2013-04-19 / Community

From Rockaway To Kenya: The Road To Happiness

OPEN MIC An Occasional Feature...
By Robin Shapiro

If you’ve never met them, you’d think the story of Phil and Rachel West is the plot of a romantic movie fused with spectacular imagery of the exotic nature we’ve come to associate with Africa. Rachel, a native of Neponsit, was raised just a few hundred yards from the ocean in a different climate where the closest giraffe or gorilla is either at the Bronx Zoo or the local bazaar in plush form. Not in her wildest dreams did she think she’d find a fulfilling career — and the man of her dreams — on another continent, 10,000 miles from home. Rachel was overjoyed when she was invited to fill an open slot on a safari trip to Kenya that her mother, Rockaway realtor Robin Shapiro, was taking. It turned out somebody was unable to make the trip, and, with only two days’ notice, Rachel was given the opportunity to go. She jumped at the chance, and her life was changed forever. That was the last time she would call Rockaway home. While in Kenya, she met Phil West, a handsome guide on the safari she was on and a native of the East African country. To call Phil “an outdoorsman” may be an understatement. He has spent most of his adult life working in the raw nature of Africa. On his left upper arm, he sports large scars — the result of an encounter with a crocodile, which is not something human beings typically live to tell about. In Phil, Rachel found her soul mate. “He asked me to stay in Kenya after the safari, so I stayed and we travelled around East Africa a bit together,” she explained. The two married two months ago in Kenya and have traveled the world together. Rachel pointed out the Maasai Mara, where she met Phil, as one of her favorite places. The couple often spends up to three months of the year there.

“The people there are just so beautiful and joyful. The wide open spaces make you catch your breath, plus the wildlife there is just amazing. We have characters there that we know and love to check in with – Notch the great lion patriarch, Ugly Betty, the one eyed lioness, Angelina the famous cheetah mother – it’s almost like they are part of our family,” Rachel explained.

The couple organizes and leads high end custom safaris for Royal African Safaris, where Phil is one of a select group of highly accomplished Partner- Guides. Some of their clients have been notable people, though the couple will not disclose the names of those who go on safari with them. Rachel and Phil live among nature. They are building a home on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on a large plot they recently purchased at the edge of a national park. Giraffes, rhinos and other varieties of Africa’s fauna regularly stroll by their home, and they often fall asleep to a chorus of lions roaring nearby. The couple is back in Rockaway until the summer, helping Rachel’s mother with her real estate business, visiting prospective clients and planning for their upcoming trips. They are also helping Rachel’s family recover from Hurricane Sandy, which devastated her native community. They were in Mozambique on an excursion when the storm hit. They were unaware of how serious the storm was until they got back to Kenya a few days later. “I was definitely worried,” she said.

She tried desperately to reach her parents and siblings and said she was relieved to find out everyone made it through the storm ok, though her parents’ home, like most other homes in Rockaway, sustained significant damage.

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