Monday, May 28, 2007

May 26, 2007 Arrival and the Mara

After a long but smooth flight, with a layover in Dubai that made me miss the Middle East, we arrived in Nairobi a little delirious but more excited. We took a van to a home in Westlands, a posh district of Nairobi where much of the ex-pat, aid, and embassy workers live. A young man in one of my classes was from Nairobi, and his parents offered to house us for our first night in Kenya. We could not have asked for a more ideal circumstance, as Tom and Linda were extremely welcoming and knowledgeable about Kenya and development issues, as they both have experience in USAID, the Peace Corps, and other international projects. They treated us to the best Indian food I’ve had since I was in India and introduced us to a seventh member of our team, Tusker (Kenyan brew).

The next morning we left for Wilson Airport, where we had the coolest flight experience of our lives. In a small aircraft, we traveled with the pilot and two workers from Free the Children through the Rift Valley to the edge of the Masai Mara. Our team was invited by the Sanam Vaziri Quaraishi Foundation to film the beginnings of a project the foundation is conducting along with Free the Children. They are working with the Kipsigi tribal community of Salabwek of Narok South District in Kenya for a long-term community development project. The project includes four components: primary education, water and sanitations, alternative income program, and health care. The Sanam Foundation project is in the first phase of primary education, building a new school campus to accommodate the approximately 1,000 primary school and nursery children currently enrolled in an overcrowded, understaffed school.

We have stayed three days so far filming and photographing the progress of the project, focusing on its relationship with the community. Through interviews with teachers, administrators and students at the school, community members and parents, as well as the staff of Free the Children, we have compiled a wealth of information and images of the wonderful work that is being done. The partnership between the community and the workers and volunteers of the Free the Children project is remarkable, so rare in many aid-projects that alienate the local community. Visiting schools and playing with the children is a joy, and standing in front of classrooms, I am overwhelmed by memories of my time in Tanzania as an English teacher for deaf students in the village primary school. From the Kiswahili greetings, to the navy blue student uniforms, to the enthusiastic and respectful demeanor of the students, it is a quite a stroll down memory lane. It has invigorated my passion for sub-Saharan Africa, and I quite often am shocked by the ease of interaction with the males in the community, so different from my last rural experience in Morocco. Today a gathering of Mamas and Babas welcomed us with a song and rhythmic clapping; their expression of appreciation overwhelmingly touching as we rather awkwardly thanked them with our limited “Asante Sana”’s. We’ve gotten quite a bit of footage so far, and tomorrow promises to be a packed day of getting some stock footage of the “downtown” strip (maybe a block long of basic shops and a salon; we had to drive about 20 minutes last night to pick up Tusker), seeing the main water source of the Mara River, experiencing the local market, and wrapping up some final interviews. Sunday early morning we head off to Malaba, which is still rather mysterious for us and promises to be a long.. interesting… ride…

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