Nairobi, Kenya (8 May 2002)
“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
Sermons and soda-water the day after.”
â€“ Lord Byron
Planning adventures is much more fun than actually undertaking them – sitting hunched over a map, dunking homemade cookies in mugs of steaming tea, lost in a happy, heroic daydream. I wanted to cycle through the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Generally speaking, countries with ‘Democratic’ in their title are not. Therefore I needed hard facts on the advisability of such a venture.
The Kenyan phone system is pretty haphazard, but after several pleasant (yet not particularly helpful) misdirected calls to a lady in a bookshop I finally got through to the DRC embassy. They thought that I was mad and said ‘do not go’. Now I really wanted to go! So I spent an afternoon phoning brave people with hands-on, personal experience of the conditions in the country. Eventually a hard-as-nails, 8-foot-6, muscle-bound South African guy said, “It may possibly be a bit iffy there”. For a South African to utter such wimpish wailings of fear and danger convinced me: if DRC is “a bit iffy” for him, then I’m off to Tanzania instead!
But before that I am due some loafing time. Nairobi is a perfect place to unwind after the delights of Ethiopia. I keep meeting people who came for two weeks and are still here decades later! “Round the World by Bike – temporarily postponed until retirement…”
Let me give you an idea of why people do not leave in a hurry: The sounds of sizzling bacon and popping champagne corks – breakfast on a silent escarpment high above the Great Rift Valley. (Talking of the famous ‘Cradle of Mankind’, haven’t we done a good job evolving? Champagne and bacon sandwiches are undoubtedly the result of inspired evolution. Pat yourselves on the back, humans!)
A good man (I won’t tarnish his reputation as a respectable young businessman by naming and shaming him) took me for a night on the town – a long trail of increasingly disreputable haunts leading eventually, and inevitably, to the casino. Miraculously we broke even and stumbled into the night gorged to a state of amiable contentment on free drinks and toasted sandwiches.
Then a series of lunches / cups of tea / camel treks / excesses of wine and colonial club dinners with a string of fascinating (and usually mad) people: artists, a guy who flew a tiny plane to New Zealand, soldiers, a man organising a relay race around the world, actors, a camel expert, writers, a lady who crossed the Sudan on a camel, colonial lion-hunter types and a charming chap who almost punched my lights out for beating him at pool. People here do not exist; they live.
A group of amusing and mad women decided they should find me a girl. After much entertaining gossip about the relative charms, availabilities and dimensions of Nairobi’s youth they settled on one name. Hence I was whisked off on an immediate and painfully contrived shopping expedition to purchase (urgently) a milk jug from her shop. And so followed the world’s first ever attempt at matchmaking in the midst of a pottery shop.
Memorable, hilarious and spectacularly unsuccessful. This girl was beautiful. The type so beautiful that the only way to woo them is through a Swiss bank account. Bicycles, T-shirts (grubby) and flip-flops are a non-starter. It was probably just as well: I found out later that her boyfriend (who owns a jet and a ranch) has a tendency to beat the crap out of anyone who so much as buys a milk jug from his girl. Somebody recently went to his father to complain about his boorish behaviour. Father promptly punched the visitor. Charming family. Kenyan living…
I’ll be back on the bike soon; but not too soon!
“I know I have to go away”
â€“ Cat Stevens
I will never know whether I made the right decision to go away and leave her. But I made that decision and now it is finally over. In some ways it was over the day I said to her, “I have to go away”. Maybe it was over with the final aching kiss, cycling up the hill, tear-blurred, away from home and my previous life. But now it is definitely over.
I have cried my way to Kenya, agonising over whether I made the right choice for us, broken hearted and learning to understand my love for her, as I had never truly done before. I missed her and longed to phone, yet knew that the sound of her voice would have pushed me straight to the nearest airport. I have woken in the desert night, pitch black, cool and silent convinced that I had heard her voice or felt her beside me. But there was never anybody there.
Not a day has gone by when I have not questioned what I am doing. In some ways it has been the worst eight months of my life. It has certainly been the saddest and the loneliest. But we both knew I had to go away; I had to do this.
She has never failed to encourage me: to point me onwards in my journey and in my life. It is time for me to stop living and dreaming in the past. I am going to start looking to the future as a good and exciting place. She is doing just that and she has finally managed to teach me the same thing. It is time to look forward. It is time to let go.