We came to Kenya so I could exorcise ghosts and drink Tusker beers.
And also, because, well, it’s Kenya. Land of the big five, golden beaches, and friendly local people.
But this time it was mostly about the beer. And the story.
For those who have heard me tell this story in person, I apologize for the redundancy, but here it is again. True to a word, and now made public.
The year was 1983, and we had arrived in Kenya for R&R (rest and relaxation) from Dad’s engineering job in Saudi Arabia. We typically took a couple of vacations each year. By necessity, one had to involve coming home to the States for visa and citizenship purposes, but the other was an adventure to far-flung locations. Egypt, Austria, Thailand.
For this trip, Mom and Dad had decided we would experience a safari in Kenya.
I was fourteen at the time, and my brother, Steve, was a year younger. We were already certified scuba divers and had spent one morning diving with Dad off the Kenyan coast near the tropical paradise that is Malindi. After the dive, we made our way back to the beachside bungalows where we were staying.
Lounging by the pool, Dad ordered beers for all three of us. There was only one type of beer to be found in Kenya at the time. Tusker. And they arrived ice-cold in liter-sized glass bottles.
It was my first official beer. Ordered in public. Like a grownup.
Dad took the European approach to alcohol. A glass of wine or beer with a meal. Or as a celebration for a job well done. Never in excess, but not something to be feared either. He preached a mantra of moderation.
As we talked about the dive and enjoyed the beers, two beautiful, young German women walked up from the beach, passing us on the way to the outdoor showers next to the pool.
“Guten tag,” they smiled and waved as they passed us. Like two angels. Or sirens.
We couldn’t find the words to return the greeting, but simply watched them walk over to the showers and remove their bikinis, washing the sand off themselves and their bathing suits. Nonplussed and transfixed. Powerless against the forces of full-blown adolescence, I stared as if observing a movie in slow motion.
All conversation at our table had ceased.
A thousand heartbeats later, the women finished showering and slipped their bikinis back on. They walked past our table again and, unperturbed at our gawking stares, they smiled and waved, “Guten tag.”
Dumbfounded silence our only reply.
And then they were gone.
All three of us started, like we had been doused in cold water. Shaking off the spell. Coming back around to reality.
And my younger brother, recovering quickest, nonchalantly reached for his oversized beer.
“Well, I think I’ll have another Tusker!” Steve exclaimed.
Dad is gone now. But, for me, a part of him still lives on beside that pool in Malindi, Kenya. Lasting only a few minutes, it’s one of the seminal moments in my life. My father’s loving indulgence for his two sons. My brother’s quick wit. The surprising beauty that the world shows us if only we have the courage to find seek it out.
Innocence and adulthood and becoming what we once were not.
Yes, brother, I think I’ll have another Tusker.