Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tragedy at Westgate

On Monday, two days after the siege began, we went for a walk down dusty Kisumu roads, dragonflies lazily circling our ankles.

A heavy drop on my head and then, rapidly, violently, rain blotching on my back, spattering on my bare arms. We took shelter beneath a bougainvillea tree, next to a ditch heaped with splendid pink blossoms. Beautiful, dead.

A crack of thunder drove us back into the open. By then, the roads were red rivers. We were wrapped in my sodden indigo scarf.

And it would not leave me. The string of no-no-no on my lips, the fierce disbelief burning in my chest. Westgate, starry lights overhead and icecream and those gleaming pink floors. Those expanses of shining floors are stained with blood, and they will never be clean. The front steps where I skipped up, feeling light and cool and young and happy and free – and a picture on KTN: a dead man lying on those same steps. My whole body filled with horror.

We have seen the pictures. The innocent. The children...

We Are One, they all cry, and I cry it too, my heart thundering with harambee and gratitude that I am part of this land, that Kenya is mine and I belong to your red earth, your jacarandas, your cicada song and your mighty sun –

I am proud of this bravery, this heroism.

But Kenya, beloved, let us remember to grieve, too. Let us withdraw during these days of national mourning. Silence us, Kenya, let us remember what we’ve lost.

And justice. In this courage – the strength to keep moving forward, to banish our fear – let us seek the white flame of justice. We cannot forget the lives snatched away. A thousand deaths remain unavenged in Kenya's recent past. No more. No more.

We Are One.

And never, never, never again.

'Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? No, I will not.' Joel 3:21

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Grey-backed mouse birds in the papaya tree outside my window, landing on rotten branches, squawking when they snap. A parrot – my first parrot in a long time – perched on the power line, in front of the lake and the sunset. The sun was so bright behind it, I could not see its colour, only sensing it faintly, tugging at my senses.

I bought several long, long skirts in an attempt to be culturally appropriate, so I feel faintly ridiculous, and yeah, OK, maybe a little princess-like as I sweep along the rocky dirt path outside our askaried gate. Dragonflies flit around my skirts.

Some are jet black, with dark-tipped wings, like miniature fighter jets. Like the birth of three stripes, and when they’re flying fast they seem continuous. I found the other dragonflies boring enough, with military green bodies, until one flew right through the sunlight and its wings gleamed – pure gold! They are gorgeous, precious. Hundreds swoop around my feet.

Cordon bleus: tiny sparrows with dull brown wings and china-blue breasts hopping through frangipani branches. Birds that look like crows, till the sun flashes on their feathers – they glisten blue. I named them navybirds, and found out their true name is ‘superb starling’.

The yellow weaver birds, miniature sunshines, are eternally busy constructing nests. I spot an iridescent green butterfly as large as my hand flapping drunkenly over the grass.

I can’t deny that there’s astonishing beauty all over the world. But I’m quite sure God let His imagination run wild when it came to Africa.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


On Friday, we left at 6am for a hectic drive to the airport. Schoolchildren walked through the night in uniform. Motorbikes with full beam lights careened towards us, like stars made very mobile. My stomach and fists clenched when a human silhouette appeared faintly ahead of us – be careful, be careful, that’s a person!

We flew to Nairobi, past a bare-headed Kilimanjaro. Nairobi gets its fair share of hate. Perhaps it even deserves it: a city built on a swamp and on the misery of the poor. Still, Nairobi was my home for five and a half years – or maybe more like two, depending on how you look at it. And despite everything, I love the feverish sunsets, I love the hedges thick with dust, I love the petrol fumes hanging weightily in the air, I love Java House.

Little had changed. The traffic was worse than ever, and the roads were riddled with potholes. It took one sweaty, grope-y matatu journey with twenty others to remind me how much I adore tuk-tuks. Personal space for the win!

I’ve walked these roads most often with a small hand in mine, and I missed that hand – that beloved presence – more than I can say.

I met with two dear friends that I’d left behind a year ago.

I talk to Natalya so often on Facebook that she feels like a next-door neighbour. She is probably the most brilliant yet unassuming person I have ever met. She is also an accomplished globetrotter and a Rhodes Scholar. She is always sympathetic, always interested. We had spoken so recently that we didn’t have to waste much time on ‘catching up’ – we skipped straight to the present, and got really giggly over our eccentric fellow customers.

Then Michelle, my very first friend at boarding school. We have been friends for almost ten years, navigating so many transitions alongside one another. Childhood to adulthood, Africa to the West, back to Africa. We both returned often to see our families, so she’s one of few I’ve seen yearly since we graduated.

There’s no one quite like Michelle for laughter and ditzy chat. She went into spasms of delight over my earrings: ‘Oh my gosh! Are those owls?  They are so cute!’ It’s probably obvious that she uses more exclamation points, spoken or written, than anyone else I’ve ever met.

We were only there a night. Mum’s hand tightened on mine as we rose, and Nairobi disappeared into a fog of pollution and memories. The airplane lurched. The wings cut through the clouds as though we were divine.

Thursday, 12 September 2013


I casually sprayed four or five ants. About a hundred came boiling through
a gap in the screen, apparently keen to die as one.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

lizard droppings and sky

I’ve just noticed there are lizard droppings on my bedroom floor.

The view from the plane was rough fleece and cumulus. Dawn brought combinations of pink/navy, blue/ethereal white, then a submersion in golden mist as we sank through a cloud into drab, yellow-tinted Nairobi, all ragged wet shrubs, an array of tents, and a soot-stained building site where International Arrivals used to be.

No more sipping on Java House passion juice while waiting for flights. Instead, several sluggish buses. The bus which waited when I dragged my 20 kilo hand luggage down the steps was captained by a guy in military fatigues who had to be shaken awake. Apparently the roar of an arriving 747 wasn’t sufficiently alarming to rouse him.

Finally, sleepily, I made it to Kisumu, where Mum and Buddha the taxi driver picked me up and took me to our new home. I napped, rode in a tuk-tuk (not sure how to describe this – a cross between a motorbike and Mr. Bean’s car?), picked fallen frangipani and saw Lake Victoria from above, a breach in the clouds pouring orange light down onto the water in straight sweet shafts.

Then the sky turned cloudy-lemonade-yellow, the papaya tree standing out sharp and black.

Now I’m lying in bed, trying to decide if I'm imagining a faint bad smell, or if there’s another lizard taking a sneaky dump behind my bed.

There better flipping not be.