Last weekend I got a huge return on investment that felt like I had won a lottery. I have bought The Standard newspaper over the years but I must confess not as much as other publications. The Standard newspaper now costs 60 bob yet they gave me a treat that’s worth a few hundred times more in value. The Standard Group is celebrating 100 years of existence this year. I was lucky to be invited to their centenary celebrations by virtue of serving at Kenya golf union One hundred years of being in existence is no mean feat to accomplish.
All I was required to do is confirm that I’m available to go to Sarova Saltlick lodge last Sato to return Sunday on a fully paid weekend. It’s not common to get such treats so I confirmed, packed an adventurous spirit and showed up at their offices to board the SGR. These guys had gone all out. We were transported to the Nairobi terminus, checked into first class and fed all the way to the Voi station. I went easy on the hot, boiled eggs though for obvious reasons.
They had a whole coach on the train arranged with screens and huge walled photos of the 100-year journey that the company has been on. It was clear that the history of the Standard Group is closely intertwined with the Nairobi-Mombasa railway. From the man-eaters of Tsavo to the World War One fight over the Taita hills, all those were reported by The Standard newspaper that was at that time called the East African Standard.
Walking through that carriage was like going through a time capsule. There were black and white photos of people, buildings and scenes that all happened in the last one hundred years. I remember a photo of a train on a wooden bridge that’s joining what looks like two cliffs. That must have taken so much effort and skill to do back then. Maybe some Indians who toiled to build that bridge didn’t live to see the train cross it as they were dinner for the man-eating lions one evening.
After taking it all in, I went back to my red comfortable seat and thought, what would folks say about me if my life was displayed to them a hundred years from now? Would I be worthy of a celebration like this in the first place, even on a much smaller scale? Folks, what we do in our daily lives may seem insignificant at the moment, but we may just be doing things of eternal value. You may pay fees for a poor kid and move on yet that may be your children’s president 40 years from now.
We arrived Voi at about noon and proceeded to board buses that took us 56 kilometres to our hotels. The green, lush plains and steep, rocky hills that disappeared into the clouds were very scenic. Looking at them through the big windows of our slow-moving bus felt like watching National Geographic on 4D. The smooth winding Taita road made the experience better.
We arrived at Sarova Taita Hills to a hearty welcome from a local traditional dance group, got briefed by the MC on some housekeeping matters and proceeded to have lunch. Some of us had been booked at the Saltlick Lodge so we were taken there after lunch to check in and freshen up in readiness for the evening programme. That was my first time to Saltlick and it did not disappoint.
Firstly, the whole lodge appears suspended above ground which gives one a great view of the savannah. Secondly and more exciting was the watering hole right below us. Within a short time, a huge heard of buffalos came for an afternoon drink. They were so close I could smell them from the raised balcony. Before we could get over the excitement of being up-close with the buffaloes, a herd of elephants crushed the party and shooed away the buffalos so as to get a drink. They were so hyper and drank as if happy hour was about to end.
Again I have never been this close to the biggest mammal on earth. In fact, if the huge bull leading the herd stretched his trunk to us we would have touched it. Yaani seeing two of the big five this close minutes after arriving at the lodge was so cool. It’s like the animals were part of the centenary celebrations. They had come for the hang too together with their kids.
We had a good evening of drinks, a huge dinner spread and some good banter on the reflections of the 100-year journey and the future they want to create. I particularly liked that the CEO Orlando, and some of the panellists highlighted that the company has the responsibility of helping achieve the SDGs, and not just drown us with endless politics of the day. I know it’s a tricky balance focusing on uplifting people’s lives through poverty eradication, education and the likes on one hand, and feeding Kenyans a dose of their daily addiction that is politics of the nation. Either way we cannot justify our existence if we only derive profits from the communities we operate in, but neglect impacting those same communities positively by improving their quality of life.
After the dinner program, I ended my evening with some delicious fruit platter dessert courtesy of Sarova catering and proceeded to board the bus back to saltlick lodge some seven kilometres away. I settled down in my room and fell asleep to the distant roar of a lion. It was such a content moment of being an African in wild Africa. I felt alive and grateful for who and where I am. Folks, what will those who come after us say or see about our lives long after we’re gone? Will we be worth celebrating? Or even remembering? Will they be glad we took photos of some of our life’s highlights and thank Google for saving them in the cloud (no saving on paper like back in the day)? May they be glad that we are here now and not regret that we came before them.
Happy birthday Standard Group and thanks again for invite to celebrate with you. Here’s to another 100 years. Cheers.