Last week, we celebrated my father’s 80th birthday, in typical “Church” style, by mobilizing no less than 39 family members to a camp in the southern corner of the Mara Triangle, for five nights. The idea was to bring our own tents, and camp in a style not dissimilar to how my Papa would have started out with Safaris Unlimited. It was five days of absolute bliss, and a celebration befitting of a man who was one of the original pioneers of safari in East Africa.
Felicia and I were already in the Mara with the family, so we made our way over to Kishanga Campsite together with a team of our longest serving staff members – many of whom worked with my father from the early days. The air was brimful of excitement as we drove towards the Tanzanian border and our camp – nestled amongst a riverine forest of shady trees. My father and step-mother were already in camp having arrived a day earlier, and true to form Pa had mapped out exactly where he wanted everyone to be.
Our tents looked through the dappled light cast through the canopy over a small river to the yawning yellowed plains beyond. My sisters camped in Safaris Unlimited tents, whilst the rest of the family brought their own. We set up a kitchen tent, which bulged with culinary contributions from the family. The staff had their area neatly arranged and set to work with organizing the camp. Hot water by Kioko, lamps and tents by Makau, Ruth and William, the kitchen by Francis, Sarah and Vincent, cars by Karanja, and children by Martha, Helen and Esther. Quite an army! But then we were never very good at understaffed occasions, and Dad did send us all an email before the safari reminding us that ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’.
The four days were spent in glorious repose; with the grass so long that only the truly dedicated ventured out on long game drives, whilst those of us with smaller children preferred to languish in camp and venture into conversations of real depth and meaning – only really achievable with that most precious of assets: time. Oh, and a lack of distractions (read: no mobile phone network). We set up a bush cinema using a sheet and some string, and a projector that ran off car batteries, and showed a short movie of my father’s early days. Nostalgia reigned. We ate, and drank in Roman style, and told stories of Pa. Memories poured out. We made speeches and partook in quizzes. Laughter tinkled through camp. It was the ultimate slow-safari, surrounded by family, the blood that ties us to each other the strongest.