“Tell Me About Kenya…”
“So…how was your trip to Africa?” our friend wondered as he sat down to join us for drinks last night.
“How was Kenya?” he continued. “Tell me everything. I want to hear about the people…the government…the economy…the climate…”
I’ve been struggling to find a place to start in relaying our recent Kenyan adventures. There are many layers to Kenya. Where to begin?
Perhaps with the British. In Nairobi, where we were based, signs of the British influence here over the past century are everywhere. Arriving at the Nairobi international airport, I was reminded of my first visit, nearly 30 years ago, to another former British colony on the other side of the world. On one level, Kenya, like Belize, feels very British. Folks drive on the left, Her Majesty’s English is one of the lingua francas, tea is served with milk, and cocktail hour is strictly observed.
In Karen, the suburb outside Nairobi named for the non-British expat Karen Blixen who famously grew coffee and fell in love here, descendants of the former colonizers come together each evening for gossip over gin and tonics. It’s an eclectic group comprised of a number of subgroups, including the thrill-seeking Kenyan Cowboys, some well-tested entrepreneurs, and a small number of retirees.
As in Belize, these expat “tribes” make for stark and interesting contrasts against the local population. Depending on who’s counting, Kenya is home to more than 50 tribal groups, some of which trace their origins back to earliest human history. The number and diversity of indigenous groups living within Kenya’s borders has helped to make Kenya the unique African nation it is. In other African countries, two majority tribes fight relentlessly and violently for control. While the many tribes of Kenya do sometimes do battle with each other, none is big enough or strong enough to cause real trouble.
“Are we stable?” one of the expats I met in Nairobi echoed after I’d put the question to him. “Yes, I’d say we’re stable. Stable for Africa.”
“What were they like?” our friend wondered last night. “The tribespeople you met. Were they friendly?”
“Yes,” I told our friend. The locals we met, no matter the tribe, were friendly, happy, welcoming, helpful, open, and interested. They wanted to know about us, about where we’d come from, what our lives are like, what we do for a living, what we thought of Africa, of them…
We also had a chance during our visit to meet with some people involved with government, including one gentleman expected to make a run for president in the next several years. This was a smart, sophisticated, articulate man who spoke earnestly of his hopes for the future peace and prosperity of his country. If this guy were running the show, I thought after spending time with him one evening…well, the people of Kenya could do much worse.
The country’s economy, based largely on agriculture (especially tea and flowers), is relatively strong. As in Panama, the current government in Kenya is re-investing proceeds to improve its infrastructure of the capital city. And, as in Panama, I’m sure the next generation will appreciate the effort. The current one, meantime, suffers through epic traffic jams.
Our friend last night wondered, too, about the climate. Nairobi’s weather is one of its greatest attributes.
“I may never have mentioned this to you, Kathleen,” Correspondent Lee Harrison said when I told him of our plans to visit Kenya this summer, “but that was one of the countries I considered retiring to originally, when I first left the States.
“At the time, I looked at the world map and identified countries of interest on or very near the Equator. I wanted temperate weather year-round. Kenya made the list. I’m eager to hear your impressions of the place. I’ve wondered all these years how different my experience as a retiree overseas would have been to this point had I started out in Kenya rather than Ecuador!”
I’d say Kenya could make for a great retirement option…for the right person. What would you do here? Safaris are a primary pastime (I’ll share some of our safari adventure highlights separately). Me? I’d garden. Everything grows well here (Ms. Blixen’s coffee-growing misadventures notwithstanding). And I’d write. The agelessness of the landscapes, the diversity of the people, the wildness of life in the bush, the lunacy of even day-to-day life, the kind of lunacy you find in the world’s hottest zones…these things sure would help, I’d imagine, to keep the creative juices flowing.
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