I must admit that being a housewife and mother in Kenya is normally an easy ride, especially as we are backed up by stacks of help around the house and garden. However, hosting house guests means taking on a stack of extra roles thus stretching our ex-pat comfort zones more than a little.
It’s all a bit of a shock to the system to have friends and family to stay for extended periods. Unused to such extra exertion it can, over the weeks, can bring us hosts to our knees. Friends and neighbours look on in sympathy as we scream out of the school car park at high speed and squeeze in a frenetic supermarket sweep with trolleys spilling over, between driving guests to see the elephant orphanage and signing them in for a swim at the club.
The new jobs include; full time chauffeur, food co-ordinator (and cook if you are unlucky enough not to employ one), day planner and personal guide (day trips/beach holidays and safaris also must be organised) and all this alongside other daily chores such as school runs. Making sure we have bread, milk and eggs every day is sometimes above and beyond normal capabilities. Used to early nights and early mornings, visitors are dispatched to their quarters in short order and given an early wake up call by our three children, as Mr W drums his fingers at the breakfast table.
When guests arrive with children the meal quotas double and children’s supper becomes a military operation. Little noses turning up and mouths grimacing at homemade spaghetti bolognaise sends my blood pressure soaring. Planning self catering holidays is also not easy, as you strain to remember salt and pepper, then arrive and proceed to become an autocrat in charge of meal planning with food strictly rationed as shops are usually a good few hours drive away. Predicting how much is enough drinking water is a nightmare.
Overseas ‘work’ visitors assume things must operate like clockwork in the home, especially in light of all the lovely help we have. Children generally should not be seen or heard as the finer points of office politics are thrashed out on the veranda, beer in hand long into the late evening. The truth is often a little different at bedtime as the three children decide to hit a sugar high and scream around the house after supper, or they insist on hearing the umpteenth story when supper for the adults really should be under way.
It’s impossible to send a guest out for a pint of milk as the unfamiliarity of the potholed roads, indigenous driving style, ad hoc shops and weird looking groceries floors everyone, reducing usually perfectly capable people to prisoners under virtual house arrest. It’s only with excessive hand holding that visitors are tempted to venture out, negotiating through street hawkers, beggars and strange denominations of foreign currency.
The upsides of having house guests are the lengthy chats over jovial dinners, or whilst looking out over game filled waterholes at sun downer time. Finding time to embark on intrepid adventures into the bush or relaxing at the coast with good company. Children are in heaven with friends to play with 24/7 and/or grannies who patiently read endless stories and make time for colouring in. When guests leave the house is quiet and there is a flat feeling for a day or two, before we get caught up again with the humdrum of the next arrivals.