THE BOOK: Walking Over Eggshells.
PUBLISHED IN: 2013.
THE AUTHOR: Lucinda E Clarke.
THE EDITOR: Me, but the one and only time, I learned my lesson!
THE PUBLISHER: Self published, through Createspace.
SUMMARY: This is the true story of a young girl brought up by a mother who never showed her any love. This left her an obvious target for the charismatic man she met and married, a Walter Mitty clone. For the next 25 years he took her to live in seven different countries, (mostly in Africa) often one step in front of the creditors. Trained as a teacher, she took various extra jobs to put food on the table. She bred small animals for pet shops, worked on a local radio, ran the worst riding school in the world, finally she ‘fell’ into the media world, first writing for radio and television and then later into production. Eventually she set up and ran her own video production company. She went from poverty to having millions in the bank and back to poverty, before eventually meeting someone with whom she could share a more ‘normal’ life.
THE BACK STORY: I originally wrote down my life events to try and explain to my children what made me tick and how my background had shaped my life. When I discovered the reasons and causes for my mother’s behaviour, and I realized that many families also suffer under similar circumstances, I decided to share it. If I could help even one person understand why they were rejected by a parent, then my book would had achieved its purpose. By the number of emails I’ve received from readers, it has achieved far more than I thought.
I wrote the first draft over a period of years, and then completed the manuscript in a few months. The only research I did, was from the letters I’d written to my mother which she returned to me. At the time the gesture was a deliberate insult, but in retrospect it provided a lot of material for the book. The rest was from memory, although I did write in the front that the story is as I remembered it, other players may remember events quite differently.
WHY THIS TITLE? Originally I called the book “Walking on Eggshells” – exactly how you behave when you are living with a human time bomb. However there were several other books with that title, so I changed it slightly to “Walking Over Eggshells.”
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT: If you have one family member who is constantly disrupting family life and relationships, my book might well give you an insight into why they behave as they do. It may validate your lack of self esteem if you have experienced this and since it is now suggested that 9% of the population suffer this syndrome, maybe it is a book everyone should read.
Lucinda undertook almost anything to make ends meet, from teaching in schools to teaching horse-riding; from book-keeping to script writing and film production. Although she doesn’t boast at all, she must be an extremely talented and gifted woman to have achieved what she has, especially under these circumstances, and I can only take my hat off to her. As a read, I found it slightly slow at the beginning, but once the pace picked up, it was a roller-coaster ride and I could hardly put it down. Very very compelling! Lucinda ends the book with the discovery that her mother suffered from narcissism, a realisation that does at least give her some peace. I think that everyone who has experienced a narcissistic parent, husband or close relative should read this book. It might not save them from suffering, but they will almost certainly recognise the behaviour, and it could help such sufferers to at least understand what they have been going through. I found it immensely inspiring, not at all depressing and full of colour and life. A really great read.
That Lucinda E Clarke can write and write well is not in question. This memoir left me breathless at times. She writes of her adventures, mis-adventures and family relationships in an honest but entertaining manner. As each chapter opened I could not wait for the continuing saga and adventures to recommence. I think the success of this memoir is the authors sense of humour and determination to press forward despite suffering a childhood (and indeed adulthood) at the hands of a mentally abusive mother. I was never depressed by her story but sometimes saddened and almost angry on her behalf. I wholeheartedly recommend this book, buy it, delve in and lose a few days, well worth it.
I have spent years learning about antisocial behaviors. When this book was suggested read, I thought, oh no, not another memoir of dishing Mom or Dad. But no, Ms. Clarke is right on. A gifted writer, Ms. Clarke tells her story so well I really could not put the book down. As a victim of a psychopath (with narcissistic tendencies) she nailed the disorder of narcissism PERFECTLY. Her book is a MUST READ for those who are trying to understand “What happened?’ “What did I do to make this happen?” “Why are they like this?” Why doesn’t anyone believe me?” Again “Walking Over Eggshells” is a MUST READ for those who have been parented by a Narcissist. Ms. Clarke is a superb writer, sharing everything with the reader about what her life with a narcissist parent was like. You must read this book to understand narcissism. I learned so much from her memoir, which I cannot praise enough. A must read! Thank you Ms.Clarke!
