Christmas and New Year in Kenya and Uganda.

I’ve been away from internet access in Uganda since the 2nd of January, so it’s been a while since I updated. So there’ll be two episodes coming in quick succession.

With Keilah, Maria and Jonathan Bean Cheptai.

Christmas in Africa is a very different experience to the commercial, materialist bonanza of the season in the so-called developed world. ‘Developed’? I frequently question arrogance while I am in Africa. Yes, developed in the way that we have rejected many of the ‘cultural’ restrictions and belief systems of less educated Africa, but socially Africa has retained many of the more humane emotions that we have lost to the material ambitions and aspirations that seem so important to our way of life. Christmas here, where few have money anyway, is a family festival without the cost-counting I’ve come to associate with Christmas in the North.

Here, all travel home to commune with our families, few carrying those expensive gifts so much expected in other parts of the world. Of course, all here know that I represent that material world and are happy with my small gifts, but none are expected: it’s not an obligation, just a way to have fun together. The small children are excited by coloured pencils, a football, a toy car, a plastic flute. Maybe by giving these I am subverting their Christmas? But there is no expectation – that’s the difference. No one will count the petty cost of my small gifts: the fun is in having a rare parcel to open, wrapped in the only paper available, cheap and thin.


On the 27th, we drove to the border post, 30 miles away, to collect Alex, Precious, Keilah and little Jonathan for their ‘foreign’ holiday. For Precious and the children, this was a first time ‘overseas’, as we joked about the insignificant trickle of the Suam River that divides Uganda from Kenya just here on the lower slopes of Mt Elgon. The new road, so unlike the hard trail riding I used to enjoy so much between the two homes, makes for speedy transport now. I’ll miss the challenge of what used to be a long, hard ride but I must concede that the new blacktop will bring economic advantages, access and new wealth to this poor, inaccessible region.

Now the Sipi family arrive at the border without hassle; they can travel between the two countries quite informally. Many here share tribal roots anyway, on whichever side of the unthinking colonial borders they reside. Adelight herself is partly Ugandan, and everyone has relatives across these leaky borders. It’s more bureaucratic for me, but for them, they just walk across the decrepit bridge to the tumbledown corrugated iron and timber plank sheds that will soon be abandoned to history in the huge construction project to make a modern One Stop border. I liked the old border post, all mud, huts and dust-covered tents; it had a certain charm and overland adventure feel, and I became known from year to year as the old white man on the motorbike. Soon, it will be all show and impersonal formalities in big mirror-glass, concrete offices and the new soaring four lane bridge.

The Sipi family are a little overwhelmed to be away from home. But Keilah’s welcome of ‘her mzungu’ is delightful, knocking me backwards with a cannonball run, arms outstretched in excitement. For Precious, her generous welcome and cushion hug is perhaps thankfulness that at my advanced age I have survived the nine months since I last rode away from Sipi. My four year old namesake has lost all fear of his mzungu uncle and become a talkative, energetic child. And for Ugandans coming to Kenya it is a bit like getting back to Europe for me: relatively ordered, considerably less corrupt and richer. Poor, poor Uganda, struggling from decades of utterly corrupt government; vast world loans – that it was this week calculated will take 95 years to repay; crippling over-population and the vagaries of climate change adding to the toll of economic failures. A country in a complete mess. Kenya, by contrast, is a country of relative cultural freedom, reduction of old fashioned social pressures to conform and free(ish) from massive corruption that exists at every level in Uganda.

Jonathan, Keilah and Maria soon play.

At home, the children soon bond again – Maria and Keilah have remained firm friends since we all went to Sipi in early 2020. Soon, Maria’s much-repaired bicycle and the playhouse that Rico converted from the old chicken shed, are causing noisy excited cries. We’ve put balloons in the trees to welcome the foreigners and there’s a festive Christmassy air about proceedings.

Alex gives JB2 a bicycle lesson.
Keilah and Maria enjoy the playhouse.

Next evening, I have small gifts for the Sipians too, opened with spontaneous dancing and excitement. It’s rare for anyone to get a gift here. The children dance to music from a phone and little Jonathan, at first reluctant (“Dancing is for girls!”) makes us all laugh as the most enthusiastic dancer of all, and last man standing. It’s all simple, humorous fun. JB2 has a small leather football that will not leave his hands for days, and a Chinese plastic police car that will be clutched all the way home in their matatu, but be demolished soon after they reach Sipi. Keilah has a Chinese plastic flute that will bleat away for days, until it too disintegrates in Sipi. For Alex, flower seeds from Harberton, and for Precious a framed photo of her with her mzungu, and a pair of secondhand shoes Adelight has chosen. It’s all simple and heartfelt, causing wild dances of joy. For Precious, a glass or three of very rare wine helps the excitement. Alex drinks his tea as usual. That night, JB2 can’t sleep from over-excitement.


Alex tours Rico’s compound and garage picking up ideas, and Precious and Adelight spend a few hours in town, for Kitale is like a big city beside Kapchorwa, the only town available to Precious. I introduce Alex to the hardware supermarket, unlike anything we can find in Uganda. Then we walk the four miles home, carrying a heavy can of floor paint – unknown across the border – and a box of plants from the big nursery on the outskirts of town. He’s amazed how much choice there is and reckons he’ll be a more frequent visitor now he can reach Kitale by matatu in four hours.

Adelight, Alex and Jonathan pluck an urgent order for Adelight’s chicken business.

The Sipi family set off on the 30th, Alex always anxious for his business; Jonathan clutching his plastic police car and Keilah and Maria hugging goodbye amidst the construction works of the new border post and walking away over the broken down bridge to find a matatu home.

Maria paints a portrait of Keilah…
Keilah by Maria


New Year’s Eve somehow peters out about 10.45 after Adelight bakes bread and samosas. “Well, it’s already New Year somewhere!” Adelight says as we go to bed.

“What was the best thing in 2022?” I ask Maria.

“Keilah came for Christmas.”

I often take a walk in the rural area below the house in Kitale.


On the second day of the year, I ride round the mountain to Sipi in Uganda. The border’s only 30 miles from Kitale and the road is now smooth and quick, unlike the dust and dirt of so many years. At the border, which is being rebuilt as a One Stop Border – where I will be able to complete both Kenyan and Ugandan formalities in one go, I interrupt the customs officer from a game of billiards on a table behind the ramshackle offices. It’s not a busy border; maybe the new roads will increase traffic, but for now it is so remote and unhurried that I ride over the broken old colonial bridge across the Suam River trickle – a bridge on its absolute last legs, parapet gone on one side, barely hanging on, literally, on the other (the other side had gone three weeks later). It might just last until the big new bridge beside it is complete. At the corrugated hut that presently serves for Ugandan Immigration, I am recognised: “Hey, Jonathan, you are back! Welcome!” It’s Harison, the medical officer, who’s been stationed here for a couple of years through the pandemic, dealing with Covid testing and registration. We had several dealings as I came and went over this border during the pandemic years. I was one of the only mzungus to pass for two years. Now, it’s a mere formality: I must be entered in the dog-eared ledger and have my temperature taken, but it’s all a bit lacklustre and no one seems much interested. I ask Harison about ebola, for Uganda had an outbreak recently that excited all the prophets of doom to expect me to cancel my journey. “If we reach the 10th, it will be declared clear. It was dealt with quickly.” I am told that it was not only quick but draconian in this dictatorship: anyone trying to break the cordon round the infected area would be summarily shot! But it seems the measures worked and the infection contained…

The chubby lady at the immigration window recognises me too: there aren’t many white-haired mzungus coming this way on motorbikes; not may mzungus at all. She looks away from the Bollywood drama on the office TV long enough to take my details and then I ride away, trying to recognise the filthy, dusty township of Suam that I recollect from only last February and previous journeys. It’s all changed, bulldozed to rubble for the new international road. The shanties and shacks of the roadside traders have gone and the place looks positively refreshed. The road for the next 30 kilometres is still dust and gravel, but now it’s graded smoothly over the hills, waiting for tarmac.

My smile, already broad, stretches to a split as I enter Uganda. These people have such a capacity for laughter and smiles, without reserve or self-consciousness, despite their collapsed country. Hands wave everywhere and everyone turns to watch the mzee mzungu ride and bounce past. I’m a celebrity riding an avenue of welcome.

The views into northern Uganda are still magnificent.

The road’s lost its attraction as one of the great trail rides of Africa. Where there was an eight foot wide pitted, stepped, rocky track is now a thirty metre wide swathe of graded red murram, and later of smooth blacktop. The earth moving that has gone on these past two or three years is astounding. More crippling debts to China, to add to the 95 year long repayments.

Soon, after the straggly town of Bukwo, where I used to bounce and crash down the ‘main street’ on steps of rock and dust, standing on the foot-pegs for balance, I begin the curling climb on these slopes of Mount Elgon. This used to be a tough ride requiring some rough trail riding experience. I loved it, but always feared being caught by rain on this slippery, cloying surface when it got wet. It’s difficult to recognise the roughest bits that I came to know: the steep hill of ankle-deep dust where I had to ski downhill to a broken concrete bridge; the deeply rutted section that leaned outwards towards the steep slopes and was hardly passable on four wheels; the hill where the clagging mud built up so much on my wheels that it stalled my engine; places I struggled and slithered in dense red dust; where I’ve gasped into meagre tea houses gagging for liquid to quell the dust; where I’ve tumbled off in ruts and had to lift the bike from craters and steps on a ‘road’ no better than a cattle path. Now, the Chinese have moved the mountains, displaced the forests and made a wide tar road on which I can sweep along, riding with one hand – the other for waving – as I gaze into the magnificence of limitless expanses of northern Uganda displayed far below, the blue landscape pimpled with old volcanic hills, waving matoke trees waving artlessly in the foreground.

