Hakuna Matata: Part Three

DenaOctober 12, 2011

On Being the Minority

Kenya was a culture shock to me for many reasons. One of the most eye-opening aspects of the trip was the experience of being the minority for the first time in my life. Whether on campus at Kenyatta University or out on excursions, I was constantly in a very small minority. Most of my classmates on the trip were black. Among those of us that were white, there were only six. And of the six, only three of us were women. I was a white woman face in an endless sea of black faces. Sometimes, we would go entire days without seeing other white faces. It was completely exhilarating, enlightening, and frightening all at once. I will be forever grateful for that experience. It is a humbling feeling that all people should experience.

Our first few days were spent in & around Nairobi and attending classes at Kenyatta University. After that, we set out on a 14-day safari. I experienced a million different scents, smells, tastes, sounds and emotions on safari. It is impossible to describe it. Not even the 800 photographs that I snapped could do it justice. We experienced all that Kenya had to offer from the great mountain, to the vast Massai Mara plains; from the unmatched hospitality of the Kenyan people, to the giant Lake Nakuru. My heart soared without end. The wildlife was unbelievable. The generosity & bright spirits of the Kenyan people was unparalleled. It was the greatest adventure of my lifetime. And to think how close I came to missing it…

One highlight of safari was meeting with the Massai people in their village. These people live a life that is truly incomprehensible to Westerners. Their homes are merely straw huts thatched together with mud. Each home is the size of what we might consider a walk-in closet. There is no electricity and no running water. The Massai people drink the blood of the animals that they slaughter. When my companions expressed shock at this, the Massai explained that they are shocked by the fact that we drink milk. Among the Massai, money is not currency. Wealth is determined by the number of goats that a person owns. The men have many wives. The boys experience painful coming of age circumcision, and must kill a lion to be considered a warrior.

evolutionyou.net | massaid warriors

I met with one Massai warrior & purchased a lion claw necklace from him. The claw came from a lion that he hunted before becoming a warrior. It is my most prized possession to this day. I wear it when I need strength.

Lesson 5: Accept other cultures as they are. Do not try to interpret or change them. Appreciate their beauty & their differences. We are one family, one human race.

After our safari, we headed to the coast to spend our last few days in Mombasa. We stayed at a resort right on the Indian Ocean. It was the most spectacular thing. The Indian Ocean is very different than what I am used to (the Atlantic). It is warm & clean & exotic.

One day we ventured out into Mombasa for a tour of an old castle and shopping. It was blistering hot and I wore short, white shorts and a light blue t-shirt. I will never forget that outfit. See, no one mentioned to me that Mombasa was 99% Muslim. Not only was I one of the only white faces for miles in any direction, but I was half naked in a world where women kept their entire bodies and faces covered. I spent that day with eyes burning into my skin.

Later in the marketplace, we witnessed a thief being beaten by a hoard of angry merchants. They kicked him in the stomach and battered him with sticks. Blood flew through the air in our direction. This was the law of Mombasa, a self-governed rule.

This day was difficult. I was terrified, but I am grateful for it.

Lesson 6: Pay strict attention to the cultures in the places that you travel. It is wise to be over-prepared than under. Inquire about all manners of life before venturing out — including religion and fashion. There will be good & bad in every place. This is the way of the world.

This is Part 3 of a 4-part series that I will be sharing about my trip to Kenya, Africa. Read Part 4 here.

Comments (9)

  • Stephanie

    October 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Dena, I LOVE this series.  How wonderful that you have put all the lessons learned through your international travel out here for others to see.  I truly believe that travel and immersing yourself in another culture forever changes how you view the world.  Studying abroad did that for me and I see myself in your stories and remember learning similar lessons.  It’s an experience too many people miss out on.  Thanks for the great stories! 

    1. Anonymous

      October 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

      so glad that you are enjoying the series, stephanie!  it was really fun to share it.  such an important, incredible piece of my journey.  <3  love you.  xo

  • Lou Mello

    October 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Very interesting and a little scary as well. Happy that you did not have problems in Mombasa because of your attire, it can get a little difficult in places like that.

    1. Anonymous

      October 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      it was scary, lou.  my heart was pounding out of my chest.  but it was so incredibly worth it–exhilarating.   it let me know, always, that i am alive.  that life is precious.

  • Andra Watkins

    October 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I am gearing up to visit Bangkok next year as part of a Rotary trip, and I suspect I will feel much the same as you did in Kenya. It is always disconcerting to thrust oneself into the midst of something truly foreign, but exhilarating as well. Travel makes people more tolerant, I think, because no matter how different people are, we’re always the same, if that makes sense.

    1. Anonymous

      October 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      i am so jealous!  i have LONG dreamed of visiting thailand.  i can not wait to hear about your trip.  indeed, travel makes people infinitely more tolerant.  it is a rare soul who can view the majesty of the world  & its people and return unchanged.

  • Kristin

    October 20, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Dena, I love this Hakuna Matata series. It is far too dense to have posted as one entry… thank you for sharing. The lion claw, the unexpected Muslim presence in Mombasa, all of it.

  • Manuel Loigeret

    October 21, 2011 at 12:10 am

    So it took me some time but tonite I am finally reading your Hakuna Matata series. And I am glad you talk about this feeling of being the minority.
    I went to Ivory Coast when I was 15 to see my great uncle who spent is life over there as missionary priest. (Understand that being a priest in a remote Ivory Coast village implies more aptitude at fixing people’s home than saying the mass).
    It was definitely one of the best experience in my life. My only goal in life when was 15 was to get Playstation and spending one month in Africa changed me enough to never get a playstation (wow… while I’m writing this I realize I actually have one – it was given to me – and I never really used it —> Salvation Army tomorrow).
    So the big feeling in Africa was being the only white guy (the “toobaboo”). When I tell his to American/European people, they often get that (politely correct) offended look on their face like you can’t say it feels weird to see only black people everywhere looking at you. It does del weird. It’s awkward when kids touch your skin to see if they will turn white. It’s strange to scare babies because they never saw someone your colour.
    It makes you very humble.
    Thank you for this post Dena!

    1. Manuel Loigeret

      October 21, 2011 at 12:30 am

      Oh… I have more to say.
      I also found myself on being the minority (or feeling completely disconnected when we talked about money). I realized that the price of shoes (for what I paid in France) was enough to feed a family for one month. 
      My white colour was also the colour of money. I learned how to not give money to everybody because everybody means *everybody*.
      I have never been in a rich family but I was living in super luxury conditions compared to the people over there. I still don’t understand how the value of money is so different. It’s really a shame, I feel bad that my french government still “helps” african countries by giving them high interest loans or super expensive malaria medication. Why is everybody thinks it is ok?

      On a lighter tone: another lesson I learned. Don’t take any medication you can get at the pharmacy. I had stomach problem (the famous “tourista” – I won’t give you the details but I think you know what I mean) and the doctor prescribes codeine medication. I took it and I should not have. Codeine completely changes your perception of time (like 2 seconds equal 1 day). I was in a small village of Northern Ivory Coast when it happened and there was a kind of animist ceremony next to the building were I was sleeping. I had the feeling my night of (non-)sleep lasted for 1 year (no kidding) and I still got my tourista! With all the chantings and transe djembe music –> Weirdest trip experience I ever had. Lesson learned: say no to drugs 🙂

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