M&M trot the globe

First Impressions Kenya

After a flight from Mumbai over Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea and the Pyramids of Giza, we made our way to Nairobi. Arriving at 4 am was a daunting thought given the terrible reputation that the Kenyan capital has earned. Nicknamed Nai-robbery, many tourists feel nervous about walking the streets. However, once our jet-lag wore off, we ventured into the centre of the capital and also attended a barbecue in the suburbs without incident. Perhaps we were lucky, but our initial paranoia about the city seemed misplaced.

Although we have only been here a short time, we have been fascinated by the complexity of Kenyan society; we have learned volumes about tribes, dowry practices, the environmental problems which face the country, distrust of Chinese investment and opinions on Obama. In Kenya debate is everywhere – on TV, in the newspapers, on supermarket radio broadcasts and in taxis.

From our room we had spent a couple of days gazing out across the urban landscape to the distant hills in anticipation of the nature which Kenya is so famous for, so when it came time to leave for Naiasha at 8 am on Monday morning, we were more than ready to ‘get truckin”. Our drive took us along the southern road through the Rift Valley, past some of the most breathtaking scenery we have seen this trip.

Once in Naivasha, we met three more members of the group we will be completing the expedition to Capetown with (the other seven will join us in a week), we then set off for Elsamere. Where we spent the afternoon visiting the house and property of George and Joy Adamson, who became famous as a result of Joy’s international bestseller Born Free, which tells the story of their unique relationship with a lioness, Elsa, whose mother was killed while she still a cub. It was amazing to see how much commitment to conservation in Kenya Joy and George had and to see what a contribution Joy made to the pictorial record of Kenyan anthropology and horticulture. Sadly Joy and George both met grizzly ends: Joy was killed by a disgruntled house servant as a result of a dispute about pay and George was murdered by poachers when he was out in his Range Rover, ‘The Nightinagale’.

Naivasha is a beautiful place, however the flower farms, which provide 70% of local jobs are wreaking havoc on the area’s delicate eco-system. The farms attract migrant workers from all over Kenya and export flowers to Europe and beyond, making them an integral part of contemporary Naivasha. However, much of the run-off from fertilizers and insecticides ends up in Lake Naivasha; locals told us that a few years ago people started noticing large numbers of dead fish floating on the lake. Apparently, in the last dry season, the lake also receded 2km from the shore because so much of its water was being used for flower farming.

Stocks of the delicious Tilapia, which was once abundant in the lake, have dropped drastically in recent years, prompting protests by local residents and a government investigation. However, the money which the farms make for their owners (many of whom are Dutch or wealthy Kenyans) may make it easy for them to bribe government officials. Locals complain that attempts by local environmental groups and proposals made by the WWF along with the government’s offer of 2 million Kenyan Shillings to purchase fish to restock the lake with will be futile in the absence of a thorough investigation into the cause of the problems which have lead to the degradation of the lake’s fragile ecostystem.

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