So that damned phrase that goes along the lines of; to be really good at anything requires 10,000 hours of effort, just continues to ring in my ears. Writing wasn’t something I was massively in to earlier in life. As a child, if I had been asked what wanted to be, I would have said that I’d like to have been an artist. Problem is, I have this really lazy propensity to give up. The artist thing was going well until I changed school at A level and realised that there were a whole lot of people who were better at being artists than me. Writing is something I started while living in East Africa, solely because I had the advantage of English being my first language (in Tanzania, where the first language was, and still is, Kiswahili). I thought it might be a good way of making a flexible income. Problem is that my grammar is atrocious, attention to detail very poor and creative writing? Forget it.
Okay, so get to the point. I STILL want to get something published. Like a dog that won’t let go of a bone I want to see a book on the shelf that I have made (audacious, I know). Buoyed by having the Africa Expat Stereotypes published in The Telegraph over the past few years, I want to create a gift book along the same lines.
Funnily enough (haha), parody/gift books are huge in England this year. Following on from the success of the Ladybird spoof of 1960s how to books last year; The Mid-Life Crisis, Mindfulness etc. this year we have more children’s book parodies for grown ups: We’re going on a bar hunt, The teenager who came to tea, and now Enid Blyton’s 5 go off to Brexit Island, 5 do dry January, 5 go Gluten Free, 5 go on a strategy away day. etc. Fun (but pricey) stocking filler/gift ideas.
So, as part of this very drawn out process, I sent a chunk of my ‘Africa Expat Stereotypes‘ manuscript (comprising of imagined character sketches based on living in Kenya) off to The Literary Consultancy (UK) to see if they could give useful feedback on why I was having no luck with UK publishers. I waited the allotted 4 weeks for a response and found that my assigned (and published) reader suggested I rewrite (but don’t give up).
Re-WRITE. Bloody 10,000 hours. Have I got the stamina? And is it worth it for a goal that is so far fetched? Well, because of my mid-life/empty nest crisis coupled with the fact that I’m running out of excuses not to get a full time job, I need to make this work. Anyway, I’ve started. So here is my Kenya Cowboy re-write….. More ‘showing’ the story – less ‘telling’ this time….
BTW: I know that the Kenya Cowboy is not, strictly speaking, an expat but he forms the fulcrum around which this story rotates. After all, he’s been here the longest. And By the way chaps – I’ve had loads of girls and ladies ask me (both via this blog and in person) where they can find ‘real’ Kenya cowboys over the years since the article first came out… No, really!!
The Kenya Cowboy (2)
“You can make mine a Tusker, mum.” Jack calls, sauntering onto a veranda overlooking a lush, palm filled garden in Nairobi’s suburbs. He smiles, stretches his back then tucks his thumbs into a beaded belt. The sun is low and cicadas are calling to one another. Jack removes his baseball cap and rubs a sun weathered forehead. His grey haired mother casts him an indulgent smile. He is the wrong side of thirty, wearing the Kenya cowboy uniform of shorts and checked shirt and should probably be married by now.
“Bloody Landy’s giving me jip again,” Jack says, knocking the top from his glass bottle of beer on the wooden handrail and taking a swig.
“You want dad to take a look?” Asks Jack’s mum, who is seated on a well worn wicker sofa. She wears a faded floral skirt and looks splendid in the evening light.
“Nah, I’ll sort it. Think it must be the front shocks.”
“Sounds expensive.” Jack’s mother remarks, familiar as she is with such mechanical things.
Jack lives in a guest house at the bottom of his parents’ garden and evening sundowners over at mum and dad’s is something of a tradition.
“Muli got any warm cashews?” Jack asks, casting around for a snack.
“He’s bound to have some in the kitchen,” replies Jacks’ mum, eager to please. “In fact he’s doing boeuf bourguignon tonight if you’d like to join us?”
“It’s alright mum. I’m meeting some of the lads at the Long Bar later. Will probably grab something to eat down there.”
