“I will get you downstairs shortly,” is the short response from Lisa Christoffersen. She is the eldest of the Real Housewives of Nairobi (RHON) reality show cast which premiered last Thursday on Showmax.
Taking a right turn off Limuru Road driving past Gigiri Box Park Shopping mall and KCB Bank few metres closer, a left turn manned with a security barricade leads to an asphalt and gravel driveway which terminates about 600 metres emptying you at Lifestyle Nairobi, a vast botanical garden centre sitting on a 1.5-acre plot.
Lifestyle's immediate neighbours are the United States Embassy, Italian Embassy and Malaysian High Commission.
In a spook of seconds, Lisa emerged clutching all the day’s newspapers, car keys, two bottles of water, two plastic wine glasses and several canned energy drinks from Australia.
“Hello Matiko, I thought we should sit over there (under a gazebo) and have this chat.”
I soon enquire if she’s made a habit of reading all the dailies.
“Not at all, I thought today we will be all over the papers that’s why.”
The previous day, Lisa had showed up in fuzz at the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club for the exclusive launch party of RHON.
She wore a sparkly purple plunging silk gown with a thigh-high slit and rally shoes.
Lisa drove her red Subaru N10 rally sports car to the party leaving behind her shiny black Mobius which now lines up among other parked cars just a few legs' walks from the gazebo.
“I am not sure if you know that I am Mobius brand ambassador, that’s my black Mobius over there,” points Lisa who is also the brand ambassador of White Cap Crisp, one of the motorsport sponsors.
On this sunny afternoon, she is wearing a shade of the brown floral free dress, spotting a blue wristwatch, several bracelets, four finger rings of silver and gold and golden sparkling sandals.
Her blonde curly hair is well-coiffed, not a strand out of place with sunglasses tucked over them.
You wouldn’t miss her sight even from miles away. Lisa is deliberate, you can tell, and supremely confident to a fault, not to mention charming.
Until last month when the show was first announced, Lisa wasn’t a celebrity as she is now and even if she was, she wasn’t popular like the rest of her cast members Susan Keittany, socialite Vera Sidika, actress Minnie Kariuki and fashion entrepreneur Sonal Maherali.
If her social media following is anything to go by, then that’s enough proof.
But one thing is for sure, Lisa isn’t your ordinary ‘girl’ as the mother of two ( 28 and 26-year-olds) kept referring to herself the entire duration of the conversation.
Since her childhood, which she describes as magical, she has lived an adventurous life, one any village child would dream of. Her first pet was Zebby, a baby Zebra.
It's one of the few reasons she agreed to be on the flamboyant reality show, to share with the world her space and if anything her name stands for Life Is So Amazing, so why not. She insists it was never about the money. More on that later.
“I was born in Moshi and grew up on the slopes west of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. My father was a wheat farmer, a rally driver and a hunter. Doctor Michael Wood the Amref founder was our neighbour. I grew up on this beautiful farm where I learnt to ride horses and had game meat for nyama choma.”
At six and a half she went to boarding school in Arusha because it was the nearest school.
“Sundays my parents would come and take me out. I love fishing, so would spend time in lake Duluti or visit Arusha National Park and fish in lake Momela which cuts between Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru. It was a magical childhood.”
When she turned 10, her parents’ marriage crumbled and together with her mother, they moved to Denmark, their ancestral origin.
“My parents were Danish. I was third generation but born in Tanzania. My mother was also born in Kilosa, Tanzania. My grandmother came to Tanzania on a ship at the age of 16”.
Another reason for relocating to Denmark was for Lisa to have good education where she spent 12 years.
At 22 Lisa was already multilingual speaking fluent Scandinavian languages; Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Kiswahili and now a little bit of French. Her language resume currently includes Kikuyu.
For the entire hour, we sat, Lisa rarely completed two sentences in English without throwing a Swahili verb or a noun in between or at the tail end.
She landed her first job at Copenhagen International airport at the age of 18 simply because she could communicate in fluent Kiswahili.
“I became the official Kiswahili translator at Copenhagen Airport for travellers from Eastern African countries. I loved the job because the airline had gotten a new CEO who had our uniforms designed by Calvin Klein.”
Even in this candid chat, voluble Lisa does her best to avoid mentioning her age. She won’t reveal exact dates and years but will leave you with numbers to solve a puzzle.
She first visited Kenya when she was 22 upon an invitation by her auntie who had lived here for years.
I trick her to mention which year that was but she burst into a belly laugh.
“Haha! Nice try. Fanya hesabu basi tuone,” she responds.
But it was at 23 when she finally relocated to Kenya, a place she has called home for the last 28 years. Quick math places Lisa in her early 50s.
During the visit that saw her go on several adventures with three of her male cousins including a seven-day Kayaking in Tana River, Malindi, she met an Italian architect and Interior designer.
“I was at Jomo Kenyatta Airport waiting for my flight to Malindi then, I met an Italian guy who told me he owned a hotel in Malindi and invited us for dinner. We became friends, he was an amazing designer and architect.
A year later while I was in Denmark he calls me and says he had landed a huge contract to do an interior design job for the Safari Park Hotel, formerly the Eagles Hotel and he needed my help.
He wanted me to do interior design which I wasn’t but he said he insisted that he has noticed I had a good eye and brilliant taste. He sent a contract over, a work permit and the entire package.”
That marked Lisa’s journey into interior design. With the offer, she disposed of all the belongings she could and abandoned her ‘small’ two-bedroom apartment in Copenhagen catching the first flight to Kenya.
“I sold everything including my Porsche 1968 which was bought by a top fashion designer in Copenhagen, packed my life in 22 suitcases and moved to Nairobi.”
