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It’s the people that change your life.

July 5, 2011

It is usually the wildlife that draws people to East Africa on safari, however, it is the people they meet that they remember.  And when one of those meetings changes how you perceive your own world than you have experienced the transformational power of travel.  I had such an experience on my very first safari.

I had the privilege of staying at Lewa Wilderness on my first trip to Kenya and Kitonga Lipan was my guide while I was there.  Kitonga, a Masai, is now running Walking Wild which is a phenomenal mobile walking safari which I have also been lucky enough to experience – will save that story for a later blog.  Kitonga and I did a game walk every morning while I was at Lewa and during those walks we had lots of time to talk and share stories about our lives.

I am a Canadian and was explaining my country to Kitonga and in particular describing our winter – the snow, ice, freezing temperatures that cover our landscape for more than 3 months each year.  I am sure this was very difficult for a Masai to imagine when the only reference to snow & cold he knew was the peaks of Mt. Kenya and he had never been up that majestic mountain.  The next morning we were out for another bush walk and Kitonga told me he had spent a lot of time thinking about my country and he had one question he couldn’t answer.  That one question absolutely changed my life … it was “how do the poor people survive in your country?”

Now like most westerners, I viewed my country as one of privilege and wealth and had seen many images of the poverty in East Africa so was stunned to be asked this question, particularly by a man who lived in a mud hut, wore what I saw as only a simple cloth and whose wealth was measured by the cows he owned.  But as Kitonga explained in Kenya, he could find shelter under a shady tree, find food by either killing it or taking it from the plants and was kept warm by his shuka as his weather was temperate but what did one do in the freezing cold when shelter was an absolute necessity, when food didn’t grow and when clothing was essential to your very survival?

This simple question has changed how I view my country and how we deal with the issue of poverty.  I look at every person living on the street in a whole new way and have volunteered with a number of youth & homeless shelters as a result.  It also changed my very perception of poverty and how we measure the concept of wealth.

However, this is just one of the many transformational conversations I have had with my safari guides, the villagers I have met or the hosts/managers at our properties.  I know I am not the only one so let me know how you have been changed by a conversation or a person you have met on your travels, just go to our Facebook page and share your story.  Looking forward to hearing from you.