Photos: Amboseli at Christmas

A masked weaver bird constructing a nest from long blades of grass above our swimming pool.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

I’ve written about Amboseli National Park before, including during the dry season. This time, we visited at Christmas on a last minute deal, having cancelled plans to visit Hong Kong. As this was our third visit, I took less photos, but got some amazing shots from our safari camp, Tawi Lodge, which is situated right next to a watering hole. You can be having lunch or a swim and suddenly notice giraffes or an elephant wandering over for a drink or mud bath. We were also there during weaver bird nesting season. These birds like to construct their nests over lakes or swamps, as the water makes it harder for predators to approach – and our swimming pool seemed to work just as well. Fimally, there was an extended family of mongoose living under the wooden decking, who would come out in the early morning and late afternoon to dig for food.

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Photos: Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park is one of the few places in the world that you can see wild giraffes and skyscapers at the same time.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

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 buildings in Nairobi. There is also a raised railway line that bisects the park, although animals move freely beneath it.

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Photos: Amboseli in the dry season

Flamingos eating algae in the reduced Lake Amboseli, with Observation Hill behind.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

Our second visit to Amboseli National Park came in October, towards the end of the dry season. The contrast with our first visit in April was stark: the green grass had dried, shriveled and turned yellow; it was hot and dry, with regular dust storms twisting their way across the parched landscape; and the lake had shrunk noticeably, although it was still large enough to sustain a small flock of flamingos. Elephants drank swampy water amongst dead trees and hungry baboons tried to grab snacks from passing safari cars. Most disturbingly, the plain was littered with the carcasses and skeletons of dead wildebeest, zebras and other animals. Vultures and hyenas were thriving on this macabre buffet, but there were so many dead animals that the scavengers had mostly had their fill and many carcasses were left untouched. This is why Amboseli literally means ‘dusty and salty’ in the local Maasai language.

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Break the chain: cash transfers end the cycle of poverty

Monika demonstrates her woven baskets to a customer on a street corner in Kajiado town
© UNICEF Kenya/2022/Victor Wahome

This story first appeared in the Star newspaper.

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.

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Best start in life: supporting parents and children in Kajiado

Sylvia (left) and Esther (right) play with two-year-old Mikyela at home in Kajiado town
© UNICEF Kenya/2022/Victor Wahome

This story first appeared in the Star newspaper.

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.

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Kenya year three: a new normal

Storm clouds roll in from the sea at Diani Beach during rainy season.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

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.

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In Kisumu, healthcare close to communities is better for children

Alice Mwajuma brings her children to Bunde Health Centre for a check-up
© UNICEF Kenya/2022/Lameck Orina

This story first appeared in The Star newspaper.

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.

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Kenya year two: a shot in the arm

At Dandora Health Centre, where we filmed teachers getting their COVID-19 vaccine shots
© UNICEF Kenya/2021/Lameck Orina

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.

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Photos: Amboseli National Park

Pink flamingos wade through a reflection of Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

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.

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Health volunteers persuade mothers to get vaccinated

Community health volunteer Daniel Akothee talks to market vendor Prisca in Kaego informal settlement, Kisumu
© UNICEF Kenya/2022/Lameck Orina

This story first appeared in The Star newspaper.

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.

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