The Kenya Expedition
By Marcus Reynerson –
Anake Outdoor School Coordinator, Anake Grad ’06, and Way Leads to Way Instructor
As I sat in the high desert of southern California wrapping up the Anake Outdoor School California expedition in February, I was struck by the beautiful relationship that has developed between two villages over 8 years with our sister organization, Quail Springs Permaculture Farm, north of Santa Barbara. I have seen connection created – and culture build – over time as the way in which our two communities engage deepens. Thankfully, reciprocal connection with people and place is no longer a fringe thing – communities are building it across the continent now. What would happen if more communities connected in this way?
Last July, these questions lead Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) from arid lands of California to arid lands across the globe. WAS pursued this cultural exchange in Ingwe’s childhood homeland in the Rift Valley of Kenya. What’s more, WAS saw a long-desired opportunity to support Anake graduates’ work in these efforts by partnering with Kirkland-based Way Leads to Way Expeditions (WL2W). Founded by Brent Coyle (Anake Graduate ’04) and co-staffed by Casey McFarland (Anake ’02) and myself (Anake ’06), WL2W has strong friendship with a community of Maasai people in southern Kenya. Musa Seno, WL2W Kenya coordinator, was born and raised in a small Maasai village called Suswa, located in the Rift Valley, and comes from a long line of traditional leaders. Ingwe was raised outside of Nairobi in and around the Rift Valley where his deep love for the African wilderness and the tribal spirit he encountered there guided Wilderness Awareness School’s vision. With this in mind, the trajectory of this trip was guided by two main intentions: 1) to explore the natural and cultural history of an amazing country and, 2) to build authentic connection to a wonderful community of people.
Upon driving away from arrivals at Nairobi Airport, our group was immediately welcomed by a small herd of Giraffes in adjacent Nairobi National Park. Amazing and epic wildlife encounters only increased from there as we made our way to Amboseli National Park where we had the fortune to spend some amazing dirt time following the tracks and trails of numerous species: Giraffe, Mongoose, Hyena (Spotted and Striped), Zebra, and Baboon to name a few. The birding was off the hook with ridiculously colored and feathered jewels flitting passed us constantly (so many different Kingfishers! and Bee Eaters!). With Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background we measured the strides of Elephant, we watched Cape Buffalo and Wildebeest roam, and we tracked myriad species of Antelope.
After a potent naturalist introduction to the land, we then we landed in Suswa located in the Great Rift Valley. While this country was nothing short of heaven for the curious naturalist and tracker, both WAS and WL2W place high value on not simply “consuming an experience”, but creating an opportunity to give as well. Students certainly walked away from this trip with new knowledge and insight, but the true gold in this experience was found in cultural exchange and reciprocity. During last summer’s expedition, we started the groundwork for a project aiming to reduce air pollution in Maasai houses, or Inkajijiks. Our hosts have long noticed that cooking fires – a staple of Maasai tradition – along with poor ventilation, contributes to intense indoor air pollution and chronic respiratory ailments. With the Suswa community’s oversight, we are hoping to make stoves available in the future that will reduce pollution while also maintaining the customs and traditions in which the Maasai cook. If the reflections from our hosts and from our students were any indication, this truly was an exchange between two villages. After a day of helping herd livestock, learning how to cook Ugali, learning about edible and medicinal plants, or getting a first hand look at how HIV is affecting the Maasai, I’ll forever remember sitting around a fire in the evenings and trading stories with an amazing group of people that we’ve come to call friends.
Ending our 16-day trip, there was a feeling that any Anake graduate might recognize. We stood in a circle. Appreciations were shared. Reflections were spoken. The Elders spoke last. They sent us on our way with blessings for health and safety. We were 10,000 miles away from Duvall, taking part in a simple ritual – one that these Maasai still value as a universal human experience. Upon leaving, the village elder, Joshua Seno – a man whom killed a lion with a spear identical to the one hanging on the Cedar Lodge hearth – spoke to us in Kimaasai with a salutation. His son translated: “Thank you for coming here. Know that this place is always your home now, and we hope that you return soon. You are family now.” Just like the fires of village we are tending here at home, we are kindling another flame with a village across an ocean. While WAS will not officially be running the expedition with WL2W this summer, we are excited to support our graduates’ work into the future and see connections that build from this.
Stay connected to the work that Way Leads to Way is doing in Kenya - www.wayleadstoway.com