Wow. This book is fascinating and helped me a lot to understand my own relationship with my mother which has always been difficult and has resulted in little contact and a lot of guilt. I now feel redeemed and not such a bad person after all. I think this book is an amazing revelation and will help a lot of women. It is well written and a real page turner. Good luck and thank you Lucy, what an amazing courageous person.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I’ve had a roller coaster life. Lived in 8 different countries, had too many jobs to remember, was headhunted and fired, lived in a mansion and on a boat. I’ve had a million and been below the poverty line. The highlights include meeting Prince Charles, heads of state and Nelson Mandela, the low points, crawling over rubbish dumps and cleaning other people’s toilets. If I went to the big study in the sky tomorrow, I would have no regrets. My biggest fear is that I won’t live long enough to write all the stories which are still jumping around in my head. My other worry is whether they will put up a shelf in my room in the old age home so as I lie helplessly in bed I can gaze at them, and read them to remember who I was and what I’ve done.
I’m writing my 6th book right now. Walking over Eggshells was the first biography, (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E8HSNDW) followed by two books about my career in the media, hilarious, sad and real eye-openers Truth, Lies and Propaganda (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QE35BO2) and More Truth, Lies and Propaganda (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VF0S3RG).
As that is quite enough about my life, I decided to try a novel and the result was Amie an African Adventure which has been #1 in genre on both sides of the Atlantic (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LWFIO5K) and due to popular demand, yes really, I wrote Amie and the Child of Africa (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015CI29O4)
I’m working on a political satire right now, and then I will go and rescue Amie again and put her through more hell – we have this love hate relationship. She wants a quiet, settled life and I have no such plans for her.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Do I write books to make a million? Not exactly, that is SO unlikely to happen! Some people are alcoholics, others are drug addicts and I’m a writerholic. I’ve been writing professionally since 1984 – yes, that long – and I couldn’t stop if I tried. It’s an obsession and if I don’t write I get these terrible withdrawal symptoms, I’m bad tempered, I shake and the ends of my fingers tingle. I’m pretty much a lost cause and my own worst enemy. It’s hard work pretending to be retired! But every review makes all the hard work so worthwhile. During my lifetime I’ve written thousands of programmes for radio, television, the corporate world, in fact anything that needed words, I was there to put them together. It’s just as well, I’ve not yet discovered if I have any other talents.
I could only cry as I looked at my small seven week old daughter lying on the sofa. I had just fed her and as before, she had been violently sick. She wasn’t getting any nourishment and she just lay there staring at me with her big blue eyes, making soft whimpering noises, willing me to help her. But I didn’t know what to do. How had I got into this crazy situation in the first place? Was my daughter going to die because of my reckless and foolish behaviour? Was my mother right about me all along?
We were in a small bungalow near Kikuyu an area way out in the bush, thirty miles from Nairobi the capital of Kenya. I had no friends, no family, no transport, no phone, no electricity, hardly any food, very little money and no one to turn to for help and I was trying hard not to panic. I had only been in Africa for a few weeks and I’d never traveled far from England before. Everything was still strange and unfamiliar and I was very scared.
I had Elizabeth, a twenty year old girl from the Kamba tribe, but she spoke very little English and we’d hardly got to know one another. In theory, she was my maid; in practice, she was just as helpless as me.
I dried my eyes, feeling sorry for myself was not going to accomplish anything. Somehow, I had to get to the city and find Randy the company representative, and persuade him to help me. I was twenty six years old, married and life hadn’t been easy so far, so this was just one more problem to solve wasn’t it?
