Interview: Ramona Arena: Go to Kenya for her people

Ramona Arena fell in love with the friendly people of Kenya

A self-confessed travel addict, veejay Ramona Arena ignored the naysayers to visit Kenya

I travel because I love every aspect of it – though not perhaps the visa application process. I travel because I love the planet’s diversity. I can connect with people – sometimes without language, be a part of their lives and lifestyles. When I travel, I lose myself, find myself, leave certain parts of me behind and come back with something new – besides a fridge magnet.

But, when I decided to visit Kenya, I met with a lot of resistance from literally everyone back home: “Don’t go. It’s not safe. But Ebola… But Somali pirates… You’ll be robbed. You’ll be kidnapped…” I could go on. It got worse after the US and UK Embassies issued travel warnings against it. And then again, I would be a single girl, travelling all alone. My mother convinced herself I had a death wish.

So I made my will. And I went to Kenya. One and a half months isn’t nearly enough to experience Kenya. The landscapes – the sea, the hills, the wildlife, the desert, the mountains – are to die for, and the cosmopolitan city of Nairobi has it all. But what really made me fall in love with Kenya was its people.

I was invited by a friend’s friend who works for AMREF, one of the leading health development organisations in Africa, to visit Kibera, Kenya’s biggest slum. I met a 17-year-old who had just given birth to a baby girl. She smiled as she sat with her mother and her newborn baby, happy to share a moment of her life with a stranger. I visited schools in little villages, talked to teachers who constantly interact with local tribes and communities to convince them to get their girls and boys educated.

I was even stranded in the middle of the ocean on a small fishing boat at around 9pm, with just a fisherman and everything around as dark as ebony…

I experienced many such moments with the genuinely warm, open and good people during my time in Kenya. Whether I met them at a five-star hotel or whether they were poor tribals or cab drivers, I found they wanted me – especially as a foreigner – to feel safe, happy and at home. I’m glad I didn’t pay heed to the warnings. It’s good to be aware of situations, but don’t believe everything you’re told. Do your research. Speak to locals, check out Instagram posts and local newspapers, look at the latest traveller reviews. For Kenya, in particular, I will say this: it is as safe as any other country in today’s world. You just have to be smart and alert. If I had underestimated the goodness of so many people who are now friends, I would have missed out on one of the best trips of my life.

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