If you want to meet the Masai, the nomadic peoples of Kenya, you need not go far. No safari to Masai Mara is necessary. You need only to go to Nairobi National Airport. Here on the wide open spaces where planes make their approach, Masai graze their goats. This kind of Juxtaposition is a common occurrence here in Kenya where you might watch Michael Jackson tributes on TV in a dirt floor cantina or sing country music with a bus full of Irish students on a dusty Kenyan road.
This blending of traditional and modern, local and global ways of being is not unique to Kenya. In a shrinking world, you never know what kind of odd pairings and proximities will arise.
Related to the relativity of distance is a a certain quirk of Kenyan culture that, depending on the day, is alternately a source of amusement and irritation: the phrase, “Not far.” Not far could mean around the corner. Not far could mean 5 kilometers. And though I recently made a pact with Alixa that I would never again take “Not Far” as a legitimate answer, 3 days later, we were trekking through goats and Masai on our way to a site visit. Had I known just how far “not far was” I would have brought a picnic and taken a lunch break in the middle of the pastoral landscape.
“Not far” on the horizon, though, is far superior to the hypothetically not far. Recently on a weekend visit to Nakuru, we asked for directions to the Nakumatt. The woman pointed down the road and said, “It’s not far.” 20 minutes later, we asked another woman whether we were close to the Nakumatt and she laughed. “Here is Nakuru? We don’t have a Nakumatt.” And she laughed again. Hypothetically if we kept walking, given the proliferation of Nakumatts, I suppose we would have found one before we reached Uganda.
Not far. Not long. Not much. It all depends and context and expectation. So on the same weekend I searched for an apocryphal Nakumatt, I clung to the back of piki piki as it careened up a gravel road to the top of Menegai Crater. Helmets. Speed Limits. Weight capacity. Driver Safety. All culturally relative, right? How far is the top? Not far.
As we raced up the road, walking down the same gravel road was a group on foot. Mixed in with the Kenyans were two Muzungus that I noted and quickly dismissed until Alixa (who, did I mention, was clinging to the same piki piki) yelled back to me “that was Luna and Kate! That was Luna and Kate.”
In a country over 200,000 square miles with 37 million people, and only four advocacy project volunteers, what are the odds that one pair would meet another pair on a remote gravel road in Nakuru? Not odd. Not far. Not long. Not much.
Posted By Barbara Dziedzic
Posted Jul 23rd, 2009