KENYA: WHERE TIME DRIFTS BY
There’s a saying that I’ll never forget, a saying which has helped make sense of many of the choices in my life
When I heard it for the first time, in the shade of an enormous mango tree sheltering me from the equatorial heat, it sounded like a precept disguised as a verdict, needing nothing more than my sage acceptance.
“It’s too simple to run away when things go badly.”
The Captain presented this saying like a platter of fresh oysters or a tamarind drink. It slipped out with the natural sweetness of one of the many wonderful fruits of this land I’d found myself in for the first time, Kenya.
The Captain had left his career as a sailor for the shores of the Indian Ocean. Looking for a new way of life, he opened an ice-cream shop in Malindi. At that time in Malindi there was a community of Italians, who, for various reasons, had decided to change their lifestyle, as well as their identity.
That wasn’t the case with me. I was nineteen years old, taking a “gap year.” I had a number of major projects on the back burner: university, a journalism apprenticeship and gigs with a rock band. My life was waiting for me. The western world, with its illusions and absolutes, was my bible.
And yet, Africa had bewitched me.
I scoured the purest chasms of my soul, recognizing my desire for freedom, for adventure and for feelings left unedited. I dared to face true human misery, and my one gap year, without even realizing it, became seven.
“It’s too simple to run away when things go bad.”
Indeed, after seven seasons I was an African. I spoke Kiswahili. I lived off the tourists by running a restaurant but, nonetheless, I was integrated surprisingly well with the locals. You won’t become a millionaire in African if you love it. But you will feel immensely rich inside.
Who knows why I decided to go back? Maybe it was because of my innate need as a writer to divulge all. Maybe because I was trying to prove to myself that even my former plans, transformed into daydreams and liberated from the weight of obligations, promises, and parental expectations, were part of my desire for fulfillment.
The words of the Capitan, as with a plane or train ticket, also applied on the return trip
And so, there I was, an African in Milan, with his slow rhythms, his philosophy which ran counter to the majority of people on the cusp of the Third Millennium. There I was, unable to cross the street before the light turned red, spellbound by the grey individuals hurrying, complaining, fighting. People who wanted to run away because things were going bad.
Meanwhile, I had things to do…I had to pursue my career as a journalist, I had to publish books, I had to revive my rock band. Even if the mal d’Africa and arrythmia stung my throat like the cigarettes I’d started smoking again,
I kept on because I had a goal. And, as soon as I could, I’d take a vacation in Kenya.
The year was 1998. After several years I passed the state exam in Rome and became a journalist. I worked for a publisher on Lake Como. I published essays and books about music. The first, the most enduring, is about Rino Gaetano. He wrote “Metà Africa, Metà Europa” (Half Africa, Half Europe) where he sang “Africa, ma per te che lavori e non ridi / per chi come te più non gioca / questa terra è ancora Europa” (Africa, but for you who works and doesn’t laugh/ for those like you who no longer play/ this land is still Europe).
In 2004 my debut album Nel regno degli animali (In the Kingdom of Animals) which won some awards and made it to the finals at the Festival di Mantova and was considered one of the best early works at the Tenco Award in Sanremo.
A career as a writer underway, a secure editorial job, the satisfaction of a parallel career as a singer songwriter with a second album in the making, a great lacustrine love and a passion for Genoa and the sea
Everything was going well.
It was time.
In July of 2005 I left my job, broke up the band, and let the record company down. I promised to respect my editorial contracts while away, and, accompanied by my partner Miky, I left.
Another restaurant was there for me on the seaside. And, what’s more, there was Africa awaiting me.
Maybe it was facing challenge after challenge; maybe it was a feeling about my life. But it wasn’t just that. What made me go back to Malindi?
As written in my book dedicated to Mal d’Africa:
…Imagine a place where the sky doesn’t hang over you, it passes over you, where you don’t breath the air, you savor it, where time doesn’t fly, it drifts by and the nervous system settles down, rather than getting nervous. Imagine a place where people don’t cross paths, they greet each other, where everything is real, even the unpleasant things, because even this is life!
Mal d’Africa is the rush of emotion you feel as you witness a brief sunset, knowing that the next day there will be another seemingly identical one but with nuances completely unedited, learning that not wanting everything does not mean not achieving anything, that being satisfied does not always amount to defeat, and that living in the present is good way to stay current with your way of life. It is understanding the things that make you different and accepting those differences in others, in a land where even the visionary Jesus would see that not all men are equal. Mal d’Africa is living in tune with the lunar phases and the local time, at peace with the cycle of life or in balance with the luni-solar cycles.
Mal d’Africa is the understanding that you are not understood and coming up with a reason. It’s boring boredom, making laziness lazy, dumbing down intelligence and making it subjugating it to its own rhythms, imprisoning thoughts and setting them free on bail for eternity, a bail paid by the heart at a convenient seasonal rate.
Mal d’Africa is a pagan silence, a religious roar, a state of mind.
Mal d’Africa, if it’s the real thing, is an incurable gift.
Last January Michela gave birth to Agata Zena, our first child.
I continue to publish books and have left the restaurant to return to my work. I am the press officer for the Tourist Association of Malindi and Watamu and run a site with news and information for those looking to explore Africa during their vacation and for those who dream of leaving everything behind and moving to Malindi.
But on one condition-- that things aren’t going badly…
Freddie del Curatolo
An overview of the author
Alfredo “Freddie” Del Curatolo has chosen to stay in Africa, but his work brings him to Italy on occasion. A journalist and writer, he has worked for Il Corriere della Sera newspaper (on the Como Insert) and La Provincia. He collaborates with magazines and internet sites, and has published a number of books including Se mai qualcuno capirà Rino Gaetano (If anyone ever understands Rino Gaetano, Selene Edizioni), Vasco Rossi il provocatore (Vasco Rossi the Provacatore, Bevivino), Malindi, Italia – Viaggio semiserio nell’ultima colonia italiana d’Africa (Malindi, Italy – A Semi-serious Journey through the Last Italian Colony in Africa, Liberodiscrivere)
As a singer songwriter, he published the album Nel regno degli animali (In the Kingdom of the Animals) in 2004. The album was awarded the Targa Pigro Ivan Graziani 2005 and that same year was a finalist at the Festival di Mantova and acclaimed as one of the best releases of the year, winning the Tenco Award of Sanremo
He currently runs the site http://www.malindikenya.net/