Back In Nairobi

In Travel by David41 Comments

I’m just back in Nairobi now, but wrote this a day or two ago. The image above is from Lake Naivasha, not from the Boma shoot, for which you’ll have to wait to see images once the client’s had first crack at them.

As I write this there’s a large bull elephant about 18 feet from my bed. We’re at Samburu Lodge and after 12 days in the bush we’re finally heading back to what people keep calling the real world. For me it’s a return to a real bed and a toilet I can sit on, not much more. This is very much the real world, though not one we often choose to see. The vast bulk of the world doesn’t have a large-screen TV or two cars in the driveway. The majority world still cooks on three rocks and a fire. Already I miss waking up in the small stick huts we’ve been sleeping on, hearing the breeze and the din of northern Kenya as it wakes at dawn instead of a too-loud ceiling fan. We’ve had an unbelievable adventure with Kathleen Colson and The Boma Project team for whom I am working. Still, it’s good to be heading home.

One of the huts we called home over 12 days. This was probably the fanciest. Look, it has a door!!

I’ve shot over 6800 frames, inhaled enough dust to last a lifetime and what dust didn’t end in my lungs made its way into my cameras. Some days it was as hot as 45C / 113F, and even the folks that live in the heat were seeking shelter. I’ve had 5 flat tires, fired an AK 47, drove a Defender across the Kaisut Desert, swam nervously in Lake Turkana with the highest concentration of crocodiles in the world, ate beans, rice, cabbage, mutton or camel for most meals. I was adopted by a Rendille Village and given a Rendille name. I played Mzungu Will Eat You in every village (Mzungu means “white man or stranger” and the game consists of me throwing my hands in the air and chasing the kids. I’m very scary ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I got violently ill in a town that Google doesn’t know exists. I photographed Rendille elders, Turkana dancers, and Samburu warriors. I put in countless hours with my best friend/field producer/assistant Corwin, for whom this was a first trip to Africa. In short we had an absolute blast.

If you like this photograph of Corwin dancing with the women in Korr, you’ll love the video! Click HERE to see the YouTube video of our cultural ambassador in action!

I’ve got a few days in Nairobi to do some basic file prep and re-entry stuff, check in on Jessie, and get laundry done, then it’s home on the 15th/16th for a blitz of getting things done before Jessie and I hit the open road. I’m coming home inspired. After this time with these nomads, people who re-define the lower limits of poverty for me, it’ll be easier to take less on the road with me. It’ll be easier to live on less. It’ll be harder to withhold help where I can give it. These trips always change me.

I’m often asked if I get culture shock when I go away. My stock answer is that I get culture disappointment when I come home. When I get home people stop looking others in the eye and smiling. They stop shaking hands and asking who I am, how I am, and how my family is doing. They stop offering me tea. We’re either too busy chasing the trivial or we just don’t care. One of my guides during the safari workshop said to me: “Westerners all have watches, but we Africans have time”. It’s true. For people who believe time is money, we sure spend it in some strange ways and on things that will not last. There’s a pace in Kenya that I love, that I’m already beginning to miss, knowing I’m back to schedules and itineraries so soon.

Anyways, lots to do. I’ll be a little more present on the blog and on Twitter now, but it won’t be until I pack up the house (Feb 26), hit the road (Feb 28), meet my next book deadline (March 01) and settle into a routine on the road with Jessie that I really post again with regularity. I am more excited about this coming trip than I’ve been about anything in a while and I hope you’ll follow along. I’ll announce my first stop soon and hope it’ll work out for us to connect someplace like Seattle. But don’t mark it on the calendar just yet. When I left Vancouver, Jessie was still in the garage awating a new transmission, and while I hope this is the last of the big issues, I’m not holding my breath, so neither should you. ๐Ÿ™‚


  1. David, I wanted to say good luck, and carpe diem on your current adventure.

    I thank you for sharing your journey through your blog and images, thoughts, vision, warts and all.

    I cannot agree more with “do what your heart whispers”. One never knows when life forces us to slow down, or even stop. I’ve learnt the most direct way, got ill at 39 and can rarely get out of my own front door now.

    I cherish the time I have been able to live life to the fullest, breathe fresh air and marvel over the sunset. I am sure you are too.


