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business with a side of pleasure

In the morning, a thick, billowing mist blanketed the densely forested slopes of Mt. Marsabit, the extinct shield volcano that lends its name to one of Kenya’s largest and most sparsely populated counties. The soupy fog completely enveloped the rustic cabins of Marsabit Lodge, obscuring from view the picturesque clearing on which it sits. The tepid early morning light struggled to fight its way through the brume, but still managed to rouse D from his deep Sunday morning slumber, the first night of real rest he had enjoyed in a week during which consecutive 12-hour workdays melded into a continuous, frantic rush of last-minute pre-election preparations.

old Samburu women

We both volunteered to serve as observers for Kenya’s first presidential election under its new constitution. S was assigned to cover a county in western Kenya. Because D had organized a work trip to Kenya’s remote northern lands in December, the election team decided to send him to Marsabit, a grueling ten-hour drive from Nairobi.

goat herder

child with sibling

By mid-morning, strong gusts of wind had dispersed the fog and were busy wreaking havoc on the dusty streets of Marsabit Town. The residents of this sleepy, forgotten part of northern Kenya wrapped their multi-colored shawls tighter and shielded their eyes from the dust clouds as they went about their business, attending open-air church meetings or stocking up at the Sunday market in anticipation of the elections. D and his companions criss-crossed the unmarked, bumpy roads, searching out the ramshackle primary schools that would serve as polling centers for Monday’s vote.

shopping

wazee wawili

lady in red

The day’s work complete and Monday’s route mapped out, D turned the convoy back to the lodge, which is located ten minutes inside one of Kenya’s hardest to access national parks. In December, there had been no time for exploring. D had glimpsed a handful of buffalo in the swamp grass beneath the lodge when he arrived in the evening and saw half a dozen hyenas in the road on the way back out early the following morning. With a free afternoon this time around, D did not need his arm twisted when his Kenyan colleague suggested a game drive.

smiling woman

The lodge manager spoke of another clearing deeper in the forest, called Paradise, and swore it would stun and amaze anyone who set eyes on it. The road wound its way lazily through the woods, descending precipitously and then ascending again up the steep, rocky hillsides. After 45 minutes, during which no animal deigned to show itself, D’s companions started wondering aloud if the drive was worth it. At last, the path crested one final time, bringing the car to the edge of a precipice.

There was a sign marking a viewpoint, the first indicator that this patch of wilderness actually belonged to a national park. A troupe of baboons had set up shop by the stone marker, but they scattered as the car pulled up and would not return, despite the driver’s best attempts to lure them out of the bush with an apple. The view really was magnificent. Whereas the lodge sits on a clearing made by a small, dried-up lake, Paradise is a full-blown crater. D found himself looking several hundred feet down a sheer cliff that encircled the lush basin, at the bottom of which a shallow lake persisted.

Paradise

Two KWS rangers materialized out of the woods and pointed out the carcass of a baby buffalo that had been killed by lions inside the crater the previous day. They indicated the path to descend into the crater, but asked the driver to steer clear of the buffalo remains so as not to disturb the lions.

In addition to the baboons, the only mammalian denizens that had shown themselves during this game drive, Marsabit is also home to many unique bird species. However, D’s companions were utterly indifferent to the birds and he decided not to antagonize them by stopping the car at every flutter of wings. Even without the animals, the drive to Paradise was exceptionally pleasant, and a welcome respite before Monday’s hectic runaround.

colorful dress

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86 Comments Post a comment
  1. Winona #

    I so enjoy all your photos! Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle before long! :)

    March 8, 2013
  2. Amazing photos.

    March 9, 2013
  3. Beautiful pics! Not the usual ‘trouble in Africa again’ types :)

    March 9, 2013
    • Thank you, Marsabit is a fascinating place. And Kenya is one of the most intriguing and amazing places we’ve lived. It’s too bad that so many still think in terms of outdated stereotypes whenever Africa is mentioned.

      March 9, 2013
      • Absolutely; I live in Africa, South Africa to be precise. Africa is a troubled place, but so is almost every country and / or continent. The beauty of the people and nature is incredible though!

        March 10, 2013
      • I couldn’t agree more with this.

        March 12, 2013
  4. What awesome pictures, full of color! Hope that Monday wasn’t too hectic for you!

    March 9, 2013
    • It was a fun hectic. Worked 5am – 11pm and was too excited to be able to fall asleep when we finally called it a night.

      March 9, 2013
  5. What a wonderful post!

    March 9, 2013
  6. Wow some powerful videos and your story gives us an idea of life in rural a Kenya must be like. On a related note, I welcome you to visit my blog about a small town experience coming on to the world stage.

