For New Years, some friends and I went up to Northern Kenya, to a little podunk town called Maralal. It's completely arid, and about a 3 hour drive down a terrible dirt road. And I didn't want to leave. I was even thinking of asking Peace Corps for a site change (just kidding!). It's just so different from the south- northern Kenya is Kenya at its wildest, most rugged-- and I just loved it.
The mix of tribes in Northern Kenya is just so fascinating (and unfortunately PC doesn't put volunteers there, so I never really had a chance! ;) The biggest tribe up there seemed to be the Samburu, which is a tribe really closely related to the Maasai in the southern part of Kenya. They have managed to really hang on to their traditional culture, and remain pastoralist herders in a country where there is a lot of pressure to abandon the more traditional practices. There are also people from the Turkana, Kikuyu, and I think even Pokot tribes milling around up there as well. So when you have such a mix of tribes, cultures and languages, you tend to use Kiswahili quite often, and I really gave mine a workout (which reminds me that I really need to get a tutor here in Meru!).
We took a day-long camel trek through the rural areas outside of town, guided by Samburu Morans (young men who have been initiated into the warrior class in their tribe), one of whom was called 'Balance', and another who went by 'Doctor'. It was really cool to go riding by the herd boys keeping watch over their flocks of sheep & goats, we saw mongoose and zebra, and emerged from the trek completely exhausted but just so happy to be able to be here in Kenya to see & do these things.
The next day we went into town, and as it was still a public holiday, most things were closed, but enough people were about to be able to give you a sense of what the town is like normally. The thing I most liked was seeing the Samburu in full traditional dress riding through the downtown area on their bicycles! We went into this little cafe (Slogan: "Best dishes South of the Sahara, and that's a Fact". With a slogan like that, how can you go wrong?) The 5 of us go into the cramped, crowded room, and ask the manager if there is space. He tells us, "Yes, of course!" And my friend Naomi asks doubtfully, "for 5 people?". He insists that there is room (despite the fact that all tables are already occupied), and tells us that he has a "special place", and that we can sit there as we are "special people". Well, he takes us out the back of the cafe, past the kitchen, into the back and it is obvious, from the playing children and hanging laundry, that people live here. We pass a butchery, and end up going into this small room. It is instantly obvious that this is this guy's living room, and that we are going to be eating our lunch here. It is actually a living room/bedroom, as there are both couches and a bed here. And the wives and daughters of the household are coming in and out as we eat, chasing children or hauling loads of clothing outside to be washed. It was so strange and amazing all at the same time, and it was completely one of those "only in Africa" moments, which I hope to have many more of in the upcoming New Year!
So I hope that everyone had a great holiday season, and know that I'm thinking of all of you and hoping that your new year is very happy indeed!