From Shifting Sands to Deeper Dimensions (Part 1)
By Moraa Gitaa (Kenya)
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Dedicated to my departed friends; Rosemary, Anita, Faith and Lorna. God Speed.
Malindi – Kenya…
Retracing Ernest Hemingway’s imaginary footsteps on the pristine white beach, I recall his novel
which clinched him the Nobel prize in the fifties, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ a truly intriguing
Parisian saga. Nelson Mandela’s words also resound in my head… “There is nothing like
returning to a place that remains unchanged, to find the ways in which you yourself have
But no quote beats my Papa’s mantra as we grew up: “Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake.”
“Every person will carry their own cross…” It was his favorite when lecturing on dangers of premarital sex. He’d never come out with it in so many words, but like talking drums going ‘kabum, kadun, kabum…’ he would always repeat himself.
Like the instance when he declared (via mum, of course) my favorite garlic a banned substance in our home saying that the onion fueled sexual libidos. Not in so many words when I pushed him, but true to tradition he would say in Swahili “Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…” The words stuck with me and I would always remember them later in life when in catch 22 situations.
How I’ve changed since the three years that I was on this beach, for a happier though temporarily out of money occasion, and not to scatter my friend’s ashes to the Indian Ocean and four winds.
The mundane thought of how few Kenyans have the privilege of strolling on a private beach which is part turtle nesting conservation entered my mind.
The on-set of the Easterly Monsoon winds, which compete with the receding Harmattan across from the Sahara seem to be a week ahead of schedule. The ripping sensation of the wind slashes through my hair as we get out of the speedboat. My friend’s mum clutches possessively the now empty urn that had kept her daughter’s ashes safe. Minute granules that have now been scattered to sea near her girl’s favorite dolphin territory to fulfill her last wishes.
My late friend’s German husband points out that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Hollywood stars are on vacation up the beach. Strange how fickle human nature dictates that we suffer collective amnesia in the wake of celebrity tidbits forgetting the noble fact that Jolie’s in Kenya as UN Goodwill Ambassador with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, UN Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals.
It’s small wonder, that when people come from sojourns in the Kenyan North and South Coasts, they ask us mere mortals how the rest of Kenya is doing! Maybe that’s why Swahili sages said “Mombasa raha. Kuingia harusi, kutoka matanga.” (‘’Coming to Mombasa is fun, leaving is a very sad affair.”)
My memory shifts back a couple of months ago…
It was on one of my visits since my best friend Myra’s health started failing.
I told her that I was a proper Christian now. One who reads her Bible daily and practices Christianity. She told me I was just switching from flights of fancy that is my writing’s insanity to another form of insanity!
As I had watched her lying in her large ornate Lamu carved bed, her slight frame wasted, a chill feathered up and down my spine as I remembered how as small girls we would rub chicken droppings on our gums to make our permanent teeth grow faster as my grandmama told us.
Goosebumps pushed through my clammy skin as I remembered how on one of our numerous holidays in the highlands of Kenya, we were taught how to make strong ropes for tethering the flocks.
….Myra had woken up suddenly and our eyes had met and locked fiercely in a time wrap-like embrace. We were trying hard not to talk of her impending death yet she was on her deathbed and too far gone. I shivered at my morbid thoughts. Why do people avoid reminiscing when death beckons?
Our eyes filled with tears. A somber mood engulfed us and we started talking about our innocent youth. Lost and never to be recaptured.
We could see our-selves happy-go-lucky in our school bus on an educational tour to the
game reserve. We were ten years old and belting out our croaky renditions of Christian
Pollyanna’s song: “…If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, If you’re happy
and you know it clap your hands, If you’re happy and you know it and you surely want to show it,
If you’re happy and you know clap your hands…If you’re happy and you know it click your
fingers…stamp your feet…shout hurray…say we are…do them all...”
We became fast friends courtesy of school’s admission criteria that saw us selected to a semi-
private one with poor and wealthy students. We remembered how the other student’s flashy rides
made her vow to get herself out of the poverty she’d been brought up in.
Always at the back of my mind, father’s voice would whisper ‘Kila mtu atabeba mzigo wake…’
echoing subconsciously near like a cross between a watchful African King Vulture and an Albatross hovering protectively.
