Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Thursday, April 15, 2010


5. Blonde Bombshells: At KPS, Karen Provision Store, a staple among the ex-pat community set, you can walk in any day of the week, any time of day, and bump up against an entire sea of blondes of every ilk, age and shade. I grew up in California where towheads were the rule, not the exception, but this plethora of Karen blondes is overwhelming. At KPS’ butcher counter, in the deli area, by the bread stall – blondes, blondes and more blondes. Most of whom I seem to know, as if we are Team Blonde, some sort of competitor in an Olympic Games for hair color.

Of course, as only 1% of the population here in Kenya is white – approximately 40,000out of four million – you will often find that you are the only blonde amidst a sea of stunning Africans when you go anywhere else in the Nairobi area. (It’s quite heady and quite wonderful to be the minority for a change.)

6. Bedtime & the Bubble Factory: Tiger, both like and unlike a lot of toddlers, loves his bedtime routine. Around seven o’clock, after supper and gogurt (yogurt) for dessert, you mention lala (Swahili for sleeping, naps and related escapes), and he’s off and running with a whoop upstairs to the bathtub.

Here is where fun really happens for my son, swimming like a frog in the long, deep tub; playing with styrofoam pirates offering plenty of “Ahoy, mateys!”; cleaning his toes and fingers with a small ladybug brush; and, best of all, creating beards and arm animals and face monkeys with bubbles. And I mean TONS of bubbles, soft mountains of percolating white which create a fantasy of clouds, shaped by hand in our wet and wild universe.

When the Bubble Factory has closed for the night, Tiger gets a massage with baby lotion to the tune of some sort of Canadian Mounties song I remember from my own cartoon days. Lots of laughs and much drama as Tiger covers himself with the rosy pink lotion, something he particularly enjoys since discovering his gee gee. (I nearly fell over with guffaws the first time he decided that’s the place for idle hands.)

Within a minute or so, Sir Sleepyhead asks for mama beddy, to go to sleep for the night in my room rather than his own. Sometimes I let him do so, and when I come up a couple hours later to read before bedtime, I then carry my son, who never seems to awaken from where angels love to tread, across the threshold and into his own beddy. And, from the look of him, I can now swear that no one but a child has the sweetest of dreams.

7. Skies for Days: There’s a luxury lodge in the Great Rift Valley, about a 45-minute flight from Nairobi, that I’ve never liked very much; it is quite gorgeous, but hot, hot, hot, bugged by bugs and haunted by a confusing undercurrent of mismanagement. That said, when I was there a couple of months ago, we – Alekis, John-John, Peony, Marcus, Aurelia, myself and our guide Innocent -- all went out onto its grassy plains in the Land Rover for a simple sundowner of white wine and roasted cashews. Moments before, we'd been following a cheetah with her two cubs, but then something started to happen before our very eyes, something none of us had ever quite seen before.

A sunset. But not just any sunset. One that seemed to both terrorize and tenderize the sky with color. Vivid, pure, unadulterated colors. Oranges, pale as a Parisian silk wrap and bright as a tangerine. Shades of black, from silver to steel to soft gray. Fading blues. All of which served to paint the clouds, whether thunderhead, or cumulus, or mist, into a smear of eye candy. And these clouds, in amazing shapes like a mawing mouth licking the horizon to a giraffe face to wings on a prayer, were lit from within -- not from underneath by the sun which had already vanished from the heavens. A place I had never been to before then.

8. Freddy Face Meets the Weebiscuit: In the laws of attraction, nothing compares to four-legged jealousy.

One of the men in my life these days is Freddy. Well, his real name is McFlinty after an Irish pub, and he lives next door to me, but my friend Elise nicknamed him Freddy long before we lived here and it’s stuck. Add to this the fact that he resembles nothing less than a Celtic chap with a whiskery face, an affectionate nature and a twinkle in his eye (all he’s missing is the tweed golf cap), and you’ll understand why I’ve been a goner these past few months.

More and more often, usually around happy hour, Freddy trots over to hang out on our porch, watch the sunset, wrangle a bit with the Ridgeback called Sandy, and enjoy a few treats or two. And more and more often than not, after supper, he sneaks upstairs when I’m not looking to settle in at the foot of my bed for a long night’s cuddle.

If only he didn’t have fleas. In fact, Alekis, my friend from Florida who stayed with us until recently for a couple of months, has alternately dubbed my darling Flea Bag, Death Valley, and Old Man and the Sea. But you have to understand, until very, very recently, Freddy was the one for me. (He still is, but as his adoration of me would now have it, I'm no long riding shotgun, I'm stuck in the back seat like a quarrelsome child.)

Everything changed for Freddy two weeks ago, and now my furry, four-legged beau-friend, a wire-haired Jack Russell terrier without any competition in sight, is facing the music. Because now we have Weebiscuit (Bickie for short), a little girl I got for my son, who, it happens to be, is part Jack Russell (the other half is Westie, so she’s a breed apart, or so I’m finding out). Sandy ADORES Bickie, a four-pound ball of fire who puts the Ridgeback properly in her place. But they have fun. Capital FUN. And it’s a riot to watch Mini-Me having her way with Maxi-She (Sandy is the size of a Shetland pony) on the playground.

Freddy is having none of it. Curiously enough, he’s a fellow who doesn’t have much bark or bite, but whenever Bickie runs up to lavish him with kisses, there’s a low-throttle snarl. He treats our new addition to the family with utter disdain, turning away from Bickie’s advances as if she doesn’t exist. And I swear I can see it written all over him -- an emotion of loss, maybe even grief or condescension or accusation, flickering across that whiskery face I’ve come to know and love, through those chocolate brown, sparkling peepers of his in which the light has now dulled when it comes to me.

Ah, if only Freddy knew: Dogs may be a man’s best friend, but they are a woman’s soulmate.

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