One of the best things about living in Nairobi is the proximity of the Indian Ocean. A short flight takes you to the most beautiful breathtaking blue waters and silky white beaches.
The Kenyan coast boardering Somalia and Tanzania is an intriguing part of the world. Going back to the 12th century trading hub Mombasa used to fall under Arab domination. Followed by Portuguese, Omani and British control, the blue-and-white coastal city breathes stories from a rich but troubled past. Up until today peace along the coast is no given. Tensions between Kenya and Somalia seem to be never-ending.
The ICJ* recently drew the maritime boundary between the two countries rather unexpectedly in favour of Somalia. This battle is about -surprise- what there is to be found on the bottom: oil and gas. Kenya tends to be progressive on a strong ocean policy -it’s even co-hosting the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, so disputes over fossil fuels don’t really fit the story. However to just accept the ICJ verdict might be considered weak in pre-election times. Anyway, whatever happens next, one thing is for sure: it’s not the end of this history over troubled waters.
*The International Court of Justice in The Hague
Sweat – A la la la la long
On our way to Wilson airport I tried to forget about pirates and horrifying crashing plane stories to focus on the lovely stress of travelling with two under two.
We all made it pretty smoothly to the airstrip of Ukunda in Diani beach. The kids did very well. Sticky mangojuice on a white t-shirt and one leaky babypoo being the major incidents, we were lucky parents on a nice weekend away.
After waiting long minutes in the boiling humid heat we realised the hotel forgot to send us a taxi. No problem, I am a fun adventurous chilled mom who just arrived with her darling family in paradise so I kept my cool and we quickly found a solution. TIA -This Is Africa, right.
My husband assured me there would be airconditioning in the room but once there, he sheepishly pointed at two fans… Hmm, ok, it would all be fine. Baby William likes warm weather, right? And it’s not really the hottest time of the year, right?
It took me over an hour to unpack the two full suitcases knowing that in less then two hours this family room would look like as if I had just randomly thrown everything on the floor but still I insist on unpacking, on taking over a room, making it a little home even for a very short period of time.
When I finished unpacking, I was staring at a bunch of palmtrees joyfully waiving their heads towards the prettiest of all oceans. Overhearing the calming noise of the turquoise waves I noticed baby William smiling at me from his bouncer (that we crammed earlier in the small hand luggage compartment of the plane). I felt so grateful, life is beautiful, the world is a treasure and I am blessed. It was time to put on my bathing suit and join my daughter and husband who understandably escaped my unpacking ritual and were playing somewhere downstairs in the white sand.
Gisèle ma belle
For a second I felt overly confident and tried on a red bikini. Quickly I changed into my black pregnancy bathing suit. At that very moment I wished I had the 18 year old body of Gisele Bündchen. That really really would make me happy. Of course it is a stupid thought, a superficial ridiculous idea for a 35 year old woman after two recent pregnancies without the intent of visiting a plastic surgeon. I know. And luckily there is no living soul who tells me I need to look like that either. You could say that it would make me happier not to think this way, that unachievable beauty ideas are very unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong please, I admire everyone who embraces their postpartum bodies, who loves her “warrior stripes” and is ok with a big cauliflower ass, a flat balloon tummy and empty teabag-tits because of course there are other much more important things in life with two small children. Though for that moment I just dreamt of Gisèles young body. I don’t know what’s best for me: forcing myself to believe I am happy with what I see at the moment or lying to myself that a Gisèle body can be the future. I think I will go for the lie. Hope always dies last. Or like a famous Belgian singer Will Tura sings “Hoop doet leven”.
I changed baby William into his tiny boat shorts, put on the cutest sunglasses, covered him in sunscreen and mosquito lotion. My little cheerful hero. Looking into his sparkling blue eyes I realised that my body – currently under Gisèle construction – did give me the two most wonderful creatures this world has ever witnessed. So I wrapped a pink kikoy around my hips, put on big sunglasses and smiled at my image in the mirror “Not bad, not at all bad”. Proud as lions we headed out towards the beach. Walking down I overheard the first tunes of “It ain’t over till its over” by Lenny Kravitz and that happy tone couldn’t reflect better my feeling of joy.
Have courage and be kind
I spotted my husband sitting on a sun bed, Iphone in his right hand. “Hi my love!” My eyes searching for our daughter. “She is soooo adorable” I heard a high pitched voice saying with a strong American accent. The voice belonged to an absolute beauty, a surf babe Pocahontas in a microscopic dark beige bikini. For an instant I thought she was naked. “She has her own little pool” the beauty giggled. There I saw my oldest, sitting at the entrance of the hotel’s beach restaurant in the smudgy foot bath where all customers removed the sand of their feet before entering, her lips purple, smiling “Mama!”.
So there I stood, in the best case a chubby Cinderella, legs as white as the sand, facing a perfect Pocahontas. My first reaction would be to pull my girl out of that dirty puddle and tell my husband off. But no, being a mom, that kind of impulsiveness is history. Feeling like a chubby Cinderella is one thing but there was no need to turn myself into the angry sea witch Ursula. So I smiled, happy that my huge sunglasses were hiding all the ugly things my eyes were screaming, I smiled and convinced my daughter to go into the ocean, she calls “bath”.
