May 23- June 12 2017
Mention Africa, the Dark Continent, and immediately all sorts of images form in your mind.
My images were clear – bonding with family, going on a safari and storytelling.
After a few days in Singapore, we took the long 16-hour flight with a short stopover in Dubai, arriving in Nairobi on a pleasant autumn evening (Nairobi is 1degree south of the equator at an altitude of 1800m). In fact, the temperatures were mild, in the mid-high twenties throughout our stay.
Family – with a niece and her family there for the past 25 years, we had a wonderful introduction to Nairobi at a local level. We spent a lot of time in her spacious home, chatting over breakfast, cooking meals, going for walks and lingering in the evenings at the dinner table. It was also the first time I met up with my two sisters outside Singapore or India. What a treat!
We visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe centre an hour’s drive away from Nairobi. One interesting fact that I read that stuck in my mind was that giraffes sleep for only 5-30 minutes in a day!
The safari to Maasai Mara was all that we expected and more. We were pleased with the arrangements made by our niece, using Afrique Explorer Limited (www.afriqueexplorer.com). Driver cum guide Monday showed up in a land cruiser and 5 hours later we were in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The landscape was exactly as I had imagined – grassland with scattered bushes and umbrella-shaped thorny acacia trees, so loved by the giraffes. Of the 3 safari trips we did over our 2 nights, we saw 4 of the big 5 (cape buffalos, lions, leopard, elephants) with only the rhino proving elusive. It was quite something to see these majestic animals in their environment. Added to these were various species of birds, antelopes, zebras and giraffes. We even had tiny bush deer roaming freely in our lodge.
Storytelling – Sheila Wee from Singapore and myself had connected via Facebook with tellers from a performing arts and culture organisation called Zamaleo (www.zamaleoact.org). John Namai and Allumbe Helen graciously held a mini-Sigana festival in our honour for 3 days. We performed alongside their team of 3 tellers (Leonida told in Swahili), 2 dancers and 2 drummers at a government boarding school for girls and for 3 solid hours, we all took turns telling, singing and dancing our stories to great enthusiasm and participation. For the 800 high school girls, their oral literature day was a treat. The next day was when we conducted a half-day workshop for 12 participants which went down very well. On the third day, we met up to have an exchange, to learn about our storytelling journeys and possible collaborations in the future.
Another major highlight of our stay was storytelling at schools for an NGO, The Amara Charitable Trust (www.amaracharitabletrust.org). Sheila and I visited 2 of the government primary schools that Amara supports (viewed their garden plot, feeding programme and much more) while I visited one more later in my stay. We told to groups of very enthusiastic children who joined in with gusto. What impressed me was their cheerfulness against many odds (poverty, malnutrition, health issues etc). Most of them walk miles to school and for many, the lunch that Amara provides is the only one of the day, usually a stew of maize and beans. I felt honoured to be able to visit this part of what I see as the real Kenya, outside of the bustle of Nairobi. 1 school we visited was 2.5 hours away where we bumped along a dirt track for the last 13km.
This has been a most memorable trip which will stay with me for a long long time.