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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Kenya: A Transformative Experience

It has been a struggle, after returning from Africa, to find words to adequately describe the people, places, and experiences that Patti and I knew while in Kenya without resorting to long stories, and even then trying to capture the experience is elusive.  One word that keeps coming to me is transformational--that is, if you allow it, it changes you. After seeing it, you see the world through a different lens, in the same way that you see the world differently after some rite of passage.  I'd never set foot on the continent before, yet something about it felt like home, in the cities and in the wild places.  There was danger in Nairobi, to be sure, but we were consistently embraced and welcomed.  Dire poverty was juxtaposed with bright minds, dedication and eagerness to learn.  Sprawling new development was contrasted with ancient landscapes that were the common origin of all humans on the planet.

I'm profoundly grateful to architect and educator Gathogo Githatu of Jomo Kenyetta University in Nairobi, who invited me to provide a keynote speech, sketching workshop, and sketchwalk for the annual conference of the Africa Chapter of the International Federation of Landscape Architects in Nairobi.  It was a rare opportunity to meet kindred spirits, share common passions, and to grow in the process.  We followed our time in Nairobi with a week-long photo and sketch safari to Amboseli National Park (Kilimanjaro), Lake Naivasha, Lake Nukuru, and the Masai Mara. The following images offer just a glimpse of our experiences.  To get a more insights into the journey, prepare for those long stories.

JR sketch of street life in Peca Juja Township, during our sketchwalk with the group.

JR leading students, faculty and professional designers on their first on-location sketching outing.

Lots of local interest of my sketch (shown below).
A market stall in Peca Juja Township, just outside the gates of Jomo Kenyetta University.

Patti sharing the love with university students.

Sketchwalk participants outside the gates of Jomo Kenyetta University in Nairobi.

Slums across the ravine from our hotel in Nairobi.
Touring the tea country outside Nairobi, on the way to visit Gathogo's mother's home.

Narok, Kenya, a small town that serves as a stop on the highway between Nairobi and the great preserve Masai Mara.  I asked our driver to make a u-turn and go back up the hill in order to capture this view.

Elephants in the shadow of Kilimanjaro in Aboseli National Park. 
The great Rift Valley, which stretches the length of the the entire continent, served as the migration route out of Africa to the Middle East, Europe, Asian and beyond for the earliest humans. 
We were told we hadn't experienced a real African safari until our Land Cruiser had broken down.  Check that one off the list.  Here we are still 100 kilometers from our lodge at Masai Mara.
Our route took us from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park, to Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and finally the Masai Mara.
Wild flamingos in flight, spooked by our small boat, on Lake Naivasha.

Hippos congregating in Lake Naivasha.
Lone Cape Buffalo bull near Lake Nakuru.  We saw herds of hundreds of these buffalo, but the old bulls were frequently solo.

Kilimanjaro at sunset, Amboseli National Park.  For both Patti and I, Amboseli looms large in our memories.  I felt I was seeing this magnificent landscape through the eyes of ancient ancestors.  This was another instance where I asked our driver to backtrack to position me for this composition.  The sketch was done quickly standing through the roof of the Land Cruiser; watercolor added at our lodge later that night.