Has it already been three months since we came to East Africa? I can remember the moment that I first set my eyes on Mt. Kilimanjaro as if it happened yesterday; at the same time, the slow pace of life in Africa has also meant that these three months have felt more like three years, each with its own set of new experiences and excitement.
Since that first encounter with Kilimanjaro, I have had several opportunities to acquaint myself with this phenomenon that is ‘Kili’. I have learnt that it is not just a mountain; it is not even just the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, and neither is it just a spectacle of unparalleled beauty and pure awe. No, it is more than that. For the millions of beings, human or otherwise, that make their home in the bounties provided by Kilimanjaro’s abundant forests, glaciers and rain, the mountain is Baraka. It is a blessing.
And blessed is how I feel right now, at this moment. My fellow SFS-ers and I have had the opportunity to view some of the world’s most magnificent wildlife and landscapes, and various opportunities to learn from and interact with the staff and the local communities in Kenya and Tanzania. We have had the opportunity to walk on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and out in the dry African bush, interviewing farmers and local Maasai pastoralists about their livelihoods. We have had the opportunity to interact with the local community and discuss with them ways to resolve issues that they face daily, like conflict with wildlife or declining farm productivity. And all this even before we graduate from college! We are probably some of the luckiest students in the world to have had a chance to explore issues in the ‘real’ world, and to have been able to contrast these issues with our lives and problems back home.
So what lies ahead? SFS has provided us with world-class training on handling rigorous research and community interactions; East Africa, with its traditional hospitality, has provided us with friendship, amazing cultural experiences and more. As we prepare to leave East Africa, we have all had discussions about what this African experience has meant for us. During these talks, one thing was clear: East Africa had given us all new perspectives and touched us in ways that were unexpected and profound. We struggled to find words to describe what has happened in the past three months, just as I am struggling now. However, we all knew that we would be back; the SFS experience in East Africa has just left us asking for more, and I for one am sure that I am not yet done with this wonderful part of the world. So, tutaonana tena, East Africa, and kwaheri for now!