Sunday, 8 December 2013

Winter in Kisumu

Friday was the last day of school and Father Christmas called by to visit the children. The high schoolers were having a minor dubstep rave in a dark classroom, and the little ones were waiting in various degrees of excitement and terror. Santa arrived on a school bus, with his nose protruding from the mouth hole in his beard, and the kids streamed out to have a look. A child next to me muttered in disappointed tones, ‘That’s not Santa Claus! Santa’s white!’

I’ve spent six or so Christmases in Kenya, but it still felt odd watching Santa plonk himself down under the spreading mango tree and begin handing out the presents to the kids, while sweat traced a damp finger down my spine. No snow in sight, and no firelight.

But sure, the sunsets are pretty much worth it.

I have never thought of myself as much of a Christmas person, and have been surprised to discover a homesickness I didn’t expect. I miss the Christmas market, and mulled wine. I miss the snow, and walking barefooted through it late at night. I miss driving Spike down the motorway after a late-night visit to Rebecca, warmth puffing at my feet, the lights of Belfast silently doubled in the water.

But I look at the tilled earth, like red velvet cake, and it raises a feeling within me that nothing in Northern Ireland ever has. Ever could. The malarious sunsets, the outcry of birds and cicadas, darling breezes from the lake. Tropical flowered hedges, brighter than chemicals or flavours or dreams. The sweet-smelling rains. Dragonflies in their hundreds perched delicately on young blades of grass, shredded sun. Their wings all shades of Olympic medals: bronze and gold and bright, water-gleaming silver. I watched until something disturbed them and they fluttered in piercing unison, throwing their reflected lights all around the garden and on me, the watcher on the other side of the fence.


It stormed ferociously the other night, slicing through the thick, soupy heat, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in days. I pulled in great lungfuls of coolness, to chill me from the inside out. The papaya tree outside my window nodded alarmingly. As I showered, rain sprayed in the window, freezing me all down one side. And I cherished the cool against my skin. Lovely cold.

Normally, I wouldn't be valuing cold like this in December. But that's the best thing about change. Nothing like a bit of seasonal gratitude.