Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today we meet mother of three and serial expat Demelza Thoegersen
The first time I heard of Kenya was probably when I read Roald Dahl’s autobiography as a child years ago. I’m not sure what East Africa and Kenya would conjure up for most people today, but luckily for us, this week seasoned trailing spouse and mother of three, Demelza Thoegersen, will help shed some light on life in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city. Read on for why she thinks Mombasa and Singapore are not that different, and her tips on where best to go for a dose of wildlife and nature.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Demelza, I’m a 37-year-old Eurasian born and bred in Singapore. I met my Danish husband, Michael, when he was living in Singapore. We have three children, Noah aged 11 soon to be 12, Mikaela who is 10 years old and turning 11 soon, and my youngest Freja (pronounced Fry-ah) is six years old going on seven.
I miss our local foods from Singapore a lot as I haven’t lived in Singapore since 2010. My family has been moving around quite a bit with my husband’s work. The last time I was back in Singapore was in 2014. That’s quite a long time ago and I’m actually planning a trip back home this year.
I love travelling, exploring new places and learning new languages. I have a “if you never try, you’ll never know” mindset but when it comes to food, it’s a different story. I don’t know where our next adventure will take us but right now I am enjoying life with my family in Mombasa.
What brought you to Mombasa, Kenya? How long have you been living overseas?
My family and I moved to Mombasa in August 2018. My husband is an engineer and is overseeing the operations of a power plant here. We have been in a number of places since leaving Singapore. When the kids were little, it was much easier to move around. We have lived in Shanghai, China, Southern California in the United States, and then Denmark. We stayed in Denmark for the longest time, from 2012 to 2018, because I was going to give birth to my third child and the two older ones were starting school.
Favourite aspect about living in Mombasa?
It would have to be the weather. Mombasa is like Singapore from November to April or May, really hot and humid before it cools down to 26 degrees Celsius. It would still be sunny and warm but not humid, which is nice.
Most women don’t work here so it’s nice to not feel like you are “just a housewife”. Also there are plenty of activities taking place in school so I’m usually busy hunting down costumes or making props. With three children, this keeps me busy enough.
And the worst part?
The traffic! Also it’s hard finding simple costumes here as we don’t have big shopping malls.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
For Noah, it was an extra console for his PlayStation. For Mikaela, I bought her some pencils, and Freja got a sticker book with unicorns, her favourite animal.
… for yourself?
A traditional Kenyan basket called a kikapu, as Kenya has banned plastic bags since 2017 so people now use these baskets when they go grocery shopping.
How do you think parenting in Mombasa differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Surprisingly, parenting here is very much the same as in Singapore. Everyone has helpers and wherever they go, the helpers go with them to watch the kids. In Mombasa, it is normal to have at least three or four helpers in the house, usually a nanny, a cleaner, a chef and a driver.
I am fortunate to have had house help in all the countries we’ve lived in! Singapore and Denmark were the only places where I had live-in helpers. Now I have a helper who comes in to clean and she leaves when she finishes. To be honest, I wouldn’t know what I would do without someone helping me around the house! We also have a driver, which is nice and something one could get used to very quickly!
Did you give birth to your children in Mombasa?
No, my two older kids were born at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore while my youngest was born in Denmark. I haven’t experienced what it’s like being in a hospital here.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I was working at Citibank’s human resources information technology department until I got pregnant with my first child. At that time, there were many Filipino colleagues coming and going so I suspected that the company would perhaps move the department to Manila, Philippines. I decided not to find out and resigned instead (turns out my department did eventually move to Manila).
After my resignation, I enjoyed having free time and was buying a lot of baby things when I had an idea to open a Danish supermarket in Singapore. I ended up running the supermarket from 2008 to 2010.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Mombasa?
It would have to be PrideInn Hotel Mombasa. We usually have lunch at one of the two restaurants in the hotel and then go swimming after. The hotel pools come with slides for kids! Otherwise we’ll head to the beach for a swim in the ocean.
Top five places in or around Mombasa you would recommend to parents traveling with kids, and why?
- Diani Beach – About 30 kilometres south of Mombasa, the hotels here are all-inclusive so you wouldn’t need to think about meals. You can go snorkelling and see dolphins, sea turtles and sometimes even stingrays up close. For smaller kids who don’t snorkel, book a glass-bottomed boat and they can also join in the fun!
- Yul’s Restaurant – The ambience is great and kids can go down to the beach to play and swim while we sit in the restaurant. There are nice handmade souvenir stalls on the beach but be prepared to engage in a bit of bargaining.
- Tsavo East National Park – This park is just a two-hour drive from where we live in Mombasa so it’s perfect for a quick weekend getaway with friends and family. We usually stay at Satao Camp or Ashnil Aruba Lodge. You will spend a lot of time in a 4×4 as you will be out looking for animals or looking at them most of the weekend.
- Monsoons Restaurant – This is also by the beach but has a more relaxed ambience than the more touristy Yul’s Restaurant. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet Roger who looks after the sea turtles that come to the beach to lay eggs. In May, June and July, there will be turtle hatchings and you can help to get the baby sea turtles back into the sea. Roger and his team are all volunteers so they’re happy to get any help that they can get.
- Vipingo Ridge Beach Bar – This is another fantastic restaurant by the beach — don’t forget to bring your snorkelling gear as you can snorkel and see some gorgeous fish and coral. Fishermen and commercial boats are banned from this area and it costs KES 1000 (about S$13.50) per person if you want to go snorkelling. After snorkelling, we usually dine at the restaurant. They also make some good curries.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
We used to schedule flights around their nap times. If we need to be on a long-haul flight, we try to fly late at night. The kids tend to get fussy and cry, but as soon as the plane starts moving, they fall asleep. It does get easier… so parents with young children, do hang in there!
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
Hmm… if I have the Prima Taste sauce kit on hand, I’ll make them satay.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Mombasa
– For a child:
Africa’s Big Five animals made out of foam slippers! They are cute and well made. My kids already have quite a few.
– For a mama friend:
A handmade kikapu basket from Kenya! It’s cool to have a nice bag and help save the planet at the same time!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
It would have to be when I was living in Denmark. I didn’t speak the language yet and the Danes take a while to warm up to new people, so it was challenging trying to go and make new friends. It became easier when my kids started school and I could meet other parents. In Kenya, people are friendly and they speak English so it’s relatively easy, plus mums will meet in school for coffee on Tuesdays.
On raising multilingual children …
Don’t give up speaking to them in the minority language, they will absorb everything. They may take a while to speak, but it’s normal.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
For me it’s always Prima Taste chilli crab, satay and chicken rice sauce kits… and I mostly buy the satay ones. I usually buy my kids t-shirts.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Concealer, eyeliner and mascara!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family?
Roast beef with potatoes and béarnaise sauce! Yum!
What’s the one thing you would miss about Mombasa if you moved away?
It’s hard to just pick one thing. If I really have to, I would say the safari parks.