THE JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF AFRICA AND ITS THOUSAND CONTRASTS
“Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble”
I arrived in Mombasa early in the humid morning of July. It was some weird feeling within me, after so many hours of flight from Europe to Africa. That was not a real excitement that I am in Kenya but rather the fear if my expectations will meet the reality in this African land. Since I was a child, I have dreamt about visiting Kenya and experiencing the amazing safari in the sunset of savannah. Now, I still think I dream but I am on the African continent and I am starting my own adventure. At least, that does it seem very real.
Before we realise any exotic trip, we have to make sure we are capable for such a kind of journeys. What does it mean? I always like to remind people that not every destination is for everyone and that there are always some signs that we have to follow so we don’t risk to turn our imaginations into the worst nightmares. It is not about financial background that has to be covered too but about the security, cultural, social and health perspectives of any vacation. This doesn’t suggest that the ordinary tourists have to check if the picked land is a terrorist target or quarantine for deadly virus but to try to learn what are the potential risks, challenges and threats in such a land and how they could be prevented, limited or even addressed, if happen. In the case of Kenya, the tourism is highly appreciated and welcomed, there are no red alerts that could concern us but there are some issues that must be taken into the consideration and under information umbrella. The country itself is safe from any direct kind of terrorism but not free from roots of Somalian Al-Shabaab. It is very important to know that this Somalian terrorist group has been fragmented into the twins groups that are located around Somalia and Kenya and they try to get popularity on the international media coverage through attacks on soft targets. Kenya is the land with very high tourism capacity because of the good safari potential and that is exactly what terrorists need. Some of them are integrated local fighters that are capable to lead the operations against Kenyan government. The terrorist attack in Nairobi hotel, in January 2019 was exactly the attempt of Al-Shabaab to put Kenya under pressure. The shadow of it will influence the fluctuation of tourists, who are not all afraid, on the other side and they do choose life and light and don’t give up on their destination because of the bunch of islamic cowards.
The next important thing is health. The available immunisation is the first step and the prophylactic medicaments are the second. For every single traveler it is crucial to make sure that there are food and water safety and that the risk for animal or insect bites is limited as much as possible. The most recommended vaccines are those common, against Diphtheria; Hepatitis A and B; Poliomyelitis; Tetanus. Some people decide to take a vaccine for Rabies, Cholera and Yellow Fever but we also need to analyse the effects of all of them on our bodies and immune system. If there is no such a big need for all of them, the best option is to take those that are basic and then to try to dance on the dancing floor, without gateway into the unknown world of dangers in Africa. You can get everywhere sick, that is for sure but you also can be obsessed with maniac prevention that will make you lunatic and also an easy prey for all of your worst fears. As someone who has read a lot about the epidemic situation in Kenya, my decision was very plain. I took vaccine against Hepatitis A and B and I took Malarone pills, as prevention of Malaria disease. Personally, I find Malaria very disturbing because it can’t be really cured or stopped, especially if we are too late with diagnostics. The risk of getting it is high in the whole Kenya and through the whole year. I started with pills one week before the trip, all the days during holiday and even one week after. They are not so bad or at least, my organism hasn’t had an issue with them. Insect repellant are significant to be used, especially in the evening hours on the coast and during safari expedition. I must admit that I haven’t seen many mosquitos in Kenya during my staying over there but I also have been a great consumer of sprays against insects. There are even people who I met that they didn’t use any prevention and they were happy. As always, it is a matter of personal choice and how we see the risks around us or their potential to destroy our lives. Related to Kenyan health challenges, my concrete fear has been developed during the visit of Shimba Hills, the rain forest in the coastal region, when I saw Tsetse flies for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I have read about them and their capacity to spread the malign parasite:” The tsetse fly spreads the parasitic diseases human African trypanosomiasis, known as sleeping sickness, and Nagana that infect humans and animals respectively. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, 70 million people are currently at risk of deadly infection. Human African trypanosomiasis is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of neglected tropical diseases and since 2013 has become a target for eradication. Understanding the tsetse fly and interfering with its ability to transmit the disease is an essential arm of the campaign.” When you read it in the perfect comfort of your home, you don’t take it so seriously as when you see them within your safari jeep, knowing what kind of power they have. I was almost under panic attack seeing so many of them, flying around me and trying to land. Not all of them are dangerous but some are definitely worth of concern. According to local people who I talked to, those flies are more dangerous during the rain period when is the parasite active than in the dry season . I don’t know why I think that Kenyans don’t take those flies as a threat as they should. I guess that many of them even don’t think of that risk and they simple do live their lives, the best way they can. Hakuna Matata. No Problem. For me was a problem to accept to go through the every new day, having a thought about infectious insects or potential vector.
Kenya is a land of different faces, thousand contrasts and remarkable passions of its residents. The first portray of Kenya has been shaped for me in Mombasa, during my drive to the hotel on the Indian Ocean. It was a shock. Mombasa is waking up under the African sun, crowded and polluted but shinning. There are so many people who are chasing the one single shilling, trying to sell or buy, to live or die. The beautiful black men and women in modern clothes are traveling from one side of Mombasa to another, hurrying up in their offices, to grab the day and welcome the business opportunities. The simple people from villages who are using the ferry boat too and hoping that Mombasa will give them a chance. All of them are united but still different. They are together but still distanced. It is like you cut the city with the knife, the precise surgery. The two magnetic fields, the two worlds that gravitate one into another and one against another.
