Monday, October 06, 2008

The Dark Continent

Note: This post is late because I was on safari.

Before leaving the United States, my mother pleaded with me, “please don’t go to Africa, they will kill you for your shoes there.” But how could I go around the world and not visit the Dark Continent? It is true that crime and corruption is rampant, along with unrest and inequality, and Africa is dangerous. But it is also vibrant, colorful and soulful.
When I arrived, I was met at the airport by Charity, an African woman who runs Kikuyu Lodge in Nairobi. Her partner, Trevor, is British and built the lodge himself on the outskirts of the city. After living in Rome, I am shocked how disheveled and ramshackle are the surroundings. Streets are crowded and roads are in poor condition. Along the highways are tiny shops pieced together from scraps of wood and tin. People are sometimes dressed in little more than rags. There is a lack of aesthetics . . . Kenya is practically barren of high culture, and my first day in Nairobi, my eyes hurt, starved for fine art in the surroundings.
I search for beauty and find it in people and some of the landscape. Everyday, I swim in a black ocean of humanity. The shades of black go from chocolate brown to ebony, and it is a wonderful experience for my eyes, accustomed to white everywhere. The skin is smooth and soft to the touch and I notice how light reflects differently across dark features. Generally, people seem quick to smile and wave hello, and at least look curiously at me, a white stranger in their midst. The main language is Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya. English is universal, but sometimes among less educated people, vocabulary is severely limited and communication in English difficult.
Baha’u’llah in His Writings, "compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye," through which "the light of the spirit shineth forth." — Just like the black pupil of the eye absorbs the utmost light to feed the brain information for cognition, it seems the dark race is the principal transmitter of earthiness and primary experience.
I am biding my time, waiting to go on safari. I go out with Charity everyday, mostly to use the Internet while she does errands, but also, we visit a tea plantation, a flower farm, and a Masai crafts market and a self-help co-op for single women with children where jewelry is manufactured. We have conversations and laugh together as our personalities mingle. I hoped to do some street photography, but noticed that people are more wary of cameras pointed toward them. One day, Charity takes me downtown and we walk while I snap pictures. She explains that some areas, especially around government buildings, are strictly taboo for photography and if caught, police can make an arrest. While we walk, she keeps close watch on me, warning me to keep aware of my personal space because of robbers on the street. At one point, she entirely forbids me to go into an area. “Do you know what can happen?” she asks. “A thief will attack you from behind and lift you off the ground while another one will take your shoes!”

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