When my parents call me, the first question they always ask is “which part of the country are you in now’? This emanated from the fact that every time we talk, I am in a different part of our beautiful country Kenya. The Tembea Kenya bug bit me and I like it. I want no remedy for it. My dad called me just the other day and posed that question to me, as has become our norm. That time I happened to be at home. He was surprised that I was home on a weekend. After that phone call, it dawned on me that my parents had never been on holiday. They actually had no idea how it felt to be on holiday. They had never been to a hotel, boarded a plane (they had only seen them up in the sky looking like birds), or gotten pampered. Taking them on holiday had been in my to-do list for 3 years. Now that I thought about it, it was high time I took them to have the experience of their lives. The thing with such ideas is that, if you do not act on them when they’re fresh on your mind, they will slip through the cracks and you will only remember about them later. I was not going to let go of that thought.
I started making arrangements in secret, careful not to let them in on anything. It helped that I knew the dates they would be available. I broke the news to them 5 days to the travel date. I told them that I wished to whisk them off somewhere for 4 days. My dad immediately assumed the role of the leader of the resistance movement. “Who will take care of our home?” “Who will look after the cattle?” were his main concerns. I asked them to get a solution in 4 days. As the big day approached, they got more and more excited. The idea was for me to accompany them. The thought of them being alone in unfamiliar territory didn’t sit well with me, seeing that they hadn’t done much of traveling before. “How will they know what to do and when? How will they tell which food is on the buffet (considering those technical terms)? Would the holiday end up being torturous instead of fun and relaxing like the honeymoon they never had?” I wondered.
I got two beach shorts for my dad and my better half helped me pick out a free dress for my mum. I was all set. The awaited day finally came and on a Wednesday morning, we left for Syokimau to catch the train. Remembering My SGR Experience, and how I almost missed my train, I had to set an alarm. By 7.30am we were already at the station.
Aside from the numerous security checks, this wasn’t a new experience for them. They had used the Lunatic express a lot before (when it was still operational) to go to Kisumu and other places. They sat together while my seat was on the opposite side.
The train ride was nothing short of interesting. My parents never thought Kamba land was that dry. They had only heard it on the media. They went like, “How do these people survive here”? “Where do they farm”? According to my parents, you cannot survive if you do not plant crops for food. When it was announced that we were approaching Mtito Andei, my dad was keen on seeing the forest. Mtito Andei is pronounced mutitu wa ndei, which means Ndei’s forest in my native language. All along, my parents had thought there was a thick forest along Mombasa Road. Because the train has AC regulating the temperature, it is hard to tell the temperatures on the outside. We got to Mariakani Station at 1:20pm and alighted.
John, a friend of mine who operates a cab business in Malindi was already waiting for us at the station to ferry us to the hotel. It was quite hot outside as is typical of the weather in the Coast. My dad was in a suit (save for a tie) and my mum had on a heavy sweater, outfits that were totally wrong for this weather. They had no choice but to take them off.
We left Mariakani and used the new road to Kilifi. If you aregoing to Kilifi, Watamu or Malindi by road, this is the best road to use from Mariakani. It is nicely done and there are very few vehicles on it. John happens to be a good guide as well. He took over the talking, explaining the different buildings and sceneries, and I got a break. At 2.30pm we are already in Watamu. Being past lunch hour, I knew we wouldn’t find any lunch left at the hotel, so we passed by a restaurant on our way there. I had to order for food on their behalf due to the language barrier (ugali-sima, mchele-wali, etc). We ate to our fill and continued our journey to the hotel.
Jacaranda Beach Resort, Watamu lay in waiting. The warm reception had my parents so surprised that people can be so accommodating and welcoming. After filling in our check-in forms we were taken to our rooms. The rooms were next to each other and overlooking the pool and Ocean from a distance.
The porter explained everything about the room and functionalities of the amenities. I had to explain it to them again because I wasn’t sure they had gotten it the first time. We freshened up and at around 4pm, I asked them to accompany me to see the ocean. My mum thought it was a long walk, but I assured her it was just 50 meters from the room. “The real struggle was convincing my Dad to change into his shorts and t-shirt. He’s a bit old fashioned, thinking shorts are for small boys. Luckily, my Mum helped me convince him. We passed by the beach bar and refreshed ourselves with cold sodas (we were on soft-all inclusive).
