It was a long flight. We started in Toronto, stopped in New York for a few hours, then to Belgium and Rwanda for a short stopover before landing in Nairobi. I sat in wonder and anticipation throughout the entire trip. Wonder at the miracle of flight that would bring us from Toronto all the way to Africa safely in just 23 hours. Anticipation to see my son, Shayne, who moved to Nairobi in August for work. Anticipation to be reunited with Sabrina who is flying from New York to meet us in Africa. Anticipation to meet family and get reconnected to my roots.
Africa is a huge continent. It terms of sheer size, it can hold all of the United States, Mexico, China, India, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UK. First stop, Nairobi. We got picked up at the airport and got to Shayne’s place at midnight. He welcomed us with flamenco music and candles. He fixed us a snack of original 8-Grain toast with light peanut butter, cinnamon flavoured tea and low fat cranberry yogurt mixed with nuts and fruit. In Shayne’s kitchen, everything is healthy – no fat, no processed or refined food, and certainly none of the chocolate that I am craving. Shayne gave us Kenyan shillings and a SIM card for our phone. It was a surreal experience being guests in our son’s place, and being so thoroughly cared for and loved. We spent the next few hours talking and getting caught up until jet lag took over and we all collapsed into a deep and happy sleep.
There’s something special and different about family get-togethers in Africa. Time seems to stop still. Gulnar, my cousin, and I reminisced about the time we spent together 4 years ago in Nairobi when we were visiting Sabrina. Little did we know then that a few scant months later, she would be diagnosed with leukaemia, and I would be diagnosed with lymphoma and myeloma. We are both survivors – with battle scars of the journey we have taken – yet very much looking to the future with hope and optimism.
In the evening we visited friends of ours, Zahir and Nasreen Moloo, ex-pats from Toronto, a couple I admire very much. Every Wednesday, since they moved to Nairobi 5 years ago, they host dinner for a group of international people – 15 to 20 – who come to their home to connect, network, chill, share stories and experiences and help each other. Some of the folks are regulars, some are new. What they all have in common is that they are in Nairobi from different parts of the world to work and volunteer with the Aga Khan Development Network. The sheer intellectual capacity in that room is astounding and the conversations are stimulating and promising.
Nairobi is a land of contrasts. Of rich people and very poor people, of luxurious hotels and urban slums. Housemaids make the equivalent of between US$100-$200 a month for a full day of work. Each house complex has “Askaris” or security guards that make even less to look after your property. Pretty much all houses are gated, most with barbed wires. Safety is a big issue and is on everyone’s mind, all the time. Walking at night is not advised. The September 2013 terrorist attack at the upscale Westgate Shopping Centre – a place that we spent time at 4 years ago when visiting the city – has not been forgotten. The mall has not been reopened and bullet holes are very much evident in the exterior of the building.
As I write this post, I am looking at the beautiful greenery outside Shayne’s window. A Jack and the Beanstalk-type tree reaches to the sky and bright hibiscus flowers colour the landscape. Everything –
the sights, the smells, the sounds – bring memories of my life many decades ago when I lived in Africa. And I smile. It is as if Africa is opening its arms to me and saying “Karibu. You are welcome here”.
Note: Updated Jan. 7, 2015 with new pictures.