Zuri Watoto Wote

For the Students: About Africa and Kenya

Posted in AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 12/06/2009

So that you will know a little bit more about where we will be traveling to do this volunteer work for AIDS orphans, I decided to post an entry about the country of Kenya and its people. Kenya is located in the Eastern part of Africa and in the part of the continent referred to as Sub Saharan since it is below the Sahara Desert. As you can see, part of the country is on the coast by the Indian Ocean and the country itself lies on the Equator. Although there are rainy and dry seasons, most of the time the temperature in Kenya is similar to warmest part of our summer. Nairobi, the capital city, is the largest city in East Africa and the orphanage where we will volunteering is located just outside of Nairobi in Karen. In the movie “Out of Africa” Karen Blixen moved to Kenya in 1913, to have a coffee plantation and befriend the local Kikuyu tribe; she later became a famous writer including her writing of the book which became the movie by the same title. The town of Karen is named after her.

Kenya has more than 70 different ethnic communities or tribes and 80 different dialects. Although the official language of the country is English, the national language is Swahili. Because there are so many different communities in the country the national motto is “Harambee” which is Swahili for “Let’s all pull together.” It’s likely that you are familiar with some other Swahili words if you have ever seen the Disney movie “The Lion King”. A number of swahili words were used in that movie, like “Simba” meaning “lion”, “Rafiki” meaning “friend”, and “Hakuna matata” which means “no worries.” Children are taught English in school, but most are able to speak Swahili or another tribal language. The most well known of the Kenyan tribes are the Maasai, a nomadic tribe whose cattle are highly valued. They are striking to see because they are tall, lean and dress in red “shuka” (blankets) with elaborate beads and braided hair. At the end of our trip, we will have the opportunity to visit a Maasai village. The Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya and live in the area around Mount Kenya, the 2nd highest mountain in Africa.

Maasai in a famous leaping ritual

Our earliest ancestors, Homo erectus, which evolved eventually into Homa sapiens, first inhabited the area around Lake Turkana in Kenya where their fossils were first discovered by the Leaky family.

Music, with both dancing and singing, are an important part of the Kenyan culture not just for entertainment, but more importantly for ceremony and ritual. Soccer is a national pastime and the most popular sport from children to adults. However, Kenyan’s middle and long distance runners are amongst the best in the world. Most of Kenya’s top long distance runners come from one tribe, the Kalenjin, and they have been responsible for winning many gold medals for Kenya in the last decade.

One of the things that for which Kenya is most famous  is its national parks and reserves where wildlife can roam free. It is there where people are able to go on safari (Swahili word for journey) to see the animals in their usual habitat. Some of the animals that one might expect to see include:

"Punda milia" zebras

"Tembo" elephants

"Simba" lion

"Twiga" giraffes

"Rhino" rhinocerous

The Maasai Mara is a national reserve that we will visit at the end of our trip and will go on safari. Between July and September each year, it is famous for being the site of the Great Wildebeest Migration. This involves about 2 million wildebeest, a half a million zebras , thousands of gazelles who migrate north from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to find new grazing land. They are followed by lions, leopards, hyenas and more, with the challenge being to cross the Mara River at the time of the highest water (full flood). I would love to return to Kenya during this time someday so that I could actually see this amazing spectacle (from an airplane!)

Beautiful Kenya countryside

All of the animal photos, the Maasai photo, and this one are from the KEST website and were taken by other people who went on similar service trips as the one we are taking and who also went on a safari and the end of their trip.

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