When one thinks of Kenya, one imagines classic safari snapshots of natural beauty, rolling fields, a medley of landscapes sprinkled with herds of wild animals, acacia trees, fiery sunsets, and Maasai people draped in vivid fabric. Kenya is home to the great outdoor expedition – it is National Geographic Magazine on steroids. Of course, most already know that game viewing in Kenya is wonderful, and the bounty of wild animals will almost always promise sightings of the big five as well as other unique animals and colorful birds. Kenya, however, offers much more with its mosaic of cultural diversity.
Now that I have returned from my too-brief Kenyan journey, and have seen all of the above, many want to know about my excursion. I find myself repeating the usual words such as: amazing, incredible and beautiful. Kenya, though, is so worthy of a description than just a few mere words, as it has such an impact on the human spirit when one observes its riches for the first time. I have said it before, and I am repeating it – traveling can change your perspective on life. Visiting Kenya rewired my mindset, and my Kenyan experiences are carefully partitioned within my mental scrapbook.
Shortly after my arrival in Kenya, I was astonished at the contrast of primordial customs to modern or even basic technologies. Absent from many Kenyan homes was running water and electricity. I saw women and children carry heavy containers of water alongside roads. Donkey driven carts transported supplies to the towns. The floor covering in a Maasai home is spongy soil. The images of Kenyan daily life were a demonstration of resilience beyond anything I can ever comprehend in my life. Although I was contented to slip back into the comforts and routines of life in the U.S., this transition was not without some thought-provoking bumps. The citizens of Kenya, who have significantly less than Americans, seem to cope with the hardships of life via positive attitudes and smiles, as well as being outwardly warm and hospitable. In every town I passed, children would wave at our safari vehicle. We would return the wave, and they would laugh. No matter what life trials Kenyans face, there seems to be an immutable spirit and a strong sense of community at play.
Visiting a Maasai village and Kenyan school were highlights of my African odyssey. The Maasai are a tightly knit clan. Some carry machetes, and all are adorned in colorful cloth with layers of beaded jewelry – an image I never see at home. The Maasai welcomed my group into their homes and graciously performed lovely dances and songs. I visited a Kenyan school and was introduced to jumping, enthusiastic, singing, happy children. I went to Kenya to capture images of nature and certainly achieved this objective, but the people of Kenya etched a special niche in my heart and also ushered in a new life perspective.
A change in perspective is often random. Surprises are the engines that prompt change within us. People expect a certain amount of culture shock when they travel to different regions of the world, as I certainly encountered; but this culture shock can be more tenacious when one returns home.
As we travel, we begin to assess our own country with a different vision – with a different perspective. If you visited an impoverished country, you cannot help but realize how much there is to appreciate once you return home. The little problems in your life will have a new dynamic. You will have an expanded awareness – new confidence and a new drive for the atypical experience. Visiting Kenya was an astounding glimpse into a world very different from my own and an equally leveling reminder of how deeply blessed I am. I have easy access to food, clean water, medicine, communications, transportation, shoes and shelter that I do not have to construct myself. I am so fortunate.
This trip made me appreciate all that I have. I wish, however, that my country could assimilate some of that marvelous Kenyan community harmony and relaxed happiness. Nevertheless, having the reminder that we need to put everything into perspective against the realities of the world swells my level of thanks for the day to day conveniences.
My sojourn to this historied land was a remarkable experience. I find myself daydreaming about being back in Kenya. I met admirable people and hold spectacular memories that will be difficult to top. This once-in-a-lifetime trip, however, has prompted a second-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage consideration – perhaps Tanzania? Sowa! Sowa!*
Quoting Karen Blixen: There is something about safari life that makes you forget your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.
* A Swahili phrase that our safari vehicle driver and guide often had us use. It means: OK to go forward!