A hungry crocodile lurked in the muddy water as thousands of migrating wildebeest massed nervously on the bank of the Mara River. Some crammed forward, and then frantically retreated. Dust flew up under their hooves. Finally, after hours, one brave wildebeest plunged in, and then the rest followed.
Exaggerating wildly, I felt a bit like that brave wildebeest, which by the way was eaten by the crocodile, when I wrote my blogs about my NBC News team's adventures and misadventures in Kenya recently. I took the plunge, knowing the responses may be somewhat hostile, as they always are to critical comments, but I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the sheer vituperation of some.
"You guys are a bunch of crybabies!" I think that was one of my favorite responses. Maybe we have indeed been spoilt by our other trips this year, which include sweltering Iraq in midsummer for Kevin, freezing Afghanistan in mid-winter for Jeff and me, and Gaza for all three of us, but I doubt it.
In fact, Kenya was my most pleasant trip for years. It's true; some of the blogs readers may conclude that if I was such a crybaby in Kenya, which I loved, how dreadful must my whining be from the other places? But you know what? I like pointing out problems. That's my job. Maybe somebody will fix them.
Still, the responses to the Kenya blogs, with a few silly and rude exceptions, were so interesting, passionate and educational that I wanted to respond.
Thanks and some answers
First, thank you to the many people who corrected my spelling. MATATU!
One reader wondered what the life expectancy of the Masai is. I Googled the question, and to my astonishment found that the average Masai male dies at age 42 and the women a couple of years later. One website called it the lowest life expectancy in the world. Only then I realized that we had seen no old men there, and only one old woman, Kipas's mother, who he said was 90 years old. The reason? I assume partly it's the diet, of mostly milk and meat, plus bad water and poor health care. Does anybody know?
|VIDEO: The revolutionary LifeStraw is saving lives in Kenya|
Several readers complained that I should expect lousy roads from Nairobi to Masai Mara as part of the safari experience, while another countered that it was no coincidence that the plane companies that fly tourists down there are owned by politicians. I don't know whether the inference is correct or not, but I understand the point.
And yes, Kenya is a fabulous place, with wonderful people and amazing wildlife viewing, as, by the way, is neighboring Tanzania. I'd return to both in a heartbeat, if NBC would foot the bill again. High prices for tourists protect the animals, and low prices for citizens are good. What I didn't like is how exclusive the safari experience is. Backpackers, average wage earners, in fact, most regular folks, may as well just go to the local zoo and forget about an African safari.
Let me also point out to the many people who said Mexico City is worse than Nairobi. First, so what? And second – it isn't. I passed through Mexico City twice this year, in summer and winter, and they appear to have overcome their terrible pollution of earlier years. It's pretty clean today, despite the appalling traffic congestion. It may give hope to Nairobi.
One thing I've noticed about blogs is that so many readers pounce on one thing that offends them, often getting it wrong, and ignore the greater issue. Fair enough, it's a chance for everyone to have his/her say, and I enjoy the intellectual back and forth. So the kind readers who were concerned that I may be insulted, please don't worry, I'm not. I experience much worse at home every day.
On another note, the reaction to our story about LifeStraw as a way of cleaning dirty water, which was the reason we went to Kenya in the first place, has been exceptional. So many people asked how they could help, donate money or get more information, that Linda Friedman, the Custom Safaris owner who helped us report the story, has been almost overwhelmed. I say almost, because such an exceptional person will always find a way to cope, especially if it is with good things.
A final thought: Kenyans who were offended by my comments: you shouldn't be. Every comment I made was based on direct observation. And I was comparing Nairobi with the town I knew so well when I lived in Africa for four years. Africa is still my favorite continent, for many reasons. But please, let's not be blind to its problems. Instead, let's try to help solve them.
Read Martin Fletcher's reports from his recent assignment in Kenya and watch his video piece that aired on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams: "Losing the anti-pollution battle in Nairobi," "LifeStraw battles waterborne disease in Kenya," "Rough riding in Kenya," and "'A pure Masai man.'"