We learnt fast that in Africa coming from the wrong side of the tracks meant literally that, because a railway track almost always divides the classes. We would stare across the railway track that divided our shanties from the high-rise KPA (Kenya Ports Authority) apartments and wonder if it was true that railway crossings in Africa are a preserve of djinns meeting at midnight.
Every time Myra lacked fare to catch a ride home on a matatu, the flamboyantly hand-painted passenger vans expressing Kenyan street art culture with conscious hip-hop booming from large speakers and I would pay for her or volunteer to walk home with her, she repeated her vow. Every time one stared at burgers, hotdogs, sodas and ice cream in the school cafeteria, you were reminded of much you wanted it all.
When one of us lacked sanitary pads and borrowed from the other, the vows were reinforced just
like our daily Girl Guide’s motto.
We remembered how I talked to her on a rite I underwent when I was eleven. FGM. Female Genital Mutilation. Female circumcision. Whatever. A rite I barely understood but which changed my life, leaving an indelible mark. How back from my gruesome December holidays we took mirrors, removed our knickers and squatted so that we could see the difference. I was cut and she wasn’t.
We reminisced on our youth in high school. On an incident that broke her heart. How one day when she’d been sent away for lack of school fees, she’d locked herself in her working boyfriend’s apartment to catch up on revision while he was at work, only for the door to be opened by another lady who ‘also’ had a key. The woman claimed to be her boyfriend’s ‘wife’ from Nairobi with their two children in tow. It became an ugly scene when my friend discovered that ‘her‘ man a centre-forward on the National Basketball team had been playing her.
Our friendship was a journey fraught with mishaps. Including my obsession with anything in print!
In high school, hiding novels in between huge chemistry tomes, to appease my insatiable thirst. Having to call my parents to school to make me promise that I would pay attention in class.
How my dad thoroughly spanked me when he found me reading the pornographic ‘After 4.30’ by David Mailu.
Classes were another burden. From a tender age I’ve been an avid reader.
Most irritating was that in lower primary school our teachers expected me to join in class reads like ‘Hallo Children’ and ‘Read with Us’, when by age ten I was reading Dambudzo’s ‘House of Hunger’, Lamming’s ‘In the castle of my skin’, Ngugi’s ‘Weep not Child’ and Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace.’ Books I got from my dad and elder brother.
To confound matters, expect me to meekly sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ when I was used to listening to classics by Fundi Konde, Jim Reeves, Isaac Hayes, Fadhili Williams, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye in Papa’s car?
In that same car in the late seventies I heard my cop dad swear ‘Bloody Fucking!’ at a jay walker.
My seven-year old mind was immensely fascinated by the ‘F’ word and wondered what it meant. It was my first time to hear it and I prayed that we would almost run down jay walkers everyday so that I could catch a glimpse of that side of my father which he rarely revealed.
I’m startled out of my reverie and we continue to reminisce.
...of parents who never wanted to discuss matters pertaining to sexuality because it was considered ‘mwiko’ (Swahili for taboo.) We were left to our own devices. At least today my daughter has a Guiding and Counseling teacher and Sunday school teachers who are no longer conservative but conduct ‘Girl-Boy’ talks.
We laughed over our many broken hearts. How I would run to her when I lost a boyfriend because I’d refused to sleep with him…
Escapades at our first disco. Without permission from the ‘stiff upper lipped’ old folks.
How one of our friends was raped and the next morning cops were at our doorstep because I was the last one seen with her. I was lucky it was the school holidays and my parents were at work.
Our friend was traumatized; she couldn’t talk and was hospitalized. Eventually our parents found out and we got a terrible hiding, tongue-lashing and more than a grounding!
Our minds switched back to how another prominent ’rich’ schoolmate had a safe abortion.
It was illegal, but there she was at a prominent hospital, the operation done by an equally prominent doctor, courtesy of her equally prominent wealthy mother. We learnt early that in prominent Kenya anything goes if you have the prominent quid.
Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…Papa’s voice would shout in warning always so subtle, yet
so powerful and kept me out of trouble.
