kenya: homecoming

Reading this log you could be forgiven for thinking that we never saw the big five, but indeed we did. Right from the lioness on the first day in Samburu which I instinctively knew was pregnant, to the Elephants in Ngutuni running from a predator, we saw all that nature had to offer, but strangely enough, when writing about Kenya, these are rarely the experiences that spring to mind as a necessity to share with others. It's almost as if the country and the writing dictates the sighting of these animals as a given (which they most certainly are not!) and instead, your conscience chooses to lure people to the country for the marvel of nature itself - those unexpected displays, the marvel of wildlife itself and the untamed nature of the country that keeps you begging for more.

We saw everything you could possible imagine plus more, ranging from the wild to the romantic. We got caught in the middle of the great migration, stood among 2/3rds of the world's population of flamingos (that's 2 million to you and I) and saw 2 month old baby lion cubs emerging from a riverbank through a mass of rich tall green grass to play fight and tussle under the morning sun.

To the romantic...well there's nothing like watching the dawn break by a watering hole with your husband by your side, crocodiles at your feet and bats above your head as you are serenaded by your very own morning chorus. If you can imagine casting your eyes immediately to the heavens, the immediate horizon would be dominated by the sun rising proudly above Mount Kilimanjaro- the mountain that glitters and it truly does feel like your very own piece of paradise on this grand planet earth.

I would highly recommend a visit if you get the opportunity - the memories will stay with you for a lifetime.

It's not for everyone - that much you may have deduced. If, when reading this travel log you are worrying about the excess travel insurance you'll need, whether your life policy is up to date and how anyone can cope for that long without Clarins and a hairdryer, South Africa may be more your scene. But regardless, a holiday to untamed Africa can be the singular most life changing experience you'll have.

Final thoughts

As soon as we landed at Heathrow Christmas trees greet us and the onslaught of the festive season threatened to muscle in on our memories. It wasn't long before we were sucked into the reality that there are just 2 more pay days to Christmas, a thought that had never crossed my mind in the build up to the holiday. A week later I find myself running ragged around the shops in my dinner hours, catching a bargain here and there, debating about who wants what and where from. It isn't until the Bank Aid single "Do they know it's Christmas time" is played on my stereo a month upon our return - when my pre-occupation with wrapping presents is in full swing - that I stop and really listen to the words of the song, making myself feel sick with the reality of Africa vs. Scotland. The urge to run out and purchase all known copies of the single ensues, as does the desire to re-write all gift labels to African children pack the gifts into boxes and send them first class airmail to a country that, quite frankly, would not have a clue what to do with pink strappy diamante sandals or napkin rings.

I debate with myself whether in this day and age, a heightened awareness of the world outside my window counts as much as I pray it does. I do not know whether my word is good enough for others to want to follow in our footsteps, and visit a country that will put you out of your comfort zone but enlighten you in a way you could never foresee, but I hope that through this log I am doing a small part to help contribute to awareness of those "less fortunate" and a country more beautiful then you could ever imagine.

Tragically, as the festive season and work preoccupations claimed my mind, my memories of Kenya were only really jolted back upon hearing of the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami tragedy, annihilating many beautiful countries and towns bordering the Indian Ocean, of which Kenya was one. Given that the depth of Kenyan destruction was not on a par with that of other countries, frustratingly very little was reported in the national media. Purposely seeking clarification, Ali and I chanced upon a video footage of the Tsunami wave hitting Kenya. With tears in our eyes we watched footage from the coast we'd stood on just 2 months back. As the waves struck, we could only watch the livelihood of the locals literally drift away as they, themselves, watched from a safe distance on the beach. With the waves increasing in intensity it was only then we started to hear the 'commentary' from the locals who were screaming at nature as she literally tore through their country. "Jambo! Jambo! Jambo!" an immediate rough translation: problems! problems! problems! or so we thought! Turning round to the camera, one local was smiling: shouting 'Jambo' as a welcome to the waves, as a salutation to nature herself. Such strength in the face of adversity only served to strengthen my diagnosis of the character of the Kenyan's and strengthen my love for the country. Two words say it all: "Truly amazing!"

Of course, the requirement for aid was never more apparent than at the start of 2005 and having been there and seen first hand what had been destroyed it is hard to have a balanced view of the immediate need for aid vs. the dying millions of Africans who, each day, pass away without full media coverage and aid rallys. I don't pretend to plough lots of money upon money into African related charities and I am still unsure (given what we have seen) whether it is best to do this, but what my husband and this holiday has converted me into, is a stronger believer in ethical tourism; the value in visiting these places and taking time to meet with the locals, embracing their way of life, rejecting modernization and pre-occupations; banishing all prejudice and paying what goods and services are worth to you - not what the ticket or seller suggests. I confess, this last point in particular did take a lot of getting used to; whether it's allowing the locals to carry your bags those 100 metres to your room to generate a tip when you are no doubt capable of carrying the one rucksack yourself; or seeing the carvings we purchased at the equator retail at a tenth of the price at Mombassa airport, it automatically evoked a emotion prevalent within me thanks to the 'normal' culture at home - that is "rip off Britain" - but I am learning, my credit card statement can now provide me with a sense of pride that I have done my bit, however small, to help preserve a small section of the Kenyan economy. All I need now is that lottery win and I'd be straight over there making a contribution that lives up to the benefit that I received from the holiday - it just seems all take and far too little giving the moment.

Unfortunately, I write this final section nearly six months after our travels. We developed over 800 photographs after our expedition, with most turning out far better than expected and leading us to notice even more than we thought we'd seen and experienced. We have never tired of telling the same stories to different people at home in different areas of life, and urging them to experiment more with both their choice of holidays, and their lives as a whole. As we left the Kenyan airports (a gruesome experience, security wise), our travelling friends excitedly informed us that they had become engaged elsewhere in Mombasa. This was wonderful news - even with the limited time we had spent together, they had already confided the near-death experiences they'd been through together, and the possibility that this holiday may never have happened: not for financial, but for existence reasons.

There were those less happy; the design of the package-holiday guarantees some friction between people sharing minibuses, and although it may be that the nature (i.e. price) of the holiday corresponds correctly (see http://www.responsibletravel.com for the folks who really care), we should always recognise how lucky we are to be able to travel on this great journey at all. Cheap flights or not, it is about societal evolution and individual/national wealth that we can absorb some of the great progresses in the world and re-apply them to ourselves. 'Take only photos, leave only footprints', is not enough here. We need to share more. Whether it is individually or collectively, we are the same people, we are the same race, and we need one another. The real media aspect of Africa is not poverty; it is knowledge, and we have so much to gain.

We have written around 30,000 words about the experience, now published but more as a cathartic experiment, to allow us to really engage with our memories and re-enliven our experience. We have tried very hard to remember our emotions and describe them adequately.

But at times it does not work. We had a glorious period for a few months after, where we believed - and were - the luckiest people on earth. Some of that, although only a small amount, has faded from me, in that I have become too connected with the Western ideologies of business and of productivity. While I have never sought to reject these concepts, it is disappointing personally not to have the stamina to retain the changes. I, personally, feel ever happier inside because of our visit, but I often do not act and behave that way, and I am nowhere near like that which I hope to emulate. But that's OK. Because although for a long time I felt there was no hope in achievement, in achieving perfection, in understanding the world as it really is, in dealing with the stagnant contentment, in being excited about the simple things once moreā€¦ I have found it exists. It is in Africa.

Writer

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