NAIROBI TAUGHT ME MORE THAN I COULD EVER LEARN AT ANY SCHOOL!
Living in Nairobi, Kenya and traveling 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 of backwardness. I went there at age thirteen, 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 fantasy. That is not to say the capital of Kenya has everything. Remember 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 what I saw 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 the living quarters: homes made of mud and cow dung, beds constructed from bits of wood. And then there is the area in each home reserved for the 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 lighting was natural. During the day it came from the sun; at night from open fires.
I went on these trips with my mother; she started an organization to help families in these areas. 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 without good reason. Unfortunately many were left with no choice; either their parents could not afford to send them to school or the children were needed at home to help their parents earn 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 for a number of girls, their menstrual cycle got in the way. Parents often did not have the money to pay for sanitary napkins.
As for the schools, they were usually short of pencils, notebooks, exercise books, textbooks, blackboards and chalk. Classes were often held in the open air. You may ask: without stationery how did they write? They wrote in the dirt with their forefinger! Of course, the writing didn’t stay very long visible; it got blown away by the wind or was wiped out by rain. Students needed an uncommon sense of recall.
Arranged marriages are commonplace among the tribes. Marriages are 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 the necks of young girls tells when they are old enough to get married, usually to much older men. The girls have no say in the matter.
I started out saying how advanced was the capital of Kenya but really it’s no heaven. Hustlers are everywhere trying to sell pirated DVDs, flowers, fruit, hand-carved crafts, animal feed, 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 owners. If a vendor falls short of his or her sales quota, there is usually a heavy price to pay: in some cases broken limbs. Many of these disabled former vendors are abandoned to beg on the streets for survival, usually accompanied by a poor 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. At a young age I was privileged to witness how hard life can be. I feel sorry for people who have a hundred times as much as the tribesmen I met in Kenya yet have no idea whatsoever how lucky they are.
Their cattle, sheep and goats are held in high regard by Nairobi’s Masai tribe.