Mother Africa’s Daughters


IN a basic, barren Kenyan playground, with the odd splashes and sploshes of colour, sits a big toy train emblazoned with the words “the fun starts here.” At first glance, it’s an overly optimistic sign on a thirsty piece of land which trades primarily in dreams. But it’s a story which dates back to 2007 when a group of nine mums with disabled children rented a space in an African town to start a school for their kids. Outcasts, and struggling due to their children’s challenges, one year later, these African mamas started a small factory with the aim of earning a living, many of them single after their husbands abandoned them.

By 2013, they had opened a café, one year later, the factory moved out of town and, like the herb garden they’ve planted outside this flavoursome food stop, the Ubuntu Café and factory is now flourishing. These days, the Ubuntu Café not only serves organic food but its adjacent shop sells canvas shoes, wine bags, leather totes and other items sewn by the women. The next project is to move the school to the land to cater for about 60 kids with special needs.

Join a G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari experience and you can experience exclusive access to the women at the Ubuntu Café. Situated near Mai Mahiu, 45km west of Nairobi, G Adventures’ guests can visit the craft centre and meet some of the original mums behind the project, such as Alice.
“We started without knowing anything about what we are all about, “Alice says.
“We came up with the idea of buying a manual machine. We did not know how to work the machine, we did not make anything because we did not know how to sew.
“Our teacher started showing us how to make small bags. We continued working with the bags so we became perfect. The day we earned money everybody in the community learned about it because never before had we earned money.
“Sometimes we would eat, sometimes we don’t. Nowadays I expect to always eat because I earn money. Now, we are experts.”
On the journey to Ubuntu, G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and my guide, George Njuguna Mwaura, says women have not always fared well under Kenyan laws with three sets of laws ruling the land. There’s African traditional laws, religious laws and statutory laws which override all others. But while female genital mutilation is illegal under statutory laws, it is still considered acceptable under African traditional law.
“If I tell you they didn’t still do it, I would be lying to you. They do it in secret,” George says.
“In Kenya, our law allows more than one wife but you can only have a second wife if the first wife consents to it.
“Only in the in the last 20 years, have Masai women started working in hotels, etc. For a long time, Masai women didn’t have a place in the community, there was a total disregard for women, they were doing everything.”

Paid work is a big issue in Kenya, where unemployment rates sit at a staggering 50 per cent. But George says there’s a bigger problem with terrorism than crime. In January this year, 21 people were killed in the latest terrorism attack in Nairobi when armed militants targeted hotels and shops in the Kenyan capital. G Adventures assesses any potential threats in every country in which it operates tours to ensure it is safe for visitors. At the time of my visit in early April, security was among the highest I have experienced anywhere in the world.
“Our problems with terrorism come from the Somali pirates of the Indian Ocean who hijacked ships and trade routes. These Al Shabab terrorists came back inland and Kenya deployed its defence forces against the Al Shabab militia,” George says.
“We are always on high alert, you never know when they will strike,” he says. We have had some serious attacks.
“Most people who come to Kenya fall in love with the country despite the problems we’ve been having with terrorism.”

And fall in love, I do. In part with its wildlife, but particularly with Kenya’s people. And the daughters of Mother Africa. Back at the Ubuntu workshop, far away from the big issues of the world, there’s almost 40 women sitting behind buzzing Brother sewing machines. Women such as Josephine, who has not only bought a plot of land with her earnings but built a house.
I ask Josephine what Ubuntu means in the Swahili language.
“I am, because you are,” she says, looking me squarely in the eye.
“I cannot make it without you.”
And with that simple phrase, the seeds of hope are sewn as deftly as the craft and optimism in which these women trade every single day.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/

Free Range, Not Poached


Controversial legislation being touted by Kenya could see this African nation introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. Under current law, poaching attracts a life sentence in prison or a $200,000 fine. But animal activists says this is not enough. The Global Goddess travelled to Kenya with G Adventures in early April, to experience its amazing wildlife, including some of its 34,000 remaining elephants.
WE are bouncing on a lumpy, bumpy road, along a highway of cellulite and scars, past colourful, chaotic markets, travelling west to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Goats, sheep, shacks and shanties of corrugated iron punctuate the scenery, while babies as black as ink hang in slings over the hooked backs of their mothers. I am on an 8-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari which takes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, best known for its wildebeest migration; Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino; and Amboseli National Park, acclaimed for its elephants.

