July 15th, 2018
For most parents, the prospect of un-leashing their little ones onto the African Continent fills them with horror and apprehension. Africa is far too dangerous and one couldn’t possibly allow children to be exposed to the risks of Malaria, snake bite, scorpion sting, man-eating lions and worst of all civil car! The dark continent indeed!
When I am overseas and I speak to people about visiting Kenya and get this sort of reaction, I am perfectly understanding. Why on earth anyone would pay for that? But where in Africa does this all happen? Then I am reminded how appalling our global press coverage has been and how it must look to the outside world. The Africa that people view through their television screens and android devices is on a different planet from the Africa that I know, and the Africa that my children love, adore and call home. Having said this, the Africa that I am talking about is Kenya, the country where I was born and the country where I hope to spend the rest of my life. There are indeed parts of Africa which are unsafe to visit, or so we are told.
A journalist stayed at The Emakoko recently, and I asked him to explain why the press is always so quick to report anything that happens in Kenya. He replied that it is because so many people in the Press business live in this country. Why do they live here, I asked? Well, because there is easy access to the rest of Africa and, most of all it is a fantastic place to live. The people, the safaris, the beaches, the climate, the education and the of course the vibe - it is a wonderful place to be based and a post that is a plum choice for journalists from all over the world who are covering Africa. So there you have it!
We are in a wonderful position here at The Emakoko. We have access to an amazing city and can retire at the end of the day to the call of the wild. Don’t be fooled, Nairobi National Park is not a zoo by any means - it is an incredible area stuffed to the brim with flora and fauna, some of which you will not see on the rest of your safari. What also makes it wonderful, is that we are the first and last point of entry and exit to and from Kenya.
We welcome guests, who less than an hour ago were clearing customs, having left their homes on the other side of the world, and who have already seen three of the “Big Five” within minutes of leaving the airport. For kids who devote the best part of their free time to their iPads, this can be a shocking experience, and by the time they have crossed the bridge and come into the lodge I have their full attention. GoiGoi the bush baby will be draped nonchalantly over the balustrade eating his banana and Kamakazi the Genet Cat is busy leaping about catching insects – they have walked into another world, a very far cry from the howling sirens and mass of humanity that they left behind only 16 hours before. Welcome to Africa!
When these families come to the end of their trip, I cannot resist asking what was the most memorable part of their safari - placing a bet with Anthony that I know exactly what they will say. The most memorable part of the trip was - the people. Yes, the people. In this day and age to see people live under the most basic conditions, trekking miles for water, without electricity or the creature-comforts most first-world inhabitants consider essential, and yet with a terrific sense of community, peace and harmony is something that most visitors cannot ignore. Not only this, but the unbelievably friendly nature of the people of Kenya is something that is so heart-warming, all the more so as it is completely unexpected.
I think the last time I went ‘out of my comfort zone with children’ (which I do appreciate is how a number of families on safari really feel) was about two years ago when we went on a safari into Kenya’s version of a 19th century ‘wild west’. Turkana, a place that I had only heard about, not only being a vast moonscape of stunning beauty, but being in such a remote area of this huge country, it was apparently somewhat lawless. Of course this would be a perfect place for a family holiday! We set off with another family, four adults and four children under 9 years old - into an untamed wilderness that none of us had ever visited before. It was exciting, and in retrospect, I wish we had stayed longer and that I had visited this place more when I was younger.
We stayed in a magical little tented camp called Koros. The staff, most of whom were the local Turkana tribe were amazing. Not only were they great at looking after us, but they literally took our children away for the best part of our time in the area and returned them to us when we left. The kids had a ball, tracking wildlife prints, learning how to make fires, milk goats, how to sleep outside and stop ants getting into your ears. Yes, every skill you could possibly need to survive in the wild against illness and predators, our children were taught. Should they ever be forced to go back in time and live as cave dwellers, I would be confident that each child would survive without any issues.
The person in control of our children, was a young Turkana man who was in charge of security of his family homestead. It is common in these areas for livestock to get “rustled” and therefore being head of security was a busy job. We were a little apprehensive when we first met him, he approached our vehicle literally dressed in a rather small cloth-like dress with a large Rifle on his back, ‘thousand miler shoes on his feet’ and a smile that could light up a dark room. The kids loved him instantly and he provided an experience that they will never forget.
Another reason for this trip I might mention, was my husbands new-found fascination with Scorpions (yes snakes and scorpions, what more could you want in a man?) and desire to see what species we could find in the area. With the days being so hot and lethargy taking over, the children were dispatched with their gun-wielding ‘Nanny’ into the bush to locate as many scorpions as possible. In order to find a scorpion by the way, you look for a hole and then dig....I realise that at this point it is obvious that I was never up for mother of the year award!
Anthony was delighted with what the kids found over the course of 3 days, and even more delighted when two specimens were confirmed as entirely new species, yes Gint Childsi, named after Anthony Childs himself. How happy I was to know that this is now another highly toxic creepy crawly to add to the many dangers of an African visit. I am even more delighted that neither of the new species will be named after me, I am not sure if one can take that as a compliment being named after an unattractive creature with a bad attitude and a painful sting in its tail!
So that was the last time, and hopefully will not be THE last time, I was out of my comfort zone with my children. I do tend to take for granted what a life these kids have, but going up to Turkana was a reminder that kids just want to be kids and are open to anything. Sometimes the most basic experience to us, ends up having an enormous impact on them. Disney world, Ski holidays, Versailles and Water World are not a patch on spending an afternoon in a Kenyan wilderness with one of our remarkable tribes.
So for anyone who is considering a safari to Kenya, there is nothing to consider - JUMP - take a walk on the wild side. You will not regret it and your children will be (for once!) forever grateful.