You may have seen those commercials on television about how $1 a day can go to feed the starving children in Africa. It makes my country of origin, Kenya, seem as though it is full of nothing but poverty-stricken, ignorant people, just struggling to survive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I want to change the narrative — to give you a much truer picture of my home country.
When I came to America, I certainly experienced culture shock. However, once I assimilated, I was surprised at how many similarities there are between America and Kenya. If I were to blindfold you and put you on a plane, when you debarked you would think you’d landed right back in Phoenix. Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is just as modern as any city in the world. With a population of 6.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is a vibrant city on the banks of the Nairobi River. In fact, its name comes from the Maasai Tribe who call it Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to “cool water.” The city is popularly referred to as the Green City in the Sun.
In recent years, the Kenyan economy has exploded. Kenya is the economic, financial and transport hub of East Africa. Its GDP growth has average 5% for the last eight years, in part due to the growth in tourism. The Kenyan government has embraced its cultural heritage and economically supports and encourages the many tribes to retain their traditions. For instance, upon arriving at the airport in Nairobi, you will be met by Maasai warriors in full native dress, who greet you with a traditional dance. The migration of vast herds of animals (wildebeests in particular) also attracts plenty of tourists to the country.
Kenya is becoming a strong economic trade partner with many countries in the world. For example, did you know that the chai tea you drink probably comes from Kenya. Chai is the Swahili word for tea. In fact, the number one exports for the country are coffee, tea and spices, especially cloves. The Swahili language developed because of the spice trade. Arabic traders came to Kenya and intermarried with the Bantu people. The two languages, Arabic and Bantu merged to become Swahili. Other exports include live plants, flowers, fruits, nuts and vegetables — that familiar food label here in the U.S., Del Monte, has huge plantations in Kenya where pineapple and bananas are grown. Clothing and accessories are another popular commodity.
Kenya also has some of the most amazing scenery and activities in the world, but I’ll touch on that in my next blog.
I hope I’ve painted a picture — changed the narrative — of Kenya and her people. It is a vital, growing country — proud of its heritage and culture. With a little luck, you’ll visit some day!