The settlement of Malindi was developed by the Swahili civilization during the 5th–10th centuries – the word Swahili meant ‘coasts’. KiSwahili has served as East Africa’s lingua franca since 9th century. Bantu-speaking farmers moved into the area, smelted iron, and built timber and wattle houses thatched with palm leaves. By the 11th century, the Swahili along the coast were acting as middlemen for Somali, Egyptian, Nubian, Arab, Persian, and Indian traders. They began building coral houses and walled towns, and their elites converted to Islam, often speaking Arabic.
Once rivalled only by Mombasa for dominance in this part of East Africa, Malindi has traditionally been a port city. In 1414, the town was visited by the fleet of the Chinese explorer Zheng He. Malindi’s ruler sent back a personal envoy with a giraffe as a present to the Chinese Emperor.
When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama met Malindi authorities in 1498 to sign a trade agreement, he erected a coral pillar. At that time, Malindi was a prosperous town with a majority Muslim population of between 5,000 and 10,000 exporting ivory and rhino horns as well as agricultural products such as coconuts, oranges, millet and rice. This trading post served as a rest stop on the way to and from India, and the Portuguese were eagerly welcomed by the wazee who sought to use the Europeans’ military might to establish themselves above their rivals in Mombasa.
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It was in Malindi at the beginning of July 2018 that I stopped being able to accompany my family out on visits. During their 4 days of surf, the boys met German artist Rainer Leimeroth (pictured above with his daughter Nora) who invited us home to meet his family, but I was too ill so the others went without me. He bought Sampson’s Africa Clockwise board as well as Ruby’s SUP to teach his kids to surf.
Sampson did an Africa Clockwise show for the staff of Ocean Beach Resort, who gave us 80L of WVO and treated us to a restaurant meal. Although Chef Isaac made me a delicious Sam-friendly gluten-free fish dish, I was struggling to sit up for the length of time it took to eat it.
But I was grateful for hard solid sand to walk on arm-in-arm with my daughter while she filled me in on all the details about school. And though mostly confined to horizontal, I was happy writing, enjoying the whittling and smoothing process of editing the first blog on Egypt.
Two months before, dear old friends of ours had sent an email to Sampson recommending I try an “amygdala retraining therapy” for my ailments. One of the couple had experienced relief from fibromyalgia pain and fatigue symptoms through repetition of phrases “to stop negative thought processes” and they offered to buy me the 6 CD series. I know their intervention was nothing but kindly meant, but it still hurt. It took me several weeks to craft a reply that calmly and comprehensively summarised my feelings with the frustration excised. It felt like a real achievement when I finally pressed send:
Regarding this illness: there is a growing consensus that the situation of ME/CFS right now is a bit like HIV/AIDS in 1985, before the advent of decent funding and comprehensive research. Ignorance and stigma from the medical profession is causing a lot of unnecessary suffering and confusion. I am certain that 20 years from now, it will be clear that ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ was an umbrella term applied willy-nilly to a whole host of conditions in a bleak period when doctors tended to dismiss majority-female-affecting maladies.
ME, Lyme’s disease, EDS, POTS, fibro and other ’spoonie’ conditions share symptoms with many psychological disorders and the overlap has allowed therapies such as CBT and GET to be approved as official NHS treatments when the latter especially has been proved fatally detrimental to people with ME. People who are sick with post-viral syndrome for a couple of years and then recover, I think have a different (stage of the) condition – I classify this as a CFS but not full blown ME.
I know I have ME – by which I mean a neurological, auto-immune systemic disease first identified by Dr Melvin Ramsay in 1957. You can’t talk yourself out of it anymore than you can talk yourself out of malaria.
On the journey back to Hemingways, my husband came past me on the bed, looked at me tenderly and asked “You OK my little bird?” before giving me an affectionate peck on the cheek. His unexpected compassion brought me to tears, and an awareness that I can handle anything if surrounded with such cushions of care. Ruby’s being here made us both be better to each other. (It had been 3 months since we last made love, a chasm previously unheard of in our marriage, sadly more symbolic of our recent estrangement than my weakness this year.)
The teens played like kids for hours in the pool, wrestling games, or Marco Polo with Ruby cheating shamelessly! In my diary I wrote “They are the opposite of Gremlins – just add water and they transform from snarling beasties of early morning grumpitude into frisky puppies tumbling over each other.”
They played tennis in the rain in their swimming cossies, and I pushed myself to knock a ball over the net with Zola for 15 mins. My demonstration of a classic cross court backhand was probably the last time I impressed him doing anything physical, and well worth the PEM pain in my elbows. Thanks for all those hours coaching us in the back garden, Dad!
(And greetings to Hemingways electricians: Harrison Kithi, Sulieman Karabu, Christopher Baya and Khonde Karisa)
Sampson was delighted to meet the Big Green Truck’s little green brother when local community based organisation Dabaso Tujengane‘s Lynne Elson arrived in a customised motorcycle container driven by Rahusa for their Wajimida Jigger Campaign. Jiggers are tiny sand fleas that burrow into hapless children’s feet and cause an horrific infection known as tungiasis – if you’re brave, look at the gruesome images on the website of funder NGO Maliza Funza. The Swahili words on their mobile clinic exhort readers to “Keep clean, wear shoes” and the donated black canvas Toms and neem&coconut oil soap have saved many thousands of kids from infection. Sampson was so impressed by this initiative, he christened Rahusa and Lynne the Jiggernauts!
Once again, I was unable to stand up long enough to chat. I was definitely starting to lose touch with the outside world, because I was just too exhausted to communicate. I wished I had a shorthand way of explaining why talking was impossible for me at that moment. You only have to say the one word “cancer” for people to have an inkling of what you’re going through, sympathetically back off and cut you some slack. Isn’t is ridiculous that just standing upright trying to explain “energy-limiting chronic illness plus orthostatic intolerance” was liable to burn through my reserves for the rest of the day!
