I am an American by birth, but undoubtedly my origins are rooted in Africa. My trip to Kenya, in a sense, was a homecoming. Upon landing my eyes soaked up the unfamiliar sights. I was transfixed by the rich, red clay soil, the lush, verdant foliage and the proud people who looked like me. Kindred.
Although separated for four centuries by both a savage history and the navy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I was at last a prodigal daughter returning home to the Motherland. It was painfully evident that I missed out on having a rich heritage-the ability to trace my lineage to the root, the raw beauty of the land, and not to mention, both a tribe and its tongue. Though I felt a connection, there was still a gap between us. I could still see and feel the polarizing effects colonization.
I tediously planned months in advance for this trip, and several things were required before departure. The Yellow Fever vaccine, which is good for a lifetime, cost $250 for a single shot and is not covered by most insurance companies. In fact, we had to visit a travel health clinic as neither my doctor or my son’s pediatrician would provide the services mandatory for entry. Malaria tablets are also required. Additionally, our travel doctor provided us with an antibiotic in the event of “upset” stomach, also known as “traveler’s” diarrhea.
Kenya also requires a visa that costs $51. It only took a day for mine to be approved. Furthermore, I had to complete the traveler’s health form as well as pay for two Covid test-$229 a piece. The US does not offer free tests for travel purposes.
I was accompanied by my twelve year-old son, and I was thankful that he would get to experience Kenya with me. I made sure to build in time to simply relax and was glad for it. The journey to Wakenya was long. We had a six hour layover in Amsterdam before we reached our final destination. We spent the first day relaxing at our hotel, the Radisson Blu Arboretum. Although the hotel was nice I would not recommend it. Instead I would suggest Tribe or Trademark hotels.
We had a good time during our three week stay and did a variety of activities. For the sake of keeping this blog brief, I only included a sampling of our stay.
We spent a few hours here exploring the 620 acre forest, and a had a pleasant and peaceful time. The forest is home to over 200 indigenous species of birds, as well as suni, harveys duiker, bushbucks, bush pigs, genets, civets, honey badgers, bush babies, porcupines, Syke’s monkeys, bush squirrels, hares, fruit bats, and various reptiles and butterflies. Fortunately we did not run into any animals! However, I met a lovely lady named Rebecca who was gracious enough to give us a lift to our pick up spot.
Kiambethu Tea Farm
I love tea and was eager to visit a farm being that Kenya is the third largest producer of tea. Kiambethu did not disappointment. We learned about the plantation, took a tour of the beautifully manicured grounds and visited the fields and forest nearby, fed the Colobus monkeys who live on the property, sampled tea and coffee, and had a delicious five course lunch.
David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
It was a treat to see these not so little babies up close and personal. The young elephants are rescued from the plains of Africa when they are orphaned, and raised on the property until they are old enough to survive in the wilderness. Visitors can also pay an annual fee to “adopt” an elephant which helps cover the cost of running the shelter. Fun fact: They drink infant formula. And I’ve seen few things funnier than a baby elephant taking a leak!
I was able to visit this private university via my seatmate on the plane to Kenya. Fortunately she had a friend who was a professor there and she graciously agreed to show me around. In Kenya one cannot simply visit any school which is why I needed a sponsor. It was serious business. My passport was held by university guards until my visit was over. I was impressed. The campus was large and beautifully landscaped. The buildings were airy and modern, containing the best technology money can buy. I really like how polished the students looked and was informed that students are not allowed to come to school any other way.
I met a lady professor who happily greeted me as “daughter” and welcomed me home. I was touched by the love that radiated from her. She embraced me and I could feel her sincerity. It’s one of the moments from Kenya that has stayed with me.
My son who is not a fan of shopping, opted to stay at the hotel. I took a matatu to what the locals call “Somali Town.” It is an area that looks decidedly different from the suburbs of Karen and other wealthy neighborhoods in Kenya. Here vendors hawk their merchandise everywhere-sidewalks included. The area bursts with life, language and color. A few days earlier I had seen a political campaign for presidential candidate, William Ruto (now the president-elect) who embodied the spirit of such a place with his catchy campaign slogan, Every Hustle Matters. Very few tourists are found here, and I received an assortment of surprised looks from the residents. But when I travel, I really like to venture far and wide. I never restrict myself to the tourist zones.
I spent over six shopping for souvenirs. I also had lunch at a local eatery overlooking the neighborhood. The camel milk tea was an unexpected surprise. It was smoky and sweet-unusual for tea. The goat and pilau was delicious.
I wanted to stay at Giraffe Manor, but it was booked out for months. The best I could do was visit the centre. We fed the same Rothschild giraffes that live on the grounds. Pre-Covid you could even kiss the giraffes, but due to the easy transmission of the virus, it is no longer allowed.
Nairobi National Park
This is the first safari we went on, and it was only a short distance from the hotel. The magnificent Serengeti stretches far, despite the city scenery looming in the distance. Acacias scatter the bush in addition to a wide variety of wildlife, including the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes and 400 speciesism of birds alone. The government opened the park to prevent animals from wandering into the city. However, they do not feed or tend to the animals who roam the park. And occasion, they do find their way into the streets of Nairobi!
Here we saw lots of animals, including zebras, impalas, buffalos, dung beetles, rhinos, and hyenas. The lionesses had just finished a hunt and lie napping in the grass.
