August 16, 1980, New York, New York.
Although the journey is over, it has just begun, as I am once again faced with the reality of the African diaspora. It had never really left me on the journey and I suppose it never can, especially if one travels, as I did, to the homeland of millions of blacks. My stay was brief, only six weeks in Kapsara, Kenya, East Africa. My visa read tourism, but I did very little sightseeing. Kenyan history typifies other black countries that have suffered under British colonial rule. The conditions as they impacted upon me, would not permit me to just tour.
Kapsara, a town about 150 kilometers from Nairobi was very scenic, comprised of rolling hills, trees, grass, winding red clay roads and exotic birds. It was basically all farmland, with mud homes and huts spread over a five mile radius. The 350 to 450 people were very diverse, composed of three major Kenyan tribes who came from different parts of Kenya. Even Kapsara would not permit me to just tour. The dynamics of the group I was with would not allow it, composed of 3 black American women, 2 white American women, 2 black American men and 3 white American men. All were college trained, all from different parts of the country, and all with different reasons for wanting to go to Africa.
My reason was simple, I thought, I wanted to touch base with a country on the continent of Africa. A country which had a history of being predominantly black and as such told a story of the people and the land. I touched the surface, in my visit, the base was too broad and would take only the sincerest of efforts. My hunger was satisfied, but my purpose, to touch base, was inadequately nourished. I will continue to add to the nourishment of my purpose.
When I first arrived in Kenya, I was gearing myself for culture shock. Having been bombarded with a number of untruths about Kenya and Kenyans, I was unsure of exactly what I would be experiencing. In Nairobi, I saw what could only be explained as representatives from the United Nations. The city overflows with diplomats from all over the world and everything was structured for them. The shops, hotels and services all had remnants of the west and seemed to say “just for our foreigners.” Perhaps the expressions on the Kenyan faces who lined the streets and marketplaces in ill-clad clothing, watching the well-clothed diplomats of the world enjoying their home, brought about the first truth to me. At home and abroad, we are still denied our natural right, to simply be one with the land. We left Nairobi in two days time. I don’t suggest going to a capital city when trying to find out about the average citizen of the country, the reality of city life is too harsh. We would, of course, have to poll every city to get a complete picture of what the country is about. Somehow, going to an agricultural country and first seeing its non-agricultural major city was too harsh. I’ll be able to do it on my next go round, but I strongly don’t suggest it for anyone’s first.
The presence of Western influence was seen throughout the country, as we went through each city, each town and each village on our way to Kapsara. One is able to witness the ancient tribal customs struggling to regain a place in the new Kenya, a result of the Kenyan “elite” realizing all that is good for the people of the moon, is not necessarily good for the people of the sun. Looking at the land and animals one can see what makes some men so envious of nature and why they try so desperately to imitate it scientifically. I would say the scientific approach is more noble than that made by people who have attempted to own it (nature).
The town of Kapsara is only eight years old. It is a resettlement of farmland and was purchased from a British landlord after the revolution. This is a major reason why there isn’t one predominant tribe in Kapsara and why it is such a very underdeveloped town, by Kenyan standards. There is talk of a Tea Factory being built in Kapsara, some few years down the road. It’s expected with the factory, will come a sewer system, electricity, telephones, hospital, public housing, paved roads, stronger local government and more permanent buildings. All of which Kapsara is without, save the three permanent churches, two five room hotels, two general stores, a primary and secondary school which make up downtown Kapsara. I did not find the conditions of Kapsara as barren as it sounds and actually is, for someone who is accustomed to a New York lifestyle.
I spent many hours wondering how the land would invite the “improvements” and hope that its purity will not be badly blemished. I take satisfaction in knowing that Kapsara is one of the few havens left in this world, that is free of the ills of sophisticated lifestyles.
Crossroads sent ten very unskilled workers to help the Kenyans build the secondary school extension. We were virtually without tools and had no machinery to speak of. We were not even supplied with a ladder. It was strictly a hands-on job, from digging the foundation, to making the cement blocks. We weren’t able to finish our wing of Kapsara’s Secondary School, there is still the windows, roof, doors and floors to lay or put in. We did however manage to break and lay the foundation, set up walls eight feet high with provisions for windows and doors, while managing to teach class on a rotating basis in the afternoons.
Teaching brought to light an immediate feeling of satisfaction, knowing that I was contributing to the future of Kenya via the minds of its children. We as Americans, black or otherwise, have much to offer those in third world nations. We also have a lot to learn from those in such lands. I could only admire, throughout all that was exchanged between the Kenyans and our group, how they have managed to maintain harmony with nature.
We often compared Kenyan lifestyles to our own and there were always many different opinions on the topic. I think that we all, wherever we are, must learn to, while adapting to our environment, complement it. We talked about the position/future of today’s Third World People, in relation to Africa/America and again there were varying opinions. I believe that our future must be intertwined, so that we enhance each others situation. We spent countless conversations on what the trip meant to us as black/white Americans and the impact i would have on our lives.
I will always cherish my first experience in Africa. I undoubtedly will go back to Kenya and other countries on the African continent. The trip has heightened my awareness of the world situation and is the beginning of more journeys. There is much more to learn and experience before I’ll be completely nourished on the African diaspora. I accept the challenge.
© B.Michael Hunter 1980
Dr. James A. Moss chaired African-American Studies while B.Michael was an undergraduate at Adelphi. Their 1978 yearbook shows six Black faculty, all men; Adelphi’s website in 2019 indicates some shifts: Dr. Marsha J. Tyson Darling heads up a majority of women faculty in what is now known as African, Black and Caribbean Studies.1978F-oracle-adelphi-james-moss
If you went to Adelphi with B.Michael or attended since he graduated in 1981, what would you want to tell him about what’s transpired at Adelphi or in your life?