A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed
African sunset

Once Again, the City that I Love

June 28, 2020

Those were the best days of my life.

Did I ever tell you that I lived in Africa for 6 years? Yes, and those were the best years of my life. Even though it was a long time ago, all the sweet memories of our simple, uncomplicated life there has never left me. 
We were there through my husband’s job as an architect, urban designer, and city planner working for the United Nations. My husband and his team were to travel to all different parts of African countries, study the ruined cities and villages, and with the fund provided by the world bank, redesign and rebuild those disappearing towns and villages in Kenya, Zimbabwe,  Johannesburg, and all the other remote locations in Africa.  We lived mainly in Nairobi, Kenya and in some areas in Zimbabwe and Johannesburg as well. We were a young family then, my husband, our young son, and I. 

Mahvash and son in Nairobi
Mahvash and son in Nairobi

I remember the first day of our arrival in Nairobi. The first thing I noticed was that the colors of Kenya were so vibrant, alive, and different than what I was used to. I love colors and I had been using solid, out-of-the-tube colors for my paintings for years. So all these reds and blues and oranges and greens everywhere, especially on the graphically designed women’s wraps — “Kangas” — and all the colors found in their markets where they sold fresh produce right out of their farms, it all was quite enchanting to me. 

The other thing which took my notice upon our arrival to Nairobi was rows and rows of Jacaranda trees, all in bloom on the two sides of every street,  whether it was an asphalted street or just a country dirt road. The pavement was covered with these purple flowers fallen from the trees. It looked like an impressionist painting by Monet, as though an artist had taken time to sketch the beautiful scenery and matched all the colors to blend into each other thoughtfully and perfectly.  

The other very magical and otherworldly aspect of Nairobi that I immediately noticed was the sky, which was such a clear blue and so close to the ground, it gave you the feeling that if you extended your hand or if you go on a step ladder, you could reach the sky and catch the clouds that were all in huge white pieces. It seemed as though you could even touch the sun, which was as yellow as it could be. There was a certain peaceful silence in the air — not too many cars, no pollution, and no noisy clutter.

The evenings of Nairobi were secretive, curious, and mysterious! We would sit in our patio in our bamboo summer chairs. There was a cool breeze. We could hear the murmur, mumble, and whisper of mosquitoes and frogs in the near distance. The landscape in front of us was overpowered and subdued with absolute darkness. The streets of Nairobi did not have lamp posts or any lights. We drank tea and conversed with friends who were always coming and going. They would bring offerings of avocados and mangos or any other home grown fruits and vegetables from their own gardens. I was so proud of all the vegetables we had planted in our own very large gardens with tremendous great results. Every seed we had planted had turned into humongous, beautiful fruits or vegetables. Their sizes would amaze me, thinking the earth of Nairobi must be really fertile.  We were almost completely self sufficient, with all our fruits and vegetables. I made pickles and jams, and I enjoyed putting the jars in a row on my kitchen shelves near the sink, where I could easily eye and admire them daily. There were not really too many bakeries near where we lived, so I made our own bread and pastries, and I made our own yogurt too.

I liked our life in Nairobi. After all, when I was young, I never dreamt to have a luxurious life. I was not particularly ambitious in any form and way!  All I wanted to do was to paint. I painted my own everyday life story, with my husband and my son, going to picnics, sitting around the table, just every day life. I had always dreamt to live in a cottage-like house with antique Americana farmers’ furniture, like the pictures I would see in the Country Living magazines to which I was subscribed. I liked everything in the house to be handmade by me and for everything to be old and rustic looking. I wanted to live as simply as possible. I wanted to dress simply,  think simply, and love simply, and be very happy living my simple life. 
Therefore, I loved the fact that life in Kenya was simple. People and relationships were uncomplicated, and it was an easy task to be happy. Life was not about acquiring objects, owning, or indulging. Our life in Nairobi was not about the pleasures of having too much and having more, but it was all about having less but enjoying that “less” as much as possible. In the whole neighborhood where we lived, there was only one ice cream shop, and that ice cream shop only carried one flavor of ice cream: vanilla. Still,  we stood in the long line in front of that ice cream shop to buy our vanilla ice cream! It tasted so good to us.

The daily television program in Nairobi, consisted of only one channel and only aired during limited hours, between the hours of 6-10 p.m. There were not too many exciting programs you could watch on T.V., but we were way too busy spending time with our new friends and enjoying our simple chores to care for what was on T.V. Our life there was not about vegetating in front of TV, idolizing the movie stars, and trying to identify with and emulate them. It was not about, while watching T.V., making a list of our next shopping spree of all the useless objects which we really did not need.  Our life in Nairobi was all about interaction with friends and neighbors. African natives were such a lovely peoplre — spiritual, gentle, and kind. It was a saying that if one family in the neighborhood had food to eat, the whole neighborhood had food to eat as well, for whatever they had, they shared.

When I lived in Africa, I was so young — only 21, already married, and had a baby. I guess when we are young, we are all dreamers and non-conformists. I wanted to create my life exactly the way I had dreamt it to be —  a life where everyone loved each other and no one ever experienced any hardship, disappointment, or pain. I wanted to create a very simple life where there was no sadness and no sorrow, where I could plant my own herb and vegetable gardens, make my own kitchen curtains, paint my life story, and write poetry. This is why living in Kenya was perfect for me. Finally we could grow our own garden and keep chickens and roosters and rabbits. That was the closest I ever got to that perfect life and that perfect equilibrium place of happiness I had pictured for myself in my head. There were so many other aspects of my life in Nairobi which I loved, including our afternoons spending time in the village of the Maasai Mara tribe, this magnificent tribe who lived near the game parks and still lived very much according to their traditional customs. They would entertain their visitors by singing their songs in a chorus. Men and women had pierced body parts, ornamented with thorns, twigs, and beads. They were all extremely lean,  healthy, beautiful, and colorful, jumping up and down while performing their special dance. Maasai men wore their checkered shuka, which was actually a blanket. They throw them on their shoulders. The dominant color used in men’s and women’s garments was red, which, to them, represented power! 

Another one of my favorite activities while living in Nairobi was our trips to Mombasa, this white and blue coastal city along the Indian Ocean. Its white, sandy beaches had the most perfect climate. It was “a tourist’s heaven” — beautiful hotels and great local markets to visit. Mombasa was not a very large town. You could orbit the whole town in two hours. People were very friendly, knew each other by name, and trusted each other as neighbors and friends. The pace of life was very slow, pleasant, and relaxed there. Going to Mombasa was a yearly mandatory must for all the residents of Nairobi, which has a high altitude of 1,795 meters. We found it necessary to spend some time by sea level every year to compensate for living in this very high elevation.

The other thing I enjoyed tremendously while living in Nairobi was going to safaris. We would be driven through the tropical jungles to get to the lodge or camp of our stay. In complete comfort, we would be watching game in their natural surroundings.

After six years living in Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Zimbabwe, once it came time to leave Africa, I really did not want to leave. Once back in the United States, I refused to have a T.V. for a good few years. I guess I just wanted to rebel against everything which had the power and the possibility of changing me to someone whom I did not want to become. I did resist the shopping sprees and watching T.V. for a good while before finally giving up resisting, letting myself go with the wave, and becoming like every one else.  Sharing my memories from our life in Africa is like visiting once again, the city that I love. Those were the best days of my life!  

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Posted in LIfestyle, Miscellaneous & Opinion |

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