Amboseli – Eliza and Thressa
Sopa! (Maasai for “Hello”)
A few weeks ago our small group had the pleasure of traveling to the Amboseli region, located in South-western Kenya. This area is comprised of Amboseli National Park as well as home to the Maasai people. This trip follows the ideals of the Kenya Semester Program, allowing us to learn through experience and interactions. We were lucky enough to be able to experience Amboseli from both a tourist as well as a local view.
On the first day, we woke up in our beautiful “tents” at Kibo Safari Camp and emerged to see an incredible view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kibo Safari Camp is located next to Amboseli Park so we were lucky enough to be awoken by monkeys and other exotic creatures most mornings.
After an amazing breakfast, we proceeded to go into the field, accompanied by our wonderful guides, Big Jackson and Little Jackson, to interview the local farming community. This community deals with issues regarding land, water, and wildlife conflict. While it took a few minutes to break the barrier, we were able to discuss these issues in depth throughout our conversations with land owners, lease farmers, and farm help. They expressed concern with a growing lack of water and lack of government aid to combat the issues concerning the impeding wildlife. They expressed the need for a fence to be used to keep wildlife inside the boundaries of Amboseli park, of which their farms are located next to. The government fears though that this will stop the necessary migration patterns of wildlife, and as a result, would hurt the tourism industry of Kenya.
In the afternoon we were able to visit a Cultural Manyatta, a popular tourist destination. These Manyattas have formed to capitalize on the continuous western interest and stereotypes of Maasai Warrior Culture and the image of “Wild Africa.” During this visit, we were introduced to the “medicine man”, taught to make fire using sticks, and were shown traditional Maasai homes. We were able to interview three different groups: Elders, women, and Warriors, to discuss some of the issues facing Maasai culture in terms of tourism.
Later in the week we were able to contrast this experience to a homestay with a Maasai family. Away from the bustle of tourism, Maasai families continue to preserve the important traditions of their culture while also being able to adjust to the changing world around. Here, we did not witness the traditional “drinking blood” but instead feasted on ugali and cabbage, a meal that reappears throughout Kenya despite ethnic and cultural differences. We slept on the customary cowhides and learned valued Maasai skills such as: collecting water and wood, feeding animals, and repairing Maasai homes with the use of cow dung. We also had the chance to interview our families on issues that they face. Many of the issues that appeared related to the international push to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation, an accepted practice among the Maasai.
Another highlight of the trip was the opportunity to experience Amboseli National Park through two different game drives. Here, we saw incredible animals including: Zebras, Ostriches, Hyenas, Lions, Wildebeest, Elephants, Cheetahs, Buffalo, Hippos, and other exotic animals. This proved to be our most “touristy” experience as we saw lines of Land Rovers filled with other visitors.
Overall it was an exciting and fast-paced week. Being the last trip of the semester before our Independent Study component (IDS), it was perhaps the most touristy and enjoyable. We made great friends at Kibo Safari Camp and during out overnights with Maasai families. As always, we are learning so much from our experiences with others – a type of learning that we may never find in a classroom. These experiences gave us joy and prepared us well for our Independent Study component where we will be fully immersed in another geographic and cultural area on our own.