The coolest thing about living in Eastern Africa was the sudden boost in one’s standard of living. Going from a first-world country with a really high cost of living to a 3rd World Country was amazing. Now our houses had lawns with trees and hammocks and a walled boundary, a gate, a maid and a cook/gardener, really? A gardener! That’s just decadent. However we did not have a TV. Even when we changed houses we did not get a TV and I don’t know why, more surprisingly, my 10-year-old self survived (my friends had TVs).
Agnes, the maid, like most locals I knew, was unnecessarily warm and kind. She was in her mid-twenties and had 22 siblings, 4 of which were boys and the one of them was dead. We lived in the suburbs and one weekend we went to stay with friends in the city. Agnes was house-sitting. When we came back on Sunday night Agnes told us what had happened. Thieves were roaming the neighborhood and Agnes saw them break into the neighbors’ place. Long story short the entire family was massacred during what was just meant to be a robbery. Agnes immediately turned on all the lights and blasted music on the stereo. Apparently when the robbers came out of the house our place looked like it was having a party, and they left. The funny thing is my dad would have completely understood if she had made a run for it, the thieves would have taken what they wanted and Agnes would be safe, apparently that didn’t even occur to her, and knowing her, I’m not surprised.
Charles, the cook/gardener, was just like Agnes, except if you tone down the hyper-activity, and turn up the chilled-out factor. He always had a smile that looked like the two of you were sharing a secret that the other people in the room had no idea about. He had a slingshot and could shoot down birds like a damn tribal sniper. He made me my very own slingshot from a branch in our garden. He taught me that if you make small clay balls and let in harden for a day in the sun, when you shoot it, it’s hard as a rock except it shatters on contact. He also collected grasshoppers and ants and cooked them for us, that was a delicacy. When grasshoppers came in swarms, locals would run outside, against the swarm, with plastic bags held above their heads and bring home their catch.
I remember when my mom would come to visit us, we’d have these trips to Kenya for safari’s, or go to the ‘Equator’, which was a restaurant – on the Equator. They literally made this ten foot hoop on the side of the road that the imaginary line passes through. We’d go to local craft markets or animal adoption centers where you can pay for the zoo to take care of baby elephants and baby rhinos. When we came home local neighbors would stop to chat and eventually ask my mom how many children she had. When she said one, they’d apologize or ask her what was wrong.
When it was just my dad and me, we’d go to sports bar’s every night and play pool.