I think in my previous life I must have been born to an indigenous community in Africa. I have been just twice, to Uganda and Kenya, but on both times I have had an instant connection. Like in my last trip to Kampala, this time too, in Nairobi, I was there for a regional training for community activists on how to use the media. The training was, as always, intense and interesting, but I want to share here some of my experiences outside of the class room.
The first lesson on African culture came even before the training started. I reached Nairobi over the weekend and on the Sunday decided to go to a popular coffee place to check e-mails and prepare my presentations (I know it’s sad – I do on occasion work on weekends!!). While waiting for a hot chocolate that took forever and trying to reply to e-mails, I struck up a conversation with a Kenyan, Indian-Muslim girl seated beside me. Shortly, I was introduced to a male friend of hers and we got chatting about Islamic practices and cultures…the conversation led to being asked out for dinner…followed by two text messages and one call (in a matter of hours)….followed by me completely freaking out!
Perhaps it was being in a new country as a woman alone, or possibly just having got used to the London dating culture, where this sort of thing would happen only when the guy is properly drunk. I was only calmed by a sweet brotherly lecture from my colleague Mohamed. I decided to solicit his advice and to keep him informed – just in case. I can still picture Muhammad scowling at me, gesturing wildly ‘This is normal in Africa, this is our culture, what is wrong with the men in London’ (I’d like the answer to that too!). Calm down Farah,’ he says, ‘remember we are hunters, we go behind people.’ Great consolation Mohamed, I have now turned into a prey animal. That works well for the feminist in me!
During the course of the week the training was far too demanding to be distracted by anything. My role was to help activists think like journalists – spot the good story, know how to tell it but also to be sensitive and get their point across effectively. We practiced through case studies which the different teams came up with, such as low level violent conflicts amongst pastoralists and tension in South Sudan ahead of the referendum.
Days two and three were run by the illustrious Lee Kanyare, who together with his assistants Christine and Njoroge, brought the world of filmmaking and audio/video editing alive. We watched movies till late in the evening about different communities in Africa, and participants made their own short films interviewing each other on the issues they worked on. The last day was learning to create websites, which was conducted by Carson, who is himself from the indigenous Endorois community. Most of the participants were from Kenya, from several different communities, including Maasai, Ogiek, fisher communities and Endorois. There were two participants from Southern Sudan.
As media officer, I had a dual role to play. One was to train and the second was to gather content for MRG’s new Minority Voices Newsroom. This meant lunches and dinners were spent chatting to people learning about their lives, the issues they work on, and grabbing them during coffee breaks to do quick interviews. I learnt fascinating stories from Anne, Miriam and Maryam, about Maasai cultural practices that affect women and girls. Cherono, the first university graduate from the hunter gatherer Ogiek community, talked of the many obstacles she had to go through to get her qualification. Kipkazi and Evans always kept our spirits up telling us how the Endorois were trying to reap the benefits of the success of a recent land rights case. Paul kept the focus on South Sudan without letting the Kenyans steal the limelight. Dalmas knew just about everything on minorities in Kenya.
Despite the tight schedule, I did however manage to cram in two other interesting activities. The first was to visit the Nubians, a small minority community in Kibera, Nairobi’s slum area. The Nubians trace their history to pre-biblical times. They moved across Egypt to Sudan, where the small numbers who live in Kenya originated from. Despite having lived in Kenya for centuries, even before colonial rule, the Nubians lack proper recognition, have no legal ownership of their lands and struggle with poverty and unemployment.
The second activity was more exciting than interesting. I managed to squeeze in 30 minutes of proper African clubbing with my friends Stella and Esmael, who were also participants. Stella is originally Maasai, living in Narok and working on gender rights and Esmael is Somali Kenyan working on sexual rights and HIV prevention. Unfortunately I don’t have a bone of rhythm in me, certainly not compared to Kenyans. I would have loved to stay longer but I had to wake up at 6 am to leave for a community visit. Stella and Esmael were supposed to be our guides, they promised to leave in time to make it by six. If you want to know if that happened you will need to read part 2.
Oh, and if you are wondering if I ever went on the date…well I’ll leave that to your imagination!
- Read part 2 of Farah’s blog post from Kenya!