Narinder Heyer – safari planner extraordinaire!
Born in Nairobi in 1942, Narinder Heyer is a third generation Kenyan whose grandfather came from India in 1918.
As a child, her family travelled quite a lot, visiting other Indian families in various parts of the country. “We children would be packed into the back of my father’s rickety old pickup. Driving on the rough roads of Kenya in the 1940s was quite an adventure,” says Narinder. Most likely this is what inspired her love of travelling.
All her life Narinder has been interested in libraries, museums, the environment and travel.
She is a founder member of the Asian African Heritage exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum that opened in 2000. It was meant to be a temporary exhibition for one year but due to popular demand it stayed on for almost five years.
Narinder guided at this exhibition every Friday for the five years and she remembers hundreds of schoolchildren running through the halls. “So we devised a plan to have small groups from schools that were interested. We handed the children a prepared questionnaire and they made better use of their visit.”
How did you become actively involved with the National Museums of Kenya?
I was a member of Nature Kenya (then called The East Africa Natural History Society) long before I joined KMS. I assisted at Nature Kenya in the 1990’s and became a keen member of the Birding group. I participated in the Museum’s annual water-bird counts called ‘The African Waterfowl Census’. Through this I got to know many wonderful parts of Kenya. In 1999 I coordinated the world birdwatch for Kenya.
Also, in the 1990s there was a society called ‘Uvumbuzi’ that was based at the Museum. Members were young adult professionals that had been members of the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya while at school. I travelled a lot with them and was struck by how comfortable Africans were in the wilderness. I learnt a lot from them.
Tell us about your experience with the Kenya Museum Society
I joined KMS sometime in the early 2000. I belong to many societies but KMS is my favourite. One reason is that the membership is very varied, with many international members and people who have held jobs in different countries. Over the years I made many interesting friendships and met people who are keen to learn about Kenya.
In the 1990s I was involved in the wonderful Know Kenya Course organised by KMS. My job was to prepare folders for the participants, almost 100 people. I would scout the libraries and magazines for articles related to the topics, maps for the course, etc. I would choose a smart folder made by Kenyan crafts people. Some years I also brought Indian singers or dancers for the entertainment. It was such a pleasure for me!
In more recent years you have organised safaris for KMS?
I was the KMS Weekend Safaris coordinator for about 12 years. I liked doing trips to remote areas of Kenya. Since I had studied history, I included a lot of historic trips where I would give a 40-minute talk on the history subject of the safari. Some of the historic safaris stories I talked about are:
- The Delamere family story
- The extensive estates of Ewart Grogan in Taveta and Lake Jipe
- The mystery of Lord Errol’s death
- The ever-popular Happy Valley set. After repeating this trip 3 times, even I began to find Lady Idina Hay and Alice de Janze interesting!
- The George and Joy Adamson story during visits to Meru National Park, Isiolo and Shaba National Reserve
What are some of your favourite safaris?
Always Turkana! The 10-day journey to the National Museum’s site at Koobi Fora and back is out of this world. What a site! On the way home, we stayed at remote and fascinating places like South Horr and North Horr. Or camp under star-studded skies of the Chalbi desert.
Another favourite is the Tana River delta. I discovered the fascination of Garissa town and the remote road from Garissa to Garsen. The delta itself is awesome and here I saw the biggest number of hippos, a 150-strong pod! There were crocodiles all over the place, pythons, millions of creepy crawlies and the wonderful Oromo herdsmen. Due to perceived insecurity this circuit has all but collapsed. The charming Italian lodge we used to stay at was also washed away when the Tana changed course and eroded the cliff where the lodge stood. The whole cliff face collapsed.
The Marich Pass at the edge of the Turkana plains is another favourite. It is a place of haunting natural beauty.
What were some of the challenges of organising trips to remote places?
I always tried to look for an area where the road hadn’t collapsed or where there were no security issues. But sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Once, two days before a safari, I was told there was a big cholera outbreak in Marich Pass! On a trip through Tana county, our group ran into floods on the Bura – Garsen road. A member’s car skidded and crashed into a tree but thankfully there were no casualties.
Another time, a member fell and broke her shoulder and had to be evacuated by air. During a trip to western Kenya, we were sheltering from the sun under a tree and without warning the tree fell down. Fortunately, the members were fast runners and everyone escaped unhurt.
You are also known as a ‘foodie’ and very good cook
I enjoy cooking and usually organise self-catering safaris. I love devising menus, loved shopping frugally yet getting quality ingredients, packing and all of that. I do not always follow recipes I often improvise as I go along. On the trips I just cook what is easy and tasty. But breakfasts were always English style with bacon, sausages, eggs, toast etc.
And coffee. KMS members are particularly partial to well brewed coffee. Being Indian I am a tea drinker so I was initiated into the joys of drinking coffee by the demand of the members. Eventually I equipped myself with a plunger, discovered the best coffee brands and never looked back.