Not only is Kwacha the Malawian or Zambian currency but Kwacha is a Bemba word for “dawn”, reflecting the Zambian national motto “ New Dawn of Freedom” . The time has come. Kwacha Kwacha! The sun is rising. Kaunda used the phrase in all his liberation speeches as did Hastings Banda from Malawi, as the colonial Rhodesian Federation began to splinter and sink like the great Titanic itself. Kwacha Kwacha has a revolutionary ring to it and heralds change and movement and great beginnings. One of Zanzibar's revolutionary sons is called Mzee Kwacha. It is also the name of our house in Zanzibar, Kwacha House, which faces due east into spectacular dawns.
I can sit for hours, days in fact, under the whispering palms staring out to sea. The colours change every day…slashed hues of aqua, turquoise, shades of lilac, greens….a great liquid jewel. It seems I persist in my ill disciplined approach, or rather resistance, to writing or achieving anything note worthy, like exercise. Ok. I swim. And I walk. From the sunbed to the water and back. This time of year the sea is glass marble calm before the south wind picks up, ruffling its surface, making the hearts of all kite surfers happy. The weather is halcyon.
These marvelous solo days, when my mood ebbed and flowed like the tide, were interjected with wonderful visits from friends all around the world. You know how it is with old friends, friends from the glory days before children, when we were wild, young, free and in love, when you didn’t worry about tomorrows or money. It was pure unadulterated adventure. Now we’re all fatter (apart from S in Lamu who could still bloody model for Vogue. Bitch. So she doesn’t count here.) older, alcoholics with broken hearts (ok. probably only me and maybe Phoebe.) and our backyards are littered with mistakes from which we bravely or perhaps naively think we have grown. We’ve certainly changed. Change is inevitable and always a good thing, apparently. Gulp.
There we were, my bestie and I, floating around the ridiculously beautiful Zanzibar sea, unconcerned about our pale cellulite, grey hair and cavernous crows’ feet circling our eyes, recognizing those moments which swing from knowing everything to knowing nothing and we decide we’re surprisingly fine with that. Biscuits and noddy badges all ‘round. Hurrah. We decide we’re fucking grateful that our lives are as they are considering the chaotic nature of the soup of evolution. There really is no order here. And look at us! Christ we are lucky.
We march out the sea, bikinis and flab flagrantly exposed to the Zanzibar sun and the public. We sit on the dazzling white sand to dry off, watching some Maasai warriors swim, white beads glittering on magnificently crafted ebony torsos. My goddaughter brings us our chilled white wine and we talk school to her sons. I tell them how to write a jolly good poetry essay, bish bash bosh. When we’re left alone, I tell her the gory bits about the crumbling of my marriage as I curl my toes into the sun warmed sand. My words remind me of how stunned I am and that I am doing a fine job at convincing myself that I am actually alright. Secretly I wonder why I don’t sleep at night but blame it on the moon. It’s a super moon, appearing larger in the sky than ever before because it’s closest to the earth. When my goddaughter reappears with another bottle of wine, we change the subject, “pas devant les enfants” and all that.
“ I’m learning to fly!” she tells me and promises that one day she’ll land on this beach, pick me up and then we’ll head on to Lamu to see our dear friend S and show Al Shabab who’s boss. My 11 year old goddaughter rolls her eyes and swears over her dead body that she’d never ever fly with her mother let alone into a “war zone”. Her words. Not mine. I definitely would because my friends are truly marvelous in every way, R is going to be an excellent pilot and it’s terrifically adventurous. But I think all these things and pretend to agree with my goddaughter only to win brownie points with her. I’m trying to make impossible in roads here and fast. I really want her to love me. The third bottle of wine is opened. I’m feeling giddy high, happily tiddly and starting to use the “F” word rather too frequently which, it appears, offends my goddaughter and flushes all hard earned brownie points into the ocean.