Shortly after Nairobi we straddle The Rift Valley – a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique – pausing in curious curio shops with jangles of bangles and throaty drums covered in goat skin. Big bottomed baboons cross the road which is framed by the cactus-looking Euphobia tree and Africa’s acclaimed Acacias.
Just after Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara, the blessed bitumen concedes to undying dust, sharp stone chips and cavernous pot holes.

In the Masai Mara National Reserve, they say you can hear the lions roar from five kilometres away. Outside our tents at Fig Tree Camp there’s a croc in the creek and a hungry, hungry hippo, or two.
A late afternoon safari yields gazelle, zebra, buffalo, warthog, baboons and impala. A willy willy, or “Kinbunga” in Swahili dances in the distance around the thirsty earth. We stumble upon a cool school of hippos frolicking in their dirty day spa along the Talek River, while the vultures circle like an aeronautical show and a lone lioness crouches under a bush. A pack of hyenas, suckling their young, display their soft maternal side, while a marabou stork, with the widest wing span of all of Africa’s birds, perches precariously in a tree. There’s even time to spot a leopard, with the same spring in its step as the jolly jumpy up-and-down Masai Mara people, before the flaming sun concedes to a purple marshmallow sunset.

“The Masai happen to be the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life,” G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and our guide George Njuguna Mwaura says.
“They originated from the lower delta of the Nile River around the 18th century. They are pastoralists of semi-nomadic nature.
“They believe all the animals belong to them. Anytime they go raiding they don’t feel guilty. The Masais do not eat game meat.
“The Masais were pushed aside with white settlement and National Parks. Now they live right next to the National Parks because the land originally belonged to them.
“There is a lot of fear that the animals have of the Masai people. They are known as fearsome warriors, even to the lion, the king of the jungle.”

A new dawn ushers in a cool aerial safari in a hot air balloon where in the distance, a roaring lion sounds like a beating African drum. From the air, green shoots of hope are already peeking through the scorched, blackened ground from a controlled burn off, in preparation for the annual migration of wildebeest. Back on the ground, a dazzle of zebra stand top-to-tail to watch each other’s backs while a memory of elephants emerges from a mud bath.
By the time the shocking pink sunset plummets to earth, it’s a day of the jackal.

Cheetahs, known as the “terrorists” of the park, farewell our visit to the Masai Mara as we head towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Colourful churches, spurious shops and pastel pubs adorned with optimistic names line the highway. There’s God’s Victory Pub, Romance Salon and Cosmetics, and the Deliverance Church.
At Lake Nakuru National Park, there’s a sassy secretary bird with its lanky legs, hooked red nose and quills on its head. But don’t be fooled by its amusing appearance of a county court clerk, it can kill even the most venomous snake.

A wake of vultures is feeding on a dead buffalo while a hyena howls in the background. The rare Rothschild giraffe, found only in this park, stands loud and proud in the early morning orange light. Out on the lake, a flock of flamingos, coloured Barbie doll pink from the blue-green algae on which they feast, has gathered to gossip, while further along, a rhino and her calf are grazing on the grass. We head back in the direction of Nairobi, which means “the city under the sun” and past the Kibera Slum, home to 1 million people and the biggest slum in Africa. It is incomprehensible.

But we are not done yet. Before we leave, we have a date with Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. Standing at 5985 metres, Kili is the highest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. “What makes this park really popular is that you are standing in front of the postcard…Kilimanjaro, the elephant, the Acacia tree,” George says.
“Different communities believe their Gods reside on the top of Kilimanjaro. When we are performing our traditional ceremonies, we pray. Even before the colonial people came, Africans believed in God such as the God of Rain.
“Even when we pray we have to face Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya.”

