I have been with some old friends for dinner. Friends, because we know them and they know us, but really, our friendship is short. They were friends of my sister, and we met them whilst visiting her in Kenya in 2009. We haven’t really corresponded since then. But tonight we met up. I was expecting it to be just them and me; a meal, some wine, some reminiscing.
Instead, I found myself in the middle of Irish/aid worker/ expatriate in Africa world tour, powered in equal measure by alcohol, boast, fact, nostalgia, hope, conceit and cynicism. A strange confection. Impressive people who have worked in some of the worlds worst places, over many years, with commitment and sincerity, who now in the evensong of their working lives seem less happy with what they have done than they should be. I dunno. I’m not there yet – what is it like to work in the world’s crappiest places, for a whole life, and see them remain mostly crappy?
Does faith play a role in this? Does a transcendent hope insure against such loneliness? Well. It was good to see my friends.
Conversation with the taxi driver on the way home:
Driver: Are you married?
Me: Yes, I have three kids. You?
D: Four. Two sons, two daughters.
Me: Nice. Perfect combination.
D: What about extra wife?
Me:…. uh…. what?
D: Extra wife. How many you have?
Me: (long pause while my brain reboots)… uh. Just one wife. That’s…. all… You….?
D: Huh! What you mean? Lots. Many. What do you mean, one?
Me: Uh… (beginning to sound daft)…. well, I just married one… That’s enough…
D: Here in Kenya, we have many wife. We need it. Long work, wife gets angry. I say what you get angry. You don’t get angry with me. I go out, get a woman. We all do this.
Me: Umm. Well. Yeah. But. Doesn’t she get angry? Number one wife, I mean.
D: She get angry? I get angry.
D: Which country you from?
Me. Australia…. you see, if I did that in Australia, my wife would tell me to get lost. To go. To leave.
D: Australia is different. But what do you do about, wanting extra wife?
Me: I don’t. I don’t want an extra wife. I don’t want one. I’m happy with… I just don’t want… if I was your wife, I would feel sad.
Me: I would want you to love…. [this starts to sound weird, so I rephrase] I think your wife would want you to be faithful to her.
D: I am faithful! I send money. I put 20,000 shillings every month to my children’s schooling!
Me:….[realising, slowly, that we have different frameworks, different languages here]… uh….
D: I get lonely! She lives uptown, 160km from here! I see her once a month, maybe! What should I do? 25 years, we live like this! I go out, I am lonely…