The only way to get to town was by public bus. By now, I didn’t even have enough bus fare for Elizabeth to come with me, but I wasn’t leaving my daughter behind, so I grabbed Kylie and went to stand by the side of the main road. There were no bus stops, all the local buses stopped for people who waved their arms and the ancient and decrepit vehicles screeched to a halt to pick up more and more passengers, even if there were no seats left. There were as many people standing inside the bus as there were outside clinging to the top of the roof, along with the odd goat or cage of chickens. I was lucky enough to get a real seat, but maybe the other passengers made space for me, because from the incredulous looks on their faces, I soon realized that Europeans traveling by public transport was unheard of.
We arrived in down town Nairobi, certainly not the area near the Hilton or New Stanley Hotels frequented by the tourists. Now, I had no money left at all. I eventually found the circular tower that’s the Hilton Hotel landmark.
At reception, they told me that Randy was on safari, but as far as they knew, he would be back that night. I left a message for him and just to make sure, I went up to his room and knocked loudly on the door. No reply. I sat in the coffee shop, where I had the audacity to order a glass of water and watched all the rich, safari tourists as they compared wildlife notes and swapped stories of their exciting encounters with dangerous African animals. What would they think of me? I felt so ashamed. I was in a foreign capital, nursing a sick baby with not a penny to my name. It was a far cry from the private school girl, who only a few years ago, danced until dawn at the May Ball. I returned to Randy’s room several times and eventually he appeared.
“I need help, I have no money, and now the baby is sick.”
Randy looked alarmed. I’m sure that his job was not to go on safari and just leave all the families to fend for themselves, even if I was the only one there. He’d not come back once to see how I was getting on. I’d tried to be brave, I really had, but it was all too much. I had no idea where Jeremy was, I only had a post box number to write to in Dar es Salam, but I even if I wrote to him, there was nowhere for him to send a reply. Suddenly I burst into tears, much to our mutual embarrassment.
Randy grabbed my arm and marched us back down to the coffee shop, where I ordered several slices of cake
and sandwiches and cups of coffee. It was so good to eat familiar food again. Reluctantly, Randy handed over a wad of money, with the warning that it was not company policy for him to pay out without Jeremy’s sanction. A little difficult to get, since as far as I knew, he was well out of range somewhere deep in the Tanzanian bush. I was told in no uncertain terms, that Randy was doing me an enormous favour and I had every reason to be grateful to him.
I thanked him profusely and it was not until several years later I realized how I had been duped. He’d not been doing his job and yet he ended up on the attack while I ended up apologizing, it was a habit it took years to break.
I pushed my luck and pleaded for a ride back to Kikuyu. Despite not being keen, I don’t think his conscience would have allowed us to travel back on the public bus service, as by now it was dark outside.
Next morning I set off bright and early, long before eight o’clock, for the clinic Elizabeth had found close by. Close by, was her description, it was actually five miles away! I joined the end of a very long queue. If the British Empire accomplished only one thing during its long reign over the majority of the world, it was how to form an orderly queue. You have to admire the inordinate patience of the African who will queue all day in the boiling hot sun waiting patiently. They never complain, they never make a fuss. Should facilities close before they get to the front of the queue, they simply walk away and plan to return another day. They stand or sit quietly, staring into space, rarely talking to the people next to them, for they are neither close friends nor family.
I was very reassured to hear the Sister’s broad Scottish accent as she processed one baby after another. When I eventually reached the head of the queue, I explained that after feeding, Kylie was regurgitating her milk and I was worried about her.
“What a beautiful baby, she’s a perfect miniature adult. So, how old is Baby?”
“Baby is five weeks.”
“Where’s her inoculation card?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Why not? What jabs has she had?”
“Well, nothing, I mean…”
“But she’s had her BCG of course?”
“Don’t you only get that at about twelve, in senior school?”
“Not in Africa my dear, we jab them as soon as they appear. I’ll do her right away.”
