I once had the privilege and pleasure of being Administrative Secretary of the Kenya Society! It afforded me the opportunity of meeting lots of wonderful Kenyans, former expats and so on.
I was born in South Africa of liberal British parents. At the age of 13 I was dragged over to England to be ‘educated’ and have the South African accent knocked out of me! I battled through a good private education, for which I was only grateful much later in life, but I never really felt much more than a fish out of water here. After a 9 to 5 existence in London as a secretary, I found more interesting work in Europe, first as a cook/hostess for young villa and chalet parties in Spain, Andorra, Crete and Switzerland. That was certainly excellent domestic training for a girl spoiled by staff during her South African upbringing.
During my time in London, I became an active member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and often left my office job at 5pm to do the secretarial work of the then head of the movement – Peter Hain (later, Labour minister Lord Hain!). We had a dream. That Nelson Mandela would be freed, so it was an unimaginable dream when he became president of the land of my birth! I have always hated oppression and injustice and that is most often directed at the most vulnerable and least powerful.
In the late 1970s I had had enough of life in England and, after an amazing holiday in Kenya where I stayed with an old college friend, I decided to emigrate there – much to the disappointment of my parents. However, after a few years, they realised it was the best thing I could have done. I grew in confidence among the colour and warmth of Kenya and its people and, after a rough start as a locally-employed secretary for UNEP, managed to get back into tourism. I eventually became a safari guide, when tourism was booming, and I thought I had the best job in the world. I guided groups of Americans, Brits, French and Spanish all over Kenya and, eventually, into Tanzania. However, Immigration could no longer allow me to have a work permit as, quite rightly, Kenyanisation was underway. I returned to England, where I set up my own little tour company – Cara Spencer Safaris. I made very little money from it but loved it! The two highlights were being asked to arrange the first ‘Born Free’ safaris to Kenya by Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers of ‘Born Free’ fame, as well as the 65th anniversary of the Kenya Regiment. We hosted nearly 100 veterans from around the world at Turtle Bay Beach Hotel in Watamu. It was a huge success.
Missing Africa again – and with Nelson Mandela now president of South Africa – I returned to South Africa in 1995. (I have dual British/South African citizenship). Eventually, I became a registered tourist guide and, unusually for a South African, I speak French and Spanish, which secured me plenty of work. I escorted groups all over South Africa and across the border into Zimbabwe. However, I began to realise I wasn’t very South African anymore and my work was being taken over by more and more bored housewives etc. It was becoming impossible to pay the mortgage on my Cape Town flat. I returned to England.
I then became an international tour manager for Thomas Cook and Titan Tours, escorting British groups to Canada, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, China, New Zealand, France and also to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa!
I retired from that and tried to settle in England. However, I have found that impossible and am now planning to return to live in Kenya – if it will allow me to! I dream of those friendly faces, the highlands climate of Nairobi, the colourful tropical gardens, the warm swimming water – and going on safari….
Watch this space…..