When you work in development, especially in the field (that field being an extremely remote, rural, under-resourced, marginalized county in a developing country) you apply yourself to the mantra that the work you are doing will take months, sometimes years to prove fruitful or sustainable. This way you stay positive when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road... and when you face seeming insurmountable hurtles. Doing something simple like printing can take days because of power outages, flooding, the inability to replace an ink cartridge, or that the office woman didn't show up. Because even simple things take time and frustration, your long-term goals must be as simple and achievable as possible (SMART taken to a whole other simplified level....)
Working in this environment takes saint-like patience and also out-of-the-box creativity to achieving your goals (not forgetting to make sure everything you start is able to continue without your presence when you leave). So when you reach your goal early, and not just early but with a flying rainbow of successful colors of beautiful awesomeness, you kind of go into a shock. Which is what I'm going through now...because I saw a vision come to fruition, and most of it by standing back and watching! The Isecheno Women Conservation Group, only a month old, with a 2 week constitution, successfully programmed, organized and facilitated a ecotour event in the form of a Community Village Tour. The tour was 3 hours long, and cost 900 KSH per person (approximately 11 USD). Our test-group was an amazing bunch of University of New England college students on a 3 week end of course tour through Kenya visiting health, environment and development based organizations. So the students were pretty useful test subjects, as they were coming into it with a very critical eye as well. They were vary wary of cultural exploitation and getting into something at "tourists" and not the serious students they were, many of them also majoring in gender and women's studies. They, and I, were delighted and showed just how community tourism really isn't tourism at all if its done right. If its done right, its immersion. Tourmersion? Maybe...but the tour was anything but a show, it was a sharing. The beautiful images below show some of the amazing experiences that were shared during the tour....
|"Mama" Sandra earned a head wrapper when she mastered grinding the millet before the ugali cooking class. The Luhya grinding song and clapping energized everyone!|
|Chairwoman Beatrice Asudi introduces the women to the students, and shared an original poem about the group's goals "What Can I do?"|
|Women Tour Guides Rosalind, Christine and Beatrice explain the tea plantation's significance on the community and the rainforest.|
|Visitors try balancing a 20L jerrycan on their head just like the elder mama we met on our way to the river|
|Greeted into the home by the entire women's group with some song and dance|
|Making lifelong memories, connections and friends|
Once through the village, the tour brought us to a home of one of the women, and we were greeted by the whole group of women (26 as of now) with singing and clapping. Once everyone was ushered into the house, we were served chai and mandazis. Everyone sat around and talked for a while, sharing stories and talked about our families. The women were very open to questions about their lives, and also continued to talk about the importance of their group and how it applies to conservation and community development. After tea, they put on a little “skit” to illustrate the role of medicine women in the village, and how to mix certain herbs, and how you usually bring a chicken with you to scare away evil spirits. Josephine (the woman of the house) speaks only Kiluhya but Beatrice did a great job with translations. After the herbal medicine, we learned how to grind millet to make the black ugali. Everyone got to try and it was a lot of fun…when the woman professor got going all the women began singing the song that goes with gridning the millet, and soon everyone was clapping and singing! It was such fun and all of the visitors had a really nice time…even when we moved into the kitchen and suffered through the smoke to learn how to cook ugali and mboga kienyeji. We stayed in the home and shared the food and chatted some more. The students had only been in Kenya for a week, and they had been staying in hotels in Nairobi and Kisumu. This was the first time they had really seen a Kenyan home and they had lots of questions, but the women handled them all with great aplomb and courtesy. You never would have guessed this was their first tour. The timing was amazing, everything was organized and planned out…you could tell all the women had practiced what they were going to say and worked together to make it a very very successful program.
The women described the event as fun and successful...they remarked on how helpful the workshops we had done the last few weeks on customer care, leadership and tour guiding principles were. The whole event left me feeling excited, proud and humbled at the same time. I felt like I had witnessed a very genuine moment in both parties' lives, it was more than a tour ever could be because we understood more about each other and ourselves...which is what ecotourism should be. And now the women have quite a chunk of change to become officially registered, open a bank account, and to decide what they want to invest in! The tour has gotten the attention of Honey Care Africa, which will be coming to visit the group and donate some hives if they want to learn how to start producing their own honey. The new possibilities of empowerment and entrepreneurship are endless for them, and I am so humbled to have been a part of it.