Aeolistic


And a little bit more

Last Kenya shots from me, I think. These are a mixture from the villages of Mtwapa and Voi and a few from Mombasa.

I know I haven’t got back into updating as much as usual. It has been late evenings at work this week so I don’t usually fancy doing anything once I get home. Also, the flat hunt is starting again for moving in September – busy, busy but exciting times. I’ve got a post in the pipeline about appearance and the politics surrounding it (“AGAIN?”, you say?) as it seems everyone I know has been giving me food for thought on that very subject.



Maasai

While we were on safari, we visited a Maasai village near Amboseli. I had met a considerable number of Maasai back in Mombasa, and it was so lovely to come back and show them the photos. They recognised all of their friends and were so happy to see how the little ones had grown, as some had not been home in over a year.



Zebras and baboons and birds, oh my!

Here are a few more shots from safari. Those baby elephants were absolutely gorgeous to see. They were so cute and playful. We stopped for a good few minutes to watch and coo.

More photos to come, including some of Mombasa, forest villages near Mtwapa and a Maasai village near Amboseli!



Safari

As I haven’t posted in 10 days, I figured I should put up some of the photos from my safari trip. It was a humbling experience driving across the sprawling Serengeti – I felt insignificant but important at the same time. It definitely put things into perspective, in terms of being only a tiny screw in the vast machine of the universe. Kilimanjaro is a stunning sight to behold – our whole safari group just couldn’t stop looking at it. The stars litter the sky at night in a way I had never seen before. Just amazing.



The underbelly of paradise

We’re staying in a Swiss-owned hotel on a beach by Shanzu, a village with a population of about 50,000, located a short drive from the city of Mombasa. With a balcony looking out onto the Indian Ocean, framed by a white sand beach, this should be paradise. Sure, there is the occasional power cut (such as during the England vs USA match) and the prices of things change depending on whom we ask, but there is little room for complaint. This little scene could have been borrowed from holiday snaps on the Costa Blanca, give or take a vast ocean and the East African heat.

It is difficult to reconcile my own plenty with the poverty and struggle of those working in this hotel. We have befriended a number of the staff and, as we get to know them, they share more with us. We learnt yesterday that the non-management staff are working without pay for the ninth consecutive month. The Swiss owner, in a well-protected hideaway not too far from here, claims not to have the money to pay the staff. He refuses to meet with them and buys off the trade union representatives. Without support from the union and with many local people desperate for work, these unpaid members of staff have no choice but to keep working for free. The system of purchase in the hotel works on the basis of receipts – guests get a receipt for every purchase and pay the hotel’s cashier at the end of the week. The unpaid staff make enough to scrape by through unofficial cash sales which are then split between the staff of that particular area. The sum of money made is minimal – one barman, a man we call Whiskers for his distinctive moustache, told us how he had to pull his son out school when his salary stopped. He has been working at this hotel for 12 years, and tells us that working conditions have deteriorated since it came under new management a couple of years ago. This is also the only hotel along this stretch of sand that does not pay its staff – all staff in the other hotels are paid. That it is possible for only one establishment to treat its staff this way is unfathomable – this glaring exception is swept tidily under the carpet. Our fellow guests are none the wiser that the smiling faces greeting them throughout the day are concealing a daily struggle with which they will never be acquainted. It is difficult even to imagine working for the wage these workers are denied, let alone for nothing at all.

Whiskers blames the corruption that is rife across Kenya. He says corruption has become an unquestioned part of Kenyan business. I wish I had some piece of wisdom from my time studying developing countries and corruption, but I would feel like a hypocrite even if I tried to comment. How can I fumble for something as abstract as theory when real people are unable to provide for their real children? I am a white face in a hotel full of white faces, being served by (and therefore profiting from) Kenyans who are unpaid because of a lack of transparency and representation. So for now, I slip money on the sly when I am meant to be signing receipts – a token (though risky) rebellion and a small amount of money into empty pockets – and I hope that a career in international development will not be a waste of time. It is frustrating for me to sit here typing this as I cannot offer even light relief, but with no option of union or other collective action, these workers are trapped until tangible employment laws come into force. Such an indulgence it is for me to be able to blog about the harsh realities of others.



Election fever

BBC News screencap

This is how it’s looking at the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disheartened by British politics. In my constituency (Richmond Park), Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer has been ousted by old money playboy Zac Goldsmith. Letterboxes were bombarded with letters, leaflets and flyers from Goldsmith. It turned into a battle of resources, of who could waste the most paper. Susan Kramer was a fantastic MP for Richmond Park – she withdrew from the Lib Dem frontbench to focus on local issues in her constituency and did a fantastic job of it. I’m very sad to see her go; it’s lucky I’m looking to move out of Richmond.

As soon as I voted yesterday morning, I felt distinctly powerless. There’s something about elections that reaffirms the separation I feel from the decision-making process. Not only does my vote not count in a system that requires only a simple majority for victory, but no candidate represents me. Instead, I vote on the basis of who I definitely do not want. It detaches me and people like me from responsibility over the governance of our own state.

I’m tired and burnt out this week, hence a lack of posts. Flathunting is a very tiring process and I’ve got nowhere so far. I’m debating whether to move now or after I get back from Kenya. Oh yeah, I’m going to Kenya for two weeks in June – birthday present from my brother. Rather excited about it, though I have to get myself vaccinated and malaria-pilled sharpish. No doubt I’ll come back sunburnt, with a sick tummy, hundreds of photos, and a few stories.