104. Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi

Source: Amazon.com

Kenda Mutongi, a professor of history at MIT, writes about the development of the matatu bus business amid the backdrop of a developing country with all the inevitable problems associated with a neophyte nation.

She tells of the ingenuity and tenacity of Nairobi’s mwanainchi (true citizens) despite the racist policies, economic oppression, and political corruption that permeated their world.

Though I lack even the tiniest bit of knowledge concerning urban development, Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi offered me a way to navigate the socioeconomic and political themes that play out in a newly developing, fast growing city.

I’m captivated by today’s matatu culture. Perhaps that’s why Professor Mutongi’s book, which might otherwise have been a long, laborious educational workshop was, for me, a fascinating adventure.
The professor describes how Nairobi’s rapid growth ran in parallel with the evolution of the matatu transport business, as she chronicles both events from the time Britain relinquished colonial control, on into the twenty-first century. The two processes intertwine so completely that her claim that the success of one could not have happened without the success of the other, appears indisputable.

Matatu: A History doesn’t read like a dry, slow-moving textbook, but rather an engrossing tale of exploding urbanization, poverty, racism, bribery and exploitation, along with entrepreneurship, upward mobility, artistic expression, pop culture and a city’s sputtering lurch toward democracy.
It’s all there for the reader to absorb.

Need something lighter?
Try The Matatu by Eric Walters.

Source: Amazon.com, Children’s Africana Book Award

From the Forward by Ruth Kaytha, Director of The Creation of Hope

“Every culture has its own folktales and stories.
Among the Kamba of Kikima, Kenya there is a story told about animals and matatus. Eric Walters and I were driving around when I told him a brief version of the story about the goat, the sheep and the dog. He decided to expand it and create a picturebook.
We believe Kamba stories should be told by members of our tribe. In June of 2009, Eric was made a Kamba elder. It is only fitting that Eric has expanded and retold this Kamba story, as we consider him one of our own.”

65. Wangari’s Story

“In Unbowed, A Memoir, 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage.” 
It was, by no means, an easy journey.

Maathai was an inspirational, hard working woman (driven, actually), who set out to correct the effects brought about by prejudice, inequality and ecological destruction in her native Kenya.

Much of the book covers the conflicts resulting from environmental devastation – how it started and why it continued. Maathai recounts her efforts to fight a corrupt government bent on scaring her country, both through ecological destruction and gender discrimination. She was punished for her actions. Yet, despite her many trials in life, she remained unbowed, believing that what she could not overcome, she could at least get past.

More books! Share one or two of these with a short person you know.
The illustrations alone will make it worth your while.

What does the following art project really have to do with anything I’ll be doing or seeing on safari?
Well, it sort of has to do with Kenya stuff. Sort of.

I stumbled upon this Teachers Pay Teachers art project while searching for material on Wangari Maathai and thought it might be of some use to someone during our Time of Social Distancing.
It’s a wonderful project with excellent instructions. The hardest part is gathering all the materials before you begin.

54. Culture Smart! Kenya

If you locate Culture Smart! Kenya in Amazon’s book section, you will read that it “provides a cultural bridge that will carry you beyond the gloss of the hotels and deep into the warp and weft of everyday life; beyond the game parks and into the intricacies of community and wildlife coexistence; beyond the bounds of tourism and into the freedom of cultural understanding and exchange.”

Whoa! Someone really went Hollywood with that review.

In more realistic terms, what this little book actually is, is a simple introduction to Kenya’s history, geography, and culture, with some observations covering shopping, food, and wildlife safaris thrown into the mix. None of the topics is covered in depth, and Kenya’s political landscape, which apparently can’t be counted on to remain stable for long, could use a little updating. It is, however, a nice overview of all things Kenyan, with black and white photos peppered throughout the text.
If, like me, you’ve yet to visit Kenya, but will soon be on your way, this book appears to be a good start.

Warp and Weft? Had to look that up.

[in weaving] the crosswise threads on a loom over and under which other threads (the warp) are passed to make cloth.

28. Mary Leakey: Disclosing the Past

The Nairobi National Museum houses a nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus male youth who
lived over 1.5 million years ago.
One point five million years ago!
Try wrapping your head around that.

If you want to go waaaay back and try to imagine when people started to be people, consider the world’s oldest cave paintings, created 37,000 years ago.

Now, think about Skeleton Boy who is all stretched out under glass in Nairobi’s museum. He was walking around on his own two leggies a great deal earlier than any of those cave wall artists.

It’s that skeleton, and the fact that we’re on our way to see it, that led me to pick up Mary Leakey’s autobiography.*

Leakey begins Disclosing the Past with an account of her childhood, writing about her love of art and her early fascination with excavated artifacts. “I remember wondering about the ages of the pieces, and the world of their makers.”

Although she didn’t imagine it at the time, it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

This portion of her life takes up the first 40 pages.

Then she meets Luis.

