letters from nairobi

An Impromptu Christmas Safari
December 27, 2011, 13:08
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Celebrating Christmas in Kenya has been an interesting experience, to say the least.

N. and I celebrated Christmas Eve in a manner more fitting of my (non-Christian) family than his: watching “The Sopranos” and ordering Italian food. No twinkling lights or carols, but enjoyable nonetheless.

On Christmas Day, we attended a party at a friend’s house, contributing a total of 9kg of potato dishes between the two of us – 6kg of leftovers are currently stored in the fridge, wrapped in aluminum foil, which I am optimistically attributing to the abundant spread of food that was provided, rather than a testament to the quality of my mashed potatoes. Right?

The gathering was fun and the food outstanding, but there is something that felt not quite right about drinking mulled wine outside in sandals, listening to “Jingle Bell Rock” while batting away mosquitos in the hot sun.

“Dashing through the snow?” Not in Nairobi.

Yesterday, which was a national holiday for Boxing Day (which, I discovered via Wikipedia, marks “a day when wealthy people in the United Kingdom would give a box containing a gift to their servants,”) N. and I decided to take a day trip and drove out to Lake Naivasha, which is located about 85km northwest from the city.

The drive along the Rift Valley and into the town of Naivasha was stunning. On either side of the road leading to the lake, massive, pale green tents house hundreds of thousands of flowers – the area is epicenter of Kenya’s $360 million flower industry, and its products are flown to Dubai, Holland, and London daily. It’s strange to think that in a hotel lobby somewhere in England, the fresh flowers sitting in vases were grown here, plucked, and flown over the ocean before the petals wilted.

But I digress. The trip to Naivasha was amazing not just only because the countryside is so beautiful – or because I successfully navigated us there without the aid of maps or road signs – but because of the wild animals that surround the lake, roaming across the roads and disappearing into high grasses. It is clear that the humans are the visitors here, tolerated but peripheral.

On the road leading to the wildlife reserve, we saw a group of monkeys with inquisitive eyes and graceful feet; a family of warthogs snorting in the dirt; and herds of slender, delicate gazelles whose ears would twist and bend, following the movement of the air around them:

We drove to Crater Lake Game Sanctuary on the far side of the lake, and for a mere $10, were admitted to the reserve, where we were free to drive around at whim. Seeing the wild zebras and giraffes so close was an indescribable experience – I found myself wide-eyed, exclaiming with childlike awe: “Look at how TALL that giraffe is! Ooo, wow, watch how FAST the caribou are! Look at them jump! Look! Look!”

The animals were unperturbed by the noise of the car engine, and would occasionally stop grazing to peer at us, vaguely interested, the way we would watch scenery speeding by the windows of a train. Then they would lower their necks once again and sniff the sun-bleached grass, and we drove on.

On the way out of the sanctuary, we passed by an area of the lake where flamingos gather.

Then the rain began splattering the windshield, and we drove back to Nairobi as the sun set, planning our next trip to Naivasha – one of the best Christmas gifts imaginable.


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[…] another country and culture has to offer, regardless of the specifics. Life in Nairobi is more than giraffe sightings and Caledonian balls – much more – and it would undermine the intent of this blog to ignore the […]

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