After a six-year hiatus, we made a trip back to Kenya this past August for a two-week holiday to visit Hitesh’s family in Mombasa, Kenya. In previous years they visited us here in California, and now it was our turn to go see them.
Many times when I tell friends and family I am going to Kenya, the first question I am asked is, “Is it safe to go to Kenya?” The other questions I get asked are “Where is Kenya vis-à-vis the rest of Africa?” “What is the weather like?” “When is the best time to go?” “What is the political climate like?” So I thought I would take this opportunity to answer a few of these questions before telling you about my trip this past summer to Kenya and all the wonderful places we visited.
To answer the first question: Is it safe to visit Kenya? Kenya is one of the safest countries in Africa. Unlike other African countries where we hear of tribal rift, political unrest, famine, and economic instability, Kenya is a thriving peaceful democratic country.
Kenya is in East Africa. Kenya got independence from the British back in 1963, and the current President of Kenya is Uhura Kenyatta. Kenya is surrounded by five countries on land and the Indian Ocean on the other. The countries that border Kenya are Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Sudan. Zanzibar is also a neighboring country off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean.
Kenya is situated on the equator making the weather more tropical in nature. However, because part of the country is at a higher altitude, Kenya does have cooler temperatures and even snow which can be found on the peeks of Mount Kilimanjaro.
People in Kenya are very friendly and open to new cultures as is evident in the thriving Indian population that have lived here for almost a century, and the Muslim Arab community that have lived here for many centuries. There are also large ex-pat communities that have enjoyed living in Kenya for decades. The local language is Swahili.
Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and is a thriving city. With all the foreign consulates here and a large foreign constituency, Nairobi is a trendy city full of swank shops, cafes, malls, art galleries, and local points of interest. For those who want to go on a safari, Nairobi is the “port of call” as almost all safari trips take off from Nairobi.
Mombasa is the other major city in Kenya. Mombasa is a coastal town very different from Nairobi. For one, it is on the coast on the shores of the Indian Ocean, and it is warmer and humid here. Most tourists come to Mombasa to enjoy the warm blue waters of the Indian Ocean. What makes Mombasa different from the rest of Kenya is it’s uniquely Arabic influence in the local culture. You will see many Arabs and local Muslims in this town, and lots of mosques as well. Arabs “discovered” Mombasa and used it as a stopping off point for trade with Asia. Some of them stayed behind and settled in this town and have been here for centuries.
Hitesh’s Mom (Usha) was raised in Mombasa, and has lived here her entire life. She got married to Hitesh’s Dad (Bhogilal) and continued to live in Mombasa. She is now 80 years old. Her father moved to Kenya in the 1930s and started a small pharmacy, which slowly grew into a little chain of pharmacies that catered to the local community. In fact, this is how most Indians came to East Africa back then. They came and started small businesses that filled a need in the local community – such as grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor’s clinics, gas stations, and lending institutions. Because of this entrepreneurial spirit and the base necessities that these businesses provided the local society, the Indian community here just became part of the local fabric.
First and foremost Kenya is known for their safaris that tourists from all over the world come for. We timed our visit to Kenya in August specifically so we could go on a safari and also see the wildebeest migration dubbed the 8th wonder of the world.
We spent a couple days in Nairobi before heading out for our safari. In Nairobi we visited an area called the Karen neighborhood that is known for art galleries and trendy cafes and the home of Baroness Karen von Blixen (made famous by the movie Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford). Here we visited the Giraffe Centre, a breeding facility for endangered Rothschild giraffes, where a few giraffes still reside and where you can feed these giraffes and even have tea surrounded by them. We also visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where orphaned elephants are nurtured and have a safe place to grow up until they are released back into the wild. We stopped by the Kazuri Bead Factory where hand-made ceramic jewelry is made and visited Hitesh’s Aunt in Thika, a town outside of Nairobi where we got to tour a local textile mill that makes cotton fabrics.
After a couple days in Nairobi, and our 4-day safari in Masai Mara, we then flew to the coastal city of Mombasa where we spent time with the family.
This was an exciting trip for all of us. We had so many wonderful experiences in this country that it is hard to write about them all in one story, instead over the next few days I will share with you a series of stories on all that we did and experienced here in Kenya.
I’ll leave you with this popular Kenyan pop song Jambo Bwana (Hello Sir) sung by Kenyan band Them Mushrooms which so aptly depicts the friendly culture of this wonderful country – Kenya.
Swahili lyrics: “Jambo, Jambo bwana, Habari gani, Mzuri sana. Wageni. Wakaribishwa, Kenya yetu hakuna matata. Kenya nchi nzuri, hakuna matata. Nchi ya maajabu hakuna matata Nchi yenye amani, hakuna matata. Hakuna matata, hakuna matata. Watu wote, hakuna matata. Wakaribishwa, hakuna matata. Hakuna matata, hakuna matata.”
English translation: “Hello, Hello sir, How are you, I’m very fine. The visitors are welcomed to our Kenya, don’t worry. Kenya is a nice country, don’t worry. A country of wonder, don’t worry. A country of peace, don’t worry. Don’t worry. Don’t worry. Everybody, don’t worry. You’re all welcomed, don’t worry. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”