Still one of the great rides!

To be riding along in this high mountain scenery (I’m over 2000 metres) on my responsive little bike, gulping in the freshest air, under a sparkling blue dome of sky sprinkled with snowy clouds on a summer’s day, with half Uganda waving excitedly at me – in the knowledge that at my destination there awaits an ebullient, heartfelt welcome – well, life doesn’t come much better!

Great riding!


The last half mile of my journey still holds the challenges of trail riding, more so this year after the interminable rainfall. I take the short cut from the main road towards Rock Gardens. The track is serrated by the recent rains. It’s now maybe the biggest obstacle to our Rock Gardens project: customers can’t get here in wet season weather. And in this country, the prospect of road improvement for a poor rural neighbourhood is remote.

I vibrate down the track, teeth rattling. They’ve heard me coming. Precious begins to dance, Keilah and JB are running helter-skelter as Alex holds open the wooden gate beneath its thatched roof. As soon as I dismount, the children launch themselves at their mzungu. It’s very charming; I’ve become very fond of these two: quiet, smiling, warm-hearted Keilah and obstreperous, talkative, grubby Jonathan.

Jonathan Bean 2 and Keilah

Precious has been busy decorating ‘Jonathan’s Room’, one of the two round thatched houses, with flower posies in bottles, in wraps of cloth buried amongst the pillows and intricately folded towels: skills she learned working in the big western Uganda hotel where she and Alex met. Keilah has been busy blowing up balloons to make the place festive. Later, as I look around the gardens, I think perhaps Precious picked every flower on the property for my arrival! In the nine months since I was here, the gardens have flourished. Given enough water, Africa provides sun for growth. Trees that we planted as seedlings in February are now higher than my head; flowerbeds in which we sowed seeds from England, are bright with abundant plants – (currently shorn of flower heads!); the local shrubs have grown luxuriant already. The place looks well established. Ramps that I left as brown dust and packed earth are now sloping lawns. We are well on the way to creating the botanical garden of our dreams.

1818’, the bar and restaurant, is 1818 metres above sea level.
I’m delighted that a Harberton hollyhock seed has germinated here. Maybe next year it’ll bloom?

But where will we find the customers? Alex, and I upbraid him for this once again, has extended the ‘1818’ restaurant with two balconies, back and front. They are cleverly decorated with timber palisades and woven banana leaf ceilings, wide cut boards for floors; there’s new furniture: chairs and tables and fine local wood settees. But there’s STILL no kitchen! Alex has such a vision of how he wants his business to look, but skates over the practicalities. When he built his raised restaurant, ten feet above the gardens, he constructed a framework of heavy posts and joists – in a country notorious for termite infestation. I accused him of building the roof before the foundations, and we had to spend several hundred pounds putting heavy stone walls beneath the flimsy structure. He loves the decoration, but has little practical skill, and his local builders are appalling: talentless, poor workers and with no tools beyond a hammer and machete.

Alex may smile, but I’ve never seen such bad work by a so-called ‘mason’.

He’s started the new kitchen and I can see the worst stonework of my experience, laid by so-called stone masons. It’s double the size we need and Alex has been bamboozled by the inept local builders. They’ve taken the (my) money and gone, leaving a complete mess. My advice to Alex is that we knock it down and start again, and forget the hundredweights of cement and sand that have been wasted on three inch wide joints in a ridiculous 3:1 mortar mix that is the custom here. No one ever uses initiative, they just do things ‘the way it is done’, even if it’s wrong. Every joint in the pipework in my room leaks: carried out by a so-called local plumber; the expensive double latrine a ‘proper’ contractor built (£2000) has one stall for the ladies beside another stall with a pipe in a corner, just like the one next door for the men’s urinal. “Sorry, Alex,” I say, “women don’t piss that way! Where’s the hole in the floor?” He hasn’t an answer, except that the contractor took the money but it wasn’t enough. I will have to use my ingenuity to find an answer…

But where will we get customers? “Oh, they will come!” says Alex confidently. But he needs to concentrate on marketing now; he needs a decent kitchen; a reliable electric connection; to complete the toilet block; to lobby for road repairs; get his website finished, pamphlets distributed. But he’s more interested for me to build him a bread oven and to chose crockery!


Before we start to knock down the kitchen, such as it is, or reshape the ladies loo, we spend a day visiting relatives. Alex was born here and most of his extended family live round and about amongst the matoke trees and shambas. I find it difficult to find my way about: we seem to approach places I know by different routes every time, but then the growth is fast and furious and the landscape always changing at ground level.

Alex walks in the matoke, where I am soon lost.

We sit with Aunt Khalifa, Alex’s oldest aunt and his supporter amongst the family. She’s a cheerful old lady and formal in her greetings, going down on her knees to greet us in the customary fashion in Uganda, a mark of respect – sadly, always from women to men… We drink sweet black tea in her somewhat tumbledown compound. The houses are looking rather frail, a sign that she too is getting frailer, for she always patched the mud and dung plaster walls scrupulously. Khalifa is in her mid 80s.

JB2 and his great aunt Khalifa.

We visit another old lady, wife of Alex’s clan’s senior member. She is in a very sorry state, virtually comatose and unmoving. I’d guess she’s had a bad stroke, added to a broken leg and crumbling back. She was in the hospital for three months, but no one has the money for that, so the harsh fact is that it was better for the family to bring her home where she can die slowly without further expense. Life is cruel in rural communities in Africa. She’ll lie in that dingy earth hut on a locally made log bed and aged blankets until she wastes away enough that she mercifully dies, however long it takes, with no relief or comfort.

Elsewhere, we are happily welcomed into crude homes of mud and sticks with few possessions or comforts. But the greetings are warm and generous, and tea or food is always offered. I shake hands a hundred times; children come running; greetings are called. Sometimes Alex translates. One group, sitting conversing until we arrive unexpectedly, a major event in their day, comments to Alex, “You were lucky. You got a white man like him – who also likes people!” They’re only used to proud white men representing charities, big business or the church; one who mixes with them in these rural villages is a bit of a phenomenon. My support can create jealousies too, though, in a rural community without education to understand that it is Alex’s intellect and hard work ethic that has brought my aid to the family.

Later, we spend a couple of hours sitting under a stained canvas awning – everything here’s stained with the brown of the earth after this very long rainy season – with Alex’s parents and his younger brother, Nick. Nick and his age-mates recently went through the – to me – barbaric circumcision ceremonies: a public ordeal that’s always explained away (even when it goes wrong and infections set in…) as ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’ It’s a huge party time in Uganda and various communities in Kenya – as in much of Africa. Bizarrely, Nick’s walking about wearing a skirt (boys in skirts is a sight I’ll see quite often in the next days) – the reason may be obvious! – to which there’s no stigma attached – it’s ‘tradition’. He’s now officially ‘a man’ after all, with all that means in Africa: he can father and abandon children in or out of marriage, be waited on by his womenfolk, and drink away the family money… But I’m being cynical: Nick’s a decent young man whom I like, and he’s shortly off to university, an educated, thinking man. But there’s the rub: education… So few in this country enjoy its benefits, which is why crossing that border back to Kenya is like returning to a ‘developed’ country. It’s so sad: this beautiful country with its friendly population, largely uneducated and with a belief that giant families prove virility and strength.

Joanne with Praise

Passing another broken down earth, stick and zinc sheet dwelling, I photograph tiny pretty Joanne, cradling an even tinier baby, Praise, her most recent sibling – the eighth child of her worn-looking young mother. There’ll probably be more, in this failing country where three quarters of the population is now below 30 years old; a country that has grown from 5 million in 1950 and is estimated to exceed 90 million by 2050… And a mere 2% over 65… One is left with little hope, except in odd pockets such as this small family, and Alex’s determination to have only two children whom he can educate well towards a better future.


First, we demolish the recent work and start again…

We knocked down and undid most of the local workers’ inept efforts on the new kitchen and started again to a design by the intercontinental mzee designer. It’s frustrating working here: there are no useful tools and few available materials – and absolutely nil skilled labour of any sort. The manual labour that is available is slow, unmotivated and has little understanding of what is required. Often, it’s quicker just to do it myself… It does sometime feel that Sipi is out in the sticks. Even ‘masons’ have no concept of bonding stones, just piling them one on another blathered in inches of over-strength cement. Corners have no joints, wall sections usually built between softwood timber posts which will quickly be weakened by termites. No structure is built with any expectation of lasting more than a few years. I tell the ‘builders’ that I live in a stone house that is at least 200 years old, in a village with a church built over a thousand years ago, to their open-mouthed amazement. All here is short-termism. I doubt there’s a building within 50 miles that dates back more than 40 years, except an occasional unmaintainted colonial era ruin or civic memorial.

Rach (a half-brother to Alex) and Abraham work on the new-improved Jonathan Bean (1) type floor.

It’s hard, grubby work for a fastidious Westerner. The sun beats down, the muck and dust disturbs my tidy mind. I’m soon coated in dirt, and there’s only cold water in which to wash – and this red dust doesn’t really come off, most of it ends on the towel. By mid-evening, I am fading and most nights abed by nine. But the pay-off is long sound sleep in the fine old bedsheets I have persuaded Precious to keep for me: thick ancient continental sheets that must have arrived in some mtumba bale.