“But wait!” I cried, I wanted to explain that I’d had TB and maybe she should check to see if Kylie should have a TB inoculation. But it was too late, Sister disappeared round the corner. I tried to follow her, but the throng of people didn’t make way for me as they had for Sister. Five minutes later, she was back, and I explained my medical history.
“She’ll be fine, don’t you worry about it,” replied Sister. “Now, let’s sort out this feeding problem. We can start her on solids and I can give you powdered milk as well. It’s possible your milk doesn’t taste too good if you’re not used to the heat.”
I took her advice and I persevered, I really did, but Kylie was a European baby, and she did not take kindly to mashed up African fruits and vegetables. It seemed the more I stuffed in her mouth the more she vomited, but she liked the baby milk formulae. She never cried but I continued to fret about her state of health. She didn’t seem to get any fatter, but she didn’t lose weight either and she stopped whimpering and seemed more cheerful.
The following day I set off for the post office and joined yet another long queue. When I finally reached the window, the smiling black face asked how he could help.
“I would like a post box please.”
“Oh dear, there is a waiting list, a long, long waiting list,” replied the smiling face.
“But I need one urgently!”
“Maybe, for a small consideration?”
“Two hundred shillings?” Reluctantly I handed over the money.
“When can I have the post box?”
“Now.” The post office clerk scrambled under the counter and re-appeared with the key.
“And I also need to have the phone re-connected.”
“There’s a very, very, long waiting list I’m afraid, for phones.”
“But the phone is already in the house, it just needs to be connected.”
“But that will be difficult.”
“There is a long waiting list, very long.”
“But for a small consideration?” I’m a quick learner.
“Ah, yes, that could be arranged.” More money exchanged hands. In Africa, it was obviously all a matter of money, but the problem was that I didn’t know how long the money I had wrestled from Randy would last.
The days went by. Faithfully I wrote to Jeremy every day and posted the letters on my daily trip to the post box, it was the highlight of the day. Each time I inserted the key into the little mail box door, I prayed there would be a letter, but as the days went by, it remained empty. I even wrote to my mother and all my friends and distant relatives as well, but it was a long time before I heard from any of them. I learned that it took weeks for a letter to travel in both directions and even if post arrived in the capital, it took many more days for the letters to find their way the extra thirty miles to the rural area of Kikuyu.
There wasn’t much to do. Elizabeth kept the house clean, which was not difficult as there was minimal furniture and the floors were tiled. Two of the three bedrooms were unused, as Elizabeth insisted on sleeping outside in the servant’s quarters, or shamba, but during the time we spent together, I think we became very firm friends.
From our initial decision to leave England, everything had happened so fast. It seemed only yesterday that I had been living a normal life, in a normal house, in a familiar country. After a twelve hour plane flight, which felt more like twelve days, the wheels touched down at Embasaki airport and as they opened the doors, I got my first taste of Africa, the sheer heat that hits you like a sledgehammer. I had never experienced such heat in all my life, it felt like walking through a gigantic oven, and I loved it. The light too was so different, here it was sharp and clear. Brilliant blue skies and a sun, which was brighter than anything I had seen before.
Next shock was the preponderance of armed soldiers at every turn. They lined the walkway from the plane steps to the terminal buildings and there were more inside. I hadn’t the faintest idea what kind of guns they were clutching, but they were big and black and looked very dangerous, and the owners looked quite keen to use them too.
A hand came out and grabbed my passport. I finally had a real British passport courtesy of being married to Jeremy, living and learning and teaching in UK for sixteen years hadn’t cracked it on its own! I made to grab it back, but it was only our welcoming party, Randy the American company representative.
In two minutes, he had us through immigration and customs and we were speeding towards Nairobi. More culture shocks. The houses on either side of the road were just sheets of corrugated tin and bits of wood and cardboard. Children covered in flies sat by the side of the road, and elderly wrinkled women were bent almost double under great bundles of firewood. There were younger people simply hanging around, while I wondered naively why they weren’t in school. The levels of poverty, even in our poorest days paled into insignificance as I gazed at the shack lands, which seemed to stretch for mile upon mile, as we negotiated the narrow tar road, which was shared by motorized traffic, goats, sheep, and chickens alike. Pedestrians too, had little regard for the rules of the road, they wandered where they pleased, and the pedestrians themselves were a surprise. I expected them to be black, but I didn’t expect the miniskirts and platform soles.
