When I brought up the plan of traveling in East Africa before and after my program, most people freaked out, except my best friend, Britney, who had just returned from a trip to Tanzania. She assured me that I would be ok, and that if given the opportunity to travel, I should go for it. I have definitely not regretted my decision to go for it! I have been in Africa for 10 days, and so much has happened, I have no idea where to begin. My brain has seen and thought so much, it is impossible to place it all in words. Here is a "brief" overview of what is going on in my brain:
To begin, there is no possible way to escape looking like a white tourist, which is a struggle when you are traveling around East Africa. Everywhere you go, and it does not matter if you are walking on a street or in an enclosed vehicle, someone will try to sell you something all the time (fruit, jewelry, tours, taxi rides, etc). Many sources advise westerners to not give money, donations, or candy out. It only took one day to realize what this has done to the communities that I have seen thus far. Economic local development and education are the answers, not a constant stream of western aid. Time, patience, and sustainable development are necessary to reverse the "white people will give us whatever we need" mentality. I am excited for ThinkImpact, because we are to prototype and implement this type of development with not a penny of capital provided by us. However, it will be a challenge, because there is a fine line between development and infringement on culture.
This weekend, Tina, Alison, and I went on safari in Maasai Mara National Park. Although our time was short, we were still able to see many animals. A game drive feels just like you are in a Jurassic Park movie! We fly down extremely bumpy roads to see if we can make it in time to view whatever unique animal has been sighted. The most incredible experience that we had was driving up on a momma lion and her four cubs!
At the end of our safari, we visited the local Maasai village, which is one of the most famous and oldest tribes in East Africa. If you have ever been to Living History Farms in Des Moines, then the very first Native American farm is a good way to imagine what life is like for the Maasai people. They live off the fat of the land. The men's responsibility is to take care of the cattle, sheep, and goats, while the women must stay at home to cook, clean, and care for the children. We were surprised to learn that they hold Christian beliefs, and some children attend church on Sundays. Their homes are made from animal dung and mud. After every nine years, they abandon their village and move to a new place to avoid using up all of their resources and leaving a large impact on the land.
For the other communities that I have witnessed, I have observed that they typically live very sustainably, but there is great room for improvement in healthcare, sanitation, and education. There are schools EVERYWHERE, but from what I have heard, the quality of education received varies widely. There is also little differentiation in markets, which creates a greater supply than there is demand and drives down prices. For example, almost every little shack sells coca cola and cell phone minutes. The outside walls are plastered with signage from coca cola and their cell companies, which is sad to see this much commercialization and market domination, even in the most remote places. Also, there are dozens of stands on each road that sell bananas, oranges, and passion fruit, and women everywhere who wish to sell you their crafts.
Now, that I am in Nairobi, it reminds me greatly of China. There are many worldwide companies, ridiculous traffic, and people from every walk of life. It is developed...kind of. You can find the most extravagant hotels with all of the western comforts, but there also are people living on the streets nearby. When I look out my window, it looks just like it did last summer. Since I have been in Africa, it has been a constant sharp switch between feeling like I am in the western world and like I am in a third-world country. All depends on the place!
So what have you actually done? In addition to those observations, I have taken ferries, seen the most beautiful beaches ever, met people from all over the world, touched the Indian Ocean for the first time, gone on a spice and coffee tour, explored Old Stone Town, eaten Swahili food, seen Mount Kilimanjaro (and gained a huge interest in climbing it someday! anyone want to come?!), played volleyball, made new friends, traveled on some interesting roads, and went on safari! The language barrier has not been a problem thus far, because most people speak English to communicate with tourists. For those who know me well, you will be very surprised to hear that I have been taking showers at night (when lucky enough to have a warm one!), going to bed between 8 and 10 pm, and waking up between 5 and 7 am! Isn't that just crazy?!
My bag, which was lost by Delta on my very first flight, still has not been found, but I had a dream last night that it miraculously arrived at my hotel in Mombasa. So maybe there is still hope, but I have adjusted to doing without my bag and have been able to buy a few things here!
In 10 days, I have already gained an understanding of the phrase "in Africa, nobody is poor," which is the tagline of my program. I will describe much more as to what I mean by that at a later time. I depart for my program in a short two days! This is really exciting, because I cannot wait to meet the other scholars and my host family, but I also find myself asking what did I just get myself into?! Only time will tell, catch you up next time! :)