On returning to Kenya after a very spoiling trip to England, travelling about, staying with family, seeing friends, shopping ..... a lot.... I was surprised at how content I felt to be home in Nairobi this time. Normally I leave England with a heavy heart and think - oh, to live there permanently! - but this time it wasn't so bad. A few things helped. Our eight bags arrived in Nairobi in tact, without getting lost. The guinea pigs were still alive by some miracle (the babies are now fully grown) and the dogs looked very happy to see us. Even the fact that I'd slept not a single wink on the night flight with three children did not get me down. (After midnight, once the children were finally sleeping, I started watching the film 'The Notebook' on the plane. It was so sad it made me cry buckets. When the film was over the air hostesses snapped all the lights on and announced breakfast. While I dashed to the loo to splash my blotchy eyes before being spotted a blubbering wreck, I realised that I had blown my chance of catching any sleep whatsoever.)
I even faced the yawning chasm of an empty fridge undaunted, nipping straight out to the shops (after a couple of hours kip, I admit), then I dealt with the unpacking unusually swiftly and full of excitement.
However, once a couple of bags were unpacked, the rosy honeymoon period of re-entry was disrupted by the foreboding purple of real storm clouds approaching on the horizon. After four apparently dry weeks, on Friday night, we had the mother of all thunderstorms ..... and oh, the rain came down. So much water was pouring in through the roof in a million different places, that we ran out of buckets (and baking trays). We had to move the guest bed in order to keep it dry (guests were arriving the next day), water was literally running in rivulets down the wall inside our linen cupboard, plus pouring through the ceiling boards of our bedroom and one daughter's bedroom. The rain was even dripping through the ceiling in the downstairs dining room! My husband and I kicked ourselves for not fixing these problems much sooner (there are now workmen on the roof as I write).
Next, just before our guests arrived on Saturday, the power went off. With five guests and five of us too, we had to endure a long weekend of absolutely no power until lunchtime Monday. Cold showers all round! Fortunately it hasn't rained since Friday night though, so we've stayed relatively dry in our beds! Plus the workmen worked round the clock over the weekend so they've now finished the guest room roof at least!
In spite of these frustrations I'm still very happy to be home. The fact that Kenya has voted in a new constitution, plus the voting process went smoothly at the beginning of the month, is all very cheering and positive. (I couldn't help sneaking a look at the Nation and Standard online while I was away to check out the voting results).
Since I got back I've been joking with fellow expat friends about our various luggage allowances and how we use them and indeed, how we get our bags to the airport! (To Kenya you are allowed two 23kg bags per person by most airlines).
This year I drove six bags to London, sending two ahead with my brother-in-law who kindly met me with them at the airport and a further two had gone ahead with my husband the week before. Whilst on holiday, in an enthusiastic moment I had bought fun, semi-rigid suitcases that roll along for each of the children, then had to take them back to the shop when I realised that they wouldn't fit in the car! Squashy ones are the only viable option when travelling heavy (as opposed to light!) - But I find that they tend to rip rather easily at the seams.
And what do expats put in all these bags? I'd love your input! When I chatted to a Kenyan school mum friend at Heathrow, I spotted that she had even more luggage than me! The number of bags being checked-in on a Kenya Airways flight is boggling - lucky the plane was only half full or we might have dropped out of the sky!
Personally, I had lots of clothes, and shoes including school ones for the children - even a new school raincoat for my eldest, a cd/stereo (I discovered that you can hardly find these in England nowadays), a years supply of shampoo and conditioner and some new hair straighteners to try! My husband brought back car parts (as usual) and bike parts this time too. In my luggage I had a full size 'Sylvanian Families' hospital and 'Applewood Cottage', pants, socks, electric toothbrushes, a years supply of shampoo - birthday presents for one daughter who turns eight in November and all the kids' Christmas presents that I bought cleverly ahead of time and have now stowed carefully away in a high cupboard, including books, cds and toys, even stocking fillers! Oh, and a fairy-cake maker from Lakeland courtesy of my mother-in-law - which is a present for my daughter. My mother-in-law, having been a former Africa expat herself, has over the years has been a saint for us bringing things like nappies and three sets of roller blades for the girls!
This time, all the bags breezed through customs and I almost wished I'd bought more - until I realised my bank account was properly empty and the hire-car bumper was scraping along the ground. - Last year my most unique purchases were a skateboard and a disco ball!
Last week an English friend said she managed successfully to transport an antique crystal bowl, a glazed painting in a frame and another painting from her granny's house. She always brings in Marmite, instant coffee, chocolate and cheese from England (I did ask - 'what if you bag gets lost? - the cheese could get quite stinky!' She said, 'I live on the edge!!'). She brings Nutella too, even though you can buy it here. 'But sometimes it runs out!' she said, 'I absolutely couldn't bear that!'
A Belgian friend put us all to shame by bringing 12 cases home on Saturday - apparently she had to hire a van to get her and her three kids to the airport! She brought with her, chocolate, various specialist food stuffs, boxes of washing powder (it apparently smells nicer than any locally available), a put-me-up nursery for her husband's pot plants and a cast iron casserole dish.
Arriving at JKIA - we find that we're not the only ones who travel like this. What does everyone else have hidden in their cases bound from Europe to Africa? I'd love to know.