The paradoxes of our motherland’s rich versus poor policy. The have and have-nots.
Against our advice, another ‘prominently’ poor friend went to ‘prominent’ back street quacks who botched the operation using crude methods. Foreign bodies remained in her womb. We didn’t know it and thought she was lucky to be alive.
Weeks later she developed complications and died. Her uterus had rotted because she was scared of seeking assistance. I remember her dying and telling us never to undertake such a risk.
Another friend died immediately after high school because she wanted to get married to her high school sweetheart and their parents refused over some long standing family feud coupled with the dynamics of coming from different ethnic backgrounds.
She roasted herself. Poured kerosene on her body from head to toe and lit the matchstick.
She died a week later. An agonizingly painful demise. On her deathbed she held the hands of both mothers and told them that she’d died to reconcile them. That the two families should henceforth stop the grudges.
Kabum…kadum…Baba’s voice would thunder Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…
Sisters always stick together. Through my teen years my parents were always fighting.
I would sometimes seek solace and refuge at Myra’s home.
We went to college together and through more drama. Another sister’s fiancé threatened with bankruptcy committed suicide. He drove his car off the ferry ramp and into the Indian Ocean.
We had to be there for her. The shock caused her to miscarry.
Our subsequent entry into the job market and encounters with amorous bosses.
Kabum…kadum…Baba’s voice would hiss, Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…
Enter HIV-Aids era and another sister’s husband died. He never told her he’d been diagnosed HIV positive. He hid his status. Callous doctors revealed it to her a couple of days after the funeral. Early Nineties style with no counseling sessions. She collapsed and died from the resultant shock.
Their children suffered an unceremonious paradigm shift from chauffeurs and exclusive private schools and shipped off to live with grandparents and assimilated into rural public schools.
No savings. No food. Their father had squandered the family wealth treating himself.
How excited you were when I was pregnant with my baby. One would be forgiven to think that it was you expecting a baby, but you had decided not to have children. You couldn’t risk exposing your child to the virus, because by then there was no neverapine.
How you were there for me when I broke up with my baby’s father. How you constantly castigated me for sitting on my vagina or my ATM (Automated Teller Machine) when I was broke or as as you fondly referred to using one’s sex appeal or favors as * Barclays Bank.
Kabum…kadum…Baba’s voice would cry, Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…
I remember how you once told me that before you met your husband, you’d been using your
Barclays Bank efficiently, and had seen so many penises that were you to attach them end to
end, you would be able to supply piped water to your father thousands of miles away at your
village in the highlands, but finally it was this one penis that brought you that elusive happiness,
inclusive of a Lamborghini in the driveway of your own ten bed-roomed beach mansion.
Now here we are. It’s almost twenty years since you tested HIV positive, sure proof of what the
power of love, a positive outlook on life, good nutrition, healthy eating habits and a cocktail of anti-retrovirals can do. As we reminisced I suddenly blurted, “Look where your Barclays bank has landed you!”
* Apologies to Barclays Bank (No offense meant. Coded talk that refers to prestige)
We laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks and you started coughing uncontrollably in pain
and your mum smelling of incense and aroma of fresh ‘kahawa thungu’ the thick strong coffee
made the coastal you had come to love so much came in to check on you.
She couldn’t understand how we could be laughing so hard yet you were dying. I told her,
“Ma, we’re talking about Barclays Bank and ATM’s. You wouldn’t understand!”
As we burst out laughing more uproariously she went out puzzled, shaking her head but
with a smile on her lips and a look in her eyes that said, “At least you’re making her laugh.”
It’s sad that now one can’t go to public beaches anymore for a quiet time. The minute you sit down with a book, beach-boys ‘hit’ on you. It’s even worse for our young ones. I can’t let my twelve year-old daughter go to the easy access ones like Pirates or Jomo Kenyatta with her friends without fear of molestation, or hard drugs like cocaine and heroin being introduced to them.
…It’s sun-set and the sun is sliding into the horizon. I’m alone on the beach. The others have gone to the mansion and left me to my grief.
I sit down on the wet sand and start sobbing. I howl until there are no more tears left.
