As part of our 50th anniversary celebration, we sent twelve lucky travelers on tours around the world. Katherine was one of those winners, and this past year she set out on a Kenyan safari with her sisters.
The draw of a safari is simple: sprawling plains and the stunning animals who call it home. Beyond the spots and stripes, Katherine had another reason to travel around the globe. When her father was ill, a kind Kenyan woman named Esther was one of his caretakers. After Katherine’s father passed away, she no longer saw Esther but heard that she returned to her home country to pursue her dream of creating more opportunities for women in Kenya. Katherine hoped her trip would give her the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who had provided her father with such compassionate care.
Reuniting with an old friend
During the last year of my dad’s life we had caregivers in my parent’s home 24/7, including Esther. When dad was napping, she told me a bit about herself and her life in Kenya. She had such a quiet, unobtrusive manner about her so when she spoke, you listened carefully. She talked about the Kenyan people, their generosity, and how devoted they are to members of their tribe.
She also told me how unfairly women were treated in her tribe. Esther had many personal struggles there and through her church in Kenya, she was able to connect with the Kenyan community in my town and move to America. Esther’s dream was to save money and return to Kenya to start a business that empowers women.
When I won the trip to Kenya, I tracked down Esther’s email and reintroduced myself to refresh our relationship, as it had been five years since I last saw her. I didn’t hear back, so after a couple of months I resent the email. Still no reply. I attempted two more times—still nothing. Then just a few days before I left, I found her on Facebook! Yet again, no reply.
So, that was that. I left for our safari and low and behold, three days into the tour, I received a message from her: She lives in Nairobi and would like to see us! I told her when we would be back in Nairobi and my sisters and I made plans to treat her to dinner. Well, what an evening is was!
She looked great and was indeed following her dream. She goes to ministerial school, belongs to a small congregation, and is helping women within her community. We visited for about three hours just catching up on her life and ours. It was a very happy reunion.
Our conversation opened up many questions for me, but during our time in Kenya, many things became more clear. As with every country you visit, you have to have an open mind and remember that you are experiencing cultures very different than you’re used to. It is true that women don’t have much say in their lives here, but things are shifting, slowly but surely. From what I experienced, women seem to be the mainstay in the family unit but in that role, they may unfortunately be taken for granted. I’m so thankful to have had the chance to reunite with Esther on this tour and to learn about the great work she’s doing to help the women in her community.
Setting my sights on the Big Five
Kenya is rich in many ways—wildlife for sure! Just leaving the airport in Nairobi, I got my first glimpse of zebras by the side of the interstate! The next morning we were greeted by our Tour Director and given the dos and don’ts of the culture. Then we loaded up in our 4x4s and the adventure began.
We stayed in some of the most unusual settings, each one with its own personality. The Ark was an amazing lodge where you could stay up as late as you wanted to observe the animals that came to the pond just below the deck. My sisters and I enjoyed a glass of wine while watching a cape buffalo and an elephant grazing right below us. During the night, there was a leopard sighting right by the side of the building—already we were seeing some of the Big Five and this was just our first stop out of Nairobi!
The game drives in the morning and afternoons were great fun. In each area, we saw something that we hadn’t seen in the previous one. Kigio Wildlife Conservatory offered up-close opportunities to see the hippos graze almost on our doorstep. At Lake Nakuru, we saw quite a few flamingos and even spotted both the white and black rhinos.
The Masai Mara game drives were really something! We headed out both in the mornings and late afternoons to catch sight of the animals when they would be most active. It just happened to be mating season for the lions and truly, they paid our Land Cruisers very little notice! Here we were able to see the Big Five: lions, leopards, cape buffalo, rhinos, and elephants. They get this title for being the five most dangerous animals in this area. We also went to a Masai village and were treated to a ceremonial dance where the men effortlessly jump high without seemingly even bending their knees to propel them up. We were welcomed into their homes and shared stories of events that impacted all our lives.
Seeing old friends, making new friends, being surrounding by nature—what’s your favorite part about traveling? Tell us in the comments below!