I received a phone call several months ago; my mom’s partner of 13 years had left her. I felt so far away from her, and so helpless, in that moment. She insisted that she was okay, and so I fought the urge to fly home. But my heart was breaking for her. This selfless woman had spent her adult life putting her partners and children first, foregoing her own dreams. My heart broke for her, but at the same time I knew that this was the best possible thing that could happen to her. She had not been living out her dreams, nor had anyone ever thought to ask her what those dreams included. I felt guilty, because here I was on the other side of the world, living out mine. Dreams that she had supported all along. Yet, she is used to settling because she has had years of conditioning to make her believe that her role is to make her family happy, instead of putting herself first. This is the same mindset that women all over the world are brought up to believe. I love my family, would do anything for them, but in order to be your best self for others — you must do what’s best for you.
So, here I was sitting in the dark at 1am in Kenya, crying on the phone with my mom, and wondering what I could do to fix things. “You should come to Kenya,” I suggested, “You can stay with me, for as long as you’d like, it will be good for you to get away.” “I don’t know,” she said, “I don’t want to make any rash decisions.” So I let it go, but meanwhile I sent her article upon article about starting over and following your dreams, and reinforcing the need to use this opportunity to finally do what makes her happy. She probably wanted to kill me during those first several weeks (maybe she still does). Eventually, I began to drop hints in the form of flights or baby elephant photos. Finally, I woke up one morning to an email from her. The preview showed, ‘Stay tuned for more Thelma & Louise adventures coming your way!’ (we began referring to ourselves in this way starting in 2017 as we drove down Highway 1 along the coast of California, outrunning wildfires, with mom yelling at me to slow down, and me joking that we were going to speed off the cliff, followed by 20 minutes of us attempting to take selfies with the car pointed towards the ocean). Since 2016, we have taken one of these trips every year. First, she came to Kenya and we explored the coast, got stuck in a tsetse fly-infested mud hole, and mom tore her ACL attempting to ford a ditch on the way to see the ivory burn at Nairobi National Park. Next, we road-tripped six hours across Pennsylvania and Ohio to Yellow Springs, (the ‘hippiest’ town in Ohio), where we drank wine in a tornado, helped our campground neighbors fix their broken tent, and hiked to the healing water of the Yellow Springs. Then, to California: where we explored San Francisco, Yosemite, and wine country. And now, Kenya round two! I created one of my famous google planning docs right away.
The morning after she arrived, we awoke before sunrise to get an early start for Samburu. This was her first experience as a passenger in my Kenyan vehicle (Trixie the X-Trail), and I knew from years of driving with her that it would stress her out. First up, an accident right in front of us. Next, we got pulled over by one of the many police stops on Highway A2, and mom got to see me sweet talk the Kenyan police (the next time I would not be so sweet). It was mostly smooth sailing after that besides the random goat, cattle, and camel crossings (closer to Isiolo). The further we got from town, the more mom started to relax.
We finally pulled into the Archer’s Post gate of Samburu National Reserve around 1pm. It was hot, we were tired. Here came our next hurdle: I spent the next 20 minutes ‘discussing’ prices with the rangers, and then waiting another 10 minutes while they seemed to rock, paper, scissor to decide who would go with us. Finally, we sorted everything out and Mulinge hopped into the back of my car. At first he was quiet, but when he realized that I spoke (mbaya) Swahili, he livened up. First stop was Buffalo Springs, a crystal clear swimming hole. We cracked open some Bateleur beers and cooled off in the springs. Mulinge was very amused, and kept a close eye to make sure we hadn’t been eaten by lions.
We jumped back into the car just before the rain started. We wanted to set up camp at the public campsite before heading to OP1 for a sundowner hike. Mom and Mulinge had their heads out the sunroof (Mom standing on the seat and Mulinge tall enough to just pop right out). We spotted elephants, grevy zebra, and guinea fowl along the way. We splashed across a river in Trixie. Mom looked so care free with her head out of the sunroof. She was amazed by every animal we spotted, and every new view around the next turn. I wanted her to hold onto that smile and excitement for life.
As we were setting up camp by the river, a three-inch Acacia tree thorn went into my foot. I yelped, mom screamed, and the Samburu rangers came running. Two of them held me up on either side, while Mulinge beat my foot with a stick. “What are you doing?!” mom shrieked. “You have to get all the blood out or else it will be very very painful,” said one of the Samburu holding me up. Mom looked at me in horror. “It’s okay, Mom,” I tried to console her. Then we both busted into laughter. “This is Kenya,” I shrugged.
Soon enough, my foot was bandaged up and we were off to find OP1. We drove to the base of the hill, just before sunset. Mulinge led us up a steep, rocky, slope — at one point holding each of our hands, with his gun slung over his shoulder. The view from the top was incredible, and we stared out at the horizon for several minutes, silently, in awe, before I finally suggested we pop the champagne. I had mom do the honors as I set up to take a video. POP! Did I mention I had the champagne in my backpack the whole time we were hiking? You can see the fit of laughter that caused, here. “The perfect ending to the perfect first day in Kenya!” Mom said, as we clinked our tin mugs of champagne together. Behind us there was a double rainbow; we were surrounded by beauty in every direction. We sat for the next hour sharing snacks with Mulinge, and soaking in as much golden sun as we could. When the sun began to to sink down behind the mountains, Mulinge said, “Twende!” We headed back down, this time fully relying on Mulinge’s support after splitting a bottle of champagne.
That evening, we sat around the campfire eating halloumi, drinking wine, and discussing how lucky we were to be here, in this exact campsite by the river, with millions of stars overhead, in magical Kenya. “How many people from Pennsylvania do you think have camped in this exact spot?” Mom asked. “Hmm…well I only know of two other Pennsylvanians in Kenya, but there are likely a few others that came before,” I thought about it. “We are incredibly fortunate that we’re even able to travel to Kenya, and you live here, but most people that we grew up with will never get a chance to experience this,” Mom was deep in thought. We spent the rest of the evening calculating what percentage of the world’s population has been to Kenya, to Samburu, to this exact campsite – getting more and more philosophical as we finished the bottle of wine. Finally, I set up my tripod and snapped some photos of the starry sky, grateful to be sharing this beauty with mom.
In the middle of the night I woke up to mom death gripping my hand. “Lindsay, don’t move. There’s something outside of our tent, and I think it’s a lion.” I listened. Sure enough, there was a low, deep rumble that sounded very close to our tent. My heart started beating faster, but I tried not to let her notice. “It’s okay, Mom. I’m sure if we can hear it, that means it’s not trying to sneak up on us (convincing myself of this too). Anyway, the ranger is outside guarding the camp.” “Where the f*** is Nicholas?!” she whispered through her teeth, squeezing my hand harder. We fell asleep (what seemed like hours later) this way, after the rain drowned out the lion roars.
As we were packing up in the morning, Mulinge came by and asked us if we had heard the lion. Apparently it had killed a zebra on the opposite side of the river from our camp, and was chowing down in the middle of the night. Mom survived her first night in the Kenyan bush, but little did we know what was in store for us the next few nights!
Check back soon to hear about our close encounter(s) with a leopard!