In 2003 I went to Kenya to work on a promotional documentary for a faith-based NGO.
As I remember it, Kenya is a very poor country, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. I don’t know if this is still so, or was ever so, but this is what I remember being told.
I also remember being told that it is among the top 10 countries in disparity of wealth. Again, I don’t know if this is still so, or was ever so, but this is what I remember being told.
While we were there we worked with a Masai woman named Margaret Koelaken. Initially she was very suspicious; another white film crew parachuting into her community and expecting that they should drop everything because we had cameras. But I managed to win her over and we became friends.
A year later she was in New York City for a United Nations indigenous people’s conference. At the beginning of her trip I went into the city to show her around my town and help get her settled.
I recall, after two days of hustle and bustle in the Big Apple, having lunch at a deli near Penn Station and asking her, “When you get back home to Kenya, what are you going to tell your friends. What would you want them to know?”
“I’m going to tell them Americans work very, very hard. They’re not standing around waiting for things to happen. Americans are go, go, go.”
Then at the end of the conference I went back in and fetched her to spend Memorial Day weekend with my family in Montauk.
By Kenyan standards, Margaret lived well. She had a multi-room house in town with running water electricity on a small piece of property. But compared to our own (by American standards) modest house, Margaret’s circumstance would be regarded as impoverished. I felt a little self-conscious about our affluence.
Margaret has never seen the ocean, and as luck would have it, the weather was perfect that weekend. Montauk was in finest form, and bustling with Long Islanders eager to enjoy the beginning of Summer. Margaret and I toured the sites: downtown, the harbor, Ditch Plains, the lighthouse, all teeming with tourists and locals alike. Everywhere we went, Margaret beamed:
“Look at all these people enjoying their good life!”
I also remember driving down dirt roads in Kenya. What I remember is that there are a lot of people on foot on the sides of these roads; many many more people than you will see walking along the side of a road in the US.
Kenyan drivers don’t slow down as they go by pedestrians. They don’t slow down, and they don’t shift over to make a little extra room either.
They just go roaring by at full speed, as if the people on the side of the road aren’t even there, and the people who have to walk just eat their dust.