It was a lovely evening tonight in old Thika town. I walked back from our Interim Care Centre after an afternoon kickabout with the boys, followed by dinner and a DVD. Another war movie unfortunately – more death and destruction, their favourite type of movie. I had actually borrowed a DVD for them from our local movie rental place – Spy Kids 1, 2 and 3 – but then had left it home. Doh!
Anyway, not really keen to watch the end of Windtalkers for a third time (there’s only so much Nicholas Cage in his action hero phase one can take), and with most of the boys quite happily playing cards amongst themselves, I decided to head home. I was already feeling pretty good – a nice bit of exercise, a brief chat on the phone with a friend of mine who always leaves me with a smile on my face – but as I was strolling home through the darkened streets, with people strolling past me on their way home for the evening (everyone strolls in Kenya, there’s no other word to describe it) and the sounds of a small town settling in for the evening around me, I found myself suddenly understanding why people find this part of the world so beautiful. Perhaps an epiphany would be the way to describe it, though I’ve always found that a rather strange word. “Epiphany” – sounds like one should always pronounce it with a refined British accent. Rather…
Some of the beauty around the country is obvious. The national parks – such as the eerily sublime starkness of the Masai Mara savannah, with its low lying scrubland interspersed by the odd concentration of vegetation, the varied and abundant wildlife either lying about in the available shade watching the tourist vans with wary eyes or else fulfilling Darwin’s theory on survival of the fittest in all it’s bloody glory; and the lush swamplands of Amboseli with its herds of slow moving elephant and buffalo below the stunning backdrop of Kilimanjaro. The often mist shrouded highest points of Africa – the aforementioned Kilimanjaro, as well as the less famous but perhaps more beautiful Mount Kenya – and their lush undulating foothills, thriving with life both flora and fauna (including human). The traditional music and colour of the numerous tribes that inhabit this vast land, especially the Masai with their bright kanga and kikoi cloaks and seemingly limitless variety of body adornments (and not all of them created just with the tourists in mind).
However it is the beauty that is not quite so obvious, the kind of beauty that does not feature in the glossy tourist brochures or getaway programs that I have begun to understand and appreciate. It’s the singsong harmony of the local dialect carried on the evening breeze, lending itself so readily to the singing and music that has been exported to the west in all its various forms over the years. It’s the freshness of the gentle evening breeze on your skin still warm from the day’s heat; the aroma of nyachoma (roasted goat) being prepared for the clientele of the abundant and always lively restaurants and bars. It’s the variety and colour of the roadside shoe stalls randomly set up each evening, offering every variety from casual sandals and joggers to business and evening wear; the hawkers walking around with a dozen business shirts somehow hung along their arms, each with a final price dependent on your bartering ability measured against your desperation to look the goods at work the next day. It’s even the seeming chaotic nature of the matatu stand with dozens of signs listing villages and towns you’ve never heard of and will probably never travel to, the touts calling you over to their van even though you’ve given no indication of being on the lookout for transport, and the numerous snack sellers walking from van to van with their trays laden with an abundance of wares from small packets of biscuits and nuts to chips, flavoured drinks and every type of sweet you could imagine.
And then there are the people you meet, even just passing in the street. The always close to the surface smile that seems to exist on the face of every Kenyan (well, not so sure about the white Kenyans…) and that is so readily released with a quiet “Habari” in passing (and this is not just a reaction to a white person, but something I’ve seen amongst Kenyans). The readiness with which complete strangers will engage you or other strangers in friendly conversation, about anything from where you are from through to the current state of Kenyan politics. The regulars at the local bar and pool house who have no hesitation in inviting you to join in and teach you their local variation of the game. And there’s even the kids living on the street who you pass at night, especially the younger ones – 5 or 6 years of age – who can exude such warmth, and you can see that all they really want is to feel some warmth in return and have a chance to realise their potential.
Life. Everything is just so alive. And there is beauty in this life.
There is so much negative said and written about this part of the world. Some perhaps justified. There is corruption – it’s endemic and does need to be address for long term progress to occur – there is extreme poverty in many places, and there is a high level of crime in many of the major cities. However it is certainly far from a lost cause. No place with this much beauty, this much life, could ever be a lost cause. I am just beginning to appreciate the beauty that does exist here.