The beauty of Kenya
The monkey scratched its foot and stared at me. I stared back. If there was any such thing as human zoo, I guess this would be it, and I was the most popular exhibit. The chain-link fence that was my "cage" surrounded Rift Valley Academy (RVA), the private Christian boarding school that all my in-laws attended for high school. My husband, who was known in his school days as "The Bushman" for his remote Tanzanian home, calls RVA "Little America" and is more comfortable in the surrounding Kenyan culture. For me, a city-slicker from the U.S.A., even the school seemed pretty exotic, and I could have been happy watching the curious colobus monkeys for a few hours.
"The Bushman" and I were in the Kenyan highlands for a rare family reunion and the graduation of his little brother. There were twenty of us, gathered from five different countries, and all eager to do some exploring. After watching the alumni and student rugby teams go head-to-head in the shadow of Mount Longonot, we filed out of the chain-link gates for a hike in the Kenyan jungle.
The boarding school is located in Kijabe on the edge of the Great African Rift Valley, eastern edge of Africa that is slowing ripping away from the rest of the continent. The result of this rift is the Africa's Great Lakes, the savanna that stretched out below us, and the verdant mountains that towered above. Like any good Tarzan fans, we set out into these hills in search of some vines to swing on. We said it was for the kids, but I was probably more excited than any of my nieces or nephews. I thought you could only swing from tree to tree in movies, but apparently I was wrong. Around me, my family seamlessly transitioned from the harsh intonation of English to the musically smooth tones of Swahili, delighted to be home and speak their favourite language.
When we'd had our fill of wild adventures (or, more accurately, when the rain started coming down in droves), we headed back to our guest house and planned an excursion to Nairobi. An hour's drive on bumpy dirt roads brought us to Village Market Mall. The mall was anything but a market in the village; everything was clean, high-tech and in English, much to my surprise. Most of the people in the mall spoke heavily-accented English, which is actually one of the most common languages to hear locals speak in the metropolitan area of Nairobi. Even here, where the West has all but erased traditional life, the cultural hospitality of Kenya shone through. “Karibu,” storekeepers welcomed us, then graciously corrected themselves as they saw that we were a group, “Karibuni.” We shopped for a bit, and then we took the kids outside to play at the mall’s water park.
Of course, no Kenyan trip is complete without a safari. Safari is actually the Swahili word for “journey,” so technically our entire Kenyan experience was a safari, even the mall excursion! In the tourist sense, though, a safari refers strictly to a drive through a wildlife preserve. Although this was a fairly typical outing for a lot of the family (my father-in-law was instrumental is establishing Burundi’s national parks), it was the experience of a lifetime for me. During our drive through Lake Naivasha National Park, I kept my eyes out for Kenya’s “Big Five,” elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and Cape buffalo. We never saw the big cats, but we did see the other three—and a lot of other things! My favorite was a family of giraffes that calmly munched on leaves and watched us with soft, brown eyes.
When it was time to leave Kenya, I woke up early and bound my hair in traditional cloth wrapping to protect it from the ever-present dust. We all piled into two European-style Land Rovers and drove down to the savanna. As we slowly bumped our way to the Tanzanian border, I watched out the window as the modern homes of Nairobi disappeared and traditional mudbrick structures of the villages began to appear. Little girls, babies strapped to their backs, set down their buckets and watched us with surprise as the cars full of white people came and went in a cloud of red dust. Chapati bread and cups of Kenyan chai, heavily-sweetened and spiced black tea and milk, kept us satisfied through the long stretches of red dirt road.
A sense of longing filled my heart. Eventually, my husband and I plan to return to the Rift Valley for good, but that time seems so very far away. Even when we come back, I know I’ll always be a bit on the outside, never quite part of this beautiful country and never quite distinct from it. Even so, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than in the ancient highlands of beautiful Kenya. It’s a place worth loving and living, for a holiday or for a lifetime.
Breana is an American expat living in the Dutch Caribbean. Graphic Designer and writer from sunny Arizona, she has travelled around the Caribbean, Mexico, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya and most of the U.S. You can also follow Breana and her adventures together with her husband, at 3rdculturewife.com.