Finding Connections in Kenya . . . . in the most unlikely way
This year we have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams with the opportunity to see the world. What we planned to simply be a year living abroad in Ireland while Bill wrote his food book and the kids became immersed in Irish schools and Irish sports turned into a world-wide adventure. Instead - using Ireland as our home base, we’ve hit 13 countries as a family (with Greece still to come in July) and haven’t done the typical “tourist” thing in any of them!
Instead, we enjoyed:
Murisk in Kenya
Honey Wine in West Pokot
Blood mixed with Milk in Kenya
Casu Marzu Cheese in Carletto, Italy
The Missing Place . . .
There is one experience that I haven’t written about or even posted about yet; and it has nothing to do with food. This place has left such a deep impression on my heart, mind and soul that I fully immersed myself in the environment when we were there letting our Instagram/FB story cease, pausing our post feeds for the week and just truly living in the moment. I used my phone - but only to take pictures. I must admit that it was liberating to not have the constant nag at the back of my mind of “oh we gotta post this!” Instead, I watched the kids through my eyes and not always a lens. Wow, did it feel good!
So now, why haven’t I posted about this experience? It ended almost a two and a half months ago. Well, the answer is two fold
- I am truly still processing the experience and I am struggling to find the right words to capture what “it” was,
- I documented this trip in such detail that I am completely overwhelmed with the film footage and the 1000s of photos!!! I just don’t know where to start. (If you have any suggestions, please send them my way!)
So here goes - no more procrastinating. I still don’t have the right words to illustrate for you how deeply this adventure impacted our family, what we want to do in life, and how we want to live, but I’ve got to share it.
I’m no writer. I’m just a 40 year-old educator, but my outlook on our family’s future, what’s truly important in life, and how I want to spend the next 25+ years in a career were molded, twisted and reconfigured at the gorgeous Lewa House in Kenya, Africa this spring.
The Type-A control freak that I am (I know some of you are laughing - be good to me!) has never done this before, but when we traveled to Kenya at the end of March, we entrusted all our travel plans to a woman I had never met.
It's not as if she was a travel agent. Nope! Delia and her husband Andy own Brown's Cheese and make - you guessed it - cheese! Bill had met Delia and her folks at a cheese course in Iceland back in the fall and she crafted a one-of-a-kind (literally) 10-day adventure for us and her family in Kenya (see previous blog post). Itineraries were emailed back and forth that included camping in the Sera Conservation area with her extended family for 2 days and stopping at her sister’s to stay on the way to and from camping. Delia had sent us the web address to her sister, Sophie’s place, and I looked at it quickly while we were in the planning stages. I truly did not understand - at all - that Sophie and Calum’s “house” was actually on the UNESCO World Heritage Site within the Lewa Conservation area in Kenya. See, I was focused on the fact that we had to bring a tent and bed rolls with us from Ireland to Kenya, so my brain was wired for sleeping in the bush and ruffing it. The thought of staying at a 5-Star resort never entered my thoughts.
We traveled almost 5 hours from Andy & Delia's house in Nairobi up to Sophie & Calum's to stay one night before we started our camping adventure even further north in the Kenyan wild. The vehicles were filled to the brim with camping supplies and food as we caravanned our way north through villages and cattle drives and kids walking to school . . . just the drive itself was an experience for our eyes and hearts. Of course we had to stop and take the obligatory "crossing the equator" picture as we slowly made our way to Lewa. Delia and I drove with her two boys and my son, Billy. The three lads were playing DJ in the back seat with YouTube when I was totally struck by the wide open expanse of the Kenyan terrain, and had to request a special tune. Literally, Delia and I had just ended embarrassing our boys singing “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks at the top of our lungs, as we pulled into the largest expanse of land I have ever seen in my life!
Our Jaws Literally Dropped
You can only imagine our family’s shock as our caravan pulled through the gates and arrived at Lewa Conservation. Delia indicated this is where we get out, so we tentatively hopped in the safari vehicle that was waiting for us. We were so confused. We had absolutely no idea this was happening. Delia and Andy took off through the grounds to Lewa House and left our family, our buddy Jason, and their two boys, with Rufus, who would end up being the kids' new best friend. Rufus drove us out to the lodge as we sipped bubbly drinks and passed literally 100s of zebras, rhinos, elies (as they like to call elephants). He stopped to show us a turtle on the side of the road, pulled up as close as he could to some rhinos, drove us past a field of more zebras than we could count, found a Momma and baby giraffe as well as a mommy and baby monkey, plus spotted some gorgeous birds and breathtaking horned animals. This was all in an hour drive to Sophie & Calum's house. Absolutely. Unbelievable.
Pinch me now! As all this was unfolding all i could think was - I thought we were ruffing it and camping!! I can still remember the look we all gave each other as we were driving through the savannah like - “what is happening and where in the world are we??”