Then there were the billboards by the side of the road, advertising the familiar Sunlight soap, Omo washing powder and Embassy cigarettes. It was all so similar and yet so very, very different.
It was also a big shock to see people begging on the side of the road, something I’d never encountered before. I saw real poverty for the first time in my life, so very different from the Welfare State in England. The first time a beggar screamed at me and demanded money I froze, not sure what to do, it scared me as even though I was happy to part with a few cents, there were just so many of them, there was no way I could have given to
Randy was staying at the Hilton, while we would be staying at the New Stanley Hotel only a few blocks away. We were to find ourselves accommodation as soon as possible, as we only had six days to settle in before Jeremy was due to leave for Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
“How much do we spend on rent?” we asked.
“It’s up to you really. Everything is done on a salary advance, so just tell me how much you need. It should be pretty easy, all the newspapers are in English and are filled with advertisements,” Randy replied.
He dropped us off at the hotel, helped us to register, and then dropped the bombshell. He was off on safari for five days, contact him at the Hilton on Friday and he’d take Jeremy to the airport.
Where was the colonial compound I was expecting? Where were all the other families?
“Well you’re the first to arrive, the rest are expected in a month, or so, you’ll be well settled in by then,” Randy told me. He drove off and we were left standing in the lobby of the hotel totally confused.
Jeremy left Kylie and myself in the room, and went down to the Thorn Tree Restaurant and the Long Bar, famous in literature and home to many famous and infamous old colonials. Ernest Hemingway, the Blixens, Edward the Prince of Wales, Clark Gable, Steward Granger and Ava Gardner had all been there before us.
Jeremy returned with a newspaper and the promise of a car with a driver for the following day. A driver, just for us? Yes, apparently it was quite common for all companies to have several cars and drivers to run errands for managers.
We combed the papers and ringed all the advertisements for houses to rent which we thought sounded promising. We had no idea what to expect per hundred shillings, but we were soon to find out.
Our smiling black driver cheerfully drove us around and around and around. Areas that we thought sounded not too expensive were little more than squatter shacks and I was horrified to learn that people actually paid rent to live in them! We asked our driver to take us to where the white people lived and we toured the suburbs of Karen and Langatta, where we saw small palaces, with sweeping lush green lawns but no To Rent signs.
The next day we tried further out of town, and then further and further as the days went by. We were forced to spend the majority of our remaining few shillings on hiring a car, as we couldn’t keep borrowing a driver.
We began to get desperate as Friday approached. Jeremy didn’t think we could afford more than a certain amount on rent and to keep within this budget we finally found a place thirty miles out of town on the Naivasha Road, next to the Sigona Golf Club and three miles from the village of Kikuyu. It was a three bedroom, stone built bungalow with a tin roof, owned by a local businessman called Mr. Karanda. It was surrounded by an attractive garden with exotic plants I’d only seen before in picture books. I was a little nervous about taking it as it seemed so far away from anywhere, even though there was a main road at the bottom of the garden.
We moved in on the Thursday night and the landlord kindly offered to phone the Hilton for us to tell Randy where he could collect Jeremy the following day.
The man from the car hire place insisted I couldn’t live without an Ayah, and presented us with his sister.
“If she does not work well, then you beat her hard,” he instructed me. Beat her? Was he serious?
Elizabeth was short, round, plump, and also very shy. She had come to the city to look for work, for her home was south of Nairobi in a town called Machakos. She had never seen a real lion, which I found encouraging, and in school, they had taught her that the sea went away at night to feed and returned each morning.
