The Kenya Trip Top 10

Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for my writing career, our trip went absolutely perfectly, so this will be a boring post.  We did everything, saw everything, saw everyone, enjoyed beautiful weather, ate wonderful food, and mostly everyone behaved and was happy.  Except for the vile monkeys at one of our camps, who pressed their little black faces up against the screens of our tent, surveying all our possessions to see what they might eat/steal/crap on.  They then found a way to invade, we have no idea how.  They strangely did not eat or steal anything, but they did crap on things. And of course, the weakest stomach among us, who will remain nameless but is definitely not me, found the evidence and suffered severe trauma.  Luckily, once we had locked up all our snacks and pills (yes, they will eat pills, and although I would kind of love to see what a monkey on a bottle of zoloft looks like, I am not willing to sacrifice my supply for the amusement), they moved on to my aunt and uncle's tent, where they proceeded to ingest an entire bag of snacks while the human occupants napped right there in front of them.  To quote Inspector Clouseau, "Filthy Minkeys!"

I generally find narrative accounts tedious, so I'm going count down the trip's Top 10 moments from my perspective, and then from my kids.'  There is probably only one thing that is on both.

My Top 10:
10.  Playing bridge in the wilds of Africa with my aunt, uncle, and Charlotte.  Kevin and I rotated in and out (only 4 people can play bridge).  The game lodges always make me feel extra British, with their tea times and mostly tasteless desserts, and the bridge was a nice added touch.

9. Listening to 80's tunes with our driver, Moses.  Once again it was proven to me that Africans love their 80's pop, because they are all freaking geniuses, that's why.  Although he also strangely asked if I had any Top 40 hits from 2014 on my phone.  Just 2014 though, none of that 2013 or 2015 crap.  

8. Chapatis.  For the uninitiated, these are a Kenyan version of an Indian pan-cooked bread by the same name, only WAY better.  Kind of like a heavier, greasier, more sinful tortilla.  I grew up on these things, and all the lodges served them fresh off the griddle at most meals.  My friend Faith also made us a very delicious batch.

7.  Well, obviously, the animals.  And boy did we see the animals--we saw pretty much everything.  Including a leopard, lots of lions, and some cheetahs taking down a wildebeest.  I had always wanted to see a cheetah run after something and kill it, because they are my absolute favorite animal and also what I imagine I look like when I run.  The reality was more disturbing than I expected, though (kind of what I actually look like when I run).  I mean, they killed a BABY, and he cried and cried.  It was very sad.  But cheetahs gotta eat, so I guess that is life.

6. Tayari Fish and Chips!!!  We did a quick tour through the town where my family lived when I was growing up.  I had not been back there in over 20 years.  A lot had changed--our old house was no longer there from what I could tell--but one thing that had not changed was this little place on the main drag called Tayari (Ready) Fish and Chips.  We always thought that was the best name.  I never actually ate there, but my dad did once and reported they were out of fish and chips. Love it.

5.  Mt. Kenya.  At over 17, 000 feet, you'd think you could spot this beauty anywhere, but having grown up in her shadow, I knew better, and feared we would not catch even a glimpse.  She is like the awkwardly tall girl who doesn't know she's gorgeous and skulks around in the shadows of the school dance praying no one will notice her towering over everyone (not that I would know anything about that).  You can go entire months without the slightest inkling there is a massive, snow-capped mountain in your vicinity.  On our first pass through the area, we struck out big time.  The weather was horribly foggy, and we could barely see the trees, much less Mt. Kenya.  But on our return trip, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and there she was, multiple times in fact throughout the day.  I felt like an old friend had heard I was in town and made the effort to come and see me.

4. Which is exactly what Shiru, Njoki, and Zipporah did.   Zipporah was our housekeeper when I was a kid, and she and her daughter, Njoki, and granddaughter, Shiru lived in a house next to ours.  I grew up eating Zipporah's flour tortillas and chapatis, playing with Shiru, and having Njoki dig parasites out of my toes.  Well, she only did that once, with a safety pin, and it was murderously painful.  I never held it against her, though.  I had not seen any of them in over 20 years, but through the magic of Facebook, we connected, and they met up with us as we blew through town.  It meant so much to me, in fact, hugging Zipporah was one of the many times I teared up on this trip.

3.  Seeing my kids dance with the Masai.  We were mostly on the tourist circuit, an admittedly sheltered way to see Kenya.  The "real" Kenya whizzed past our car windows as we made our way across the country, and I'm not sure how much my kids really took in.  So when we got to visit a Masai boma/village, I was thrilled.  A little apprehensive, too--I wasn't sure what my thoroughly American, slightly germ-and-bug phobic kids would think of huts made out of cow dung and goats running around and flies buzzing around.  Lawson did kind of freak out at first--new situations typically scare him--but he eventually warmed to it.  Charlotte got right in there immediately, dancing with the ladies, jumping with the moran/warriors, exploring the dark, smoky mud huts, and passing out candy to the kids.  Our hosts were incredibly gracious, and I felt her begin to fall in love.