I’ve not cried so much in many years. I never do seem to have time to cry.
I recall my daughter’s voice a few days ago…
“Mummy, has Aunt Myra died and gone to Jesus? Won’t we be going to her beach house no more?”
I can’t believe you are gone. Not you. I still need you so much, even if I’m thirty-secret years young as we put it. You were almost the last of my remaining few friends. No wonder I’ve been experiencing panic attacks, heart palpitations and night-sweats. Irregular heartbeats and suffocation engulfs me at night. The ceiling seeming to swoop down hard on my chest. I pray I don’t get a cardiac arrest!
I thank God for grandma though, who never relied on conventional medicine, but introduced us to alternative cures like herbs that added more years to your life. Many of our buddies have died in rapid succession, Celine, Lorna, Nduku, Maria, Lorraine, Achieng…
When will we be honest about AIDS? When are we going to stop reading in obituaries about ‘‘Cancer’’ and ‘‘long illnesses bravely borne?’’
You had all this wealth but you left it behind to your relatives because you didn’t have children. Your mum. Your dad. Brothers and sisters.
I give your people credit though for not insisting on their full traditional burial rites, maybe because you left them well provided for. Bungalows, high-rise flats and other investments.
Even when your grandma insisted that she be given a banana stem to signify your body which she said your mum was throwing away to evil spirits at sea when she heard of your cremation, an event she still can’t comprehend, your mum stood her ground to protect your wishes.
By stating in your final will and testament that you wished to be cremated and your ashes scattered to sea, you threw their words back at them. Made them eat humble pie, wishing they’d never spoken those words, those years back. Whoever said that words can never be taken back was dead right!
Today as this patriarchal society confining you to the periphery of the community and denying you a social identity watched your German husband let go your ashes, their words must have come back to haunt them. “Muka gati kwao…” A woman has no permanent abode…. “Muka gati mwiriga…” A woman has no clan… And some had added “Especially if she has Aids…”
Yet here they were today, scattering their daughter to the winds instead of laying her to rest with her ancestors back at the village. It’s a lesson for my people who tell women “Mokungu tabwati sobo…” “A woman has no home…”
I’m trying to understand your wish for cremation. I would have preferred a grave where I can
visit you with your favorite blooms of Lily of the Valley. I went into encyclopedias to try and
demystify the origins of cremation.
‘The word “Cremation” comes from the Latin word “cremo,” which means “to burn”,
particularly the burning of the dead. Cremation was the norm with ancient Greeks and Romans.
They believed in immortality of the soul and saw no reason to give special attention to
the body, which they looked at as a prison. Cremation is the process where the body is
incinerated by intense heat and flame. All substances are consumed and vaporized except
bone fragments and any non-coSmbustible materials, which usually weigh approximately two to
four kilograms. The bone fragments are pulverized after cooling into finely ground granules.
The remains or “Cremains” as some prefer to call them are commonly known as ashes…
It seemed to me a cold (pardon the pun) impersonal way to send off a loved one.
A few days after my ‘research,’ there I was, tears stinging my eyes as I watched you
being laid on the byre. Your cremation and then smoke billowing from the chimney of the
At the funeral home a few days earlier, I remember finding it hard to believe you were dead as I
lovingly un-plaited your now unkempt human-hair weave and combed out your sparse hair
for your cremation.
For days as you’d lain reposed at the funeral home, every evening as I came to ‘visit’ you before
attending your wake at your home, I would look at you and remember Unoka’s words,
Okwonkwo’s father in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ “…Whenever I see the mouth of a
dead man, it reminds me of the folly of not eating well while one is alive…”
Later, I would have this incorrigible nightmare that like Sophie Mol in Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of
Small Things’ you would suddenly turn and flip into a couple of our beach cartwheels and come
back to us alive. But it wasn’t to be.
