the pub to drink Tusker beer play pool and watch FOOTBALL, while the girls watched some girly film 'Devil Wears Prada' or something equally offensive to my man-like eyes.



Speaking of masculinity. Another visitor left an FHM for me. I haven't read the magazine since I was 16. It's appalling. But anyway, there's a teacher here who teaches geography (those who can't, teach… geography) when he really wants to be a rugby teacher. Blessed with Small Man Syndrome, he is constantly trying to assert his manliness over me. When he saw me running around the school field, he demanded that I come with him to play a more serious sport… touch rugby (yep, serious games for woosies). I've never got on with rugby types. Watch out for him.



On Thursday, Simon and I decided to visit the old town. We took a mutatu (like the local buses, colourful minivans decorated with the logos of hip-hoppers like The Game and 50 Cent) into town. Mutatus are laws unto themselves. They don't move for anyone in the road. They speed up. They may only have 14 seats but they will seat up to 20 people in the cramped low-ceilinged back of the van. They drive fast and they only cost a maximum of 25 shillings for a long journey. (130 shillings to the pound). We got to the old town. I marvelled at how untouched by a lot of western society it was. We walked all over, and didn't see a single McDonalds or billboard for Nike anywhere. It was amazing. There were however, graffiti slogans celebrating Al-Queada everywhere. Simon and I tried to find some decent hip-hop but could only manage soft raga-influenced dancehall. They didn't seem to get that we wanted the rugged hard shit, like Prophets of da City or X-Plastaz. We walked down Jomo Kenyatta Avenue where my grandfather once owned a shop. We walked to the giant tusks that greet you on entering the city. As we walked away from the tusks, I noticed a bar that my father had mentioned called Casablancas. It was starting to rain so we ran for shelter inside. Inside, there were 10 female prostitutes lined up at the bar all staring at us as soon as we entered. We maintained eye contact and chatted as much as we could and kept ourselves to ourselves. It didn't stop the girls' madame, an elderly lady with glazed eyes approaching us and telling us that her girls wanted to sleep with us. We said we weren't interested and she got offended, taking up an uninvited seat at our table and spitting as she frothed about how we could possibly turn down her girls. We shrugged and said it wasn't our style, not our bag. She remained sat there and said ok fine, can we talk? We said ok. She kept asking questions about where we were from and what we did, trying to suss out our financial situations. Eventually she left.



Another girl replaced her. She introduced herself as Jassinder. We told her that we were on our way to the airport. She stayed anyway. She asked what we did for a living. We said we were poor students. Simon and I carried on our conversation and she sat there at the table like a lemon. She said nothing before reintroducing herself again 10 minutes later. We nodded and called over the waiter. Our food was 45 minutes late and we were wondering whether the delay was so that we could get proffered out. All the girls had been speaking to the waiter and he knew who they all were.



Our food arrived and we ate. It wasn't good at all. I silently rued my father mentioning this place. I'm sure he wasn't to know. Kenya has probably changed a lot since he was last here in 1966. We finished our food and we prepared to leave, a woman approached us wearing a low boob tube and short skirt, jiggling as she bounced over to us. She pinned Simon to his chair with her eyes.



'So, we going to sleep together?' she demanded of him. He was taken aback by her forthrightness.



'Errr, no.' He replied.

'Why do you not want to sleep with this sexy lady? We can do anything you want.' Simon was flustered. He said we had a plane to catch in 30 minutes. She said 30 minutes was plenty as there were rooms upstairs. He said no, she frowned at him flirtatiously. I interjected.



'We're married.'

She shrugged.

'We're married… errrr… we're both priests… and we respect the sanctity of marriage!!' I offered. She shrugged. She could not understand why we didn't want to sleep with her.



We finally managed to find our way out of the place with her snapping at our heels in frustration. I don't think we'll be going back. By this time, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. It was HOT. We found sanctuary in a guide-book approved bar. I read about Casablanca in the same guidebook. It was notorious for hookers. Whoops.



We returned that evening on another mutatu, one even more cramped and that evening, Katie and I planned our December holiday. We have a month off so we're heading to Victoria Falls and a tea plantation in West Kenya.



In the meantime, this weekend is her birthday weekend so lots of fun to be had.



In the meantime, I wonder what's happening in Eastenders!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kenya Chapter 1: Arrivals and Reunions

The Story So Far…



Once upon a time ago in a continent far far away…



The intrepid Yam Boy decided to sequester himself in the 'dark continent' in order to write a book of poetry and some music. He travelled to New York to give his farewell address before retiring to Africa-ca-ca-ca, where it all began.



Chapter 1: Arrivals and Reunions



The journey was completely nondescript and uneventful. Sadly, the in-flight films were exactly the same as the ones shown on my transatlantic trip to America the previous. Golly gosh, that makes me sound such a hoity-toity jetsetter. But anyway, a strangely unemotional goodbye with mum in the morning, as it was early, I hadn't slept and I was still bewildered by going.



I managed to stare out of the plane at the exact moment the Mediterranean Sea became the deserts and dunes of Egypt. It was completely magical. But as I said, the flight was pretty nondescript. I slept most of the way. On arrival, I raced through customs and immigration. I was relieved (and a teensy-weensy bit disappointed) to not encounter scary immigration officials wanting bribes. Everyone had warned me about corruption and some relatives had even expressed concern that I may need a licence for the musical instruments I was bringing in. Alas not. The only question I was asked was about the Shiva badge I was wearing. The customs official asked who he was. I told him. He asked when Shiva would arrive to save us all. I replied with something enigmatic like, 'He is already within us' or something and carried on.