We take leave of this blisteringly dreamy scene, to shelter from the now howling wind and stinging sand. My sun glasses have sand dunes in the corners. They’re renting a luxury villa near the kite surfing school. It’s ‘nice’ but too new and spartan for my liking although the groovy plunge pool is rather enticing and resembles a liquid tanzanite when you turn on the underwater lights at night. A waiter brings the children ‘Virgin Mojitos’. We sip to taste and promptly order ‘Whore Mojitos” or whatever they’re called when they have booze in them. While we wait, I unwittingly finish my goddaughter’s drink while she makes whirl pools in the plunge pool. “Mummy! Who finished my drink?” she indignantly asks. “Daddy did.” I make a whispered confession. My friend advises me not to admit it. I don’t.
Before we know it, it’s 11:30 at night, we’ve had 428 mojitos between the three of us, forced her husband to play Van Morrison so we can remember the old times which reminds me of the girl in Zambia who hates me. An acquaintance recently told me “You’re still at the top of her Christmas tree of hate, you know.” Winner. Nice. It’s too late to call a taxi. It’s Ramadan and I’m drunk. The super moon is high, the tide is out leaving a wide berth of hard sand. My friend suggests I cycle home and offers the company of her two boys. An adventure looms! I quickly take up the offer because, right then, it doesn’t seem THAT far back to Jambiani, the night is sweet and filled with stars and silver, I’m feeling invincible and I love waking up in my own bed.
Her sons are gorgeous, good British young gentlemen, brimming with the excitement of the challenge, the moonlit adventure. I’m feeling 28 not 48. The brand new bicycles are proudly wheeled out. The boys politely ignore my dastardly tussle with the cactus garden on the way out to the beach although I can tell they are both acutely embarrassed. The beach lies waiting with wide expanses of moonlit silver sand and a sparkling sea to our left. I perch my spectacles on my head, tie my basket up behind me and vaguely try and remember when I last rode a bicycle. I leap confidently into the saddle, push the pedals into action, take a drunken swerve into the only soft sand around and wipe immediately and spectacularly out, spectacles flying in one direction and the contents of my basket in the other. Oscar Wilde’s words come to mind “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars,” as I lie spread eagled on the beach, my bicycle on its side and Giles staggering after me whimpering on about calling a taxi, perhaps? The boys were silent and open mouthed, swallowing back embarrassment and laughter. Through sheer bloody mindedness and determination, I dusted myself off, snatched back my specs from Giles, re packed my kikapu and wove my way into the magical, silver night with the sound track of Queen’s ‘Bicycle Song’ playing in my imagination.
Jambiani and home were nowhere in sight, only the dark cliffs and black skeletal shapes of rocks in the silver sand. The wind whistled in my ears. It’s no bloody joke riding into the wind. Not even half way there, my thighs burnt with exquisite pain from the unexpectedness of grueling exercise, which I have cunningly avoided for, oh, over a year? The mojitos and crème brulee churned nauseatingly in my stomach and Jambiani seemed a life time away. Yet, the crunching of the tyres over the shells, the far away sea glittering with Peter Pan magic, the dark shadowed palm trees, the sweetly scented night air – all of this, was perfectly exhilarating and I felt very much alive. And in pain…
I awoke the following morning in the same clothes, lying like a star, hypnotized by the fan reminiscent of Apocolypse Now . I blinked, did a mental body check, wriggled my toes, my fingers, moved my legs and yes, yes! Everything miraculously still worked. My brain rattled a little when I moved my head but nothing a 400mg Ibruprofen washed down with half a liter of water couldn’t fix. I ate two bananas, packed my basket and rode straight back up the beach to return my bicycle, this time with the sun in my face and the wind at my back. I felt like a champion. The fact that two days later I suffered from heroic whip lash and felt 68, my face not too different from that of a puffer fish, would not dissuade me to take on another adventure like this again. Maybe next time I’ll give kite surfing a twirl. And why not, eh?