I watched a shocking documentary about the mtumba wear we send to Africa: the secondhand clothes that our charity shops offload here. The film was made in Ghana, where the clothes are called Broni Wawo – ‘dead white men’s clothes’. It seems that a mere 40% of the clothes and goods that are baled up and shipped to Africa – many tons at a time, from Europe and North America, are actually resale-able. The rest is causing yet another problem for Ghana: many container-loads are towed to landfill every day, and much more of it to informal mountains of rubbish along the ocean, where it washes into the sea and becomes vast knotted clumps of fabric, much of it plastic-based that will take decades to break down and meanwhile poisons the oceans of the world, mankind’s major dumping ground. All in the name of fashion and disposability built into capitalist economies. Another example of our arrogance towards this continent, sending rubbish clothes and dumping our problems on another part of the world less able to deal with it. Out of sight, out of mind…


Well, a good start to 2023, amongst my families in Africa. Families I value more with every visit to this unique continent…

If you don’t have a cradle, you make do… Little Haggai (a girl) seems happy enough with the arrangement!
Family fun with JB2’s Christmas football. (It was white before it came to Sipi…)

EAST AFRICA 2022 to 2023


A bicycle lesson for Maria

I have been very fortunate in my family-making. I’ve chosen instinctively those that form the oddest extended families – and I have at least five around the world. A great joy is to bring them together, which I do partly through these words. My dearest friends across the world have bonded through my descriptions and have come to know one another without ever meeting in person. To connect the families across this continent; to form friendships between my families in Kenya and in Uganda and Ghana with friends of fellow feeling from England, America and Europe is a great pleasure. I’ve formed links between people who may never meet, but now feel they know a little more about one another’s lives.

The families I’ve made in Africa give me so much joy and purpose in life, a focus I’d never have known without these footloose travels: perhaps as much pleasure and happiness as if they were my own family – but that, of course, I can never prove.

To East Africa, I now carry greetings from my friends and ‘families’ far afield, to friends and ‘families’ across Africa, bringing understanding and empathy, connection and friendship. I bring gifts from half way round the world, creating bridges and links that give us all satisfaction, small presents, cheerful words, greetings, messages, gifts. I am privileged to be the conduit for this goodwill.

Listening to Alex in Uganda on the phone, excited that his father figure – and benefactor of course – was nearby, just around the big-shouldered mountain, was delightful. Hearing him laughing with Rico from Holland, Adelight from Kenya; listening to five year old Keilah in Uganda sharing shy greetings with five year old Maria in Kitale – they remember one another from our 2019 visit – I’m making bridges and smiling inside. Family is about mutual respect, love, companionship, and generosity, trust and honesty of emotion. This is the best thing life has brought me.

Adelight and Rico’s home. How things grow here. Compare with 2016…
The compound just six years ago


Being on this continent always makes me reflect on this concept of FAMILY, a much wider entity here than that we think of in the west. The most rewarding lessons of my now 36 visits to various parts of Africa have been about family. The ‘extended family’ is the most admirable social grouping, something I began to understand as I grew to know a bit of African life in Ghana over three decades ago.

Looking up ‘extended family’ on the internet, I find the customary lack of consideration of this continent, with most entries describing narrower North American and European notions: ‘a family that extends beyond the nuclear family of parents and their children to include uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins and other relatives, all living nearby or in the same household’. Even Wikipedia acknowledges ‘Africa’ only as a passing reference. Add the word ‘images’ to your search and you will be presented with page upon page of wealthy, white-skinned formal family group photos. Yet Africa encapsulates the notion of ‘extended family’ so powerfully. It goes far beyond consanguinity to include outsiders who have formed links by more organic social means, even by chance. Here in Kitale, the ‘family’ includes various children of no blood ties whatsoever, and then extends to include roaming ‘uncles’ from far away. It’s the same in Uganda, where, as a member Alex and Precious’s ‘family’, I was included last year at that giant funeral for his grandmother. An aunt welcomed me, in front of 600 people, as a ‘member of the family’ with the right to stand as a ‘grandchild’ among them. In Ghana, Wechiga is my closest ‘brother’ and so many who know me as brother or uncle, even dad.

Extended families share resources, especially in societies where poverty restricts most activity. It’s a generous concept in which everyone brings what they have to the deal. Naturally, the resource I tend to bring is frequently financial and practical; it’s the most rare and restrictive resource, after all. And its distribution is so dreadfully unequal in our selfish world, with Africa always bottom of the divvying out… But I get back generosity, warmth, love and respect in unlimited measure.

So, that’s why I’m here again.

That and the sunshine!


I’ve been rather too mobile these past five or six weeks and arrive weary, ready to relax into the warmth of equatorial sun and easy-going travels. After most of a month’s hard work in Boston, USA, I was home for just six days, to recover from another red-eye flight and prepare the seemingly endless bureaucratic nonsense that these days surrounds international travel – to which is no longer attached any vestige of romance.

Two nights in Nairobi, and up to the highlands by battered matatu minibus, an eight hour ordeal, crumpled into a small seat like a deckchair, into which I slid deeply every time the crazy driver braked, but accompanied by my ‘sister’ Adelight, who’d been in the city for a national Scrabble tournament. She’s addicted! And, considering English is her second language, often beats me now. Six Christmases ago, she manipulated me to the games shelf in a supermarket in Eldoret, the big city 50 miles away, and said, all innocence, “Oh, Scrabble would be a nice Christmas present for the family!” Little did I know of her fixation or the pressure to become her opponent most evenings in Kitale.

My Dutch pal, Rico, now an African brother for 35 years – since those heady days when we crossed the Sahara together in early 1987, me on my motorbike, he in an aged Land Rover – awaited us. A few weeks ago, Adelight bought a bottle of cream liqueur from an Indian Kitale supermarket. She’s partial to a glass of Bailey’s now and again and spotted a cheaper, Indian version. After two small glasses, she spent the next hour rushing back and forth to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Rico tried a glass, the imbibing of which almost killed him. He ended up for several days less than conscious, on oxygen, in intensive care in Eldoret. The symptoms appeared to be entirely consistent with methanol poisoning: wood alcohol poisoning, but his underlying health and age added to the effects. Without hasty presence of mind from Adelight, his junior by many years, he’d not be with us now. It was touch and go – expensive touch and go – for several days, followed by a long slow recovery. He’s improving by the day now, and perhaps having a companion with whom to drink (no more than two cans of lager) on the porch of an evening, has been the best medicine. He’d taken no alcohol for weeks, but now we can all see his return to near-normal health in the few days since I arrived.


On Sunday – a good day to ride the winding roads of the Cheringani Hills – I set off for Kessup, my favourite scenery in East Africa, to see my friend William. William and I are sociable folk and enjoy meandering the paths and red laterite lanes of his rural community, meeting people and chatting. I’m known not just as ‘William’s’ mzungu, but ‘Kessup’s mzungu’.

It was more fun on a motorbike when it was a terrible rutted, muddy dirt track through the hills!

Anywhere else, as Rico says, the Cheringani Hills would be called mountains. Maybe because they are already perched on top of these equatorial highlands they only get to qualify as ‘hills’. Maybe, too, that’s why I always forget just how cold it gets riding my motorbike on the curling roads through this lovely scenery. At times I am riding at 10,000 feet above sea level. As the chill settled through my riding jacket and I stopped to don a fleece jerkin, I pondered a question I was asked recently to which I had no answer: how is it that at altitude it gets colder, but we are nearer the sun? It’s a subject to wonder as I ride beneath a deep blue space scattered with Omo-white flounces of cloud. My road turns and twists as a biker likes and I gaze down into the rolling hills quartered by conifer woodland and small farmers’ shambas, neatly divided by fences and palisades of split timbers. Zinc rooftops wink and flash and I am surrounded by white smiles and waving hands. There are a few small dusty villages of timber and corrugated iron; it must be chilly to live up here. It’s rare to see a mzungu, especially an ‘old’ one on a motorbike. On Sunday, there’s little traffic, so I can daydream and gaze about at the green landscape as Sunday-dressed people wave.

This year there’s been a lot of rain: I can see that in the high undergrowth and the fertile fields. Last year at this time all was brown and dry – that’s the gamble of life in sub-Saharan Africa, getting more acute as climate change affects this delicate balance. But this year, instead, everyone has high inflation, so there’s still no money around. Times are even tougher now. When I left in March, petrol was 79p a litre, now it’s £1.18. When transport costs rise, so does everything else. Oddly, for me, even with the pathetic crumbling Brexit pound and crazed Tory party ideologues ostensibly ‘in charge’, I am slightly better off. A ten per cent increase in the exchange rate between the equal-worst economy of the G20 nations and Kenya indicates how bad things must be here. But Kenya has a new president, whom everyone seems to applaud for his efforts to try to rebalance the economy to help his poor people. He was raised in humble surroundings and appears to have some fellow-feeling for much of his nation. So far, he’s generally respected and liked by foreign leaders. So long as he knows when to retire to elder-statesmanship, there may be a little hope for this country, unlike the neighbour – Uganda – whose president is now going to his 37th year of uncontested utter corruption.

Kessup basks in the bright sunlight on its plateau part way down the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. My usual guest house cum campsite (where I’ve seldom seen campers) enjoys a view worth maybe not a million, but many dollars, across the huge Kerio Valley, 2700 feet below, backed by steep cliffs and wooded semi-vertical rock faces, that rise another 1000 feet on my right as I curl down one of the most dramatic roads in all Africa. My room, with its expansive view across the huge valley, costs me just £13.50.

William and Dutch

William is waiting, waving from his shamba, where he’s heard my approach down the rocky track to the guest house. In March I left him money to buy a cow; he can become independent from selling the milk. Morag, the Ayrshire cow that he bought, failed to become pregnant after five attempts, so he’s swapped her for a full-bred Friesian from the same breeder. Now ‘Dutch’ actually comes to greet me, sniffing my outstretched hand much to our amusement. “In our culture, we would say that it’s a blessing. She greeted you!” laughs William, who guides me so well, through the habits and intricacies of his culture, an understanding that’s enabled me to become ‘Kessup’s Mzungu’ these past six years.


