A Flame Tree Dream Fulfilled

Kenya, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Travel Books & Movies, Volunteering & Giving Back — By on October 3, 2006 at 6:47 am

When the girls and I first began to discuss the itinerary for our year around the world, there were certain locations that each of us just had to visit and specific goals we felt compelled to achieve. For Amanda, it was perfecting her Spanish in Peru; for Holly it was earning her Yoga teaching certificate in Southern India; and for me, it was working as a volunteer in Kenya, Africa. To some that may seem like kind of a random desire, but anyone who’s known me since childhood, or for more than 2 seconds, can tell you why this has been my dream since I was still carrying a lunch box to school. For those of you who don’t know me, I can sum it up in four words – – Flame Trees of Thika. If I’ve lost you at this point, let me take you back to the mid 80s when it all started…

Unlike most of my friends’ parents, mine had this crazy notion that cable television was an unnecessary luxury that I could absolutely live without. As you can imagine, I thought this was the worst idea ever and vehemently protested my opposition. But despite my constant begging and pleading to be “like all my friends”, my Nickelodeon-painted fantasies would sadly never come to fruition. So I became the only kid in my neighborhood with in-depth knowledge of the Saturday night Masterpiece Theatre schedule. While my contemporaries enthusiastically recounted the latest episodes of Double Dare, You Can’t Do That On Television or Finders Keepers, I wisely kept my assessment of BBC staples like Poirot, Mystery and Upstairs Downstairs to myself. I mean, I could be black listed from the playground for such an egregious offense against the kid code of conduct. My mourning over a cable-less household was soon quelled when my parents called me in to the TV room one night to watch a new mini-series with them – one that would stay with me for years to come. At first, I was skeptical. I could barely pronounce the title, Flame Trees of Thika, let alone be excited about it. That all changed after the first scene when I realized that a little girl my age was one of the main characters. Score one for Mom and Dad – finally!

The 8-part series soon became the thing I looked most forward to each week – aside from the ice cream man, later bed times and extended school recess, that is. Based on the true story of Elspeth Huxley, a young girl whose parents moved her from England in 1913 to start a coffee farm in Kenya, Flame Trees of Thika was my first encounter with life in East Africa. I was instantly intrigued by the mysterious culture of the indigenous people, the magnitude of exotic animals roaming freely in the plains and the breathtaking natural beauty of the land. I longed to mingle among the native Kikuyu tribe, explore the vast expanses of wheat-colored savannah and have my very own white pony – just like Elspeth. For the time being, though, I was happy to live vicariously through my newfound heroine. Until, of course, the sad day arrived when the series came to an end. Sobbing uncontrollably to the rhythm of the credits, I was consoled only by my Mom’s insistence that I would be reunited with Flame Trees of Thika again soon (thank God for re-runs). And she was right. But no matter how many hours I logged re-watching my coveted VHS copy of the series in years to come, it never replaced my desire to see Africa for myself. And after almost two decades of planning the pilgrimage in my head, I’ve finally made it to the Kenya I’ve been dreaming about for so long.

Of course, having set such high expectations for this part of the trip, I felt a sudden wave of nervousness come over me as our plane rapidly approached the Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi (which, as a side note, isn’t nearly as scary of a city as it’s reputed to be). What if the country is nothing like I imagined? What if we have an awful time here and my idyllic vision of Kenya is destroyed forever? Luckily, I would soon discover I had absolutely nothing to worry about. The first time I saw the distinctive, sun drenched acacia trees dotting the landscape (you’ve all seen them in movies; they look like huge bonsai trees sculpted into delicate, wispy umbrellas), witnessed a herd of zebras running down the henna-hued mud roads and encountered groups of beautiful, bright-eyed children shyly approaching to shake hands, I knew that my Kenyan experience would be nothing short of what I’d always imagined.

That’s the best thing about traveling. You can become the TV characters you loved as a kid, write a happy ending to your storybook fantasies and find yourself in the strange, exotic lands only seen before in the movies.

Or in my case, a PBS mini-series.

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    3 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Jenba – I am so excited to hear that Africa is living up to your expectations.. I now can’t wait to go myself.. love you!!!

  • LG Mom says:

    Thanks for giving credit where credit is due! Your Dad and I were happy to supply the catalyst for your desire to travel to Kenya. I have to admit I got a little teary-eyed reading this blog entry and seeing the wonderful pictures.

  • -Princess Shin- says:

    Wow.. wat an amazing adventure u gals are embarking on.. do keep us posted on your journeys! Take care! =)