Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My first visit to Africa

In the summer of 1986, I visited Kenya -- and Africa -- for the first time.       At boarding school in England, one of my best friends had been a Kenyan Indian named Shivani. Together with two other good gal pals, Stacey (whose family then resided in Zimbabwe) and Anne (who had come from Lesotho by way of Uganda -- since her Ugandan doctor father was working for the United Nations in Lesotho), they gave me my first invaluable lessons about Africa, a continent which I didn't previously know much about -- and, if truth be told, hadn't cared to know that much about.

Just from meeting them (not least since Stacey's "white" and Anne was part Jamaican by way of her mother), I got to realizing that Africa is not as ethnically plus culturally homogenous as some might think. Additionally, from a whole series of conversations which took place over the course of our time at school in England, this trio taught me that, despite my hailing from a different continent as well as culture vis a vis them, we actually had a lot in common. (For example, call it coincidental but we all had attended Convent schools in our respective countries; and this despite not of a single one of us being of the Catholic faith!)

Every once in a while, however, something would be said which would make me say "but I didn't know that!" Almost inevitably as well as invariably, there'd be a shrug of the shoulders and a matter-of-fact assertion from one of the trio that "Anyone's who been to Africa knows that!"; at which point, I would have to remind my good friends that, well, this particular individual had (hitherto) never been to Africa!

In retrospect, it therefore seemed but a matter of time before one of them would tell me to go visit Africa. Only the bonus was that when that suggestion finally got made, it came with an invitation to spend time and stay with Shivani's family in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Almost needless to say, I jumped at the chance to make my maiden trip to Kenya and the African continent. Also, that I saw lots of novel and interesting sights plus had perhaps more than my fair share of new and wondrous experiences while there. Some of these merit independent blog entries of their own and will be recounted at a later date.

For today though, I'm going to start off by pointing out that soon after landing in Kenya, I saw my wild African animals. And if memory serves me right, the route we took from Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport to Shivani's family home actually passed through Nairobi National Park, a bona fide national park that's home to such as giraffes, zebras plus lions and lionesses despite being located just seven kilometres from the center of Kenya's capital city!

Some further ideas of what I got to see and experience over the course of my first visit to Kenya may be ascertained by my stating that they include: a day trip to the natural wonder that is the Rift Valley and locales within it like the banks of scenic Lake Naivasha; another day trip to the Karen Blixen Museum/House in the Ngong Hills, a locale made famous by Karen Blixen (AKA Isaak Dinesen) being the author of Out of Africa who was portrayed by Meryll Streep in the Hollywood movie of the same name; and a multi-day safari (the evocative Kiswahili word for "journey") as far north as the Samburu Game Reserve that also took in an overnight stay at Treetops, the wildlife lodge made famous by being where the young Princess Elizabeth woke up one morning to discover that she was now Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other territories.

At the same time though, I wish to underscore that many other of my other Kenyan experiences were less exotic, even if often no less interesting or fun for their being so. For example, part of the 1986 football (soccer) World Cup Finals were played when I was in Kenya. And gripped by "World Cup Fever", I spent several hours playing "one-v-one" football with Shivani's brother in the garden of the Nairobi house that we were staying in on that visit! 

Something else that I think is very much worth mentioning is how, often times, many a Kenyan found me as exotic as I found them. Actually, judging by the behaviour and reactions of some of them, I'd say that they found me more exotic than I found them! As proof plus illustration of this, let me recount what happened when I went to visit the National Museum of Kenya with Shivani and her brother.

To set the scene first though, here's pointing out that in my entire time in Kenya (during this and subsequent visits), I only ever saw one other East Asian person in that East African country. Therefore, I most definitely was the only East Asian person at the National Museum of Kenya during my visit to that museological facility.

At least initially, however, I ignored this fact as I went around the museum. Indeed, I did what I usually do in museums: focus on the exhibits and to such an extent that I am liable to get lost in thought in front of them. This time around though, when I "came back to earth", so to speak, I discovered that a circle of Kenyan schoolchildren had formed around -- and that those kids (who my friends later told me were from out of town and "up country") were gazing intently at -- me.

Alternatively put: I had become one of the exhibits in the museum! Something which my mischievous Kenyan friends -- who had moved to a far corner of the room and were now giggling as though there were no tomorrow -- were no doubt aware of and greatly enjoying! ;DDD


Anonymous said...

HAhahahahaaa, this is an amusing story that reminds me how children wanted to take pictures of you and Auntie when we are at Miniaturk, Istanbul :)

YTSL said...

Hi Eliza --

Heheheh, I see where you're coming from. However, at Miniaturk, I felt like a celebrity...whereas at the National Museum of Kenya, I really did feel like I was one of the exhibits! ;)