Right after my holiday ‘work’ was awaiting. While my wife was to take on a whole new contingent of fresh kids at high-school, I was to be part of a 'herd' of NGO staff members in one of the national parks of Kenya. I facilitated a training in Sarova Shaba Game Lodge, which is located near the town of Isiolo, in Shaba, one of Kenya’s biggest national parks. It remains one of the best parts of my work, to be able to see places and meet people.
The training I facilitated is part of a program that promotes constructive dialogues between decision-makers and vulnerable communities facing the dramatic consequences of climate change. A week before the training when the training venue was confirmed I had some serious doubts. Were there no hotels in Nairobi to accommodate us? What about our carbon footprint taking us 300 kilometers into the Kenyan landscape? And would the cost of the training not increase considerably staying at a high-end hotel? My calvinistic work ethics played-up again I guess.
Once amidst zebra’s, elephants and giraffes along the Ewaso Ngiro river, and seeing pastoral communities along the roads herding their goats and camels, I realised there was no better place to conduct this training. Not only did it manage to keep people in the training room, away from other obligations and priorities that would appear at any given time should the training have been in Nairobi. I also underestimated what local networks can deliver. The program coordinator, originating from the same area which is also one of the program areas, had ably negotiated a very low fare, which easily beat hotel fares in Nairobi. The conference facility was well equipped and bordered a very peaceful shallow water pool with fishes and turtles to keep us company during the coffee-breaks. Rooms were located along the river with crocodiles and other reptiles regularly appearing ashore and baboons jumping the trees.
Being focused on the training itself, I had not scheduled for any tour or recreational activity. Nevertheless the program coordinator arranged for a game drive one late afternoon from 5 to 7 pm, when the animals started moving again, and it was good she did. The number of elephants, giraffes, gazelles, zebra’s and buffaloes we encountered was impressive and with the help of one of the park rangers we even managed to spot a lion. Various birds surrounded the predator waiting for their turn and telling the ranger about the whereabouts of the lion. The very presence amidst so much beauty that is being endangered by climate change underscored the relevance of our program that is promoting landscape approaches and river basin management, bringing the various (often conflicting) interests together, while protecting wetlands that fulfil a crucial role in wildlife conservation.
Naturally we also could not escape the usual cultural dance at a closing dinner pretentiously called a bush camp fire dinner, which given the security measures around the hotel grounds could hardly be referred to as being in the bush. However, not after one Samburu men introduced us to Samburu culture using beamer and screen, which contrasted surreally with his traditional clothing and the nature in its direct surrounding. It was also good to note that not only to me his story was new, but also most of my Kenyan and Ugandan colleagues, having various backgrounds, were similarly enjoying the exposure.
On the trip back to Nairobi, as part of conversations about family life in Kenya and Holland, I was told that the sudden drop in international tourism, following the terrorist attacks of Al Shabaab, had finally opened up places to Kenyans. In the past multiple places where exclusively accessible to foreigners and Kenyans were not welcomed. Today, the middle-class in Kenya is the thriving engine of the tourist industry, and are equally met with hospitality services.
All in all, the training was an experience of good friendship and great change potential given the active participation during exercises and consultations between the two country teams and creativity displayed. Thank you Kenya and Uganda for welcoming me allowing me to be part of your journey. At the closing dinner I received, as a sign of appreciation, a Samburu name: Lepario (the blessed one). I could not agree more.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.