One True Thing About Kenya

“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country.”

That’s tongue-in-cheek advice from Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s brilliant satirical essay “How to Write About Africa.”

I came across it because I’ll be traveling around Kenya as National Geographic Travel’s Digital Nomad for the next month, and, if I’m being honest, I’m not yet sure how to write—as Ernest Hemingway might put it—“one true sentence” about the country.

This is my first time to Kenya, which, incidentally, happens to be the first African nation I knew by name. When I was a kid, family friends returning from a trip there regaled us with tales of safari camps and baby hippos that never left me.

In the coming weeks I’ll see thousands of blue wildebeests migrate across the Masai Mara reserve; solo hike through the Great Rift Valley; snorkel in the Indian ocean; ride a horse past giraffes with Mount Kilimanjaro as the backdrop in Kenya’s least visited national park, Chyulu Hills; and—importantly—talk with Kenyans. Who knows, maybe I’ll even catch a country music show in Nairobi.

Of late, the country of 44 million has been in the news owing to its distant past, complex present, and promising future.

In the spring of 2015, rough-hewn stone tools found in Kenya’s Turkana Basin helped science “push back the dawn of culture by 700,000 years.”

Meanwhile, in late July, United States President Barack Obama (whose late father was Kenyan) joined entrepreneurs at an international summit in Nairobi that helped position Kenya—and its growing economy—as a beacon for a new globally connected Africa.

This is welcome news after violence along the country’s border with Somalia prompted the U.S. State Department and other governments to caution travelers. I’ll be avoiding those areas, which fortunately leaves the bulk of Kenya to explore.

For me at least, pre-research for major trips is half the fun. In the course of my preparation, I read the 1937 book Out of Africa by Karen von Blixen-Finecke (pen name Isak Dinesen), but preferred Beryl Markham’s account of living in the country during the same time period, when what is now Kenya was under British colonial rule.

In West With the NightMarkham, who grew up on a farm near the Great Rift Valley and went on to become an iconic bush pilot who crossed the Atlantic, writes, “There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa.”

The best I’ve read so far is Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, a memoir of growing up outside Nairobi and learning to write. He describes a love of breakdancing, being mesmerized by Lionel Ritchie’s teeth, and life as a “Cold War kid”—which ultimately sounds a lot like my life growing up in Oklahoma.

In the weeks before my plane was to leave, I’ve caught myself telling people “I’m going to Africa.” But if all goes right, my experience on the ground will change that.

If I have any one goal—other than to fall in love with the place, see some animals, meet locals I won’t forget, and find at least one true sentence—it’ll be to say after my trip not “I went to Africa,” but “I went to Kenya.”

Robert Reid is National Geographic Travel’s Digital Nomad, exploring the world with passion and purpose. Follow his adventures in #MakeItKenya on Twitter and Instagram

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  1. Harry kisamwa
    August 22, 2015, 7:56 am

    Well put!!!! Being in tourism and organizing lovely tours to my customers i always get that feedback. Kenya is indeed a very beautiful country. Welcome.

  2. Kds
    August 23, 2015, 3:56 pm

    Always you kenyans you like to use the kilimanjaro mountain the pride of Tanzania to publish your tourism.can’t you find other things rather than that?

  3. EIConsulting
    August 24, 2015, 3:21 am

    Mr Reid, welcome and enjoy your stay.

  4. Yuna Tiya
    Nairobi Kenya
    August 26, 2015, 7:08 am

    Nothing prepares you for the African nights. At dusk the wind dies, as whining cicadas and hidden night birds trill the first notes. A jackal wails. Other voices join in: yelps, hoots, a strangled cry. A hyena’s eerie cackle explodes into deranged shrieks in the darkness beyond camp. Shuddering, you edge closer to the campfire.
    Then suddenly, rumbling, primal, a deep-throated roar so close your skin tingles and you hold your breath, hoping it’s not as near as it sounds. There is no mistaking this one- it’s a Lion !
    This is why I love Africa: to get close to the wildlife, and to live for a time under African skies. Lured by the tales of Hemmingway and Conrad, I am on safari in Kenya.

  5. […] Read the first piece in this series, One True Thing About Kenya […]

  6. Mercy Auma
    Diani Beach - Kenya
    August 28, 2015, 10:23 am

    Well put and you will fall in love with this place!!! Loving the beach life and grateful I got to work in the Masai Mara, Tsavo and visit most of this beautiful country…with every trip I take… fall n love a new 🙂

    Welcome to Kenya…hakuna matata!

  7. The Art of Being Present – Digital Nomad
    September 1, 2015, 2:24 pm

    […] Story 1: One True Thing About Kenya […]

  8. […] I wrote in my first piece about Kenya, I’m on the hunt for the same in this African nation I know little to nothing about. And […]

  9. A Snapshot of Samburu – Digital Nomad
    September 10, 2015, 3:40 pm

    […] Story 1: One True Thing About Kenya […]

  10. […] Story 1: One True Thing About Kenya […]

  11. […] Story 1: One True Thing About Kenya […]

  12. Paul
    Nairobi - Kenya
    September 27, 2015, 1:58 am

    I have traveled through Kenya and every time I do I want to do it again. I hope you catch the African bug.

  13. Steve
    September 27, 2015, 2:00 am

    @Kds the most spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro are from Kenya.

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