Speaking of Kenya… at the forefront yet so traditional

Just another day in Kenya...

Just another day in Kenya…

I am back to my base in Nairobi after more than two weeks on the road. Slowly settling into African big city life. Hustle and bustle, constant chaos with traffic and people everywhere, but I am completely in love with the energy and vibrancy. You never know what to expect when you get off your doorstep!

In Nairobi I am working with VegPro Group, a company that produces vegetables and flowers for the UK market. Their farms in Naivasha Valley feel like jumping straight into a scenic photography.

Runner beans just harvested, Naivasha, Kenya

Runner beans just harvested, Naivasha, Kenya

Green and lush farmland embraced by rolling hills in the shadow of blue mountains towering in the background.

Inspecting the beans with VegPro employees

Inspecting the beans with VegPro employees

Women in colourful clothes picking the beans and baby corn by hand, laughing and gossiping as they methodologically work their ways through the impeccably straight lines of crop.

Getting ready for VegPro packing facilities

Getting ready for VegPro packing facilities

Back in the packing facilities in Nairobi there is a tremendous discipline and efficiency to get all vegetables washed, chopped and packaged for export. Investing in leadership training for the people slicing the carrots for your dinner has had a powerful impact on their personal and professional lives.

Carrots in the making

Carrots in the making

Improved teamwork and work ethics as well as boosted confidence and communication skills are some of the benefits I hear when walking around talking to the employees.

Workers prepare broccoli for export

Workers prepare broccoli for export

I meet a man called Charles, and we start talking about what the leadership training has done for him on a personal level. Very passionate about his community in Kiseran, he has started an education centre with 50 children, who for different reasons have not had the chance to enter primary school.

Visiting the children of Jambo Toto school

Visiting the children of Jambo Toto school

Charles has recruited volunteering teachers from the community to help the children catch up on English, Swahili and other core subjects.

Yay - we can now go to school!

Yay – we can now go to school!

The result? After six months 15 of these children have now been admitted to school next year.

A tremendous success and all because of one man’s leadership!

One of the beneficiaries at Jambo Toto school

One of the beneficiaries at Jambo Toto school

On our way home we stop in Dandora, one of the poorest slums of Nairobi. I need to buy some vegetables for dinner and am thinking to myself; what can be cheaper than the local market? I pay less than a pound for two kilos of potatoes, a tenth of the price in Nakumatt (Sainsbury’s of Kenya).

All the locals keep gazing at the only white person in the market place, shouting “Mzungu, mzungu!” and laughing. Not to worry – their manner is very friendly and just curious. Upon leaving my friend tells me: “The girl who sold you potatoes will have so much business in the next six months. Just because a white person bought her products, she will be treated like a royalty. In a few minutes more than a thousand people here will know that a mzungu went shopping in this market place”.

As I slowly come to realise the potential of what he is actually telling me, I ask him if he has any other friends working in the market, keen to boost their sales too. How extraordinary that, rightly or wrongly, all you have to do is to show up in the slums and you can change someone’s life in less than five minutes.

Dandora slum market, Nairobi

Dandora slum market, Nairobi

My friend Charles and I start talking about Kenyan ethnicities and ways of life. In a country where 42 tribes co-exist, the cultural abundance can we somewhat overwhelming. Charles, for example, married into a Masai family. “The Masai have a very strong culture and really harness their traditions” he explains. For example, the process of marrying someone is slightly more complicated than what we know from the West.

Teaching leadership to youth group members of Dandora Uprising

Teaching leadership to youth group members of Dandora Uprising

Not only is the competition for her hand extremely fierce, you also have to prove worthy through a long process. “It took me a year” he says. To begin, Charles had to win the trust of the elderly village chiefs by bringing them lucrative gifts and presents from Nairobi. The second step feels a little old-fashioned – wrestling! The potential future husband and the village chiefs each find a strong wrestler from their own tribe, who both train full-time for six months to then meet in a fight in the local village. “I was very nervous” Charles admits. “If my wrestler would have lost the flight, I would forever have lost the chance to marry my beloved Grace.”

The last step of the engagement is to settle a price for the woman.

The value is agreed amongst the village chiefs and based on three criteria; family wealth, level of education and motherly potential. Virgins are twice as expensive and highly sought after. The price for Grace was 50 cows – equivalent to €4,500. This is a lot for a man who makes €150/month. Two days of negotiation and the final price was down to 22 cows. “The Masai are extremely skilled negotiators,” Charles says. “You would not want to meet a Masai in the board room”.

So after a year of preparation, everything is ready for the big wedding. All significant Masai festivities begin with the killing of a cow with bow and arrow. With the cow still alive, her neck is sliced to be tapped on fresh blood. The Masai Moet & Chandon is blood mixed with cow’s pee and milk! Supplemented by delicious canapés in the shape of thinly sliced raw meat. As much as I would love to attend the wedding ceremony, this is a little bit too much for me to stomach…

The beautiful Masai

The beautiful Masai

It amazes me that Kenya, a country that in so many ways is at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship, enjoying an attractive GDP growth and is embraced by a vast number of private equity and venture capitalists, still has preserved so many of its traditional roots.

But not to be fooled, in the pocket of the colourful red shukas and beads of the Masai hides a mobile phone. After all – even the Kenyans are as fascinated as us by the sophistication of technology. It is useful for the Masai to call their friends to see where the cows are at or if the market price on cassava has dropped.

One day of teaching at Dandora Uprising – one of the youth groups in a Nairobi slum

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2 thoughts on “Speaking of Kenya… at the forefront yet so traditional

  1. Thank you so much for the Voluntary work well done madam Louise.
    Your efforts displayed towards the better Livelihoods of the Vulnerable Persons especially among the Sub-Saharan Africa where Uganda my country lie, is excellently fantastic.
    This has thus lead to Life Longivity among these Vulnerable Persons and hence the Human Land scape, living to see and celebrate many more X-masses as theirb faces, are kept SMILING. A big thank you to you madam and the entire EL family.
    Your leaving the London well paying job for Africa a dark continent as described by some scholars, has brought on board yet a lesson to learn i.e never to fear risks.
    One of the reknown writer put hissaying across ” The greatest risk, is fearing to risk” so thank you for coming to africa where some fear to come and mentor us encourage, motivate us etc so as to keep us moving.
    I strongly believe this experience and so shared with us, will change the Mindsets of many of our african peopple who looks at money as vital than almost anything else in the world. This is unfortunately despite the fact that one of the greatest African novel writers Chinua Achebe in his novel” Things Fall apart, he clearly says “Money is not Everythin” only that according to the context he wrote the novel, he emphises on friendship.
    We strongly believe that ALL these have been possible with the help of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. May live to keep the candle burning as you achieve the set objectives.
    GOD bless;
    Best regards;
    DEOGRATIAS Tumuhimbise;
    CEO;
    Hope Restoration Initiative for Vulnerable Persons (HORIVUP NGO)

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