William, you will remember, was a Nairobi Flying Squad policeman until he was attacked by a criminal with a machete, and decided, during three months in hospital, to resign his post and return to his humble shamba and wooden house, with very basic amenities, on the Kessup hillside, where he seems to live largely on fresh air, ugali maize meal and local vegetables. Now, I see that he is very thin but looks athletic and younger than his 56 years. “Oh, I had the flu three weeks ago. I was ILL, and I couldn’t eat!” But this looks more like lack of nutrition than the result of a brief illness. He’ll be pleased I am here and will visit at various times over the three months of my safari. “I am happy when you come; I get to eat meat!” he always jokes, while, ironically, I prefer to eat the local vegetables. Oh well, dinner is a deal that suits us both well, and the £4.50 I pay to feed us both is reasonable for me.

“The goodness is, we both like to walk!” William tells me often, as we wander the paths and greet his neighbours. He’s well respected, a disciplined man of considerable integrity. Now, for two days, we saunter amongst his neighbours’ smallholdings, drink tea and tasty mountain-top water from the twisting pipes and converse in the fields – and I relish being the focus of so much goodwill. After six years, much of the population recognises me. Some of the children have grown up knowing me as their only white man, but there’s still a charming and plentiful supply of excited youngsters fascinated to touch and greet their first mzungu. I submit cheerfully to their investigation and tell them we are all the same beneath my pale exterior. “It’s like there are brown cows and white cows,” is my explanation, “but we are all cows!”


Of course, when you get a bit under the skin of any community you find that the romantic exterior it presents to me, a rosy-eyed visitor, is seldom the truth. Through William I often hear some of the less palatable side of life in a rural community: the lack of moral discipline; jealousies between neighbours; dereliction of responsibilities by so many useless African men who father children and leave; abandonment of families to alcohol addiction – one of this continent’s greatest problems; the personal effects of poverty and the harshness of life in a culturally and religiously repressed community in which eccentricity or individual behaviour is unacceptable.

But amongst the harsh truths I often find hope. Glory is a confident, pretty young woman who has become a GP, now working in a major hospital in Nairobi; Gideon, a brightly intelligent young man I met three years ago, who asked searching questions of me, is now at university, his proud but little-educated mother tells me as she weeds a big field of local vegetables; Doris, niece of a simple subsistence family in a rough rural compound on the slopes of the great valley, is teaching computer skills in a high school in central Kenya. These are inspiring stories of individual determination and family sacrifice and not untypical of the new generation that seizes opportunity so readily, and sometimes barely literate parents who understand the values of education unavailable to them. Education – and teachers – are well respected in all of Africa: for most, it’s the only route out of the uncertainties of subsistence life.

The Rock bar, a place to enjoy the view – but warm beer


Another day, we clamber up the steep mountainside – it’s 280 metres or more to the top (920 feet), a stiff climb up a broken path to the preserved scrap of forest on the very edge of the Rift Valley.

I guess it’s just two or three miles long and perhaps not much over half a mile deep, but it’s a wonderful piece of indigenous forest, towering trees, an interesting lower canopy and thick shrubs, including the lovely bright blue/purple acanthus that grows here above 2000 metres. From the rocky brim we look down on the Kessup plateau and the gigantic… well, ‘rift’, of the valley that cuts Africa from top to almost bottom.

A view from the top of the escarpment of Kessup plateau and the Rift Valley almost 4000 feet below.

We are at 2300 metres just here on these rocks, and the white stripe we can see – a dusty rocky trail we have walked on our expeditions to the valley bottom – is almost 4000 feet below. The scale of the scenery is breathtaking. A few birds soar on the up-currents, whistling past our eyrie as if with joy. But oddly, in the forest we see no birds, no animals, no snakes or lizards even. The patch of woodland is preserved by law, but nowhere in Africa is beyond exploitation. Here, the populous may take wood from trees that are already dead, and graze their animals, so it’s hardly prime forest, just a beautiful stretch of peace that clings here, conserved by skimpy national edict. Its position perched on the high red cliffs makes access from below troublesome, but through the abundant trees one is soon amongst abundant people – armed with pangas and saws…

We buy an armful of fresh spinach from ladies harvesting kale in fields below the cliffs and scrump a hard sweet carrot each from their fields. William knows that the more of the fine local vegetables we find, the more goat he will eat tonight! This year the shambas, their small terraced fields bounded by walls of balanced red rocks cleared from the soil, are green and fruitful. Water is piped from the top of the escarpment and makes Kessup’s plateau fertile. “How do you know which is your water pipe?” I ask one of William’s neighbours, who’s digging by the track side in a patch of mud. “Oh, we just know. This is for William’s mother (she lives at least a kilometre away). This is for my neighbour, and this one,” pointing to a one inch plastic pipe that is dribbling from a taped joint, “this one is for me.” Pipes weave and gurgle everywhere we walk, sometimes spraying from small fractures. Large metal pipes feed community tanks, an initiative of World Vision (the American equivalent of Oxfam) but because the water was provided free – a charitable ‘gift’ – there’re no payments to ensure ongoing maintenance. It’s often the way with ‘charity’: up-front generosity with a lot of flag waving, but backed by little real long-term benefit.

William buys 30p worth of fresh spinach from Cynthia in her field


Riding back to Kitale, and I get soaked to the skin up on those chilly 10,000 foot heights. The raindrops fall like marbles and bounce off the tarmac. It’s really cold until I begin to drop to lower climes, still around 6000 feet. Now I’m just soggy inside waterproofs, steaming gently around my bum. But biking’s like that – tactile to a fault, and I’ve almost never found waterproofs that actually are in rain like that.


Three days before Christmas, Adelight and I go shopping in town. It’s something I’d avoid like the plague at home. The very idea of Morrisons three days before Christmas makes me shudder. But in Kitale it’s fun, with smiles all around and comments and quips given and taken with goodwill. It’s not that awful shopping-by-duty that rich-world Christmas has become: no one here’s got much money, so the festival is more about getting together and being cheerful. I’m buying small gifts for the children – just coloured pencils, pads, some simple toys, a football for JB2, skipping rope for Keilah: parcels to wrap under the small Christmas tree, a reflection of Christmases past, before it all became a materialist competition.

Jolene and her big sister in Kessup get much enjoyment from a truck made from plastic waste…

The town is busy; secondary school exams finished today so children are returning home from their basic boarding schools adding to seasonal traffic. There’s a huge crawling funeral procession clogging the streets and road building everywhere leaving mounds of packed earth and clouds of dust. It’s impossible to drive at more than a crawl, with all the pushing matatus in a competition that actually slows the traffic as they jostle for road-space limited by traders, boda-boda motorbike taxis, push carts, merchandise and huge dusty road works. I don’t know how Adelight keeps patience – but she’s used to it. If we do all our errands now, we won’t have to come back until after Christmas. With a car full of groceries, sacks of chicken food and a huge bag of charcoal – from the few remaining trees up in the Turkana desert to the far north – we weave our slow way home, an hour late for beer-time. But we’ve got just about everything we need and Christmas is secure.

On Christmas eve we’ll barbecue some of Adelight’s chickens, drink a bit of wine as a treat, and enjoy family harmony. On the 27th, Alex and Precious and the children are coming to visit for three days from the other side of the mountain in Uganda. We’re all looking forward to that, it’ll be real excitement for the Ugandan children: their first ‘foreign’ visit. They don’t get many treats. I’m so happy to be the enabler of all this. On the 28th, my favourite, Scovia, Adelight’s junior sister who was brought up in this congenial household, will arrive with her new baby. It will be a family Christmas. I’m happy to be at the heart of it.

Then I must begin to plan my safari for 2023…

Happy Christmas!!

A rare selfie with a fine feather in my cap!



Boys will be boys – anywhere

It’s been a different sort of journey this year, mainly restricted to just three locations: Kitale, Kessup and Sipi, and the families I come to see: my families in East Africa. Partly, this was caused by pandemic restrictions, although those are now easing almost to the point of invisibility: just face masks required by law – until three days before I fly out. In Uganda they’re almost unseen and no one cares about any restrictions any more. Their criminal president announced that the third wave of coronavirus was over – doubtless he listens to scientists with the same regard as do the British Cabinet… In fact, the virus has impinged less and less on the public mind as I have watched, these past twelve weeks; no one much cares any more. And now, the increasingly crazed Putin and his war in Ukraine have finally wiped the pandemic hysteria off the front page of newspapers everywhere.

Kenya has suffered a mere 323,025 confirmed cases of Covid and there have been only 5640 related deaths (half the number of people in hospital in UK as I write). Maybe testing here is inefficient and many cases in rural areas were not reported: people just suffered illness as Africans do, but even if I multiply by three (a recent report reckons that there were three times more excess deaths worldwide than officially reported), it shows statistics that pale in scale beside the UK’s.


Little JBC – Jonathanbean Cheptai – left me with an unfortunate souvenir of Sipi: a thick head cold courtesy of his coughing all over my iPad while viewing photos of himself and his sister with great excitement. I lost a few days’ energy and activity to blocked sinuses, a chesty cough and general malaise.

