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A glimpse of Kenya on a rural road


The African country has been whispering my name for the past year, so gently; the soft tab of drumming fingers on a taught drum. Now it is getting louder, and closer, and we will finally meet in under a week. We have waited almost a year for this holiday and I am excited in a way I have never been before a holiday. Africa.

I have never visited the mother country, mother Africa. Though I am as starkly white as snow, I wonder if this mother country Africa will still hold me as close to her as she does her other children who are born from her soil. Although I have placed a foot in the roof of what we know as North Africa, where the intriguing and mystical Islamic countries of Morocco and Tunisia lie, I have yet to set foot in the land they call the mother. A land which is home to the Great Rift Valley, the cradle of civilisation, and the home to some of our oldest ancestors.

Played a part in my emotional and intellectual life for 16 years, ever since I turned 14 , the imagery of Africa has danced like a shadow, always at the back of my mind. Outside my bedroom, in the field beyond I can see a tree in the distance with a wide trunk and an ancient umbrella of leaves. As the sun sets on dreamy June evenings, I used to gaze at the tree and in its beauty I am transported in my mind to a humid and dusty Africa. What it would be to feel dusty sand under my feet as I dance to the rhythm of an ancient dance and come to life under Africa’s burning sun?

Now the distant and the familiar are to become one as the plane lands into Nairobi, late in a local evening.

The trees are still the same with their broccoli shaped domes, here in their rightful home here in Kenya. I revel in the hot caress of the air as the plane door opens and I can absorb all the different smells that you just don’t sense in England;, dusty, hot, passion and sweat all combined in a fragrance.

Heavily infused with 10 hours of travel and glorious expectation, I ache with a combination of exhaustion, and happiness that finally I have arrived. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a swift exit from the airport here. As non Kenyan nationals, we have to pay a $50 entry fee to the country, and the queue is as long as the airplane aisle that we have just disembarked.

I focus my attention on the rich diversity of people around me, and wonder what brings them all to this mysterious county. More than anything, I am like a child gazing at the sea of black faces and skin, and wonder what I must seem like to the people here.

The immigration official is a suspicious looking man and he stares at me with big brown eyes. He hold his hands out expectedly for the $50 entry fee and writes for what seems like an age, and wordlessly, hands my passport back to me. As I am so sleepy, the next 4 hours pass by in a dreamy rush.

Two hours to clear the immigration and reclaim our luggage and fatigue fights with happiness as I sense the activity and the exoticism outside. The air is so dense, so muggy, but the stars twinkle so brightly through.

Two smiling faces meet us at the airport, Michael and Mairead, Marc’s parents, and they rush us into the waiting jeep, our trusty companion for the next two weeks.

Twinkling under the reflection of the midnight stars, roads are punctured constantly with deep potholes, and the jeep creaks and leaps its way between them like a grasshopper trying to skim across a large lake. I have never seen roads like this before. Marc’s well attuned mother tells me that there is no such thing as road maintenance. The British handed over their rule of Kenya in the 1970’s, complete with an immaculate infrastructure of roads and signs. Today, all that remain are the few rusted wisps of English road signs never replaced, and huge dirt tracks the colour of burnt ember. The Kenyan government obviously doesn’t see it necessary to maintain the road network, and it is the first time of many that I can’t grasp the complexities of the Kenyan Government and their priorities.

I am slowly falling asleep, when suddenly; Michael brings the jeep to a harsh holt. Pulled along side the road on this seemingly makeshift motorway, I suddenly feel very vulnerable as Michael leaps out of the car and starts arguing with the 8 men digging at the side. Despite their aggressive postulation, luckily for us, and them, they are engineers fixing one of the broken telephone cables. All to often, copper theft is rife, and it generates much needed income for a poverty stricken Kenyan to steal and then sell on. Kenya is prone to electricity blackouts, and this also helps to describe the lack of twinkling lights as we landed. Over 70% of Kenyans live in poverty and this, in the Kenyan sense, means no access to clean water, electricity and light.

So much to take in already, in such a short time.

I can scarcely remember the arrival at the whitewashed house, and am blind to the myriad of beautiful plants around. I can hear the thud of luggage on the floor, and then everything becomes silent and peaceful in a wide bedroom with painted walls. I am beautifully tired it feels as though the chorus of cicadas outside are humming their own lullaby just for me .

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