Out in Amboseli National Park there’s a troupe of yellow baboons, a zebra crossing, and a duo of vultures. There’s ostentatious ostriches teetering on their stilettos, spoonbill stalks and Egyptian geese.
Meanwhile Kili flitters and flirts, at times shrouded in cloud, a mystery to even the Masai who wander her valleys. And somewhere, out in the park, stands Tim, the 48-year-old elephant with the huge tusk, who was once collared by park rangers to track his behaviour.
But Tim had other plans and returned to the front gate, depositing the collar which he had somehow removed without breaking, and dropping it defiantly so it could be found. Tim has forged such a relationship with rangers that he will return to them each time he is injured, before cutting loose on the park to cause more havoc.

And in many ways, this emotional elephant captures the soul of Kenya. Playful, defiant, oozing spirit and soul. Mother Kenya bleeds red. Rusty soil, the crimson cloths of the Masai warriors, the blood of her wildlife kills and her blushing, beating heart. She is simultaneously giving and gritty. Water may be a precious commodity here, but hope, she springs eternal.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/

The Other Side of Everest


“Human trafficking is the second-most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and the drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day,” Sisterhood of Survivors, Kathmandu, Nepal
IN a pastel pink court building, the colour that little girls all over the world like to wear and a deep shade of irony, less than two per cent of Nepal’s human trafficking cases make up the Supreme Court caseload.
In the country’s District Court rooms, it’s less than 0.3 per cent. But there’s a blinding bullseye, one case that stands out from the rest. In March this year, in Nuwakot’s District Court in the country’s centre, one of Nepal’s sex trafficking ring leaders was sentenced to the nation’s harshest jail penalty in history.
Back in Kathmandu, in a basic brick structure adorned with hope, the women who helped put him away, have barely just begun.
There’s a slow rumble erupting around Nepal…not the kind that Mother Everest likes to display when she’s displeased with too many climbers, nor the type that destroyed Kathmandu in the 2015 earthquake.
This is the thunder of Third World feminism.

The Criminals
On March 23, local politician and Chair of the Dupcheswor Rural Municipality, Sun Bahadur Tamang, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking. Two other men, Shukman Lama and Tikaram Tamang, were jailed for 32 and 30 years respectively.
And it was thanks to the women of SASANE, survivors of sex trafficking and slave labour, who filed a case under the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking and Smuggling Act.
Launched 10 years ago with the assistance of a USD25,000 injection from global travel company G Adventures, SASANE rescues women who have been trafficked, and trains them to become paralegals so that they, in turn, can represent other women. Those who don’t have a basic education, are trained in valuable hospitality skills, which they share along with their stories to tourists, under the Sisterhood of Survivors project.
G Adventures Chief Experience Officer Baikuntha Simkhada (BK) says the border between landlocked Nepal and India is 1346 kilometres long, and because of open-border agreements between the two countries, passports are not checked, enabling trafficking.
“Human trafficking is massive in developing countries. In Nepal, when families have more daughters, they sell them to prostitution so the parents can get more money,” he says.
“Parents know certain parts of what happens to their daughters but they don’t know the worst because they hand them over to relatives that they trust.”

The Buyers
The number one market is India, where girls sell for between USD4000-5000. More than 7000 girls a year in Nepal are trafficked and more than 50 a day are trafficked across the Indian border alone. Many of them simply disappear.
“Kathmandu and other major cities of Nepal are the number two market,” BK says.
“The third biggest market is further afield in places like Malaysia and Dubai where girls are sold as ‘house workers’. This the new trick or they are also called Bollywood dancers from Nepal.
“They give lots of false promises. There are lots of illegal prostitution centres here. Sometimes they are rescued by honest customers who report to police.”
BK, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says he has asked “rude questions” of parents who sold their daughters.
“There are a lot of cultural issues around this,” he says.
“The parents didn’t know. They were looking for money. In some societies they don’t talk openly.”

