I made a mistake – SAMWEL MBELE MUNGUTI isn’t my real askari, he was just a filler and now my real one has arrived. He’s great. Much shorter than me and thin as a bamboo he sports a craggy face that inspires awe and fear at the same time. Another Samburu, he and his tribe make other Kenyans, already tough and strong by Western standards, look like Pekingeses in comparison. My Kikuyu gardener, a fifty year-old woman who can dig a 3 foot deep hole in solid earth in an hour looks at him with a nervous grin and says, “You know, he’s tough”. And I know he is. I’m reading a book about frontier men in Canada a hundred and fifty years ago. They used native Indians as trackers and there is, throughout the book, the theme of how no white man can understand the thoughts of the posed, contained Indians. They track, they make shelters, they are completely self contained and they can walk for days with little sustenance. That’s Ng’iroai I am sure. I am deeply intrigued by him. I want to know how many days he can walk without water. How far he can run in a day. How he can sleep curled up on a blanket on the concrete floor, which I strongly suspect he does, though I have yet to see his house. Does he want that? Does he want a proper bed, or is it just a pointless material thing like a back massaging settee might be to me?

Anyway, I am a long way from finding answers to these questions as currently even his name is proving a severe linguistic challenge. The beginning ‘Ng’’ is as the ‘ng’ in singer. So to speak to him I have to start sotto voce, “singer, singer, singir, singir, ingir, ingir,  ngir, ngir until I can crescendo the or-ay-ee onto the end, of the ng to make Ng’iroai. It doesn’t do much for spontaneous conversation with that lead in. But as the only things I can say are, come here, tea, and it’s fine, there’s not much chit chat to be had in any case.

My gardener, Jane (thankfully), was thrilled to be in the position of chief translator last night when I gave Ng’iroia  the pep talk about what I expected from him. Wanting to take the lead, I told him it was necessary to walk round the house every 15 minutes to check for burglars. Within half an hour I realised, as the security lights illuminated the garden in a Las Vegas style fountain sequence, that that was ridiculous and we’d need to tone it down a bit. But of course I couldn’t tell him, as Jane had gone back home again, and my Swahili for foreigners, with astonishing predictability, contains nothing more relevant than “I am American, are you Tanzanian? Unfortunately I forgot again tonight to mention the casino effect when I had the chance of being translated, so for another night, Ng’iroai is left walking round and round the garden.



I talk properly to the askaris – night guards – for the first time, now that my own askari has come. I ask them to write their names, and Samuel, the older one with the really terrible teeth – brown and sticking out like Meg the witch’s (the brown comes from too much flouride in drinking water, a common problem in Kenya – funny when we in the West are always trying to add flouride to our children’s teeth) writes SAMWEL MBELE MUNGUTI in bold capitals. But Joseph turns away and says he will bring his ID card. He is not able to write at all. Not even his name. He looks about 15, which means he’s probably 30, and comes from Samburu land in northern Kenya, a region of desert and camels, beads and warriors. Not schools. It is a long time since I’ve met anyone who can’t write a word. Still, he does speak two languages, Kiswahili and Samburu, neither of which I have mastered, which makes for an interesting conversation ten minutes of conversation.

Dog dunking

I took the key and walked out of the garden this morning, down to the pond and bamboo fence. When I helped plant the bamboos three years ago they were shorter than me. Now, coloured like Humpty Dumpty’s pyjama legs, the yellow and green plants arch twenty feet tall with the girth of a wart hog, and are starting to form a beautiful fence.

It was the pond that caused the trouble though. With so much rain the water was high and the ground around laced with gurgling streams and pools, pouring through last season’s maize and cassava plants. To me it looked like a pond covered in weed but to AD it was obviously something else and all that indicated that something was amiss was a small splash and then a brown head was swimming away through the greenery. “Oh that’s nice,” I thought, knowing full well that AD could swim out again. But then in a moment of foolhardy bravado CD leapt too. Whilst AD swam a graceful circle, CD jumped, panicked, tread water, and slowly started sinking until, rather like a crocodile, only his eyes and nose were visible.

The bank where I stood, from where he had leapt, was too steep for him to get out, and with a panic that CD was about to disappear for good,  I had to bottom-slide down the mud, drop a wellied leg in the water and grab first AD by the collar then CD by the whiskers. I felt CD’s relief shimmer up my arm when I caught him and he had something firm to gapple with.

Fully on dry land again and with a good smearing of mud in my hair I felt rather non-plussed as I viewed the bubbles frothing from a tear in the shin of my boot: shampoo packed in the boot for the journey over had leaked, and was now combining with pond water to give my foot and leg a washing of sorts. But AD and CD were far from disturbed by their dunking and although careful to avoid the pond, continued to race and play across the swampy ground and streams oblivious to my cursing.

This is Africa

R’s new environment is generating a constant bombardment of questions.

“Why is there so much mud on the road?”

“Where is all that smoke coming from?”

“What are those people doing standing in the middle of the road?”

“What is that cow doing on the road?”

“Why is that hole in the road so big?”

“Why is it so bumpy?”

“Why are all those people standing on top of the truck?”

“Why is that sheep eating beside the truck?”

“Why is that car driving on the pavement?”

“Why has that truck fallen off the road?”

I try to anwer as clearly as possible,

“It is the rainy season and the mud from the pavements covers the road.”

“There aren’t very many rubbish trucks so people dump their rubbish in huge tips which then burn slowly.”

“Some people can’t see and don’t have jobs or homes and need money.”

“Cows eat grass in the city’s roadsides not in fields.”

And so on. But after a hour’s barrage of questions, I often give the only answer I can think of, “Sweetheart, this is Africa, that’s why.”