As we were walking towards the beach, my mum spotted someone in a bathing suit and couldn’t help but express her culture shock. “One uyu enui” (Look at this naked person). I had to stop and explain that that was the most comfortable attire at the beach that allows you to swim and take part in other water activities. “Uguo onawe woka guku wiikaraga nui”? (Does that mean that you also stay naked whenever you come here?”) She asked holding her mouth. Before I could answer, my Dad interjected after having noticed that everyone, including men were dressed the same. At this point, I was sure my mum thought it was the end times. Finally we arrived at the beach. They stood at a safe distance.
They couldn’t believe the ocean was that large. I told them it goes all the way past Somalia, down to South Africa, and this was news to them.
During the 80’s and 90’s, a myth was going around that if you go to the beach and happen to throw an egg in the ocean, a road would emerge, allowing you to walk in and get riches. Anyone ever heard this narrative? Well, my mum bought that myth hook line and sinker. “Andu maikagia itumbi ha?” (Where do people throw in the eggs?). Since I don’t know about it, I told her that it was a myth. I didn’t know what other stories about the ocean she had in her head. 'She probably thought that the ‘naked’ people close to the ocean were in a cult. Because they wanted to know if the water was salty I asked them to move closer to the water. My dad stepped in, but only at the edge where only his feet were immersed. My mum was like, “Mum’s not hot!” She completely refused to get in. We lay at the beach and enjoyed the scenery until sunset.
At 8.00pm, we went to the restaurant for dinner. I walked them round the buffet. Having worked as a chef before helped me a lot in interpreting the technical food terms. It was an Italian cuisine, but from the variety, we got something they could identify with. We were the only black guests in the hotel. This made my parents feel privileged. Needless to say, using forks and knives was too much of a struggle for them, so we dropped them eventually. It’s typical of African parents to send you on errands and order you around. “Get me this.” ”Get me that.” Here, it was no different. They would send me back to the buffet table each time they wanted something, but having been raised well, I was happy to oblige.
After having our main course and fruits for dessert, my mum had wanted a glass of juice. She didn't want to walk to the buffet table, but she also felt like she has bothered me enough, so she sat there helplessly without saying a word. Seated at the next table was a middle-aged couple. The husband came carrying two glasses of juice and offered one to the wife. After seeing that, my mum lost her cool. "Niwona ucio niarehera muka juice, onawe ngiirira" (You see he has served juice to his wife, you should do the same). She addressed my dad. Dad did not react at first. I was seated there waiting for a volcano to erupt. He took his time then got up and went to fetch the juice. When he came back, he smiled, then said, "Guku andu mokaga guikariruo" (this is the place where people come to be henpecked by their wives). I couldn’t help but laugh hard then told them that people need to help each other out, especially when they’re aging together. We then left the restaurant for the lounge to wait for the animation show.
The following day, mum was slightly more comfortable with the ‘naked’ people at the beach. We got ourselves sun beds and lay there to enjoy the breeze.
I would sneak back and forth once in a while showing up with drinks for them. The tide was low and the water moved a kilometer or so away. I managed to convince them to take a beach walk. They agreed, albeit reluctantly.
We walked towards a reef on dry sand. We encountered a lot of sea creatures they had never seen before. It got them excited and eager to walk farther into the ocean. We got to the reef where there was a small island covered with white sand. Here something unusual happened. Dad held Mum’s hand! For the first time he has done that in public.
It showed that they were loosening up. I started feeling like I accompanied them on their honeymoon. I also noticed a change in their conversation and emotional connection. The ocean experience clearly had a romantic effect, like the Eiffel Tower in France or the romantic boat rides in Venice. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and dad teaching me how to play darts.
I was up early the next morning, ready to catch the sunrise. As usual it did not disappoint. It reminded me of The Magnificence of the Sun’s rays.
After having my magical moment with the sunrise, a beach boy approached me. It is rare for them to approach a black person especially when there are a lot of white holiday makers around. He mentioned Watamu, excursion, and other activities, trying to get me to sign up for them. I responded, “Here is the thing; I have been to all those places you have mentioned. However, I would love for my parents to enjoy a boat ride even if just for 20 minutes”. We discussed the pricing and agreed, but I warned him that my parents were a bit unexposed and it may be a difficult feat. I cracked the news to them during breakfast. They raised concerns of safety and what not, but I countered all of them. I assured them that they would be just fine. The thing with my parents is that it works better when you ambush them. If I had told them the day before, they would have thought too much about it and discouraged themselves out of the experience. They only had 1 hour to think about it because we were supposed to get on the boat by 10.00am.
Luckily they agreed, on condition that mum would sit next to me because she did not trust my dad to save her. She knew dad did not know how to swim. “And who will save dad if something were to happen?” I asked her. “Huyu ni Mwanaume (He is a man),” she responded. I was left thinking how vulnerable men are. It is up to them to know everything and how to survive and save themselves from any kind of danger, not that anything was going to happen in this case. All safety measures had been put in place to avoid any danger.