2.  I got my Rift Valley sunset.  There were so many moments during our 3 days at RVA, the boarding school where I spent most of my childhood, when I was overcome with a potent mix of joy and nostalgic longing--seeing my kids play on the Titchie Swot/elementary school playground, giving Charlotte a tour of my old dorms, watching rugby with old friends on upper field, singing the national anthem in Swahili at my nephew's band concert, walking back to our quarters at night and feeling the cold Kijabe wind and looking up to see the familiar stars.  To be there again, and with my children, was to experience the best pieces of my life all at once.  But I think my favorite moment was watching the sun set over the Rift Valley as I did so many times as a child.  If one thing encapsulates everything I love and miss about RVA--the tranquility, the quiet, the beauty, the slowness of life--it would be that.  I wasn't sure we'd see a good sunset, given that it was "winter" and a typically foggy time of year, but the weather was spectacular the entire weekend, and God gave me a perfect sunset.

1. The Mau Mau cave.  Another deeply meaningful RVA moment, and one I didn't plan in advance.  The Mau Mau cave is in the forests below campus, about a 30 minute hike, and legend has it that Kenya's freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, used the cave as a hideout.   Our beloved dorm mother, Miz, used to take us there some nights, and we would sit around a campfire, roast hot dogs and sing, our voices bouncing off the cave walls.  It was just one of the things she did that made life seem like one big special occasion.   The last time I was there was with her and our whole dorm right before we graduated.  She brought a camera and tripod, and I still have the resulting picture on my wall (below).  Miz died tragically at the age of 39 after a brief illness, and I still miss her.  I've been back to RVA many times over the years, but never to the cave.  This time, I kind of spontaneously decided to take Kevin and the kids.  I had to be reminded of the directions, but we found the path down a steep embankment, through some trees, over a stream, and--There it was, just as I remembered it.  I closed my eyes and listened to the long-ago sound of our voices echoing in the night and felt the magic of Miz again.

My kids had a great time, too, but I'm not sure the trip was quite a meaningful to them.  Based on interviews and observation, I think this is their Top 10.

10.  The one pool that was (barely) warm enough to swim in.  No one who hasn't been there believes me when I tell them that Kenya can be quite chilly, and yet all the lodges have pools that nobody can bear to swim in.  Samburu park was the only place warm enough, which was fortunate, because the kids really needed baths by then, and y'all know I count the swimming pool as a bath.

9.  Gift shops.  Every place had a gift shop, and it didn't really matter what they were selling, my kids had to have it.  I said no to the Masai knife.

8.  Orange Fanta.  We don't drink a lot of sodas in our house, but when we travel, I let them have them as a treat.  Kenyan Orange Fanta is an even better treat, because everyone knows that bottled sodas taste best.  They drank one almost every day.

7.  Monkey mischief.  While the adults found the monkeys somewhat less-than-charming, the kids thought they were hysterical.  Never more so then when one of them approached our table at breakfast and calmly took Charlotte's pancake right off her plate.

6. Moses's crazy driving.  Moses proved time and again that there was no mud puddle, river, boulder, ditch or roadless area he could not cross.  The kids thought he was some kind of super hero, especially when they saw the other drivers try and fail to manage his feats.

5.  The cheetah kill.  They had saucers for eyes over that one.  Hopefully they won't need therapy to block out the sound of the baby wildebeest's bleating playing over and over in their minds.

4.    Chameleons.  Just when things started to get boring for them at RVA, they discovered a chameleon crossing the road.  They had heard my stories of playing with chameleons as a kid--including my sister's chameleon racing venture--yes, that's right, chameleon racing, which is like NASCAR in very, very slow motion--so they were excited.  We picked it up, and they spent the next hour or so letting it crawl all over them, until cousin Brendan, the amateur naturalist, advised them to return him to his proper location.  Now they are lobbying for a pet chameleon.  I have reminded them they already do nothing to take care of the dog I got them.

3.   American Ninja Warrior Safari Vehicle Edition.  My kids have recently discovered ANW, which has inspired them to occasionally get off the couch.  Imagine their delight when Moses popped the roof up on our safari vehicle, and they discovered they could use it as monkey bars.  Moses was fortunately not uptight about  kids climbing all over his car (it suffered much worse abuse at his hands).  They also enjoyed simply standing up while we drove around looking for animals.

2.  The few places with Wifi.  The lack of adequate Wifi was a very oppressive reality, especially for Lawson.  When we found some, it was like Christmas.  In fact, Lawson claims he would want to stay in Kenya forever except the Wifi is better in America.

1. Seeing where Mom grew up blah blah blah.  I am just pretending this is number 1.  It is difficult to tell if it meant much to them, but they did appear enchanted on occasion, and that's good enough for me.  Charlotte in particular really seemed fascinated to imagine my life there.  While we traveled, she read a novel-version of my time at RVA I had written for her.  She would ask me, Is this where that happened? Did that really happen? Is that friend we met a character in the book?  She said she liked the book, "but it needs a lot of work."  Her harsh editorial comments were worth watching her connect with my experience.

Despite these many words on this page, I in fact have no adequate ones to describe what this trip meant to me.  I fell in love all over again, and it was hard to leave.  Sometimes I think it would be better to never go back, so I could just forget and move on.

But I'll be back.  We'll be back.  It's who we are.


  1. I was very relieved to arrive at the kids' top 10 and discover that the cheetah-killed baby was not a human baby.

    And yes, bottled soda tastes best. I don't know if it's because soda outside of the US is made with cane sugar instead of corn sweetener or if there is something about the carbonation not escaping through glass. I never drink sugared soda at home, but when I travel, I always get at least one Good Coke.

  2. Thanks for letting us Old Folks go along. Kenya was on my Bucket List, and that is a bucket I hope to dip into again! And Charlotte is turning into a pretty good bridge player. If she would only sort her cards...


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