In the enfolding darkness, the encroaching African dusk creeps in by surprise as usual like a
huge dark blanket. As I stand up a gigantic wave slaps into my slight frame and sweeps me off
my feet. Dazed, I land on the hard wet sand with a thud. A pinch on my bottom from a scurrying
crab and a sting on my big toe from a sea urchin brings me abruptly back to my senses. I’m
soaked from head to toe and my bare-back halter top and flimsy string shorts are no help against
the chill. A piece of red floating a few meters away catches my eye. It is Milan Kundera’s novel
‘IDENTITY’ which I’d been reading in the speed boat. Strangely I think of the ‘I’ in ‘Identity’ as my
persona. My alter ego floating away with your ashes. My split personality lost at sea.
My writing comes to mind. My salvation. My saving grace.
My friend, the scars on our bodies are heliographs of pain, so that humanity and
mankind blind as they all come can read us like Braille.
I’ll never forget your encouragement. Telling me to keep writing even if I’m never published.
I wish I could have embers of a bonfire to signify mourning just like my people in the
highlands of Kisii do. They would keep the fire burning beside the fresh soil of your grave for a
week and family must adhere to this stipulation. Your next of kin must not leave the
‘ekeroba’ (the fresh soil of the grave) before one has all condolences from well-wishers or
misfortune will haunt them.
But I will not have your ekeroba. As always you’ve chosen the unconventional and decided your
resting place should be the waters off Sardinia Two, the wondrous isle your husband bought
you as a fifth wedding anniversary, the millions of shillings he spent seeming to him like a few
coins. An isle which enhances its mystery by remaining visible for eight hours in the daytime
during low tide and becoming completely submerged during the high tide.
Few locals know of its existence. It’s not marked on the Kenyan map due to its minuscule size.
I remember our mud baths with high sulphur content believed to clear blemishes. Italian tourists
who were said to have taken an intense interest in the small spit of sand about three decades ago
named it Sardinia Two after the Italian island of the same name.
Now I have to accept that you are gone and move on with life, but I can’t stop missing you.
Everywhere I go I feel your ethereal presence. We were practically co-joined at the hip like Siamese twins! Sometimes I would act like the Pope of Fools in Victor Hugo’s ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ yet like the imitable Melchizedek in Paul Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ you always knew with your subtle innuendoes how to nudge me gently in the direction of my dreams and like the shepherd boy Santiago I’ve listened to all sorts of voices where my writing is concerned.
If I were to read out each entry from my diary of scars etched on my body, it would be like reading an almanac of dreams.
I can’t let all be lost in the ashes of my dreams. Before you died you reminded me that the greatest enemy to my dreams is me. I am the most lethal weapon that can be used against my dreams. I must conquer my fears first before conquering my dreams.
‘Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake...’ Indeed.
My friend. This is an ode to you.
I lower my head in pain. In your obituary in the local dailies the caption above your smiling face
had said, ‘Celebrating a life well lived.’ I will miss you. I thought we’d grow old together.
I stroll towards the house as my mind slips back three years to how happy and carefree you were,
despite being HIV positive you had found someone to love you.
Most of your deaths my friends, have had to do with poverty. An incapacitating drudgery that
makes you yearn for more than you have. And that yearning is not a sin. Or is it?
We share a History. Just the way History can be spelled without the ‘O’ and still
be pronounceable – Histry. The ‘O’ is a big zero in our histories. A circle of nothingness.
Our vaginal cervixes. A shared history of continued want.
Time jumps are common to me now as I remember how on alternate school
holidays, we would visit our Grandmothers. We could go to the river to fetch
water, balancing pots on our heads and delicately traversing slippery ridges.
Once at grandma’s we would gracefully shift the pot from head to knee, steady it
there for a couple of seconds, and bring it down onto the earthen floor, all in one swift
sweeping, graceful motion.
And the spittle rule! Grandma would spit on the ground. Before the blob of spittle dried in
the sun, we were supposed to be back, or we’d be punished. It was her ingenious way of
ensuring that we didn’t get into mischief on the way.
Most recently, I remember how you once wished for death. You had lost hope. You were at the
doctors in this high rise tower. Your breath had filmed the glass, your bitter self-recriminations
had faded, and there’d only been the distant pavement glinting and beckoning seductively at
…Until that afternoon, your infrequent considerations of suicide had always been along succinct, logistical lines, but that afternoon in the skyscraper, gazing down fourteen floors at the shimmering square pavement stones, your normally acute mental faculties had been distorted, and your thoughts had floated like insubstantial wisps of vapor that could not be grasped.
