Not Just Another Tourist

August 10, 2008

Flight to London

A woman just walked by me down the airline aisle wearing a cheetah print jacket, a matching suitcase and a cheesy t-shirt saying “I love Kenya.” To me, she looked absolutely ridiculous. To her, I probably look even more ridiculous.

I’m wearing a brightly colored shawl known as a kikoi wrapped around my shoulders. Barely visible through the kikoi is my equally vibrant kanga shirt. Dangling from my ears are cow-horn earrings and on my feet are bronze colored bejeweled sandals.

My outfit is all part of a plan to shock my parents cleverly contrived by me and my friends. The kanga was sown by Susan, a tailor friend of mine, the kikoi was given to me by my host Mama, the slippers were sold to me by my street friend Mary and the earrings were the fruits of a highly entertaining hour-long bargaining/joking in Kiswahili session at the Masaai Market in Nairobi.

I imagine that both myself and the leopard-print woman think that our choice of clothing represent Kenya. And yet the Kenya experience our clothes represent couldn’t be farther apart. Judging from her seeming desire to be mistaken for an oversized cheetah, I’m assuming that this woman came to Kenya to see the animals. From my own eccentric wardrobe choice, one might infer that I wish to be mistaken for a Kenyan and that I came to Kenya to see an entirely different type of animal.

This woman is most likely satisfied with her adventure, her camera full of pictures and her head full of stories she can recount to all her friends back home. I too am satisfied, but for very different reasons.

My head is full of ideas. Ideas about development, about Western views of Africa, about cultural differences, about energy policies and about the things I will do to translate my ideas into action.

The cheetah woman will most likely be soon forgotten in Kenya, just another muzungu tourist, albeit one with a certain fetish for large felines. Perhaps this is arrogant, but I doubt that I will be so soon forgotten. Just as I will never forget the friends I have made, the family that has indeed become family and the biogas project that I helped start, I sincerely hope that I will never be forgotten.