One of the biggest obstacles to progress and reform in Kenya is the perpetuation of negative ethnicity, which pits neighbor against neighbor and threatens to undermine the fabric of Kenyan society. Though only a handful of Kenya’s tribes are large enough to command political influence, there are more than forty different ethnic groups in this country; at the village level, this translates into a significant risk of perpetual conflict, as competition over scarce resources and the airing of old grievances frequently leads to violence.
The road to hell, so they say, is paved with good intentions. D found out the truthfulness in this adage first-hand recently. On a previous trip, Ambo had visited an orphanage that he wanted to support. The Embassy has a self-help fund that D oversees on Ambo’s behalf, which seeks out small, sustainable, income-generating projects. So D instructed the fund’s coordinators to work with the orphanage to put together an income-generating proposal. Because Ambo gave high priority to this project, the fund turned the application around quickly and within a matter of weeks, D had a contract offer on his desk.
Watching Emmie quite literally grow before our eyes got us curious about exactly how much she had grown since we adopted her. At four months old, when we took her in, she was about 20lbs. Once the HHE arrived with our scale, S decided to weigh Emmie. Though we had not done a lot of training with her, our puppy had the “sit” command down pat so S tried to get her to sit on the scale. Attempting to coax her onto the scale with various treats and lures, however, proved to be an utter failure. It also provided a fair deal of amusement to our vet, who – once she got over her laughter – advised us to pick Emmie up and get on the scale ourselves. So the next morning, D weighed himself and then got back on the scale with Emmie in his arms to determine her weight.
A lot has changed since the days Benjamin Franklin departed for France as America’s first diplomat. In fact, at times it is easy to forget that we are in a foreign country, especially since this is the first time that we have lived abroad with all of our possessions. Taking Emmie to the dog park or buying the occasional American-made snack at the commissary, it is tempting to look past the security guards that ring the compound on which we live and imagine that this little slice of America is actually in the United States rather than 7500 miles away.
One of the most enduring stereotypes of the foreign service lifestyle is the image of diplomats blithely chatting at a cocktail party. To be fair, developing contacts is a key element of this career, and social gatherings are an excellent way to do that, but there is much more to the art of diplomacy than attending receptions and exchanging business cards. The events of the last week serve to underscore the point.
No sooner had we unpacked after our safari than it was time to pack our bags again for yet another trip, the third work trip for D in less than a month. After hosting an iftar, Ambo was invited to return to Mombasa as the guest of honor for an Eid dinner. Originally, the trip was to start on Thursday, giving Ambo the opportunity to do official visits for two days before the Saturday night dinner while also ensuring that there would be some downtime at the beach. Then an important summit got announced by the government of Kenya and the trip was pushed back. The Eid dinner was the only firm commitment on the itinerary, so we left Saturday morning and shifted the official visits to Monday and Tuesday.
A few days after we returned from our trip to the Maasai Mara, D had an incredibly vivid dream in which he was madly rushing around the savannah, stamping visas for wildebeest to facilitate their migration. Throughout the summer months, several million of these animals converge on the banks of the Mara river, which separates the Serengeti from the Mara. After exhausting the grasses on one side of the river, they cross en masse in search of greener pastures on the other side.
Long before hordes of tourists descended on the Mara with massive telephoto lenses, intent on capturing the perfect shot, European hunters talked about the “Big Five”. Times have changed and going on safari is no longer synonymous with tramping through a savannah with a rifle in search of a prized kill. Yet, the phrase, originally referring to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot, is still widely used by contemporary safari guides. Read more
We wound up going on four game drives over the course of the three days and two nights we spent at Porini Mara Camp. In addition to the full day we spent in the Maasai Mara on Sunday, we also went on three drives around the conservancy: an afternoon drive after we arrived on Saturday, a night drive after dinner Saturday night, and an early morning drive before we headed back to Nairobi on Monday. Before leaving on our first drive, our guide, Ben, told us that the Maasai don’t say, “we will go see lions or some other big animal;” rather, they say that they will go see what nature has to offer. With wildlife-based tourism, one can never be certain of seeing what one wants, so we tried to keep realistic expectations as we climbed into the open-air, souped-up LandCruiser for our first drive around the conservancy.
Even though we enjoy self-drive safaris, there is no question that the Maasai Mara must be done with a guide. At 1500 sq km, the Mara is only a fraction of the size of the Serengeti, which is essentially the same national park across the border in Tanzania. However, 1500 sq km is still a massive expanse of wilderness, none of it sign posted. If you had given us a compass and a map, there is still a good chance that we would have been unable to navigate the tangle of haphazardly criss-crossing car tracks that run through the Mara, let alone be able to find any of the elusive animals that brought us there.