The thing they never told me about abroad was that there were no bodabodas and no mtu wa mkokoteni. And people generally minded their own businesses.
My move from Huntly where nothing ever happened to legendary was filled with potholesthe size of an adults and hiccupsas loud as God’s thunder. It was a Wednesday. Wednesdays are supposed to be lively. This wasn’t. There was no life in my soul. Though I had passed the OSCE exam and I was now a UKRN, I still felt inadequate. I badly wanted to leave and go to a city. Any city.
I had experienced subtle micro aggression and hidden racism that I was just about done. Done with having to realize that I’m black. Done with feeling like an executive pariah. I have always preferred open rebuke to passive aggressive comments. Those made my red blood boil.
The transfer couldn’t come at a better time.
TIP : If you want to work in the UK, I propose you tell your recruitment agency that your like to be in a city or a major town. Small rural towns will suffocate you.
I packed my few belongings and hired a taxi to Aberdeen city. I had to do with the curious looks from my flatmates. Talking of whom, they had accused me of every evil under the sun. I had stayed with two couples. One Polish, the other a blend of Scottish and Litvia. The latter had their own en suite room, the Polish shared a bathroom with me.
This is where I came face to face with the glaring differences between housing options back home and in the United Kingdom. In Kenya, multiple occupancy houses are not a thing!
We had a duty rota to clean the common areas. The stairwell, the living room (which I never used), kitchen and in my case the bathroom I shared with the next door couple. This is where I had to learn to use a vacuum cleaner and a washing machine. A girl from my kind of background in Kenya had understandably never used either of the two.
As a matter of fact, they come in so many variations that I’m still learning how to operate them. I remember an impatient knock on my bedroom door one day after my night shift. It was Mrs.Mazur from next door.
She spoke in the most heavily Polish-accented English. From the tidbits I could gather, the bathroom needed to be scrubbed clean and I was being insensitive by sleeping during the day when the poor little bathroom was dirty. It was malicious to sleep when baby bathroom needed cuddles and a lullaby from mama. How could I!
I knew that it was not my turn to clean but either hers or her serial smoking husband. She gesticulated in angry frustration at me. Partly for achieving little communication because of the language barrier and partly because I looked unperturbed by her mannerisms.
Striding past her, I bounced down the stairs to the announcement board and brought her the tiny piece of paper that we called a duty rota. Calligraphically hand written there was today’s date and her name against it. She grabbed the rota from me and furiously returned to her room. I could hear her murmuring to her husband.
Poor man, I thought; that woman will kill him before the cigarettes do. She has a carcinogenic fiery tongue. Had I been my former self, mine would have clashed with hers and lit a fire. But this was a new me. Jesus had the wheel–and my tongue.
It takes an hour or so on the train from Huntly to Aberdeen city. It takes three decades and a prayer on the taxi. My cab driver was a chap who’d seen better days. He however knew a little about the world and over the staccato of the BBC Radio 2, we had a chat.
Cab Driver: Wherabouts yu’ from?
CD: Oh nice lassie yu’ run?
Me: (Giggling) Yes, for my life.
CD : (Laughing with me) That’s fine. We all run for our lives.
He noticed the luggage and the move and asked where I was headed to. At 70 years, he highly recommended the move. He said and I quote, ” this area has more sheep than people. A wee lassie need people.”
We can’t argue with our elders, can we?
The taxi rank is in the East side of Aberdeen bus station next to the busy train station. I needed to go to the West side where the bus station is. He could not help me any further without risking significant fines. I was therefore on my own. Just me, three boxes of baggage the size of a teenager and a backpack carefully strapped on my back.
This is where I missed watu wa mkokoteni. They make life easier. They help you carry everything and if you’re nice, they can carry you. Especially when it rains and Nairobi morphs into one big swimming pool. My father has been a porter for many years. He carries goods (not people Ha ha) in Wakulima market in Nairobi.
I missed him and his buddies. I wanted him to refer a good person to me to help me carry my burden from East to West. But this was Aberdeen. The glittering city in summer. I had to tough it up and solve my dilemma.
The Megabus I had booked was to leave for Edinburgh in an hour’s time. I had enough time. There was one problem though. The trolley I got from the train station had crooked, locked front wheels. It could also accommodate only two boxes at a time.
I had to leave one behind. However this is the UK. If a box or bag is left unattended for long, people will call the police and it may be taken away and treated as you’d treat a bomb. See something, say something is the slogan here.