  2. Nice post. Sounds like you had a great time and were able to replenish your โ€œinspirationโ€ supply!

    I will enjoy following you on your North American trek.

  3. Love the African quote. China is one of those rich countries we are talking about – 2nd biggest economy in the world – and a LARGE proportion of the people still cook over an open fire. If you check out my blog and scroll down to October 23rd 2010 entry – this is NOT uncommon.

    My Tibetan mates build a stove from mud and a tin chimney, and use yak dung as fuel. Even 30 minutes outside Xi’an, in the villages, the cooking is often done using a cement ‘stove’ with a hot plate over a fire, fuelled by corn or wheat residue.

    Economic growth does not always bring increased wealth to the people of a country.

    Enjoying the blog, David – looking forward to the Adventures of Jessie.

  4. David, if you ever see the video series “Legacy Of Civilization”, it profoundly touches on the things you’ve said here. One quote is: “The West has built an empire of the sword, only India has built an empire of the spirit”.

  5. Wow, what an amazing trip that sounds like. The PERSPECTIVE (all caps intended) that must give you! Huge. Despite my awareness of the disparity in this world and desire to do my part we still live in a large house, cook whatever we feel like on a whim, have a tv and a car…oh and a snowblower (that’s been run every day for a what seems like forever, western newfoundland has had a ton of snow, it might just still be here when you get here ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

  6. Home, after the longest Valentine’s Day in history including a canceled flight on the shortest and last leg. I will keep this blog forever because you captured so well our common experience. We loved sharing this safari with you and Corwin proving once again that humor and teasing triumphs hardships along the road of life….and it’s free. Miss miss you.

  7. Author

    Pag – By “it doesn’t seem that common” you’re implying a level of personal experience I’d be interested to hear about. Why do you think most people use a stove of some kind? Everything in my travels and time among the majority world (see this link for my use of the term: ) tells me that not only are they still largely cooking over rocks and fire, but that the disparity between rich and poor is getting worse, not better. Yes, some of the countries are getting richer, but this doesn’t necessarily mean their people are doing better. I suggest you look at that data again, or point me there because I’ve spent the last 6 years seeing evidence that makes me doubt those numbers or find them completely irrelevant.

  8. Travel, specially to place very different from where we come from, invariably changes us.
    I love Kenya, and Africa as whole. And after living in a few countries in the continent I am so thankful for all I have learned from my friends. Looking forward to hearing how the new Nikon’s fared in the dust and heat! And welcome back to your part of the world! :c)

  9. Is the majority of the world really cooking over three rocks and a fire? In the poorest African countries, sure, but elsewhere it doesn’t seem that common. I think most people use a stove of some kind.

    I’m no expert, but from data I’ve seen, the rich/poor countries gap has been reducing (ie. used to be, you were either in a poor country or a rich country, with few inbetween; now it’s more a continuum of varied levels of wealth). Then again, I guess it depends on your definition of “cooking on a fire” — you can get a pizza cooked on a fire in downtown New York after all ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Most of the people in this community seem pretty darn good at reading between the lines. More thinly-veiled comments, please. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Author

    In time, Mihalis, in time. ๐Ÿ™‚ The publisher gets first crack at talking about it and until they give me the thumbs up all I can do is make thinly-veiled comments about it ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Nice to hear from you again and some beautiful images to boot! I have to confess, I thought of you the other day when I had a profound urge to get in my truck and escape Vancouver rain for a southern roadtrip. Looking forward to hearing your tales from the road.

  13. Sounds like quite the trip, safe travels home, also anxious to here how the D3s faired in it’s first big outing???

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  15. Author

    Thanks folks!

    Anita – The Rendille name given to me was Akeno (Ak-ay-no). It means, The one who brings good things. It cam after much debate among some lovely, but I suspect somewhat insane older women. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Chris – I don’t think admiring some of the virtue in Western Culture means we shouldn’t view it with a critical eye. In fact the deification of culture is dangerous on all sides. I think the west in general has fallen to some systemic cultural sicknesses that have made us poorer as human beings. I also think there are systemic issues in all cultures. That’s just part of being a human being. But to applaud the good in a culture without being open to the unhealthy, or viceversa, is probably not healthy either. I love Africa and Asia and there are aspects of the diverse cultures there that I love, but there are also extremes and expressions of culture I think hold people back.