“Muli, lette kitu kukula!” Jacks yells in the vague direction of the kitchen. He’s asking for food. There’s a muffled reply. Jack’s Swahili is more colloquial than the anglicised 1950s ‘kitchen’ version spoken by his parents. Muli and Jack have been fond friends since childhood. Muli duly appears with a small wooden bowl containing crisps and sets them down on a side table.
“What’s this Muli? No cashews? Mum not been shopping again?”
Muli chuckles before returning to the dark recesses of the wood framed house to continue his cooking.
Darkness falls quickly on the equator. There’s a scuffle under the bougainvillea. A pair of squawking guinea fowl emerge on the lawn flapping their wings in alarm. Jack makes an ungodly loud whistle by positioning two forefingers in his mouth. His mother barely turns a hair. He’s been doing that since he was a boy.
“Man, that bloody dog.”
A terrier comes running up the veranda steps from the undergrowth.
“Get out of there Tabu you bloody rascal.”
Tabu, whose name is translated as from Kiswahili as ‘Trouble’, hops innocently onto the sofa beside Jack’s mother, who proceeds to pick burs, lovingly, from the dog’s fur.
“Seems to have got over that tick fever then? Had us all scared didn’t you Tabu?” Jack says, ruffling the dog’s head.
Tick fever is the biggest dog killer in the neighbourhood. It used to be leopard and occasionally hyena that took dogs who were left out at night time but since the neighbourhood has been developed with every square inch filled with town house complexes, wildlife spotting in the locale has reduced drastically to the odd warthog if you’re lucky and the night screams of tree hyrax.
“Anyone special going tonight?” Asks Jack’s mum. “Will Sarara be there?”
“Nah. Just the usual crowd, you know.”
Jack had a two year liaison with Sarara and there were high hopes for marriage but, no doubt exasperated by Jack’s lack of a reliable income and inability to commit, she has since moved on with a lawyer. Jack was displeased. Bloody incomer who couldn’t tell a bushbuck from a dikdik, he said to his friends.
Jack forms part of a diehard group of friends who went to school together and still all live in the same neighbourhood. Loyal to the last, they share a curious twang crosses between a Kenyan and South African accent, their fashion sense is somewhere stuck around the 1980s and they generally coast through life without letting the vagaries of Kenyan politics affect them. The Kenya Cowboy or ‘KC’ lads are civil to the waves of ‘expats’ who move in and out of their lives but have seen too many come and go to brook new friendships. They’ve set many an American tourist’s heart a flutter whilst swinging down from their 4×4 safari vehicle out in the bush, hence no hurry to settle down.
Jack’s overheads are low and he makes ends meet by odd jobbing as a high end safari guide, part time lodge construction manager and general wildlife ‘fundi’ or expert. He would like to get more involved in the business of wildlife conservation, as donors tend to be pretty generous and even donated enough funds for his friend Charlie to buy a private plane. Having learned to fly in Florida in his twenties, Jack has his pilot’s licence too, which comes in handy while criss-crossing the Kenya landscape on safari and visiting his farming friends.
Jack is hoping that his mate Batian’s younger sister, Pips, might be out tonight. She’s ten years younger than Jack and recently transformed into something of a hottie since taking up yoga and training to be an instructor. Perhaps the two of them could set up their own lodge one day? They could run a ranch with yoga retreats? Americans love those. Fortunately Pips won’t be scared of the odd buffalo as she was born and brought up beside Lake Naivasha. It could work out rather nicely. If only he could snag her. Jack looks down at his well worn Aussie work boots and kicks a changalulu (millipede) off the veranda. He reaches for a beige fleece sweater covered in dog hairs that probably belongs to his dad, slings it on and pulls up the zip. Yes, it could work out very nicely indeed. A Nightjar calls. Jack drains his beer.
“Send my salams to dad, I’ll catch up with him tomorrow.” Jack says to his mum.
“I will darling. Have fun.”
If only that boy would settle down, she thinks to herself.
The original version, links: