My passion is to make a difference

Saturday March 16 2013

By PATRICIA

I was born and raised a city girl in Breschia, near Milano, Italy. I was always interested in the big city, big parties, never camping or outdoors. I was a trained lawyer from a privileged background.

When I met my husband, Luca, 20 years ago, he warned me; “Don’t fall in love with me — my dream is to go and live in Africa.” I thought he was just a dreamer, but he kept speaking about building an eco-lodge in Maasailand. I eventually realised that he was serious.

The day came when he sold his business and moved out here. I decided to come with him. I am the sort of person who likes to be involved from the ground up. If I had waited and come once it was completed, I would never have really been a part of it. And I knew that if we could survive this, ours would prove to be true love.

When we moved here there was nothing. It was msituni kabisa. We did not hire a contractor — we built the lodge ourselves together with the Maasai community, learning the needed skills along the way. I slept and lived in a little tent for two years.

No water, no electricity, nothing. I did not speak any English and among the Maasai, only one in 30 people spoke English. It was tough not being able to communicate.

Often in those early days, I was alone in my tent in the middle of the wilderness, with lions outside, with my husband away in Nairobi fetching building materials. I remember crying and being so homesick. It was really tough and I did not know I had it in me to survive... but today when I look back, I have only beautiful memories.

Clear vision

Once I understood what we were doing, I had no moments of doubt. We kept on building and from that tiny tent, we moved to the suite tent, then our daughter Lucrezia was born. When she was two, we moved to the house.

Within six months, I was speaking Kiswahili. I trained our staff to set the table properly, to serve guests, to make a hotel bed, to prepare pasta from scratch.

Even when it was all just bush, we knew exactly how the lodge would look like in the end. Our clear vision kept us focused. Ours was one of the first camps in Kenya to employ women. I had big fights with the elders of the Maasai community in those early days.

They would not let the women work, but I insisted. Most other camps employed only men to avoid conflict. But women are the backbone of the family and they are very prudent with their money, unlike men. Given a chance, women work for the good of the whole community.

Sadly, my father did not agree with what I was doing. He came to visit during the initial stages and found us living in a tent in the middle of nowhere. He thought Luca was mad. He tried to convince me that I would not be happy in the bush and that I should return to my life. In the end we disagreed because I felt that I could make my own decisions.

Quality of life

However, even if it turned out that I was mistaken, I did not want to ruin my relationship with my father. He told me that he would not give me a penny of his money if I went ahead with this idea, but I chose to stay. Who cares about the money?

It has been tough at times, but we have a wonderful quality of life. We live in this amazing natural environment. My schedule is very flexible here so I am able to give all my time to my family and children. They are being brought up among the Maasai.

Plus we are exposed to so many people from all over the world who come as our guests at the camp. We also go to Italy for four weeks twice a year.

It is difficult at times. Since 2011, the number of guests each year goes down. But my children love it here. They speak Maa and although their English and Italian is fluent, when they argue among themselves, they argue in Kiswahili — their first language. Pursuing my passion here with my husband has also strengthened our relationship.

Kenya is 100 per cent my home. The Maasai are my family. They welcomed us and we feel great respect for them. And we have gained so many new friends who have the same values and passions. When I go home, my former friends really cannot relate at all with my life. Unless you have been here and experienced it, you can never understand the joy.

We, through Campi ya Kanzi and the Maasai Wilderness Trust, have partnered with Maasai landlords to care for the fragile eco-system and the wildlife. It has benefited them economically. We have provided employment, medical care and education.

We have managed to get a Swiss school to provide a scholarship for two students to attend high school abroad, so now we are trying to get a Kenyan international school to provide scholarships for three more students.

It has been very rewarding transforming lives and giving people a chance they would not otherwise have had. One of these children will have a huge impact on the community, if not on the whole country.

www.maasai.com

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