09-05-2021 by Marco Sbringo Bigi
There are no traffic lights in Malindi, but even if there were, they would probably be ignored as are the road signs.
The fact is that there is only one large roundabout that manages to perform the function of streamlining the traffic on Mombasa Road.
Already at the first crossroads, which is located on the way to the centre, you can witness a "I'll jump first, so that maybe I can pass before that truck with trailer, which is overtaking a tuc tuc, which is trying to squeeze between a Land Rover and a Matatu, while an army of Bajaj (Indian motorbikes) is trying not to drop a bicycle loaded with coal, which is going around a hand-pulled cart loaded with wooden planks eight metres long or maybe more".
The unfortunate ones, who find themselves in the long queue created by this traffic jam, curse themselves for not having chosen to take the slimmer Silversand Road, from which, moreover, you can admire the sea and the "Vasco da Gama Pillar", the symbolic monument of Malindi erected on a promontory to commemorate the passage of the Portuguese explorer in 1498.
One Friday afternoon, as I was driving along Kenyatta Road in my Pajero, I found myself in such a situation.
I knew very well that in such cases there is no point in swearing or honking, the only thing to do is to sit still, light a cigarette and wait.
Suddenly, the left door opened (the steering wheel is on the right because in Kenya people drive in English) and the Sappe appeared to me, sitting on the seat and ironically ordering me: "Quick! To the airport!"
Good afternoon sir," I replied, "I'll start the meter right away.
"I hope you'll accept the Sapp Bank credit card," he replied promptly.
"Unfortunately the pos doesn't work.
"No problem, I'll deliver the amount in cash tomorrow morning at ten o'clock at the bar!"
We couldn't hold back our laughter any longer and then the Sappe added, "You too, though, getting into your car on a Friday afternoon, the busiest time...".
"Missing the opportunity to give my favourite freeloader a lift? By the way, do you really have to go to the airport?"
"Yes, my dear friends Rossella and Ivo are arriving: a couple I met many years ago in Tonga, where I ran a restaurant."
"A restaurant? In Tonga," I repeated, with that incredulous tone of voice that came out every time the Sappe pulled a piece of the puzzle of his past out of his hat.
"Didn't I ever tell you that? I was also the king's official photographer, by the way," he continued, downplaying it as if it were just a weekend in Fregene, "you'll see that you'll love my friends, they're two wonderful people, great travellers and wedding collectors. They are coming to Malindi to get married with the Mijikenda rite, which, as you know," he interrupted, scrutinising me to see if I was prepared...
"... is an African ethnic group made up of nine tribes that are spread all over the Kenyan coast.
"And what is the name of the tribe that lives near Malindi?"
"Giriama, which is pronounced Ghiriàma, because the G here is always hard."
"Bravo! I see you've studied, you deserve a good grade!"
"But... did you say collectors of...?"
"Stop looking at me with that face, yes, I did say 'wedding collectors', you know that if they're not weird we don't want them here."
In the meantime the traffic jam had miraculously dissolved and I was pulling into Mombasa Road, the airport was a five-minute drive away.
As a matter of fact," continued the Sappe, "my friends had come to Tonga to get married in the Polynesian rite, just as, if I remember correctly, they got married in Alaska in the Eskimo way, on Machu Picchu in the ancient Inca tradition, and so on. They are two young men in their seventies who are passionate about anthropology and a whole range of subjects - including music - which they will tell you about. They visited Kenya forty years ago, back in the days when safaris were real adventures, but they have never been to the coast. The nice thing is that, although they love each other to death, they don't bother me because they don't get lost in gushing.
I parked in the large car park of the airport and we sat at a small table in the bar ordering two coffees, we had plenty of time to taste them because, as often happens, the flight from Nairobi was half an hour late.
My curiosity about Tonga was not satisfied, in this regard the Sappe simply said that they are all very lazy and fat, in practice they are maintained by the state and if someone down there wants to "do" they can manage much better than in Kenya.
"Of course, before you stopped in Malindi, you had been up to all sorts of things around the world, eh?" I told him when he seemed to want to drop the subject.
"You mean like the time I built and sold a villa with a swimming pool in Bali and managed to buy the "Belle Coralline", a 14-metre sailing boat in which I circumnavigated Australia? Then I lost it playing poker in Melbourne's casino and embarked for Rio de Janeiro, but I can't tell you everything today, otherwise what will I have to tell you during the rainy season? Come on, pay for the coffees and let's go to the gate. The plane from Nairobi has landed".
I was stunned, my eyes and mouth wide open.
I had been seeing him for a while now, but the more I got to know him, the more I wondered whether I was dealing with a real person or a character out of a Hugo Pratt comic strip...
"Personal photographer to the King of Tonga... villa in Bali... circumnavigation of Australia... Brazil" I repeated to myself in disbelief as I followed him towards the arrivals door.
"How true it is that travelling keeps you young," I thought as I greeted the new arrivals who did not look their age as revealed by the Sappe.
Ivo had long white hair tied back in a ponytail and was wearing a comfortable waistcoat full of pockets and a pair of cool cotton trousers, Scarlett had a bright smile and looked like a girl in a red t-shirt and jeans and both had enviable athletic physiques.
