Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Mutability of Value

Early this year, I lost my yellow kikoi with the flowers.

I could hardly believe it. That kikoi was soft, it featured at least one hole and it was precious. I carried it everywhere, to be slung over my shoulders, wrapped around my waist, or folded in my handbag. I’ve worn it hundreds of times in Kenya, and sometimes in Northern Ireland to brighten a grey day or mood.

It’s bright yellow, weaver-bird-yellow. It’s the only thing I own in that shade of yellow. It smells of suncream and salt, of heat and cicada-song and malaria. Mum gave it to me nearly ten years ago. So I was pretty upset to find it gone.

spot the yellow kikoi on its travels

I searched the dark cupboards, the house, the smelly Lost and Found at school, but it was nowhere. My yellow kikoi. I found myself feeling ridiculously upset. It’s worth nothing, not a penny. It’s a tatty, faded square of fabric. But I wanted it back desperately.

It got me thinking about what we value, and why. I value my computer, my Kindle and my car massively, and so I should, because they are expensive and objectively valuable. Still, they are replaceable. I could buy a new one and like it just as much.

But I wear two rings, one diamond, one tanzanite, one from Dad and one from Mum, and I cherish them as much for their familiar shape and their meaning as their metal or stones.

There’s a crippled glass unicorn – he has lost horn and limbs since he was given to me from my Granny’s display cabinet, after her death.

 A carved circle of mother-of-pearl from Jerusalem.

My bear.

An Australian boulder opal on a leather cord, with streaks of breathtaking blue.

A suede pencil case from Germany.

yellow kikoi safely home
Photo albums and home videos that return us to childhood.

An indigo scarf.

My silver Africa pendant.

A chunk of white coral from Mombasa.

A shelf of five ink-sodden, ornate diaries.

My yellow kikoi.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my kikoi around the neck of one of the parents at the school play about a month ago. I must have left it at her house when we visited at the beginning of the year. Normally, I would never dare approach someone about a thing like that – how embarrassing!

But I did. That lovely lady made sure I got my kikoi back today, a bundle of autumn-sunshine-yellow. I won’t lose it again.This length of cloth is precious. It’s Kenyan, it’s mine, it’s from Mum. It matters for all those reasons, and more. It matters a lot.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Thunderstorms, feelings and growing up

Two nights ago, a thunderstorm hit shortly before eleven, water howling down from the sky and drowning against our windows. I was still awake, but the storm was so fierce that I closed my laptop and sat up straight, eyes wide as the winds flagged and flattened my curtains. Marooned on my bed, wild winds all around me, mosquito net adrift, falling over my hair to bride me, and I’m too old to fear storms, but my fists were clenched.

A crack - a bang - an explosion of thunder, the loudest I’ve ever heard, as if the firmament shattered into pieces above our heads, and a flash of ghastly yellow lightning like death to my dazzled eyes.

I heard the next day that my favourite tree, the shapely, dignified one on the way to Kiboko Bay, was struck that night.


Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. But the rules don’t apply in Africa. Only a few hours ago, the sky was dull, bloody maroon, but it was no promise of calm waters. Tonight it is storming again. The power went off when I had just gotten into the shower, so I pulled open the curtain to watch the lightning. Purple, yellow, all these bruise-coloured, breathtaking gasps of light across the sky, and me watching, with hot water and rain running down my face. Lightning grazing my skin and I feel transparent, blank-hearted, unseen beneath the light that penetrates clouds and eyelids.

It occurred to me that I could easily be struck, surrounded by water, and I mulled over the idea for another few minutes, guessing where the puddles around the house would be by the direction of the driving rain under a single orange lamp.

Thunder like boulders rolling, growling not far away. The rain washes the air clean. The curtains are soaking wet.

Yes, I feel detached. Indistinct, unwilling. When did I get so cold? So heartless? My blood once ran fiery with feeling and love, my heart extravagant. Weeping over music. Seeing literal red, trembling with rage. But I hoard emotion now, sharing morsels of wrath and adoration with just a few.

Reading my moody teenage diaries, I know this was my greatest fear. To become numb. To lose passion and desperation, replace frustration and yearning with bland contentment. I cherished those violent feelings, even as they tore and cannibalised me. I’m certain I’m happier this sensible way, overall, but what did I lose when I finally grew up?

And do I want it back?


Do I ever really want anything now? The way I did?