For as long as I had my girls, I have been asked the question: “are they twins?”. They are both blond, they both have blue eyes, that’s true. And since Axelle was born prematurely and was always tiny for her age, Celeste is almost as tall. But to me, they look nothing alike. Axelle clearly has my shape of face, Celeste has Stephan’s. And don’t get me started on differences in personality..

First, I thought it was ‘other race’-syndrom: Africans are not used to classifying white faces and are therefore not good at it. I had the same in China with Asians, I have it here with Africans.

But to my surprise, I get the question from other people just as often. I once got stopped in Schiphol airport by American travellers. The parents at school ask their own kids “how do you tell them apart?”.. It has now come to the stage where my girls introduce themselves, adding spontaneously “and no, we are not twins”.

Some years ago, the girls only had about 20-something kids in school and among them were the identical twin Gabriella and Jacqueline, Victor and Venus, and Steef and Quint. A quarter of the school belonged to a twin, what are the odds? And then of course, also then, everyone assumed my girls were the fourth twin in school.

Apparently, non identical twins are most common in Africa and least common in Asia. I read that some where, I did not realise, but I love useless, funny trivia.

When I moved back to Africa in 2010, I moved into a compound. It was safe and easy because all the staff and monthly routines like picking up garbage and so on were already in place. My askari was a nice guy with an honest smile, named Mchina. Literally, that means “Chinese person”. I can only guess why his mother named him that..

Sometimes, it happened that I left the compound and saw Mchina locking the gate behind me with him on the inside of the compound. But 100 meters down the road, I saw him walking in the street.. and he waved hello at me.. How did he get there so fast? Did he jump the fence and run?
It also happened at several occassions that I spoke to him about something and later, he did not appear to remember anything I had said.

I know it sounds really dumb in hindsight but never for one moment did it dawn on me that we had identical twin staff. That is partly because they never worked the same shift and they were both named Mchina. Not even different names, not even Mchina 1 and Mchina 2, just both Mchina. I guess his mother was not the queen of inspiration 🙂 I did start calling them ‘kwanza’ and ‘mbilli’ after that though, which stands for ‘first’ and ‘second’.

When I was telling my neighbour, she laughed and replied “oooooh right, maybe I should have mentioned that”, her boyfriend had had the same issue when he moved in with her. He was telling me he kept wondering why his askari changed clothes in the middle of the day.

So here I am, with two askaris who look identical and two daughters that everyone claims they look identical.
Life is double good.

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