But you never did take that fatal jump, because you suddenly realized that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem…
You have a come a long way. From washing coffee beans and picking tea leaves as we chanted ‘Two leaves and a bud…’ over the school holidays to owning beach apartment blocks and four-wheel drive vehicles and finally succumbing to your death.
I think back three years.
Father’s voice as always…kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…
Indeed, we all have our personal crosses to carry.
Three years ago…
I strolled on the deserted beach, my shadow a solitary silhouette. Gazing at the sun shrouded by
dark clouds, I willed my fortitude and serenity to control my fears and frustrations.
An indecent proposal had come my way. How could I be thinking of that proposition?
Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake…my fathers voice echoes in my mind.
Cross-legged, I sat on the beach and scooped the fine sand letting it slip
through my fingers to be blown by the wind. I loved it here. A secret rendezvous for my thoughts
when looking for an escapade.
I remember our many shared holidays in the highlands. Milking the cows, trying to
outdo one another before getting our winnowing trays. Trying to outdo one another again to see
who would hold the traditional tray ‘oroteru’ correctly as we swirled it round and round to
separate the chaff from the grains of rice, beans or pigeon peas, our competitive natures rising to
ensure only our arms swayed and not our entire bodies as we twirled the hyacinth reed tablets
towards the direction of the wind.
I sigh again as my mind slips back to the present and my reminiscing.
My daughter was almost through Kindergarten. I needed a substantial amount of money to
cover tuition and admission fees for first grade at elementary school. Some friends said
that I had too much pride. I could not bring myself to borrow money.
The cold water seeping into my jeans jerked me back to the present. The tide was coming in.
I stood up when I heard the barking of dogs. My friend had sent them to look for me.
I’d told Myra that I wanted to be back in Mombasa by ten and it must be almost nine now.
The friendly Dobermans rushed at me, I bent down to pat Bibi and Bwana’s heads.
It was my last day here. Soon I was in deep meditation reflecting on my host’s proposal.
If you’re reading this you’ll think I’m digressing. Let me take you back to how it all
began last week…
Whoever was behind the wheel hooted severally and hooted again incessantly.
I stopped when I realized the driver was trying to attract my attention.
The metallic gray Lexus glided to a stop.
The tinted window on the passenger side whirred down automatically. I stooped to see who was
driving. I managed an inaudible ‘Hi Myra,’ as I looked at my friend.
I’d not seen her since January and we were now nearing December.
She opened the door for me. She explained that she’d been trying to get my attention all the way
from the *CBD (Central Business District) but it had been difficult in the lunch hour traffic.
She’d managed to end her pursuit and caught up with me on Nyerere Avenue. Ending her
explanation with expletives and an exasperated ‘Where the hell are you walking to anyway?’
I replied that I was walking to Mama Ngina Drive. It had become my haven in turbulent times,
where I go to meditate gazing at cruise and cargo ships entering our waters to drop anchor and
dock as others leave, the passenger and vehicle ferries to and fro the Likoni channel, the
occasional speed boats, gliders and sail boats.
‘Sweetheart. What’s wrong? Is your little girl ok?’ She asked after my five-year old
daughter, ‘First of all, come here girl and give me some love!’ She exclaimed, giving me
a hug. We started talking nineteen to the dozen.
We had changed jobs and lost contact. She asked if she could buy me lunch at the Nyali Beach
Hotel. I told her the North Coast was too far away as I only had an hour to spare, and suggested
Dorman’s the popular coffee outlets in town. She turned and headed downtown.
We were soon having our meal as I explained the financial constraints I was facing.
Since leaving the Hotel industry following the *1997 clashes in Likoni, my salary hardly met
* Politically instigated ethnic clashes in Likoni, South coast of Kenya in 1997 a general election year.
basic needs or provided enough to pay for my daughter’s tuition fees.
I asked what she’d been up to. I remembered that she’d quit her last job and literally disappeared
off the face of the earth.
She told me that she was now residing in Malindi and was in business.
