Our Summer In Africa

Our Summer In Africa

This year we decided to spend our summer in a small, beach town on the East coast of Africa. The idea of eating fresh fish, delivered to the house by local fishermen, and enjoying Kenyan fruit and vegetables, bought from road-side sellers, appealed to us all. We were craving to live a life that was in stark contrast to our usual day-to-day and we were ready for an adventure! 

As parents, we felt it important for our children to see their peers’ walking miles barefoot to school, to see children just like them walking miles further to collect drinking water, to carry it home in a container on their heads, to see children just like them, with very little in life but always with a smile on their face.

And so we arrived at our Kenyan beach house in this unspoiled, coastal marine park – this is where we’d call home for the next month. We marveled at the sound of the Indian Ocean crashing only meters from the house. The lack of any glass in the windows, only mosquito netting, took a little getting used to, without which we felt we had little protection from the elements. However, we soon came to love the constant sound of the ocean, the wind, sometimes rain, and assortment of creatures and wildlife, all singing and croaking as the sun went down. There was a sense of freedom about living all day and all night, effectively ‘outside’ and we felt a cosiness as we curled up in our beds at night listening to the waves crashing, the monsoon winds blowing, the rain coming sideways, knowing that this was our house on the beach this summer. We were safe, we were dry, we had full bellies, and this was an adventure.

Our days and weeks of rock-pooling and beach combing with the children, meant we got to know local stall holders selling things they’d made, mostly local African handicrafts, carvings, drift-wood ornaments, soapstone objects, jewellery and fabric wares. And it was there that we discovered the Kenyan Kikoy, known as ‘Kikoi’ in Swahili.

A traditional fabric made of cotton, that is dyed, woven, and hand knotted at the edge, to create distinctive borders. Exclusive to this region of East Africa, the kikoys have evolved, from a rectangle of cloth worn traditionally by Kenyan men, to a modern day, everyday item. I was drawn to the fabulous assortment of colours, some bold, striking and multicoloured, others plain with subtle stripes along the edge.

The kikoys can be used for anything, from a throw over a sofa, a sarong for the beach, a picnic rug or beach towel. Originally the cotton was hand-loomed by craftsmen and dyed with bright natural colours to be worn by local natives. Today some machinery is used in the process, but it is made, managed and directed by artisans, passionate about its’ creation. It was a joy to see the kikoys being used widely in this area and my head was alive with ideas.

The ‘kanga’ was another great discovery this summer. The Swahili word for ‘Guinea Fowl’, the striking black and white African bird. However, the Kenyan Kanga I was intrigued by, was a lightweight piece of cotton cloth printed with bright, distinctive patterns, sometimes decorated with a traditional proverb.

With a multitude of uses it can be worn as a skirt, head-wrap, apron, towel, sarong, and most often by mothers, as a papoose to carry a baby, and is culturally significant in this area of East Africa.

The beach stalls had a host of patterns and colours to choose from and we took the opportunity to get some easy-to-wear dresses and trousers made whilst we were there. The local seamstress would decide how many pieces of kanga fabric she needed, depending on the style of garment and length and run up any design in a matter of days. We were so pleased to be supporting local crafts and small businesses in Africa, where very little goes a long way, and it was a pleasure to meet others with a true love of fabrics.

Some of the highlights of our trip, which we will remember for a long time, were riding on the colourful tuktuks that the Kenyans use to get around, motoring up and down the bumpy, unmade roads. It was such a great way to see everything and to see the ‘real’ Kenya; how people were living, their homes and their lifestyles.

Another highlight was an afternoon walk along the beach, where we were fortunate enough to see hundreds of baby turtles emerge from their nest, just days old, making their way down to the ocean to begin their journey in life, which could last more than 100 years. Guided only by sticks of bamboo laid down by a local conservation team, this was their big start in life – it was a very special moment.

And so, as our trip came to a close, we felt we’d had a fabulous, colourful and enriching summer. We were grounded…..rested….and were heading back home energized, with armfuls of kanga creations and a head full of new ideas! Asante-sana Kenya’! Til next time.



Follow me Jess Aldridge, @pinkcityliving

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