Tag Archives: Community

Selling Kenya

Kenyan Personality

I’ve just been surfing my telly with more-than-terrestrial-but-less-than-proper-freeview channels on it for a little bit of junk to watch while I have my lunch after finally making it home from work (I made it up the M1 fine but Leeds has shut Armley it seems..).

As it’s Saturday afternoon there’s not much on so I found myself clicking on Afrika Rising, a programme or indeed channel (I wasn’t paying that much attention) focusing on African culture, and in this case a singer called Asa, who’s Nigerian. It wasn’t particularly her music that made me want to write this though, although it’s worth a listen, she’s got a beautiful, rich, warm voice with a quirky female-Andre 3000 style about her. She’s also been compared to Bob Marley but I don’t think that’s such a claim to fame as EVERYONE in Africa (well, Kenya anyway), is obsessed with Bob.

What made me want to write is that I wanted to connect again with a little bit of African life. I was only there for a comparatively short time, and with so many other mzungu volunteers, and in such conflicting ideas running through my head about why I was there, that it was hard to form real friendships. But I’ve found myself missing Kenya, and in particular the people that live there, their incredible diversity, persistence, ingenuity, warmth, and joy. I’ve in fact just got in touch with Rhoda, the nurse at the clinic I visited, and it’s been so lovely to hear from her.

So I thought, let’s have a look for some DVDs I can immerse myself in, it’s cheaper than a plane ticket – something maybe Michael-Palin-travelogue-like, where we get to know local people without patronising them. OK I know Michael Palin did Africa in Pole to Pole but I wondered if there was anything else I could reminisce at. My brief search revealed nothing of this genre. Type “Africa” or “Kenya” into Amazon’s search engine and you get glamorous and/or colonial Hollywood movies, a huge number of documentaries on the spectacular natural history of the region, and promotional tourism DVDs plugging the latest faceless 5-star resort or expensive safari with the focus not on exploring and discovery but doing what everyone else does, because that must be what all tourists want to do.

WHERE ARE THE BOOKS AND FILMS ABOUT REAL AFRICAN PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES? WHY AM I BEING SOLD THINGS? WHY IS IT THAT PEOPLE ONLY MAKE DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT THE AFRICAN WILDLIFE? WHY ARE ALL THE FILMS ABOUT GLAMOURISED COLONIALISM, OR WAR, OR FAMINE, OR THE “QUAINT TRADITIONAL TRIBESPEOPLE”?!!! There are not just wildebeest and cheetah in Africa, there are real people and communities, with real, modern problems and it really pisses me off that we are still marginalising the warmth you’ll be met with when you get to know local Kenyans, and I’m sure other Africans, in favour of buying into an out-dated image of a 24/7 traditional lifestyle, as if being able to earn money by showing off your village to strangers for money, is a sustainable substitute for education, rewarding work, and development to be able to solve your own problems.

So, in response to the person who reviewed Julia Bradbury’s South African Walks, yes, people do wear tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts, yes they do all have mobiles, no they don’t have to conform to your expectations of how they should live, and no you shouldn’t be disappointed that people haven’t paraded themselves in full regalia for your viewing pleasure.

And the wildlife – yes I think it should be conserved, just like I think wildlife everywhere should be conserved (although Chris Packham may or may not agree),  but it needs to be done in a much more inclusive way, to avoid the resentment that comes from believing you’re being kicked off your homeland to make sure the foreign tourists have lions to look at. And it’s not even you they’ve paid huge sums of money to so that they can do so. Stop bigging it up to the complete exclusion of the human communities that live in the same environments (and have no idea why we make such a fuss about saving the animals because we never take the time to explain they can’t breed quicker than we can kill them).

I realise Amazon doesn’t hold the monopoly on travelogues and documentaries, but it does help dictate what the market wants. I’m sure there are plenty of shorts and modern real-life docs (we saw one at Sheffield’s DocFest in fact) but they’re not viewed widely enough to challenge preconceptions. And propagation of outdated perceptions simply pigeonholes Kenyans (and other Africans?) into the role of anonymous and passive recipient, completely ignoring the talent and genuine passion that they have that’s just waiting to be nutured so they can fulfil their potential, both collective and individual.

I guess I’ll just have to look back at my pictures instead.

