February is such a bum month. For years as an expat, I thought it was just us my family who thought this, but when you confide a little in friends it becomes apparent that it’s the same scenario for many. They too are strapped for cash and relying on UK visa cards to get them through to pay day.
The reason it’s so awful is simply because you have, nine times out of ten, run out of money completely. In December we had Christmas and in January school fees were to be paid. You think to yourself: ‘Oh well, February is such a short month it will whiz by, it can’t be too bad.’ But in fact it drags on endlessly. The kids’ half term is spent bouncing off the walls at home as it’s not possible to justify a mini break in February. By the end of the month you wonder why in hell you magnanimously gave your household staff a pay rise at the beginning of the year because in actual fact you can’t afford it, but then you remember what a comparatively measly salary they earn and that the work done is worth a hundred times more. Savings must be made elsewhere in the monthly budget.
Almost without fail each year I hone in on my husband and nag him into selling a seldom used, gathering dust ‘toy’ in his collection in order to tide us over on the cost of grocery shopping until March. It could be a cobweb gathering, full size professional spec. surf board (we now live nine hours from the coast, so really?), an ex army two wheel Landrover trailer (who needs one?), or more likely something from his arsenal of motor sport related toys. This year we pinned our hopes on selling some superfluous, ‘Rhino Charge’ super sized Unimog tyres to a lorry breakdown recovery service vehicle who showed some real interest, but sadly in the end drew a blank. It is divine retribution (in light of the amount of toys gathering dust) that my husband’s birthday falls in Feb, so the most he can hope for by way of family presents is pants and socks. (At this point I can hear all you male readers oozing sympathy.)
This year is worse since the country has had the worst couple of months in its history and her future prospects have been carelessly thrown up in the air like a pack of cards. We still don’t know exactly how they will land so are left pondering: ‘Can we still afford to live here now that the shilling has depreciated and the cost of living has risen?’ ‘Why did we invest here? We should have invested in somewhere more stable. Now it’s too late.’ ‘Should we realistically consider leaving at some stage? Our rosy future we had planned out in Kenya looks somewhat bleaker these days.’
While the international press have depicted Kenyans as a machete wielding lawless mob, the truth is that most people feel let down by politics, frustrated by politicians and utterly disillusioned. They are many, many times less well off than they were eight weeks ago. The troubles of a poor Kenyan are almost impossible to quantify by a Westerner. While we bemoan the fact that the cost of food has gone up, the shilling has depreciated and our futures are uncertain, some might have lost family members to brutal murder, watched their homes go up in smoke along with all of their belongings, watched friends being wounded or maimed, lost jobs which once provided the only means of getting food and surviving, others have even lost their children in the chaos of being displaced and all in one fell swoop. For people like me, that would all be far, far too much to bare, but for many Kenyans it’s just life and still somehow they heroically keep going in the usual hopes that: ‘Mungu atasaidia’ (God will help).