Monday, 14 March 2011

Coco's Kenyan Adventure (part 3)

For the next two days, we ranged across the savannah in search, mainly, of cats. This time of year, much of the game has migrated across the Masai river to the Serengeti and the plains are empty in large areas. There is, however, a small population of wildebeest, gazelles, giraffes, zebra and waterbuck who stay throughout the year. But the cats remain and the lions are plentiful - one pride we spotted numbered 13 including cubs. Male lions tend to roam in smaller groups and we saw a group of young male lions as well as a number of fully-grown males with fine manes.

On our last day on the Mara, we visited a Masai village and school. Our group of five included Bev, a secondary school teacher (and deputy head) who was keen to take gifts to the children to help them in school.

When we arrived in the village, we were greeted by the son of the chief - although all the young men were probably sons of the chief and all the 120 residents of the village were related to him. In fact, when the young men marry they have to leave to village to go in search of a bride.

The young men of the village, Masai warriors all, were immaculately dressed in traditional costume, whereas the women sitting under a tree with their small children were obviously of much lesser importance and their dress and, more significantly, the state of the children sadly reflected this.

The young warriors treated us to a traditional dance and jumping display - this jumping is important in their selection of a bride and the highest jumpers pay a lower dowry to the father of the bride. Then we were taken into the pitch dark of the huts which are their homes. The one we entered was the size of an average room and, as well as including a cooking area and a number of hens, it slept 16 adults and children.

The young warrior hosting our visit spoke excellent English and described his journey to manhood including circumcision at 14 (don't even ask me how we got on to this) when it is considered not manly either to move or scream in pain. Then the young warriors go in groups of 40 or so into the savannah to hunt lion. Each warrior seeks to distinguish himself by being the first to stick a spear into the lion. The one who achieves this can then wear his hair long.

Although both boys and girls are allowed to go to school, it was obvious from meeting the women of the village that they have received little or no education. Whilst the men hunt and tend the animals, the women cook, care for the infants, build the huts (out of straw, sticks and cow dung), wash clothes and do a whole myriad of jobs. Not for them the fine feathers of the warrior who is, of course, able to take more wives provided he can support them. The women also walk up to two kilometres each way to fetch water daily.

The school was teeming with children proudly dressed in a range of school uniform clearly handed down many times over. Their obvious delight in the opportunity to learn was inspiring. And surprisingly, they made me realise that, regardless of my views of the exaggerated importance given to the game by the British media, football is truly a world sport and a universal language between nations.  That a small boy in a tiny village in the heart of the Masai Mara knows about and admires Wayne Rooney is surely amazing on all sorts of levels. It does make one wonder whether, if he understood this, he might give more consideration to his behaviour on and off the pitch.

Our last day started as early as ever and after our 6.30am shout of 'jambo' we were up and off, across the plains, through the shanty towns and back to the bustle and traffic of uptown Nairobi.

Looking at the westernisation of the city and the effects that our throw-away, consumerist society is having on the beauty that is Kenya, it makes me wonder how much of what we bring to them is good. I can, on the one hand, appreciate that women in their primitive tribes lead an unthinkably hard life and that we must help children living in terrible poverty in the countryside and cities. On the other hand, the proud traditions of the warriors may be lost in our drive to bring our lifestyle and aspirations to these parts of the world. And yes, all the warriors had mobile phones.

The last part of our Kenyan adventure involved a visit to the Giraffe Sanctuary in what the locals call the Karen suburb of Nairobi. This part of town was once farmed by Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame and is now a leafy suburb. The giraffe sanctuary is a unique opportunity to get really close and feed and pet these gentle giants. Their elegance and poise would make any high-heeled model look clumsy and they stand and pose for photographs with a gang of pumba (warthogs) scuttling at their feet.

Finally we went to the famous Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi - famous for its "Beast of a Feast" with meats including ostrich, camel and crocodile. Since we came here in 2003, game - zebra for example - has been taken off the menu as it is now illegal to serve it in restaurants. This is, however, a truly international experience rather than just a tourist attraction as Kenyans come here in abundance and each table strives to continue to keep the flag flying (literally a paper flag on the table) as carvers bring different meats cut directly off the bone and on to your plate. When you can eat no more, the flag is lowered and the meat stops coming - a unique experience.

And so we flew home finally reaching Yorkshire some 36 hours after leaving the Mara - tired and dirty but, I think, with our horizons broadened and perhaps with a greater appreciation of what I fear may be a disappearing world.

Special thanks to Bev for her great photographs and especially to Coco for a really fantastic, unforgettable trip.

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