Another year has gone by and wow, what a year it has been. It has been very long, very worrying and very tiring. Looking back, it is rather like a science-fiction novel where the objective is merely to survive. And apart from a successful exercise in surviving an extraordinary twelve months, it doesn’t feel as if we have accomplished much more!
On a positive note, two really encouraging things have come out of the year which give us great hope for the future. The first is that despite all the redundancies that have afflicted our industry in Kenya, our INCREDIBLE team of staff are still with us and are as committed as ever. The second cause for rejoicing is that our guests, many of whom are now great friends, have managed to come and visit us through the crisis. You have been great supporters of The Emakoko during this difficult year. Without your visits, like many lodges in Africa, we would be out of business. To all of you, Anthony, myself and all the staff say a very heartfelt “Asante”!
When we started this project way back in 2010, three years after Kenya’s turbulent general election, we carefully analyzed the various risks going forward that we might have to face. Whilst some of those risks did materialize we have managed ourselves through them. However our list of risks did not include the one that has had such a devastating impact on the countries and peoples of the whole world – namely the Covid pandemic.
From chaotic general elections, terrorist attacks, Ebola outbreaks and this pandemic, we find ourselves mentally staggering on down the assault course of life wondering what on earth will be next. In its entire existence, the Kenya’s tourism industry has not had to face so many challenges as it has in the last 13 years – It is a miracle that so many of us are still standing. I now find myself adjusting my business plan and relooking at new possible risks. Attack from another planet, Comet collisions with earth, Anthony deciding that he may take a crack at running the kitchen (God forbid!)……….goodness knows what will be next?
Covid has changed the way we live;
It wasn’t long ago when we all thought that people wearing masks were hiding their faces in preparation for doing you harm! How perceptions have changed, now people NOT wearing masks are objects of suspicion, to be given a wide berth.
Kissing & hugging are all now out of bounds replaced by “giving someone the elbow” or “hitting fists” as the new forms of greeting. These used to be aggressive gestures and are now far more appropriate. Those that know me and know that hugging is not my thing, can be assured that I have thrived on the greeting side of the pandemic!
On the home front, our eldest son completed his final year at The Banda school, sadly for him and his year group it was a miserable end to ten years of being in a school. From a very active social, sporting and learning life they were immediately exposed to learning by Zoom, no sports ,no official interaction with friends… no anything, really. As parents we had to pull together as a community to try to inject a level of fun into the closing months of their time there. Anthony, myself and a couple of other parents, along with the company Savage Wilderness led a group of these amazing children up Mt. Kenya, Kenyas highest mountain. Due to Covid, disaster struck when we were hours from the top and it was too late in the evening to change our route. The Kenya government, rightly, announced that travel between Kenyan counties would be closed the following day. We were in one county – our homes were in another.
But Kenyans are nothing if not resourceful. Stuck at the top of a 5,000 meter mountain, we woke at 3am the following day, dashed to the summit, then, rather than break the downward journey and camp on the slopes, we literally ran back down the mountain to the bottom. We covered a distance of 24 KM (the kids were aged between 12 and 13 years old). As if that wasn’t enough we then got caught in a monumental storm and had to camp where we were that night. Just after day-break on the following day, we scrambled back across the county borders. Home again, safe at last! Adventure-training at its wildest, needless to say the young thought it was incredible, whilst the more mature amongst us heaved a sigh of relief.
Right after this epic journey the family decided to take a break and head to the southern tip of the continent for a brief holiday. Unfortunately my daughter had tested positive for COVID four weeks prior to our departure so it was touch and go if we would be able to go, thankfully we were all negative and set off on our next adventure. Before our return we all had tests in SA and again Netty tested positive. We tested her again after a couple of days and she was now negative (again). On her first diagnosis we were forced to quarantine as a family for the mandatory two weeks at home. During that time, rather in the way that parents used to try and get their children to catch Mumps etc, we tried our very best to catch the disease from her in the hope that we would get some form of immunity – but to no avail. She spent the two weeks skipping and running around the house like an energizer bunny and I must say, looking at her energy levels, I made the assumption she had not got this dreadful disease at all. Children can be so uncooperative at times.
