After a sweltering long weekend spent out in the sunshine, I’m sure most would agree that the last thing you want to do is get back to your desk. The weather was such that our British news stations reported it as hotter than Honolulu, which happens every time we get a vaguely warm day. That’s why I rejoiced when I got a call from my interviewee rescheduling our meeting to first thing in the morning at the beginning of the week. The fact that the person I was meeting was none other than Will Jones’s sister, Caroline, at a café on the beach, made my day.
You may remember my blog a few years ago about Caroline’s book The Spaces In Between, in which she describes her childhood with her brother Will and sister Anna, spent swimming in African lakes, running around barefoot catching insects in the garden, and meeting rhinos on the way to school; and in which she charts the development of her bulimia, which she battled for 14 years. As I said before, her incredible honesty and beautiful writing has been a source of inspiration for me both professionally and personally.
Given all this, I was eager to hear about her trip in February, which was the first time she had gone back to Kenya since the family left all those years ago.
‘I hadn’t been back properly since we left Africa in 1999, so it was a significant journey on many levels. Both Anna and I had concerns about going back to Kenya. Anna’s were mainly security related – worries about the safety of the kids. My concerns were more on an emotional level about reopening something that took such a large part of my adult life to heal. Both of us had kept this mainly private.
‘And the moment we touched the ground it vanished. It just disappeared. Anna said something really nice, which was that she had forgotten how there’s a very particular kind of smile unique to Kenya; it’s this very sweet, modest, slightly shy sort of a smile. She said the moment she saw that it felt like she was home.
‘We flew into Nairobi and drove south through the rift valley, which was a lovely transition seeing all these landscapes that were part of our childhood, with our children. When we were little, Anna, Willy and I used to have our birthdays on Mount Longonot, which is a small volcano. We’d go with a group of friends, hike up to the rim and have a picnic at the top. That was our birthday party. What wonderful parents we had to organise that kind of thing. We stopped in Naroc and had mandazi, a typical Kenyan doughnut and tea, and it just felt like home.’
Naserian, which is Will Jones’s house in a private concession called Naratoi, bordering on the Mara, is where Caroline, Anna, their parents and the five children stayed for the next five days.
‘We got to Naserian, which is paradise on earth. It’s in the middle of the wilderness, with canvas fronts that are open to nature, overlooking a tiny reservoir chock full with hippo and yellowbill stork, baboon, crocodile, hippo, deafening frogs, crickets, and it had that incredible sound of animals and insects throughout.
‘Our guide was a wonderful Maasai man called James, who would collect us in his four-wheel drive and we’d go out at dawn. We saw leopard in the tree with its kill and cheetah and lion with newborn young and warthog. Of all the things, the kids were desperate to see a chameleon and James even managed to find that!
‘So there was all that big wildlife and then all the smaller wildlife like the insects, which were again part of our childhood; we used to catch ant lion, which is an insect that digs a cone shaped hole in the ground and when an ant falls in, you see this little claw come up to snatch it. When we weren’t being guided by James, the kids spent the time catching insects and collecting bones, playing with ant lion and running around and getting themselves all dusty. The five days I spent there, from the moment I opened my eyes each morning, I felt alive. Anna and I spent the whole time plotting how to come back and how we could incorporate it into our lives more.
‘After Naserian, we flew in a light aircraft to the coast where we spent five days in cottages on the beach. Fishermen came in with fresh fish, a man came with fruit every other day, we had a chef that cooked the fish for us every night and in the morning a woman would come with tray on her head full of mandazi and samosas. And again, it was just exploring the reef, collecting sea urchin shells and sand dollars, drinking tea and looking at that stunning Indian Ocean view, all blue and palm tree sands. And again, I just had that feeling of being truly alive.’
Something pertinent that Caroline said that’s stuck with me was how her preconception and fears about going back to Kenya were immediately replaced with a sense of aliveness upon arrival. ‘The longer you’re away from something’, she continued, ‘and the more ignorant you are about a place, the more fearful you are.’ When you’re out of practise of adventuring, it’s easy to become fearful. In which case, we must venture to explore, whether that’s in a part of town you wouldn’t usually visit or halfway across the world.
I want to thank Caroline for making the time to meet me and once again sharing with me so openly such a beautiful tale. Please follow this link if you’d like to buy Caroline’s book, The Spaces In Between. I highly recommend it.
If you would like to discuss your travel plans to Kenya, please contact one of our destination specialists.