It’s been a while since I’ve posted a relatively short entry, but based on that deeply thought-provoking critique from Margot, I’ll try to keep this one short. Shortish. Shorter.
Suffice it to say, when I mentioned that I’d be returning to Nairobi, my sister Shelley said I should reach out and say hello to her friend, Peter Kinyua. Now, neither of us knew each other, so my first reaction was one of hesitance. I mean, reaching out to a complete stranger and saying, “Hey, we’ve never met, but I know someone you know, let’s grab a beer,” just seemed so odd. I mean, why the hell would Peter Kinyua want to have a beer with me?
Turns out, he didn’t.
What he wanted was for me to leave my AirBnB immediately and come stay at his stunning Nairobi home with him, his wife Sophie, and their wonderful daughter, Alexa. Their son, Matthew, is currently at school in Boston. Peter, a native of Kenya, is a graduate of Rhode Island’s Salve Regina University, where he knew a couple of my sister’s best friends, Kelly and Jodi Collins, who grew up four houses from our childhood home in Providence. Jodi’s husband, Tom, was a roommate of Peter’s. John Skeffington, another classmate of his from Salve, was a hockey teammate of mine at Classical High School, and our families have known each other for decades. Also, Peter and Sophie hosted my sweet and wonderful niece, Olivia, during a visit some years ago, when she spent a semester abroad in Tanzania. So, just as I’m discovering this great big world, it keeps getting smaller and smaller.
But leave my AirBnB and come stay with the Kinyuas? They didn’t even know me. I didn’t even know them. But, screw it, I thought, I’m on an adventure. And besides, what’s the worst that could possibly happen?
Turns out the worst that could possibly happen was for them – I nearly never left.
If I tried to detail every stunning and incredible experience resulting from their seemingly limitless generosity and hospitality, this would by far be my longest blog to date, but please grant me one more moment…
Peter is the owner of ServiCoff Coffee. His family’s story in this business alone, going back to colonial Kenya, is blog-worthy. But Peter is also the current Chairman of the Kenya Forest Service, charged with protecting and expanding the coverage of Kenya’s tree cover – protection from lucrative development, poaching, illegal logging, and even destruction from the growing population of elephants. Protecting those elephants, and Kenyans as well, is also part of this massive responsibility. Sophie is an incredibly accomplished entrepreneur, an amazing chef and owner of The River Café (she no longer creates meals for her daily restaurant clientele, but I am lucky to say that she continues to amaze for family, friends, and long-term house guests who simply won’t leave). She is also the soon-to-be owner of a petrol station in Timau. They are both on countless conservation and fundraising boards, not the least of which are Rhino Charge and Rhino Ark, and are partners in seemingly endless other ventures. They both have limitless energy (and patience), and appear to be the perfect team. They were dear friends with Richard Leakey, who passed just days before my arrival, and through them I met, drank, and dined with world renowned artists, authors, filmmakers, documentarians, conservationists, elephant and rhino experts and researchers, archaeologists, safari guides, charter captains, Olympians, broadcast and business executives, international event coordinators and DJs, legendary mercenaries, retired military, entrepreneurs in the nonprofit and for-profit sector, millionaires, billionaires, current and former diplomats and dignitaries – not to mention upcoming Parliamentary and even Presidential candidates.
And yet, somehow more impressive than the resumés of all of these truly amazing people, was how genuinely kind and interesting and interested each and every one of them were, so patient with my never-ending barrage of questions and commentary (I know what you’re thinking – You? Talkaltive? Noooo.).
My one week of R&R in Kenya turned into a month of glorious and unforgettable mayhem, much of it spent with my partner-in-crime, Sophie (thank you for lending her to me, Peter, but all exhaustingly good things must come to an end). The only reason I’m not still there is if I didn’t leave when I did, I might never have. And if I ever want to return, for a visit or forever, I had to be sure I didn’t wear out my welcome – and trust me, it was becoming a very fine line. If there is one place in the world I can think of that would describe my own personal Disneyland, it’s not even close – Kenya is it.
So a world of thank yous to Peter, Sophie, and Alexa, you have given me an invaluable gift. Thank you to John and Catherine and Chris in Nairobi, and Carol and Jennifer in Timau. And thank you to every single amazing person I met during my stay. Peter and Sophie can attest I took my notes, but you are far too numerous to mention here.
I am truly blessed, and I look forward to seeing you all again one day.
My one week of solo “regrouping” in Kenya turned into more than a month of dream on top of dream on top of dream, safaris and parties and fishing and resort living. I went from an intimate little $15 per night AirBnB to gorgeous sprawling homes with wonderfully kind staff preparing my meals and doing my laundry. I saw the Big 5, hundreds upon hundreds of stunning animals both day and night, and passed through Masai villages of waving kids and adults. I slept in a room with views of Borana Conservancy, drifting off to the sound of nearby, mocking hyena. I watched elephants and zebra and giraffe from my yard (notice I said “my,” Peter K?). I flew and boated to Peponi Resort on Lamu Island, dining seaside and dancing under the African stars and attending a massive four-mansion birthday bash and swimming at night and catching Queenfish and Barracuda and Dorado while spotting jumping Kingfish and Manta Ray and schools of Porcupine Fish in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. I dined and drank with authors and artists and politicians and archaeologists and conservationists and filmmakers, millionaires and billionaires and so many more, people whose resumes and wealth you wouldn’t know – and didn’t matter – because their kindness and hospitality and interest and kindred love of Africa and Kenya far overshadowed any personal wealth or accomplishment. I cannot fathom how that experience could possibly be replicated or matched, except to truly believe that this is, simply, the promise of a life in Kenya. Not for everyone, of course. I easily could have come and gone and seen little beyond the daily life of those who live and struggle and toil as people do everywhere else in the world. But I hit the lottery here, and I have my sister Shelley to thank for suggesting as foolish an idea as reaching out to complete and utter strangers who l assumed wouldn’t even want to have a beer with me.
Peter and Sophie and Alexa Kinyua, and all who I met through you, I truly don’t know I can ever repay the kindness. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.