Picture the scene:
Simpletom wakes, slightly lacking in sleep, and heads off into town to buy all manner of random items for the new house, including termite protector, five hinges, a jerry can, some phone credit and a packet of soap (much needed).
Simpletom, in his somewhat sleep-disadvantaged state, manages to lock his keys in his car. Standing conveniently outside a hardware store, he is offered a screwdriver and a piece of wire. Within five minutes, thirty people are standing around watching him break into his car in the blazing sun. Now everyone in the local vicinity knows how it easy it is to get into Simpletom’s car. Not that anyone would want to – it is filthy and there is nothing in it but two broken straw hats, a can of oil, and a load of assorted items that should have been cleaned out long ago.
Then, having succeeded, he barrels along a dirt track and arrives at the building site. Parking under a cashew tree, Simpletom unloads the car and heads in to a hive of activity, where he watches some stairs being nailed together by a man dangling from the most dangerous ladder that a European health and safety inspector might have ever seen. Simpletom ascends the ladder, measures the stairs and finds that they have been constructed wrongly for the third time. The craftsmen collapse into a contagious bout of the giggles and then happily go about remedying their mistakes (or not).
The innate humility and ability to accept that you have screwed up out here makes working with the Kenyan craftsmen a wonder.
After this jovial interaction, Simpletom climbs through a hole in the ceiling with his supervisor and asks if he knows anyone who can make a curtain out of a ship’s mast and a sail. Simpletom draws an artistic but appalling ‘sketch’ to demonstrate but this confuses them both. The foreman isn’t fazed. ‘Of course, I know someone’ is the (fairly standard) reply and a ‘fundi’ or expert is sent for.
When we started work here, we decided to begin construction on a Sunday. Next morning there were sixty craftsmen at our gate. News travels fast – and work is hard to come by.
With these tasks complete, it was off to the workshop where some chairs are being built. Then off to measure some Swahili doors with a carpenter who is then sent off to Malindi.
And, of course, I have forgotten to mention my earlier waking to the sounds of villagers pulling water from the well, the sights, the smells, the sounds, the raw earthen beauty, the early morning swim in the pool, the perfectly poached eggs, the lack of fuel in the petrol station, a trip to the bank, a chat with a person weaving baskets to see if it is possible to make a hanging chair, trying to negotiate the purchase of a thousand coral blocks, attempting to buy a dug out canoe and, you will have noticed, a wilful flirtation with both the first and the third person that would have my old English teacher’s eyes a-boggling.
All this before 10 am.
Simpletom has smiled about fifty times and received perhaps seventy back from all manner of faces old and new. If wealth was measured in genuine smiles received, Kenyans would be richer than the po-faced Monacans.
This colourful, disorganised, yet intoxicating lifestyle is why people love, and hate Africa – where everything is difficult, but almost nothing you can dream of is impossible.
Just another chaotic morning in paradise.