With just two weeks of my 2022 safari remaining, I ride back to Kessup, where William is excited by the gift of an Ayrshire milk cow. I’ve been appreciating my general wealth, and the prospect of a well paid project in USA, by trying to make my African families independent. That’s been the motivation for Rock Gardens, for various help towards Adelight’s chicken business, that now seems to be coasting onto an even keel after initial frustrations and problems, and for William, with his successful cultivation of tomatoes last year – which he’ll repeat this season – and now with a cow that may produce up to ten litres of milk every day. That could potentially make him £2 a day, a sum way beyond his expenditure. He claims that the £50 investment I made in tomato seeds and fertiliser last year kept him solvent all year, even for hospital bills when he caught pneumonia. It also gave him physical work and mental activity. An Ayrshire cow, about two years old, from a breeder in Ziwa, thirty or forty miles away, costs about £375. I’ve explained that Ayrshire is in Scotland and suggested he calls the cow Morag; it seems a good name for the brown and white cow that will live on his shamba beside the tomato beds! It’s also caused him to get another part of his shamba ploughed for planting maize that he’ll use to feed the cow. He’s a good companion, is William, undemanding and, as he constantly reminds me: “The goodness is, we both like the same things!”

We wander the red tracks between his neighbours’ compounds, greeting and meeting. “It’s a pity about your cold,” he says. “We could have walked down and spent a night…” He waves at the yawning valley beside us. He’s enjoyed those longer trips into the hot valley. I did too, but I’m not sure I want to do it every time I come to Kessup: it’s bloody hard work! So this time we stay on the plateau and greet the neighbours as we explore a track that William doesn’t know; one we’ve seen from the top of the escarpment, that disappears over the edge of the plateau a mile or two from the guest house.



En route, way along the plateau, we visit Naomi. We met Naomi by chance three years ago, when we called to ask if she could give us some water to drink, one very hot, scorching-sun afternoon. It must have been a Sunday I think, as her compound was full of people, all of whom wanted their photos taken by the mzungu. My photos provide me with a pass into almost every household on the Kessup plateau: many have heard how I bring back prints. Even today, we have prints to hand out at this end of the plateau, Naomi’s included. Naomi is very pretty and, as William would say with approval, “Disciplined!” On that Sunday, three years back, I took a nice portrait of Naomi with her new baby. The next year, last year, we met and I asked after little Precious, the babe in arms. Quietly, she told me Precious had died before her first birthday. I had on my camera the only photo that had been taken of her baby child, so I had prints made in Kitale, found a frame and brought them back.

So now we visit again, with last year’s pictures this time, especially of her beautiful, cheerful five year old, Brian, and his appealing mates, Innocent and Dylan – a picture that still makes me smile. She’s delighted to see me again. It’s such warmth these people express when I return. Genuine welcome given freely. You see, as I’ve often noted, coming back confers so much respect in Africa, where most mzungus are either too grand or ‘just visiting’, passing through. Building a equal relationship isn’t easy, given our histories of conquest, colonialism and superiority inherent in aid-giving. But returning, sharing the warmth and being thankful for what people here have to give: a mug of tea, a few bananas, a glass of fresh milk, a few beans – what they have – is considered high respect.

Brian, Innocent and Dylan

We chat a bit and arrange to drop back for tea on our way back up the hill, for William and I are exploring again: the road we saw from far above. We don’t know where it goes. Does it descend to the burning valley or not? Actually, no it doesn’t, we find; well, it would eventually, but it’s not an expedient route for another trip down there, people tell us as we ask directions. So we go back and take tea and bananas from the tree with Naomi, and the cheerful children now coming home from school. And Naomi insists that she must give me the best cockerel, a large young one with fine speckled black and white feathers. So we return to the guest house with supper dangling from William’s hand. There’s an axiom in Navrongo, Ghana – that has a saying for just about everything – that ‘when a visitor comes to the house, the cockerel gets worried’. We will know that our supper is fresh. It weighs about two kilos, William reckons, weighing the flapping bird from his hand. “Supper for two nights!” he says with glee. He hates me ‘wasting’ my money on our supper any more than necessary! This man exists usually on maize flour ugali, a few local vegetables and black tea. “Eh, when my mzungu brother comes, I can eat meat!” he says, echoing Precious in Sipi. Ironic that I dream of returning to my usual home state of vegetarianism soon…

William and Naomi truss the cockerel for the home journey

William gives the kitchen strict instructions about the cockerel: he’ll probably count the bones to make sure we aren’t cheated, so careful is he of how ‘his mzungu’ is treated! I go to rest for a bit; I’m still coughing and spluttering, sniffing and croaking; my energy is at low ebb. There’s a meeting going on in the gardens, that I must pass to get to my room. It’s about fifty quite large schoolchildren; probably in their last year before senior school, preparing for their exams, for schools break for the long holiday next week. “Would you like to address these pupils?” asks Francis, who owns the guest house and appears to be talking to them himself. It’s so funny how a stray passing mzungu is always invited thus for a few words of wisdom – that it’s assumed I have. It’s happened so often, in so many situations, that I hardly blink but give them a short homily about education being the handle that opens so many doors in Africa. I sound to myself like a some old speech day duffer lying about ‘schooldays being the best of your life’, hollow words indeed. But I get a round of applause and one of the teachers takes my photo as I stand before the class, and the line of teachers nod sagely at my advice. I slope away to my room to rest until beer time, when William will arrive on the dot of five, fretting about whether my supper will be served on time. I am looked after so well here in Africa.

Soon after eight o’clock and I am in bed. One of the things I like about William is that he stands on no ceremony. “JB,” he says immediately his four beers and supper are finished, “I beg to leave. We meet tomorrow!” My deep cold is troubling me, and I have no desire to sit and ruminate and chat trivia. Bed is much preferable. Maybe twelve hours will alleviate the symptoms a bit for tomorrow’s walk…


For our last walk this year, we choose the forest on top of the escarpment again, a 1000 foot scramble above our breakfast table in the peaceful gardens on the edge of the great view into the valley below. The weather’s cooling a bit now, with light showers in the evenings sometimes. “The rains will start by the 15th,” says William with confidence borne of long experience. But Africa’s weather patterns are changing with climate damage; soon such certainty will be impossible. It already is really, for this has been another unusual year: dry as dust, with increasing problems in the hot valley below, extremes everywhere.

William looks down on his home: Kessup

The forest is ancient, protected now from the depredations of the growing and encroaching population. There are old trees here but, oddly, no animals at all that we can see, not even monkeys today. There are precious few birds too, a few golden-winged, blackly iridescent birds sweeping on the up-currents when we sit on the dramatic clifftops gazing down across Kessup plateau and into the huge rift beyond. Then, once again, we get lost for a couple of hours, but we know the great drop is always to our east somewhere; it’s just difficult to know which is south with the sun almost overhead, so much so that our shadows at noon are just an inch or two long. Here, the Equator is close by to the south, probably about 25 miles. Eventually, we scramble back down the cliff sides on a steep gravelly path. “One hour and twenty four minutes to rest… We meet at five,” says William, but tonight he calls as he approaches my room where I’ve been dozing, full of head cold, “Hah! Tonight I am three minutes late!” with a laugh. He is too. Punctuality is a rare gift in Africa. “I like discipline. I was trained by British!” We sit with our beers and contemplate the giant valley below, colourful birds enjoying the red-tufted tree above us. “The goodness is…”


I bring mangoes back from Kessup, and honey. Adelight enjoys the honey that I buy from one of William’s neighbours who deals in local honey, from the split tree trunk hives that we see suspended high in trees as we walk. It comes in various secondhand containers, thick with comb and dead bees that must be strained with a little hot water when I get home. It has an intense flavour I associate with our walks in the oven of Kerio Valley. The small bees relish some of the trees that somehow survive in the desert conditions of the sun-burned valley and its escarpment.

I bring several giant, fleshy mangoes too. If you haven’t drunk buna, Ethiopian coffee, in Ethiopia, the home of coffee, you’ve never really experienced the wonder of coffee. Similarly, if you haven’t eaten a Kerio Valley mango direct from the tree, you haven’t tasted the real wonder of mango. Oddly, this parched, scorched region produces the world’s sweetest mangoes, intensely fully flavoured, soft and without those irritating fibres. They dribble copious mouth-watering richness and grow in such contrast to the dusty harshness of the deep, superheated valley. Pineapples and passion fruits are the delicacies of Uganda in this season too. I eat so much fruit here in East Africa, almost overdosing on pineapples, mangoes, passion fruit, avocados and all the lesser known tropical delights that abound. My leaving gift for Adelight is a blender! Alex has one too now, a useful attribute for his guest house.

But, oh, I do look forward to getting away from salt and Royco, a cooking additive to which East Africans appear addicted. Its two main ingredients are corn starch and salt, with several additional E number chemicals and monosodium glutamate. It is used in quantity, and then large amounts of salt are added too. One night, Precious’ cooking found me with a headache, gulping from my bathhouse jerrycan in desperation. I’ve never liked salt: I don’t like the sour taste of it. Precious couldn’t believe that I moved from Yorkshire eleven years ago with the same two 500 gram canisters of salt that I have in the cupboard today; she buys at least a kilo of salt every couple of weeks. All I ever buy it for is deicing doorsteps, probably why it’s lasted unused for the ten winters I’ve spent in Africa… I also joked that I bought a five litre canister of rapeseed oil before the pandemic and still have two inches left in the pot. People here use that much oil in a couple of weeks. Every shopping list I undertake for Adelight has ‘cooking oil’ prominently requested, usually along with ‘Royco’. Everything is cooked in oil, even my green vegetables; no one’s heard of steaming with water, they kind of fry/ steam in quantities of oil, always adding tomato and onion to greens. How I look forward to some unadulterated vegetables, and to not eating meat until next time I am in Africa, where it’s invariably tough anyway, even though I know it’s fresh, as it walked past my table a few hours ago! For my last night in Kitale, I asked Adelight for a repeat of the best meal she made: handmade crispy chips with a fired egg on top! Of such is the comfort of familiarity…


I find another new murram (gravel) road home over the mountains from the heights of the Cheringani Hills, ten thousand feet above the distant seas. It’s cold: the wind chill causes me to put on my waterproof jacket, although the equatorial sun is high and hot. I pause for tea – my head-cold is still troubling me – at a shack ‘hotel’ in a remote village. It’s middle-aged owner, Milka, gives me a generous welcome and chats as I drink her sweet tea under the overhang of rusty tin that forms a verandah outside. “My house is along the road, where you see trees by the gate. I wish you could come home to my house! Next time, I will prepare you a meal!” People pass, watching the rare mzungu, greeting. Children peek from corners. Milka must have my ‘contact’ on her phone. She tries to refuse the 20 bob for my tea: I am her guest, but I insist: it’s her business. I promise to stop next time I am on this high, magnificent road. She gives me directions to find the new way to join the two tar roads over the mountainsides. Later, she phones to check I got home to Kitale safely.