Nairobi National Museum and The Snake Park
As I mentioned earlier, Kenya was colonized by Great Britain from 1920-1963, however Kenya is around 4.1 million years old, and thus they have a rich history.
The history of Kenya can be found in the museums on the hill. There are three nationals museums to peruse. We chose Nairobi National Museum.
Snake Park featured an array of snakes and other reptile species indigenous to Africa. I was not interested in visiting considering I am not a fan of slithery serpents, however, my son was quite eager to go.
It has been a dream of mine to visit the Maasai tribe. I have always been fascinated with these fearless warriors who still live as they did thousands of years ago, albeit, most currently have cell phones.
They are a beautifully melanonated group of proud, semi-nomadic people. The color of the Maasai is red as it symbolizes courage. They also believe it scares off large predators such as lions, which coincidentally they no longer hunt, instead the Maasai serve as protectors and guides on the reserve for their newfound felidae friends.
Most men wear a shuka, a cotton plaid fabric, in the form of a blanket, of bright red and blue colors. Additionally they can be seen in the trademark beads that embody their culture and represent beauty, strength, tradition, and sometimes social status. I danced with a group of warriors and felt exuberant with each movement.
We stayed at a lodge for this portion of our stay, and was eager to begin our safari which did not disappoint. I received the greatest encounter of my life when our driver spotted three young male lions napping in the bush. Suddenly one popped up and made his way to the vehicle. My window was rolled down completely , and he sauntered alongside the vehicle to relieve his bladder. His tail was swaying and thrashing on the dashboard right in front of me! I was utterly fascinated by this gorgeous creature and did not have time to be afraid. He was so close I could’ve reached my hand out and touched his mane. I clearly see why lions are the king of the jungle. He was so regal yet fierce. He was not at all phased by the vehicles lining up to adore him. I can’t adequately explain the awe I felt from seeing animals up close and not confined in zoos. It was simply magical.
Great Rift Valley
The drive to Maasai country took close to five hours and in route, we drove past the stunning Great Rift Valley, part of an intra-continental ridge system that runs from the north and the south through Kenya. It was truly a sight to behold. We stopped on the way back to the hotel. The view literally took my breath away. I was convinced that God used his finest artistry when he created Kenya.
Afterwards we had lunch at the famed Carnivore restaurant. A variety of meats are roasted and served on a traditional Masai sword. To end the constant arrival of meat, one must “surrender” the white flag.The meal consists of soup, salad, all you can eat meat, including two exotic selections, salads, vegetable side dishes, coffee or tea, and dessert
Inti-A Nikkei Experience
What a treat this upscale restaurant was! It is located in One Africa Place domed tower in the neighborhood known as the Westlands. The 360 degree view of the Nairobi skyline that restaurant offers alone is amazing. The cuisine is a marriage between Japanese and Peruvian food. The food was fair, but I enjoyed the ambiance more than anything.
Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant and Cafe
This restaurant was the epitome of cool with its live DJ and festive atmosphere. The modern interior is designed to resemble a tropical vacation. But was struck me the most was the beautiful portraits of African women lining its walls. I ordered the creamy seafood rice which was delicious.
We ate several meals at CJ’s which is a Somalian owned restaurant chain that is popular with the locals. The menu features a large variety of American fare that was delicious.
This posh eatery is located on The Village Market. They had an extensive menu, however, I settled for a dish of pasta and iced cinnamon tea. Art Caffe, is artsy, of course, and also has a bakery.
I had a delicious meal in a floating restaurant of goat choma, which is Kenyan barbecue sans the sauce. I also had the National dish of ugali, a cornmeal like substance, mixed vegetables, kachumbari-a tomato salad, and fries.
A cool bouger eatery that has a funky menu. The bacon burger is The Notorious P.I.G., a nod to American rapper, Notorious B.I.G. They also served a chicken burger known as California Love. I can hear the intro 808 bumping in my song-but I digress, lol
Nairobi is a safe city, but like anywhere, it’s important to use common sense. I stayed in well populated areas at night. I also kept my purse or daypack and phone tight to my person. Nor did I wear flashy items.
Debit is widely accepted as is Visa. The currency, Kenyan shillings, are available via ATM. Some businesses also take American cash. Several places only had pay by M-pesa-similar to America’s cash app system. However, most had some type of accommodation for tourists.
The best mode of transportation is Uber. It’s dirt cheap and the price is predetermined and you don’t have to worried about being taken advantage of simply for being a foreigner. Private vehicles will cost more as well city taxis. They have do have public transportation in the form of boda- bodas-motor bikes, buses, small rickshaws, and my favorite-the matatus. I wouldn’t recommend tourists hop on any of these, but I rode on several matutus and I was clearly the only tourist in site. The artwork on each matatu is unique. They are “wrapped” in a mural featuring popular American musicians such as Snoop Dogg and Cardi B., athletes-Muhammad Ali and Kobe Bryant, and even video games. Some contain religious art. There was even a Game of Thrones matatu. I called these mobile pieces of art party buses. Many have loud music, and multiple tv screens. Some are spacious while others you literally have to squeeze into your seat! I saw many vendors conducting business while in route to their destination.
I am thankful that I had the opportunity to visit The Motherland. It is my hope that all Black Americans are able to do so.