Nyali, one of Mombasa's enclaves, marked the beginning of a seismic change in our already whirlwind life together. It was in Nyali, away from the hectic pace of city life, in our house beside the ocean, that the idea for our business took root. It was sketched out in our living room and on the upstairs veranda where we would migrate to each evening just as the horizon turned orange and the moon came to bathe the sea in twinkling, silver light.
That veranda, with its endless, ocean view, brought us both a semblance of peace in a time of growing turmoil and uncertainty. Just to sit there was enough. On other occasions, we would take my telescope up to the roof to study the stars.
I had wanted a telescope since I was five-years-old and finally got one on my 29th birthday, by which time, my parents realised an Early Learning Centre model would probably no longer suffice. I took it with me to Africa. There can hardly be a better place to star gaze than here. We dined outside with Saturn dominating the sky several days in a row.
We had idly hoped, R and I, that a move to the coast might one day be in our future. We had laughed about it, imagining ourselves when we were older, me pushing R in his wheelchair and taking him down to the beach for good behaviour. Or, if we were lucky, we would have a holiday retreat that we could share with our friends and family. It never occurred to us that we would live there now or that it would happen in the way that it did.
To land on the Kenyan Coast through circumstance more so than design is not such a bad thing. The unceremonious way in which R's job had ended, then setting up a business, having to leave Kisumu and neither wanting nor needing to be in Nairobi all the time had brought us here.
Woven into the countless hours we invested in getting a business up and running, very often burning the candle at both ends (sometimes literally when the power was out), were weekend braais with neighbours who lived in the same complex as us. We were an international mix of British, South African, Dutch and Italian and spanned a range of ages, too; starting at four-years-old and ending at 60.
I have never thought of myself as expat, that strange term applied to westerns who move abroad. It seems to me a detached, alien concept, more the preserve of those who stay within their own groups and enclaves and less a reflection of how I have lived my time here.
The socialising we did in Nyali was minimal, like our budget, and mostly confined to home but we made the most of it and supplemented it with walks on the beach which usually became brainstorming sessions. When the tide was out, we would clamber down a rock face at the end of the pathway between our complex and the one next door and onto the seabed. The rocks were often slippery underfoot because fishermen used them to scale the fish.
A little fish market had sprouted that would flood twice a day when the tide came in. Fishermen's basins were the natural corals of the sea. The catch would be a clown fish, red snapper, octopus or sometimes squid. Further along the beach, men offered boat rides and jet skis and women sold multi-coloured scarves that billowed and flapped in the wind. Mama Rose gave one to my mum as a thank you after she stopped at her stall.
The locals knew we were locals too and that we were just walking, striding along on the sand and venturing out to the edge of the seabed, wading through hot, rising water and past anchored boats on our way back in.
Walking, whether on a beach, through crowded London streets, woodland, fields or busy roads is a necessity for me. It keeps me sane, makes me feel free and allows me to think.
Nyali gave us our first taste of Indian Ocean life in East Africa. But it was also the place where my sleep became most disturbed. I would lie awake in the dark in the shattering silence that comes after a generator suddenly stops, contemplating life under a cloud of complexity, not knowing where we would be living in six months' time, and the stop and start, back and forth nature of establishing a business in Kenya.
We had talked again, for heart-aching reasons both personal and professional, about relocating. This time, to a different country.