Valentine’s Day Runaway

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Friday February 14 1992 was the day I ran away to Africa. I was finally fleeing a marriage with too many guns in the closet, and much else besides. And I was leaving behind home, possessions, an aged father and three much loved labradors. The springer spaniel, though, I would not miss. The little beast was demented and I wished the husband joy of her.

At the time of departure I had very little money, and I had left a legal aid solicitor to handle my divorce. (With guns in the closet I discovered that such matters are swiftly expedited). When I boarded the airport bus in Wolverhampton bound for Heathrow all I had with me was one canvas grip stuffed with some summer clothes, and a small cabin bag containing paperbacks, my Olympus-trip, a mini cassette player and Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home. I also had an Air France ticket to Nairobi and a stash of anti-malaria tablets.

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Long ago at Mzima Springs – the way I was then…

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I was off to be with the man with whom I was smitten, an entomologist working out in Kenya on a three-month contract to control an introduced crop pest, the Larger Grain Borer. I knew little about him, and still less about my destination. Years before, in a frigid Scottish university, I had written a masters thesis on the socio-economic relations between Mbuti hunters and Bantu farmers of the Congo. I had never been to Africa, nor wanted to go there. I had read too much about forest buffaloes, ants and yaws in the Ituri Forest to find the idea appealing. I was not the sort of person who craved adventure or who had travelled much. I was a museum researcher and an armchair anthropologist. When I set off from rural Shropshire on that dank and gloomy day, it was to meet up with the flesh-and-blood man who had sent me the plane ticket. I did not expect to look out of a plane window somewhere over Somalia, and fall in love with a continent.

It was un coup de foudre as the French say. Ludicrous and nerve-shattering. Perhaps I should not have flown Air France, (although with hindsight I have to say it was one of my best flights ever). But as we approached Nairobi the condition only grew worse. It seemed there was a plane jam at Jomo Kenyatta International; the 747 could not land. Instead, it circled and circled Mount Kenya. I could not believe it: this god’s eye view of the vast exploded volcano presented to me again, again, and again. Then, as a final flourish to this extraordinary entrée, we made our descent over the green highlands of Kikuyuland, the smallholder farms so lush from the short rains.

Those landscapes fused onto my retina, bedded in my cerebral cortex, and I was changed.

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My man in Mombasa – the way he was then…

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When I finally met G at the airport, he seemed like a stranger. I noticed that his hair needed cutting and he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with an oddly tropical look, this when I had only known him in the thick jumpers and anoraks so essential for surviving winter in rural Shropshire. It was a disquieting discovery to see that I did not know him at all in this landscape. As he drove me into the city I gazed out at the plains bush country around the airport, found myself blinking at the crowds and traffic chaos in downtown Nairobi. Someone had turned the colours up: it was all too bright, the road reserves dazzling with pink bougainvillaea, yellow cassia trees; the bright clothes and brown faces, the white smiles. When I arrived at the Jacaranda Hotel in Westlands I was still in tourist mode. I thought I had come to Kenya for a couple of months at most. Neither of us could have guessed that we would not live again in England for another eight years, or that our Africa journey had only just begun. And so yes, to thieve a line from Ms Brontë, and one so apt for this Valentine’s occasion – “Reader, I married him”; I married the man who bought me a plane ticket to Africa. How could I not?

napier grass on the Rift

Kenya’s highland farms in the rains

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Related:

Carnations, Crooks and Colobus at Lake Naivasha

On Kenya’s Farms

No way back from Africa: the road to Hunter’s Lodge

 AILSA’S TRAVEL THEME: ROMANCE

DP CHALLENGE

Weekly Writing Challenge: My funny Valentine for more bloggers’ stories. The ones below especially caught my attention:

Waiting on a Word

Aliabbasali

Words We Women Write

72 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day Runaway

  1. Wow, Tish, that’s quite a story! I have been drawn to Africa from the time I was a child looking at the large world atlas book over and over again. When I finally went there in 1980, I felt like I had come home, a much older home than my German home where I was born. I spent time in Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta back then) and Ivory Coast. Sadly, I have not been back and I know a lot must have changed (and maybe a lot stayed the same?) since then.
    Always happy to see your pics and stories from the Motherland.

    1. Yes, a coming home. I did feel like that. My sister thought so too, when she came to visit us. Locked in our genetic memory. It was either that or watching too much Armand and Michaela Denis on TV when I was little!

    2. Were you travelling/working in West Africa? I have never made it that side of the Continent. Like you, I have not been back, apart that is from a short visit to Namibia when G’s company was pitching for a crop protection project there. It did not come off.

