Sunday, 27 February 2011

Great views, comfortable accommodation, room for pets, your new home awaits!

Kenya, near Mithini, 70km from Nairobi

I often wander around the different buildings on the small orphanage compound thinking that my friends at IKEA would have an absolute field day here.  Although they don’t, to my knowledge, have a ‘shack chic’ range currently, their approach to living in small spaces and smart storage solutions would transform this place.  I can see it now: a troupe of planners and interior designers scoping the place and visualising its transformation, logistics specialists poring over infrastructure and transport questions, and the creative team par excellence capturing in film and print the whole story.  For the people we are currently living with, that would really create a better everyday life.

Having said this, what the buildings lack in style, they do, at a basic level, make up for in function. There’s a kitchen with an open fire pit for cooking, four bedrooms, a dining room, a toilet/shower block, and a cow shed.  The kitchen and bedrooms are made out of flattened steel drums, and painted to remove the shanty town feeling.  Or as my hot-shot realtor Uncle Peter (THE man for property in Vancouver.FACT.) would say: WOW! Stunning mountain views, spacious and pretty lot, traditional and sympathetically constructed accommodation, with an open plan kitchen, and parking for eight cows, this property has to be seen to be believed. Don’t miss out!

Casa Thistlewood is one of the nine ft square rooms, furnished with a metal bunk bed (snuggle time is a strictlyself-imposed off limits activity when in residence – this is not where the magic happens), a table, and a dusty floor.  True to form, we have managed to make it a mess, although we have both broken the habit of leaving clothing and wet towels on the aforementioned dusty floor, hanging them instead from nails in the wood joists, and a makeshift clothes line. 
The room also serves as our open plan shower room. Every few days, tail wagging, I de-robe to be scrubbed down by my quip-making wife using a bowl of water, a plastic bottle, and a shower puff which I have since been banned from using on the justification that ‘this thing stinks after you use it, it’s mine, my sister gave it to ME, I keep finding hair in it’.  On this subject, the kids are fascinated with my excess of body hair, stroking my arms far more tenderly than they do the dogs, and prompting Jecinta (9) to ask Zach (orphanage Manager, 34) if he would get hair like me when he got older.  He laughed, and gently explained that no, he thought not, but his eyes were saying ‘I bloody well hope not, wookies are endangered around here’.  Recently after my weekly scrub down Helen’s been wobbling my ever-decreasing love handles asking ‘where has my Husband gone’? before tickling my belly until my left leg shakes.  After that it’s a vigorous shake, a Bonio, and a frolic in the fields.

On the subject of dogs, real ones this time, we’re now the proud sponsors of two puppies which we purchased for our new friend, the night guard Albert. Albert is a funny bloke. An ex-soldier I think, although I couldn’t get a straight answer from him other than ‘you weren’t there man, you weren’t there’!  He and I have built up a friendship based on mutual inquisitiveness.  And smoking*. He tells me about Kenyan life, I tell him about life in the UK (‘so let me get this straight Ian, sometimes a woman goes to work and a man stays at home as a “house husband”. Tee-hee-hee, that wouldn’t happen in Kenya’.)  I love his blunt line of questioning, and how quick he is to laugh.  On her first day the new volunteer, the charming and erudite Stephanie from California, was asked straight out by Albert: ‘so, you’re 30 and not married? Does that not worry you’? Bridget Stephanie took it in very good grace, realising from the small smirk on Albert’s face that he was purposefully clashing two cultures, and deftly rejected the suggestion that his brother was available, and also 30 (despite me stepping into a negotiator role and pushing the dowry up from four cows to eight cows and a goat). 
Anyway, back to the dogs. Volunteers had previously bought a dog for Albert (it continues to live at the other orphanage), naming it ooh aren’t we right-on smartasses Kofi Annan. We named the boy WotWot.  I know which one I’d find funnier hearing a Crufts announcer say.  The girl puppy was named Simba by the children -the Swahili for ‘lion’ Disney fans, and the source of a still unresolved childhood trauma for my younger brother – ‘why did Simba’s father have to die, WHY’?!
I would pay to see the moment in which my successful younger brother is about to close a deal and ‘circle of life’ comes drifting out of the radio, reducing him into a snotty and tearful mess, expensive tie used as hankie, head in hands sobbing, and explaining to his bemused client that ‘I just hasn’t got over the Lion King yet, OK pal, OK? Just let me bloody grieve’.  And if you’re reading this bruv, please can we still come to stay? Pretty please? I’ll buy you some therapy vouchers and burn all local copies of Bambi to prevent future problems.  I’ll even try to avenge Simba’s father’s death on the way down to you.

So, as you can hopefully tell, this isn’t such a bad place to live.  Book your viewing TODAY!

* Yes, I know this is a stupid, unhealthy, and socially inconsiderate habit, and I’m not proud of it, but the secret that all smokers know is that there is no higher quality face time than the five minutes of shared nicotine worship.  I have solved an unrepresentatively high percentage of professional disagreements and issues, and built stronger relationships, over a cigarette than I have done behind a desk or across a meeting table.  And for those singletons out there, I think smirting is more than just a neat phrase, I think it’s the new 

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