Harriet, one of our COCO volunteers, has just arrived in Kenya where she will be spending a total of 3 months evaluating our projects at Maasai Academy and Mercy Primary. Harriet has recently graduated from Newcastle University with her masters in International Development and Education and will be working to develop and plan future support to the projects. This is her first blog of her experiences in Kenya including viewing the magnificent Rift Valley for the first time and meeting the Maasai!
Maasai Academy, Olorte 15/01/15-18/01/15
I didn’t think I’d have that much to say about my first couple of days in Maasai Land but so far it has been very eventful, a lot of fun and extremely interesting! I’m staying with the Marais family; Hennie, Becca and their children. Hennie and Becca coordinate various initiatives in the area including a primary school called Maasai Academy, a clinic and a successful bead work project.
The original plan was for Hennie to pick me up from Nairobi airport then we would drive back to his home in Olorte, a journey that would have taken approximately 5 hours and meant we arrived in Olorte mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, the day before I left the UK his land rover broke down so a new plan was formed. It was decided that Pelua, who is the bead-work manager for Red Tribe and oversees various parts of development at Maasai Academy, would escort me back to Olorte. Before leaving Nairobi we needed to collect a part to replace the part broken on the land rover. We travelled into the centre of Nairobi to pick up the part, which was extremely heavy, and managed to get it and all my luggage onto a matatu (a small bus which holds about 12 people and the drivers are fearless about overtaking!!). The matatu took us to the large town of Narok which is mid-way between Nairobi and Olorte and from there we would take a taxi into the bush. The journey to Narok took us though some amazing scenery particularly when we were driving with a view over the Rift Valley. There were signs saying it was the 3rd best viewpoint in the world. I’m not sure how official that is but it was certainly spectacular!!
(Not only is this photo an amazing shot over the Rift Valley, it’s also the Maasai Cycle Challenge finishing point!)
After arriving in Narok we transferred all the bags and the land rover part into the taxi to travel onto Olorte. It was a shared taxi and they definitely crammed as many people in as they could! In the front there was the driver and two passengers including a very elderly Maasai lady, and then in the back there was 3 men, 2 children and me so it was very cosy! We set off just as the sun was beginning to set and I was treated again to some amazing scenery. Driving straight through the plains I was lucky enough to see giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, antelope and an ostrich which was incredible for my very first day in Kenya! Driving along with the sun setting and seeing the Maasai boys out herding their goats on the impressive backdrop of the plains was very atmospheric.
The only negative was that as the road was so dusty we had to have the windows up which meant that it quickly became extremely hot in the car with so many people! After about 10 minutes it was decided that being covered in dust was better than overheating so the windows came back down and the dust came in but it was definitely better! The sun sets rapidly out here and before I knew it we were driving in the pitch black. The road quickly became a track and the track quickly became a very bumpy track with extreme pot holes, turns and inclines and with all the weight in the little taxi and I am amazed that we made it. We arrived in Olorte about 9 at night but it felt much later! After flying through the night with very little sleep and then travelling the whole day I was exhausted and ready for bed, despite it only being 6 back home!
Hennie and Becca were waiting for me and after asking about my journey showed me to my tent where I would be sleeping for the next 6 weeks. The tent is a large safari tent located at the bottom of their garden and contains 2 single beds, a chair and a small cabinet so is very welcoming. As I have it to myself I’ve unpacked all my things onto the second bed so it’s starting to resemble my messy bedroom back home already! The location of the tent is beautiful and very peaceful with the only noises being the birds, the colobus monkeys in the trees and the sound of the river at the bottom of the compound. When the sunsets however, the wildlife really comes alive and the air is filled with the noise of crickets and various bird calls. Going to sleep with the noise of hyenas outside my tent amongst all the other noises was a very surreal experience and I’m surprised by just how quickly I’ve gotten used to it! The setting here is beautiful and although it is extremely remote the Marais family and all the local Maasai who come into the compound either to work on the beadwork project or do general maintenance are extremely friendly and I’m gradually picking up Maasai greetings and phrases.
Yesterday we took a drive out of the compound to Lenkijabe, which means a cold place in K’maasi, (although it definitely wasn’t cold!) a very scenic spot and a favourite with the Marais family. The plan was to take up food and firewood, have a BBQ and watch the sunset. As I had arrived at night it was interesting to drive out of the compound and actually see the surrounding area and just where I was. The drive took us past the Maasai Academy which sits very proud at the top of a small hill. COCO has supported the primary school by funding the building of a kitchen, classrooms and a sports pitch. The school itself is very attractive and has a huge hand painted wall making it very eye-catching.
The sports pitch (awaiting grass!)
This quick glimpse has made me very excited to visit the school properly and meet the staff and children. We continued our journey to Lenkijabe which took us through a number of small Maasai villages with very traditional houses made from cedar sticks, soil and cow dung. Seeing the Maasai in their traditional clothing and the women adorned with beaded necklaces and earrings was fascinating and I am keen to learn about their culture so have been asking Hennie and Becca a lot of questions and have learnt a lot from them so far.
As we began to drive off the ‘main road’ I moved to sit roof-top with the children and Becca and the views were incredible. The area here is a lot greener than I was expecting with rolling hills and small forests dotted everywhere. As we drove we began to see evidence of people moving into the previously uninhabited and unspoiled area. Areas for making shambas (gardens) had been marked out with branches, there were a number of fully built homes and more nearing completion and parts of the land where elephants lived was being de-forested to make space for growing crops. As Hennie and Becca had only visited Lenkijabe a few weeks earlier it was a shock for them to see it so developed. I later learnt that the reason so many families were moving up there was that their old land had been set aside by the local government to build a secondary school so the families had been given permission to occupy the land at Lenkijabe. However, it has now come to light that there was never actually any money for a secondary school and was a lie told by the governor to generate popularity and receive votes. This kind of corruption and dishonesty is sadly not unusual and the Maasai population are often taken advantage of and treated with little respect.
The plan for the next few days is to visit the academy and get a better understanding of some of the issues facing the school and the community. My first few days in Maasai land have been a great adventure and the combination of fascinating culture and great wildlife means that every day is different.
Harriet looks set to have an amazing trip, and we cant wait to hear more updates!