Monkies are smart. Dogs are not.

Cheap drugs are one of the great things about living in Africa. Today I purchased a five-day course of Amoxicillin for Angel Dog for just under fifty pence. For those not acquainted with the drug, it is the antibiotic of choice for children with ear infections, bronchitis, coughs and all other trivial, but not very, ailments. It also works perfectly for dogs who’ve been mauled by their friends and don’t want to develop abscesses. So instead of forking out £80 on trip to the vet and three days’ worth of injections, in Africa I can just drop into the local pharmacist and buy whatever I please over the counter. Of course, if I didn’t live in Africa there would be no need for the antibiotics in the first place as there would be no monkey to sit in the avocado tree and spit pieces of fruit at the gaping canine jaws below; never mind wander nonchalantly down to the lowest branches to grab a particularly enticing fruit only inches above the swarming pack, and arouse such a frenzy of fury and frustration that a little doggie altercation would ensue.

Here we are

This is going to be a bad blog, Bad writing, facts not eloquence. Short sentences, no continuity. I want to get the facts down, but I’m sat in front of my ex-landlady’s enormous TV and being hideous distracted by desperate sitcoms. So here are the facts.

The journey seemed easier than that to Little Rock – short-long is definitely easier than short-long-short. As we walked in the door of the Boeing 777 R announced, “Oh this is the one with dinner.” Kenya Airways is a class above Delta. I hope Delta don’t sue me but honestly, clean toilets, hand cream, boxed tissues, smiling faces. What a relief.

Now here was are. It’s rained for 36 hours, but it doesn’t matter. Three lorries turned over on the main road – three in one night is maybe a bit excessive but the event is normal enough in the rainy season. Bad brakes, bad tyres, bad visibility, bad driving. They had been there all night and most of the morning. The only sign of a police man was one nonchalantly checking his mobile by the side of the road.

I didn’t feel excited, not like I did when I was ten and going for my fortnightly riding lesson, but something is still going on. I couldn’t sleep on the plane.

The tube to the plane couldn’t make it all the way, so we stumbled across the runway beside the hulking plane to the airport. R screamed when the headlights of the trucks loomed through the dark and drizzle but traipsed up the tower of stairs oblivious to the three hundred people slowed up behind her.

Now that we are safely ensconced in J’s house, it seems that we have never been away. Yesterday was a day of rest and introductions – R to a medley of dogs, huge and tiny, which she hasn’t quite got to grips with yet. PD and AD are in ecstasy. PD is having a name change: from now on he will be CD, Contented Dog. Gone are all psychotic tendencies. Now the second smallest of eight dogs, he is in his element; one of the pack. Not one growl has left his throat since he arrived a week ago. PD and AD lived with two of these dogs on our last stay in Kenya, and without a doubt they instantly remembered each other two and a half years later. And as for the other five, CD seemed to forget that hated other dogs. So he races the Dobermen across the lawn and round the acacia trees, leaping into their open jaws without hesitation, but has found his sweetheart in Mini, a black and brown Dachshund, with whom he frolics and lolls all day long. PD no more,

Kenyans adore children and everyone everywhere talks to R and wants to say hello. Shaking hands is the normal greeting, to children and adults alike, and although R is rather reluctant to take hold of the proffered hands, she is revelling in the attention. Our landlady, J, has a workshop on her property employing upwards of 15 people. All the women wanted to hold R, pick her up, tickle her, play boo.

I shall start a search for schools next week, but at the moment R is thrilled with the twenty-year-old barbies belonging to J daughter. They all go for rides in a large toy Landrover – lying on the top when there’s no room left inside.

Two days more

My hand was moving over the send button on when the phone rang. I’d just finished typing the email to the shipping agent saying we were having to postpone our departure. I did mange to rent our house for another 2 days, causing brief all-round relief, but currently we lurch from one logistical hurdle to another and within an hour of that resolution all feelingss of relief were overcome by another problem: E’s company failed to give us the go-ahead to move the shipment. The shipper was breathing down my neck for conformation of leaving on the 2nd of April, but suddenly although we now had the house, we didn’t have the money. We realised we were going to have to postpone the move until we could be sure the company would pay the full shipping.

And they had till 7am this morning our time to give us that confirmation. That’s noon in London and 3pm Nairobi time. Plenty of time. At 9.57am, when the shipper could not wait a second longer, I was sending the email with the devastating news. We weren’t going to be leaving after all right now. Probably in two weeks’ time. And maybe selling half of our belongings in the meantime.

Tempers are short at the moment: E and I have to be careful to be nice to each other.  We talked about having to stay here longer well into the small hours of last night. E wanted to start work on time. I didn’t want to be left with two dogs, a three-year-old, an estate sale to organise, a shipment to pack up, a house to clear and clean, a two-day drive with aforementioned dependents to Houston airport, two dogs to check into cargo, and a 36-hour journey to Africa with R to end it all. “Do you think you could do that I,” asked E. “Yes I think so,” he breezed. I wanted to hit him. Quite literally. So I had to leave the room rather quickly. He who until recently couldn’t brush his teeth whilst looking after R? Suddenly he’d become the multi-tasker of all time? Whilst I was the incompetent wifey? I don’t think so.

So when the phone rang at 9.57 this morning and E yelled down it, “they’ve decided. They’re going to pay it,” it was a huge relief. Enormous. Bigger than seems possible now.

We’ve been sleeping on nails, waking at 6.30 every morning after all too short a night, wired with uncertainty. Now we at least had that answer.

At least tonight we’ll sleep more soundly.

And I might find time to phone my Dad at the weekend. Sorry Dad!