Introduction to “A Kenyan Journey”

By Randy Smith

I’d been home from Africa for one week, and the most common thing heard from friends and family was that I didn’t look that bad.

“You look better than I expected,” said one friend.

Another stood back and carefully looked me over before commenting: “You look just like you did before you left.”

Had my destination been Kentucky instead of Kenya, I doubt I would have heard such comments. The unspoken truth is that some expected that I might come home with a dreaded tropical disease or, quite possibly, could have disappeared from the planet.

Africa is one of the world’s most fascinating and most misunderstood places. Many in the United States have formed their impressions from short stories or Hollywood movies. In various conversations with educated people, I’ve heard the continent described as one nation, instead of the more than four dozen diverse countries with unique cultures and individual histories and heroes.

I spent the month of September in Kenya, about a 24-hour trip from Kansas City by air. My primary job was to teach journalism. But I made time to see the country and was told that I probably saw more of it than most Kenyans.

Each morning in Nairobi, I was greeted by newspaper vendors on the traffic-clogged streets. One day, I counted eight separate newspapers for sale. The Nation, the largest paper in Kenya, sells more than 200,000 copies each morning in this way and doesn’t even bother with home delivery. They are often sold out by 10 a.m.

Outside of Nairobi, I visited the Masai Mara, the most famous game preserve in Kenya, and stood five feet from eight sleeping lions. On another day, I worked my way through an endless refugee camp in Eldoret, Kenya, home to hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, Somalis and Sudanese who have fled civil wars to the north. On one Sunday, I held a tiny boy and a girl with AIDS, the new lepers of Africa, during a church service in a small school in Karen, Kenya.

I have written this book to dispel the myths of this place.

Certainly, Africa can be dangerous. Tropical diseases can zap the unprepared. Traffic accidents often kill more than 10 at a time because they often involve public minibuses. And robberies occur all too frequently because of the disparities between rich and poor.

But this is also a place of unparalleled climate, where the temperatures range in the 70s during the day and dip into the low 60s at night. Lions and Masai tribesmen hunt the plains that are only a few miles from the outskirts of Nairobi. And there is a kindness and a gentleness in the people that you will experience nowhere else in the world.

Most impressive was the spirit of the place. The people call it “ubuntu.”

Translated, “ubuntu” means: “My success depends upon your success.”

It was something that I did not hear on any of those late night Tarzan movies that framed my early thinking about Africa in my childhood. Or in later years when I saw romantic movies that painted grand vistas and a continent filled with wildebeest, zebras and lions. Or in recent times when I read about the horrors of genocide in Rwanda and Darfur.

In all of this, I had missed “ubuntu.”

It is a philosophy that too few taste in life. And, in the deepest part of the soul, it is what sets Africa apart from any other place.

To buy a copy of “A Kenyan Journey,” go here.


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