My favorite schoolteacher’s curriculum included an extensive study of the African continent. Teams of three were assigned months-long research projects on the economies, histories, food, and cultures of different African nations. By the end of the academic year, we had produced hundreds of pages of material complete with African recipes, kente cloth samples, and maps of the pre-and-post colonial markup of the continent.
“Odds are, you may never study Africa again in such detail at an American classroom,” she told our class in 1998. My subsequent experience proved her right.
I credit Mrs. Brown for putting a trip to Kenya on my bucket list. In particular, something about Maasai Mara warriors fascinated a young girl growing up in the New York suburbs.
So as I contemplated where to travel for a major milestone birthday, it should have been obvious that Kenya was the only logical choice. Lucky for me, Kenya Airways has a direct route from JFK International-New York to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport-Nairobi. I also found a reasonably priced overland safari package that would have me in Nairobi on my big day.
My advice if you’re thinking about going on a safari: give yourself a few weeks to prep. This trip required several vaccine appointments, countless trips to the store for supplies, and a fair amount of research for the right travel insurance. Getting my visa was also a hassle due to issues with electronic payment. I wound up using app called Atlys, which worked like a dream, for my Kenya and Uganda visas. The governments of both countries and others also offer the more convenient East Africa Tourist Visa if you plan on visiting multiple countries (and can get your credit card to work electronically from abroad.)
Once the stress of preparing was behind me, I could finally open my blinders. I was fulfilling a lifelong dream! I do not take for granted how exceptional it is to be able to say that, no matter how small or big the dream.
After a restful flight and a considerably lengthy stay in customs at Jomo Kenyatta, I made my way by Uber into Nairobi proper. Jetlagged but mentally energized, my first stop was Bomas of Kenya. To say that I enjoyed Bomas is an understatement. I had expected a quick 20 minutes of tribal dancing to whet our appetites before a self-guided tour of mock huts, only to look at my watch and see that the performers had treated us to over an hour and a half of high-energy selections. They also invited select audience members to join them. This writer attempted some twerking-lite on the continent where it originated.
The next day, with the help of my former coworkers at International Justice Mission, I enjoyed a personal tour of Nairobi. We left my hotel, the Best Western Plus Meridian in Central Business District (highly recommended), for the Nairobi National Museum. The beauty of travel is that it pushes you to see the world from beyond your immediate lens, as the Museum did when objectively, respectfully, and honestly recounting colonization from the Kenyan point of view.
I enjoyed the museum but was ready for a less touristy taste of Nairobi. My driver, Ruth, did not disappoint. In response to my request for art, she took me to Kioko Mwitiki Art Gallery. I fell in love with The Golfing Girl, a sculpture commissioned by the women of Nairobi to help their cause for access to the city’s then-men-only premiere golf courses. I left The Golfing Girl on her shelf as Ruth and I went to lunch across the street. Despite living continents away, we bonded over our shared experience of being single women breadwinners, and about the joys of properly cooked rice at a restaurant.
I just couldn’t shake The Golfing Girl over lunch, so we returned to Kioko. One of five miniature-size Golfing Girls is now a resident of Philadelphia. She lives on my writing desk to be precise.
Hands-down, my favorite part of my Nairobi experience was meeting kind and welcoming people like Ruth and the Kioko gallery owner, and finally meeting some of my International Justice Mission coworkers in person.
More exceptional people were awaiting me over the border in Uganda and across other parts of Kenya, including real-life Maasai warriors. My bucket list entry reading, “Kenya,” was about to be obliterated.