Most people here work in the NGO or Aid field or in Embassies and will stay between 3 and 4 years but there are about 10 core families that live here permanently. The ones who come for a bit have a great time. They mix with other expats, they travel enthusiastically and energetically in every school break and they have an air of luck and happiness about them. They live way better than they would had they stayed at home and most really appreciate rather than feel entitled to this advantage. Sunday at the club is a big hang out for this group and I would say this is mostly where we fit; despite the fact that we were not brought over with the comforts of a large expat package that includes a generous rent and shipping allowance. Another big difference is that this group’s future post is determined by their job, they know that they should sit back and live it up because who knows where they’ll be put next? This group does not care about Uganda in the same way as those that have vested interests and business here. They are detached and happy.
But the real characters here are the people who grew up here, the core group of old timers that originates with the white men whose parents came over post war ( or before?) and whose children, despite being sent off for a decent education in an English boarding school, often come back. Mainly the men return, the daughters generally stay in England, especially now that the parents have gone back. This is the generation of White Africans living here.
My handsome husband ofter comments on how similar it is to Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet or other books where the White Man settles in a foreign land. A character is formed, through staying many years in Africa, often eccentric, mildly racist, a big drinker, a bigger talker and one that would never be able to return to his former home. He has many dogs but they all sleep outside, at parties he only talks to men unless he is drunk enough to start flirting. He owns a business but his family probably had land so there is some old money floating about. He loves to talk about money, business and land. His friends are the same as him and they spend every Friday after work at the same bar, with the same people drinking the same beer.
I am forming a stereo type here as the format of a blog does not allow me to get more specific, although I wish I could. Stereo types are born from a certain truth so forgive me if I sketch a picture that looks too generalized. I am fond of observing people and I form characters constantly in my mind; how I long to have the time one day to put them all in a book.
The English Woman in Africa has often married a man who was born and raised here. She comes over for some reason in her early 20’s, meets a burly man who is more African than British, a man who can cope in the bush, owns land, can handle a gun, is macho in a way that turns on her mind. She marries him and begins a life of permanent expat. She is not going to leave, she has made her home in Africa and has seen her share of people come and go over the years. Therefore she has gathered around her a tight group of women who are likewise married to a white African man, who has made their beds and must now lie in it. She is attractive in a raw sort of way, her skin is weathered but she looks healthy, she has a manner that comes from many years of ordering staff around. She is aloof to a point, desperately lonely to another. She has probably had an affair or two and throws great parties where she drinks to much and flirts outrageously with her friend’s husbands. Her life revolves around the children that she simply adores but she will send them away to boarding school. They all do. And the children will return on holidays and pick off where they left off with their African friends who know and understand them better than anyone ever will. Many of the children will return to live in Africa, it is what they know, where they are happy, where they were raised. Some will leave but will forever have Africa under their skin, moving like blood beneath the muscle.
Children who are raised in Africa have lived with a certain freedom, far from the materialistic world of the Great Shiny West. They do not fear snakes, they can handle a tent, ride horses and live the privileged life of the Other. There are advantages to growing up here and in some ways it is no surprise that many come back to live as adults.
These characters, old timers and new fresh expats mingle and turn together. At every lunch, dinner or afternoon by the pool there is a person who seems to have walked out of a book, or perhaps into one. Perhaps what these people, who choose to live here, have in common is that they don’t really belong anywhere else. Maybe, like me, they don’t know what belonging means.