The song is a beautifully harmonized Swahili chant, performed by the married women of Kenya's Samburu tribe to welcome visitors to the manyatta—the village. And today they're singing it for us, an African-American family from Los Angeles on our first safari. As a gesture of respect, I am clad in native dress: a shuka, the large red-and-white cloth worn by Samburu men, and brightly colored tribal beads. My wife, Désirée, and my cousin Lynne wear beaded neck rings, which Samburu women pile up to their chins. The kids—our nine-year-old son, Paris, seven-year-old daughter, Brielle, and five-year-old son, Blake—are sticking to their khakis, but they're mesmerized.
Now the young warriors of the tribe begin their chant, some in long henna-dyed wigs embellished with plastic flowers and chains that loop over their ears and come down under their chins. The wigs are flying as the men leap up in the air and land hard on their heels, a dance originally done to demonstrate strength and agility before a battle. But what we see is more of a social event—sort of a racy sock hop, especially when the eligible women cut in, jerking their heads forward and wagging their bottoms back and forth.
I can't resist joining in, but next to the superlean warriors, I look like Fat Albert. Brielle says, "Daddy, you were the only one whose chest was bouncing up and down!"
I wish my father, Frank, were along to share the laugh. He and his brother, my uncle Bill, always dreamed of seeing the motherland, as they called Africa, and thanks to them, I did, too. I also love the big cats—as a child, I wanted to be a lion tamer—and I've always heard that Kenya is the place to see them. When Blake turned five, Désirée and I decided our family was ready for the trek; sadly, my uncle had passed away by then, and my dad, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was too busy to join us.
Researching the trip, we discovered that many safari outfitters have a minimum age requirement of eight or even 12, but the company we signed with, Micato, was happy to customize a 10-day adventure in June for our young family and Lynne, who lives with us and helps with the children. On the itinerary: Nairobi and three game reserves, with 14 game drives (our group would just fit in a safari jeep). Action-packed, yes, but at our request, days would start at 8:30 instead of dawn.