Arriving at Paradise in the Kenyan Savannah
After an hour long "Game Drive" (that's what they call safaris), we arrived at Lewa House and were greeted by Sophie and her two adorable children. Our bags were whisked away to our hut and we were ushered to the pool area for lunch. Imagine our shock when we were treated to a gourmet lunch poolside with homemade Pims Cups and a 3-course gourmet meal - for lunch?!?! it kept getting better.
Our days at Lewa House consisted of getting up at 6:00am to be ready for an Game Drive at 6:30am with Rufus. On the drive, Rufus would find the perfect spot to stop and have morning coffee for the adults, hot chocolate for the kids and some homebaked goodie for all of us to enjoy as we looked out over the savannah. Back for a gorgeous sit-down breakfast around 8:30am, then time to explore, swim, play sports on the lawn, before we sat down again to a perfectly plated lunch by the pool. We had more adventures in the afternoon, like walking Lewa's hand ax site (you know who was excited about that one), or just spending time writing while the kids were all playing together. Late afternoon meant time for an afternoon Game Drive followed by sundowners on the mountain (think Lion King with gin and tonics). The staff would feed the kids as they sat percehd on the side of the mountain trying to play "Eye Spy" with all the animals scattered on the landscape below them. One night we even saw a herd of over 20+ elephants migrating north out of Lewa - truly remarkable experience.
After trying to capture the stunning sunset from every angle, we'd hop back in the safari vehicles for an Game Drive back to Lewa House. The adults would have a half-an-hour to freshen up and then a gourmet sit-down dinner would be served around 8pm in the main house. All guests would eat toegther with Sophie and Calum around their one main dining table and you can only imagine the spirited conversations that ensued ;-).
The whole experience was surreal.
The land was breathtaking.
The animals were stunning, peaceful and gloriously free as they roamed the property.
The food was scrumptious, beautifully plated and paired with delicious beverages.
It was more than I ever could have imagined - especially when I thought we were ruffing it for most of the week in a 6-man tent!!
But here’s the thing. . .
The place wasn’t what has left me reflective.
The place wasn’t what has left me speechless.
Yes, it is stunning. Yes, there was not a detail left undone.
But what has my mind still spinning are the people we met.
People - who I literally had never met before and barely knew their names when we arrived, but now they hold such a special place in my heart - in all our hearts.
An Unexpected Common Link
The entire Brown Family are all unbelievably kind, gracious and just good old fun to be around, but what has really hit me when reflecting on the week is that ALL the couples work together. Yes, that’s right. They all not only work together, but they run businesses together! I wonder if this contributed to their warm personalities, passionate opinions, and dedicated demeanors. I think it has too. I think that’s one huge reason, I instantly felt a connection with them - especially the ladies.
Sue and Dave are the parents of this wonderful family and they started and ran Brown’s Cheese in Nairobi. Their 3 daughters have also followed in their parents footsteps.
Now Delia and Andy have taken over the family cheese business and it is growing rapidly.
Sophie and Calum run Lewa House which has been in her family for five generations.
Chloe and Mike just started a landscaping design business that combines both their career paths too!
Literally the thing we talk about on every run . . .
Bill and I have always talked about working together. We both are in technology (his is low tech and mine is high). He loves to cook and I love to clean (yeah it’s true, don’t laugh). We love entertaining and having company over.
Meeting these 3 sisters and their husbands
plus their parents was literally like putting a mirror in front of our faces and saying,
“How can you do this too?”
- We’ve talked about opening a B&B (that would be Sophie and Calum with Lewa House).
- We’ve discussed starting a business based on some type of food such as fermentation (this would be Delia and Andy), but Billy has his hands in so much (dairy, bread, ferments, butchery) it’d be hard to focus in on one specific product, but we do have the Eastern Shore Food Lab launching this fall so this is close!
- We’ve also spent many late nights brainstorming how we can combine our individual passions for low/high tech tools (this would be Chloe and Mike) into our own business!
So this is how the entire Brown family has twisted our minds, hearts and thoughts about the future.
In each of them as couples, we have seen an element of a potential business opportunity for us to embark upon one day. After spending a whole year together, Bill and I definitely know we can work together and we realize that we can produce so much more when we are aligned working on something together than when we are working separately. So now comes the question - what do we do? How do we take what we learned in the savannah of Kenya from people who were complete strangers, but are now life-long friends and use it to impact our future, our family and our careers? If you’ve got any ideas please let us know but for now, I’m gonna end with some our favorite picks from this literally life-changing trip and express our sincere gratitude and love to the entire Brown Family. Just scroll through these and you'll understand immediately why this trip had such a drastic impact on the hearts, minds and spirits of this Modern Stone Age Family.