„Hello. I am calling from „Večernji list“. We are reporting on where celebrities are having their summer vacation. Petka, where will you spend your vacation?“
„In Kenya, Africa.“
„What? – said the voice in shock, breathless – „Kenya? Did I get that straight?“
„Yes, yes. Kenya. It’s that country in east Africa you know .“
„Jesus, aren’t you afraid?“
„Of what? I have a feeling that I should be more scared here than there. We’ll see. I’d love to talk to you about it when I’m back, but I’m pretty sure already that they don’t eat people over there.
I’m more likely to get eaten faster here. “
It was the August 16th, 2003. when I first met HER. After only a 7 and a half hour direct flight from Wienna, I was finally there to see the new day rising and the vivid, firework-like colors on the horizon. A promising first impression. It was hot, the heat clung to my clothes, skin and hair, while the sweet scent in the air brought a smile to my lips at the Moi international airport. Mombasa, the second largest Kenyan city on the coast of the Indian ocean. „Well, good morning Africa, good morning Kenya“ – I mumbled as I watched the smiling faces of the airport staff, lined up to welcome me as I walked the warm asphalt. It’s great that they don’t have those airport vehicles, because otherwise I might have never had a chance to walk the airstrip and watch that huge wonder in front of me. „Jambo, jambo.“ – said the local’s faces. „Hmm… Good morning!“ – I replied politely what must have been nearly 20 times. On the 21st occasion, I gathered some courage and replied „Jambo!“ – and let’s see what happens. „Karibu! Karibu sana!“ – okay, logic, let’s see you work a bit! That „jambo“ must be something along the lines of „hello“, „hi“, or such. „Karibu“ should, in that case, be „welcome“. I thanked my logic for working even on this side of the Equator.
The old, shabby bus waited patiently. „Pole, pole...“ said the driver with a smile. What could that mean? With no poles or magnets around, there must be some other “pole” in question. Watching the calm, slow movements of the natives, without the slightest worry or panic because we are not already halfway to the hotel or in our bikinis. There’s no rush, slowly, slowly. Ah, okay. I guess that’s why they look so calm and relaxed that we are not already half way over to the hotel. I’m not in a hurry, no point in rushing anything. Okay. This must be why they all look so calm and rested. I’ll try that myself, too. Hey ,I’m on vacation anyway ! It didn’t take me long to start singing a song along with a few people, who judging by their clothes and hair-styles look European. „Jambo, jambo bwana, habari gani, mzuri sana…“ -la-la-la in my case, as Swahili was still strange to me. My face refused to stop smiling given the positive vibes as I walked to the hotel. As the song carried on, I watched the landscape through the dirty window.
In my head the song faded and I stared blankly at the small, worn mud huts. I saw red soil, dust everywhere, children with old torn clothes hanging from their small frames as they ran around the fire. A set of dirty plastic plates. Old, rusted vehicles, big and small, mud, brown puddles everywhere, trash upon which goats trotted carelessly. Sharp-dressed people around me, they must be going to work. The others are working already, selling everything one could imagine on wooden stands. Some are sitting on the ground, waving at us with blissful faces. My sight blurred with tears and I began to catch my breath. Oh my God!
We reached the hotel strolling through a beautiful garden full of palm trees, as singing, dancing and smiles welcomed us. A person took my suitcase with a smile so intense that I had the feeling that, had I asked if he would carry me too, I was sure he really would have. The room was clean, tidy, spacious and cozy. Everything was covered in colorful flowers. The sun, palm trees, the pool and the sea. Excuse me, the ocean. The Indian ocean with white sand beaches as far as the eye could see. God, is this Heaven?
Under a palm tree, just like a regular tourist, I pushed my feet beneath the warm sand with a cup of amazing Kenyan coffee in my hand, watching the colors mix from cyan to blue, green and „infinite“ would probably be the word to describe those colors. Emotions stirred. Am I really in Kenya? Is this really Africa? The real Africa! Yes, I’m here. I’ve arrived safely! Disbelief, excitement, happiness – they all started mixing with the dull pain I felt earlier. Bare footed, dirty kids were playing in my head again. The sights of the real Kenyan life like a perpetuum mobile. Then it squeezes me even harder. The beauty of the ocean was blurred through the tears in my eyes. My problem is final, no turning back, I can change nothing. He’s gone. Forever.
But this here exists, It’s alive. It’s poor. What can I do? Can I do anything at all? At least a bit. To repay you dear Kenya for every smile, a kind word, optimism and a lesson of life “live a life day by day”. For “hakuna matata” because I really do not mind now whether my cup of coffee stands a little left or right on the table. Actually this was never really a problem, I simply did not understand it. Oh, how foolish I was ! I spent time and energy driving myself crazy for really insignificant things. I know what I can do: get back next year for another dose of peace, feeling free. To live day by day. And to find happiness in small things.
P.S. It was a normal afternoon, boring, silent, sad. I strolled the streets of Zagreb aimlessly and at Gundulićeva street my eye spied a blue paper. It read: „Last minute – Santorini!“
I entered the agency without thinking things through. „Hello, I’d like to book a holiday on Santorini, Greece.“ The young girl with a warm and caring smile greeted me and kept watching me silently. „Oh boy, another fan of mine.“ – I thought to myself. „You’d like to travel to Greece?“ – she asked. „Yes.“ I replied. She calmly set her hands on the table, looked me straight in the eye and said: „You don’t look like a person who’d like to go to Greece.“. My eyebrows were a bit raised now in shock as questionmarks popped above my head. „If you ask me, I’d send you to Kenya.“. – „To Kenya!? With all due respect for the lions and the elephants, I just want to lie on the beach and draw a blank in my mind.“
„Well, Kenya does have some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.“ – she explained as my eyebrows went up to the point I didn’t know they could reach on my forehead. „Yes, yes!“ – she repeated over and over again as she took a photo album out of a drawer. My eyes grew a bit every second. She explained everything carefully and patiently as I was still in shock. Okay. I have to sleep on it, I guess. I want to learn what I don’t know so „surfing“ Kenya was my obvious next destination. A new day, this time with a goal. In the same place, with the same kind young girl and her smile, I booked a trip to Kenya: 14 days of Mombasa with a safari included. Flight from Vienna – 5.823kn.
Dear Anamarija, it’s time for you to come and visit me. Right here where you sent me. Kenya & I are waiting!
Everything happens for a reason.