Traveling in Africa - Travels through Kenya and Tanzania

Africa  has firmly established itself as one of my favourite places in the world there is something in the air so unique and calming. It is difficult to describe.

Nairobi has definitely changed in the past five years it has flourished into a busy metropolitan, a centre of business and consumerism.

The last time I was there it was developed, however now multinational companies especially car and other mechanics have made there mark, establishing the economy and market now exists to do so. Big brand advertising has also moved in, along with the shiny new complexes that were not there last time. Tourism is clearly strong in the country with an abundance of Safari vehicles and companies advertising African adventures, my taxi driver invites all of friends and family to come to his country.

The funny vibe about Nairobi is it appears as a city waiting for something to happen -like many parts of Africa I guess, people are occupying these shiny new buildings, yet at the same time, hundreds of people are just waiting around. Occupying the parks, hanging out in the numerous chicken shops, walking, and loitering in the streets just to watch and chat. Nairobi is coming into some wealth, but at a pace and style of its own.

The bus ride between Nairobi and Arusha is one of my favourites. Manoeuvring out of the large city, overtaking the heavily decorated dala dala's and fighting through the four-wheel drives. Past the city fringes with increasingly shabbier dwellings and children running around in flimsy clothes, suddenly we lurch ahead into the very open and beautiful African landscape where singular Masai men occasionally pop out of the bushes and onto the roadside, creating a rather comical and surreal effect. Village women draped in their kanga's skilfully balance buckets of water, banana clumps, vegetables, washing and pretty much anything on their heads, without grimacing or showing any signs of discomfort; an inspiring and impressive skill.

 Now you know you're in Africa . The landscape just engulfs you. Having come from London the mass open space with all of its stillness is a relief. It is also fun travelling with someone who was seeing it all for the first time that newness and bewilderment, in feeling as if you are in the pages of National Geographic and not in real life. Awe, amazement and somewhat disbelief of the functioning world that exists on the other side of the window can induce an African flip-out and a state of complete astound.

Crossing the Kenya/Tanzania border a flux of Masai women surrounds you in the attempt to off load their jewellery. Clipping copper cuffs on your wrists and forcing wooden zebra salad utensils in your bag, their gaping ears are weighed down with beads and trinkets. They initially tell you ‘this one free friend', yet are quick to un-cuff once it becomes clear you are not interested in purchasing. I had forgotten how overwhelming this is at first yet at the same time rather humorous.

The villages along the way show corn roasting on open fires, barbershops with murals of braided characters, goats and chickens roaming curiously in search of anything edible. Crackling radios blare out a mix of American tunes, and African pop, Mariah Carey is heavily featured. As the amber sun slips away and darkness falls, the glow of lanterns and candles emerge in doorways, the lack of electricity on the outskirts of the cities remains the same. As we embark on Arusha, harsh fluorescent bulbs flicker at shop fronts and line the street.

The school of St Jude is tucked behind a banana plantation in Moshono, the village has clearly become accustomed to Muzungas (white people) being in the neighbourhood due to the relatively indifferent manner of the locals, we are not charged Muzunga prices either.

The school's playground equipment is hand welded and rather industrial looking, constructed with piping and sheets of metal, however with a quick lick of paint become just as fun, and probably more practical and sturdy against the endless stream of children who are clearly infatuated with the swings, slide and monkey bars.

The children here are different, they know they are onto a good thing and are eager in every way. Opportunities do not come knocking often in for most children in Africa , and consequently the children grab-on firmly. A hot meal is served for lunch at the school, cooked by locally employed women, beans, rice, maize and makonde-an unripe banana similar to a potato. It is reassuring seeing the children have a definite meal, particularly with many of them coming from orphanages, where it is known food is withheld.

These kids are bright, really, bright, but they are also poor, really, really poor. This is clear on a set of house checks for potential new students, who have made it through three rounds of tests and are checked to ensure they are literally dirt poor. Two out of the five students in the group, were not offered places at the school. One would assume an uncle with land, and having electricity and glass windows would be useful, however in this instance it is more of a hindrance than a help. Whilst initially being shocked by the severity of this process it ultimately needs to exist. The school has grown from zero to five hundred in three years it is under severe pressure to expand.

Africa has the ability to change people forever, and I think it is a place difficult to imagine until you actually go there and see it for yourself. For me East Africa has an inexplicable enchantment that is held in the air. It is the intense look in the kids eyes, the chipatis, the banana plantations, the smell of fire, the Masai, the lifestyle of living on a needs basis and not a want, it is the people, the space and the soil, and the crazy dala dala drivers enticing the combination of fear and laughter.

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