We went to bed early that evening since there was no electricity and Randy was on the doorstep before seven the next morning to whisk Jeremy off to the airport. He promised to pop round later, which he never did, and I was left standing on the verandah, with a tiny baby in my arms, an African nanny I had known for a day, thousands of miles from home. I felt totally and utterly lost.
Food seemed to be the first priority and luckily, the stove worked off gas so I took my few remaining shillings and gave them to Elizabeth and asked her to buy food. She disappeared, I had no idea where, as there wasn’t a shop in sight. Perhaps there was a local market?
She returned carrying some indescribable things. I would recognize them now as chicken beaks and claws and large green, knobbly pumpkins. While I didn’t think I would have to worry about Kylie, who was getting good old British or Irish breast milk, I had problems forcing the food down, even though I was ravenous.
The good news was that Elizabeth brought change. I couldn’t believe how much change, food was really
cheap, if you could learn to eat like the locals, but I doubted my ability to do that.
The next few days passed slowly, we rose with the sun and went to bed as night fell. Kylie did not need much looking after and Elizabeth was reluctant to put her down at all. I often lay in the garden and read a book, but I was very nervous about the snakes I felt sure must be everywhere, and held a stick out behind me to tap the ground to keep them away. In hindsight, it could have attracted them instead. There were lots of insects and strange flying things, and I had no idea which were dangerous and which were harmless.
Mr. Karanda appeared one afternoon about 4 o’clock and I was so pleased to see him that I had to stop myself flinging my arms around him. Yes, he could get the electricity connected, for a small consideration. Yes, he could also suggest I go to the post office only a couple of miles away to get a post box and the phone re-connected. And would I like fresh milk delivered to the door each morning? Do planes fly?
“And one other thing….” He paused.
“Maybe you will not be as safe here as you should be, you will need a guard. Don’t worry, I will send Kimani round before nightfall and he will stay on guard all night.”
Unsafe? A guard? It’s true that I’d noticed several guards or askaris, standing around outside the houses in the suburbs, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need protecting out here. I nodded and Mr. Karanda drove off in his Mercedes, assured that he had one cash cow tenant sitting in his bungalow just down the road. The only problem was that this cash cow, was almost totally broke, and didn’t know where or when the next Kenyan shilling was coming from. Somehow, I would have to pay for both the guard and the milk.
Kimani duly arrived long after dark that night, blind drunk. He ran round and round the outside of the house banging on the burglar bars with his knob Kerrie making a terrible racket. Elizabeth and I cowered on the floor by the sofa. We were terrified, and it was only the next morning that we discovered it was our guard who had almost scared us to death.
The milk boy also arrived, carrying a real metal churn such as I had only ever seen in history books. Elizabeth took an instant liking to him, and would warble loudly “The Lord is coming to take me away,” as he walked up from the front gate.
“I only wish he would,” was my response, for Elizabeth’s singing was truly awful and if she thought that her musical abilities would attract the milk boy, she was badly mistaken.
Yet I did have reason to be thankful to Mr. Karanda, since the following morning I woke up to see a queue outside the gate which stretched for miles down the road as far as the eye could see. News travels fast in Africa and it seemed the whole of Kenya knew that a white Memsab had moved in and surely, she must want a plethora of servants? The crowd at my gate would have been sufficient for a re-enactment of the ‘Flight from Egypt’, and little did they know, I had no money to pay them either. With a sigh of relief, I sent Elizabeth out to tell them that I had all the staff I needed, since Kimani, somewhat more sober, had pleaded with me to allow him to double up his duties as a night time askari with day time duties as gardener.
Elizabeth assured me that she counted herself lucky to work for me. Kimani never seemed as grateful though. He looked about seventy, but with some interpretation from Elizabeth I discovered he was only thirty five. He had three wives and numerous children, which is possibly why he looked so worn out. He would see them once every few months and seemed quite content. He saw his new job as a way to pay for another wife. I would have thought he had quite enough to cope with already.