Leakey writes as you might imagine a scientist would. There are no wasted words. She describes the landscape, but only to inform, not to romanticize. She chronicles the events that led to the discovery of a fossilized skull believed to be 1.8 million years old – proof that our own species had its beginnings in Africa. This was a ground changing discovery made during a time when few people would give credence to such an hypothesis. Her story covers her work with her husband, her family, her crumbling marriage and life after Luis Leakey’s passing.

Mary Leakey’s autobiography is printed in 10pt font.
When my eyes left the right side of the page to resume reading on the left side, I had trouble finding the correct line on which to proceed. I rarely read without a bookmark.
After 20 pages or so, I had to stop. It took me forever to finish. If you’re the type that likes to rocket your way to the finish line, buy the best pair of reading glasses you can find..

27. Cameras, Lenses, Bags and Books

The following three images are representative of what I’ve been doing to prepare for our 2020 trip to Africa. If you’re not already aware of my great passion for photography, it will be apparent with the reading of this post.

This is an image of all my gear – everything I own except for the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 lens which is wait-listed. Supposedly it will come in June.  It will be worth the wait, as it will allow me to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife.  It was my big lens purchase for my new mirrorless full frame Nikon Z6 camera.  I took the Nikon with me to England last year where I got incredible shots.
 I added a Tamron 100-400 mm lens to bridge the gap with my older Nikon 5200.  Yes, I am taking 2 camera bodies.
The green Mindshift bag is a dedicated camera bag with all kinds of organizational nooks and crannies. That, along with my orange REI duffle, should hold all of my cameras, photographic equipment and clothing.

These are just a few of the photography and travel books in my self-imposed curriculum.  They include a catalogue from the Shangri-La of Photography: B and H Photo in NYC. 
For me, B and H is every bit as much of a temptation as a fine ladies boutique.  Their tech assistants can answer any question and give really great recommends.  My slogan?  Never travel without B and H!

This final picture, taken with my Nikon Z6,  is probably over Newfoundland.  I was on a flight to England that left Dulles around 6:30 PM.  It was August and the sun was above the cloud cover so I had amazing views as the sun dipped below the horizon.
One of my photography books actually has a chapter on taking photographs out of airplane windows! Carol, our Tour Agent Extraordinaire,* arranged a window seat for me, so my camera will be ready! 

*Carol Flax
Luxury Travel Advisor
An independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel
Virtuoso Member

15. The Elephant Whisperer

On page one of The Elephant Whisperer, the author writes, “. . . to be clear, the title of this book is not about me . . . Rather, it is about the elephants – they whispered to me and taught me how to listen.” I tend to judge a book by its cover, which includes its title. The title is misleading, or at least it misled me. Still, I was entertained and learned a thing or two.

Lawrence Anthony, famed conservationist, writes about his experiences when he accepts seven unpredictably dangerous elephants onto his South African reserve. Had he not accepted the challenge (and he was offered a great deal of money not to), the animals would have been shot.

Yes, of course, the book speaks of elephants – and one receives quite an education. They’re curious yet cautious, warring yet loving, powerful yet gentle, intelligent, clever, and loyal. Elephants unite. Elephants celebrate. Elephants grieve.
It appears that their enormous bulk masks the fact that there’s even more to these creatures than first meets the eye.

In addition, the reader learns about what it takes to care for these animals. The constant struggle against soaring heat and torrential rains, the doctoring, the engineering skills, the equipment, the war against poachers – all are present as Anthony risks physical as well as financial safety to protect the pachyderms.

The book’s Afterword tugs at the heart.

8. She was beautiful. She was notorious. She loved Africa.

At Linda’s suggestion, I’ve begun reading West with the Night. It’s another memoir by a strong-willed woman who called Africa her home. Both Beryl Markham and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) lived their lives with great independence – independence rarely afforded women at that time – taking risks in the face of fear, taking up arms against stuffy social norms, and taking paths previously forged only by men (not to mention taking on a few lovers along the way).

Early in her memoir Markham writes, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla , an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations . . . To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home. It is all these things but one thing. It is never dull.”

And I am eager to go!

5. Out of Africa

We plan to visit the Karen Blixen Museum while in Nairobi.

Yesterday I read Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa. I opened to the first page in the morning and didn’t go to sleep until I’d come to the end. It begins, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills .” It is that farm that we shall visit.

— Deeper into the book, she describes the flight made so famous by the movie. —

“To Denys Finch Hatton I owe what was, I think, the greatest, the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm: I flew with him over Africa. . . You have tremendous views as you get up above the African highlands. Surprising combinations and changes of light and coloring. the rainbow on the green sunlit land, the gigantic upright clouds and big wild black storms all swing round you in a race and a dance. “

Source: Screen Themes, YouTube (Time: 3:29 – and worth it)

And then there’s one of my favorite lines:
“. . . You may at other times fly low enough to see the other animals on the plains, and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them and before he had commissioned Adam to give them names.”