April 26th, 2020
In this time of international lock-down and enforced isolation, I have to remind myself how lucky my family and I are living, as we do, in a National Park only minutes away from Nairobi.
Corona virus has made social distancing an unfortunate condition of life in the world. For us with our individual cottages and open air lodge, social distancing is something that has been a part of our every-day lives since we opened. Indeed, it is something that a safari anywhere in Kenya offers, let alone one so close to Nairobi.
As those who have stayed with us will know the only company we have is the birds and beasts, who more and more view us as a part of their world. Our small size , which when we opened we thought might be a disadvantage, in this current environment is now possibly an advantage. Although our International guests are for the moment unable to get to us, our Kenya resident friends see us as an oasis of calm and relaxation and enjoy getting away from it all for some peace and quiet. That peace and quiet is something that our family have come to take for granted. So while our business, like many others in our industry, is really struggling, we are fortunate to be able to count the blessing of living a natural life in a natural environment with some of the most wonderful people.
The Emakoko is built on the edge of a gorge overlooking the park and we have an untamed wilderness 20 feet from our office. We have our own chickens and a wonderful veggie patch that is feeding us all. During this time, the “mess” area is no longer the quiet centre where our guests can relax, but more a battle-ground for our large population of resident Hyrax. Since the weelky order for roses for the rooms and public areas has been cancelled there are no more little floral snacks, and they are now ‘thinning out’ and turning back into the strong fierce little creatures they are. Gone are the days of lounging on the bar stuffing ones face with delicious rose petals!
At night our Genet cats and Bush babies have taken over completely and the following morning the carnage of what looks like an all night rave has to be cleaned up. Incredible the damage that these little nocturnal visitors can do! It is so quiet now that from time to time we do get the bigger predators crossing the bridge and moving through the mess area at night. Our poor nightwatchman, no longer having to pace the pathways and keep the wildlife away from the rooms, was woken from a peaceful slumber on a sofa to find himself alarming close to a Lion on a midnight stroll through the bar!
Rihaz and Anthony have popped out on the odd game drive to keep in touch with not only the park rangers but also the park residents who appear to be unaware of the world’s isolation. Working on their photographic skills, it is wonderful having Rihaz here - our now onsite professional photographer - who is at the moment teaching Anthony a few tricks of the trade. The Park seems to be heaving with lions and the other day we had the misfortune of coming accross an extremely grumpy female Black Rhino who, having had no cars to chase of late, thought that she would take out all her stored energy on us. The kids shrieking like sirens in my ear with “Mummy Mummy she is going to hit us” and a baby screaming with joy ‘baba bye bye baba bye bye baba bye bye’ it was an extremely stressful minute or two until we left her in our dust.
We have the most amazing community of Masaai around us who although apprehensive to a certain extent about this new pandemic, will not let this get in the way of their daily lives. Following Social distancing guidelines of course, the main activity is moving cattle and goats over the plains, chatting to neighbours (at least 8 cows apart) and now looking after their small vegetable patches. If you are a part of this community you are very well looked after.
Protect the elderly and the vulnerable - yes, we have been doing this for decades.
Feed those that cannot feed themselves - again, this is part of our lives.
Stay at home - why would we ever want to leave? We are indeed in isolation, but it is about 35,000 beautiful acres of isolation!
I go for my runs in the morning through the community and it could not be more normal, village people are going about their business. What has changed though is the complete joy and enthusiasm people appear to have when they greet each other these days. The traditional handshake is now replaced with an elbow knock or a foot tap dotted with hysterical giggles as to how silly this has all become. As I run past, people wave madly as though I have not seen them for years........and I feel safe. I live here happy in the knowledge that this community here is a very special one; where everyone knows your name and we all look out for each other. With a pandemic like this you need a community like this, a group of people who understand the risks, protect those who are vulnerable, ensure that everyone does their bit and that no-one goes hungry. There is no such thing as “me first” in this little world; we are so very lucky to live here.
In harsh reality though, the only effects of Corona on this community and us, is the loss of business and we now find ourselves staring into a financial abyss, as are so many of our sister companies in the tourism industry. I don’t think any of us know when life will get back to normal but what we do know is it will. When it does we hope that we will be able to welcome you to our wildlife hideaway and that once again you can enjoy life as is should be lived: in a natural environment surrounded by the flora and the fauna of this beautiful country.
In the meantime, an extract from my all time favourite poem which is more fitting now then ever.
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Please stay safe everyone and we really really hope to see you again soon.
March 16th, 2020
I started writing this sitting at Atlanta International Airport and waiting, hopefully, for a flight back to the Kenya via the UK as our marketing trip to the USA has been aborted. This tidal wave of horror is gathering momentum but yet it feels so surreal as I move from one continent to another.
Our plan was for a group of Kenyan lodge owner/manager/operators to take our annual marketing trip through the USA. Once we had finished, then our group would part ways and Anthony and our children would join me for a road trip in the States. The inexorable march of the Corona virus across the world ended that plan, as it has affected the lives of so many millions of people across the world.
