EPISODE ELEVEN. AN UPDATE ON THE FINAL DAYS OF THE JOURNEY – COMING HOME… Well, my OTHER home.

I flew from Eldoret to Nairobi on Monday morning. Because I was flying with the more expensive Kenya Airways rather than the smaller regional airlines, that were all booked up, I flew into the main airport not the smaller Wilson Airfield. I travelled very light, a choice I appreciated many times in the three days of my hasty journey home. My big boots and most of my clothes can stay in Kitale for the next trip. 

At the international airport I investigated the requirements for my homeward journey. Most importantly, I required yet another corona test that could be done at Nairobi West Hospital.

The test system was well organised. It took one and three quarters, sitting in line, moving forward a chair at a time, to pay my £40, then for the test itself, a production line process by a poor nurse behind a plexiglass screen with long gloves through two holes. I have no complaints about efficiency or the goodwill of those organising the whole thing. 

Later, I walked towards the city centre, ended up negotiating a terrible boda-boda ride to the old United Kenya Club, a private members club that seems happy to accept short term visitors to its old fashioned calm and rooms, right in downtown Nairobi for a reasonable £23 B&B. The staff are very accommodating and the place resonates an old charm, while being in walking distance of the main central business district. 

My test result came through by five o’clock and I knew I’d sleep better, having started a long day at 5.45. I took beer on the terrace and then found, to my dismay, that the restaurant had closed at 6.30. There’s an 8.00 curfew, so the staff needed to get home. The kind receptionist found me a bottle of ginger beer and a couple of small bags of cashews! I dined in style… I’d eaten two eggs and a sausage at 06.15. But, I reflected, I had eaten more than many around the world, who would go to bed even hungrier than I. 

Nairobi’s not a very interesting city in which to wander rather aimlessly. It’s filled with ugly post-colonial architecture in all its irredeemably aggressive Brutalism: concrete fins and rectilinear faces, now looking dated and impossible to hide or beautify. The 1960s in Africa, with its new independencies, was a time of big statements of contemporary modernity. Now it just looks rather old and ugly. There’s hardly a useful or interesting shop in town (in my opinion), chiefly computers, mobile phones, glittering electronics outlets and pharmacies. I walked the streets for some hours, but few cafes are operating a sit-down service so eventually I returned to the old Club and sat reading in the warmth. I wasn’t sorry when my taxi to the airport arrived an hour early. I still have my gold loyalty level with KLM, so I may as well sit in the airport lounge drinking their free beer and eating the better than airline food. 

But there’s one thing I DO appreciate: the possibility to talk to anyone, to joke and smile. This is Africa.

*

The homeward flight was efficient but more faceless (literally) than KLM’s usual style. Heathrow was boring: an hour in line to present all my bits of paper. The UK government website is so confusing and obtuse, with so many ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ and ‘buts’. Thank goodness KLM’s website explains in plain language what is required of entrants to Little Britain! So it takes a Dutch airline to explain the requirements. Huh. 

Once on British soil, I seemed free to go as I pleased for my journey back to Devon, which was quickly accomplished and, I have to say, in a friendly manner. People seem to have time, now there’re fewer travellers. I reached Devon by 14.00, having landed only at 09.45. My over-riding first impression of the Brits? Fat, bad health and overweight.

*

Now I must ‘isolate’ in my house for ten days to protect the British people, from whom I have 39 times more chance of catching corona than I had in Kenya… Oh well, it’s a tax I must pay for my audacity of escaping and spending 104 days roaming the backroads of East Africa, in the sun and – best – amongst PEOPLE. 

I take off my ‘unclean’ bell on the 11th April and the Church House Inn opens for outdoor drinking on the 12th! Till then I must sit on my doorstep and converse with friends and neighbours. Just as well I brought sun to Harberton. But the chill is a shock to a body that hasn’t spent a winter in UK for a decade.

I am SO glad I took the risk I did and left the country before Christmas. There was always a slight chance that regulations would change for my return, but Kenya appears to have handled the whole crisis so much better than dilatory UK. They’ve had in place a requirement for a negative corona test to enter the country since LAST MARCH. Britain brought in that requirement on January 18th THIS YEAR. We are an ISLAND for goodness sakes! You can’t just drive over a land border (well, NI, I suppose). It would have been such a brainlessly simple measure… I’ve had my temperature taken hundreds of times in Kenya: every large store or office, airports and travel. It still hasn’t happened to me in UK, not even at Heathrow – in or out… And now here I am back in a country with 66 times the infection rate, isolating for the good of the people – oh, and having to have three tests within ten days at HUGE profit to private health care companies (probably owned by Tory party donors, he said cynically). 

Well, still, better that than staying here, locked in my house for three and a half months in the cold and wet and dark! I consolidated, once again, my relations with my generous families in East Africa. I am so fortunate to have this lifeline. It gives purpose and shape to my life, and controls much of my thoughts. Saying which, I shall sign off for this year with a few pictures that say so much about family, and life in Africa, the continent that obsesses me so much:

Bo, Shamilla, Marion, their old mzungu uncle, Scovia and Maria in Kitale
Children everywhere, but how they love Alex’s ‘slebrity’ mzungu
Always an attraction…
A treat for Keilah and little Jonathan: ‘JB’, ‘Beans’ in Sipi’s best hotel
Lastly, my favourite picture of the 2021 journey, Precious hugs me goodbye, taken by Alex, now becoming a good photographer, especially of people – inspired, he says, by me!

Thank you for joining me on my tenth winter escape to the REAL world!

JB. April 1st 2021

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