The book I read this week was A Kenyan Journey by Randall Smith. I conveniently had this book, as it was a required reading in my International News Media Systems class last semester.
I regret it now, but I blew off reading the book for class, getting the necessary information from friends’ notes. Reading it now, I wish I would have read it when I could easily talk to Randy about it. I’m definitely planning on going to his office to talk to him about it now, though. What I read was awesome, and enlightening and pretty damn inspiring.
The main point of the book is to dispel stereotypes people have about Africa (at least East Africa). They have this word, “ubuntu” which means that one person’s success comes from everyone’s success. At the beginning of the diary, you’re immediate thought is “oh, well, isn’t that nice,” but as you go on, you realize the people really embrace this idea. I imagine everyone in Africa isn’t as fantastic as the people Randy interacted with, but the ones he described all seem happy, and so grateful for the little they have (in some situations).
There are a few really cool cultural things Randy goes into detail describing, like how to eat tilapia off the bone with maize. He is very concerned about the transportation system in Africa, which, as I understand, doesn’t involve a speed limit, and the two main vehicles are a ride-on bicycle called a “boda-boda” and a matatu, or minibus. The boda-bodas are called that because refugees used to escape to the “border border” in them. Randy tells us this journey is about 250 km. The matatus are typically overfilled and therefore, very dangerous.
Another thing he talks about is the status of Lake Victoria. It’s concerning- rife with disease and shrinking everyday. It is the source for food, energy and death for many Africans.
The best and worst part of the book though, for me, was a little boy named Tevin.
He was the son of one of Randy’s colleagues, and he continuously send Randy questions like “what is snow like” and “do all Americans drive big cars” and “is there Malaria in the United States.” Towards the end of Randy’s trip, he gets to actually meet Tevin. It’s a very special interaction they have– it certainly made me smile. To keep it short, Tevin tells Randy that he’s going to visit him when he comes to the U.S. to become a journalist. Of course Randy says to Tevin that he’ll never forget him and it’s cute and you’re filled with warm fuzzies.
And then the epilogue stabs you through the chest. You get to read about other loose ends Randy ties up, like Peter, who can’t really go back to Africa for fear of his safety and gets granted stay in the States. But a little before that, you found out that Randy got word from one newsroom colleague that Franklin’s son Tevin died. I will proudly admit I cried a little at that part.
However, even though that part was tragic and the worst kind of awful, Randy didn’t end his travel book on that note. He left us with hope for a growing region whose political involvement is great, whose press is thriving (their papers don’t do delivery and are sold out by lunchtime) and whose people are strong, brave and kind. Kenya was already on my list of places to go, but now I want to see more than just a Masai giraffe while I’m there.