Monika Muema, 73, sits at home weaving baskets in the single-room makeshift house she shares with her granddaughter Alice, 13, in Kajiado town. There is a bed on one side of the room and a sofa on the other. A bag of maize flour on the floor provides the main source of food. Monika’s gnarled fingers move in and out of the strings with surprising dexterity, adding neat rows of red, black and white. Afterwards, she packs up four completed baskets and walks slowly to the main road, where she sets up a roadside stall on a corner opposite a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) stop.
Kajiado town is a small Kenyan trading centre, close to the border with Tanzania. It’s surrounded by open grasslands, where Maasai pastoralists tend their cattle. A line of wind turbines turn slowly on a hillside outside town. Hard hit during COVID-19 travel restrictions, Kajiado’s economy is now starting to recover. Close to the centre of town is a compound of a dozen houses. This is clearly a middle-income area. The houses are small but well-made and painted white and blue. A large water tank in one corner provides water for the houses, which are also connected to the electricity grid.
Aside from the safaris, Diani beach is one of my favourite destinations in Kenya. At low tide it’s hundreds of metres wide and made up of soft, powdery white sand. Early in the morning, translucent white crabs emerge from holes in the ground and scuttle across the sand, looking for food. On our latest visit, I saw three of them clambering across a coconut that had fallen from the palm trees at the top of the beach, snipping off pieces of white flesh with their pincers. The crabs were well camouflaged and hard to spot when they stayed still. It was only the motion that gave them away. But they generally stayed close to their holes and scuttled back in at the first sign of danger.
It’s a quiet mid-morning at Bunde Health Centre in Kisumu, when local farmer Alice Mwajuma brings her two children David, 5, and Dahzur, 2, for a check-up. Long antlered cattle wander down the earth road outside, stopping to munch on the occasional patch of green grass. Alice and her boys arrive on a boda-boda motorbike, stopping by a fruit stall on the road outside. The health centre is quiet and cool in the shade of large trees. Blue and white buildings sport graffiti art illustrating health messages, such as the six ante-natal care steps for pregnant women to take.
In September 2021, after a delay of almost two years caused by COVID-19, I finally made it to the peak of Mount Longonot. This is a 2,780 metre dormant volcano one and a half hour’s drive north of Nairobi, in Kenya. I was hiking with my friends Matthias and Sheila, who I first met in Malawi five years before. It was an overcast day, which kept the temperatures mercifully mild as we followed the steep path up the mountainside. Our first goal was to reach the rim. From here, we could see across the crater, which – unusually for a volcano – was filled with a dense forest, cut off from the outside world by steep cliffs. Its was unclear what wildlife was living down there, although we did see the occasional giraffe on our way up. Great gashes down the mountainsides traced the routes where lava had previously flowed and we found pieces of brittle pumice stone scattered amongst the ash around the crater.
Every safari in Kenya has its own distinctive feature. Amboseli National Park is characterized by the dramatic views of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which lies just over the border in Tanzania. It’s a photographer’s dream – you can capture a wide array of wildlife with the mountain rising out of the clouds in the background. Near the airstrip is the seasonal Amboseli Lake, which in rainy season also provides reflections. The park is just a 40 minute flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. Flying towards the mountain just after sunrise in a 12-seater plane is an experience in itself.
The focal point of Kaego informal settlement, in Kisumu town, is the boda boda (motorbike taxi) stop at the junction of the tarmac road and the earth track that leads through the settlement. Young men sit on their bikes under the shade of a wooden roof, waiting for customers. Washing hangs on clotheslines, criss-crossing the narrow side streets with bright colours. Schools are out and young children run between the houses, rolling old car tyres or playing with homemade balls made from plastic bags and string. Their cries and laughter mingle with the rumbling of motorbike engines.
At 7am the view of Mount Kenya from our holiday cottage was spectacular. The clouds that hide the mountain for most of the day were just starting to form, banking up behind the peak and starting to roll over the shoulder of the hill. The peak seemed higher in the sky than land had any right to be, with white snow lining the crevasses and reflecting the first rays of morning sunshine (I didn’t expect to see snow just a few kilometres from the equator). Far below, the rolling hills were silhouetted in shades of blue, their tree lined ridges marking them out with sharp lines like a theatre backdrop. A flock of small birds wheeled through the sky, heading towards a nearby lake. A deer grazing in the meadow lifted its head to look at me, briefly disturbed by the clicking of my camera lens, then returned to its own business.
It is early Friday morning at Garissa Referral Hospital, the main COVID-19 vaccination centre in Garissa town, where infection rates have recently been increasing. In an open-air shelter, with a wooden roof to provide shade from the harsh sun, two masked health workers set up a cool box full of vaccine vials and syringes, and a laptop to register people coming for vaccination. There is a long bench for people to sit while waiting for their shots, but it is mostly empty.
Nairobi National park is a unique safari experience just across the road from Nairobi’s Central Business District, and 40 minutes drive from our house. We stayed at Ololo Lodge, a beautiful farmhouse and safari lodge on the opposite side of the park. It was also directly under the flight path for JKIA international airport, so jumbo jets would frequently thunder past overhead. At 120 square kilometres, the park is not very big compared to others in Kenya, and even at Ololo, you can see the tops of the tallest office buildings in Nairobi. There is also a raised railway line that bisects the park, although animals move freely beneath it.