    March 9, 2013
    • Thanks Carlos! I hope you had a chance to check out some of our other posts – if you skip over the safari ones, you’ll find more on what life in Kenya is like for ordinary Kenyans.

      March 10, 2013
  7. Wonderful photos with a brave hearted person.
    Not such anyone would agree to do what you did! well done for being there.

    March 9, 2013
  8. lovely images! the colors pop!

    March 10, 2013
  9. History of Capitalism #

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    March 10, 2013
  10. edo #

    Amazing photographs and very captivating story!

    March 10, 2013
  11. Nice blog!! Visit
    Cultclassik.Wordpress.Com
    Pinterest.com/cultclassik
    Updated Daily!

    March 10, 2013
  12. Nice indeed. My geeky mind was going “ohhh, perfect place to set up some of the alternative energy and home building (earth homes) ideas” I would like to try out.

    March 10, 2013
    • I was surprised not to see more wind turbines up there, actually. It’s a part of Kenya that has struggled to get any sort of development funding.

      – D

      March 10, 2013
      • I don’t know much about the wind turbine industry but just from the looks of them, they don’t look cheap. Oh the ideas that I have in my head to try…

        March 12, 2013
        • I’ve read about very small and inexpensive solar panels that can attach to a hut and power a light bulb and a cell phone. Did you see anything like that?

          March 12, 2013
          • Not on this trip, but then again I wasn’t looking for them. We actually have several entrepreneur friends who work in portable solar-powered technology in Afria. It is amazing what can be achieved with relatively small and inexpensive gadgets in places where traditional energy is still light years away.

            March 12, 2013
            • Thanks. I hope they catch on more. Think what a help it would be to have enough light at night so the kids would have more time to study, the family could charge the cell phone easily, and they wouldn’t have to worry about the grid going dark! Encourage your entrepreneurial friends.

              March 12, 2013
              • We do…also, one of the coolest innovations to come out of Kenya is the invention of mobile money, which has now spread to other developing countries. Rather than using a traditional banking system, telephone networks have set up a system to transfer money through SMS. People can pay bills, purchase groceries and send money to one another all with a simple text message. It gives an incredible amount of people who were locked out of the traditional banking system access to financial resources.

                March 12, 2013
  13. The photos are incredible and truly show us the beauty of Africa and people, aside of what the newscasts and politically fueled media we are shown in the western world. Thank you for sharing :)

    March 10, 2013
    • Thank you, we haven’t been too impressed with the way foreign media – CNN in particular – have covered the elections. A lot of sensationalist reporting with very little research or forethought. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      March 10, 2013
      • I very much did, It gave me the view that I was missing all along :)

        March 13, 2013
  14. Wow! It’s a big world, and you’re getting to see it!

    March 10, 2013
  15. So much depth and substance in these photos. Human interest shots, indeed. Well-written too!

    March 10, 2013
    • Thank you, check out the election posts that follow for the rest of the story.

      March 10, 2013
  16. Love it. Amazing images. Thank you for sharing. I feel Africa in my blood although I have yet to travel there.

    March 10, 2013
    • Africa is an amazing place, and we’ve only explored a little bit of this vast, beautiful continent. It’s strongly recommended.

      March 10, 2013
      • A good friend of mine lived there for 25 years. She still interjects Swahili into many of her English sentences. I can’t wait. Thanks for your kind response. :)

        March 10, 2013
        • Ha! There’s a good chance we’ll keep a few Swahili sayings in our vocabulary after we leave Kenya also.

          March 10, 2013
  17. william wallace #

    Where I am its snowing it’s cold it’s wet / in seeing such photos
    I did feel some envy toward those living in such warmer climate.

    I have never in life felt envy before thus it’s an new experience.

    One would think that envy erupting from the mind that it being
    related to the seven deadly sins / yet it’s not / which somewhat
    a surprise that in reality envy but springs from within the heart.

    Living has much in one’s learning. Creation of the universe but
    awesome within itself / yet further wonderment is the human life.

    March 10, 2013
  18. enkabenka #

    Very nice photos..!

    March 10, 2013
    • Thank you! Make sure to check out the election posts that follow.

      March 10, 2013
  19. Very nice photos

    March 10, 2013
  20. I really like your blog and would love you to guest post on my, http://www.5thingstodotoday.com site. All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about.

    March 10, 2013
    • Thanks – we’re glad you enjoy our blog. We’re in the midst of planning a move so might not be able to come up with something right away. If we do write a “5 things” blog post, we’d love to have you host it on your site.

      March 10, 2013
  21. What a great experience! I am coveting all those gorgeous printed textiles.