A warning bell went off in my head when she said that the wheels she was driving were hers,
fully paid for. Kila mtu atabeba msalaba wake. I remembered my father’s words.
I asked her what sort of business could pay for such a car in just nine months.
‘Oh…. this and that.’ She vaguely replied.
I insisted on an explanation, because I knew before she quit her last job she hadn’t saved a
single Kenyan cent!
‘I’ve linked up with some foreign investors and we have cottages we let out to
tourists…sort of holiday homes….you know what I mean….’
The warning bell in my head turned to a siren.
Her tone of voice was not convincing and had a fake ring to it.
‘No Myra, I don’t know what you mean!’ I said emphatically ‘Where did you get
your share of the capital?’
I was skeptical about her explanation and I told her so to her face, we started laughing. We could
share anything. The last time we’d been together, we’d been snorkeling and frolicking with
dolphins off Wasini Island famous for two twin Islands, Mpunguti wa juu which is Swahili for upper
Islet and Mpunguti wa chini Swahili for lower Islet and Kisite Marine Park a re-known reserve of
dolphin territory. I remember disembarking from Mv Taisiri and wading in knee-deep water to
reach the shore.
Another time it had been the Mv Ashraf. We’d played with the groups of females with their
calves. The hump backs and spotted dolphins had looked awesome as they kissed each other on
their snouts and leapt into the air in synchronized pairs. They would swim close almost touching
us and glide under and away, in a jesting manner, only to return again and again.
Our guide had told us that the dolphins liked the protected reef with unique corals which
rivaled Australia’s Great Barrier.
The mammals normally swam up the Shimoni channel around the Eastern edge of the Island.
That day there had been more than ten, tame and absolutely fascinating.
Wasini, an archipelago few know, was once loved by the Chinese and bombed by the Germans.
Arab conquerors had called the island Wasini because of the Chinese traders who had
frequented it for ivory and mangrove poles in exchange for porcelain and cloth.
History has it that Sheikh Mohamed Issa Bin El-Mandry built the Island’s first water tank in 1885,
but the Germans, who had colonized what is now Tanzania, had bombed the water tank during
the First World War.
What a rich history. A thousand metre boardwalk; Sea birds and marine turtles; Jutting fossil coral
outcrops with Swahili names for their shapes:- Jiwe la Simba - Shaped like a lion. Jiwe la Jahazi -
Shaped like a dhow. Jiwe la Ndovu - Shaped like an elephant. Jiwe la Mtu - Shaped like a
human being. Later we would have Dinner at Charlie Claw’s restaurant. A melting pot of
I remember how we’d pretend we were Tin Tin, or mimic Captain Haddock screaming
‘Thousands of blue bilious blistering thundering typhoons!’ and their companion, the eccentric
absent-minded Professor Calculus who kept begging everyone’s pardon and asking them to
repeat what they had just said!
‘Hellooo? Are you there? You seem to have wandered into your own world.’ Myra’s
disembodied voice intruded on my memories..
I came back to earth. ‘Sorry, I did wander off. I was reminiscing about the last time we were
together at Wasini.’ I replied dreamily.
‘Well you don’t have to dream.’ Myra said ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’
‘Like what?’ I countered.
‘Like come visiting.’ She said. ‘Malindi Is not exactly Wasini, but we can re-enact a bit, can’t we?’
In the end, I reluctantly let her know that I had a free weekend coming up starting the very next
day, but that I was flat broke.
‘Finances are not very favorable at the moment,’ I told her.
‘Nonsense!’ was her prompt reply.
She fished out her credit card. In a couple of minutes we were driving to the Air Kenya offices.
It was like I was in a whirlwind.
The time jump swiftly whispers into my head. This is not my friend, but a different
person. Where was the girl with whom we would expertly place our milk gourds on our thighs,
and coax ghee out of cuddled milk to get cholesterol-rich cooking fat and home-made body
In a thud I came back to the present, and fifteen minutes later I had my plane ticket to Malindi for
the following day in my hand.
I stared at the ticket bemusedly. Little did I know that the week-long hiatus in Malindi was going to
be a defining moment of my life, shifting to new perspectives and deeper dimensions…
Continued in Part 2