I had horror images of being led away by mean looking Scotland Yard officers. Screaming at the top of my lungs that all I did was move house. Then I’d be sentenced to prison for causing public security concern. Then because I wasn’t built for a cage, I’d die, be buried and then my epitaph would read : She died for her baggage.
Thinking was not going to help me. I took a leap of faith and dragged the trolley. My blood alone propelled it forwards. Across a sea of people of all colours I pushed my evil trolley. I packed my boxes near the bus terminus. Luckily the people had “seen something and done something ” as the security messages blared from the different announcement boards.
The something they had seen was a struggling girl. And the something they did was leave her alone. I made a second trip and a third one to return the trolley. I was knackered. Why was I the only one moving house? Someone is always moving house in Nairobi. I missed seeing people move house!
The bus sauntered into Edinburgh bus station a few minutes shy of one O’clock. I was in contact with the owner of the Airbnb where I had booked a short stay.
I was only 15 minutes away going by the Google maps. I missed our Kenyan bodabodas. The rider would have lifted my luggage onto his boda, then somehow fitted me onto the same boda and off we would have left for the Airbnb. Ah the small joys of Kenya!
I needed a taxi. Again. Edinburgh Cabs is the recommended taxi operator. I phoned and asked for a black taxi. A black taxi is not only black in color but also bigger. Can carry me and my sins.
Unfortunately for me, the taxis are not allowed to enter the bus station. One must access them from across the road where they have a cabstand. My driver called to let me know he had arrived. I had no trolleys. I was alone, again. My three boxes helplessly looked at me from the ground. Like a firstborn that knew his mum had hit below the rock bottom.
People walked around me into different directions and some gave me deserved look-at-this-poor-girl looks. Just what I needed. I approached a black bus station attendant and asked him for a trolley. He had been staring at me for a while now.
He smiled and in the most beautiful West African accent, he informed me they had no need for trolleys at the station. The baritone intonation of his voice sounded like the beats of Burna boy. Or Wizkid. Okay Pick any West African musician you know. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing. The taxi driver had the patience of a hungry infant.
He excused himself and helped me carry every last piece of luggage to the taxi. He is from Gambia he informed me. Getting a helping hand for the first time was golden. I half cried. He was the shining star in my dark skies. I tried giving him a token of appreciation. He politely declined. He just wanted to help me he said. I should have hugged him.
The cab driver was nasty. He shamelessly asked if I was carrying my life’s savings in those boxes. Retrospectively, that was hilarious! I didn’t however understand his whining. I had clearly informed the operator that I was moving luggage. There was no need for Mr.Cab to be salty with me.
He complained for the entire 15 minutes and I was too jubilant for that Gambian gentleman to be annoyed. The charge was seven pounds but I gave him a twenty and told him to keep the (insert a profanity) change.
My host was Russian. The tallest man I’ve ever seen. His girlfriend was petite. A lovely combination. I have blurry recollection of his name but I know it had a slav at the end. Somebodyslav from Moscow, Russia. In Edinburgh for 10 years and now virtually a Brit. He missed Mother Russia and hoped to take his girlfriend to see his parents soon.
I rated him a clean five stars on Airbnb. He was warm, his girlfriend a perfect host. She showed me how to use an oven to cook and warm meals. The closest I had been to an oven all my life was while watching Let’s Cook program on TV back home. Back in Huntly, my flatmates expected me to know. After all, the earth is flat and we all come from similar backgrounds, yes?Ha ha
I was not even aware cans of beans and fish could be opened using a can opener. First, we didn’t use canned foods back home and second, if we ever needed it opened, we could always use knives to piece the edges at the top of the can.
She showed me places to shop and even recommended an African shop around. Compared to the reception I’d had at Huntly, this was incomparable. It was life giving.
It would take me a week and a half to get new accommodation. There are no signs indicating houses as ‘VACANT’ like I was used to back home.
I had to use my phone to download different applications where tenants meet landlords . I missed waltzing into a building and asking ” huku kuna vacant?” Translation: is there a vacant here? A vacant is a loose word we use to denote an empty house for rent.
I reminisced how even if there was no vacant in that particular building, the tenants would guide me to available vacants within the area. Again, the joys of Kenya that I took for granted!
Recently I went to the African shop that was recommended. I needed plantains. I saw the Airbnb from across Gorgie road, Edinburgh. I felt like passing by and saying a massive hello to Somebodyslav and her girlfriend.