If you have been following along with my, and some 170 others, journey during Global Encounters in Kenya over the summer months, you know I left you hanging in suspense. Our time in Nairobi was complex, exciting, and confusing for me. On many levels, I wondered about the boundaries created and those disrupted as we moved into hotel life with phones between rooms, a lounge on the main level, a gym and pool on the top floors, and very little downtime until our medical team stronger encouraged we cancel a hike and all take a break.
Personally, Nairobi had other challenges. When I am in East Africa I find myself more comfortable within and more excited to be apart of the faith based community my parents raised me in compared to when I am in Canada, at home. It is something I am working out and will likely take many more years to work through. Yet, once again, while in Nairobi and with so many inspirational youth and leaders, I found myself swept away with the celebrations the Ismaili Muslim community was having. In the month of July we celebrate the inauguration of His Highness the Aga Khan IV, this year marking fifty-nine years.
The Global Encounters community was welcomed with warm hearts and much anticipation by the Nairobi Ismaili community. We participated in celebration day dances, a march past and flag raising ceremony, and attended prayers on this auspicious occasion. Many of the youth put on their best outfits, prepared themselves as one large camp for a group photo, participated in communal prayers, and celebrated with sherbet, a traditional drink marking special occasions.
Our celebrations continued as we ventured on safari to Amboseli National Park in Kajiado County, Kenya. The 39,206 hectare park is the core of an 8,000 square kilometre ecosystem which spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania boarder and is home to mainly the Maasai community. Daily game drives privileged us to sitings of elephants, giraffes, lions, hippopotamus’, cape buffaloes, cheetahs, zebras, wildebeest, flamingos, and various other animals including many bird species. Similar to my previous safari trip, I was captured in awe of the animals, in the beauty of the landscape, and struck by the sound of natural life. Yet, while I sat at the edge of my dinning room seat at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge looking out into the plains, I wondered about the destructions humans had on the natural habitats of the animals within this and many other ecosystems. I thought about the youth we were traveling with and if we equipped them with the right insight into wonderment and was curious about the thoughts that were running through their heads as we all took each opportunity possible to capture the beauty of the park through our camera lenses.
On one of the game drives our tourist footprint became extremely apparent to me, and I believe many others. Safari van drivers, nearly thirty if I remember correctly, impatiently waited as elephants blocked a short and narrow bridge that led to lions. These lions, spotted off the road tracks by one driver, resulted in vans budging one another, driving at speeds to cause a minor dust storm, and inching as close as possible towards the lioness, the lion, and their cubs. Caught up in the excitement of seeing a lion in their natural habitat, it took a couple moments before I realized where we had traveled to before I started to wonder about the impact we were having. It was in this moment that I fully respected our safari driver when he left the sight of the lions before we were perhaps ready to leave and did his absolute best to stay a good distance from the animals.
The same had happened the drive before with the cheetahs but until right now that experience did not seem to be as large as the lions, perhaps because we were on path down the road with the cheetahs versus chasing other vans to see them.
Yet, while I am sitting with various questions about the ethics of a safari, it would be dishonourable for me to say I did not enjoy taking pictures of these animals in the ecosystem. I am left with hundreds of pictures and even more questions.
Safari also entailed versus group activities, largely around community building. This, however, is a bit of a tough subject for me and therefore this does not seem like the venue to raise my queries and concerns that came from the various community building activities completed at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge. I can say, the GE community left more connected to one another, more informed about lives globally, with a new level of sensitivity to one another, and a deeper sense of brother/sister-hood. With those outcomes, it is likely only my mind that still wanders to ponder the activities completed. In many ways, the GE safari was a highlight for the travel bug inside of me, and maybe many others.