The howling emptiness of the villa threatened to drown me. The beauty of the villa didn’t take away the throbbing solitude. It was luxurious, yes, but it was also excessive in its beauty if that’s possible. There was a jacuzzi that I would never use and a four-post bed so big you could convert it into three pool tables. And the settees. Three of them. A TV I wasn’t going to put on, not when you could walk outside in the balcony that hangs from a goddamn cliffed reef over a beach during the day when the tide has receded or later during the night when the charging and thrashing tide backs in to claim what’s his.
I loved that balcony. I lay on a deck bed and read a book as the whole room breathed on my neck hankering for attention. I could smell the ocean; it smelled of crabs and shells and sinewy men with naked torsos bobbing on old wooden dhows. It also smelled of adventure and mystery and death. When I stood at the railing I saw a couple on the balcony of the villa on the adjacent side of the cliff. The man was topless, the woman had on a small sundress. I waved and mouthed “Hello my neighbours!” They waved back, the man’s mouth moving in that Coming To America way: “eff you!” Ha-ha.
Honeymooners. This was Leopard Beach Resort. I wasn’t supposed to be in the villa, I was supposed to be in a different room without this view and this balcony but they upgraded me and I was happy but I was also thinking, what a waste of a good room on a working man passing through. Because this room could use a woman who hates clothes and walks around eating grapes, a glass of wine in hand at high noon. But here I was; no grapes, no wine, and certainly no nudity. But a breathtaking view, nonetheless.
So I went to the swimming pool where I found a whole bunch of men playing handball in the pool. These are middle-aged men—Kenyans and a few white chaps. I joined the losing team. I played basketball in my teens so I was very good at this swimming pool game of handball, if I may be so myself. We waddled around like hippos and screeched like banshees. I also saw how competitive men can be, almost to the point of viciousness. We grappled for the ball and tried to drown each other and even though we laughed it was reminiscent of life we had left in the city; where everybody wants to step on everybody else to get ahead. Even in the pool, the poison of the city we had left behind followed us.
The next day, I was off to Gazi, in Kwale; a small sleepy Swahili village an hour or so away. Makuti thatched houses. Men walking bare feet. Tall palm trees framing the simplicity of village life. We visited the office of Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, mangrove system information services, and met Lilian and Amina, marine ecologists doing their PhDs on Mangrove conservation. Lilian had a radio voice but I didn’t understand the carbon sequestration theory she was going on about. So she grabbed an exercise book and asked, “But you know that when we breathe out we release carbon dioxide, right?” I pretended to think about that for a moment and then nodded. Then she started drawing and explaining what happened when we cut down mangroves; which basically means we are going to be really screwed if we continue cutting down mangroves but also other trees, throwing trash out car windows and basically doing things that hurt the planet. And one day the planet is going to get fed up with us and it will say, “Okay fine, do whatever you think is right.” It’s the version of your woman saying, “If you want to go meet your friends, you just go. Do whatever you think is right.” This is where we are getting with the planet.
Later we went through the villages to the beach and conducted interviews for so long I got so hungry I lay slumped against a mangrove tree. OK, that’s a bit dramatic, I sat on a big root as the cameramen said annoyingly, “I think we need another shot of the fisherman and the chairman walking down the beach.”
Then we had to drive from Kwale, through the apocalyptic ferry and down to Kilifi, a three-hour journey, getting to Kilifi at 9pm, bone-tired, and checking into Silver Spa and Resort and into another massive one-bedroom villa, another jacuzzi I will not be using and another massive bed from which I’m writing this in the morning because it’s Tuesday and I’m on the road and can’t post an interview.
This is my roundabout way of saying, “I shall see you cats, next Tuesday. No watching TV after 8pm.” Let me do a few laps in the pool.
Meanwhile, you can register for the July Masterclass here.
Or get a copy of my books right here.