How different it is in Africa. A man may have as many wives as he can afford, or not afford as the case may be. Marriage often takes place, if at all, after the woman has given birth to at least one healthy male child to prove she is worthy of the bride-price. Payment could vary, from one mangy goat to a herd of prime cattle among royalty, and take many months or years to pay and often leads to disputes among families.
Despite the low cost of food, the little money I had wasn’t going to last too long and just as it ran out, Kylie got sick which resulted in my frantic trip into Nairobi. Thinking about it a few days later, I thought I had coped quite well under the circumstances. I’d found a clinic and knew that Kylie didn’t have some weird African disease, I’d got a post box and after providing Mr. Karanda with the ‘small consideration’, the following day the electricity was connected and a couple of days later I lifted the phone to hear a dialing tone. I was ecstatic! I phoned the Hilton, to be told that Randy was away on safari again and was only expected back the following weekend. I was determined that as soon as my first salary advance ran out I would track him down again and demand more.
Kylie began to put on weight, and appeared to thrive. She stopped vomiting and the days passed in quick succession with only a few uncomfortable incidents.
There was a leopard in the garden at night which made me a little nervous. I freaked the first time I heard African drums, recalling old movies with boiling pots full of white men and women, and I was forced to call Kimani into my bedroom the time I saw a snake’s tail sticking out of the wall vent.
At last, the day dawned when I opened the mail box to find a huge pile of letters, all from Jeremy, each one carefully re-sealed with brown sticky tape.
They had been opened and read by the censor’s office, I think, in Tanzania. I’m not sure if they censored every letter sent out by foreign nationals, but after reading the first one, I could understand if they honed in especially on Jeremy’s. He was missing me so much, enough to describe what he would like to be doing when we celebrated his first leave, all of which he described in lurid detail. I blushed with shame and immediately sat down to write to him and ask him to tone it down. I was so relieved to hear from him and to learn that he would be home in two weeks time for his first leave.
With my new found wealth from Randy, I decided to hire a car and do some real European food shopping and then fetch Jeremy from the airport when he flew in a couple of days later. With a new determination I didn’t know I possessed, I succeeded in bargaining with an Indian dealership in Nairobi, and drove away in an elderly Datsun with Kylie lying on the back seat, no car seats or seat belts in those days!
I sat for ages in the hot car as I saw my first presidential cavalcade go by. Jomo Kenyatta stopped for no one.
I returned home with two steaks for supper, large, tender and really cheap and I gave them to Elizabeth to cook. She boiled them. I chewed my way bravely through the boot leather. I explained carefully to Elizabeth how to cook steaks under the grill and told her to do that in future.
The following day, I purchased a boil in the bag bacon joint and told Elizabeth how to cook it and I showed her how to make a white sauce and how to prepare the cabbage and the potatoes to go with it. Yes, she grilled the joint, still wrapped in the plastic, which eventually caught fire. Another meal ruined!
I did receive letters from my mother. I was so lonely and scared that once again I thought that maybe we could make an effort to get on better. After all, we were both married and I felt that Paul was a calming influence. She replied, and maybe I imagined that she was less caustic than before, but it was safer corresponding from a long distance.
Jeremy was due back and I commuted between both Nairobi airports, but no Jeremy. He wasn’t on a flight the following three days either and in despair, I returned the hire car.
Two more weeks went by, no letters, no phone calls and no Randy. I did my best not to panic. What would happen if Jeremy were dead? What would I do? Randy had the return air tickets, and who knows where he was? Probably off on a nonstop safari? My imagination worked overtime. What if Randy was gored by a lion or trampled by an elephant while on one of his famous safaris? Who even knew where I was? Would the office in London remember I was here? Even if I did get back to UK, where would I go? How would I cope with no money, no job, and Kylie to look after? Most people would rush back to the safety of their families, but for me that didn’t bear thinking about.
