Wednesday, 16 April 2008

I'm in Kenya - Part 3 - Nairobi

Back in the capital, I met up with my co-director and we made our way, on foot, to the office. I was struggling for breath but put it down to tiredness, the hill we had to climb and the fact that I was carrying luggage.

Almost as soon as I dumped my luggage at the office, I was off in a taxi to the Kenya Wildlife Service compound on the outskirts of the city for a meeting with a client. The taxi waited, we having agreed a price. But the meeting lasted rather longer than anticipated and three hours later, I had to call it a day, making another appointment for after Easter.

The driver was fast asleep in his car - it was hot - but was soon whisking me back to the office. The price had gone up, naturally, but he didn't rip me off as I expected.

Easter. I spent a lot of my days, sitting just outside the gate of my host's front yard, watching the world go by.

As the house is in a gated estate, the world consisted, in large part, of the neighbourhood kids playing in the road. This is not an area where you would expect to see a white man, so I became a bit of a curiosity.

Most kids over five would stare at me then approach and even speak to me. They all wanted to touch the remnants of my hair, my skin, or hold my hand. In fact as time passed, they would come up, offer me a high five and chatter away to me. My first impression was that most of them spoke excellent English and only reverted to Swahili to tease me, or talk behind my back.

Timo, or Timothy as he was christened, is eleven. He is small for his age, has a lopsided grin, uneven teeth, and generally would not win a "best-looking kid on the block" contest.

But he had something else. There was a look in his eyes begging me to take notice of him. I did. He is a charming, friendly, intelligent, confident kid, and I soon found out all about his family.

He lost his father in 2004 and he had to move from private to state school. He attends a a very large class in which he proudly stated he is top.

Over the following week, if he found me sitting on the step, he would slot his slight frame between my knees and just sit there with a contented look on his face.

Timo introduced me to his widowed mother, Florence. He also introduced me to his best friend and 9-year-old nephew, Winston. Winston is taller and heavier than his uncle, but they are obviously good friends.

The regular gang also included Ben, a cheeky 5-year-old who had a striking resemblance to the kid who plays Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris. A bunch of girls made up the "regulars".

Oh, and there was Tyrone. This kid is what everyone thinks an African kid should look like - dead cute. But he has a laugh like a foghorn. You know when Tyrone is around!

After the Easter break, I had a couple of days of meeting people at the office and doing other things that one does in the office. Then it was time to leave Kenya.

We set off for the airport in a private hire car - and hit an enormous traffic jam. It has to be pointed out that in the afternoon it had rained like I have never seen. The roads were flooded and no one wanted to drive on the left as potholes were invisible. We moved about 500 yards in 3 hours. Needless to say, I missed the flight by over an hour, so we turned round and crept home again.

We got back at 3:30. I went to the office for a while and a new ticket was acquired for the following Wednesday, then I went home.

Timo arrived home from school as I arrived and his face just beamed. I explained that I was going to be around for a few more days. He was almost jumping up and down with joy.

I put the extra time to good use, with more meetings with people who may be able to help me settle in Kenya eventually.

All too soon, it was time to leave Kenya - for the second time - and we left ourselves plenty of time.

We spent three hours drinking tea at the cafe just outside the terminal, but eventually, I could put it off no longer - I had to check in.

I will be back soon.

I'm in Kenya - Part 2 - Coast

Having travelled west to east across virtually the width of Kenya on public transport, I arrived in Malindi at 6:30 am, filthy dirty, tired, shaken and relieved.
My girlfriend, Liz, was supposed to be meeting me, but she was late, so I booked my ticket back for ten days time, saving me the bother of returning at a later stage.

I sat outside the office and smoked covertly. The town was awake. People were bustling about. There were a lot of Moslems, people of Arabic origin, and in my sleepy state, I did not want to offend anyone with my smoke. Then I saw the coach station manager with a cigarette between his lips and I was relieved.

Liz arrived and we took a taxi to her village, a 25km run. We went straight to a school which my organisation supports, as I had been loaned the apartment in the school grounds for as long as I wanted it. This was great. It is light and airy, with a good kitchen (by Kenyan standards) and a "European" bathroom, which meant it had a proper toilet rather than a hole in the ground.

Liz had to shoot off to work, so I was left to unpack and have a long, cold shower before trying out the bed for a couple of hours.

I went shopping at the local supermarket. In the UK, it would be classed as a corner shop, but it had everything I wanted, or a substitute, and I bought "proper meat", fresh vegetables, fruit, and the usual provisions. I was determined to have at least a couple of English meals while I had the chance.

I spent the afternoon with the founders of the school, talking about the progress, and the orphans that they had taken in, 17 in all.

I wandered over to the baby class to pick up Natasha, who showed little emotion either way to my being there.

Ian, on the other hand, threw himself at me and gave me a big, long hug before settling on my lap. Ian was five and 364 days and looking forward to his birthday, hoping that my presence would make it somehow different.

We went up to the apartment, and were soon joined by various children who lived at the school, the orphans.

I started preparing a meal and when Liz came home, all was ready. This was nice. It is the first time the four of us have spent time alone as a family. Liz usually lives with her extended family and on my last visit, I felt overwhelmed.

After school on Ian's birthday, I took both kids to Malindi. Natasha had told me that she needed a new teddy, and I know that Ian wanted a helicopter. In the end, both kids got what they wanted and Ian also got a set of cars for his birthday.

Back at the apartment, he was the envy of all the little boys, and some of the bigger ones. He took his battery-powered, very noisy helicopter downstairs and I could hear a lot of gasps of astonishment as it moved across the patio, making all sorts of aggressive noises.

The week passed too quickly. I held a photo shoot with the orphans as well as taking many candid shots of them doing their chores. They wash their own clothes, do the housework and even help with the cooking.

Liz and I looked at a little house on the outskirts of the village. It is very pretty and very safe for the kids, being in a large grassy compound. I agreed to rent it.

The it was time to go and I caught the overnight coach back to Nairobi.