Our visit started off with a very positive showcasing of the appeal of Kenya - and The Emakoko - as an exciting holiday start and end to any East African Safari. It ended in the short space of a few hours in Atlanta as news spread of the spread of the Corona virus.
What is the right thing to do with this crisis? It has taken me days for this turn of events to sink in and it has led me to speculate if our various leaders really are making the right decisions. On the one hand, people who are elderly and have medical problems are at so much risk, And can it be risked. Whilst to the young and fit if could be no more than a bad cold, and these ‘worker bees‘ are what we need to keep working. The outcome of this, it seems to me, is that we will all, inevitably, at some point come into contact with this disease, and if we do get it will be more than likely to pass it onto someone else. This is all very worrying and stressful in itself. However the worst outcome is not the disease itself, it is the prospect of the global economy crashing and the unimaginable backwash of suffering that will happen to many millions of people.
It was only as I checked out of my hotel in Atlanta (very sadly, as we have had to put a years worth of planning on hold) that I befan to appreciate clearly how big the impact of the virus is going to be. The fact is that the Corona virus itself is only part of the worry. Government action to contain it is far more worrying and the risk to so many peoples lives and livlihoods is enormous. Many people during the coming week will go home anxious about how to feed their families, where will they be able to get medical care if needed, and what will they do with elderly relatives already needing care. For the millions upon millions who have very little anyway, the consequences will be appalling. The line between life and death for the poor in this world is a very fine one indeed.
I have been staying at a hotel in Buckhead, Atlanta for three nights and chatting to their wonderful staff, who went out of their way to make us feel at home - Americans ( and the Canadians - you know who you are team! 😉) are so good at this! Being a Kenyan, I am extremely proud of Kenyans who work in the service industry – they are so genuine in their efforts to make you comfortable and at home, and North Americans are no different. As I checked out I talked to the reception staff and learned that one of the staff members had just been laid off that very day. His kids had just had all their schools closed, his mother was in a nursing home, and his wife was an office manager/receptionist for some corporation - no doubt about to start the process of laying off and unpaid leave. The future of this family alone now hangs in the balance in every possible way, and there is nothing that will soften the blow.
It made me wonder if Boris Johnsons ‘herd plan’ is an option that perhaps we may not be angry about in months to come. The idea that the workers must keep working, industry must continue, public services must be maintained, and we must lock down and quarantine those at risk, may not be a bad idea at all. At this moment in time, I feel that the concept of isolating those at high risk before they get ill, and accepting that the younger and fitter will probably get the virus and get over it without too much hardship might just be very effective, rather than putting all and sundry into quarantine on a pretty random basis. And a quarantine that could potentially go on for a rather long time. I guess the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I would hate to be having to make those decisions.
My husband and I will face similar challenges when I get back to a Kenya which is only now facing the issue of the spread of the disease. Our own staff, like our American counterparts, will for a period of time live in much reduced circumstances. As a third-world country the people of Kenya, however, are used to enduring and facing hard times and in this way are probably better equipped to deal with difficulties than their wealthier and more sophisticated counterparts in the so-called developed countries.
As I dragged my feet to book the last flight out of the USA and arrived at Atlanta airport, the lack of a seething mass of humanity suddenly hit me. This is a world crisis, it is really happening, and for perhaps the first time in my life time I am made aware of the fragility of human life, and the that entire world as I know it is about to come to change forever. But still …. but still ….a small part of me wished, when I handed over my passport, that someone would say in that soft American voice “Sorry Ma’am, but you cannot board this flight! You are in the US for the next 30 days” I have so enjoyed this beautiful country and had hoped to explore it further on this trip - the idea of a temporary ’Rick Rimes’ lifestyle sounded pretty good!
As I said at the start of my blog, I am in transit, and about to leave the First World, now with its’ Third-World problems, and head back to my own part of this planet. For us in Kenya, this ‘aint our first rodeo’. We as a country have been through so much in the last two decades, and this will no doubt just be a another ‘dropped stitch’ in our country’s tapestry.
So these are my thoughts at the moment, and like most people, I have absolutely no idea what is to come. I do however have a profound belief in the human spirit and hope that this insanity will come to an end soon, and life will return to as normal as it can be. In the meantime, I do very much look forward to being re-united with my family and my fellow Kenyans and enjoying the incredible wildlife and landscape my country has to offer. Sadly, with all the lockdowns, it will be rather empty of people, but wonderfully, it will be teeming with wildlife. Oh how happy Mother Nature must be!
Until then - as we say in Kenya ‘Tu Ko Pamoja’ - We are together.
We really hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to welcome you to The Emakoko and that this period of international calamity will simply be a sad memory for all of us soon. In the meantime, as we are slowly becoming more isolated, please make sure you have a sundowner wherever you are - we certainly will be!!!!
Stay safe all, and please please please (wash your hands of course) but please support local industry as much as you can, as often as you can and for as long as you can.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS 🙂
16th March, 2020