The Visit

Half the fishermen and artisans on the beach where we live were expecting them even before they arrived. R had asked about dhow rides and a fishing trip for my dad and on our weekend strolls, they would wave us over.

A haze of orange rises up from the distant heat dome of Mombasa, covering the city in a blanket of light and illuminating the night sky. Silence fills the cool, temperate air, broken only by the whirr of a wind-up torch and the hiss and spit of meat being cooked over an open fire.

The cloud cover above us starts to break and a spiral of stars appears like a whirlpool in Space.

We stop and stare and I take in the unlikely sight of our guests dining in the dark in the African bush, under the Milky Way: they are my parents.

Africa has been a part of my parents' lives for as long as it has been a part of mine. And now, finally, they are here.

My mum comes almost bounding out of the arrivals hall in Mombasa, arms outstretched towards me, my dad trailing luggage in her wake (my mother has never known how to travel light).

They have met R many times on Skype and I am hoping these prior communications will help to dilute the Embarrassing Dad Moments that I suspect are coming up. I have advised R to take note and learn what not to do. But fathers have a habit of sticking together so this goes largely over his head.

We take them first to Moorings, East and Central Africa's only floating restaurant, on Mtwapa Creek, north of Mombasa.

We dine on the deck by the water's edge as the sun goes down, surrounded by boats, as a wedding party sets off along the mangroves in an old Arab sailing vessel.

Half the fishermen and artisans on the beach where we live were expecting them even before they arrived. R had asked about dhow rides and a fishing trip for my dad and on our weekend strolls, they would wave us over.

'When are your parents from England coming?'

'Next month,' R would say.

And so it went on.

'We will be waiting for them,' beamed one of the fishermen.

The economic hopes of Nyali beach seemed to be resting on my mum and dad.

My dad made friends immediately. We received an SOS call one afternoon as their fanbase was waiting for them to finish lunch and my parents weren't sure how to make their way back without saying yes to hundreds of carvings and scarves.

They were struck by how friendly Kenyans are. There was the young man they met who disclosed, as they walked in tandem, that he his father had died and William who ran a craft stall. He gave them each a small gift with their names etched onto the wood so they would always remember him.

My mum was most taken by drives through small towns and villages, past matatus and mud and puddles and crumbling schools, to places you wouldn't know existed. We visited the remnants of a 14th century slave port at Jumba Ruins, a hidden gem on an empty beach overlooked by an Italian seafood restaurant where old colonials gather for long, leisurely lunches and the obligatory few bottles of wine.

We took them beyond the noise, pubs, clubs and flashing neon lights of Mtwapa town and into Narnia, down a winding, semi-private dirt road flanked on either side by large white houses and on to an unexpected creek side haven: La Marina, which rests on the banks of the creek where yachts and boats are moored.

We set sail on an ocean dhow ride that took us past our house, giving a unique view of Nyali and the high rise construction going on.

Not that Mum could see what we could.

'Mum, what are you photographing?' I asked.

'Your house,' she said, snapping away.

'Our house is over there,' I pointed.


I offered her a landmark.

'You see the blue building slightly to your right?'

'Yes,' nodded Mum, looking straight ahead.

'You can't see it, can you?'


To come to Kenya and miss the wildlife would be somewhat erroneous. So we spent a night in the Shimba Hills, a reserve normally populated by elephants near the south coast.

There were few elephants when we went. A chronic lack of rainfall had made them migrate but we spotted two from far away, a family of giraffe, warthog, baboon, duiker, sable antelope and impala.

We sat under the Milky Way: R braaing with the help of a wind-up torch and my mum sticking with her homemade salad and tin of tuna. The Rich Tea biscuits came out at breakfast.

A night in a thatched roof banda on the edge of a forest is to my mum what camping is to most other people.

The electricity helped, until it cut out, whereupon Dad got blamed for turning off the lights.