Sunday, June 9, 2013

On safari at Masai Mara: Camp encounters at Kichwa Tembo

Here's Kichwa Tembo, where we stayed for four nights at the Masai Mara. I think it was my favorite place, but maybe that's just because we stayed a while rather than moving around with all the packing and unpacking.

This is Mary. She works in Reception and helped me with my internet problems the first night. We talked several times and she's now a Facebook friend.


TaTa Communications was having its awards retreat, so there were lots of IT marketing types in the camp. They were a cheery, noisy, international group. From the snippets of conversation I overheard, I don't think anyone was relaxing much. So much thinking and networking going on!

One day the TaTa people took picnic lunches into the bush, so Kichwa didn't serve lunch to the other half dozen of its guests. Instead, we took a quarter-mile walk to a neighboring camp and were served there. Nearby we saw a party of four having lunch. As it happened, a young girl was celebrating her birthday. The camp staff knew about this and celebrated with a song and a dance and a cake. Here's a video Art took of the celebration.


The girl's mother is an American actress. Do you recognize her? I'm not naming her because I think celebrities are entitled to privacy when they're on safari, and I don't want search engines picking up my blog post.

Art couldn't resist one wildlife shot within the restaurant.

That evening dinner was served outdoors. We were one of the few tables not occupied by TaTa Communications people. The woman whose eyes I had met watching the lions the night before came up to me. "Do you live in Maine?" I was wearing a Schooner Heritage hoodie, which probably prompted her question. "No," I said, "but I've been there several times, sailing." She said, "My sister went to college in Maine."

"Where did you go to school?" I asked. "Wellesley," she said with a smile.

"Where do you live now?"

"Singapore."

"Wow. That seems like an exotic location."

"My husband works there."

"Oh, your husband works for TaTa?"

"Yes. He's the CEO."

She smiled and left. A few minutes later, our server Kosen came over and said, "The lady says that your drinks while you are here will be paid for."

The woman's name is Sui Ling Chea. I watched her as she circulated among the guests. I could tell she was a good listener; she seemed interested in each person she spoke to. I Googled TaTa Communications; it is a very large company. The CEO's name is Vinod Kumar. I spoke with him briefly in the buffet line at dinner. Both of them seem like class acts. I must admit, to my embarrassment, that the idea of a leading telecommunications company being headquartered outside of North America seemed odd to me. I am behind the times!

Kosen, our server at Kichwa Tembo, exemplified the courtesy and professionalism we found at all the camps. Kosen was raised in a village "about an hour and a half drive from here" and is educated. He is aware of the cultural changes that need to happen in the rural areas of Kenya. "FGM", female genital mutilation, became especially troubling to him when his sister explained the complications often experienced by women following the procedure. He said he has ideas that he wants to take to his village, but in his culture his information will not be accepted by his community unless his parents have first approved what he has learned and communicated to them - and so far they have not bought in to his ideas.

As I listened to Kosen, it occurred to me that when a person in Kenya becomes educated, he may leave his village culture behind, or he may return to the village and retain it, or he may straddle both worlds. "Tell me, Kosen," I asked. "When you work 45 days at the camp and then go home for two weeks, what do you do there?" He said, "I check on my cattle."

"How many cattle do you have?"

"Twenty-four."

"Who takes care of your cattle when you're working at the camp?"

"I pay someone to do it for me."

I'm wondering what it takes to make the cultural shift between the old ways and the contemporary.  Does it take educated parents to provide a way? Or a lot of motivation on the part of the young person?Our driver, Peter, has parents who are teachers, so he's the second generation of educated Kenyans in his family. George, an entrepreneur, is the first generation in his family.  Both men are contemporary, articulate, well informed, and conversant on many topics.

In a Kenyan village, if parents want their children to get an education, they may have to decide whether their son should go to school or whether he should stay home and tend the family's cattle. If a girl, they may have to decide whether she should be educated or whether she should be married off to an older man, perhaps as his third or fourth wife, for the bride price of the cattle. Letting go of the traditional roles for the sake of educating a child may be a big decision. The education can result in the offspring providing for the village in some important way - but it's a more long-term outcome as opposed to the immediate result of cattle being tended or received.

One day I talked to a young man with a group of Americans who were finishing up their work on a water project as part of World Vision.  He told me the most pressing need in Africa is for clean water. I asked Kosen what he thought. I also asked Peter. Both of them said education was more important - that when a person became educated, he could figure out how to get the water to his village. I'm reminded of the adage, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." Kosen actually said he thought if water were available within a village, so people didn't have to walk a mile or so to get it from a river, they might get lazy!

I so appreciate the perspectives of others - especially when they lead me to changing my own.

2 comments:

DJan said...

This was a very interesting post about the people you met, Linda. I was intrigued by the conversations and wonder about our changing world. The US is no longer the leader in many areas of technology, it seems to me. Your thoughtful post made me ponder the future. Thanks for taking the time to write it! :-)

Teresa Evangeline/Bayou Summer said...

What an interesting post. It's an intriguing world and time we live in. and I do recognize the actress... ;)