Archive for February, 2012

Valentines and Pink Hair

February 14, 2012

Time is swept aside by a huge swimming tide and a wind that throws palm fronds to the ground with a rattled crash. Where does it go? Time? Too much of it in the outpost and now it slips through my fingers, mercurial. Too quicksilvered for me to get a handle on. I wonder that I didn’t waste the stuff before?

Hat is home. A precious sojourn from wintery England. She says it’s nice to feel warm, to wear a bikini and shorts and walk barefoot. She takes my camera and I cheat and steal her pictures. Three to make up for lost time (see? lost!) and gaps in posts where I had promised to paste an image in the ether every day.


As I write she is dipping tresses of her titian hair into various small bottles of confectionary colouring so that when we trawl the Old Town tomorrow in search of treasures to take back to school she will be rainbow headed and giggling. I say, “I hope that washes out before Matron sees it”; Matron was not enamored of the henna decorated hands at the beginning of term. I’m sure it will Mum, says Hat in a tone that suggests she couldn’t really care either way.


Which is how it should be at – almost – 15.




February 8, 2012

When I was little, I thought the sun’s rays, mellowed by the tilt of the earth with rising dawn or fading day, filtered by clouds and horizons, was proof that there was a Heaven; I thought it looked like the images in the prayer books Mum carted to Mass with her to entertain us and buy her a little peace during long droning sermons.   And they did, entertain us, those ‘holy books’ with their pictures and parables and gently nudging stories about what constituted good and evil. But what entertained us more was our little sister empting  Mum’s handbag on the pew beside her and trying on Mum’s Jackie O sunglasses which were so big for her little face that she had to tilt her head back to keep them perched safely on her button nose and prevent them from tipping to the ground. We giggled then (as did the ranks of totos in the seats around us) until Mum opened her eyes and hissed, ‘read your holy books’. So we did.

I don’t think I am a religious person, but perhaps I am a spiritual one. I no longer think the sieved sunlight is heaven.

But I do think it’s heavenly. As are dawn walks in a pearly light on a beach bleached virgin white and unmarked. Except for my own tread.

That’s a precious and peaceful and unearthly sensation.

Not Here nor There

February 6, 2012

Iota suggested this: a photo a day. Tell me when you’ve had enough …

My eldest daughter took this one: she, her camera and a walking stick as a writing implement headed out to the Sand Island. Of Kenya she says, ‘it’s home’  (a place that might have been for her forefathers but never for her, not until now, when she isn’t away at University in snowbound England where she was born … it’s a complicated thing, this ‘belonging’). And yet, I note, she scribes Karibu in the sand.

Kenya this may be but a Tanzanian bids you welcome with the word.

I wondered who she was willing to her isolated patch of beach? The birds, who flock busily when the tide seeps out until Pili chases them all up again? A lonesome plane puttering through the powder blue sky above, ripping clouds to insubstantial shreds?

Or invisible, faraway passersby in the ether?





February 3, 2012

Viresh says, ‘I know, you don’t want it floppy’.

‘Floppy, floppy’, he says, loudly, taking the surprised expression on my face as one – I assume – of miscomprehension.

Two minutes ago Viresh asked me to test the comfort of assorted mattresses.

If your eyes were closed you’d be excused from imagining something inappropriate was afoot.

No, I agree with Viresh, I don’t want it ‘floppy’ and I have to try really, really hard not to laugh.

Viresh is a mattress salesman in the hot, dusty industrial quarter of Mombasa, his patch opposite the old breweries until, says my cab driver, the breweries realized that the tax took less away in Tanzania and so it moved east and south.

Viresh is also, because I’m looking that day, retailer of sheets, towels, pillows …. Indeed anything, it seems, that takes my fancy, he spreads his arms wide and high, ‘everything you want under one roof, ONE ROOF’. And it is, I concede, a big roof.

I am here in capacity of Reluctant Hotelier, a refit I explain. Viresh clearly thinks my hotel is a chichi five star, not a really modest self catering aspiring to (if I’m lucky) two star status.

I have obliged and taken my shoes off and walked across the mattresses he indicated I should walk across in order that I can identify the difference between First Quality and Second. I can’t but pretend I can and say, ‘oooooh yes!’ obligingly.

