All good adventures must come to and end and so, with mixed feelings, I return to the UK after 10 months in rural Kenya.
I write this from within a lounge that I have ligged my way into in Istanbul airport. I sit long haired and out of place amongst a group of executives in unaccustomed luxury halfway between my newly adopted and my home country. In addition to my physical transit, there is further evidence of a transition between two worlds of the simple and executive Tom:
I found the shower but no towel, so after enjoying hot water for the first time in a while, have dried myself off with a couple of napkins and hairdryer.
My clothes don’t look too out of place, yet my getup includes snowboarding jacket bought for $6, jeans for $4 and a T-shirt $2 – all from a market stall in a village in Watamu. These items were probably discarded somewhere in the developed world before finding their way to Kenya to be reused (and now returned). The jeans don’t quite fit so I have a bungee cord from the back of a car tied around my waist.
It is a cliché to wonder what many of those tough guys on my building site who earn $3 day would think of these besuited businessfolk talking on smartphones whilst checking their iPads and keeping an eye on CNN. The cost of the expresso machine in the corner would feed their families for a year and the interior décor a decade. Both would certainly be better uses for the money, unless these faux chandeliers are an ironic commentary on tastelessness in the modern age.
Like all good clichés, there are some darker truths in the contemplation of these contrasts, even if they are age-old and make me sound like every wide-eyed returnee from the bush.
I will enjoy the juxtaposition of my next few weeks back in civilization, although I’m sure it won’t take long to forget the simple livings of Africa.
On the television a particularly serious-looking Managing Director of some firm noone’s ever heard of is discussing commodity prices with intensity – knowing full well that the fluctuation in prices will never impact his ability to purchase all that he needs and more, whereas a bag of maize has increased in Kenya by about 40% in the last few weeks, leaving villagers bemused and scared, victims perhaps of the whims of these executives. I wonder if those executives have ever laid eyes on many of the products they trade. How about sending every trader for a year to work on a coffee farm, or gold mine, or plantation?
And so, the question remains – Can I retain the best bits of both of these existences – of Kenya and London. Perhaps I will have to be that ‘gap-year casualty’ and walk around London barefoot in a sarong muttering Swahili under my breath, smiling at everyone I pass? Or drive with a reckless abandon for life or road restrictions whilst chatting on my phone? Maybe see if I can bargain with the supermarket checkout assistant to see if I can get cheaper prices?
For now, I’m looking forward to a night beneath a duvet and a walk on Hampstead Heath in springing greenness.