    March 10, 2013
    • You’re not the only one. When D’s sister and cousin were here, they too wanted to get some local print clothes…though of course these women get the fabric by the meter and make their own.

      March 10, 2013
  22. Beautiful pictures, I especially love the contrast with colours.

    March 11, 2013
    • Thank you! They are quite striking, especially against the backdrop of the drab landscape.

      March 11, 2013
  23. Beautiful blog beautiful photos. Hoping to get to africa soon. Pease check out my blog http://wildaway.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/the-price-of-travel/ have just talked about my experiance with Egypt

    March 11, 2013
  24. Awesome stuff!! Keep up the good work!!

    March 11, 2013
  25. Truly amazing pictures!

    March 11, 2013
  26. love these pictures

    March 11, 2013
  27. lovely

    March 11, 2013
  28. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos. Connie

    March 11, 2013
  29. It’s a really beautiful place !

    March 11, 2013
  30. baseball themed wedding #

    Awesome post.

    March 12, 2013
  31. MJ #

    Amazing pictures. Truly enjoyed reading your post too!

    March 12, 2013
    • Thank you, we hope you enjoy the rest of our posts too.

      March 12, 2013
  32. Lovely! I’ve been to Kenya and these pictures capture it well!!

    March 12, 2013
    • Thank you, we’re glad you enjoyed this post. Hope you enjoy our other posts as well.

      March 12, 2013
  33. Wow! What an experience.

    March 12, 2013
  34. Reblogged this on RealtyAway.

    March 12, 2013
  35. Great story, beautiful photos and a fantastic cause!

    March 13, 2013
  36. Reblogged this on Phoenix Rising and commented:
    Ah, I miss Africa!

    March 13, 2013
  37. Beautiful photos, Kenya is amazing and has so many extraordinary sights! So nice to see the continent portrayed in this way. We see enough photos of negativity in the media, this is a breath of fresh air. Your photography skills rock too

    March 14, 2013
    • Thanks, Anne! We’ve absolutely fallen in love with Kenya, both its sights and its people. Happy reading :)

      March 14, 2013
  38. i live in Kenya- and the rest is just as beautiful- have a sneak peak through my blog!! Impressive writing..:)

    March 15, 2013
    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed our post. If you scroll through the travel section of our blog you’ll see that we’ve done a fair amount of exploring in the two years we’ve spent in Kenya. We are absolutely enamored with this country’s beauty.

      March 15, 2013
  39. Amazing photos! I am traveling to Africa in two weeks; seeing your post makes me that much more excited to experience it myself!

    March 16, 2013
    • Thanks! It’s an amazing continent – where are you headed?

      March 16, 2013
      • South Africa and Lesotho for two months… I must admit, I’m a little nervous about it, but only because I am traveling alone.

        March 16, 2013
        • Unfortunately we don’t have any words of wisdom, having never been to southern part of the continent, other than to say that we’re sure you’ll have a great time – everyone seems to love South Africa. Enjoy your trip!

          March 16, 2013
  40. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

    March 16, 2013
  41. Great post!! Really interesting and loved the pictures!

    March 16, 2013
  42. leah j. wolfe #

    Fantastic. I just started reading Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s, Wizard of the Crow. Your post and pictures are a nice supplement. I would be curious to know how the elections went. best of luck to you.

    March 16, 2013
    • Thankfully, the elections went much more peacefully than the last time around. It was an amazing experience to observe the democratic process in action – check out the photos in our two election photo blogs.

      March 17, 2013
      • leah j. wolfe #

        Oh thank you for the reply! I certainly will.

        March 17, 2013
  43. lovely pics ;-)

    March 18, 2013
  44. verry nice

    March 18, 2013
  45. Reblogged this on Ethnographic materials ML.

    March 23, 2013
  46. Wonderful imagery. Love all the colour. Wish I was happy with just the clothes on my back and a makeshift shelter…

    March 26, 2013
    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post. It’s hard to gauge happiness but we will say that some of what appear as “makeshift shelters” are actually well-designed dwellings that adapt local materials perfectly to local conditions. Traditional dwellings are hardly marked by the sun and wind that makes mincemeat of western-made tents in these places, and they are cozy too.

      March 26, 2013
  47. theimperfectmuse #

    It’s really nice that someone has actually said something positive about my country.. All you guys see and wait for, in trepidation, I might add, is disaster and ‘ethnic cleansing’ wars.. We love one another, and although we have our problems, we just have to wait for the oldest generation to pass on for a new dawn to break

    April 4, 2013
    • We’re glad you enjoyed this blog post. As you’ll see from our other posts, we are absolutely enamored with Kenya and have a lot of positive things to say about this country. Happy reading!

      April 4, 2013

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