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Andrea & KTQ’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 28 Feb 2007

Location: Nairobi, Kenya


a conversation Caroline, one of our friends/founders of Africa Soma recently had with her doctor in Montreal went something like this.
after having gone to great lengths to try to give her family physician a glimpse of what a canadian cultural anthropology professor was doing researching one of the most isolated maasai communities in kenya, he came to what might seem a fairly obvious conclusion.
"so what you're trying to tell me is that you would be hard pressed to find any culture in this world that has been left untouched. well that's certainly a shame!"

when we heard this story, Andrea and I felt as though it did a pretty good job of capturing many of the thoughts, impressions and experiences we have been trying to digest upon arrival in elangata wuas. maybe I should start first by painting a little picture for you all. this picture I would like to entitle "sensory overload: the elangata wuas experience."
after having travelled for four hours from nairobi on a saturday morning, andrea and i were exhausted. the roads in kenya are horrible. if you are not stuck in terrible traffic in nairobi, you are bouncing around in the back of a pick up truck with a moaning goat at your feet hoping the vehicle won't topple over as it swerves to avoid huge boulders and potholes. we've even had to get out of a bus and help push it up a hill on a couple of occasions. needless to say, after this journey we were quite excited to drop off our bags and settle into our humble abode in kudu hills (the eco-camp where we're staying). anyway, this little rest lasted all of five minutes. we were immediately informed by our new found friend richard (who runs the kudu hills camp) that saturday was market day in elangata wuas and basically that everyone whose anyone in the kajiado district meets there to socialize, trade livestock, navigate the markets and so on. we were in!!!
the three of us hopped back on a matatu (since then andrea and i have made the personal choice to foot everywhere we can, which means we walk from an hour and a half daily in the hot savannah sun) and ventured to mile 46 (the hub centre that is 46 miles from the railroad). at this point, things get a little fuzzy as what we can recall is definitely tainted by a sense of being overwhelmed and entirely out of our element in every way possible.
as we stepped off the matatu we were faced with a scene almost taken directly out of national geographic. an arrid landscape peppered with low lying acacia trees. an enclosed town centre with a row of ramshackle corrugated iron stores and hotelis (restaurants) on one side and a bustling marketplace on the other. in the centre was a sea of maasai mingling and socializing. all decked out in their traditional attire. men decked out in lesos (like a sari) and walking sticks and women in dresses with the most large and colorful jewelry i have ever seen. plentiful earings dangling from their stretch earlobes and tons of beaded necklaces stacked upon eachother running up their necks. needless to say, andrea and i (the only 'mzungus' *white people* for a 150 mile radius) stuck out (and continue to) like sore thumbs.
in retrospect, i think it is hilarious to think about our first impressions. after having lived in the ilodookilani community and having learned bits and pieces of their cultural traditions, day to day living and so on, all of the above seems so normal and commonplace now. these people are no longer some "primitive" (this term infuriates us both) pastoral people living in the middle of nowhere -- they are now are friends. the warmest, kindest and most generous people we have met in all of our travels so far. aside from all of the cultural learnings they have offered us, they have also given so many lessons on what it means to give wholeheartedly - giving when you have so little and expect nothing in return. (by the way, apologies for getting all after school special on you guys)
anyway, the point of my incoherent ramblings that it really has been incredible being witness to the ways in which what is often stereotyped as an 'untouched' indigenous culture actually live their daily lives. all of the new configurations that are being born out of their attempts to hold on to their traditions while absorbing selective parts of modern kenyan life is pretty effing cool. for instance, today many massai boys choose to attend secondary school rather than go through the 5 year business of becoming a moran (massai warrior). and it really is a bizarre thing to see a massai man carrying a cell phone alongside his rungu and machete!!!

anyway, AS CLICHE AS IT SOUNDS this experience really has thrown so many of our strongly held views on their heads. what it means to be two western feminist advocating women's rights here? what actually constitutes poverty? most of the community live in tiny cow-dung huts and rely on livestock to generate income but they are happy and are finding ways to educate their children past the primary level...i could go on. and i will stop for all your sakes.

but generally, here's the down low friends. life is good. andrea and i are like two eco-friendly vagabonds living in our little sanctuary completely surrounded by intense vegetation and crazy wildlife (some of it NEATo some of it SCARY -- a couple of cobra sightings and a few scorpions) and so many stars!!!!!! but life is a bit draining. at the end of a full day of working at school or travelling to various communities to have meetings about the library, the curio shop and the exchange program, we are pretty pooped and sometimes don't feel like hauling our water, hand-washing our undies. but this makes you realize many a thing: our consumption habits in north america are completely out of control! secondly, if we actually lived here we would probably be waking up at four to help milk the cows before trekking for over an hour to school! and that's assuming that we're fortunate enough to be able to attend. we certainly can't complain!

on an entirely different note, i have to end this tree hugging hippy manifesto because andrea and i are in nairobi and going to go get a latte!!! for serious!!!!! now there's a good dose of silver spoon socialism for you. (farron i threw that one in there for you)

SO, we promise to write again soon with more updates on our projects and visits to kibera and mathare. also we apologize for the lack of photos - uploading is almost impossible to do unless you can devote a considerable amount of time and money to the cause.

we hope you are all healthy and happy.
can't wait to see you all soon.

peace and love.
andrea and ktq