I went on Safari with my late husband, Herman, a number of years ago: When I left Kenya I wept because I felt that I had witnessed the unspoiled beauty of this planet as it must have been in the Garden of Eden. I had also learned some very unexpected lessons about humanity. It was a revelation.
Packing For Safari
When I was planning this trip, I spoke to a number of people who had gone on Safari. I was advised to wear old tee shirts and to leave the used ones behind at our hotels, where they would find their way to those in need. I was also told to collect hotel toiletries and give them to our guide. I learned that amongst other things, that toys for children in villages would be welcome gifts, and to give fake Rolex watches to the village chiefs.
Herman and I flew to Nairobi via London where we had a layover in a very well appointed British Airways lounge. The clerk at the desk promised to alert us via loudspeaker when the flight was about to board. When the alerts did not come at the expected time, we ended up running 20 plus gates through Heathrow hampered by 25 pounds of hand luggage each, full of gifts.
Our hand luggage felt like we were carrying bricks as we ran through the airport, with my very fit husband exhorting me to run faster, faster, as the last calls for boarding our flight came over the loudspeaker. I was not happy, huffing puffing and cursing. We reached our gate and saw an anxious air stewardess waiting and standing in the doorway of the plane. The whole plane of passengers erupted into clapping and cheering, as I slid into my seat, embarrassed and exhausted.
But the effort of carrying that extra luggage brought unexpected rewards, and I will tell you about just one of them. I told our guide that we had gifts and that I would like him to make some extra stops in villages.
I then gave away our gifts at the villages we visited. The little children gathered around me with outstretched hands and expectant smiles as they waited to be given things like little high bouncing balls. I knew that the Rolex watches presented to the chiefs would be exchanged for food. However, one tall, proud Masai chief thanked me in a way that I will never forget.
He told me that he was glad to see the Americans back because they were the most generous of all with their “ donations”, and explained that for a number of years Americans stopped coming to Kenya. Puzzled, I asked him why. He told me that after a terrorist attack on the American embassy in Nairobi, President Bush had advised Americans not to come to Kenya. By way of explanation, the chief waved his hand over the mud huts which comprised of his village to the plains beyond.
“We used to have over 200 cattle and 150 villagers. When the Americans stopped coming with their donations, we did not have enough food for our cattle or our people. We starved and we now only have 75 cattle and 50 villagers” He smiled as he turned back to me.
“So you are very welcome today, as your donations will feed my people”
It Had Never Occurred To Me
I walked away that day in stunned silence. Never had it occurred to me that a decision made in Washington could actually affect whether people lived or died thousands of miles away. For the first time, I began to realize that we are all part of a global community with a responsibility towards one another. At the end of the day, we are just one people; we are the world. It was a revelation.
And that was why I wept when I left Kenya.