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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.


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