Me, Baronness Von Blixen, Alexandra Watkins, and the Ngong Hills

A long time ago, in a faraway land called college, I made a new friend, Alexandra Watkins. We just clicked one day, senior year, and for a few months we were inseperable. Then something happened–graduation–and I’ve not seen her since.

But Alexandra remains in my memory because I went with her to see “Out of Africa,” a movie that makes colonialism look incredibly elegant. I mean, let’s face it, if colonialism means Meryl Streep and Robert Redford wearing linen outfits and reclining under picturesque acacia trees, then really, where’s the harm?

After the movie, Alexandra and I started almost every conversation with “I had a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” (even if we were talking about what to have for dinner) and we decided that we should start a bar/bookshop/restaurant/performance space called “The Ngong Hills.” Doesn’t that sound great? We figured Cambridge’s Porter Square was the perfect place for such a spot, we planned the decor, the menu, the drinks, the kinds of books we’d sell.

Only thing we didn’t do is actually go into business together. But it was a lovely dream, nevertheless.

Fast forward a scary number of decades. I still haven’t opened a shop that combines pretty much everything I love (food, drink, books, theater, parties); I have no idea where Alexandra Watkins is; and I’m pretty sure that no matter what you wear, colonialism is not elegant.

I am, however, going to Kenya.

Tomorrow.

Yes. Me. On safari, just like Baroness Von Blixen, if she traveled with two young children and carried her own suitcases (one of which contains an emergency jar each of peanut butter and Nutella, in case of child-related menu crises). 

We’re going to spend a night in Nairobi, then fly to Amboseli in hopes of elephants and visions of Kilimanjaro (cue Toto song here), then fly  to Masai Mara where Caleb and Liam will reconnect with their ancient ancestors: the wildebeests.  July and August are when millions of wildebeests move between the Serengeti (in Tanzania, just below the Kenyan border) and the Mara.

Basically, I’m going off to spend a week in the best nature show ever, to see things that I’ve only ever seen in the pages of National Geographic or on TV.  I’ve been pinching myself for weeks, waiting for Something To Happen that would cancel our trip, but now it’s the night before we leave and I think all systems are go. If one of my kids gets sick now, he’s staying behind because the herd is moving on.

Are we going to see “real” Africa? Nope. Are we going to encounter “real” Masai? Not really, or at least, we’re not going to see “real” Masai culture. Are we roughing it, camping in the bush, cooking over an open fire? No effing way. I’m a pretty low-maintenance person (for a high-strung person): don’t need regular showers, don’t need makeup or hair-dryers, can walk for hours and hours and hours at a stretch. But I don’t camp. God invented screen porches, duvets, and inside for a reason, people, and who am I to ignore god’s gifts?

So. I’ve got my lightweight pants that zip off into shorts; I’ve got layers of safari-colored clothes; I’ve got mosquito repellent, anti-malarials, and certification that all of us have had yellow fever shots. And we’ve got coats because at night it might dip into the 50s, which seems impossible.  It’s been at least 100 degrees (and frequently hotter) every day since mid-May; we say that it’s “cooled off” when the temperature dips down to about 80.

Wherever you are, Alexandra Watkins, I hope life is treating you well. I’ll say hello to the Ngong Hills for you.