Following the visit of our friend Richie to Kenya, our unadulterated ecstasy from an amazing time away was abruptly halted and we were all rudely brought back down to earth with the news that Corona virus or Covid-19 was gripping the world, and that there was free fall into world wide lockdown. We were authorised to travel back to Nanyuki from Samburu and Richie was able to frantically rearrange flights to get himself home to Australia. This was just as well given that news came on 23rd March 2020 from the prime minister Boris Johnson that the UK was being put into a state of lock down in attempts to slow the rate of infection. Australia was on similar terms. This was rapidly followed by the news that Kenya was being put into partial lockdown and by midnight on Wednesday 25th March 2020, Kenya closed its international airport and all flights were suspended. Borders around the world were closed. There were to be no social gatherings at all, all schools were immediately closed along with restaurants, cafe’s, pubs, clubs and bars. Overnight curfews were imposed and all travel in and out of major cities banned. Social distancing was to take place. This was strictly enforced by the not so friendly Kenyan Police and there has been much indignation at their heavy handedness who have at times, been described as somewhat ruthless and even brutal by the Kenyan nationals.
Then came the news that the Nomadic Family Unit had been dreading. Due to the unprecedented global effects of Covid-19, the UK government had ordered the extraction of all families and non-essential personnel back to the UK albeit on a temporary basis. Foreign embassies had already evacuated many of their citizens so as to avoid people getting stuck in Kenya. Not only is there a lack of proper health care in Kenya, there was a perceived reluctance to adhere to curfews and social distancing, and there was and still is a very real concern of civil unrest. The poor will only get poorer whilst being deprived of their income and starvation is a serious threat. Along with that may come an increase in crime as people struggle to feed themselves and their families. Hygiene is difficult to maintain when there is a lack of drinking water, never mind water to wash with. That said, this 3rd world country is used to dealing with epidemics and disease so one would hope that the country can shut down Covid-19 swiftly. That will depend very much on whether they can survive the locust swarms and the flooding that the country is having to deal with on top of the pandemic.
So came Operation Pineapple. The exit from Kenya which, assisted by the British Army was to be as orderly as possible in the circumstances and it was indeed, arranged with military precision. On Saturday 11th April 2020, after a quick rub of the furry Nomadic children’s heads, I left home in the dead of the night in order to rendezvous at a designated ‘reception centre.’ Mr Nomad and I went to the army barracks at 0330 hrs where I was to be loaded onto a bus. I had already attended at the barracks earlier that day in order to have health checks and administrative checks and to load baggage onto military trucks. I would not see my luggage again until I had reached the UK. There were numerous coaches made available for travel to enable compliance with social distancing, so people could sit 2 metres apart from each other (unless in the same family), and there were also spare coaches accompanying us on our journey in case of breakdowns or incidents. There was a rather large convoy made up of numerous coaches and the trucks carrying baggage, freight, cargo all destined for the UK. Owing to the volume of traffic and people being moved, and that we were moving during the hours of the imposed curfew and given that travel in and out of Nairobi was ordinarily banned, our passage was made safe and effective by the Royal Military Police and an escort from armed guards. Never had I been on such a bewildering journey.
I had been referred to as ‘Packet 1’ on this leg of the journey and this was only the first part of what felt like a cattle run. The Commander BATUK, Colonel Paul Gilby had warned us previously that this universal situation had to be treated like a war, and although I was reasonably comfortable and treated well, I could only imagine how it had felt many years before for people in a worse situation than me in actual war times. A small child on the coach that I was travelling on became travel sick and as she vomited on the bus, it was a sobering reminder that this was all incredibly unsettling and upsetting. We were after all, being removed from our homes and for some of us, being taken away from our loved ones and returning to a country in the midst of a pandemic, unable to take with us our creature comforts, not knowing where we were to end up and how long we were destined to be left in such limbo. I felt a little like the locust stuck to the coach window – lonely and alone, well out of my comfort zone, clinging on for dear life but being battered at every turn.
After being referred to as ‘Packet 1’ on the road trip, at the airport, I became ‘Chalk 1.’ We disembarked the coaches into a deserted airport. We were fed and watered adequately while we milled around aimlessly, waiting to be herded onto an RAF flight. As the airport was closed, it was like a ghost town and we had free run of the place. But this was where I had to say my goodbyes to Mr Nomad. This was incredibly upsetting as we have no idea as to when we will be reunited and such uncertainty is distressing. That said, we reminded ourselves that we were in good health and this was only another adventure to be lived until we could be together again.
‘Chalk 1’ was called forward and we boarded the plane. The flight back to the UK was long but uneventful and we eventually landed on UK soil at approximately 2330hrs. It was exhausting but not over. After the long wait to recover our luggage, we were rounded up onto yet another coach and after being referred to as ‘Packet 1’, followed by ‘Chalk 1’, I then became ‘Group 3’. All very confusing but I was too tired to take much notice. We were ferried to accommodation called Hythe Mess in Army barracks known as Waterloo Lines in Warminster. We arrived at this destination at around 0300hrs so the journey had taken 23 1/2 hours and I had only managed an hours nap on the plane so I was feeling a little fraught at this point. As soon as my head touched the pillow in the temporary accommodation, I lapsed into a coma and slept soundly until breakfast.
The following day was spent in numerous briefings about the new rules and regulations in the UK and expectations throughout the duration of our stay and then we headed off to our final destination – our new home for at least 3 months. At this point on Sunday 12th April 2020, Kenya had only 164 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and had suffered only 1 death. The UK had 84,279 confirmed infections and sustained 10,612 deaths. The figures between the UK and Kenya are vastly adrift and my only hope is that Kenya does not follow the same curve as the UK. I am of course, British and therefore a citizen of the UK but my home is where my husband is. One can only wait and see.
I arrived in Larkhill in Wiltshire maybe an hour or so after this and was welcomed into my new home by my new house mate, Hayley. It was Easter weekend and she made us an Easter dinner, washed down with Prosecco to numb the pain of separation.
The house has been provided to us by the British Army and it is a brand new property on a new development. It has been fully furnished for our comfort. Its just missing dirty paw prints in the kitchen, slobbery kisses, muddy rugs and smelly dog hair that gets everywhere and then it would be more like home.
It is situated on the edge of Salisbury plains and a mere half an hour walk from Stonehenge so although I felt out of my depth upon my arrival having never spent much time in the South of England, it’s a beautiful area and I look forward to exploring whilst treating this whole experience as just another adventure. Its just a different kind of safari.
It breaks my heart that Mr Nomad was left behind in Kenya, taking sole care of our mischievous furry babies and maintaining security in a foreign and volatile country. I will continue to fly the flag for the Nomadic Family Unit and hope that peace and stability remains in Kenya so that my return will be sooner rather than later.
For now, this is not goodbye but merely see you later. Or in Kiswahili, its not ‘Kwaheri’, but merely ‘Tuonane Baadai’