Another Scovia – not the famous Kitale one!

Back in Kitale for the last time for now, I have little to occupy me for three or four days. I’m leaving the country in less than ten days. I’ve nothing much to do but enjoy the sun and recover from my head cold and take my afternoon walks. One day I go to town with Adelight and Maria, now school’s finished. We do some errands and I buy them lunch at the restaurant above the street again. But then Adelight’s going to the hair salon, and I know how long THAT can take, so I opt to walk home, shocking the ‘Pick-Me-There’ generation in her. She’s never walked the three and a half miles home. If she’s not driving, she’ll get a boda-boda… I walk by a longer route, using perhaps five miles; it’s humid and the sun’s strong, but I won’t stoop to a boda!

Adelight and I are comfortable friends, ‘brother’, she calls me, as William does, in the open African fashion of adoption. An intelligent woman, our victories are about equal at our Scrabble games in the evenings – in her second language, “Do you have such a word..?” My only criticism is the commonest one: ‘On the way coming…’ is the expression that sums up many – (I have to say this as it’s a fact) – African women’s attitude to time keeping. It adds so much stress to all appointments. It irritates Alex – and Rico – and William keeps himself free of the stress, living separately from his wife, “Eh, I want peace..!” I guess the attack by a criminal with a machete, when he was a senior police officer in Nairobi, that resulted in three months in hospital and the slight crookedness of his features, had a lasting influence on his attitude to the rest of his life, now spent quietly, and somewhat aimlessly in rural Kessup. Tomato and dairy farming will now supplement his obsession with following Manchester City on his pay TV, the only luxury in his simple lifestyle. William and Alex are now in contact by phone; they haven’t met yet, but they will appreciate the inherent ‘discipline’ in one another. It’d be fun to get all my three ‘families’ together sometime: maybe a project for another visit.


Then, fondly goodbye-ing Adelight early one morning, a week before I am due to leave Africa once again, I’m rolling south east, towards Nairobi. Well, ‘rolling’ implies a smooth, easy journey, while the reality is nine and a half hours in a battered old coach bumping and lurching over speed humps and broken main roads, the narrow carriageway shared by all manner of decrepit tractors and trailers, tuk-tuks, ancient lumbering trucks and donkey carts. But this is the way the majority of the world travels, and however bad it is, I can usually say I’ve known worse in my footloose, impecunious world travels. And I have nothing to do but sit and wait.

The schoolgirl next to me watches pop videos on her phone, image the size of a postage stamp, and listens to a wheezy, tinny speaker the size of a pinhead. Kids this age don’t seem to engage with the world around them any more: the passing country, me, let alone read a book. I’ve not seen a book in any hands but my own for eleven weeks, only phones. Thumbs clicking; attention spans just above zero. It disappoints me that she’s given way to this exploitation, but I expect every generation complains thus of the younger ones; I must accept that it’s the way it is. An overweight matron in front of me manages to gossip for three and a half hours – solid – on her phone (good battery!); a three year old across the aisle has her own phone to watch cartoons – passively – imagination processed by others, endlessly manipulative, insidious materialist messages beamed in squeaky, petulant American accents by uncaring, greedy corporations to people who have so little cash to spare. The way it is… Most of the rest just doze or fall asleep, a fact I envy so much in Africans. But the ride is easy, given the bodily discomfort. I’m just glad I’m not at the wheel.

Nairobi projects its environs at last; traffic builds and at last we are shuffling forward through jams and roadworks as the debt to China spirals. Detours over unmade ground that will soon turn to mud shake us as we lurch forward, feet at a time. The final 100 yards is the slowest of the entire 240 miles: entry to a crowded, chaotic bus depot in busy downtown. How the drivers contort large buses and matatus around each other is a wonder. There are people everywhere, carrying sacks and bags, jostling and drifting aimlessly, taxi men vying for business, idlers just watching. It’s six in the evening; the city is hot, full and dusty dry. The first taxi-wallah suggests a ridiculous sum that I reduce to only half before he walks away. It should be one sixth his fare, so I can’t be bothered: I’ll walk! I’ve been sitting for over nine hours and my bags aren’t heavy – the usual light travelling. It’s a twenty minute – rather hot – walk.

It’s unbelievably crowded in the streets at this hour. Battered rainbow buses are racing to distant suburbs, slums and residential areas, packed with sweating workers and traders. Boda-boda bikes ride on the already broken pavements to get ahead. Half the population walks along, eyes on phones rather than where they are going. They bash me and look offended, as if it’s my fault. I find a quieter street, in this city that makes little or no provision for its legions of pedestrians, giving preference to the bully-boy, inflated, glossy, bull-barred, 4X4s of the ‘successful’ Big Men. It’s bedlam and anarchy, in a city mainly planned in the past sixty years since Independence, with no concept of the demands of new cities of the future. Hot and dry, I am relieved to reach the old, faded colonial green gardens of the Kenya Club once again. I’m recognised here now and my room is cool and balconied, albeit a bit old fashioned. But it’s mine for a couple of nights and I can enjoy the relative anonymity of the place, for I – who spends a good deal of time in my own company – have been in constant closeness these past eleven weeks: in the heart of the Kitale and Sipi families or with William. I’m not ungrateful for the close friendships, indeed, I revel in them, but just sometimes to be amongst strangers, even though no mzungu disappears even in the capital city, is a small relief. But even in the garden bar as I relish my evening beer in calm darkness, a gentleman must come to greet me and welcome me to this old relic of colonial history: the ‘Club’, a nostalgic comfort to his generation in the chaos of this African capital. I order an approximation of spaghetti carbonara: it’s time for comfort food again tonight…


100 years ago, trains criss-crossed Africa: they were giant feats of colonial engineering, opening up the continent from the coastal ports. The majority of lines have long since rusted to obscurity. I remember the crumbling railway museum in Harare, Zimbabwe, where Gordon, an enthusiast left from the days of white rule, was living out his pensionable years curating the heaps of rust and dust and piles of antique yellowing papers, tickets, dockets, manifests and fading artefacts. Nowadays to ride a train in Africa is exotic – or so one would think; there are so few lines left and almost none restored, bridges have fallen, lines been pulled up for ‘recycling’ by local people; there’s little evidence left. Main stations, like that of Accra, have become markets with shacks straddling what’s left of the lines, ankle-twisters in heavy steel amongst quaint, peeling architectural gems. But now we have the Chinese; and Africa has their debts to that uncaring country, but one thing the Chinese do know about is railways. My ride from Nairobi to Mombasa on the Chinese train had many overtones of my travels in China in the communist 1980s. The same militaristic uniforms, faceless staff, constant mopping of the floors by uniformed cleaners, even the same piteously uncompromising seats in which to wriggle and twist for six uncomfortable hours.

This line between the coast and Nairobi – so far: there are plans to extend it upcountry – is the first to reopen. The trouble is, it’s as inconvenient as air travel: the vast new stations are WAY outside the cities! The whole joy of railways was that they took you to the heart of places. This one starts half an hour’s taxi ride out of Nairobi, beyond even the international airport. At the Mombasa terminus, you must get transport five miles or more into the city. My before-dawn taxi from the old Club cost me twice my rail fare to Mombasa!

I’d entertained the idea of exoticism and an edifying touristic ride through African savannah as we descended from Nairobi’s heights to the Arabic-influenced white towns of the Indian Ocean coast…

It wasn’t quite like that. Babies screamed and wailed; the windows were grubby and hardly up to game-watching as the line passes through extensive national parks, as vaunted on the railway’s advertising pitch; there’s no choice of seating; the bureaucracy is stifling, militaristic and officious, with heavier security than at the international airport: out of the taxi while police lift the seats, open the pockets, check the boot; a pat down by unsmiling police at the station entrance; bags sniffed by dogs while their owners stand in a regimented line back from them watched by unfriendly police who bark commands as if we were criminals in an identification parade; bags through a scanner; a complex ticket machine (you can’t pay online or with cards or cash, only with Kenyan mobile money apps); ticket check; passport check; another baggage scanner; another pat down, and finally another ticket check. Once on board, the instructions are firm and pernickety: everyone must conform in this atmosphere of suspicion and officiousness. It could be China.

The woman next to me plonked her bag on the table obscuring my view, then she watched YouTube videos for four hours. The toddler opposite fought with his brother, hit his uncaring and uncontrolling mother and wailed and moaned, kicked my knees repeatedly and thankfully left after three hours: the archetypal spoiled African small boy brat.

