It happens. Just by getting out of one’s routine we set the stage. I’m away from my home, and the world seems new and exciting and slightly familiar yet exotic, and also, on this crisp morning in Kenya, very peaceful and still.
Yet it also takes energy to get out of routines. Serendipitous connections a few years ago enabled me to come to know some now dear friends on another continent. I took a chance and visited last year, was enamored by Kenya, and have returned. It requires some planning on my part, financial as well as logistics both on the home front and the getaway region. Online info makes it much easier, but still, for me it’s a goal that takes many months to achieve. Falling asleep to dozens of animal and insect sounds, waking to unseen and unknown birds singing and cawing. One night here and already it’s worth the effort.
Like so much in life, it depends on our attitude and temperament. Despite getting weary by the end of roughly 24 hrs. of travel-time (about 15 hrs in the air), and recognizing my slight loss of patience with long lines at the final arrival point, I love airports. You get to see humanity’s incredible cultural array wander before your eyes. The huge, innocent, utterly trusting young eyes of the (Pakistani?) toddler who’s infant brother his mother was struggling to manage as we nibbled on some snacks in the airport awaiting our flight in Dulles. The French family, kids teasing one another endlessly as the concerned parents lift young ones up for the passport verification. The old, brown-skinned man across the aisle on the plane, napping while wearing a beaten but stylish fedora, wrapped in the red Airfrance blanket, looking like a cross between a Tibetan Monk and a baptist preacher from Alabama.
No matter how different from me, I find a teeny bit of stepping outside oneself, and a smile, unlocks nearly everyone’s caution. I’m grateful faces were not hidden by masks, as we convey so much without words via our visage. As is so often the case, we fail to consider the full spectrum of trade-offs when we act to promote safe-guards, in short and longterm.
Our weariness (I’ve the incredible bonus of traveling with my son Anselm some of this trip) was met with kindness and helpful care as we got the essential monetary and communication devices set up, just steps beyond the airport exit. You can feel this place (Kenya) in transition in so many ways. Roughshod old school traditions getting by mashed with modernization in the same breath.
Our taxi driver was uber-patient, waiting with our bags as we plodded through getting SIM cards in phones for use here. His attitude completely unlike what one might expect in a big western city where “time is money.” I asked if he drives full time, Yes” he enjoys it, but it doesn’t pay well and like so many here wants to save to set up owning his own vehicle. Like so many in the world, he simply wants to be able to offer his family a few less challenges. Heading to Karen-Hardy, in the western outskirts of Nairobi, we suddenly came upon and then passed a police car cruising next to us. Suddenly, because it didn’t have tail lights working, and had one headlight. We shared a laugh at the irony of this “sad-eyed” authority.
Traffic tapered off paralleling the steadily decreasingly smooth highway to two lanes to a rough side road and a common site— a gate across a private road, manned by two guards. It’s common because the divide between haves and nots is pronounced here, and folks like us are thought of as wealthy. So places we stay that simply seem cool and interesting (though not luxurious by US standards) are considered and kept as havens for the elite.
As I sit on the deck I’m looking out at the Ngong Hills (seen in window reflection on the shot from on porch). For generations these have been lands of the Maasai people (famously presented in Out Of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep). It’s hard not to consider the changes of the last 150 years here—it was never without some struggles—but when this gorgeous landscape Kenya was first colonized, it and the cultures were raped, abused and then begrudgingly finally let go by Britain in the 1960’s. Leaving the 40 tribes to sort out adapting to the new ways imposed upon them.
Still today so many wealthy cultures continue vying for its resources: from privateers like Bill Gates & mega-corps imposing “modern farming solutions” requiring adoption of products, to the Wagner Group (private mercenaries funded by a Russian oligarch) acting as police/para-military for pay by struggling African govts., to China now leading the charge building infrastructure across the continent, to Putin and Biden each eager to win appeal, all of which are tying these fledgling republics into different forms of enslavement and debt before they can learn to fly on their own.
On a more personal scale, I understand our driver aching to have less struggle financially, we mostly have no idea how wealthy the majority of us in America are, compared to the less-developed world. I question when our way makes people happier or more content, and when it shifts to efforts based on addictive illusions. Of course our inner peace is an even deeper, yet somewhat inter-related matter. But beyond having basic needs of food, shelter, security and health for one’s family, the scrambling quest for all the distractions now so intrinsic to American life (that so many else on the globe seem to want to have) clearly are not the key.
Peter, the man managing the grounds who walked us to our treehouse lodge, asked if we wanted hot water in our shower last night — and feeling a bit rank from our travels we said yes, he said “ok, allow me 1/2 an hour to build a fire.” It certainly helps to expose oneself to other ways to gain a fuller perspective when reconsidering everything.