I grew up in a home so privately tucked in such a quaint little town that we didn’t even have a house key; we would go away on family vacations and leave the house unlocked. Our northern-New-England home nestled between the forest and a vast meadow sloping away toward the mountain. There were deer, moose, porcupines—even an occasional fisher cat screaming in the woods at night. Sometimes I miss it so much, it hurts.
Now I live in Nairobi where you lock the gate, you lock the grill, you lock the door, and you lock your windows. Now I live in a concrete apartment building with a downstairs neighbor who wakes me every morning with his cataclysmic gagging and spitting. The house girl downstairs stole my daughter’s bras off the laundry line, and when I come home late at night, sometimes the askari has fallen asleep and I have to crawl under the barbed steel gate that surrounds our home.
All to say, when an old business acquaintance from my Masai Mara days emailed me last week, inviting me on a flying Labor Day overnight to the safari camp I used to work at…I said yes, please.
A troop of baboons scooted from the dirt airstrip as our 13-seater plane touched down. On the drive to camp I struggled to recall the once-familiar animals—topi, eland, black-backed jackal. As I walked the sheltered path to my cabin, a squawk drew my eye to the top of a mango tree; a large bird launched with a brilliant flash of red and purple wings. Ross’s turoco. And to think, I used to live in this wonderland.
After a night of torrential rain, the sun rose beneath clouds, tingeing them brilliant orange, a thousand shades of lavender, finally breaking across the savannah in misty, rain-washed bars of white. I sat on my deck above the savannah, drinking my tea, marveling that the eighth-wonder-of-the-world trip some people wait their entire lives for is a spontaneous 45-minute hop from home for me.
When I got home, I cried. The kids were thrilled to see me, but all I wanted was to hide in my room, all I wanted was to be anything but needed, anywhere but an apartment with ugly red floors and damp clothes hung along the porch. I had to get conscious and remind myself: I chose Nairobi. I live here because this is where I have a great job that I love, this is where my children go to school and are home each night, this is where my opportunities lie. I’m not a victim of the concrete jungle. I chose this.
But I remember living in a home with no locks, and listening to a lion roar across the Mara in the middle of the night, and I know that much as I love Nairobi, this is not my home forever.