Living in Nairobi, Kenya and travelling through rural areas was an experience I shall always remember. Some who’ve never had the opportunity may think of Nairobi, Africa on the whole, as an epitome for backwardness. I went there not knowing what to expect. As it turned out, I was stunned on arrival. I never expected to see malls far larger than those here in Saint Lucia; huge mansions and wide streets bustling with activity. The nightlife was nothing short of a teenager’s dream. That is not to say the capital of Kenya has everything. It is still a developing country. As for the people, I found them very friendly, laid back and nearly always helpful.
Going to the rural areas, was a major eye-opener. I was shocked at the lifestyle, so different from life in the capital. I enjoyed learning about how the people prized their cattle, their goats and sheep. So many different tribes, too, all with their own unique customs. Try to imagine living quarters, homes made of mud and cow dung; beds made of bits of wood. And of course there is the area in each home reserved specially for their animals. Some of the quarters were barely large enough to accommodate a regular family of seven but the animals were given their own space. All lightning was natural. During the day it came from the sun, and at night from open fires.
The visits I made with friends to these communities were arranged by our school. Here is another thing I will long remember: the way the kids loved going to classes. They held education in high regard. Few of them ever cut classes. Unfortunately many were forced to stay at home; either their parents could not afford to send them to school or they were required to help the family make an income that does not come easy to most people. Their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school, or the children were needed at home to help their parents large make an income sufficient to feed their large families. Many students could not attend school because one of their cows had strayed or had been stolen. Or in the case of girls, their menstrual cycle got in the way. The parents of young students often did not have the money to pay for sanitary napkins.
As for the schools, they were usual short of pencils, notebooks, exercise books, textbooks, blackboards and chalk. Classes were often held in the open air. You may ask, without chalk how did the teachers write. They wrote in the dirt with their forefinger. Of course, the writing didn’t stay very long; like writing on beach sand. Students needed an uncommon sense of recall.
Arranged marriages are commonplace among the tribes. Marriages are arrganged based on how much cattle a suitor can afford. In some communities toddlers wear tribal necklaces to indicate they have been taken. The number of necklaces around a girl’s neck tell when they are of age to marry, usually to men many years older than the young women who have no say in the matter.
I started out saying how advanced was the capital of Kenya but it’s no heaven. Hustlers are everywhere trying sell pirated DVDs, flowers, fruit, hand-carved craft, animal food, even rabbits, kittens and puppies in boxes. The items don’t belong to the vendors. Rather they belong to people who are the equal of slave holders. If a vendor falls short of his or her sales quota, there is usually a heavy price to pay: broken limbs, gouged eyes in some cases. Many of these disabled former vendors are abandoned to beg on the streets for survival, usually accompanied by a relative still able to see.
I will always cherish the time I lived in Nairobi. I learned there to be grateful for things most people might take for granted. I learned to do without. As a young person I witnessed how hard life can be. I feel sorry for people who have ten times as much as the tribesmen I met in Kenya yet have no idea how lucky they are.