My Kenyan holiday takes on a business-like tone a week after I arrive at the coast. On Monday it’s an early rise, and a smooth drive to Mombasa from Ukunda. We pass countless tuk-tuks precariously plying their trade on three wheels, but there are not so many boda bodas, as the authorities have clamped down on these law-defying entrepreneurs, who clog town traffic. Luckily we have a pass onto the busy Likoni Ferry, so we jump the queues. I would have been late for school, otherwise.
The driver drops me at Aga Khan Academy on schedule at 8.30am, the beginning of the school day. Security is tight, and I have to leave my passport at the gate.
Professor Moses Orwe, who teaches chemistry, greets me at the gate. We had “met” on the Oxford/Cambridge Society page on Facebook. He takes me to meet the Headmaster. Then I am escorted to a hall where, the Professor informs me, the whole of Year Ten – sixty students in all – will assemble to hear my talk. I try to hide my dismay, then steel myself to rise to the occasion. I had been expecting to face one classroom of twenty, and I hope my hearing aids won’t let me down when it comes to question time.
The Head of English listens from the back with a couple of interns, as I test the projection of my voice and then I greet the students. I warm to my subject, giving them tips on writing stories, with short extracts from my novels to illustrate the points. Time races by. The students are responsive, and ask intelligent questions. Only one goes to sleep.
Afterwards, the Head of English is enthusiastic. He’s been looking in vain for Kenyan literature which addresses contemporary issues, and declares he wants to order my book for the Year Tens to study next year. I am astounded and delighted. I donate a signed copy of each book to the school librarian. She isn’t authorised to buy them, but the teacher has said he will order, and I feel it best to strike while the iron is hot, and at least make copies available for him to read.
“We look forward to your next visit!” says Professor Orwe, as he escorts me to the gate to collect my passport. I am in euphoria all the way back to Diani; but I know that obstacles will have to be overcome before I can allow myself too much hope.
The following day I have a lie-in, and find a lovely hot glass of sliced root ginger and crushed quarter lemon waiting outside my room. Then, accompanied by the dogs, I walk to the bottom of the garden and let myself onto the beach for a gentle swim in the calm waters of the Indian Ocean.
An entirely different audience faces me at the local Golf Club at lunch time. Thirty members of the East African Women’s League work casually through the agenda of their Annual General Meeting, and under Any Other Business, five people take turns to stand and promote their causes.
It is the old familiar cry…
“We have too much money in the bank – we must give it away. But it is always the same small hard core few who do the work. More of you must volunteer your time to these causes.”
As the time ticks by, my heart sinks. Nobody will want to listen to my thirty-minute talk, especially as the stewards are starting to lay out the buffet lunch, and enticing aromas drift over the gathering.
Finally, I am called up, and people shift in their chairs.
“Are you sure you don’t want to have lunch first?” I ask.
But the meal isn’t quite ready, so, propped against the bar, I embark on the subject of how charity can – and cannot – work in Africa. The waiters are ready and waiting. I am hungry, too. I hasten to a foreshortened close, and abandoning my books in a higgledy-piggledy spread along the counter, I tuck into a mouth-watering buffet of curries.
It’s great meeting friends, and friends of friends again, and while I chat away, people come up in dribs and drabs bearing books to sign and money to pay. Suddenly, the place has emptied, and all my books are gone.
Afterwards, I ask a friend for feedback on my talk. She suggests I could reduce my emphasis on politics and corruption. “We all know what you mean,” she said. Good point.
We go for some light relief, as I sit watching three ladies have a dancing lesson given by an elegant retired German gentleman. He was a professional dancer and he travels by public transport all the way from Mtwapa on the north coast every week to teach this dwindling group. He’s keen to come, he says, even if only for one person if necessary, to keep the continuity. I tap my feet to the recorded music and smile at the concentration on their faces as they go through the steps. It is a very hot afternoon.
I’ll be glad to return to the heights of Nairobi tomorrow, where it will be cooler.
Loaded with cash from the sale of my books, I treat my hosts to dinner at the new Piripiri restaurant. Joe chooses the best main dish: prawns piri piri – and Les has a scrumptious crème brulee dessert. My prawns are tasty, and compare satisfactorily with the luscious mouth-dripping delicacies I enjoyed the previous week at the Colobus Shade.
Next week, Nairobi!