… But near enough.
Maanzoni – twenty odd miles south of Nairobi – is a true haven. We sat on the verandah of Anthea’s weekend hideaway, enjoying the cool breeze.
It is warm inside, where we went in the late evenings to sit beside a roaring fire which heats the water for our morning showers.
Intriguing solar devices are scattered around. You press down on them to produce light. Others, battery-operated, include candle imitators which flicker like real flames. But Anthea prefers using the warm glow of hurricane lamps.
I had an excellent night’s sleep on the very high bed reaching to the window-sill so I can lie there and look out onto Africa. Later, I asked Anthea if I couldn’t just have a little step, to help me onto the bed, as I’m rather short. She snorted her displeasure.
“No Mum. Steps are not allowed. How do you get onto the bed? Show me.”
I showed her, clambering awkwardly onto my stomach and almost wrenching my back in the process of turning over.
“Not like that, Mum. Look – this is how you do it…”
She posed with her back to the bed, then flung her legs up over her head and roly-polyed onto the mattress.
“You try it.”
Casting dignity to the winds, I tried it. And it worked a charm.
She cooked delicious meals for me, then left me for a week. Communing with nature. Soaking up the atmosphere. Every morning the animals passed through the not-quite-dried-up dam. A herd of fifty impala, zebra, giraffe, gazelles. The island is no longer an island because of the severe drought, but a family of hyaenas still live there, and if I’m quick at dusk and dawn, I catch a glimpse of them sneaking in and out.
The birds occupied most of my time, distracting me from writing my new novel and causing me to make daily forays into the bush by car and on foot, armed with binoculars. It is decades since I’ve seen the majestic kori bustard, or a secretary bird, that eater of snakes. I watched a goshawk make many fruitless tries to catch a partridge, then a rabbit. The silly bird fell at least three feet short at every dive.
But all is not completely well in Africa – we are in the real world, after all. Poachers snared an eland and got away with the meat. A hyaena ran amok and bit a night guard. And opportunist contractors anxious to make as much money as possible out of the booming Nairobi construction industry, send in lorries to devastate the private land and steal away the sand. Great gashes have been made in an area of pristine thorn bush. Tunnels undermine the roots. Heavy lorry tracks criss-cross the area.
But Nairobi – glittering, buoyant, chaotic and full of character has bounced back from catastrophe in true African fashion. It is amazing how, after the most serious of droughts, little grass shoots of green thrust upwards within hours. Kenya’s economy is set to boom in 2015 and you get the feeling it could be on the verge of something special. There is an air of expectation among the burgeoning middle class which is exploding in the ever expanding city.
How is it that the rest of the world doesn’t realise what is happening here?