We are back. I’m not very good at flipping to England then back to Kenya. I find it unsettling because seeing friends and family and being ‘home’ is too good. My mum said that if we lived in England we would miss Kenya, so you can't win. We were roundly spoiled by everybody, eating, shopping, doing nothing, pleasing ourselves. There are too many goodbyes at the end of it all.
Yesterday my re-entry to Nairobi was the same as usual. The house here felt cold and echoing because we don’t have carpets. Whilst I usually feel our house is cluttered and we have too many things, it suddenly looked bare in comparison to houses in England, with plain walls – not enough colour or pattern. I see damp patches on the ceiling boards, cracks in the wall and tatty rugs with fresh eyes. The initial urge is to renovate or change things. One year in August I bought bits of off cut carpet for our living room to warm it up. Another I splashed out on the dishwasher to bring us up to date with the home.
Yesterday I unpacked six suitcases of stuff; the fruits of frenzied sale shopping. School bags, warm jumpers, pairs of shorts, swimming costumes, t-shirts, trainers, cds. Thank goodness no bags were lost by the airline this time, I wouldn’t have had a clue what was in each one. I’m up to date with extended family and godchildren’s birthday presents to the end of October, all wrapped and posted. I think I now even have our own kids Christmas presents taped. I have been squirreling things away in a high cupboard. After ten years of being an expat, I'm finally learning to think ahead.
I bought a Laura Ashley light fitting this year to go above our dining table. I have never spent money on anything like that before. Gladys and Florence got two pairs of new shoes each. I also realised I had forgotten to buy anything for Shadrack or Jared – last time they got radios, the year before, watches. What shall I do now?
Before putting any newly bought clothes into the children’s drawers, I pulled out old things that were too small (unpacking always becomes a snowball/spring cleaning type of job). For the first time I notice that the old t-shirts and shorts that three weeks ago looked fine, now appear faded, stained and stretched and only fit for the bin. T-shirts have weird brown dots running up the back, rips or splashes of paint that I previously chose not to see.
There was no food in the house so I went to the local supermarket and found that stocks were low, but still managed to fill my trolley to the brim nonetheless. I was brought back to Africa when in the shop I passed an older Kenyan man dressed in a tatty overcoat, clutching an empty basket picking up and putting down small half pint plastic packets of milk, as if torn over whether to take one or not. The lady behind me in the checkout queue stared and stared as I took one item after another out of my basket. She had a giant container of tomatoes and a couple of brown boxes – nothing superfluous. There is currently a sugar shortage and it took me an age to get a canister of gas for some reason.
But beside this, everyone was friendly, greeting one another, smiling, having a joke. It is a massive sweeping generalisation I know, but I thought to myself in the car on the way home; England is all about retail and wanting stuff, keeping up with the latest thing, perhaps an ice making fridge, new clothes for ever variable weather, an i-phone or a flat screen TV - but Africa is more about relationships, making do, hustling and surviving and the rest suddenly doesn’t matter so much does it? I should try to keep this in mind more often - but I still wouldn't mind a new fitted kitchen...!