THE BLOG

Life on Lake Victoria

29/01/2015 15:32 GMT | Updated 31/03/2015 10:59 BST

We ran to the beat of the same drum, R and I, and fell into a life together. And yet, we are not that similar. R is outgoing; sporty; musical; mathematically competent; sometimes beats my dad at online chess; last read a book from start to finish circa 1987; grew-up as a white boy in apartheid-era South Africa; and did not leave Africa until he went to England, aged 32. In the same year that I left school.

It is possible that we may have circled each other back then, when R stopped his car to let me cross the road or when he drove through my home town. I like to think so anyway. R rolls his eyes at the mere suggestion.

But it was clear when we met that we'd be together. There was, in that time and place, an instantaneous connection. We are aware of what we have.

Ours has been a bumpy ride. Though it seems small in comparison to what followed, the first obstacle we encountered reared its head when the Kenyan government stopped issuing work permits. This was ostensibly to sort out corruption but reached a timely, faulty crescendo when the Director of Immigration, who had ordered the shut down, passed out in front of police and news reporters at the exact moment that she herself was being arrested. I had moved, unknowingly, into a fog of uncertainty. It would be another eight months before new applications were added to the backlog and until then, I could not take on a job at one of the country's national newspapers.

After the Westgate mall attack and foreign travel advisories, my charity's plans, too, had altered, and it felt, for a time, as if the fabric of my life had fallen away.

R told me to relax, to let things run their course. But while I could slip seamlessly into the warm pace of Africa, I had never been good at not doing anything. Although it turned out to be such a short interlude in our lives, the calm before the storm, that I wish now that I had taken his advice and made the most of it.

'I was a bit bored today,' I confessed to my friend Sally in a late night Skype call.

'Jo!' she said. 'That's brilliant news. Who would have thought that you would ever have time to be bored?'

It was progress, she said, for my work-life balance.

In the first six weeks (although R might say it took longer than this), I learned to cook properly, and found later that cooking could de-stress me. I also fell ill, fought writer's block and started teaching a friend's daughter.

Alternate weeks on a farm in the crisp highland air came as a welcome contrast to the equatorial heat of Kisumu. R and I would often make our way to the lake and to the steady breeze at Kiboko Bay to watch the sun go down, or head to the only rooftop bar in town which looked out over a city that simmered under an endless mirage.

On weekends, R would sometimes sweat it out on the golf course and I would walk the course with him, talking to the caddies. The golf club was popular with middle class Kenyans who liked the status of playing more of a genteel game and took long, congratulatory speeches to new heights at monthly prize giving events. There was an unspoken rule that one must not show up in a rattling, three-wheeled tuk-tuk that resembled more of a tin can than anything roadworthy, but every now and then: I did.

We would host braais, the South African version of a bbq, in the gravelly driveway of our house with friends that R had made before I got there and a few we had since got to know.

Our braais, when we had them, became known principally for two things: R's struggle to get a fire going (which he blamed on the charcoal he'd bought from the local jua kali shop) and our playlist. Taj Mahal, Marvyn Gaye, Don Henley, a host of Motown classics and the odd Michael Bolton blasted out from the speaker system and usually ended with R and I dancing together in the living room after everyone had left, and sometimes whether they came or not.

Taken from the blog Sunset Under the Baobab Tree: My African Life