After the summer break, which included a break from blogging, I thought I’d start the year off with a version of the tried and true “How I Spent my Summer Vacation”. Early last school year, I got an opportunity to go to Kenya for two weeks in July on a Free the Children trip for educators. Africa was a place I’d longed to see, so I couldn’t say no when the chance to go came up. On top of it, we’d be immersed in rural Kenya and helping the local community out with a building project while we learned more about the life of the local Masai and Kipsigis tribes. It seemed like a perfect balance of give and get.
Free the Children is the organization started by Craig and Marc Kielburger (when they were children themselves) to meet the basic needs of developing communities and eliminate the obstacles preventing children from getting an education. Many students in our schools work to help raise money for Free the Children. The yearly “Me to We Day” brings students together to help them understand what they can do as individuals to support other children in developing countries. Last fall 1000 Richmond students participated in the day, and the majority of their schools followed up with fund raising projects for Free the Children. I was excited about seeing the results of their efforts for myself.
I figured since the destination was a complete unknown to me, I’d relax, go with the “surprises are good” philosophy, get on the plane for Nairobi and let life unfold.
Unfold it did, and the experience was one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
The first surprise was the landscape, which was stunning. While the views changed as we drove out of Nairobi and towards the Masai Mara, constants were the red earth, blue sky and green streaks of vegetation. Often there was a filigree of acacia trees off in the distance, just like in the movies. Suddenly, as if someone pressed a shutter button, this view opened to wide valleys with land formations that seemed straight out of a geology text. Solitary figures often appeared in the distance, heading somewhere miles away. It’s not recreation; it’s the only transportation. Dramatic events have shaped this place, and like all places, its geography has shaped people’s lives in turn.
My fellow travelers were educators from various school districts in BC, and I couldn’t have hoped for better companions. Our accommodations were another surprise. Tents were shared with 2 or three people, and there was no running water or regular electricity. After I got used to the idea that I was head-on camping, I began to love the place. We were completely embedded in rural Kenya and surrounded by people living their lives as they had for centuries. You can’t get that at the Fairmont Safari Club, even if you can get running water (and I won’t say I didn’t dream about that luxury once in a while).
Here’s another surprise – herding animals is alive and well in Kenya. Every evening a few small boys herded their cows, donkeys and goats up the dirt road that bordered our camp. Tinkling cow bells in the distance turned into a parade of livestock heading back after a day of grazing. Their destination was the mud huts of the nearby Kipsigis tribe. Each hut had its own unique corral, but more on that later.
It’s one thing to know in the abstract that many people live the way they’ve lived for centuries, but having the evidence stroll past your mess tent every night really puts it out front.
Now that I’ve set the scene, the next post will be about education in Kenya – mine and theirs.