Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Risky Honeymoon

Eleven years ago this May, my husband and I got married. We didn't want to take an average honeymoon--we wanted something awesome and unusual. I was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and had a soft spot for developing countries, while Jonathan was a former investment banker who traveled to Africa when he suddenly lost his job in the reshuffle of Wall Street in the early 2000s.

(Don't ask me the details of this reshuffle--I was busy saving the world, or at least one little Thai village.)

Anyway, he wanted to show me where he'd gone by himself: Kenya. He took the lead on the honeymoon and scheduled for us to go on a kick-ass safari. Jonathan doesn't do anything second-rate, so I knew I was in good hands. But after planning a wedding and celebrating with our big families, I wanted a part of the honeymoon to be quiet and relaxing. I wanted the beach. Jonathan said there was a good option for that in Kenya, so he arranged for us to spend our first few days and nights as a married couple in a little family-run beach house on Diani Beach.

All of this was well and good, but while I was choosing between peonies and roses, salmon and pork chops, Diani Beach was just a spot on the map.

After those peonies were held and the salmon was consumed, however, Diani Beach became a real destination. Jonathan and I flew into Nairobi, stayed in our secure hotel, then drove us through a not-so-nice part of the country that made me feel very white, rich, privileged and a little guilty.

Diani House was a family-run guest house. The owner and manager spun long stories of how he grew up sleeping with all his cousins on the porch, running to the beach all hours of the day, being wild under the baobab tree, and making memories. We listened to his stories while eating whatever his cook cooked. At the moment, the cook seemed to cook a lot of oysters.

And oysters didn't seem to be his speciality. Or maybe eating oysters wasn't our speciality. Because every time he cooked them, either my husband or I would get sick. It took us only two times--once for Jonathan, once for me--to realize that we shouldn't touch the oysters, no matter how good they sounded or how much we wanted to eat them. Because if we did, we would not be visiting the pleasant, secluded beaches near Diani House. Instead, we would be visiting our modest guest room, where the walls between bedroom and bathroom didn't extend all the way up to the ceiling. The bathroom entrance was a push-only, saloon-style swinging door, which allowed a lot of light, sound, and air to travel between one space and the other.

One of us would lay on the bed, pretending not to hear the other as the oysters returned to haunt us the other from one end or the other. We shook our heads and laughed at this poopy, non-romantic situation and totally understood why most honeymooners choose a fancy western resort of some sort. The kind that keeps bacteria to a minimum and has germs our bodies might high-five out of recognition and affinity.

At times I thought it was a terrible way to begin a marriage. At times, it was the most amazing time of my life. In all, the imperfections created a great opportunity to force us to recalibrate our expectations, to have a sense of humor and laugh specifically at ourselves, to realize we were very lucky even though things were very imperfect.

So really, it was a pretty perfect honeymoon. We just didn't realize it at the time. Sometimes it takes some years to realize what you've got.

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