I smiled, thanked Pocahontas for looking after my child, dropped my gorgeous son on his daddy’s lap and walked into the Indian ocean, hot as a bath, warming my girl. Jumping and goofing around, my fake smile turned into a real one very fast.
The camel walk
It’s fair to say that the night was a disaster. Just. Too. Hot. Between putting wet washing cloths on the kids foreheads, changing diapers and preparing milk bottles in the dark I stubbed my toes multiple times and almost strangled myself in mosquito nets. Googling how bad the malaria risk was in this area didn’t really help to find some rest. “The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn” I once read in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In our case it was the only hour of silence that night. Yet lucky us cause we all got to see the most magnificent sunrise.
With bad sleep and the start of a runny nose, my daughter wasn’t exactly the happiest version of herself. I was trying to calm her when she was screaming after she had thrown some sand in her own eyes. Nothing could console her. Up until… she saw tree camels passing by.
Tourists sipping a coconut on a camel, getting their buttcracks burned under the blindingly bright sunshine is one of the attractions in Diani beach. The exploitation of animals to entertain humans should urgently be banned all over the planet. But hey, my daughter got excited, the screaming stopped, the tears almost dried. So instinctively I waived at the camelman.
It is quite tricky to go up on a camel. The greasy wooden sticks of the sadel almost slipping out of my hands, I could only just avoid to face plant myself in the sand. Once up I nervously laughed at my girl but it was too late, she had noticed my panic and refused to join me on the smelly beast.
So there I was sitting alone on a camel with no sunscreen on my nearly transparant shoulders. This scene wasn’t exactly on the planning but to see my girl smiling from ear to ear I would do it a hundred times over. While throwing her kisses, I asked the camelman to make it a short ride. But once I got over the smell I noticed how extremely relaxing this actually was. The sound of the ocean, no screaming, no one talking to me, no living soul on the beach, this was amazing! As if this brief moment to myself gave my brains an injection of oxygen, I asked the camelman to add ten more minutes.
Coming back, I noticed how busy the beach restaurant had become. At least twenty strangers could see me passing on the camel, probably thinking the same way about tourists on camels…
“Smile! Smile!” jumping from behind a palmtree, there she was again: Pocahontas. Taking pictures of me on the camel. I thought about ignoring her. But after my little ride I was in such a good mood that I even started waiving at her. The princess wave.
“Seize the moment”, “don’t take yourself too seriously” and “know when to laugh at yourself”. I would put these quotes on the walls of my imaginary beach bar.
There is no elegant way to get off a camel. Burned and sweaty I was glad to put my feet on the ground again. There was my girl, still happy and extremely impressed of me getting up and down the sandy giant. “Wooow Mama did”. Yes mama did my sweet angel, mama did. For a moment I took over papa’s hero position.
I see trees of green
During a peaceful instant I sat on the lovely spacious balcony overlooking the ocean with baby William falling asleep in my arms. This incredible view was worth the insomnia. The ocean and its idyllic beaches are one thing yet the greenery is just as magical. Impressive old Baobab trees next to all sizes of palmtrees, bright orange Flamboyants, funky walls of pink and purple Bougainvillea and the most graceful Frangipani trees. Just. Wow.
All of a sudden the wind picked up and made the gigantic Baobab fruits dangle. No clue how much these huge short haired brown pits weigh but sitting under them with a small baby didn’t feel so relaxing anymore. So I put William in his baby cot. Nelly was napping and my husband busy on his laptop so I saw my chance and went down to the beach restaurant for a quick coffee before packing.
An Englishman in the sand
In the beach restaurant I grabbed a coral painted wooden chair and sat down with a sigh.
“It isn’t really a holiday with kids that age, isn’t it?” a very British voice said. He looked like a mixture between Bill Murray and a rotund mister Bean. On the table in front of him lay his laptop, a glas of rosé and a pack of cigarettes. He was wearing a light blue floral shirt and was slightly sunburned. He smiled the friendliest smile showing his wonky teeth. I nodded.
“I saw you and your family earlier. You are doing a great job.” And then it happened. A flood, the Victoria Falls just pouring down my eyeballs. He tried to lighten up the conversation joking that his teenage kids were probably now at home alone drinking and experimenting with drugs, that every fase of parenthood has its challenges. That it only gets more fun. He handed me a paper napkin.
Was it the fatigue? The need of some recognition? Was it his genuine sweet smile? The sincere compassion? Or did I just have a sunstroke? Probably a combination of all these things.
Strangely I didn’t feel akward. I dried my tears, drank my coffee, had a nice chat with my new friend and went back up to start packing.
Cheers to people who laugh out loud, who drink rosé before lunchtime. Cheers to imperfections. Cheers to happy people, to sweet people. Cheers to people who don’t judge, who live life unapologetically. Cheers to honest people, who can applaud others without hidden agendas. Cheers to warm people, to soft people. And a big cheers to funny people. If only those qualities could become more contagious than the omicron variant.
With renewed energy I packed everything in 48 minutes.
Yes, I was happy to head back to Nairobi, to some structure, to normal temperatures and to Grace and Susie but I was also very glad we did this little trip as a family.
Inside the taxi on our way to the airstrip hang a wooden sign saying:
If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together
Cheers to that too.