Freelance Journalist, Kathryn Romeyn, Nairobi, Kenya

Kathryn Romeyn

“I’ve found more beauty in the mundane, taken more time to appreciate the little things, and been more and more grateful each day for the people in my life.

Kathryn Romeyn is a freelance journalist who regularly writes for a variety of publications including Departures, Architectural Digest, Brides, C Magazine and AFAR magazine. Kathryn mostly covers travel, design and wellness. Additionally, she produces a biweekly newsletter called Journeys (which you can subscribe to, here) with my her writing and photography. 

Kathryn flew to Nairobi, Kenya just before the world began locking down in order to be with her sister when she gave birth to her first nephew at home. (Kathryn’s sister works for UNHCR and is a resident.) The pandemic has halted travel, leaving Kathryn in Kenya, with her boyfriend still across the globe, in Los Angeles. Since she’s a freelance travel writer the travel ban has significantly impacted how she had been living. “All my future work trips are also very much on hold or canceled. It’s pretty unsettling, especially when it’s your livelihood.” 

However, she recognizes that this isn’t a completely negative situation, and has taken the opportunity to reassess how she’d like to travel for work in the future, and spend more time with her loved ones.

Read more about Kathryn Romeyn’s COVID Chronicle, below:

Kathryn and Atlas

Where exactly are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic?

“I’m in the office-slash-spare bedroom of my sister and her partner’s house in the Kitisuru area of Nairobi, where they live in a lovely neighborhood that could double as a park it’s so bucolic, green and wild. They’re fortunate to have one of a few houses on a little lake, so we have one of the best views and backyards in the city, I think. My boyfriend has been holding down the fort at home in Los Angeles…  

My dad has been here helping since February—he jokes he’s been quarantining for three months, as my sister won’t allow him out lest he be exposed to the virus. As of April 4, baby Atlas—the world’s most wonderful, beautiful and happy baby—joined our quarantine group, which also includes my sister’s partner. A travel ban has been in effect since March, so I’ve been stuck here.” 

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission? Is this how you think the situation is best handled?

“It’s a very strange thing to be in a place like Kenya during this pandemic when I’m mostly reading news about the U.S. and Europe. Here, they started out doing contact tracing and promising they had it under control. We all know that if the virus hits the slums it will explode. So far the numbers have been quite low, comparatively, but nobody knows how accurate they are, and the way they’ve likely accomplished this success is by instilling fear in Kenyans.

As my sister, who’s lived and worked in East Africa for years, remarked the other day when we were out for a doctor’s appointment, “this is what happens when you’re afraid of your government.” She was shocked to see people actually wearing masks. There was a shooting toward the beginning of a national curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in which police killed a boy on his family’s balcony, just after dark. In Mombasa, there were incidents involving police pepper spraying and beating people who had overcrowded a ferry—of course if you think about how pepper spray works, it’s only increasing the possibility of spreading the virus.

These things are so tragic and terrible to hear about, on top of the havoc the coronavirus is already wreaking. I do think they’ve made efforts to stop the violence, but knowing they will go to extremes seems to be keeping people in line to some extent, so maybe that was the intent.” 

What has been your daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“Since Atlas entered our little world it’s been all about him—I basically spend as many moments (truthfully, hours) cuddling him and staring at him as possible. In the morning around 7 a.m., one of his parents brings him to either my or my dad’s room (we trade off) for quality Atlas time while he’s especially cute and milk drunk, and so they can sleep a bit longer. We go on a walk around the neighborhood, which clocks in at 3.5 miles, every morning, with him all snuggled up in the Baby Bjorn.

I love those walks. We play, sing, dance and get a little sun time in the garden, I do yoga every day, and I’ve started baking sourdough like 10 million other people. There are monkeys that make their way around the neighborhood, stealing guavas and being cheeky, and a huge array of birds on the lake that make every day feel a little bit exciting.

There’s a lockdown of the city, so we couldn’t go anywhere else in Kenya even if we wanted a road trip, but the other day we took Atlas on his first safari drive in Nairobi National Park. It was the big outing of the last two months, for sure, though the wildlife didn’t seem to understand the monumentality of this day and mostly hid from us.” 

Local Adventures

What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ve faced during this quarantine situation?

“Being away from my boyfriend, Keith, has been incredibly rough. The original plan was that we would meet in Bali in May, so we’d have been apart for about 6 weeks. But once things started locking down and the world as we knew it changed beyond recognition, time became a construct that seemed elastic and made it feel we’d been apart for far longer.

I’ve felt guilt for abandoning him during this time, even if he doesn’t see it that way. But I have wished so many times he could have gotten to Kenya, too. We’ve done Zoom dates and are in constant touch on WhatsApp, but it’s not the same as being able to touch someone, and he hasn’t had any human contact in two months now.” 

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“Definitely soaking up every second with Atlas! Taking far too many photos and videos of him (but really, is there such a thing when it comes to a newborn?). Trying to ignore the news at least sometimes, and just enjoy our newborn bubble. And lots of communication and sweet messages and calls between Keith and myself. Oh, and also an ungodly amount of sweet treats that are going to have serious implications when I get back to my normal workouts and surfing.” 

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?

“Literally all of them! I always think of myself as a go-with-the-flow person, but this is really testing the boundaries of that. I live part-time in Bali, and Keith and I were meant to be there right now. Now we can’t even get to Bali as Indonesia shut down travel until at least June 1. Nobody knows when anything will open back up, or when it’ll be safe to travel without being quarantined.

As a family we’ve all been looking forward to gathering at a lake in the Adirondacks in upstate New York this summer for a month, with my sister’s family coming from Kenya and Keith and myself from LA, but that’s very much up in the air now. All my future work trips are also very much on hold or canceled. It’s pretty unsettling, especially when it’s your livelihood.”  

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration for everyone going through this together?

“I’ve found more beauty in the mundane, taken more time to appreciate the little things, and been more and more grateful each day for the people in my life. If you have the opportunity to shelter in place with a baby, do it—they bring a joy to each day like no one else can. It’s been so special to spend so much time with my sister and dad, too. It might be controversial to find a silver lining in coronavirus lockdown, but for me getting stuck in Kenya with my new nephew for longer than planned was maybe the biggest blessing of my life thus far. I can hardly believe I was going to head out when he was only 12 days old. Looking back I could not imagine that, he’s kept me going and brought me so much joy and happiness.” 

Hope

Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your priorities in life?

“I’ve definitely been giving thought to how I’ll travel and approach travel for work in the future, and it’s changed how I want to do it—fewer perhaps longer trips that are more immersive, less topical, and allow me to really discover the soul of a place. But I also don’t want to be gone as much from the ones I love, so that will factor into each decision far more than before.” 

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