A PSYCHIC told me once that I would have twins or two children very close together, both girls. Whatever your view of psychic mediums, I did end up with two girls and they were as close together as it’s possible to be, not in age, but in the way in which they came into my life.
R took custody of his girls and I became a mother before I was one. For the best part of a year beforehand, we were not sure how or when events would unfold. We had become passengers in an emotional rickshaw, forced to let legal processes in South Africa run their course. I did not know from one day to the next whether to prepare for overnight motherhood or not which sent my head into a near-permanent spin. The night terrors that had plagued me for more than a year intensified and started to jolt me awake most nights. Loved ones haunted my dreams and took on a distressingly more twisted, darker appearance which I knew was all back to front.
We had left Malindi behind and moved to our coastal paradise, into a house with an old makuti roof and a spiral staircase leading up to the loft which overlooked the vacant plot of land next door. R would sit and try to relax there in the late afternoons. The house had a kitchen, dining area and a small living room next to the bedroom and bathroom. It was characterful and charming. A net was draped across the main front door and windows, which didn’t have glass in the panes, and over the loft area to keep out the monkeys, though sometimes they came anyway and ransacked the kitchen – leaving behind trails of rice, pasta and crushed chocolate digestives. They rarely came on Sundays.
“They’re having a day off,” I told R.
R looked at me, incredulous.
“What do you mean they’re having a day off? They’re monkeys!”
“But they’re not here though, are they? They never are on Sundays.”
After-work debriefs and conversations now took place either in the loft or the shared swimming pool. The pool was hidden in the gardens beyond the trees and pink and purple bougain villa, which ran along the coral wall and sank deep into the soil. The garden path was partially obscured by heavy green foliage and thorny branches, which our larger-than-life Austrian landlord had tried to get one of the staff to cut only for him to start hacking away at everything else instead. ‘The Terminator’, our landlord had called him.
On still nights, you could hear the waves as they came rolling and crashing against the reef. The clear, turquoise ocean and long stretch of powdery white sand on a near empty stretch of beach was my own personal oasis. I would go to it whenever I needed to clear my mind and feel the sun and salty air on my skin. I walked beyond the shoreline, past fishermen casting rods and nets into the sea, waded into warm water, stopped to lie in shallow pools of blue and watched the slow pace of life unfolding on the beach.
WE HAD MOVED to a town of entrepreneurs. There was a British joiner who had opened a wood working shop so that people could buy wood that hadn’t already been chewed by bora. Then there was the man from the Midlands who arrived in Kenya semi-retired and became a poultry farmer. He had noticed a dearth of decent, well-fed chickens, and started a chicken farm, despite never having farmed before. He came from the British textile industry but was soon supplying chickens to hotels, restaurants and private residents up and down the coast of Kenya.
A couple who owned a successful hotel had set-up a small primary school, serving the local and expatriate community so that children could attend school together, rather than homeschooling on different verandas or moving away with their families.
Kenya is full of creative, risk taking types, from locals to foreigners, all plying their trade, whether it is one they already know or a new one they have learned, and treading an unknown path that Africa needs and makes possible. Despite the many road blocks and frustrations in carving out a life here, it is Africa’s gift to those who live here.
R AND I have lived many lives together, rather like a pair of cats, all of them folded into the space of three years. Our early life in Kisumu was a hailstorm of domesticity, road trips and corporate (and, at times, national) politics, thanks to the family R was working for. All this a mere five months after we had first met. I had walked away from my life in England and fallen headfirst into a new one with R.
After Kisumu came the start of our life on the coast and a new business, first in Mombasa and then in Malindi. Malindi was a time of waiting for things to get going, punctuated by trips to South Africa. It was also our most isolating period and full of Kenya’s life limiting eccentricities.
Life changed again, deeply and irrevocably so, not only with a move further south but with the arrival of R’s girls. They landed in Mombasa as the city was labouring under a simmering, sweltering heat. R’s youngest daughter came running when she saw us. R held it together better than I did.
We had moved to a house that could accommodate us all, on the edge of the forest, a short walk from the beach. Serendipitously, the concrete stairs that ran up the side of the house, from the al fresco living area to the upstairs veranda, were wrapped around a towering baobab tree. In our house under the baobab tree, in a home we had made for R’s two girls, things began to shift and fall into place.