It is dark on the road to Lake Naivasha. Proper dark. No streetlights or ambient urban glow. Are we there yet? is the repeated soundtrack from our two children in the back after two hours of potholes and passing cars with their high beams defiantly fixed in place. Children dart across the tired dirt roads, nearly too quickly for my reflexes. A dazzle of zebras off the side of the road – the perfect collective noun.
We arrive. The house is glorious; a rambling nine-bedroom yellow house on the bank of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley. Built in the style of an Austrian hunting lodge, we read. It has its own 2000-acre wildlife conservancy, and Ernest Hemmingway, Evelyn Waugh, and Winston Churchill have all reportedly stayed here. I don’t see any fences. That sound was definitely a hyena.
Friends crowd the dining table, and a roar of welcome matches the fire. Our young children immediately fold into the frenetic gang of kids from multiple nations and disappear into the inky evening. I pause on the thought of no fences. What is the collective noun for happy children who do not want to be anywhere else in the world? Probably not ‘frenetic gang’. A content? A fortunate?
The next morning, we wake to birdsong. There is a dog-eared birdwatching book here, and after two years in Kenya I can now decipher its codes and abbreviations. Hornbills, hawks, and starlings. Bee-eaters and rollers. I am now a bird person. A birder. I wasn’t one before moving to Kenya.
A lazy breakfast in the rolling garden. We’ve all gathered here for our friend’s 40th birthday. A shimmering lake. Blue sky. We are in an amphitheater of volcanic hills. Acacia trees, fish eagles, submerged hippos offering their flickering ears, impalas, two giraffes, all within eyesight in our fenceless patch of the world. Our children are elated. I notice my four-year-old son has become exceedingly polite. Did you know there were hyenas last night Dad and would you like me to chase them away for you?
My favourite podcast at the moment is Outrage and Optimism. It’s a weekly round-up of what has made the hosts feel either outraged or optimistic – or both – that week in the climate change story. Every episode helps me edge a bit closer to mentally dealing with this crisis. The hosts recently interviewed the American actor Ted Danson, and I learnt that he and his friends started the Ocean Conservancy back in the 80s – a global NGO that I respect. I work in this space and had no idea.
Ted sagely offered his life work’s conclusion about the need for all humans to acknowledge our spiritual connection to each other and to the planet, as well as to be led by science. Only then (Ted suggests) can we really make inroads into addressing our increasingly dire environmental challenges. Science and spirituality. I lap it up.
And in the present? Lunch in the garden. Another impossible blue sky. I share Ted’s idea with my wife, who (like me) works for the UN. She designs communication campaigns on climate change, to shift attitudes and change behaviours while trying to stay positive. She says something about how that introspective, philosophical stuff plays well for people like me but is counter-productive when we push it to the middle Americas of the world. To people that swing elections, the people that matter right now in the final runway to an historic Presidential election. The difference between outrage and optimism. Please more about new clean jobs and economic recovery. Please less philosophy, she says. She is probably right. Still, Ted Danson. My new spiritual hero.
That afternoon, while my family go on a drive, I take advantage of an uninterrupted solo kip in a king-size bed. They come back to share an excited tale of a baby giraffe not more than two hours old, its umbilical cord still attached, placenta hanging, gangly legs. Protective mother. My six-year old daughter and her new six-year old friend make increasingly garrulous giraffe bottom jokes. They are trying to both impress and out-do each other. An adult says something about the danger zone for the giraffe and risk of hyenas in the night. Both children stop. Soon after, it’s time for the birthday cake.
Saturday evening is fancy pants – that’s the theme. There are candy cane stripey pants, silvery plas, luminous green pants, floral wax pants from Benin, my purple pants, and regular shorts. My wife’s sunburn from the afternoon meant a long dress. Meaningful speeches. There is another feast. There are cocktails mixed with the care of a chef. There are stories and questions, and new friendships.
We dance on a springy wooden floor around a hearth (the fireplace is so big it needs to be called a hearth). Parents of the youngest are summoned periodically by baby monitors and return. Is that a hyena again? Suddenly, it is 2AM. I’m ready for bed.
Young children never sleep in. Sunday morning is a slow breakfast, rich Kenyan coffee, and lazing by a stone pool encased by jacaranda trees and bougainvillea. Purple and red. The sky remains impossibly blue. The drive back to our house and two dogs in Nairobi is relentless. Are we there yet? returns, but with less commitment. Tomorrow I have a call with my team at the UN to plan a global judicial symposium. It’s on the role of judges in addressing climate change. I send them the link to the podcast. I ask them to listen to it.
ANDY RAINE is a curious environmentalist who loves nature, people, big dogs, and cold beers. And lots of other things. He is an international environmental lawyer and has been working for the United Nations for most of his career, with postings in New York, Bangkok, and now Nairobi. Before that he worked for law firms in London and Melbourne, with adventures and volunteer stints in between in Cambodia and Kenya. His purpose and passion is to do whatever he can to support humanity to transition to a clean, just, and sustainable future. He and his wonderful wife Josie have two young children - Stella and Harry - and two big dogs - Tusker and Scout.
(Image [altered]: elCarito)