A country like Kenya has lots of different sides. Maybe as a tourist, you won’t see much more than the luxurious ‘too good to be African’ lodges and villas, with western foods and toilets. Because Kenya still, even though there is in fact lots of development, has poverty and corruption. I am lucky to discover both sides. After 4 weeks spend in the Masai Mara, the south-western part of Kenya, I find myself now at the east cost of Kenya.
We stay in an absolutely gorgeous villa, which we rented through Airbnb. After the Mara (and Uganda; the other 3 people we are here with did their research there) we craved a more tropical climate. So the east coast of Kenya was a perfect destination. We are now in Diani Beach, about 30 km south of Mombasa. It is everything you need when you want a dreamy, sunny and relaxing holiday. Big house with a pool, sunshine the whole day and a cook who makes whatever you belly desires. A strange experience if you just spend a month cooking yourself (which is a big challenge when you have to keep the cockroaches out of the pan) and slept in beds that are not really beds as much as a matress with a hole in it (weird beds). I feel like I experienced two extremes, with Nairobi as a perfect middle of those two extremes.
Anyways, I am enjoying myself in the ‘sunny’ side of Kenya. While writing this, our cook is making us breakfast, which is still a bit weird (I can obviously also make my own breakfast) and after we’re going to lay next to the pool and work on our tan. BTW, how’s the Netherlands? Hehe.
Prepare for a safari pictures overload. Yesterday we went on a full day drive in the Masai Mara National Reserve, after being so lucky to spend a day in a fancy lodge in the Reserve the day before. Since I have not posted that much pictures from my trip in Kenya, I thought this would be a good moment to share some.
‘A free massage’. That is how they call the road from Nkoilale to the biggest city in the county: Narok town. Imagine the most rocky road you have ever driven on. Now double the amount of rocks, sand and holes. To make it even worse, it is rain season in Kenya right now. So mud everywhere on the sandy roads. We even got stuck in a mudbad, which is not exactly what you want at 6:30 in the morning. But it was good to go to a city that has access to sanitary and served food. And a supermarket!
Narok was an interesting experience. We went there to interview some important stakeholders for our research. The chief officer of youth (the department that is in charge of the Vocational Training Centre), Jane, was our first interviewee of the day and a welcome addition to our data collection so far. Her job is to manage and finance all the Vocational Training Centres (we do our research about a possible VTC in Nkoilale, a VTC is comparable to MBO in the Netherlands) in the Narok county. She had so much knowledge about where it went wrong with Kenya its educational system: practical skills were taking for granted and academic knowledge was according to many the answer for poverty. Only a few years ago they discovered that academic studies are not for all and that practical skills such as mechanics, carpenters and plumbers are needed as well. Especially in deserted places like Nkoilale, where unlike Narok development of infrastructure, sanitary and houses stood still.
Our research takes us more and more into the community and its needs and wishes. They need an institute that takes the ‘slow learning’ youth of the streets and makes them useful, they wish the youth was not so idle and above all, they want to have growth. We realised in our trip that the community here is ambitious, wants more than the situation they are in now. In the beginning, we discussed whether we should research if the people wanted evolution; culture can stop growth because they want to keep their traditions. They proved us wrong. While speaking to the education officer in Narok, our second interviewee later that day, he told us that in the whole Mara region Nkoilale is the most open. Open for education, social development, a more sustainable and carefree life. In some villages this is not the case. Families keep their children home to take care of the cows. They think education is a waste.
In Nkoilale, every child gets send to at least primary school. The nearest secondary school is not near and expensive. For the ‘slow learners’ with low grades, the opportunity for a scholarship is not there so they become the idle youth. Simply because they cannot go to school to learn and have no skills to find a proper job. For them, a Vocational Training Centre would be the solution.
Reaching the end of our stay here in Nkoilale, and the end of our data collection, we have grown alot to the people here and their passion to make Nkoilale developed. I say we because I know my other team mates feel the same. We were sometimes in doubt whether the VTC would actually be build or not, but with talking to the staff of Ministery of Education our hopes got up. They are pro VTC, but finances are at the moment lacking and that is a problem right now. It might not be easy, it is an even more bumpy than the ride from Nkoilale to Narok, but eventually they will get that VTC. I’m sure of it.
The last few days it has been raining a lot. Now, it is pouring. This morning, while on an amazing first day of safari, the sun was shining though. More on that later. It is almost 18:30, time to make dinner. Only a week before I leave this place, time goes fast….
My god, I miss hot showers. A decent toilet. Chocolate. First world issues that spin through my head while writing my third Kenya -blog post. The days here are like night and day compared to my life in the Netherlands. Our routine is different, other things take priority. Let me decribe a typical day for you.
When I wake up, most of the time around 10 AM, the first thing I check is if there are no bugs in my mosquito net. To be honest, this is something I do all through the night. Last week, an cockroach the size of one of my fingers was in my mosquito net. I almost cried. Then I get dressed and go on my way to the best part of the day (please detect my sarcasm): the bathroom. As I mentioned before, the shower is a bucket and we have no access to hot water. Luckily, the climate is dry and hot here but it still is a daily struggle. The toilet is maybe the worst thing here. I am well aware that the people here do not know anything else. This is what they grew up with. But it is awful. The corners of the small wooden house are filled with spiders and bees. Flies swirl around the small hole. You can probably imagine how terrible this is for a ‘westerner’.
