So I’m sat here, at the legendary Tea Hotel in Kericho, Western Kenya. This wonderful little place has been my home for the last 2 weeks – we’ve been through a week of training with 18 extremely bright ‘first class’ international students from UK universities, and this week they’ve started working with around 50 micro-entrepreneurs supporting them to innovate and launch or grow their businesses. It’s been a full on schedule, I’ve almost always been ‘on call’ – so I’ve been waiting for the right moment to post an introduction to my new surroundings.
Sat here on the patio terrace, in front of the lush green gardens that sit adjacent to the kilometre long tea fields I found myself tuning in my senses, seeking inspiration. The badly dubbed McGeiver style TV show running on the black box in the bar became replaced by a variety of different chirps from birds that I previously could not hear. Different melodies struck me and as I remembered how the Tea Hotel is famed for its rare species of birds, 161 one of them in fact, two little birds – one black and white, and one with yellow on its tail, started flying round me.
Feeling like a character from a Disney movie, one of the birds flew onto my table, trotted about and sniffed around my place of grilled lime soaked Lake Victoria Talapia fish bones and looked right at me. I popped an imaginary pen in my mouth, looked skyward for a moment; then grabbed my laptop and started writing.
Tea Hotel was built in 1945 by that big ole household goods company, Unilever.
Unilever had just bought Brooke Bond tea, a huge tea brand from the war era that is still around in certain parts of Asia. Brooke Bond was the output of the world famous tea plantations here in Kericho, a tea brand that would eventually become PG Tips. Once they had acquired Brooke Bond, Unilever needed an upmarket venue to entertain guests to Kenya and so they built the illustrious Tea Hotel, a veritable spot at the top of a valley with tea fields stretching all the way down to the bottom of what looks like classic British rolling countryside.
Tea Hotel was built to impress – and its vast ballroom-like living room with 50’s Danish style plush green velvet wooden chairs and sofas exude the best of retro glamour. I really wanna take a chair home!
In the lobby, curious taxidermy adorns the walls – one piece in particular tickles guests with two green light bulbs poking out the eyes.
The gift shop sells cheap Swahili language books, overpriced bottled water and typical Kenyan jewelry, sarongs and animal shaped souveniers. A group of independent souvenier sellers sit under the old petrol station style covering along the long drive that leads up to the hotel entrance, and they have been teaching me Kiswahili every day as I walk past.
Habari zu Jambo!
I have no idea if I’m saying that right – and my dialogue tends to be a string of any words I can think of with the odd Poa (cool!) thrown in for good measure.
Monkeys dance from tile to tile on the red rooftop of the main house, and yellow breasted birds play games with each other as they flit from tree to tree. Yellow and brown butterflies flutter, swoop and drop past my head – and as I turn to watch them fly off I really see the pinks and yellows of the flowers pop in the background.
The sound of monkeys guffawing at each other playfully gets louder as the sun ducks behind some cloud and a cold wind sweeps in.
It’s probably going to rain.
It’s not rained in nearly 3 days – a record breaking length in the few weeks I’ve been here. The glorious sunshine and decent 25 degree weather has created a hiatus from the afternoon damp that often descends upon us.
On average it rains approximately every two days here in Kericho. It’s a great day if it doesn’t bucket down, causing torrential floods of brown sludge to pour down the main road outside the hotel that leads to Kericho town. My white canvas trainers are now brown-red: but there’s no shortage of shoe cleaners in town to take them back to their former glory.
Much like the arrival of 22 Mzungu’s.
Us Mzungus (meaning white person) – have brought a touch of glamour back to the old hotel. With its crumbling walls, faded paint and water stained ceilings Tea now has a new face – the class of Balloon Kericho 2014. A glamourous – but studious and considerate – bunch who’s desires to make a difference to local people’s lives are bringing a new light to this town.
It’s hard to imagine that I shall be here till late September (just under another 3 months) – but I shall. It’s such a random place to reside, incredibly beautiful, steeped in post-colonial history that you can feel is still held in the walls. Amazing staff mean I’m having a comfortable stay so I’m a lucky lucky lady.
I have a whole new set of ‘friends’ from the hotel staff – Robert the guy who serves my breakfast who tells me long stories; Fanwel, the waiter always in a green waistcoat, Handsome our chirpy housekeeper (technically called Hanson), the bubbly Joyce on reception and the Security Guard (closest thing to innocent eye candy round here. Although we only ever say Jambo!); plus the international fellows – and of course my roomie (Kiran); I think I’m going to be okay.
Disney moment over – it’s just started to rain.
Time for tea.