We move onto towels and Viresh’s wife, Paris (and I cannot believe that is the name her parents gave her) steps in to assist, urging Viresh to wrap a bath sheet about his waist to demonstrate how generous it is. Viresh does so and then wiggles his hips like a Hawaiian with a hula hoop . I proffer a face cloth and ask if he can do the same with that but he just looks at me as if I’m mad. For I clearly am: I have walked mattresses, smirked at insistence I did not like it floppy (a reference to sheets insufficiently wide to tuck in properly by the way) and now I am suggesting he can wrap something the size of a handkerchief about his not insubstantial middle.

As I pick through his offerings, Viresh conducts conversations with his brother in Guajarati as to the relative merits – I guess by the workings on a sheet of paper in front of him – of one mattress over another and ascertains the exact and requisite size of bed linen in order to avoid unpleasant floppiness.

If I owned a whole chain of hotels I suspect there’d be a minion to do this for me.

But where I wonder, as I stifle giggles, would be the fun in that.

Viresh and Paris wave me away later with big smiles and a violent pink t’shirt as a souvenir (clearly they sell those under that vast roof too) and I step out wondering that my world is getting more surreal by the minute …?

Especially when Viresh calls me later to ask if I took a note of the prices he gave me for he has not …


Reluctant Hotelier

February 1, 2012

The sound of the surf is my background music. I don’t always hear it. Life and living and answering the phone gets in the way of listening sometimes. I have found my voice. Literally. And after five years of not using it that much, it wears a little thin now and then; too much talking hoarse. Who’d have thought: an hotelier. Of sorts. Do ten bedrooms count as a hotel?

Did you sleep well?

What are you going to do today?

Anything I can help with?

Shall I order you a cab?

Mostly my guests are wonderful, wowed by their – my – view. Only occasionally does the irksomeness of cold water, very tired linen or the geckos that scuttle the walls irritate. Some think hard before coming up with a complaint: couldn’t you have organized a better sunrise? Or, why can’t you turn off the sun a little later?  Some break all the rules. Dorcas haggles her room rate on the phone, ‘next door it is cheaper’, she says. I am insistent, ‘if you don’t want to pay my prices’, I tell her politely, ‘you can always go next door’. ‘I do not want to go next door’, says Dorcas. Then think about it I suggest. Politely.   Dorcas calls back two days later and tells me, ‘I have thought, I will pay your price’. She comes for three days and when she checks out she pays next door’s prices anyway. It’s her turn to be insistent, ‘you told me this price’. I didn’t. But the customer is always right. Even when they aren’t. Dorcas says it’s a very nice place and she will be back next month.   Somehow I don’t think we’ll have availability next month.


Sometimes I have to say Sorry. Mostly I smile.


I smile less at the fundis though. Renovating what will be home, building what will be my studio. Where, I demand of Omari, where (louder and more emphatic) are my windows? The ones I made a downpayment for three weeks ago and which were promised within one. Omari launches into (yet) another story. But I am not interested and stalk away. Unsmiling. Omari doesn’t care; he laughs at the Reluctant Memsahib, Reluctant Hotelier, really, really Reluctant Builder.


So to wash away the sweat – literal, metaphorical – I take to the sea. This evening the tide is dragged low, low, the hide water that threw a plague of blue sting-in-their tails Portuguese Men of War up so that I dared not enter the water for three days has receded and left in its wake a tideline frilled with seaweed and dyed blue. I am not sorry to witness the sandy demise of the bubbled critters that kept me from my swim. I step into jellyfishfree seas gratefully.


The sun is sinking and the sky is fading and the dogs gambol, Pili has acres of Africa and Indian Ocean spilling conspiratorially all around her so that she doesn’t’ know where to begin: a crab? A coconut husk? A wave? A bird. She makes me laugh. And Africa, all gilded and soft and syrupy as the sun slides behind the Shimba Hills, slips into the Best Time of the Day.


I gather up the dogs and head home, dip my feet into the footbath – Francesca, a French guest from the Congo, who found nothing at all to complain about and paid her dues – gathered up eggyolkyellow Frangipani to float in hers each morning – to rinse my soles of my beach walk and fetch myself a beer to drink. With my new view.


Pili collapses in a damp and sandy heap and soon is fast asleep, with the occasional whimper of a dream; she has caught her crab.

I smile.

And the surf applauds.