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Society, Travel

Mangrove Heaven

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My final goodbyes said to everyone in Kimuka, I headed off to see a bit of the rest of Kenya. I’d originally thought I might do a bit of a tour so I could see different parts of the country but I soon realised that it takes days to get from place to place in Africa and that just wouldn’t possible. I was tired of being on my own too and was really missing my bloke Jamie, but I didn’t want to come straight back to the UK without seeing outside Maasailand, having travelled 4,500 miles and not knowing when I might be able to afford to go back.

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View from the Eco Camp Bar

So on the recommendation of my Rough Guide, I booked a week at the Mida Creek Eco Camp on the Coast about 100 miles north of Mombasa – and home to the Giriama people. I wanted seaside – it was by a crystal clear tidal mangrove creek and just south of the national marine park in Watamu:

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Fishing in the Creek

I wanted to see birds and wildlife – the creek is teeming with birds and fish:

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Camp guide vs Fiddler Crab

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Stork, spoonbill, egret, ibis, whimbrel, plover, etc……

There is sealife galore in the marine park, and there is a protected ancient forest along the road which is home to exotic birds, mammals…:

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Baboons in the Morning Mist

and er- huge insects:

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A Lady Millipede

The other brilliant thing about the Mida Ecocamp is that it’s a real community project – a proper example of ecotourism. Felicity, the owner, came from the UK to visit and ended up staying to set it up when she saw how poor the Mida village was, and how it got overlooked by tourists who preferred to stay in the more developed Watamu or Malindi further up the coast.

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Views across the Ecocamp

Under Felicity’s supervision, the camp was built entirely by local people, using local materials, and now employs the villagers as manager, barmen, waiters, cleaners, chefs, tour guides and security guards – Felicity’s trained them up to do it properly. They continue to buy all their produce from local farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers, all the repairs are done by local villagers.

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Giriama Dancers

All the profits go back to the village community too – they’ve paid for a schoolroom and they salary a teacher there.  This year they have been able to pay schoolfees for some of the children too. As you can imagine, the camp has made a huge difference to the village and its community spirit, petty thieving & arguing has stopped, and it’s a gorgeous place to stay, with huts made out of traditional materials on the bright white sand of the creek and a big, breezy open air bar to lounge in.

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Chef Suleman & Me

I had a brilliant time at the camp, was fed and looked after extremely well, and I had a great laugh with all the staff who were also really helpful – they took an interest in me for who I was, and not one of them tried to charm or beg money from me like elsewhere in Kenya. But for me, the biggest relief of all was to at last to find a charity project that benefits everyone, is completely open about how it does that – and most importantly – works.

You can read more about how the camp has helped the local kids and community recently, how to donate, and exactly where your money will go if you choose to help, on the ecocamp’s website here.


Filed under Africa, Culture, Kenya, Travel

Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless – #UKRiots

Well I can’t very well not mention the devastation that’s gripping the country at the moment. I won’t say much on the topic –  there’s nothing left to say, and everything left to say, and I don’t want to bore you by repeating what’s been whirling through everyone’s minds since last Friday. Apart from anything else, fellow Icelandophile Paul Sullivan of the Matador travel blogging network summarises what’s been going on, really bloody well here. Do give it a read, it’s made me feel like there is still common sense in the world.

Matador Network on the Riots

There is of course lots of speculation on why the “yoof” of the UK are destroying innocent people’s lives & communities. Is it lack of a sense of future? A lack of family and community values? A lack of education and discipline? People are suggesting National Service as a solution to these seemingly overwhelming issues, but here’s an interesting perspective on this issue, from the Guardian’s joepublic blog back in 2009, which might certainly address the sense of community and society so many people are despairing exists any longer.

But for now, my thoughts go out to all my friends and yours in London, and everywhere else where the riots have hit, who are on an emotional rollercoaster just trying to go about their daily lives. Tears, worry, fear, frustration, bewilderment, devastation, pride, defiance, and more. It’s heartening that communities are coming together (one friend lives where the local Turkish community are guarding local businesses; the twitter #riotcleanup has been a triumph of community spirit), and that like another of my good friends in Manchester, people are refusing to give up the cities they love to a bunch of thugs.

However long this lasts, and whatever the aftermath holds though, it isn’t going to be an easy ride. Stay strong Britain, and stand tall.

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Filed under Society