In Transition


Hat and I are in transit.

30 hours since leaving the Outpost – 6 in a car, two on a plane – we are five away from a nine hour flight to London.

And in transition.

Between one world and another.

My friend E said it best; she said when you step off the plane back in Africa, the heat hits you like you’ve stumbled into a wet blanket.

She reminisced about ‘the joys of supermarkets where you can buy anything; gas that comes out of the wall into the back of your cooker’. Not the sort that emanates from a bottle so heavy I hang sideways when I have to pick the one in my own kitchen up.

When I am in England I will marvel at gin-clear water gushing from taps; I won’t have to remember to turn them off mid hand-washing or tooth-brushing and I will be able to lie in a bath, hot suds up to my chin without worrying that I have deprived the lettuce. The lights will come on every time I flick a switch: I might even flick one on and off, on and off, just for fun: to be sure. And I shall stand in Tesco with my mouth agape thinking, I only came out for milk: how hard can the choice be? I will not jar my spine on potholes you could lose a giraffe in; I will not have to remember to turn the water heater off before I can turn the computer on because I won’t be contending with the vacillations and vagaries of TANESCO.

But nor will I have to remember to put sunblock on. The skies won’t be hot and high and blue: utterly naked of even the flimsiest scrap of cloud. I won’t be able to look out of a car window and marvel at Africa’s ridiculous notions that it’s perfectly alright to strap 175 live chickens to the back of a petrol tanker just because the market for live chickens is better in the west of the country than the east. So that 175 chickens hunker slit eyed and ruffle feathered and you really hope they don’t understand their fate is about to take a turn for the bloody worse. 


And nor will I hear the hadada ibis cackle rudely and unexpectedly as if they have just pulled a stunt on some unsuspecting victim and have lain in wait to witness the resultant misery. I won’t hear the cicada or the toads that live in the pond in the garden and which begin to croak in such extraordinary and sudden synchronisiation you wonder there isn’t an amphibious conductor amongst them.

And when Hat and I clamber onto the Tube tomorrow to travel intestinally from one end of London to the other, in the depths of her dark, billowing bowels where thousands throng, not a single person will smile and ask us how we are. Even though our noses might be only inches from one another. Where I live it’d be inconceivable not to exhibit a measure of interest at least in such proximity. Where I live you’re lucky to get away with less than a hello, a how are you and have you had rain yet? If you’re not in the mood for talking, that is.

And equally inconceivable would be the notion that you’d take the price of a given thing in a shop at face value. Not to at least feign mild outrage at the cost, not to suggest 5% off would be to fly in the face of the spirit of biashara. I’ll be negotiating my way to cheaper t’shirts in Duty Free in a few hours, ’10,000 shillings for a t’shirt?, I shall gasp, ’10,000 shillings!’ and I shall cross my fingers behind my back for I will be about to tell a fib, ‘but they’re only 8,000 bob in that shop over there’ and with the other hand I shall gesture vaguely. And I shall get my – more than – 5% because the shop keeper never expected the full price in the first place. She’s built in a biashara buffer.

Imagine doing that in Boots? ‘4.99 for a tub of vitamins? 4.99!’ as you arranged your expression into one of disbelief, ‘Can’t I have it for 4.50?’ and the girl on the till will be nervously casting about for somebody who can come and take you away and give you something much stronger than Vitamin C with Zinc because you clearly need it.

So when I come home, in 17 days from now, I shall welcome Africa’s hot kisses and sweaty embrace as I step onto perspiring tarmac at 7 in the morning and then I shall negotiate with the cab driver, having exchanged mandatory pleasantaries, hello-howareyou-haveyouhadrain (even though it will be patently obvious from hot high blue skies and the dust that hangs in the air that he has not), ‘30,000 shillings for a ride across town? 30,000 shillings!’, and he will laugh at my makebelieve shockhorror and knock a little off.

15 Responses to “In Transition”

  1. Kit Says:

    Such great images! I love your hadada call interpretation – that’s jsut what ours sound like too. And the picture of the Boots cashier made me laugh out loud too.
    Hope the culture and weather shock isn’t too severe in England and that you find a lovely school for Hat.

  2. gaelikaa Says:

    My goodness, you are a joy to read. I felt all that.

  3. Jo Says:

    I feel like I’ve missed so much of your last posts, glad I caught this one.
    Hope you have an umbrella as it’s raining cats and dogs here in North London.
    Hope you have a fab visit!

  4. Heather Says:

    having found you again after all this time I am so thrill to see you sre still writing, and still as wonderfully as ever. Brilliant images, enjoy London for all it’s running tap water glory and take as many baths as is humanly possible.

  5. Primal Sneeze Says:

    Some PC/tech stores here are encouraging customers to haggle. It would be a welcome turnaround if it were not for their prices being already so high that haggling is necessary to bring them down close to normality.

    In other news, have you heard that an Irish woman has been made a member of the Order of Warriors by Kenya’s president? Apparently she’s the first non-Kenyan to receive such an honour.

    From the Irish Times.

  6. carol Says:

    Loved the pic of the kukus on the tanker…. and the idea of haggling in Boots – think one of my friends parents in law tried that in Sainsbury when they first moved to UK – but didn’t get too far. Good luck with everything in UK and lots of love to Hat for tomorrow.

  7. Momcat Says:

    There’s nowhere quite like Africa though luckily (so far still) in South Africa, we still have fairly decent electricity and water. And its hard to believe that people are quite so insular in the UK. I often strike up conversations in the supermarket checkout queue but maybe thats just me. 🙂 I feel sorry for the chickens. That is animal cruelty to me. I dont like to see any animals being transported to the abatoir although I know its necessary. I do feel that it can be done a lot more humanely. I wonder how many chickens actually make it to their destination alive.

  8. R. Sherman Says:

    Thanks for trying to help us understand. Only one who has feet in both places could do an adequate job of it.


  9. Cyrus Looman Says:

    A classmate recommended me to check out this website, nice post, interesting read… keep up the nice work!

  10. Iota Says:

    I’m glad for you that the journey is so long, in one way (though of course it’s a pain too). It must give you time to acclimatise.

  11. doglover Says:

    One day, I suppose, you’ll come back to England to settle down. Please don’t bring your friendly conversation into our Underground trains with you – we like to be morose and sulllen while we suffer. And no tales of clear blue African skies – they spoil our enjoyment of the rain.

    But do haggle in the shops. Call it “discount” and that makes us feel better. Just say “I want 25% discount” imperiously every time. It won’t work in Boots, but may do so in other typically English shops which are all going out of business anyway.

  12. Alcoholic Daze (Addy) Says:

    Enjoy your trip. I shall smile at you if I see you in the tube.

  13. Says:

    You could almost have been writing about Albania- huge potholes, power cuts, water shortages, animals carried inhumanely on bikes or slung heapingly into the back of trucks with legs tied,alive & all on top of each other. The haggling, even in shops. The cicadas. We even have the frog chorus!
    I find it hard not greeting & passing th etime of day with strangers when bakc in england. Actually I do do it, though people usually view me somewhat suspiciously. All except the old, who always seem glad of a conversation. I know how they feel.

  14. Livvy U Says:

    Having just read your last two posts, I want to wish you huge good luck in this momentous journey with Hat. Bless her! If only all our girls had learnt and experienced what she has by the age of 13! And I know those visits to schools won’t necessarily be easy for you – so again, best, best of luck.
    Livvy x

  15. 3limes Says:

    Very funny. I am in Kampala and I can imagine I will feel just like this when I go to London this summer. So nice to find you here!

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