Eventually, I opened the post box and there was a letter postmarked Tanzania. I ripped it open. Jeremy and the rest of the crew had just set up camp in the night when they were surrounded by armed soldiers and accused of being in a ‘no go’ area. They were herded into a large hole in the ground and left there without food and water for several days, with guards whose itchy fingers caressed the triggers on their guns. They had all been released, but it had delayed the time off rotation and he would be arriving in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Once again, I dashed into Nairobi, braving the dangers of the public transport system and haggled with the owners for an even cheaper price on a hired car. I think they couldn’t quite believe that I was in Kenya all on my own, with no back up and they took pity on me. I drove away in the ancient Datsun again and commuted between airports. No Jeremy that day, nor the next and it was not until Thursday that he finally stepped off the plane.
I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see anyone, and I clung to him like superglue as we walked to the car. As we drove to the bungalow at Sigona, Jeremy casually remarked that he wasn’t returning to Tanzania.
“But didn’t you sign a two year contract?”
“Yes, but I’ll take advice about that. I think what they’re doing is illegal.”
“What! How is it illegal?”
“Well, a couple of the guys were arrested in Dar es Salaam last week as they tried to come home. They’d been told to say that they earned two hundred Tanzanian shillings a month and neither customs nor immigration believed them.”
“My God, you’re earning more than that aren’t you?” I felt sick, had I taken over a year’s salary advance from Randy?
“Of course I am, but they’re going to pay it overseas, so no money comes in, except for the salary advances that is, but we’ve been told to lie about it. Frankly, I don’t fancy being thrown in one of those jails, if you come out alive, they tell me your indigestion is shot from the local food.”
The next day, Jeremy went into the British High Commission and chatted to one of their people, and they agreed, that the company was skating on thin ice.
For once Randy, was ensconced in the Hilton, and Jeremy phoned him and told him he was quitting. There followed a series of phone calls, each more aggressive than the last, but Jeremy refused to budge.
So there we were again, unemployed and next to broke, but this time, thousands of miles from home with no Social Security backup. However, a small matter like this was not going to get Jeremy down, and he was off bright and early the next morning to look for work.
It’s quite possible he would have found something, but we clashed with a current drive for Kenyanization and affirmative employment, and try as he would over the next few months, it was simply impossible to get a job.
In the meantime, I spent many happy hours exploring Nairobi, managing to make a Kenyan shilling stretch by shopping in the down town markets, going where no self respecting tourist would be seen dead. I never felt threatened, and I don’t know if this had anything to do with Kylie, who looked more adorable than ever, or it was just sheer naivety on my part.
We visited Nairobi National Park, which is situated very close to the city, and I saw my first real wildlife. We were charged by an elephant who looked a million miles away on the photo and we drove down to the coast and broke down in Tsavo East game park, miles from civilization. We also went to visit Amboseli, gazing with awe at the snow covered mountain of Kilimanjaro standing over 19,000 feet above sea level. We also managed to explore some of the fantastic countryside including the amazing rift valley, where the land drops sheer away from the side of the road as if it had been cut with a gigantic knife. I got badly burned lying for a couple of minutes by Lake Naivasha, watching the clouds of bright pink flamingoes taking off and landing on the salt pan. We even got caught up in a tear gas attack in the city.
It looked as if we would have to leave, the money was running out fast. I should mention at this point that Randy, perhaps a little nervous about Jeremy’s threats to ‘squeal’, had given us a fair amount of cash and our return tickets back to Heathrow. But before we left, Jeremy took part in the East African Safari Rally as a seconder, probably his best memory of Kenya.
Finally we said our sad farewells. Elizabeth and I hugged each other and fought back the tears. As we boarded the plane, I looked back for the last time at the bright blue skies and vivid colours of Africa.
If I was scared when I first arrived on the Dark Continent, I was equally scared of returning to England. I could only hope that my new experiences had made me strong enough to cope with the one person in my life of whom I was truly afraid. Going to Africa was a more adult version of running away from home, and as we flew northwards over the barren wastes of the Sahara Desert, I shuddered at the thought of seeing my mother again.
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