    On a related tangent, the whole “different isn’t necessarily wrong” thing gets taken way too far. Example: female circumcision. Cultural? Yes. Different? Yes. Wrong? Absolutely.

    I think travelling gives us a profound gift – the opportunity to see life through the eyes of others, but to do so without being open to the fact that no culture in the world is perfect leaves us tempted to idealize things merely because their different. We’ve got much in the West, but it’s cost us a piece of our soul. I think we can get that piece back, and looking to places like Africa leaves me hints of where I might find it.

  16. Dash, another one of your posts that make me wish I was there, and brought a tear to my eye.
    I look forward to your future posts. Take Care

  17. Absolutely amazing. The trip must be something. I am always amazed at the difference between my two homes: British Columbia, Canada and Mendoza, Argentina. Time is the greatest difference of all..

  18. Sounds like a wonderful time, looking forward to following your road trip with Jesse. I too am curious what your Rendille name was.

  19. That’s the old David duChemin I’ve come to know and love through the internet. It sounds like that Kathmandu slump is long gone, and you’re ready for the open roads of North America.

  20. David, thanks for taking the time to write down some of what sounds like an amazing trip so far and share it with us. I have to say I love the quote โ€œWesterners all have watches, but we Africans have timeโ€. I identify with it quite a bit at the moment as in a quest to find a bit more balance in my life and less time-related stress I have stopped wearing a watch for the most part. It has really been an invigorating experience and other than meetings I need to get to on time I focus on what needs to be done rather than when or watching the time. It has re-adjusted my priorities. All the best on the rest of his and your future journeys.

  21. So nice to hear from you. Thanks for this fabulous read and the amazing images, ..loved the video! Hope you carry the spirit of your experience with you into the busy days ahead.

    P.S. -what was your Rendille name? ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. What a great experience! Can’t wait to see more of your African photos.

    I must say Africa looks m ore interesting every time I read an article on it. Hope to get there one day.

  23. Good to hear from you David. I totally get where you’re coming from with this post. Though sadly few by comparison to your well travelled self, I have experienced that same feeling, a certain ‘what really am I going back to?’. In places such as this it’s easy to immerse and lose yourself in a world that seems all that more simple but all that more tough, all that more real but oh so uplifting. It sounds like you’ve had a profound time, and don’t we all long for a more profound existence?

    All that said, good to hear the break from radio silence! ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. David: Great to have you back, your images and words are always a great inspiration to me.

    Looking forward to see more from this trip, looks like you had a blast!

  25. Fantastic!! Simply wonderful reading. Beautiful mental images to go with the actual ones. Hope to see you in Seattle!!!

  26. You live a rich life, David.

    Don’t knock Western Culture too much. We have our faults but we have benefits too. Our society generates the wealth to monetize the NGO’s that build the developing nations schools and safe water systems.

    But, I do understand where you are coming from. I spent some time in Havana and was amazed at the Cubans sense of community. A city of 1 million people felt like a small town. No racism either. Black, white, red, or purple… they were all Cuban.

    Have you ever considered leaving Western Culture behind for an African(or other nation)life or rural life? Just asking.

  27. David: I agree with the culture “issues”. So different here versus almost anywhere else in the world.

    Hope Jessie “surprises” you with smooth sailing sooner rather than later.

    Looking forward to the meet up in Seattle.

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  29. Words to remember, culture disappointment. North America always seems so sterile after the ‘real life’ of Asia and elsewhere. Burma (Myanmar) was my biggest life-changer.

    Good luck with Jessie and the start of your new adventure.

  30. Hey Bro, great to catch up this afternoon. We miss you already. I know you are currently just one floor below us at the Fairview. Knock on the ceiling if you what me to come down and fix your neck. Travel safely!

  31. You fired an AK-47?! ๐Ÿ™‚ Sounds like you all had an amazing time (even the scared children lol), great to hear from you. Oh, and tell Corwin his hat’s on crooked. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  32. OH! I so get that culture disappointment David! I spent a 18 months in Spain and when I got back to the states it took MONTHS for me to re-acclimate…

    It sounds like it was an amazing trip! May the memories help you in your transition back to “normal” life….

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