This autumn, I met Patience twice.
And I suspect that you’ll need some patience to get through this article, which for the purposes of yours, I’ll split into two parts, especially as the first is a simple story of slapstick insignificance.
The first Patience is my wonderful friend Tara’s (of Wildfitness fame) housekeeper in Watamu, Kenya. Patience is a huge Kenyan lady with a beautiful chubby child-like face from which two large luxuriant eyes sparkle (note the lady above is another patient-looking Kenyan lady, but not the same). Patience would turn up at the house most days with a smile and a waddle, and proceed to completely invalidate my already meagre efforts around the house. Frankly neither of us had a huge amount to do during the days, the house being small and its occupants being fairly low-impact – but my attempts to offer help were quickly thwarted and I relaxed into a somewhat guilt-ridden laziness.
I know, I know – a housekeeper is hardly in keeping with a simpleTom. Yet we must remember that Kenya is a very different place from where most of us grew up and I truly believe that the arrangement is wholly symbiotic, at least in today’s Kenya.
Whilst Tara rushed around being super-productive and I took the time to read and read and read – Patience moved slowly and deftly around the house. In the garden, the gardener proceeded to mow the four-acre lawn. When I say mow, no doubt you imagine a sit-upon mower (after all four acres is quite a spread), or at least a petrol number, or at the very least a push-along contraption. Not even – he proceeded to mow the lawn with what looked like a sharp-edged sand wedge (a golf club, for those of you not in the know). He’d move, very slowly, thwacking his grass wedge back and forth, back and forth, not so much cutting the lawn as swinging great big divots into the ground leaving a driving-range effect behind him as he continued indefatigably. He was exercising the ‘Russian/American/Chinese foreign diplomacy’ approach to lawn-mowing. Namely, the finished product was deeply unsubtle, damaging and perhaps would have been better left. Although unlike these countries, it demonstrated his patience and my comparative sloth.
At lunchtime, Patience would disappear into the gardener’s hut and we’d hear laughter and giggles (innocent I’m sure) and then an hour later she’d meander back to the house to continue where she’d left off.
One afternoon I offered Patience a lift (a welcome break from my busy schedule!) and she invited me into her home. With a glass of tea in one hand, I chatted with three very shy children who were wondering what on earth a muzungu (white person) was doing in their house. It was a humbling experience, as I’m sure you can imagine. Patience, huger in her tiny home, and her three children painted the picture of a happy household. The contrast between her house and ours need not be laboured, because that is today’s Kenya. And also because I truly believe her house was as happy as ours – as such the size and the conditions are not really of significance. (A little bit of simpleTom-esqueness at last.)
So why do I tell this story. Firstly, because over the last three months since my visit, I’ve often thought of Patience. Of her very simple daily existence with three wonderful children and a very wonderful Tara. Of her humility and her patience (two of my Franklin-esque virtues that I’ve been working on). Of wonderful Watamu.
But secondly, because during the course of her day Patience ascends and descends an incredibly rickety set of wooden stairs in Tara’s rented house. And with characteristic impatience, I wait for the day that Tara will email me to say that the stairs have finally collapsed under Patience’s weight. That sounds callous, and dangerous. But it won’t be like that, I’m positive. I hope you know I’d never wish for anyone to get hurt – ever. Instead, there’ll be a loud crack and the stairs will tumble to the ground and Patience (who has built-in padding, to say the least) will lie shocked in a wide-eyed heap and then giggle, dust herself off and then clear up the mess. By the end of the day, the gardener will have been commissioned to fashion a new set of stairs (salvaged from the old, of course) which will be even ricketier, and the whole process will repeat itself, more than once, in a rather wonderful African way.
To be continued… and of course, Happy Holidays!