      1. I worked as a volunteer building a school house foundation in Kumasi, Ghana, thru Operation Crossroads Africa, a US based volunteer agency. Then had the chance to travel for a week afterwards. A very influential summer in my young college life…

  2. I have never been to Africa except Egypt but after reading your blog, I felt I was seeing it with you for the first time. Thank you. How romantic it all was. Lucky you.

  3. What a wonderful story from real life! I think we were in Nairobi about the same time in early 1992! We then left and continued our African journey in Uganda. Happy Valentine’s that to you & Mr. G!

  4. You are one brave lady with a romantic heart, Tish. But of course, being in love is such a wonderful thing; all you think of and ever want is to be with your object of desire. So glad you had a beautiful ending and are still together. But I suspect Africa, or Kenya has a lot to do with it 🙂

    Happy Valentine and Anniversary. 🙂

  5. Loved reading that!! I really must make some time to read through your older posts. I am so intrigued…how amazing and terrifying to circle round the ‘Mzee like that. Africa. It just gets under your skin and doesn’t let go.

      1. Yes indeed. We go back a long way in Kenya. My great, great, great uncle (A.M. Jeevanjee) donated what is known as Jeevanjee Gardens to the city – I read that at one point our family owned 60% of Nairobi! On my mother’s side, her family came from Yemen and had fabric shops. Hardly any family left in Nairobi now – most have emigrated to Europe Canada or the States.

      2. Oh gosh, Selma. I know about the Jeevanjee Gardens, and have of course heard of your 3xgreat uncle. I spend so much time reading about Kenya’s colonial history and have loads of books on the subject. What a fascinating heritage you have. So lovely to meet you in blogworld.

      3. There is so much history in Kenya and some amazing people/stories too – Mirella Ricciardi of Vanishing Africa fame Joan Root (Wildflower is her story – what an inspirational and incredible woman). AM Jeevanjee’s granddaughter wrote Challenge to Colonialism which is interesting if a bit dry! Have you read any of Peter Godwin’s books? He grew up in Rhodesia now Zimbabwe and his books have made me cry!

  6. Heartwarming story Tish – reminds me of this which maybe you know already – “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul, we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone on its fluid contours and are home” – Damage, Josephine Hart.

    1. That is quite wonderful, Robin. And no, I didn’t know it. Thank you so very much for this quotation. It is like a door opening in one’s consciousness. How one learns things every day on this blogging lark. Really really important things. Cheers!

  7. I wish I had had your courage. I DIDN’T go. I might have if he had had the courage to buy me a ticket, to make the concrete statement, “I want you here with me.” But he wanted ME to prove something and such need on his part only made me more afraid. There were no guns in the closet in my story, just someone who really didn’t like me and a maelstrom of confusion. I really love your story and how it turned out. It’s a REAL romance.

  8. What a beautifully written story, you have me intrigued. I want to know more of your new life in Africa, and whether you remained in Kenya together. Africa does get into your soul I believe. You either love it or hate it. I love it.
    Jude xx

    1. Thanks for your comments. And yes Africa does get into your soul. Or maybe it was there to begin with!! We did stay mostly in Kenya, with a year in Zambia. Now I simply write about Africa.

      1. I shall have to have a browse through you archives then! I’m sure you will have had some interesting times to write about. Are you back in the UK now?

      2. Yes, we’ve been back in the UK quite awhile. I’ve written quite a few posts about Kenya and Zambia – back in the archive. There are links to some at the foot of this post. Thanks for reading.

  9. I can feel the love in this story. It resounds. It is rich. You write simply, yet naturally, and with passion. I noticed the description of the springer spaniel and laughed. I can’t imagine a demented dog. Good story, Tish. And thanks for your comment on my story “Anyap” which was published on Storymoja website sometime back. The rest of my fiction are found at http://drkillpatient01.wordpress.com/ Thanks and may you have an excellent week.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, Peter, and the link. I’ve just been over there for a quick look, and will be back after I’ve been to my allotment to put in my beans and feed my fruit bushes. My shamba is calling!

  10. Thank you for sending me the link to this story, Tish. It reads like a romance novel. You took a very big risk, but it seems to have worked out well for you, and I’m so glad it did!

  11. Good grief! Have we been To-ing & Fro – ing for two years already!
    I thoroughly enjoyed the story then, and now we know each other a little better – as much a cyber space will allow I guess – I enjoyed it even more the second time!

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