I was the privileged child who went to safari parks before I reached double figures, the child who regularly went away from 6 weeks of the summer holidays to beautiful Africa, the child who communicated with the African neighbour who spoke no English… My childhood in Africa.
Every three years, we set sail to the beautiful sunny East Africa, Tanzania. The long haul flight was the most unbearable thing, but when you climb down the stairs off the plane and hot air hits you, that is the most amazing feeling. I always loved going to visit my dad’s family in Africa, it meant travelling from the minute school finished until the day before school started. Packing tonnes of clothes in a various number of suitcases and catching an early flight to Dar-Es-Salaam.
To get to Tanzania we used to take the traditional African coach. When I say coach it’s nothing like your typical British national express coach, it’s the old school style bus. A bus that doesn’t have windows, because it’s never cold in Africa nor do the suitcases go under/inside the coach… they sit nicely perched on top. Roads are non-existent, but instead dirt tracks where you encounter a pothole every 100 meters, but nonetheless all part of the experience and authentic lifestyle.
Jumping off the coach, we were greeted by the whole family and the neighbours too. Where my grandparents and uncles live, the community of people are very close knit, therefore all of my fathers old school friends and surrounding neighbours were already aware of our arrival. My uncle used to always drive his motorbike to pick us up, even though it is walking distance to their house, he knew about our love of sitting on the back of it at every moment possible. Especially as there are no age limits to sit on the back.
On arrival home, we would be greeted by the maids my grandma used to keep. Every time we went back there was always one maid that was different though. They used run errands, clean and wash but they also used to assist my aunt in her indian delicacy making business.
However, we often used to take over their jobs and experience what it was like to do chores African style.
You would often find my sister on the end of the coconut grater, surprisingly therapeutic and satisfying. Plus, the person who grated the coconut would get to drink the water inside it – so there was always an incentive.
My aunt was always in business and people from far and wide would come to make their purchases. Many even sent them in packages overseas to their relatives.
Many of the delicacies required drying under the sun which there was never a shortage of in Tanzania. Another benefit of having so much sun meant that exotic fruits and coconuts were always dirt cheap, the sorts of prices you would pay for apples in England and the oranges are sweet as sugar. Absolute heaven!
My grandma also grew her own fruits and vegetables in the garden, there were coconut, papaya, aubergine (eggplant), tindora (lady fingers), pomegranate, sweetcorn, mangos and custard apple trees. When they were ripe, you could just outside and pick them off the trees… well, before the wild monkeys got them first!
On every street corner there was a man selling fresh coconuts, where he would cut them leaving a small hole at the top to drink out of them. I don’t think I ever drink water whenever I go to Africa, I just drink coconut water and it’s so good!
If I wasn’t at home under the shade with fans, i’d be sitting with my uncle in his shop. He always let me make buttons, and bought me coke and peanuts when the guy came by every day but best of all I got to ride on the back of his motorbike going full speed – a real thrill!
When the weekend came, my aunt would leave the house to the maids and my uncle would keep his shop closed and it was time to go on beautiful adventures around East Africa.
Stunning blue beaches, travelling by old fashioned hand-made wooden boats, catching fresh fish using a spear before praying on them and cooking them for dinner. Deeeeelicious!
Or we would be in the presence of wild animals at in safari parks, crawl through bat filled caves, visiting salt farms and old castle ruins. Some things you can only wish you could experience in other countries, but Africa has to offer so much in terms of natural beauty. I’m truly lucky to have grown up in these cultured environments.
Safe to say, the life in Africa follows the famous Swahili saying from the Lion King ‘Hakuna Matata’.
I have the major urge to get on a flight tomorrow and head back to Africa for a few long, sunny weeks. That would be utter bliss right now. Eating African street food like mishkaki, coal roasted corn with lemon juice and chilli powder all over or even kheema chapati under the hot sun. Take me back!
Until next time…