Maybe I should have taken First Class, but I like equality and thought it’d be friendlier in Economy. No one addressed a word or look at me in six hours. It was a Ryanair experience of African train travel. Quadrophonic babies shrieked as the temperature steadily rose outside, from Nairobi’s 5000 foot pre-dawn 20C, to Mombasa’s 40 degrees Celsius at 2.00pm..! 104 Fahrenheit. Assaulted from all angles by squawking phone speakers and argumentative American cartoons in squeaky high-pitched slang, the earplugs provided welcome relief by hour three, and I retreated into my own world as far as the conditions allowed; hot, flat savannah country rolling by the cloudy windows under a huge sun-beaten sky.


The light is different in Mombasa, after the highland towns. To the east spreads a vast ocean; it’s a city of the sea and spices of the East, filled with Arabic and Asian influence; faces are thinner and paler; the buildings have an exotic eastern look; most are painted white; many have the minarets and domes of Islam and Hinduism; the scents are different; the very breeze smells of another air from the inland higher lands. People move loosely, are of different genetic stock. The streets are filled with tuk-tuks; fruit is piled at pavement stalls, coconuts and bananas. I can walk on pavements – crowded and superheated, but planned cohesively along the wide main avenues. It’s a surprisingly attractive place. I’d forgotten that. I visited briefly, 20 years ago, more concerned with my onward journey than experiencing with my senses the novelty around me.

The matatu conductor from the train terminus, way out of town, taps me on the shoulder; I’m bent into the front seat next to a crazed driver. “You must get down here, we turn at the next street…” he tells me in a friendly manner; he’s been quizzing me about that last journey of mine, all the way from Cape Town by motorbike. “You can get a tuk-tuk.” So much for telling the touts at the enormous, arrogant ‘Mombasa Terminus’ station that I wanted to head for the city centre… So I get out and start to walk. It’s 40 degrees, but there’s an odd ocean freshness to the air, despite the intensity of the light and sun. There’s that intangible sense that the sea is somewhere nearby. I’m on a small island surrounded by channels, and out there the open sea stretches half way across the world. I’ve a quiet smile that belies my extreme discomforts. I walk.

I find my way to the centre of the city, to it’s best known landmark, two pairs of sheet steel tusks that arch over one of the main avenues beside the small Uhuru (‘freedom’) gardens. The tusks were put here for the Queen’s state visit back in the early 1950s, that time she acceded to the throne while she was in Kenya. None of us had TVs for the subsequent Coronation, and I had quarantined chicken pox and a picnic the day she became Queen.

The tourist office is on a corner here, a cheerful woman but not much information and just a map of the historic part of the city that I tear from a bigger map of the country. Tourism hasn’t happened for two years. She points to a hotel two hundred yards off that she reckons will be ‘pocket friendly’. I drip into reception, take a fan room (I abhor air-con, whatever the climate) and soon strip off – well, peel off – my sweat-heavy clothes and stand under a cold shower; then I drape the room with washing under the fan. I’ve travelled very light down here (why the heck did I bring my thin jumper? The invariable habit of the British, I guess).

Then I text Maureen and lie beneath the swirling fan to get back my energy.

Next moment the peace shatters with that God-bothering moan to the skies, “aaaLLLLAAAAHHHH AKbar! AAAALLLLAAAAHHHH AKbar!” I’ve picked a hotel across the road from a mosque again! Earplugs at 5.00am… Amplification: the worst invention for Islam.


My respect for my White African Brother, Rico, grows with every ‘Rico Girl’ I get to know. He may be irascible and impatient at times (sorry, chum!) – but the legacy he is leaving behind here in Africa – one I try to emulate in my own way – is impressive indeed. In the 35 years since we discovered this wonderful continent and its human treasures, he has committed much of his life, and the comforts he could have enjoyed, to the informal adoption of waifs and strays, (almost all girls: there were a couple of boys, but that didn’t turn out very well, here where boys resent any control), the neglected or orphaned children of members of his first Turkana wife’s extended family, some orphans who just happened along, and later the two junior sisters of Adelight. Ten or twelve if them altogether, a more delightful group of young women I know not anywhere in the world. It’s my privilege to be their ‘uncle’. I’m proud of them too. And even prouder of the way they accept me as a friend.

Maureen with a wrinkly uncle who’s bathed in tomato sauce…

Maureen talks so proudly of her ‘Dad’ as she forges her own way into a world that’s difficult for young African women. She’s animated, curious, very smart and very determined. “Well, it’s what Dad taught us: independence… I want him to be proud of me.” These girls recognise the love and commitment he’s given them. She’s pretty, cheerful and exudes her confident maturity. She is delightful. We walk to a restaurant that pounds with music that would normally irritate the hell out of me, but somehow, in this lively, curious company I’m relaxed as we talk (shout) and find out about one another, for we’ve only met once, quite briefly, since she was five years old. Now she’s 26, quietly ambitious, surprisingly world-wise, very determined and admirably independently-spirited for a young African woman. I get the feeling she knows where she’s going and she won’t be cowed on the way there. There’s a toughness beneath the pretty, feminine exterior. She’s already quietly breaking convention, a Turkana woman from unprivileged roots, given a chance in life that she’s grabbed with open eyes and both hands. We talk – in that noisy outside bar and club – and eat extravagant king prawns in coconut and tamarind sauce, with a couple of drinks. She tells me of her junior brother, whom she brought from Turkana, where he was becoming wayward and rebellious, to mentor him here in Mombasa. Derek’s 18, and she is proud that yesterday he completed his school exams, something of which she has dreamed. Now he must decide on senior school or technical school. I can hear the pride in her voice on his behalf, a generous spirit that has probably changed the life of another young person with few privileges beyond a determined sister.


Next day, she has classes until two in the afternoon, then she invites me to visit her home, a rented room in a crowded part of this crowded city. I must take a matatu and instruct the conductor to drop me at Buxton. It weaves through the craziest traffic. “Buxton!” The conductor taps my shoulder, and I alight into the chaos, but good as her word, Maureen’s bright smile lights the unruly crowd. She’s waiting with her friend Ken. We hire a tuk-tuk and clatter to her district.

Maureen is studying journalism, with particular interest in video and photography, as is Ken. She has a project to complete this weekend for term exams: she must create a 20 minute discussion programme and write justifications for her choices and organisation. She has a minimal three days, no equipment beyond her phone – and the power’s off at home – has been for a week now as the landlord hasn’t paid the bill. We discuss the work. What will be her subject? She suggests talking with me about my African travels, but I point out that the test paper states ‘discussion’: it needs someone else to argue with. At last, we decide on the subject of the extended family, the thing that perhaps I admire most in Africa life. Is it a good thing? Is it being lost? Will it survive? What are its benefits? We have Ken, Derek and me to discuss and Maureen to host. We talk for half an hour to her phone camera, hoping the battery holds out. Children scream outside the 12 foot square rented room she’s made home. It’s hot, baked beneath the Mombasa sun, there’s no electricity: no fan. But it’s a good subject, we agree. Derek favours the nuclear option; I admire the old ways; Ken is a bit ambivalent: he was a late birth in a huge family and most of his brothers are older than uncles, but he appreciates the wisdom of the uncles and grandparents who were around as he grew up. Maureen of course, comes from one of the most ‘extended’ families in this part of the world: the Rico Girls, adopted for various reasons and several tribes.

We are done. I’ve suggested we have a celebratory supper at some place they’d like to enjoy. We cram into a tuk-tuk and rattle to a very fancy restaurant overlooking one of the channels around this intriguing island city.


Maureen, Uncle J and Ken

It’s my role, and my pleasure, to be the visiting uncle this week, providing unusually rich meals in nice restaurants way beyond the budgetary dreams if these young women – to them and their charming close friends. Not the sort of places I usually choose either, so it’s enjoyable for me to be host, and here in East Africa even the smartest meals cost half those at home. Ken is another mature, wise, decent young man. It’s such fun, when you get to this ‘third age’ in life, to make young friends; one of the major joys of my African travels. They are respectful, warm-hearted and charming. “We’ll celebrate Derek’s achievement,” I say, to Maureen’s smile. The three modestly choose a cheaper pasta meal with a respect that amuses me and reminds me of my own youthful timidity. “Oh,” says Maureen, a little crestfallen, “I thought it’d be bigger for that money!” But although the dish is small, the food is much richer than that to which she is used. “Hey, I’m feeling full!” she declares half way through, with a happy smile.

Late in the evening, they put me in a tuk-tuk back to my hotel. Trouble is, I ate a whole fish in delicious sauces. It was excellent but almost as I finished eating, a fishbone sank itself into my gum behind a front tooth! By morning it’ll be agony. I can see it in the mirror with my torch, but no one has tweezers. I visit a couple of late night chemists. No tweezers. So I have to find a nearby private hospital clinic, happily open 24 hours, and it costs me £7.50 to have the laughing doctor dig about and eventually remove it. The fish was already quite expensive, now it’s reached smart European prices!


The Mombasa Tusks

At breakfast, a text pings in from Maureen: ‘we are coming to pick you up at tusks.’ Tusks are those double arched steel tusks that span a main avenue, built for the state visit of Princess Elizabeth. Maureen, Ken and Derek want to host their uncle again to a meander around the Old City and along the shores of the sapphire ocean, where the breeze brings me relief at last. We have extravagant coffees by the waterside and suck the water from coconuts – one of the flavours of the Tropics, and eat boiled potatoes coated in fried batter and served with vinegar, a local speciality, they tell me, as we sit at a broken wooden stall by the ferry I crossed twenty years ago when I rode from Cape Town.


