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The other side of the Macaires

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 15 – With two pre-teen daughters, a colony of rabbits, three chicken, four tortoises and two dogs, British High Commissioner to Kenya Rob Macaire and his wife Alice definitely have their hands full after a long day at work.

The family, which first came to Kenya in mid 2008, had previously lived in India and the US where the ambassador served as a diplomat.

Alice, whose parents lived and worked in southern Africa during the first six years of her life, was thrilled when her husband received his Kenyan posting.

And although her first experience in the country was embarrassing, Alice would not let it hold her back.

"I was the first one to come down so when I went to the British High Commission for the first time I was absolutely desperate to make a good impression but I tripped at the doorstep. I hoped no one saw but it is a glass fronted building," she says before bursting out into laughter.

Macaire and their sporty daughters, Nell and Molly, soon followed and they too fell in love with the country.

They have so far gone camping in Lake Magadi, visited the Lake Nakuru National Park, Mt Longonot, Mombasa and even Turkana.

Macaire, who marks his 45th birthday this year, says he intends to make a proper trip up north before his term in the Kenyan office comes to an end.  He is currently half way through his term.

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"The hills in Laikipia are spectacular but there are so many beautiful places in this country and it is hard to single them out. The list is endless but sometimes you get the feeling that Kenyans\’ standards of beauty are a bit higher than ours," he quips.

Other than the country\’s landscapes, Macaire says he admires the spirit and nature of Kenyans. Alice echoes his sentiments.

"The most impressive thing about this country is some of the individuals I have met; people caught up in low incomes with little prospects but with an amazing sense of ambition and drive," he notes.

The family\’s exploratory ventures have not been limited to the trips and tours. They have done nyama choma and a variety of other local cuisines while Alice has taken time off to learn Kiswahili.

"You can\’t be here and not try nyama choma and get into that greasy fingers and the aching belly at the end of the evening when you\’ve stuffed it all down," says Macaire.

But while Macaire is into nyama choma, Alice prefers to sit down with the average Kenyan family and share a meal.

"I would say that the food is just a component but it\’s the people that you\’re eating it with that actually are important. We like it when people invite us to their homes for a dinner or lunch," she says.

The couple which first met in Romania, where Alice\’s parents worked as doctors, likes to take walks and play polo with their daughters, which Macaire admits he is not good at.

"As a family we just don\’t like to sit still; we\’ve always been keen on horse riding and we are doing that here…incredibly badly I have to say. If there\’s any sport I play, I play it very badly indeed – but usually with enthusiasm," he says.

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Macaire also says that their friends and relatives from the UK visit from time to time mostly when winter grips the United Kingdom.

"We\’ve had lots and lots of our relations coming out to see us and it\’s amazing how, particularly, at this time of the year this number increases. Sometimes because of being busy in the UK you don\’t get time to socialise," says Macaire.

The family\’s love for nature has also seen it adopt the Karura Forest which has become Alice\’s pet project.

To boost the security in the forest, Alice convinced the East African Breweries Limited to put up a fence around it at a total cost of Sh8.5 million.  She also persuaded the British Army to train the new forest scouts, who are recruited from the local community.

Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai also gave her support for the initiative.

"We wanted to explore and close to where we live was this forest but we were told it was very dangerous and we drove up to the Kenya Forest Conservancy where I met Charity Manyasa and she said that she needed help to make the forest safe," she says. 

"Charity kept driving me down to see the different bits and I even met the communities living there. The initiative has grown up and the perceptions about it have changed. In fact we even have an open day on February 26/27," she says with pride.

Macaire is definitely proud of his wife who turns 46 this year, and with good reason.

From the naming of their pet tortoises- Speedy, Gonzalez, Lightning and Flash- to the responses they gave throughout the interview, it is obvious that Macaire and his wife have a hearty sense of humour which would keep anyone entertained.

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