Categories: AfricaKenyaSustainable TravelTravel

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Grassroots Tourism Edition

My mornings in Uganda are a noisy affair as the town wakes up, birds and roosters too. But oh, the views.  The small town of Jinja is home to the point where the Nile River branches off from Lake Victoria, also known as the Source of the Nile. I found a shady spot and watched the boats criss-cross the waters for hours. This was a needed a break from catching up on work after traveling through remote regions of Kenya these past few weeks.

And speaking of those remote regions, I uncovered some wonderful community based initiatives. Good stuff, can’t wait to share more.

The Source of the Nile River in Uganda flows from Lake Victoria. The river exits the lake in the lower left of the photo and flows to Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Time with the Maasai

Picture the statuesque figure of a Maasai warrior standing tall over the vast plains of East Africa. This iconic image is relatable to most of us who grew up on a steady diet of watching the National Geographic channel. Like anyone planning East Africa travels, I wanted to learn more about their culture. Ethically undertaking the task though, was harder.

Women from Maji Moto’s widow’s village welcome us to their compound with a lively traditional song and dance.

And the problem is, there are lots of opportunities, but not all are positive tourism initiatives.

My safari trip last month in Tanzania included a short visit to a Maasai camp on the path between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. The cultural experience set me back a mere $10 and the Maasai performed a spirited welcome dance and offered back story on the Maasai people. On the surface it was fascinating, here was the intricate and beautiful beadwork adorning the necks of the women. Warriors carried their sharp spears, a reminder of their fierce capabilities. And yet, 30 mins later, as we left the small circling of manyattasmud hutsthe experience felt hallow. It was a canned tourist experience repeated many times a day, week in, week out as safari tourists flood into the region.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself searching the markets of Narok, Kenya for Salaton, a charismatic Maasai chief running a cultural camp near Maasai Mara National Park.  A camp representative contacted me over the holidays, and from pre-trip research, the Maji Moto Cultural Camp looked like the perfect execution of a community-driven social enterprise. , I love supporting these types of businesses on the road (like in Panama and Thailand). At the core, this form of tourism puts the solution to a social issue directly into the hands of a local community. Social enterprises allow them to develop a sustainable solution on their own terms. (And it’s this exact tourism model that GV supports and it’s also the reason for my NatGeo honor.)

I took a sunset hike to a nearby rock outcropping to learn more of the Maasai culture and stories. The view of the Loita Plains was stunning and vast.

Decked out in traditional jewelry I borrowed so I could attend a nearby ceremony with Meri and Salaton, our two primary guides for my week in the African bush living at their cultural camp.

Sunrise is a bold affair over the Loita Plains of Kenya. I bolted awake each morning just before 6am to the sounds of bird song and morning quiet and rushed from my manyatta so I could catch that day’s sunrise.

Salaton’s camp is a reversal from the idea of assembly line tourism. Rather than push tourists through the camp to increase revenue and appease snap-happy, camera-toting tourists, the Maasai at Maji Moto guide visitors into respectful interactions and welcome them to immerse in the traditional village life.

I joined a small group of touring medical volunteers to learn more about Salaton’s business model and the camp. Funds from the cultural camp support a nearby school, a health clinic, and a widows village he started to provide a safe-haven for girls escaping early marriage or genital circumcision.

My experiences over the five days I spent at Maji Moto are among my favorite from my Africa travels. I have thousands of photos to edit, more thoughts to process, and stories brimming to come to the surface from that week!

Learning about Rural Health Issues

Just after leaving Maji Moto, I met with Dan Ogola, the founder of a large health initiative in one of the poorest provinces in Kenya. Dan founded the Matibabu Foundation in 2001 to address the pervasive health issues in Ugenya, Kenya. What started as a single clinic for maternal and child health is now a hospital, a girl’s school, a nursing school, and much more.

Visiting the Matibabu Health Clinic in Kenya. Right now we’re debating if I need another baby on my lap… the verdict? One will do. :-)

Dan asked me to visit his projects with the hope that through GV I can access long-term teaching, agricultural, and medical volunteers for his projects. After days of kind hospitality in this rural community, I am committed to supporting his projects. I also agreed to take on the title of Goodwill Ambassador for maternal child health; this role will allow me to continue working with Matibabu and supporting their efforts.

Weeks of low internet access means I still have hundreds of photos to process before I write more about my time in this rural region of Kenya. Realistically, this will happen in June when I return stateside.

What’s Next?

What dispatch would be complete without an update on what’s next?! I arrived in Uganda a few days ago and have reveled in lots of connectivity (during my time in the rural regions I mostly just had 3G on my phone… on a good day).

Next week I meet up with my favorite traveling and blogging couple, Dan and Audrey. They are finishing up a tour of the region and we plan on some hiking funnies together here and in Rwanda.

If you know of any projects I should check out in either of these two countries, please let me know!

Many thanks,

~Shannon

This post was last modified on December 24, 2016, 10:00 pm

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  • HI Shannon!
    What a great post! I picked this up through Continental Driftings, where I am a contributing writer. What's so amazing is that you were at Matibabu! I was there about five years ago and know Dan Ogola. He is truly an amazing man. How cool that the world is so small!
    Best to you in Kenya,
    Samantha

    • What a small world that you were at Matibabu as well! Dan is such an inspiration, and I love the work he's doing. Thanks for visiting the site :-)

  • I want to go to Africa a little later on my world adventure.. but it kind of scares me to travel there alone, as a woman. Do you have any tips for that?

    • Well, I was born in Africa, and it is without doubt the safest continent in the world for travellers. Locals invariably are extremely caring, will bring you into their homes, share with you all they can, because that is African culture, Ubuntu.
      Just in a small country like NZ with its tiny populaTION OF A COUPLE OF MILLION, MORE FOREIGNERS DIE EACH YEAR THAN IN ALL OF THE MASSIVE AFRICAN CONTINENT TOGETHER!!
      Other so called Western countries are not much better safety wise. Personally I would NEVER set foot in the USA, simply too dangerous to make it worthwhile, with its gung-ho, gun happy cops and all!
      Africa has almost 60 countries, and the vast majority of them extremely safe and peaceful. Those few that are NOT, has been ruined by Foreign WESTERN invasions and interventions!! Libia was once described as the best country in the world, but look at it today after the US and EU invaded? It resembles another state of the US, with guns and violence everywhere! CIA trained and armed terrorists are infiltrating Africa, don't forget Bin ladin was American trained and armed...now they are all over Africa too...and even the US militrary, those angels of death, destructiion, torture and rape are all over Africa like a rash...sad, very sad...

    • I found that a lot of the locals looked out for me in Africa, and I am very glad that I decided to face my own fears about traveling there. That being said, I think it's a good idea to go later in your trip, after you have some travel wits and experiences behind you that can help you quickly suss out different situations. It's a gorgeous country and a lot to enjoy there, but you are right in that it's a bit more dangerous (not just for women, just in general). Pick some spots that interest you in the country and head there first, with some travel confidence you can definitely handle it.

  • Great Post and Nice Article.All of the Photos are so good.I like it.Thanks for sharing.

  • <3 all this Shannon so happy to see your blog and so glad I met you in my Travels! I'll be reading your blogs more often and can't wait to see all your future adventures.