Friday, 27 May 2011

Getting home

Always odd coming home. Time - which seemed so limitless at the beginning of the trip - shrinks as you put everything back into the cases. It was extra poignant this time, because we were saying goodbye to Catherine, the maid who had looked after us so diligently at our hosts' house. She is Kenyan, an orphan, and as the oldest child responsible for the raising of her younger siblings. Her parents died together - so, probably in a car crash, I don't know. She is now 23 and paying for her little brothers to go to school. She works about 6 days a week. She lives in for her work, they live with an aunt, so at least she does not have that responsibility. But when her employers (our friends) come back to England this summer, she will be out of work, in a ferocious marketplace.

Down in the shopping malls, we saw many notices with people desperately looking for work: I can drive, I can clean, I can cook, I am a qualified nurse, I have excellent references, I can guard your house, I can care for your sick family, I NEED WORK! These posters have tear-off strips along the bottom. It seems so hopeless. There are thousands of people in every district looking for work. How she can find anything in this maelstrom is anyone's guess. And then there are the guys who did the outside work at our villa - gardening, pool maintenance, night-watch. These too will be out of work.

Catherine's hope is to find another English or European employer, as the general preference would be to avoid working for the Indians, who notoriously abuse their African servants. We said our goodbye to her, gave her a huge tip and a bracelet, and now I find I have brought her home with me. She is a kind, gentle, sweet, pretty young lady and her dearest wish would be to marry and have children, but it's hard. How to find a reliable Kenyan man, who'd have to be a Catholic, and who'd could support her and a family? Impossible, probably. The young men do not often stay with their wives once children come. There are almost no steady jobs. The death of her parents will have altered everything for her. Her predicament is Dickensian, almost operatic. I feel very sad for her.

Our driver to the airport on Wednesday morning was called Joseph, typically a rural Kenyan who'd arrive in Nairobi to seek his fortune and ended up in the taxi business. He was educating his girls - one wants to be a pilot, one a lawyer. He said, the bye-election in W Kenya on Monday had been very important. Neither the government nor the opposition candidate had been elected, but an ordinary person who was standing for ordinary people. He said, the election violence a few years back had been abhorrent to most people: some had benefited, some had lost, but the population wanted peace, prosperity and an end to corruption. He thought democracy would work, even if it took time. He was an excellent driver (in the chaos of the rush hour) and wants me to pass on his details if anyone's visiting Nairobi - he can fix good hotels, plan outings, etc. His email is and his phone numbers are 0729 382 512, and 0722 539 567. You'll need the prefix for Kenya.

The flight home gave us a superb view of the whole of Kent, and across the Channel, so we could see Faversham and Sheppey and all the geography laid out in the misty sunshine. It all looked so peaceful and easy, and close. (Little did we know it would be a four hour trek to get from Heathrow to Faversham. Once again, we had to suffer London's transport system which is DISGUSTING - old, worn out, inefficient, dirty, crowded, scandalous).

When we landed, everyone got up, then we had two VERY stern warnings to sit down again. Two policemen marched down the aisles. They homed in on an African guy sitting just behind us, handcuffed him, led him away, with the two stewards accompanying them. The guy was 40-ish, grizzled, bearded, meek. The rest of the aircraft was in hushed silence. It was all very dramatic and mysterious. Who he? No idea.

Back home, we are unwrapping our touristy bits and bobs: sculpture, Nice & Lovely soap, Maasai blanket, khangas, an ingenious snake made of bottle-tops, some wallets (made by the girls in the fruit market) out of fruit-juice boxes, so many bits of rubbish turned to use. Catherine is looking at me, nervously. The girls in the project are singing. Jaya, the Jain lady is showing us how to make kulfi. The sunbirds are darting about by the kitchen window. The impala are looking at us, just a few feet away. The pelicans are gaggling on the shores of the lake. The people are bustling about their business along the miles of slum verges. The tiny children are setting off to walk miles to school in their immaculate uniforms, great satchels on their backs, while cars bash past them, too close. The traffic is horrendous. The volcano broods and looks peaceful. Kenya is all there... it's all happening, while I write this, five thousand miles away.

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