Thursday, September 18, 2008

My friend Bryan in AFRICA...a superb read folks!

TWO AFRICAS - part 1

The first thing that impressed me about the Kenyan chicken farmers was that even though I wasn’t interested in buying a chicken, they still sat me down inside their tumbledown shack and offered a cup of tea. The second thing was that even though these men were just scraping by, selling eggs and corn on the streets of the second-biggest slum in Nairobi, one of them had an email address, and he made me promise to email him pictures of each of his friends holding up their prize chickens. I was so late in getting back to the Mercy Care School that the worried principal almost sent his teachers out into the slums looking for me. Although I felt embarrassed by the concern over my safety, I also knew that I needed to experience more of Africa than I would while on safari, even if I presently stood out as the only white man within ten square miles.

For those of you who are wondering how I went from Nevada to Kenya in less than a week, some backstory is probably necessary. A friend of my family in New York paid $8,000 to reserve space on a safari for semi-professional photographers in the Masai Mara Wildlife Preserve. Unfortunately, this summer the man suffered a fractured vertebrae after an unfortunate incident involving a ladder, a gazebo, and gravity. The tour company was unwilling to refund his money because the departure date was only six weeks away, and since no other relatives could take the time off, I was sent an email inquiring whether I wanted a free trip to the northern Serengeti Plains. A free African safari. Free.

Needless to say, six weeks later I walked into Los Angeles International Airport with thirty pounds of borrowed photographic equipment, bound for Kenya. I get compensated for my newspaper articles in frequent flyer miles rather than cash, which is how I managed to afford the airline ticket. But because I hadn’t been able to book the flight in advance, the best itinerary I could find took two entire days to complete and deposited me in Nairobi one day early. I found a place to stay in the foreign city using the website, which connects people like myself with hosts who are willing to let travelers stay in their houses free of charge. My host’s apartment hadn’t had running water in over a month, but her fellow renters were friendly and considerate, and the bed in the upstairs guest room looked irresistible after my exhausting journey.

My jetlagged body told me it was time to sleep, but the sun had just started to shine on Kenya’s capital city, so we squeezed onto a crowded van and headed for the downtown district. My host worked for a non-profit organization that focused on arms control and peace-building, and she helped orient me to the social realities of life in East Africa. Gazing out the window of the van, I was amazed at how clean and well-dressed each person looked, without exception, even though the city’s infrastructure – the roads and concrete buildings – seemed to be crumbling around them. Businessmen in the sharpest suits were literally walking through rubble to get to work. It appeared as if each Kenyan was trying to individually leap across the divide separating the First and Third Worlds, while the nation itself was falling behind.

Two Africas co-existed here… one showed signs of hardship, and the other of prosperity, but the latter vision was still only a dream for all but the most affluent of citizens. Desperate children sold peanuts to drivers stuck in traffic, while above them, stylish billboards advertised safari tours and cell phone plans. Both SUVs and hand-drawn carts moved through the city, highlighting the economic disparity that had contributed to political unrest during the last elections.

to be continued...

1 comment:

ioana said...

Everyone who goes to Africa seems to have a story when they come back.