Anyway, we got into the boat and floated on the blue waters. It was a smooth ride, but interesting to see how mum held so tightly to the beams. My dad probed the captain with a lot of questions, some not about the ocean. (I won’t be surprised if he asked them why they are not in school or working). We got to a place that had star fish. One of the guides dived into the water in order to get some, and this startled mum. He disappeared for a few minutes and later emerged with several star fishes.
He was able to convince my parents to hold them and pose for a picture. Minutes later, the tide became bumpy. The boat started to whir. At this point they couldn’t gather enough courage to stay any longer. My dad literary ordered the captain to get back to the shores. That was the end of our boat ride. We got back to the hotel, had lunch and a little later I went swimming.
The next day was check out day. Having requested a late check out, we left the hotel after lunch. John was at the reception waiting for us. We got in the car and left for Malindi Town at around 2.30pm. Because John doubles as a guide, he took us to Vasco Dagama Pillar and later to a bridge where boats carrying fish usually dock. “Won’t we miss our train?”, my dad worried. I told him that we still had enough time. Seeing that he was in a new place and he couldn’t tell North from South, he had no choice but to put his trust in me.
We completed the tour 10 minutes to 4pm. John drove us straight to Malindi Airstrip. Up to that moment, my parents had no idea they would be flying back to Nairobi. All this time they expected to get back the same way they came, the SGR. I hadn’t told them because they would obviously had objected. We went through security checks and joined the queue to get our boarding passes. My mum went to sit down as Dad and I waited. A staff member from Silverstone Air weighed our luggage. “So they weigh bags when people are going to Nairobi?” my dad asked. “Yes, probably to make sure you don’t carry coconuts from Mombasa.” I responded jokingly, to which we shared a good laugh. After weighing, he took the bags through the back door as the lady at the counter handed us our boarding passes. Dad got confused why they had carried our bags away . He recalled that at Syokimau, we took care of our luggage all the way. By now he had realized it was a different world here and he did not bother asking.
10 minutes to boarding time, our flight landed from Lamu. It made a lot of noise. Up tothis point I still had not told them that they would be boarding a plane, so I told them that we were flying back to Nairobi. “Time has gone by so fast and we can’t catch the train now. We have to fly instead.” I explained. Silence followed. They took a quick bathroom break, probably to relax their nerves, then afterwards we were asked to board the plane.
As we had gotten a few meters to the ladder, Mum stopped. “I am not entering this thing.”, she exclaimed. “How is this big thing going to float on air?” I remembered that at home we would watch airplanes flying high up in the sky and they look very tiny. It’s the first time she has come close to one.
Surprisingly, my dad helped me convince her to get in. When we got to the door, my dad allowed me to pass because according to him, I would know what is going on inside. My parents are traditional like that. We did not have seat numbers so everyone was free to sit where they wanted. I found 2 empty seats next to each other and a single on the row adjacent. My mum grabbed my hand and directed me to the side with the 2 empty seats. She sat next to me on a window seat. Dad sat on the opposite side, but not on a window seat. Mum felt safe next to me. This made me feel like Spider Man or Jack Bauer.
The plane took off at exactly 5pm. My parents glued themselves on the seats. My mum leaned on my shoulder as if trying to avoid falling off the window. Dad was quiet and pretending to be busy reading magazines (I say pretending because he owned up after landing). The crew passed by serving drinks. The lady asked my dad if he will have something. He rejected the offer quickly. When we got home, he explained that he felt like the flight attendant was making the plane lean on one side because of the cart. The aircraft was at 30,000 ft in the air (above the clouds) and the flght was calm and quiet. After about 1 hour, we landed at Wilson airport. We stood there looking at the aircraft. They couldn’t believe they had been inside it. Our cab guy was already in waiting and he ferried us home, marking the end of a well deserved holiday.
That was of the most fulfilling trip I have ever been to. I was ecstatic that I had given my parents a new experience. One that they would remember for a long time to come.. If I knew just how satisfying that feeling was, I would have done it earlier. If you are reading this, I would like to challenge you. I will call it #TravelWithEliudChallenge. Take your parents on holiday. It doesn’t have to be Mombasa for 3 nights. It can be a day trip to the Nairobi National Park. If you have done it before, I salute you. I am sure you agree with me that this is the best achievement there is. When you take up the challenge, be sure to let me know.
Until next time, keep travelling.
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