Haley Kawaja is a Corner Brooker currently living in Kenya and working with ROTH (Reach out to Humanity for Health), an organization that believes that every human being has the right to clean water, nutrition, proper health care, education and shelter.
Kenya is an adventure; East Africa, a gem; the culture, a shock; and this continent, incredible. Life on this side of the world has proven to be an experience so full of color, chaos, happiness, and struggle it is hard to sum it up in a single attempt (much like the continent itself), but I’ll try to give you an idea of how things grow in the African sun.
Photo above : the market in Arusha, Tanzania
Hakuna Matata is the unofficial mantra of Kenya. The local way of life is a relaxed one: everything here runs pole-pole (slowly) and the wazungu (white people) must learn to adjust to “Kenyan time”.
As a mzungu, it’s impossible not to stick out. The first few months I spent here I was swarmed every time I went somewhere goods were being sold (everywhere): vendors offering handmade tribal necklaces and honey straight from the hive with bits of bees still in it were thrust in my face with shouts of “60 bob! Special price!” reverberating in my ears. The day I felt at home in Kenya was the day yet another hawker tried to sell me his work and another said to him, “not her – she’s a local.” I happy danced all the way home!
From weaving through horn-blaring traffic on a motorcycle taxi, to strolling the market and being chased by laughing children yelling mzungu! …local life always make me smile.
Working in Kenya has proved to be the most challenging of my experiences. The slums, the rural villages and the circumstances of the people are a mix of inspiring and devastating. Our target for the ROTH HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme is often the most vulnerable of communities, where amazingly we often find the most motivated individuals. To date we have reached over 3000 people with AIDS awareness, thanks to the dedicated local people we have trained.
Driving down the Nairobi highway it’s not uncommon to see baboons loitering on the side of the road and packs of zebra grazing. I’ve had the joy of watching elephant herds stroll across the hot and dry landscape of the Maasai Mara, not far off from sleeping lions, parading giraffes and hunting cheetah. On my bike I’ve traded the company of pavement and high-rises for that of the lake side, antelope, and hippos. I’ve yet to determine what a safe distance is.
Kenya is the picture of Africa as we often see it from the first world. My safari trip to Maasai Land a few weeks ago gave me the view of acacia trees, rolling hills and water holes I fell in love with from watching The Lion King. Kenya varies incredibly across the country, getting the lush greens in the North near the border of Uganda, the winding hills in the central Rift Valley, and the sandy beaches and crystal blue waters at the coast.
From the lion-hunting warriors of the Maasai tribe, to the children in the slums who greet me with laughter, to the remarkably strong woman who carry 100 lb. loads elegantly balanced on their heads – the people are a people of their own. There are the gangs of street boys who live to survive, yet high-five us whenever we meet; the mobs who will burn a thief to death for his crime; the hustlers who will capitalize on any mzungu mistake; and the ones who will challenge the status quo despite the risk of exile from their own. What more could you ask of a place, than to have everything you could imagine, and even that which you haven’t.