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September 4, 2001

My cultural safari in Kenya

Lorene Bromfield is secretary for the graduate division of religion.


Jumbo! In Kenya, the word jumbo means, “Hello, and we’re glad you are here,” I heard it often this summer, when my dream of visiting Africa became a reality.

Before I delve into the bountiful experience, I must express my deepest gratitude to the Emory College Dean’s Staff Travel Program. Each year this program provides college staff the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program, offering opportunities to interact abroad and communicate with others throughout the world. Since the program’s inception, staff members’ lives have been vastly enriched as it has facilitated cultural exchange between Emory’s community and the world.

We have all seen the old television shows with Tarzan swinging from vine to vine and Cheetah performing little tricks. The movie Out of Africa was a big box office draw, but Streep and Redford couldn’t have seen what I saw.

The preparation and planning for my trip to Kenya was an adventure in itself. Days before it began, I was restless with anticipation. I was forewarned of the travel time but had no earthly idea what 16 hours in the air would feel like. Let me tell you: By the time I crossed the Atlantic and Indian oceans, Germany, Ethiopia and Egypt,

I had lost all track of time.

Finally I arrived at Nairobi International Airport on July 12. I was warmly greeted by my Kenyan family, the Gikundas, from the town of Meru, approximately three hours east of Nairobi. During the two weeks I stayed with this family, I came to love, admire and appreciate all that they shared with me. I felt privileged to have been a part of their family, community and culture.

Each day was filled with majestic scenery as far as my eyes could see. Meru boasts rolling green hills, rich with tea and coffee farms, products Kenya proudly exports throughout the world. On my first day in town, I visited a Kenyan farm and witnessed the tea-manufacturing process. Each day farmers picked and weighed their tea by the barrel; transport trucks came by each farm, picked up the raw products and delivered them to the processing plants. From there, the teas are dried, bagged and shipped to various destinations throughout the world.

Agriculture is the top source of income for most Kenyan families, and the country is the world’s leading producer of teas and coffees. I was captivated by what I saw because of the amount of physical labor that goes into getting the teas to the plants from the farms and ready for export and distribution. My experience at the Kenyan farms helped me recognize how fortunate Americans are to have modern technological capabilities. The people of Meru and their community make up 6 percent of Kenya’s total tribal population.

After experiencing a day in the life of a Kenyan farmer, my travels took me to Kenya Methodist University (KMU). Fortunately, the method of transportation for my exploration was an Isuzu Trooper, which handled the steep hills and winding unpaved roads. At the university I met the dean and chancellor of academic affairs. It was an informal meeting, but rich with educational value.

KMU offers many degree programs similar to those at American colleges and universities. A unique feature of the university is its modest academic environment: Many of its buildings are old, but there are two new additions to the campus, a new church and administration building. This was a reminder of how fortunate are students attending American universities. In spite of the perceived circumstance of having “less,” the educational system in Kenya, from primary through university level, excels academically. The typical Kenyan speaks at least three languages.

My next stop was one of great anticipation—the safari. This was truly the height of my visit. For the first time in my life, I was a few feet away from wild, roaming, beautiful animals— nature I had seen only on television—from the smallest antelope to the leaping gazelles, roaring lions, babbling baboons and tall, gallant giraffes. They were right before my eyes. I even saw elephants marching through the safari. It was clear to me that these animals were in their natural surroundings. The safari is a sight to behold for anyone visiting Africa for the first time. Even an African anthill was unlike anything I had ever seen. Recalling the ambience, I hear and feel the Kenyan warriors beating their drums, which echo in my soul.

Every day in Kenya was a new experience; I anxiously awaited my next destination. Each time I thought I had seen all Kenya had to offer, my diligent guide, Joseph Gikunda, had more in store. Mt. Kenya was my next destination. For this stop, I was told that, because of the cloud vapors, I would have to see Mt. Kenya in the early morning to appreciate its true grace. We arrived just in the nick of time. The clouds had not yet covered the mountain, and I was able to see its rare and awesome beauty. Simply put, Kenya’s highest point of elevation is heaven on earth.

We left Mt. Kenya and crossed the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru Safari and National Park, and Toombs River Falls. By day’s end, we returned to Nairobi, where my journey began. I felt spiritually renewed and uplifted.

If asked to give one specific quote about the people of Kenya, I would submit the following: “One can only admire the traditionalism of family, hard work and pride they exude.”

My journey to Kenya will always be remembered; my life has been enriched by its many adventures. My Kenyan family embraced me and welcomed me as one of their own. I will always remember their kindness, love and spirit. Jumbo to my new friends both here and abroad: I’m glad you are here!

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