I don’t understand those passengers that are enjoying their whole holiday only in the hotel facility like that is all they need. They have their commodity and they arent even interested in taking a look out the zone of comfort. Such a people don’t use local tut-tuk to reach their destination and to lose a breath when the local driver drives you and try to get 15,00 EUR for his boss, so the rest can keep it for his family. At the end of the day, you pay 2,00 EUR and he is lucky. Some tourists take hotel taxi and they feel safe. They pay more and they miss to see the pulse of Kenya. The real life is outside the walls of our hotels, the struggle for surviving in the land of corruption, low income and everyday battle for earning something. The local people try to attract foreigners with their handmade products that are priceless at the beginning of negotiation and useless and the end of handling. We have to understand them. They see people from USA and Europe and they see chances for dollars and euros, the better life, at least for just a one day. The scary fact about Kenya is that only 20% of Kenyans have medical cover and the rest is without. In the land of many health threats, this sounds like a horror. I don’t say that government doesn’t try to solve this but it is not their priority either. The majority of people in Kenya has also no retirement plan. Based on some studies, about 38% of people over there can’t afford to set aside any money for retirement and 12% is not interested at all. Only one in 10 Kenyans has reached something known as an individual retirement plan and that is the also the problem that can’t be solved over night. The consequences of it are visible everywhere. The people work even if they are sick and old. If you compare them to the elite folk that come from Nairobi for a break on Mombasa coast, you are getting a puzzle. Who is who in this chess game in 3 D?
I visited the local secondary school in the small village on the coast. The school has been founded based on European and American donations but there are still a lot of needs and the children are definitely worth of further investments. All of them have been so happy to get an attention but after all, I am going back to my home and they are staying there, hoping to get a possibility for education. Just to think of European and American kids that take all for granted and giving noting in return in relation with African children, that have sincere joys in their eyes and their hearts.
Kenya has taken my heart with its wildlife. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing free and protected majestic animals in their habitats, walking proud and happy. Those national parks are marvellous and I am impressed how the government has invested into the fight against poachers and into the conservation. The African sunset is unforgettable experience that brings us the new life energy. As someone who is deeply in love with wildlife, I could have almost cried when I saw lions and elephants walking down the red road on the Savannah, following their own traces, with no worries. The Simba has watched the surrounding with the curiosity and no fear, being embraced with sun kiss and the hope of the whole mankind. At one moment of time, I believed I learnt how to catch the rhythm of Hakuna Matata and how to keep it all life long within me.
Welcome to Kenya, where the dream meets reality, shaped on your desires.
3 thoughts on “KENYA: THE LAND OF SUN, SIMBA AND HAKUNA MATATA”
Sarah’s candid and introspective article brought to mind the contrasts in perception of freedom between Europeans and Africans: as the French celebrate Bastille Day (July 14th, 1789), I think of the notorious Mau Mau Uprising (1952-196) in Kenya, which the British military crushed with brutal force.
The indigenous Kenyans desired to be autonomous from imperial controls and exploitation, but the Occidental powers made certain this would not occur, in the 1950s; despite the fact that the British government had ratified the UN-Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (e.g. right of a people to self-determination). The British military was involved in crushing another indigenous uprising in The Malay Archipelago (1948-1960), simultaneously. The fiscal cost of suppressing the revolt in Kenya was £55 million (c. US$700 million in 2019).
The British government in Kenya implemented policies that the German government had instituted in the 1930s-40s (e.g. forced labour camps, torture and extra-judicial executions). Even some British colonial officers were astounded by the barbarism of their fellow officers and soldiers: ‘short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging; all in violation of The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’
The British military killed about 20,000 Mau Mau militants in combat situations, wounded many thousands more, and executed more than 1,000 (more than in any other British colonial possession). The British lost only 200 soldiers, and 500 wounded.
Among the Mau Mau detainees who suffered severe mistreatment from the British military was Hussein Onyango Obama (i.e. the grandfather of Barack Obama, the former President of The United States of America). According to his widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods.
Several massacres occurred, perpetrated by British military personnel against Mau Mau civilians, but no British soldiers were prosecuted for war crimes.
The reason the British government endorsed Fascist tactics against the Mau Mau was because Kenya was essential to British foreign trade and African intelligence service networks of the British. The Soviets were encroaching on Eastern Africa; inspiring indigenous Africans to rise up against Western European hegemony. Pan-Africanism was at its height, as well.
In 2013, the then British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced in Parliament that the government had reached a settlement with the Mau Mau claimants (total value of £19.9 million). Yet, he exclaimed ‘We continue to deny liability on behalf of the government and British taxpayers today for the actions of the colonial administration, in respect of the claims’.
In 2015, the British government unveiled a Mau Mau memorial statue in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park that it had funded ‘as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered’.
Wow ! Just Beautiful, Sarah ! I can definitely see that it was written from the heart !
I can definitely relate to the experience as to street vendors trying to sell you anything. Even though I’m a good haggler, I don’t really enjoy all the bargaining in order to reach a reasonable price !
As for the experience of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, I can’t even begin to imagine the joy and the beauty of witnessing it !
Thank you so much, Sarah, for this amazing article and for all the education it entailed !
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