On Friday 6th July I had what felt like the first proper functional night’s rest this year. I wrote in my diary “This thing you call sleep is amazing”- it made an extraordinary difference. My brain immediately started making plans. I managed a swim after T’ai Chi despite winter water temperature, trimmed my hair, did a rates recon and cooked supper.
The highlight of the day was bumping into Athman “Atchu” Oman and his glorious ride, the flyest tuktuk ever, named after his Baby Naa aged 3 years. Check the speakers!
On Saturday, my Dad got me up to date with World Cup gossip before we all went to the sports bar next door with Hemingways manager Melinda and her husband Richard for a jolly evening watching England beat Sweden 2-0.
Grade 11s were obliged to do some work experience this holiday, so Ruby was very lucky to be accommodated at Hemingways by shadowing duty manager Mr George Tsuma and then spending some very special days with dynamic local Watamu vet Dr Feisal Faraj attending to dogs, kittens and even a turtle!
Sampson and Zola left on a boat trip to surf a reef in the Mombasa channel, so for a whole day I experienced the unusual peace of being completely alone in the truck. Apart from PJ of course, who seemed to be constantly hungry and sleeping. Such a comfort it wasn’t just me!
In the night I dreamed I was fainting. It was so vivid and scary. I was falling and unable to speak, willing my “help me, help me” eyes to be understood by whomever was watching me topple over. (Three years later, with the advantage of a pulse oximeter, I now know that feeling is a sign my oxygen saturation levels are dipping dangerously below 90%)
The next day, Ruby and I shared laughs in the pool in the morning as she pulled me around; unfortunately this knocked me out so much, I couldn’t go with her in the tuktuk to do the shopping in the afternoon, so she made the culinary choices. Look what a bargain she cooked up for us and PJ!
Things I was supremely grateful for: my daughter and her willingness to try anything; Zola’s amazing tomato tumeric sauce; green coconut water helping me feel less dizzy in the mid-afternoon; the impeccable laundry service at Hemingways that saved me from the increasingly impossible effort of handwashing (when those bags came back with all those clothes fresh and folded, I could’ve cried, it was such a gift).
On the final day at Hemingways, we all went for a dip together. On the loungers, a middle-aged man leaned over and kissed his wife passionately and tenderly like she was the only thing in the world and exquisite; I felt broken. Sampson was oblivious.
That afternoon, I couldn’t work out why my nape-ache and brain inflammation was as bad as if we’d been driving for hours. I wasn’t up to handling the late kick-off so the kids went out without us to watch Croatia knock out England in the semi-final, escorted by our heroine Jiggernaut Lynne.
On our way out of town, we stocked up once again at the supermarket, where this was the greeting outside. The KiSwahili word “Karibu” means “You’re welcome”.
I wished I was well enough to have taken photos of Watamu’s endearing painted signs, but I had to lie down most of journey back to Kilifi for the last couple of days of Ruby’s holiday. What a joy it was to be back at Zola’s almost deserted birthday beach. Kilifi reminded me of the President’s Right. It was a bit of a jolt to realise how much weedier I was since those days in Ghana in 2014.
We had come back to shoot a video to thank Victron for the solar equipment they had donated. For the last few days at Hemingways, I had been editing Sampson’s script down from 6 to 3 pages. It was only 3 minutes long, but filming it took hours. We only had one day to do it because the boys had surfed extra days this week in Watamu, so Sampson was stressed.
The process made me vow Never To Work With My Husband Again. While the kids did brilliantly – Ruby pitch perfect in every take and Zola impressive even though he hates this kind of thing – Sampson was faffing around to a dangerous degree. Even though I’d begged him beforehand “If you want me to be in this video, please don’t argue about everything every step of the way – I haven’t got energy to waste” – guess what? With him directing, it took forever; he even exhausted Ruby.
Finally at 5.30pm I was able to lay down while he cooked celebratory chicken for supper and Zola went diving in the breakers. But when I got up an hour later to come to the table to eat WALLOP!! I was struck with the horrifying realisation of what I’d done to myself. I couldn’t believe the level of pain just from pushing through the last couple of hours. My body felt like I’d been beaten top to toe by a plank, no, a BEAM of wood.
Was the result worth it?
That night we watched the brilliant stand-up comedy show ‘Nanette’ by Hannah Gadsby and I was reminded why I love him when Sampson wept and grasped my hand. But he also blinded me by putting the searingly bright light on over my bed three times afterwards, despite the dozens of times I’ve told him how much that hurts when I’m tired.
At dawn, after my overwrought body was woken by yet another hot flush, I lay listening to Sofie Hagen‘s Made of Human podcast, pondering guest Chidera Eggerue the Slumflower‘s admonishment about “colluding in our own oppression”. Wasn’t I angry with him for doing to me what I am most guilty of: ignoring my symptoms and putting others’ creative needs first? I’d spent a lifetime prioritising others’ development. It was time to stop making excuses.
I was and still am sorrowful that my stubborn teenagers wouldn’t let me take a photo of all four of us together in this idyllic place. But I’m very grateful that my sneaky daughter took these photos of her parents next to PJ stalking the birds – I don’t think I’ve got another pic of the two of us together on the whole trip!
That afternoon we drove back to Mombasa airport with me flat out in the back. I managed not to cry too much before Ruby left at 3.30am to catch her plane back to South Africa and restricted myself to 5 minutes’ sobbing afterwards because I was too exhausted to handle more. Each time I woke overnight I was hit by the misery of remembering: she’s gone, she’s gone.