This reminds me of something I forgot to mention about Newark. Hard Kaur and I were standing outside our hotel one morning, waiting to be picked up for an event. An elderly white guy and a young black guy approached us. They said they had met someone in the park who knew us and knew our grandfathers and they had spoken at length about us… who were they talking to in the park? Yup, good ol' God.



Anyway, I was met by an uncle at Nairobi airport and his friend and a miscellaneous man who was never properly introduced to me. He asked if I had had any problems. I replied that it was all fine and not to worry. He double-checked I had all the correct paperwork for staying here. He double-checked my tickets and whether I had all the correct phone numbers in case of problem. I showed him everything as we drove through a dark and dimly lit Nairobi back to his house.


We arrived at his house in a compound full of mainly Indian houses all tucked together and locked in with a huge guarded gate. I entered the house. It was like being back in Harrow. Inside the house was the exact same Gujarati décor I had become accustomed to in the NW London burbs. It was comforting. My aunt had prepared a lovely Gujarati feast for me and I ate heartily. Pure comfort food. I retired to bed tired and excited about seeing Katie the next day.



The next day, I awoke in the middle of the night to what I thought sounded like gunshots. I put this down to sleep-deprived dreams and went back to bed. I woke up proper to the sound of rain on the roof. I got up and went downstairs to watch the rain. It was thick and incessant. I watched it and sipped freshly squeezed orange juice and ate freshly cut watermelon and papaya. Fresh.



I packed up my suitcase and got ready to leave. I struck up a conversation with someone in the compound as I watched my aunt insist her servant take my suitcase to the car. I thanked the servant and apologised for the heaviness of the suitcase. I tried helping her but my aunt shooed me away. I spoke to this passer-by who told me that the Kenyans were beautiful sweet people, but, he lowered his voice, make sure I keep my money locked up cos they all steal. I grimaced at this horrid paranoid dispersion and felt sad. Do Indians and Africans mix here, I wondered? I had heard stories from Shane.



We drove through Nairobi to the airport. Nairobi looked like Mumbai, but with black instead of brown people. It was strange. Tall buildings suffocated by advertising billboards skirted shanty towns and roadside shacks selling tea and water and fresh mangoes and mobile phone top-up cards.



On the one hour flight to Mombasa (take-off and landing lasted longer than the flight, and I saw Mount Kilimanjaro peeking through the clouds), I spoke to a Punjabi male wedding planner who was in Nairobi to plan a huge wedding for a relative, and was heading to Mombasa for some party-sharty. As we got off the plane, I steeled myself for the big reunion with Katie. I had waited 11 weeks to see her. I could not wait to see her. The two months had been horrendous but the last week was tortuous as we counted down the final moments of our separation. I rushed out of the baggage reclaim into the outdoor arrivals area expecting for her to drop from the sky and fall into my arms and she….



Eeeeerm…. Where was she?



I looked around frantically. Where the hell was she? I felt my pocket vibrate. Phone message. She was on her way.



I stood around like a gooseberry basking in potential anti-climax till… I… saw… her… and damn she looked fine. She looked amazing. Tanned and healthy and curly and gorgeous (bleugh, cheese). We did all those coupley things and slipped slowly back into our old groove (with the added spice of her having this new life here that I was to be a part of), We drove through Mombasa. It looked small and sleepy and colourful. We drove to Nyali, a suburb of Mombasa on the mainland, through a huge second hand clothes market and through all the places I will come to know well over the coming months. We drove to the school where we'll be staying. As we pulled up, Katie's friends Jo and Katie G jumped and performed a welcome dance for me, full of jazz hands, and some of Katie's students chased our car down the road intrigued as to the arrival of this new brown man.



Our flat is great. It's slighter bigger than our flat in Brixton. It's spacious, we have a fraction of the stuff and sleeping under mosquito nets is quite romantic. That night, Katie and I walked in near darkness to the local Gujarati restaurant and ate.



The next morning, I awoke to find a cleaner cleaning the room around me. Katie had gone to work. The cleaner's name is Gladys and much as I am uncomfortable having someone clean for me, especially with me fulfilling the role of house husband at the moment, she was all smiles and welcomes. She showed me how to use the water tank and things like that. I boiled up water for the day, unpacked and chatted with her about nothing much.



Katie had left me some orienteering tasks so I decided to do one of them. I walked out of the school, past a family of huge spiders (if one of them has to bite me, let's hope it's the radioactive one) and on to the beach where I was to comb the beach for crabs and find some interesting driftwood, which I done. The beach is amazing. The shallows stretch for about 200 metres before hitting a reef at which point it gets deep. There are reef sharks on the other side of the reef. The beach is gorgeous. The colourless but blue water mixing with the aroma of the skyline. I returned from my first successful challenge and sat on some bleachers in the school field that our flat looks out on to. Jo was teaching a transition class raquet ball so I watched for a while before returning, making a sandwich and setting up a little writing space in an unobtrusive part of the flat. I sat on the balcony and started to work on arrangements for a few new songs. As I played my guitar, an audience of 5 monkeys appeared on the trees inches from the balcony and listened. They scarpered when I stopped for a second.



At 4pm, I picked Katie up from school and we took a walk to the supermarket where we picked up provisions. They have most things here, like Bounty bars and Marmite and Cookie Crisp cereal. That night, we ate pizza in a restaurant on the sea.



This place is quite magic.