This is Africa?


by Cynthia Vukets on July 28, 2009

Arriving at our apartment in Nairobi was a bit of a blur. Anything is after 20 hours of traveling. But roomies Jameel and Siena, and I, were with it enough to realize we were bunking into a place worthy of Palm Springs. With a community pool and everything. On our first morning, we were bumped and jostled by men in suits and women in heels, all rushing to work. We were rushing to the local coffee joint where we tucked into a bacon and egg breakfast. ‘Wait a second,’ I thought. ‘This is Africa? Where are the street kids? Where are the flowers and grasshoppers? Where are the red dirt roads?”

Duh. This is Nairobi. The “Paris” of East Africa. We could easily have been walking down a street in downtown Toronto, just with fewer white people.

On to Mombasa a few days later and I felt a bit better. People were crowded by the roadside, selling bananas, swim trunks and spare tires. Cows were chowing down in garbage pits and everything seemed to be moving more slowly. But Sunday found us all tucking into a luxurious brunch at the swanky White Sands hotel. Beautiful beach, well-equipped bar, crystal clear pool, beautiful décor. Nothing was missing. You could have told me I was in Cuba, the South of France or Vancouver and I would have believed it.

On the drive back to the hotel, our van rolled past a line of mats on the sidewalk. Several dozen women, kids and older people were lying down to sleep for the night. The next day we drove about an hour out of Mombasa, turned onto a dirt road and bumped along for another painstaking hour. The end of the line was a communal dam and veggie farm funded by the Coast Rural Support Program. About 20 farmers greeted us with a beautiful song. Our Kenyan escort whispered in my ear that it translated roughly to “The white people have come to the fields.”

On our way back to Mombasa we stopped at another aspect of the project. A family showed us the “kitchen garden” they had planted with new technology the CRSP is promoting. After we oohed and admired the fledgling veg the woman got into a fairly lengthy discussion, in Swahili, with the organization’s representative. He looked over at us and laughed. “I’m just trying to tell her to manage her expectations,” he said. “She thinks that because you’ve come you’re going to help her somehow.”

Nope. We’re just traipsing through your house, stepping on your tomato plants and taking photos with your cute, poor kids. Sorry.