I like Mombasa! I’ve been just the once before, briefly, two decades ago. I flew my African Elephant and myself home from here in 2002. Now, I find its calm atmosphere attractive. I like the bright white light, the sweaty heat and the calmness that seems inherent in this intriguing small island city. Its run-down decrepitude gives it an air of interesting authenticity for such a tourist city. It’s a working city, a port, a melting pot of cultural identities. The Old Town, with its history of seafaring and trade across the seas with Arabia and the East, is colourful, crowded together with no discernible plan, surprisingly quiet and astonishingly hassle-free. I’m suffered to wander with little more than a friendly “Jambo!” for my whiteness. Why, I get hassled more in Kitale than in this, one of Africa’s major tourist destinations. Mind you, I do do my best to blend in: I wear long trousers in this largely Muslim town, a short sleeved shirt instead of tee shirt, keep my camera in my shoulder bag, and carry a local newspaper prominently (tourists don’t tend to read local papers, so I let people believe I live in Kenya “Oh, I’m more used to the climate in Kitale!”). So-called ‘guides’ are easily shrugged off with a wave of my paper.

My young guides (Ken has lived here all his life, although most of his family except his mother, are still in far western Kenya) are familiar with the city and its mind-bending layout. We jump in and out of tuk-tuks: they wouldn’t usually be so profligate, but they want me to be entertained. The traffic’s remarkably disciplined and these tuk-tuks that plague other Kenyan towns with their small, smelly engines and slow speeds, are here quiet and well behaved, a sensible alternative to the irritating, badly ridden boda-bodas, a rarer vehicle here. The wail from mosques deafens, this Friday morning. Moslem women are enveloped in shrouds, many visible by no more than half an inch that contains two blank dark eyes. There are smells and flavours of Arabia, the Middle East and Asia that remind me of my impecunious early travels and lead inevitably to thoughts of the energetic young man who wanted to find out how the world worked. It was a different, unconnected world then, much bigger. It has shrunk with all our technology, there aren’t many mysteries left. But it also gets paradoxically BIGGER, because the more I SEE of it, the more I understand how much there is still to explore. Now I have to begin to accept that I won’t see a great deal more of it; I must make do with what I’ve already witnessed. My curiosity is undimmed, my energy is still pretty much there, my body willing, but time’s running out! That’s life, I guess…


Ken, Maureen and her brother Derek – fine people to know

Maureen and Derek cross a hectic street to find coconuts. Ken and I stand in the shade of a twisted iron market building, cages of chickens piled high, smelly, shit-filled, behind us. I’m a mzungu, visible by the special radar Africans have. Men and women try to sell me pop, nuts, fabrics, sugary sweets, endless polluting bottled water, snacks – everything they can carry and maybe sell, that makes a difference between food for the family, basic school fees for big families, medical help in emergency, booze to forget, secondhand clothes to wear – all that or poverty. Tuk-tuk drivers pester for a fare, beggars wheedle – there seem to be a lot in this Moslem city, richer pickings maybe, thanks to the Islamic belief that you are obliged to give away a small percentage of your income? I watch the colourful, crazy parade past our busy corner as we wait for the coconut water.

Then a little comedy act plays out. A woman, shrouded from head to foot in black – even her hands are gloved in black – is joking animatedly about the mzungu. Ken is laughing; I have no idea what’s going on, except that this bag of blackness, in which I can see just two lively eyes of completely indeterminate age, beauty or otherwise, character or even bulk, wants me for a husband. It’s a real performance that’s gathering a crowd of laughing spectators. If I have a wife already, she’ll turn her into a turtle to get me, she threatens! It’s extraordinary: this completely invisible woman, whom of course I see as downtrodden by a culture mainly controlled by men, has a wide humour and extrovert character. How can it be? There’s a skilled comedienne under all that hideous black cotton. She’s undoubtedly smiling and laughing, but it’s all invisible! She may be a ragged harridan for all I can tell, or an international beauty, come to that. Maybe she’s a toothless, fat, aged hag? Or a sophisticated business woman? A grandmother or middle aged? The only thing I can tell for sure is that she’s not cross-eyed. All that’s visible is two deep black eyes and the ridge of a brown nose. Nothing else! But it’s good to break my rather stereotypical prejudice of these Moslem women, downtrodden and hidden, subservient and controlled. Zinah, who writes her phone number on the top of a page in a notebook, tears it off and hands it to me, has an extravagant sense of humour that belies all My preconceptions of her lifestyle. The crowd laughs; I laugh – and at last she flounces off with big waves, into the chaos around us like a billowing flag of black fabric, anonymous but for her spirit.


Marion texts me not to arrive before four in Voi, where she’s studying tourism. ’I have classes and I can’t miss my lesson Hahahaha!!’ So we wander along the blue shoreline. I’m getting badly beetroot on my face and head; it’s sore, I didn’t bring a cap in my light-travel obsession. I thought my skin was tough after almost twelve weeks. But Mombasa sun is of a new intensity. My young friends guide me to a city centre matatu stand, negotiate with hustling conductors and wait until I pull out of Mombasa, waving me away with engaging respect and generational ease that I admire so much in educated African youth. They are charming, smart and attractive.

Perhaps on my next trip, I must persevere with that appalling road that so frightened me last year that I retreated defeated to the highlands. There’s only the one road I can take. It didn’t look that dangerous from the train..!

But it does from behind the mad driver of one of those matatus as I ride to Voi…


In Voi, it’s the turn of Marion. She’s Adelight’s junior sister, brought up by Rico since teenage years as a sort of dowry agreement with their mother. Now she’s away at college, here in burning Voi, a regional town surrounded by the vast Tsavo National Park, 150 kilometres back towards Nairobi. We meet at the busy matatu stage. She’s with her closest college friend, Esther, a slim, quiet young woman from Eldoret. Voi doesn’t look to have much attraction: just another hot, dusty Kenyan town like a thousand others. We walk to a nearby hotel where I check in to a tiled, hard-surfaced room and I suggest we head out for a drink and supper at some place they’d like to try but is beyond their means. That includes everywhere, of course, but they select a large ‘resort’, a sort of giant motel on the highway a few kilometres from town. We pick a couple of boda-bodas and go to sit by the swimming pool and eat more fish.

Marion’s grown up so much, these past two years. “Oh,” she says, “I wanted to go away to college, somewhere far. I know that’s important for my independence. Mum and Dad wanted to keep me near Kitale, but I needed to learn to live on my own.” She’s gained confidence and lost her timidity. She’s aware and wise to the pitfalls already. She’d like travel agency work when she completes her studies. “Maybe some personal guiding – but not big wild animals!” she laughs. She’ll be a good companion. She too has found her sense of humour and is a cheerful, engaging young person. I’ve come to really enjoy her company this year. She talks happily of our trip to Mount Elgon at New Year, and our visit to Sipi two years ago. Her entrepreneurial ambition in the short term is to trade in secondhand fashions amongst her fellow students, buying and selling mtumba clothes to support herself here in Voi. A small gift from Uncle J should kickstart that venture.


Next morning – I’ve only two more nights in East Africa this year – I take the train back to Nairobi, a four hour ride. I treat myself to 1st Class this time. It’s only £15 and it’s comfortable, peaceful and I’m not kicked by fighting toddlers or entertained by numerous tweety phone speakers. It feels very civilised. And it’s my final journey in Kenya this year.

Marion phones to check I’ve set off from Voi and I pick up an email from Maureen in Mombasa:

Am so thankful for the time and money you spent with us. You left us with a lot of positive emotions and energy. Personally, it’s like you have infected me with the smiling virus you impact on your journeys, I must confess, I am smiling yet again, I mean it literally. I am laughing and smiling from my heart with all I interact with. Thank you so much.’

How could anyone fail to connect with such honesty and generosity of spirit?


I meet Scovia in the hot sunshine outside the station in Nairobi. The journey back up’s been calmly comfortable in 1st Class. How my travels have changed! An unknown decadence at odds with all those rugged earlier journeys. But here I am, two days left, and it looks like I’ll be in America within two or three weeks, engaged on another museum project, so why not indulge the £15?


I stay with Scovia and her fiancee, Webb, and his bright young sister, Ivy, in their rented flat an hour – or more – from the city centre by bumping, contorting matatu and battered bus. Scovia and Ivy do this journey in and out every day of the week, sometimes over two hours in dense traffic, like most Niarobians. I’d be driven mad, but this is city life for millions on the continent. Thank god for Harberton, waiting in two days.

On Sunday, I get a PCR test at Nairobi West Hospital, the same place as last year. It’s well organised but tedious, although on Sunday it’s quiet. I’m still not certain I need the £30 test: instructions from KLM in an email this morning say I don’t need anything but vaccination for Britain; the KLM website though is ambiguous about my transfer in Schipol on Tuesday; and Kenya Airways, who handles by their partner KLM locally, say I need a test. Well, rather a £30 test than refusal to board my plane. A tax on my holiday travels.


So, effectively, as I sit here in hot sunny Nairobi, another safari in Africa is over. In total, I’ve spent almost five years touring this fascinating continent in 35 trips. It’s been a huge influence in my life, an obsession even, that has guided my opinions, beliefs and behaviour for 35 years.

This journey’s been rather slow and relaxed, less riding – only about fourteen hundred miles. I’ve consolidated ties with my families, worked on the development of Rock Gardens and walked a great deal, getting so much more depth in my understanding of the landscapes and peoples. I’ve given away considerably more money than my trip has cost this year, with the pleasure that comes with giving – and seeing recipients wisely use the gifts for their families and their futures.


A woman, about 40 in a glitzy black Sunday hat and smart dress, walks past the coffee shop where I am sitting in the shade on a low balcony, writing these paragraphs. She’s staring openly at the mzungu. I make eye contact and give her a big smile. She doesn’t look away. She smiles back, happily unembarrassed, gives me a jaunty wave and walks on.

It means nothing but ‘welcome!’. A momentary incident among millions that illustrates why I continue to love Africa so much.

Age and cameras are unsympathetic… But the coconut water is wonderful