Friday, February 17, 2012

Jambo Bwana in Kenya

Last evening I flew into Nairobi from Madagascar and will be here about 30-hours before catching my onward flight to Yaoundé.  The layover provides an excellent opportunity to blog about Nairobi where the family lived between 1984 and 1987.  For a charming Swahili introduction to Kenya, click here:

Our three years in Nairobi were among the most enjoyable of our lives: how does this lifestyle sound, even if only for three years?

--we had a large, comfortable house in a beautiful garden;

--we could afford household staff, including a driver which made it very enjoyable to host family and friends from Germany and the US;

--we needed neither heating nor air conditioning in Nairobi's ideal climate;

--the kids attended the wonderful International School of Kenya, and were very content with school, friends, sports and other activities;

--We lived in a very diverse and interesting culture, included exotic Kenyan tribes, a large Indian/Pakistani community, a small, but very visible White Kenyan/British settler minority, and a vibrant expat community of diplomats, teachers, researchers and adventure seekers.

-- I enjoyed my job at the embassy; Gertrud enjoyed her part-time embassy job and volunteer work.  She was a guide for the Kenyan Museum Society, which exhibited many of the anthropological finds of Louis and Mary Leakey and hosted lectures by such famous researchers as Richard Leakey and Stephen Jay Gould.  She also provided volunteer support to an orphanage in Mathari Valley, Nairobi's largest slum.

-- We were often in Kenya's fabulous game parks, either on safari, or simply relaxing over dinner or drinks at sunset, observing elephants, rhinos or giraffes at a watering hole.

-- Gertrud, her sister, and the families spent a week on a very exotic camel safari, led by a former game hunter who had to create a new life for himself when some of the species became endangered (unfortunately I had to miss this opportunity due to work). The safari consisted of two camel trains -- one that went ahead to  prepare high tea and to set up cots, mosquito nets, hanging tree showers and latrines for the night. Everything was ready when the second train arrived with the guests, and according to Gertrud was very comfortable and even luxurious.

--We belonged to the famous Muthaiga Country Club (, which was a frequent venue in the movie "Out of Africa." You will recall the scene where Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) was booted out of the club's  all-male bar. In response to a posting on the Club's bulletin board, I became an extra in the movie, being paid $20 for a days work.  My sole claim to movie fame is that I was directed by Sydney Pollack: during one scene, he briefly looked at me and said "Hey you, please move over there!" Alas, all the celluloid with me in it ended up on the cutting room floor. 

-- We visited Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, often called the"Cradle of Civilization." We also spent a couple of days in the unique ecosystem known as the Ngoro Ngoro Crater, which provided an excellent opportunity to view many of Africa's magnificent animals up close.

-- During a business trip to nearby Rwanda I visited a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat  (I wrote about this last year in a posting about Rwanda).

--We spent a few wonderful days on Lamu Island which I believe may have the purest version of Swahili culture left. 

Unfortunately, fond memories are often interrupted by real world events. In 1998 while in Utah on home leave, we turned on the TV to learn that the embassy in Nairobi had been bombed. The building I had worked in for three years was completely destroyed, with seven Kenyan employees killed who had worked directly for me. Here is a wiki summary of the terrible event:  (

Today I visited the park created at the site of the former embassy to remember those who died.  Here are a couple of my photos:

Welcome sign at the peace park on former embassy site

Some of the names on the memorial wall

When the bombing was announced in Utah, Peggy Stack, a writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, and a close friend who we had met in Kenya, knew we were in town. She mentioned our presence to one her Tribune colleagues who wrote the following article, which you can click on to make larger. Unfortunately I scanned the article from a paper copy and is a little difficult to read.  I am hoping to replace it with a more readable version. 

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