Their bags were so small that we could tell they were travellers used to carrying the bare essentials.
We got into the Pajero and I drove, on the instructions of the Sappe, towards Casuarina Road, the tourist-residential area of Malindi.
We drove onto a dirt road and stopped in front of a gate, beyond which we could glimpse a luxurious villa surrounded by a lush garden, which also contained a large swimming pool.
A few seconds after a blast of the horn, an efficient askari (which means guardian in Swahili) rushed to open it.
Peering through the rear-view mirror, I realised that the newcomers were open-mouthed at the sight of so much luxury, and I must say that I too was impressed by the type of accommodation, far removed from the usual Sappe's range.
With obvious irony Ivo commented: "Perfect! You've found just the sort of simple, spartan accommodation we like. In the meantime we had got out of the car and were heading for the villa.
"Tell the truth, my friend," replied the Sappe, "at the venerable age you've reached, deep down, a little comfort doesn't make you sick...".
"Venerable will be your sister," retorted Ivo, who evidently knew that the Sappe had no sisters, and then continued, dissimulating interest: "And what would those comforts be?"
"Bathtub with Jacuzzi, satellite TV, wi-fi, air conditioning, swimming pool, solarium, a huge fridge full of goodies and, most importantly, Kenga."
"That's right: the best cook in the county who's been at work since this afternoon preparing dinner. But... - he interrupted, frowning - if you don't like it, I can offer you as an alternative an ethno-chic dump in the casbah of Shella".
"No! - Scarlett intervened - we've slept enough together with the cockroaches of half the world, we'll gladly accept your proposal!
From the way their eyes twinkled, it was clear that there was no point in continuing to show off our nostalgia for a Spartan life.
The furnishings of the large patio were simple but tasteful: large carpets on which comfortable sofas were placed, several African-style paintings adorned the walls, a few wooden statues were scattered here and there and finally, one could not help but notice a large table already laid.
Kenga is finishing up cooking us an excellent octopus that the fishermen brought me this morning," said the Sappe to his friends, "go and freshen up, it will be ready in fifteen minutes.
While waiting for dinner, the Sappe and I poured ourselves a glass of wine and wandered through the garden, admiring the huge baobab tree that towered in the centre, as well as the acacias, mangoes, frangipani and countless other tropical plants whose names I did not know. As we continued, I couldn't help noticing that, for my friend, this short walk was a kind of inspection; he had even knelt down on the edge of the pool, probably to check the clarity of the water.
"The smell is important too," he said, as if he had read my mind, "the chlorine should be neither too much nor too little. If you leave it to them," I imagined he was talking about the staff, "they will use industrial quantities.
"Since when have you cared about the amount of chlorine in a pool?" I asked, genuinely surprised?
"Quite a while... didn't I ever tell you that, among other things I do, I administer houses and apartment blocks?"
"I thought you only dealt with Shella," I replied, and after a moment asked, "Is it challenging to keep a property like this in order?"
"How do you see it?"
"Well... I can see, I can see, that there's a lot to keep up with, I guess it's a lot of work."
"And you don't ask me how I see it?"
"Yeah ... how do you see it?"
"I see dinner is ready, come on let's go to the table!"
The conversation during the dinner was a hothouse of surprising anecdotes, we talked about a thousand adventures that took place in unknown corners of the planet of which I knew the existence only because geography was a school subject that had always fascinated me. When we started talking about music, I was pleased to discover that Ivo had been a singer-songwriter in the past and that he was a good connoisseur of the alternative music scene of the seventies and eighties. It was at that point that, while the wine flowed from the glasses to the uvulae, two guitars jumped out and we went on until late at night singing and playing.
As I accompanied the Sappe to his kingdom in Shella, I could not help but express my enthusiasm for the evening that had just passed.
And the Sappe confirmed: "I too am convinced that sharing a good meal, with interesting people, is one of the most beautiful Gifts of Providence.
It was one of his typical sibylline sentences that intentionally left me in doubt: was I also included in the category of 'interesting people'? I decided that I did, and this thought put me in a good mood.
In the meantime we had arrived in front of his house.
The Sappe, getting out of the car, said to me: "See you tomorrow morning at ten o'clock at the bar and... don't forget the guitar! don't forget your guitar! Good night.
"The guitar? How strange..." I thought, driving home alone.
I walked into my room and tiredness got the better of me, I put the instrument in sight so I wouldn't forget it, set the alarm clock and fell asleep like a baby.
After the success of the Italian-Kenyan evening with the excellent guitarist Ray Seed (compliments to Sbringo Master for dredging this up), continuing Thursday in Music Baby Marrow.
What really happens in 1952 when Frank Sinatra, blinded by jealousy for Ava Gardner, plummeted down from New York to Nairobi on the set of the film Mogambo, which her fiery Hollywood companion, Hollywood actress Clark Gable, was shooting next...
A good read, about past times and those who dream of reviving them, until reaching the origin of those ancient tales narrated here. It's the Kenya of «Lord of the prairie», the latest book by the spanish writer Javier Yanes.