The RHON star worked at Safari Park for five years where she met her ex-husband, married two years after dating and then moved to Tanzania.
He worked for an international Safari and tourism travel agency and within no time Lisa joined the company as an operational and marketing manager thanks to her language skills.
Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last. “I left him very quickly for various reasons then I met my children's father whom I never married but I was with him for 17 years.”
Lisa would then move back to Kenya with her first child, just a year old converting her Runda home into an African Tribal art gallery.
“While In Tanzania learned of African Tribal Arts from a German museum curator who inspired me to actually set up a shop in Arusha which I had converted into a bush-friendly African arts and culture shop. When I moved to Kenya I continued dealing with African Tribal Arts. I converted our home in Runda into an Art gallery which means I was always there selling the art while I watched my children grow.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Lisa was already living alone, with her children all grown-ups and herself single.
“That was the period I found this beautiful gem and started this beautiful establishment the Lifestyle,” Lisa sighs with a lot of fulfilment.
“This has always been a vision of mine, to have a space that is filled with arts but in a tropical oasis as you can see there are botanicals all over. Basically, this is a garden centre with three outdoor fire pits which gives an impression of a campfire in the bush, there are two restaurants that sell alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, over there is Tomaco which is an Ethiopian coffee shop, then we have a Spa parlour and Nail bar. Everything has to be under canvas and that’s the Safari chic that I love, a feeling in the bush. There is a furniture shop room, three fashion designer spaces and an art gallery. Over the fence is the American embassy. We are sitting in the middle of a diplomatic hub but we feel like we are in the bush. Amazing right?” She poses.
One thing Lisa forgot to mention was the Bespoke tailoring shop which is also part of the Lifestyle establishment. It is also here where Christoffersen Bespoke Luxury Safaris agency offices are located.
Save for the art gallery, every other business venture on Lifestyle has been put up by Lisa’s tenants.
There is also vast space where every two months, they conduct movie nights, and fashion and arts pop-up shops where people come to sell their craft.
“Normally there is always an entrance fee because hiring equipment is expensive.”
However, on Thursday the movie night was an exception with Lisa offering free invites to every interested Kenyan who showed up for the screening of the premiering episode of The Real Housewives of Nairobi.
“This is why I agreed to be on RHON, I want to put Lifestyle on the map, I want it to be known as a business centre hub. Money wasn’t really what convinced me because what they paid was little. They had a budget and wouldn't even barge even a shilling. We couldn’t negotiate,” she asserts.
“To be honest it’s one of the things I really wanted to address considering the effort and time we were putting in every month. For example, sometimes the make-up artiste would show up at 6am and you start filming all behind the scenes before you start filming the actual scenes and you may end up with a 12-hour long day if you consider that with the money paid it wasn’t commensurate. But the bigger picture is that Lifestyle will get exposure.”
Lisa also believes having a go at the show will also bring to light some of her works and her life.
“Because it is a reality show, I also felt that there was nothing for me to lose sharing snippets of my life and work like the CSRs I am involved in which is empowering women into motorsport. I founded the Kenyan Women Safari Rally in March 2022, the first of its kind which was the Lioness rally. I put it together myself in nine months with the help of sponsors and fundraising at Kasarani, eight women drivers including myself. The whole team on the ground from navigators, mechanics, gas attendants, GSU security, officials, and even those who drove the fire engines were women.”
This year she plans to participate in the World Championship Safari rally competition and is rallying for sponsors to come on board and support her on this expensive venture.
On the show, Mama Chui, an alias I am now aware of, says she comes across as a peacemaker.
“I am not into dramas and as people will see, I am the one who will be always arbitrating dramas among the other Real Housewives,”
But even though her magical lifestyle has tasted defeats, life has indeed served her some pickles which includes cheating death thrice.
She survived a helicopter crash in a conservancy coming out with only bruises and lived to tell the story as she is doing right now.
Before she met the father of her children, she had survived a nasty road crash in Copenhagen. The accident left her with a shattered back.
“I am a survivor of many things. I broke my back and my ischia’s nerve was dangling, I lay on a hospital bed for six weeks without moving. The doctors told me that I would never have children or be able to do sports again.”
In 2006 she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and the doctors gave her 10 days to live.
“I had two massive tumours in my uterus, 12 and 14 centimetres each. I was haemorrhaging, a situation that left me anaemic and I lost a lot of weight. I flew to Sandton, South Africa and at that time I was now coughing blood. Cancer had spread to the lungs. After 10 hours of tests, I was diagnosed with stage four cancer and the doctor gave me 10 days to live. My friends flew to bid me bye, my children’s father was also there but always in the bar,” Mama Chui says with lots of sarcasm.
A surgical procedure to remove the tumours was ruled out and the only medication was oral chemotherapy.
“I was too weak to stand a surgery and so the tumours were blasted with the strongest oral chemotherapy that was available. Doctors anticipated kidney failures but I survived.”
But the treatment sent her into a coma; “I honestly don’t remember how long I was dead (in a coma), maybe a week or more, I don’t know.”
Lisa points at a scar just beneath her neck. “This reminds me of the opening that was created and pipes inserted in my body. They managed to revive me and put me on a life support machine.” For more than five months she couldn’t speak.
It’s been over an hour and a half under the gazebo with distractions every now and then from people wanting to talk to Mama Chui and phone calls as well that come in every few seconds.
She pours some water into the wine glasses, sips and starts to narrate how her former accountant forged her signatures and cleaned up her bank accounts that had over Sh6 million. Then how she lost over Sh10 million when Imperial Bank collapsed in 2016.