Nothing to illustrate the contrast between my temporary tenancy in France and my ‘real’ life in the wilds of Kenya. After all my encounters with the wildlife of Normandy, it would be lovely to be able to regale you with tales of our magnificent animals, or stories of my friends and neighbours and all their exploits. Nope. It’s pretty tame here. No pestilence or crimes of passion, at any rate.
But – I’ve still got plumbing problems.
When I arrived back, I went over to my landlords’ Tony and Maggie for coffee and a catch-up, after ten weeks away. All had seemed ship-shape at my house and I thanked them. But Tony looked a bit sheepish.
“Actually, I’m afraid your downstairs loo is leaking,” he said. “We’ve done a makeshift repair, but next time you go away, we’ll fix it properly.”
I resolved not to let it get me down. I’d risen above the sanitary situation in France, and at least here in Kenya I do, after all, have a bathroom upstairs.
And everything else was perfect, so I slowly slotted back into life here.
One of my main projects while I’m home this time is to begin the process for applying for dual nationality. This involves regular visits to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi, entailing many hours in tortuous traffic. There’s really only one sensible way to do this, and that’s to get up at 5.00 am, and set off to town by 5.30 am. At that time in the morning it takes literally 25 minutes to drive the seventeen kilometres from my house to the centre of town. Although it means a two-hour wait once you get there, until the offices open, it’s worth doing, and I go and have a coffee in the café at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel and read till it’s opening time. If you leave after 5.45, it can take two to three hours to do the same trip, and then you can’t get a car park. That’s what the traffic’s like these days, in sleepy old Nairobi.
So, one day last week, my alarm woke me in the pitch dark, and I got up and paddled into the bathroom… No – that’s not a misprint. Opening the door caused a minor tsunami to ripple across the tops of my bare feet. I switched on the light. The sisal mat was semi-afloat, the loo-rolls stored in a palm frond basket on the floor were pâpier maché, and a pair of dirty socks carelessly dropped beside the laundry basket the night before, were now well-rinsed. There was a persistent dribble coming from the nether regions of the loo.
Determined not to miss my departure time in order to make my appointment, I hurriedly scattered towels and buckets around the bathroom, and left the rising tide to be dealt with on my return…
When I got back, I suggested to Tony I get a plumber, but he shook his head. No – he’d go and buy a new part, and at the weekend he’d come and fix it with his son-in-law who’d be visiting. Poor Andrew, I thought, but it didn’t stop me accepting the offer. Meanwhile, I worked out a low-impact rota of using both loos, with strategically placed damage-limitation buckets on hand. Regular readers may share my sense of déjà vu…
Andrew duly arrived and he and Tony appeared at my door on Saturday morning armed with tools and pipes and various implements. I left them to it and set to making coffee.
It’s been several years since I’ve seen Andrew, as his work for the UN has taken him away from Kenya, first to Islamabad, and now to New York. So it would be good to catch up. Besides, offering refreshments was the least I could do to someone who’d come all the way from the USA to fix my loo.
Plumbing sorted, the pair descended for coffee. We began chatting. I couldn’t remember what his role was in the UN, knowing only that he visits Africa regularly in whatever capacity it is.
“Remind me what it is you do, Andrew?” I asked.
He raised his eyebrows and smiled, wryly. “I’m in charge of water and sanitation.”
If anyone needs a plumber……
There’s a quaint custom round here, of local fundis (artisans) nailing their boards to trees and electricity pylons advertising their trade, giving a phone number to call. I’ve never had to resort to calling any of these guys, as have always tended to use more conventional established businesses with office premises and business cards, rather than tree trunks and lamp posts. (Or had friends with ample qualifications to help!) But, I’ve begun reading, with interest, the array of signs in my neighbourhood, and can’t help feeling grateful that plumbing problems are all I’ve got to worry about.