Even as a tourist in Kenya, writer/traveler Ariane Marder discovers the connective thread that binds her — and you — to everyone else.
This year, for the holidays, I’m over 7,000 miles from home, where I’m spending the next few months traveling between Nairobi and the bush. It was by my choosing to come here — an experiment in living outside my comfort zone — even though I knew I’d be missing out on all the fun that comes with the season back east.
It should come as no surprise that Thanksgiving in a former British colony is a non-event. This year, however, Pope Francis was in town so the government declared a last-minute holiday. I had thought I might all but skip Thanksgiving rather than force a celebration, but there was something about being so far away from my loved ones on a day when I knew everyone was all together that made me want to up the ante. At 3 pm, I booked what I call an “emergency hotel room.” The prospect of endless hot water, a fireplace and free WiFi on a chilly Nairobi night was all the temptation I needed to drive the twenty minutes from my rental in Karen to Langata.
So for Thanksgiving, I traded in the usual chaos of fighting over oven time, a gluttonous meal of turkey and all the fixings, and an inevitable family tiff over something inconsequential for a night alone at Giraffe Manor, home to a herd of resident Rothschild giraffe. If I couldn’t have dinner with family, then a herd of giraffe would have to do.
After feeding my tall animal friends from the window of my room, I sat down to a solo candlelit meal in the dining room and, despite it all, found myself missing the familiar pandemonium I’d left behind. But by dessert I had learned that purely by coincidence some friends I’d spent a few days with in the Mara National Reserve had just arrived for a drink and, “would I be interested in a nightcap by the fireside?” Well, yes.
I wasn’t alone after all. Kenya is a place where everybody knows everybody. You can’t shake a bush without someone you know falling out. Even if you’re just a tourist on an extended stay, like myself, you’re bound to discover the connective thread that binds you.
Now Christmas is around the corner. My plan is to head up north to the bush and spend it with my new friends over turkey, sausages and mince pies. Though I knew I’d be missing out on the smell of fresh-cut evergreen, the billowing snow-covered hills surrounding our family hideaway in Western Massachusetts, my godson’s loving big brown eyes when he tells me “Merry Christmas, I love you,” and the dopamine-triggering smell of my brand new goddaughter who I have yet to meet and hold, I’m looking at this as a series of trades: the Northeast winter wonderland for the East African savannah, the big city for the big sky, blinking lights for twinkling stars, Santa Claus for Father Christmas, reindeer for impala, making memories with old friends for discovering myself with new ones, and white blankets of snow for red rivers of mud which, unlike the former, leaves henna-colored stains on your shoes and an indelible imprint on your soul. These are the things I’ll look back on next year during this time that will make me miss Kenya something fierce.
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