Home   >   Listing   >   Joy Richards nee Manns
Joy Richards nee Manns
I suddenly find myself passionately wanting to return to Kenya.  It's been a lifetime since I was there.  From surfing the Net, it appears many others share my yearning.  I will recount a little, more for my own sake than anybody else's, but perhaps others will have similar memories.
I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1946, of an English father and Italian mother.  In 1953, at the age of 7, we packed our bags with nothing but our clothes, and arrived in Nairobi, having left what my parents thought would be a difficult political period in Egypt.  We came into a frightening scenario of horror stories about farmers and the Mau Mau.  My father worked for Gailey & Roberts, and over the next 9 years, we moved house about four times, mostly in Westlands, but once somewhere close to Valley Road, and the Loreto Convent, where my sister and I went to school.  During those first months, my father had to stand guard outside with a gun, watching for any movement.  It was the Emergency and no-one could be out after a certain hour.  My mother, sister and I would wait in the house, shaking with terror, wondering what nightmare we had come to.  My horrible dreams in those days would fill a book.My best friend was Cynthia Bell, from an old Kenyan family, and I also remember Linda Block, who then went on to school in Rhodesia.  She was from the Block family who owned hotels in South Africa.  For short 2-week holidays, we would drive that wonderful murham (sp?) (red soil) road to Mombasa, seeing every kind of wild animal on the way.  We'd stay at the Shanzu or the better one whose name escapes me, and get so burnt, we'd have to lie in bed for days not moving, staring at the lizards on the ceiling, praying that they wouldn't fall on us while we slept.  For the years that we had 'leave', we'd go to Europe on beautiful Italian ships where we were fed like kings, and once we went to Australia, via India on the Bombay, where we waited for the P & O Strathmore for the onward journey to Australia, and return on the Stratheden.  I came down with chicken pox on the journey back so we were quarantined, and had to wait in Bombay for a month, because my sister then caught it, and no ship would take us.  It was a magical time.To Europe through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, my mother, who spoke fluent Arabic, of course, would hold court while the merchants would board ship to sell their wares - jewellery, exotic leather fashioned God-knows where -  into the Mediterranean.  We kids had a wondrous time, especially when the seas were rough and the ship would angle deeply so that we could slide on our bottoms from one side of the deck to the other, while most of the adults, green at the gills, moaned in their bunks.  I only remember flying to Europe once and it was a terrible experience.  The plane had propellors, landed first in Khartoum, and then Wadi Halfa in the desert for the night because it had to be fixed.  The temperature was some 128 F and I'll never forget the blast of heat as we exited the plane.  The next day we stopped again in Tripoli and finally on to London.  At every landing and take-off, I was violently sick from the horrible vibration and smells.  From then on we travelled by ship.The trips to the Ngong Hills, to Athi River, to Limuru on Sundays, to the enormous coffee farm that belonged to our Italian friends, the Argenti, in Moi; to Nakuru and Lake Naivasha with its pink flamingoes;  the Escarpment; the emptiness, the dryness, the dust.  How hot it got at 4.30 after school.  And Joeli, who was with us for 7 years, cooked like my mother, loved us like his own daughters, and who cried so hard with us when we left.  And on that last journey to get the last boat that would take us away forever, a mosquito bit me and I got malaria.  And it took the ship's doctor, a chronic inebriate, rather too long to diagnose and give me the necessary quinine.  My mother threatened to throw him overboard, so he came to and did his duty.I fear that returning to both Egypt and Kenya would be enormously challenging.  How much they must have changed.  From what I read, despite the crumbling infrastructure, the poverty, the homeless wandering children, the swelling population, it is still the Africa that one knew as a child, unlike anywhere else on earth, a continent unto itself, with a different sky, a special light, its own smells.  The East Africa I grew up in so much more resembled the place in Nowhere in Africa than the place Paul Theroux found and described in Dark Star Safari.  So much of what he saw and heard throughout Africa broke his heart after 30 years of absence.  But he had to go, and probably all of us who grew up there, feel that same urge, the same homesickness, the same excitement.  M. G. Vassanji's latest book, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, I believe, is a paean to that lost world that anybody who grew up there would recognize. I doubt that I would meet a single person I knew all those years ago, but simply to retrace ones steps would bring emotion enough, especially if my son (22) were to come with me.  He who has grown up in such a very different world and reality. Toronto, where I have lived for 30 years, and where Vassanji also finds himself, could not be further from that place of our youth.  Oh well.  Such is life.My name in Kenya was Joy Manns.  It is now Joy Richards, and my sister, who lives in Virginia in the States, is Marilyn.