My parents were from Kenya and when they think back to their childhoods, it’s Kenya their minds transport them back to. It’s a country I haven’t been to enough, but one I love and whose people I admire.
On one of my visits, I arrived in Nairobi and had to catch a domestic flight to Mombasa, which is on the coast. I had to wait a few hours for my flight, so I just sat at the airport, but those hours just flew by because I was so engrossed in watching all the locals coming and going, interacting with each other. What struck me the most was people’s joy. And their friendliness; their ability to make you feel like you had known them all your life and you were not at all strangers. They just chatted to you as though you belonged, as though you were one of them. I loved this feeling because we don’t always find this back in England anymore, alas.
On the way to the plane, we passed all our luggage laid out on the tarmac. Apparently, we had to check that our luggage was there! Thankfully, mine was!
When I eventually got on the plane, it was a rickety old plane and everyone just clambered on and we were all sat so close. I think if I did that journey now, I’d be petrified, but, somehow, back then, I wasn’t – it was honestly the most amazing experience I’ve had – watching how the scenery changed beneath us, feeling like we were so close to it, all the different coloured sands – gold, brown and a deep rusty red – and then the green as we approached the coast. And arriving at the airport felt like being on Miami Vice! It just had that vibe about it. And my uncle actually dressed a bit like Don Johnson at the time! (If this was before your time, just google ‘Don Johnson Miami Vice’ and you’ll get the picture!)
It’s these different ‘feelings’ new places evoke that I love about travel. The feeling of being welcomed, the friendliness of strangers. It’s people offering you their lentil sandwich (in India) or mahambri (in Kenya). It’s the way the air feels on your skin, the different plants that tell you you’re in a new place. This is what I love about travel.
Now, when I travel, I don’t even feel I have to visit any tourist sites at all. Sometimes, I just do nothing but go about daily life, enjoying the way daily life feels different in this new country, experiencing, as Bill Bryson put it, ‘everyday things as if for the first time.’ Going to the supermarket and being fascinated by all the local products, or the foreign imports (Cadbury’s chocolate! Baked beans!) that look a little different abroad! Doing the things that everyday people do. Immersing myself in their culture and being touched by it in some way. I prefer holidays now where the place can feel like home, rather than me feel like a stranger.