The Statistics
At SASANE, women are fed and cared for, given medical help, and seen by social workers for counselling. Only 10 per cent of survivors file a formal complaint.
Since it was established, 249 women have been trained to become paralegals, offering free-of-charge assistance to other survivors, who they have represented in 400 court cases.
Nepal is considered the epicentre of human trafficking and the issue has only worsened since the 2015 earthquake resulted in more poverty and displacement.
SASANE aims to halt “modern day slavery” with human trafficking estimated to be a USD150 billion a year industry worldwide.
It is the second most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day.
While the average age for a trafficked woman is between 14 and 20, some are as young as 6, with more than 26 per cent of trafficked women classified as children.

The Survivor
Indira Gurung, one of the SASANE’s three founders, can’t remember her age and reaches for her phone to do the calculation. Nor does she want her photo taken. She’s 33, but she lost her childhood and identity a long time ago, when she was sold from her mountain village and trafficked into slave labour in Kathmandu at the age of 13.
“The agent told my parents they would send me to school and after school I would work at their home. They did not send me to school and I had to work morning to night without pay. I worked that way for five to six years,” she says.
“I had a contact with another house and went to the second home. They sent me to school but did not allow me to study and I had to work but I got a high school diploma and got a job in a restaurant and the Nepalese customers abused all the girls here.
“When customers were coming to the restaurant they wanted to do sexual abuse to us. They wanted to sleep with us and forced us to drink alcohol. The restaurant owner pushed us to go with them. They would come into a small room and close the door and force us to sit on the couch.”
After six months of sexual abuse and when she was 19, Indira contacted an organisation who helped her escape.
“At that time, we had a lot of survivors like me and we talked and learned that one cannot fight but a group can fight,” she says.
“We hired a lawyer and learned from him about our legal rights to fight trafficking and other abuse.
“When I got paralegal training, I wanted to fight the restaurant owner but he was not there anymore. He is still free, that is not good.”
Indira, who continues to face threats from human traffickers, says she did not know slavery and trafficking was illegal in Nepal before she learned her basic human rights.
“People are telling us if we share our story no one will respect us but it’s not our fault,” she says.
“Survivors need marketability skills to stand for themselves. Sometimes I am angry at my parents but that is the situation I Nepal. They are also innocent.
“I underwent counselling and art healing to learn about the power of women. This way I became empowered. I realised women have a lot of power to heal and protect other survivors.”

The Solution
Indira says she prefers to inject her energy into lobbying governments, police and stake holders like NGOs.
“We are known now. Before we began our programs, many girls were missing from the mountains, now there are adolescent girls living and working on the mountains,” she says.
“One day we can stop this problem in Nepal. If the traffickers work one time, we should work two times.
“If we expand our program into 77 destinations in Nepal we can stop human trafficking.”

The Future
Each year, through their tourism projects – visitors to SASANE are taught how to make Nepal’s traditional dumpling dish of momos before being served lunch – and other collaborations, SASANE raises a massive USD85,000 to continue its work. But it’s still not enough.
SASANE has plans to open restaurants in Kathmandu’s heavy tourist area of Thamel.
“The message for all of the women in the world is that if you don’t have economic opportunities you cannot survive,” she says.
“If you don’t have skills, you have to sell your body.”
Just before our interview ends, Indira begins to cry, not over the abuse she and other women have survived, but because tour groups such as ours visit SASANE.
“Thank you, you are giving us so much strength. Many people are visiting the mountain (Everest) but not the bottom part of the mountain. We should show their stories,” she says.
“I’m not a tough woman, other women are stronger than me. I’m only trying to do my best.
“I want to be a kind-hearted woman. I just give hope and love.”

To donate to SASANE go to http://www.sasane.org.np. The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures (www.gadadventures.com) and Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com)