We prepare breakfast in our small kitchen on a gasoline stove. Fridges here are rare, so no cooled foods. Cooking here is, believe it or not, quite fun. Since we do not have much diversity in products (bananas, oranges, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, onion and carrots we have mostly. Occationally we find a paprika or an avocado on the market, which makes us all extremely happy), we experiment different preparations of the foods we do have. I actually learned how to make bread from scratch. Lara brought spices so we often make garlicy bread. So tasty. For breakfast, we are a bit obsessed with french toast. Okay, me. I am obsessed with french toast. We have eggs and milk (fresh from the cow) plenty here, so it is great to make the boring bread (white bread, zero nutritive value or taste) more delicious.
Then we go on with our day. Mostly our days consist out of conducting interviews, typing out the interviews in the computer lab (they do have wifi there, which is the most modern thing in this place) and going to the city centre for groceries. The city centre is about a 15 minute walk away, and has a few shops where you can buy the essential foods and drinks. When we go for shopping, we bring some of our guides. You need them here to buy cheap food. You see, shopowners have no problem with tripling their prices when they see tourists. If we would not bring locals, it would cost us a fortune to eat here.
Monday is market day. Then they have a broader mix of foods, like avocados and water melons. And sometimes, sometimes Moses (the headmaster of the primary school we stay at) brings goodies from Narok, the ‘big city’. Muffins, cacao to make chocolate milk and brown bread. What a treat!
Strangly enough, we rarely have lunch. We wake up rather late (10 AM) and by the time breakfast is ready, it is not breakfast anymore but more a brunch. The people here find our eating habits weird anyway. They wake up at 6 AM (HOW? SO EARLY), eat breakfast and have lunch at noon. They eat dinner at 9 PM.
We are already hungry around 5 PM (obviously because we don’t eat lunch haha). Mike, the game keeper of the school, brings us our fresh milk and when we still have cacao, we make hot chocolate. Mike is by the way also the one who keeps us safe from the wild life. Believe it or not (we sometimes even have trouble believing it ourselves), but the daily life here has elephants destroying the fence of the school and lions preying on the school cows.
Preparing dinner takes the longest. We have to fetch water to boil the veggies and clean and cut the vegetables and potatoes. Also, most of the time the dishes are not done yet. I hate doing the dishes back in the Netherlands. My least favourite chore. But here, it is worse. You have to get the water outside, boil it (but you never have enough to wash all the dishes) and clean it in a bowl. The bowl is always dirty unfortunately. Also, they are unaware of the concept of dish soap. They use just an ordinary soap stick here.
When dinner is ready, we pop on a movie (no netflix but we have some movies that we brought) and relax for the rest of the evening. It is strange, but even though we don’t do much, the time flies. Lara warned me for this: each chore and activity takes twice as long as in the Netherlands. You need patience for everything.
Yes I miss lots of things we do have in the Netherlands. Everyhing is easier where we live. But this life also has a charm. Taking time to prepare a full on dinner. Fetching water in the Kenyan sunlight. Going to the bathroom at night and seeing that the sky is full of stars and a bull is quietly eating some grass in front of the toilet. Just the normal things… haha.
Already one week ago I left home and came to beautiful Kenya. It seemed like yesterday that I stepped into the plane. Or maybe I should say: only one week. But so many things happend in one week, it is insane. We have spend our time discovering the Masaai culture, which is the most interesting part of this trip so far. The people are fasinating.
Yesterday we played the game ‘more than one story’ with a few locals. I recommend anyone who goes abroad for a long time to take this game with you, especially if you visit a culture that is nowhere similar to yours. The game is basically a cardgame. Every card has a question on it, that asks the players to tell a story. It can be about their childhood, something they are proud of, memories they will never forget… I sometimes forget that every person in the world has the same foundation. We all have stories to tell, only all stories have different morals, values and beliefs.
I was amazed to hear that the two nurses were most grateful for something we take for granted: education. Something so simple for us in Western countries, but so precious for them. They were grateful for their mothers, for sacrificing so much to let their children have education. But also the stories of their childhood, that are so different from ours. Instead of playing videogames or watching tv, their days consisted out of taking care of the cows. Their traditions are so normal to them, but to us it is far from what we know. I won’t tell every story in detail, because I won’t be able to tell it with the pride and strength they told it.
Also, yesterday we visited a woman named Edith. She makes Masaai beadwork. She sells the most beautiful bracelets, necklesses and belts. Everyone wears them here, and yesterday I also got my first bracelet too. It seems like the most difficult work, because the beads are so close to each other and the pattrons seem complicated. But Edith promised us to teach us how to do it, so Saturday Lara and I take up the challenge to make some beadwork ourselves. The best thing about the Masaai beadwork is the power it brings. You might know that women in Kenya don’t have that much say in their families. Edith told us that she cannot sell the cows or goats her family owns, only her husband. It is how it works here. I even did a project on it a few semesters ago. Did you know that when the husband dies, there is a big change that the wife gets disowned from the land she lived on? The husband’s family takes it and she will be left with nothing. It is hard to see how dependent women are here. And that is why it filled my heart when Edith said: ‘But this beadwork, it is my own. My husband has no say over it. It is my work and that is why I am so proud of it.’ Girl power.
We are definitely living the simple life here. Doing laundry takes all morning, we need to clean the entire house everyday and water we only get outside (if the tap even works). But it is nice to see how you can life that way too. Even if (thank god) it is only of 4 weeks.