23 January 2013

Kenya: British Couple's 25-Year Love Affair With Kenya

Lewis and Margaret Small from Wales, United Kingdom, are one very special couple.

Lewis, 69 and Margaret, 71, have been married for the past 49 years. Before they retired about 11 years ago, Lewis was in the printing industry, a job he did for 33 years. Margaret worked with the BBC dealing mostly with the arts.

Twenty five years ago, she became very sick and Lewis dropped everything to take care of her. When she got better, she decided to surprise her husband with a token that would show her appreciation. "I don't think I would have made it through if it wasn't for him," she said. "While flipping through a Kuoni Safaris brochure, she came across a picture of Kenya and some wildlife and just like that she had chosen a holiday destination.

November 9, 1988 thus marked the beginning of their love affair with Kenya. They arrived in Kenya recently to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

How was your first experience in Kenya?

We were so excited to be able to finally see all the animals we had seen in the brochure and could not wait to go on safari. Over the years, we have come to love Kenya so much and it has become part of our lives. We can not bear not to be able to visit.

You have both been here about 35 times in the past 25 years. What keeps you coming back?

Definitely the people. With every visit to Kenya, the people and the friends we make become more and more important to us. The Kenyan hospitality is such a joy to experience.

When we first came to Kenya, we stayed at the Nairobi Serena for 17 days and then went to Seychelles for 10 days. When we got back to our home, we only had memories of Kenya and wished that we had stayed here for the whole duration of our trip. We left our hearts here and that's why we keep coming back as often as we can.

In addition, even after all these years, we are still able to go on safari and get excited about seeing the same animals over and over again. We love the Maasai Mara especially and we have a cupboard full of albums with pictures as at that time there were only film cameras (chuckles).

Happiest memories during your trips?

We can't really choose one as they have been so many but the memorable one that stands out is the wedding we came across in the outskirts of Kericho about 16 years ago. We were allowed to observe and even allowed to film it. As a token of our appreciation, we made a copy of the video and sent it to the groom whose father was very curious to know how he made his way into the video. It was such a moment of joyous laughter for us.

Also, we have made many many friends here and we try as much as possible to keep in touch with them via email and Facebook, as old as we are.

Saddest memories

Unfortunately, it was losing two good friends within a month. Wildlife photographer Isabella fondly known as "Mama Serena 1". Her ashes are scattered at Lion Hill, Maasai Mara. We always make a point to go up there when we are around. The other was our good friend Cyprian Waweru.

When the travel advisories are issued, we also get very sad. They are just meant to scare the tourists away. People only get to see in the media the worst of the situation and thus get scared. We know and love the people here and we trust them. In all the years we have been coming here, we have never had an incident where we have been under threat... except a leopard during one of our safari trips that came a tad too close to our open vehicle.

Best experiences so far

(Laughing) Been chased by a policeman in a matatu. The driver had no licence and he dumped the car in Kibera and fled leaving behind two wazungus. We laughed uncontrollably before we found our bearings.

On the other hand, Kenya has everything here that a tourist needs. The wildlife, the beaches, the people, hotels, safari lodges...everything.

The second experience is when I (Margaret) cycled 400km from Meru to Kisumu about two and a half years ago. This was done in a group to raise some money for Faraja Cancer Centre in Nairobi. We ended up raising about £1 million for the charity.

Parting shot

We just love Kenya. We came here as a special one time trip but we have fallen in love. We love the people especially the staff from the Serena Hotels and Lodges. They make us feel so great here and treat us all equal. The management has worked very hard to ensure his staff is well taken off and this manifests in the superb client service. We have stayed only at their hotels and the service only gets better.

Our only regret is that we did not take up the opportunity to settle here when it came up due to unavoidable circumstances.

We will definitely be back in November to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

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