Once back from our trip, our manager, Jackson unfortunately tested positive when he also came back on duty from home. As you may know, we are all on the Emakoko site for up to 8 weeks at a time, so anyone coming in from home must have a negative test in order to come back to work. Jackson having tested positive, was too far from home to return and so he stayed on site to quarantine. For the first 5 days he was like Netty, completely fine. In the early hours of the sixth day the Covid symptoms appeared and everything that we had feared happened. The next 48 hours were critical but luckily for Jackson, thanks to our dedicated family doctor, he recovered without the need for hospitalization.
Interestingly, with so much vaccination resistance, our team having witnessed Jacksons ordeal were the first to sign up for the jab and now we are pleased that every member of our team is fully vaccinated.
And so to the real reason for our existence the amazing wildlife, another part of what makes The Emakoko so special. I can’t help but consider that we humans are perhaps not too different from our four legged friends, and if our special cats were people, I wonder what sort of people would they be.
We have the lovely beautiful leopardess Koko, who has been a part of our lives now for over five years, many of you who have stayed with us or simply been in the park will know exactly who she is. I can only imagine that she is in the university stages of her life, bouncing from bar to bar having a cracking time, fine dining on choice cuts (or for most students living off leftovers)…..a different partner each month a celebrity life style that means she is constantly in demand. As she moves from one night club to another, the paparazzi are on her heels stalking her every step of the way in their attempt to get that winning wildlife photograph!
For the mothers out there, we have our formidable single mother Cheetah who has dragged what is left of her litter through the bush and is no longer surrounded by tiresome toddlers, they are now nearly all grown up. As she moves through the park she is flanked by her children, no longer in ‘junior school’ but still very respectful of their mother, and these youngsters do not move far from her. In the early days we would find her in the mornings with one of her cubs playfully biting an ear or a foot; every now and again an irritated slap from Mother would put an end to the game. Now like all good parents she can control them with a certain look ( I don’t include myself in the good parent category and prefer to roar loudly at my off-springs which certainly gives me much needed relief!).
And then we have the majestic Leshan, our new young – out of university, graduated in wild life management, just looking for a job – male lion. He is really not yet feeling the pressure of life, but still considering a young man’s perennial questions : Who am I, why am I here, what’s this life all about and do I even want to be a Lion?
Not long ago he was observed sitting on a murrem mound staring out into the distance, clearly contemplating his life. He was surrounded by a herd of Impala who were standing as still as statues glaring at him, he was clearly not interested in them(yet) but of course they do not know that.
What can I say about the noble Giraffe frequently seen wandering around the park looking as if they own the place. Their majestic well -measured step reminds one of a top class mannequin showing off a new trouser suit.
The Rhino population is of course thriving in Nairobi National park. I was airport bound one early morning and had the unfortunate delay of two White Rhino having the most almighty fight on the road just like two men staggering out of the pub at closing time. They delayed me for about 15 minutes. I didn’t dare interrupt their duel just in case, like their human counterparts, they decided to take out their frustration on me. The same thing happened to Anthony about 8 years ago and he ended up getting hit by one of them which was quite surprising as White Rhino are generally rather relaxed. But then again, it was Anthony and I can only assume that they had the same frustration and rage towards my husband that I sometimes do!
The game park and its family of animals continue to thrive and offer we humans the chance to relax and escape, if only for a few hours, the serious problems that continue to occupy our lives. At the Lodge the battle between Hyrax and our Rose displays is ongoing and from time to time we win the battle armed with spray bottles of water.
It is the season to be giving, and despite the difficulties in tourism over the last 18 months The Emakoko has managed to help both Kenyans and Kenya. It has not been much this year sadly, but aside from hanging on to our staff, this is what we have been able to do.
Over USD$70,000 in national park fees.
A donation of USD$1000 for the tree planting project.
Children’s Project & School Buildings (thank you for the generous donation from the Fishers $3,500) a total of USD$5,000
This year for us has been dominated by the topics of Covid, climate change and social inequality and I cannot help but feel if we are able to came together to try and solve some of these issues then the world can become a better place for all of us. Perhaps then other issues such as the migration crisis may start to resolve themselves.
The Emakoko continues to strive to make the right decisions and contribute in every way possible towards being a greener and cleaner operation – but we are not there yet.
As for social inequality, we are so proud of our team of mixed sex, race and religion – from our board room, our shareholders, our team and to our suppliers. This is how it should be. We do believe that we are part of a larger family and enjoy the company of our clients, employees suppliers and friends and we aim to continue along these lines.
We wish you all a very happy holiday and may your hopes and dreams come true in the new year.