I had a house in Africa…
Not “a farm at the foot of the Ngong hills”, as Karen Blixen, though I did go to the hills later. (“But that, Best Beloved” is another story.)
It was a simple house by the West African sea. A concrete jetty pointing North. The sun rose every day to the right and set to the left. My father taught me the cardinal points there. To this day, when I look for the North, I see the open African sea.
African fishing boats went by. Triangular “Latin sails” flapping in the wind. Schools of dolphins would jump in and out of the water, East to West, right to left, but a few hundred yards away.
Sometimes dozens of Ghanean canoes went by racing. They had golden oars. Chanting as they raced along.
The concrete jetty was our launching pad to the horizon. No beach really, except for a handful of grey sand at low tide. Just black rocks. We knew the tide tables by heart. Crucial. Told you when you could go for a swim at high tide, or fish at low tide. Just be wary of the jelly fish around September.
We were sailors. Merchants of silk and spices. Pirates and buccaneers. No TV then. What for?
At times you could hardly tell where the sea ended and the sky started. “What is that line between the two?” I asked my father once. “The horizon”, he said.
On and on went the days, all alike and all different. No school for us. Just homework to finish in a rush every morning and go play with the Sea.
Little sister pointing to the horizon, and yours truly sitting on the jetty after an exhausting morning. Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, c. 1962. We had a house in Africa.
*Part of the Mzungu chronicles. Mzungu, plural: wazungu. Mzungu is a Bantu (Swahili) word used throughout East Africa from Uganda to Kenya to Tanzania to Zambia and in the great lakes region, from Rwanda, Burundi, to Congo Kinshasa. It means “white man”, or woman. The origin of the word dates back to the 18th-19th century, when European explorers came to East Africa searching for the source of the Nile, the gold mines of Solomon, or the Mountains of the moon, what have you. It literally means traveller or wanderer. Africans then, could not understand why Europeans could not stay in place, why they had to move all the time. They thought Europeans were just a tad crazy. Mimi na mzungu!
Karen Blixen – who was a Memsahib mkubwa – in her book ‘Out of Africa’, wrote one of the best opening lines ever:
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong hills.”