In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Re-springing Your Step.”
Should a disclaimer ever be needed (and I don’t believe it is in our family but I’d like anybody reading this to be absolutely sure), I love my Russians deeply. Vladimir and I were married on Zanzibar 18 months ago after five years of a courtship peppered with sometimes hilarious (sometimes not) cross-cultural misunderstandings and adventures. Masha his eldest came here to Tanzania for our wedding and stayed; she attends the school where I teach and is preparing for her final IGCSE exams. We live in a small house with a big garden and lots of friendly neighbours, including many young children who provide Masha with a regular babysitting income. Not being blessed with a strong maternal instinct, I am glad Masha is 17. We get on well, especially since she has worked so hard on improving her English and I have given up trying to communicate in my bad Russian. I’ve also stopped trying to be a step-mother (evil or otherwise) and now see us more as a Gang of Three. Our sense of solidarity is getting stronger as we prepare to move to Australia in July. It is a move ‘back home’ for me, – and immigration for my Russians. Gathering the documentation required before we can submit the application is quite a process.
Which is where my Going Solo story really begins. Soon after the Christmas frivolity subsided, Vladimir and Masha had to jump on a plane to Dar Es Salaam to visit the Russian Embassy; Vladimir to pick up his passport and Masha to apply for a new one. In order to serve a related requirement for unravelling red-tape, (one of the police checks I must get for every country I have lived in over the last ten years – for Masha’s protection because she is still a minor) I jumped on a bus to Nairobi, to get a document stamped at the Philippine Embassy.
What fun! I had almost forgotten what a buzz I get from travelling alone. And knowing I had my family to return home to just sweetened the experience. There was also an element of hope, – hope that I would return to them in one piece, as anyone who’s ever been on a Tanzanian bus can probably relate to. I gripped the seat as we overtook slow trucks on blind corners, horn blaring should another vehicle have the impudence to be headed in the opposite direction at the same time. In an effort to reduce accidents, Tanzanian buses are not allowed on the road after 8pm but this is not the case in Kenya: safely (somehow) at the border, and after clearing immigration, I boarded an evening bus that took me through the night to Nairobi. I kept my eyes shut most of the way.
My business at the Embassy being over by 10am, the thought of immediately starting the 15 hour trip back to Mwanza was not attractive. The spring was returning to my step. I was on an adventure and I wasn’t ready to go home. The overnight train to Mombasa seemed the next logical thing to do. The spring in my step got a little bouncier after I’d bought my ticket; I even smiled when the lady behind the counter advised me the train would be five hours late, – what was an extra five hours to me? I elbowed my way onto a crowded matatu and took myself off to the cinema, (Night at the Museum 2, silly but entertaining enough) then spent time in the supermarket wandering up and down the aisles (an adventure in itself, coming from Mwanza), putting together a special dinner for my wait: a couple of triangles of camembert, two lovely fresh bread rolls, some mandarines, and a wee bottle of red wIne. I finally felt like I was really on holiday.
The holiday feeling had waned somewhat after the first six or seven hours on the platform. Renate, a friendly biotechnologist from Vienna, and I (we met when we were both kicked out of the station restaurant at closing time) had polished off most of our train snacks, finished our books and were huddled in scarves and towels trying to keep out the cold. As were all the other waiting passengers, some occasionally pacing the platform to break the boredom and stir the circulation. I must admit, the spring in my step was starting to flag.
It’s all part of the journey though, isn’t it? Even though the train eventually left 10 hours behind schedule, – when we finally did snuggle down in our little compartment the beds were warm and comfortable, the fact that we travelled in daylight rather than overnight meant that we saw zebras and wildebeest and gazelle (and I heard later, someone saw giraffes), and later in the day while we ate in the dining car, amongst more delicious company, the changing landscape of Kenya rolled past us for hours, a live movie that was to me far more intriguing than Night at the Museum.
Finally on the coast: two nights in a welcoming backpackers’, a swim in the sea and a snorkel on the reef, practising my Swahili with the suffering locals (not sure what’s most to blame for keeping so many tourists away, – is it ebola or is it terrorist threats?), and New Year’s Eve dancing in a famous pirates bar on the beach. The spring in my step was becoming quite bouncy. A night in a cheap and cheerful city hotel, a leisurely wander inside the battlements of Fort Jesus (where I also stumbled on a real treasure of an exhibition: dozens of paintings casually strung along a verandah, – all gorgeous watercolours of vibrantly coloured fish done from observation and memory by Joy Adamson, the lion lady), and an even more leisurely stroll through Old Town, stopping here and there for a bite to eat and to ask directions. By this stage my steps were springing all over the place. It was time to go home.
I had another long bus ride back into Tanzania, but this time through Dar Es Salaam, where I could catch a plane home to Mwanza. No more buses for me, – but the mechanics and discomforts were no longer important. I had rediscovered my passion for solo travelling, and day by day, step by step, recharged my severely depleted batteries, reestablishing myself (in my own mind) as a strong, curious and appreciative explorer and putting the spring right back where it belongs, – in my step.
Postscript: My Russians were as happy to see me home as I was to be there. They noticed the difference and have promised to send me away again soon.