Rita the waitress was bubblier than a bottle of local Tusker beer. With a flourish, she threw back the cover of a bowl to reveal half-a-dozen toasted sandwiches. ‘What sort of sandwiches?’ she was asked. ‘Carrot,’ she beamed. ‘And what’s with the carrot?’ ‘Two carrots,’ she replied triumphantly.
That was a taste of the wonderful humour that was to accompany me throughout my nine-day safari seeking All The President’s Grannies.
Returning to his roots: A youthful Barack Obama on a visit to his Kenyan family with, from left, Granny Sarah, sister Alma and stepmother Zezia
I was in East Africa – and having a grand old time – all because America elected Barack Obama President and enterprising British businessman and charity worker Tim Fox spotted an opportunity.
Despite media reports that America’s first black leader hates the British, his family love ’em, and have joined forces with former YMCA executive Fox to bring Britons to Kenya to meet the clan.
I was among the first to wander the Obama heritage trail, although the family of America’s 44th President hope that many thousands more will soon be beating a path to their ancestral homes near Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile.
That’s my boy: Barack Obama visiting Granny Sarah in Kenya in 2006
The trail takes visitors on an incredible journey through the dirt-poor western region of Kenya to see the mud-hut background of the world’s most powerful man, but it’s all done at a pole-pole (that’s Swahili for slowlyslowly) pace.
On hand to greet you will be the President’s Number One Granny, Sarah, plus other family members . . . including five other grannies living in a family compound on the Lake’s Kendu Bay. This is the same collection of humble homes in which Barack proposed to his then girlfriend Michelle. And the same simple, dignified folk who gave the union their traditional blessing will almost certainly be there when you are.
Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother was from Kansas and his father from Kenya. They divorced when Barack was small and his father eventually returned to Kenya, dying in a car accident in 1982.
Barack, who was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, made his first visit to Kenya to meet his paternal family in 1988.
Fox, who lives in Hertfordshire, has managed to steal a march on some of the world’s leading tour companies by joining forces with the President’s cousin, 29-year-old Roy Obama – a key member of the sprawling Obama clan.
Roy’s father is Wilfred Obama, one of the three founding members of the Obama Opiyo Foundation which has been set up in memory of the dynasty’s original patriarch, Opiyo, in order to help impoverished local people. The Foundation has the blessing of not only the President, but of Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.
Roy and Tim have set up Kogelo Tours, named after the village in which Granny Sarah still lives.
Just before I arrived, President Barack annoyed me slightly by berating British Petroleum over the Gulf oil leak, before demanding billions of dollars in compensation. And then, as soon as I met his Granny, she got my goat, too. Literally. For the tradition here in the dark heart of Africa is to take your host an offering of a goat. And I’d just spent a happy half-hour in the local market haggling for the best billy I could find – one with a goatee beard as good as my own.
Fishermen return in their boats from fishing in Lake Victoria while women prepare to sell the catch
Fortunately, my choice was perfect – and Granny Sarah, the 89-year-old who had pride of place at her grandson’s inauguration ceremony, chuckled delightedly at my gift. Granny Sarah, who has a hotline to Washington, still lives in her traditional modest bungalow. But within days of Barack being elected to the world’s most powerful office, the dirt road to it was upgraded, security fences installed and electricity, water and telephone laid on. And, oh yes, a police camp was set up outside the perimeter and she was given her own personal bodyguard. Power does that, even in a poverty-stricken rural background.
But despite her head-spinning life change, Granny remains warm and welcoming – even though she has lost count of the visitors who have been to see her. And, of course, it helps if you are accompanied by her favourite grandson.
Roy is the perfect tour guide on this unique cultural travel experience. For no sooner had we seen one granny than we were off to see another. The Clan’s traditional base is about two hours’ drive away from Granny Sarah, at Kendu Bay on the world’s secondlargest freshwater lake, and, because of the complex family structure in this tribal area – the Obamas are Luos – the President has five other ‘grannies’ living on the sprawling riverside family complex, which is soon to be home to a mausoleum and visitor centre dedicated to the dynasty’s founder Obama Opiyo, great-grandfather of the President.
As we waited for Roy’s father Wilfred – the President’s half-brother – and his wife to prepare us lunch, granny Penina peeled vegetables and beamed her toothy approval. The floors were dirt, cows and chickens roamed freely and grandchildren played hoopla with an old tyre. This was a world away from the White House. Yet within the compound stood the mud shack where the President proposed to his bride when he was a Senator. History you can touch. And taste. The menu was a tantalising catfish dish from the river – which also serves as a family bath – with veggies prepared by another granny and peanuts picked fresh from the garden. The base for this unique experience is Martha’s Guest House in the village of Mundeku, about halfway between the two family properties and an hour or so from Kenya’s third-largest city, Kisumu. And even this very modest establishment has been dusted with history.
The guest house is owned by Prime Minister Odinga’s wife’s uncle, Gibson – and his father was accompanying the then Princess Elizabeth on a visit to a game lodge called Treetops when she was given the news of her father’s death. She had to dash back to Britain to become Queen and was unable to keep a promise to visit the guest house. Instead, she sent her sister, Princess Margaret (or Margrate as the sign on her bedroom door has it) who, in 1956, officially opened the establishment.
A Queen, a Princess, a Prime Minister and a President all featuring in an adventure out of Africa. Can it get better? Well, just a little. Roy Obama and Tim Fox, who has been appointed an elder of the local Luhya tribe, intend to donate a chunk of the proceeds from their tourism venture to local schools, clinics and an orphanage, and some will even go to improve conditions in Kibera – the world’s second-largest slum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, through which most visitors will travel.
Hopefully, President Obama will be proud of this little bit of BP…British Patronage.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1299403/The-Obama-Tour-Meeting-presidents-relatives-Kenya.html#ixzz5EmrOX6zb