Flo Carson

Flo Carson - Social Anthropologist, studying International Development at Sciences Po, Paris. I am slightly obsessed by gender, politics, media, human rights and global health. I've worked in Asia, Africa and Europe and keen to explore more of the world we live in. Take a look at my Twitter & Tumblr for my most recent posts. tly

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bisil - Maasai Land

My first weekend in Kenya centred around trip out to the countryside. Anna's parents own a large plot of land just 50 km away from Tanzania and usually use the weekends as their opportunity to escape the capital and relax outside the town of Bisil, in Maasai Land. The journey was beautiful, the landscape vast. I sat in the back seat and stared out the window, listened to Arctic Monkeys and conceded to the fact that I am indeed a tiny ant on this enormous planet. We drove past the dry land, gnarled trees, red coca cola signs painted on cement shops and enormous trucks driving beside us that emitted grey toxic fumes directly into our windows.

Initially, I had considered Maasai people to be a creation of the British colonial imagination. I remember at High School, a group of vast, towering figures visiting our assembly, pogo-ing and trying to sell us beads. 'Why would a tribe want to come to Norwich?' I remember thinking, and from then on had always positioned the Maasai in the 'not-quite-real' compartment in my internal societal mapping. However, passing Maasai as they walked the dusty motorways, or sat on the back of motorbikes - long sticks in hand, forced me to concede that they are in fact a reality. The jewels around their necks, the stretched ears, and the vivid red materials draped around their elongated bodies were an undeniable actuality and not a self conscious effort to appeal to the non-existent foreigners around. If this is a performance, it is a performance for themselves and no one else. After around an hour and a half we arrived to the house which wouldn't look out of place in a glossy luxury magazine; to see this house and kidney bean shaped pool in the middle of dry, savannah land was just incredible. We were surrounded by the valley and mountains, and the sounds of cicadas, birds, hyenas and monkeys echoed constantly. I even saw my first wild ostrich, which I feel is a life box that has now been ticked off.

The neighbouring plot of land belongs to a man who had recently shifted his entire life and career from that of an accountant to that of a farmer. As we drove into his plot, at least 15 farm workers turned to look at us. Eventually, after getting one of the assistants to hang off the back of our car and guide us to where his boss was, we found him standing on the foundations of his soon-to-be home. He wore a white, African shirt with modern jeans and welcomed us to his organic farm with the customary Kenyan handshake, which I have still not mastered. It involves a slap, shake and snap of the thumbs, and is far too gangster and slick for me to ever achieve ( I have tried doing it to my own hands before I go to sleep and constantly fail). The farmer took us on a tour of his vast farm, around 9 green houses made of plastic covering and wooden stumps, filled with enormous green tomatoes and row upon row of capsicum peppers. He spoke openly about his finances, his ambitions and his hope that his earnings from the oranges he grew to put his six children through school. I asked him how he learnt all of this about farming, considering his background in finances and accountancy and he simply replied with 'Passion. I needed nothing but passion.' In my brain, I was somewhat disappointed with his answer and expected a tale of a family farm of his childhood, which he longed to recreate; but ultimately his answer was typically Kenyan in the sense that it was inspired, simple and something you could easily imagine as a motivational quote on a fridge magnet. After an hour or two of sampling various tangerines and Anna chasing the chickens, he insisted we left with bags filled with tomatoes and spinach, so heavy that I was barely able to carry the bag without help.

The following day, Anna and I arranged to climb one of the looming mountains in the distance. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I'm not enormously outdoorsy, or at all fit, and as a result before we had even set off I thought to myself that it was highly unlikely I would complete the hike (especially since I was wearing a maxi skirt and converse, not your ultimate mountain-climbing gear).  It was boiling hot, as our feet searched for grip on the steep route. Shade rarely came as the path had been worn down by generations of cattle taking the same route and munching away at any vegetation to be found. I could probably manage 5 minutes of tough climbing before I moaned, sighed and begged for a pause. But everytime I turned to see the landscape below I felt a tingle of fear and pride, not only did it feel like a slight gust of wind could cause my feeble knees to buckle and push me all the way down again, but the vast view was breathtaking. Huge blue mountains in the background, an enormous valley of green, yellow and brown trees with the dry red soil below; It was amazing, and powerful enough to force me to the top. Although, I will admit that when we were about 2 minutes from the peak I asked Anna whether we could just lay claim that we had reached the top without having to struggle up imminent vertical climb above us; she denied me of my laziness and demanded me step up and finish what I had started. Upon reaching the top, we looked out to Mount Kilimanjaro and the plains of Tanzania, we could even see the farmer's nine greenhouses below in the distance. After several minutes of sitting smugly, trying to wave to Anna's parents below and calling to confirm whether what we were looking at was actually Kilimanjaro, we slowly stumbled down the mountain, with regular choruses of 'Arg! Ow! Oh!'. We accidentally walked an extra 20 minutes too far from the house, but I completed the trip with a huge sense of pride and an exhaustion which legitimised my choice to recline in a hammock and read a book for 3 hours.

1 comment:

  1. I can just imagine the moaning and begging!Ha ha!Sounds so amazing !