As a young girl, Felice Fromm befriended an exchange student, Raheem. Their friendship later led to an incredible trip to Kenya in her fifties. Over the years, Felice missed opportunities to travel abroad, but after getting back in contact with her old family friend, she finally found the courage to take the trip she always dreamed of.
JH: What inspired you to travel to Kenya in your fifties?
FF: When I was ten years old, my family was a host family to international graduate students studying in the United States. Of the thirty-seven students that stayed in our home over a period of six and a half years, the one that always had my heart was a thirty-year-old man from Nairobi, Kenya named Raheem. He told us amazing stories about his life in Kenya and took so much interest in all of us. He was a gentle soul with kind eyes, and even at age ten, I knew he was smart.
Over the years he came back to visit us many times. We eventually met his wife, Mamuda, and their daughters, Misbah and Minha. Each year we would get the holiday letter informing us of their family adventures; they had moved all over the globe as Raheem was working for the United Nations. While stationed in Katmandu, Nepal, Raheem sent a personal note on one of their holiday letters inviting me for a visit. At that time, I had never been out of the United States. It sounded exciting, but alas, my fear of the altitude prevented me from going any further than being thankful for the invite. Over the years I had often thought about Raheem and his family, and about that lost opportunity to visit him in a far away land. The early 1980s was the last time Raheem and his family visited us in Los Angeles. I cried when I walked up to greet him. There is something about him that I cannot explain. I was so happy to see him, tears just poured from my eyes as I hugged him, not wanting to ever let him go.
Time passed and the annual letters stopped. We had lost contact. I tried emailing him using the last email address I had, but no reply. I often thought about him, and then in 2003, I Googled his name. The only thing I could find were articles from years before of meetings he attended while working for the United Nations. Then I had an idea, not a good one, but nonetheless an idea. I called the United Nations in New York City and asked for Raheem by name, not knowing a department or anything else to give the operator, or even a clue as to how to find him. As you can guess, that got me nowhere.
In the spring of 2006, while cleaning out my garage, I came upon a large plastic container stuffed with old papers and receipts. Years before, there had been a flood and its contents were now a bit moldy and projecting that not-so-fresh smell. I carefully went through each piece of paper to make sure that my personal identity was not in jeopardy before I tossed each into the trashcan. At the bottom of the container, there before my eyes, the only piece of paper in perfect shape was Raheem’s business card. I now had a piece to the puzzle.
A few days later, with business card in hand, I once again called the United Nations in New York City, only this time, I had a direct line to his department. The woman who answered the phone informed me that Raheem had retired several years before and had moved back to his home in Nairobi, Kenya. As it turned out, she had his email address at her home and promised to email it to me from there. She had been his assistant for many years and she too had retired. She had come back for a few weeks to help out, [which] is why she was answering the phone. She was also the only one that knew how to get in contact with him. What are the chances of that?
As soon as I received his email address I sent him an email filled with news about myself, my brother, sister, and mother. A week or so later, I receive his response [to] “Our dearest Felice.” And sure enough, another invitation to visit him, this time in Nairobi, Kenya. I knew at that moment that I had to go. No regrets. Maybe I didn’t get to Nepal, but I sure wasn’t going to miss this adventure.
JH: Did you ever entertain the idea of traveling abroad at thirty?
FF: The thought I did entertain was to go to Katmandu, Nepal to visit Raheem. It was a brief fantasy, but the fear of the high altitude and traveling alone was too much for me to overcome.
JH: Why do you think you didn’t attempt it at thirty?
FF: I was too afraid to travel outside of the United States or do anything that was unfamiliar. I had convinced myself that I would rather be at home.
JH: What was your biggest fear about going to Kenya … and did it come true?
FF: My biggest fear was the huge amount of inoculations required to travel in that area. I felt like a walking chemistry set! I had some fears about being in a third-world country that was so different from my own. Getting the shots, taking the medication, and experiencing the country all ended up working out fine.
JH: What did you enjoy most about the trip?
FF: I enjoyed the Kenyan people, all with smiles that can light up the world. They were so gracious and hard working. It was a thrill to see animals in their natural surroundings. Now that I have seen the splendor of the animals running free, I don’t think I will ever be able to go to the zoo again. By far the highlight of the trip was seeing my dear friend, Raheem.
JH: What have you learned about yourself?
FF: That sometimes situations are difficult, but there is usually a gold nugget in every situation if you are willing to look for it. When an opportunity is put in front of you, pay attention; it just might be the time of your life.
JH: What advice would you give women—specifically younger women—who are hesitating for whatever reason about pursuing a goal or dream?
FF: It wasn’t until I was taking photographs while on safari in Kenya that I remembered I had a childhood dream of one day going on a camera safari. Somehow, even though I didn’t remember this dream, it still came true. It’s better to push through the fears than to miss an opportunity.
Photo courtesy of Felice Fromm
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