One of my oldest and dearest friends died this week – we met at boarding school in Kenya when I was eleven years old and she a couple of years older. Anne was a bright, bubbly extrovert with big hair, a wicked sense of humour and an infectious laugh. She was very opinionated, bright academically, and never stopped to think before she spoke! I was an introvert, painfully shy and not awfully clever, but we became firm friends at school and the friendship lasted through adulthood until she died.
We went to the Highlands School in Eldoret. It was a strict girl’s boarding school with rigid rules and no-nonsense teachers – most of which were spinsters who didn’t have a shred of humour in them! We got a good education, but it could have been a very dull experience had Anne not been there to brighten things up. She had such great ideas and although many of our escapades landed us in a lot of trouble there was never a dull moment!
I feel that Anne was too young to die at not quite 67. She had not lost her sense of fun and seemed to be full of vitality and enjoying life. There were many things she still wanted to achieve, and I feel such a sense of loss and sadness when I think of her. It’s not just the loss of a friend – it’s the loss of someone who shared so much history with me at a time and in a country that was so different to life as it is now.
We were both born in Kenya and knew the country as it was back in those days. Like me she had experienced the delights and the trials of life as it was then. Both of us knew what it was like to be awakened by the typically loud and joyous Kenyan bird song as the sun pushed bright early morning fingers through the cool pristine air of the highlands, the herald of a new and exciting day. We had both jolted over the rough untarred Kenyan roads choking in the dust, or slipped and slid through the mud when the rain had turned the dusty surface into a morass – and then when rounding a corner be confronted by the sight of elephant on the road, huge, majestic and full of poise, their trunks raised enquiringly as they got the measure of what was disturbing their peace. Or it could be a herd of zebra that snorted and turned their fat rumps to you and galloped off; or maybe tall and elegant giraffe or buck leaping away on their stick thin legs. All these animals and many more were often seen from the road outside game-parks in the 1950s and 1960s. It was one of the joys of life to come across them as you travelled from place to place.
Long before it became too dangerous to go on the beaches around Mombasa after nightfall, both of us had had the pleasure of swimming in the sea at night while holidaying there, and enjoyed the warm silky feel of the tepid Indian Ocean caressing our bodies while we stared mesmerised at a huge full moon. We knew what it was like to walk down the dazzling white beaches that looked as though they were covered in sparkling frost in the moonlight, while the spicy, salty fragrance of the coast titillated our senses.
We had both flown over the immense canvas of Kenya in light aeroplanes – over lakes, mountains and vast areas of forest and savannah, all patterned with the shadows of the clouds. And when the day was done and everything melted into darkness and we were safely home in front of a roaring fire, we agreed that the liquid burbling of frogs was a comforting sound, while the spine chilling screech of the hyrax reminded us that we were in Kenya, and if we walked outside we would see the dark velvety sky that was adorned with zillions of stars cascading, it seemed, almost to the ground.
All these things and many others we had experienced and enjoyed together and separately. We had laughed about some of the more eccentric Kenyan settlers and their legendary escapades, and reminisced about some of the mad exploits we had engaged in ourselves. How fortunate we both were to have lived part of our lives in one of the loveliest countries in the world and had the privilege of sharing so many experiences.
Our lives were entwined during a tiny portion of history, a small jigsaw piece in the immeasurable jigsaw of life. Now Anne has gone from this life but not from my memory. I will always remember her as I met her at school – big hair, big personality, wicked sense of humour, kind, and always laughing!
I will miss you, Anne.
Kufa ni njia ya kila kiumbe. (To die is the path of every mortal).
A Swahili Proverb.
Images: Top: Anne at the Highlands School; Middle: Elephant on the road; Lower: Anne was always so happy when she was flying back to Kenya.