Let’s Talk about Kenya: Magarini Children’s Center and the Permaculture Practicum
By Elke Cole
It’s been two years since my husband and I spent 3 months in Kenya doing some building and have some nice holiday time.
Kenya is often the first country people think about when they think Africa with images of wildebeest, lions or giraffes nibbling on thorny acacia branches and people standing in the back of a safari jeep, cameras pointing at something. While all this is truly available, it’s not the Kenya I know. Any encounter with wild animals has been accidental, like when we drove along Tsavo national park and saw some elephants from our bus. Or when I did a site visit for a planning session on the outskirts of Nairobi and giraffes and wildebeest wandered across the land.
The locations we visited had some relationship at the start. I had previously taught a couple of cob workshops near Nairobi and went back to help with finishing.
We had a couple of weeks until our visa ended and were curious about the coast. So, we decided to pay a visit to Magarini Children’s Center. We chose to take a flight from Nairobi to Lamu Island to get to the coast. Lamu Island is famous as ‘little Zanziba’: there are no cars and the architecture is rich with Arabicthemes with incrediblee beaches to top off the experience. From Lamu, we decided to travel by bus to Malindi, which is the closest city to Magarini center. It turned out to be a long drive through dryland with a military escort (we realized later that a travel advisory suggested extreme caution within 50 km of the Somalia border, thus the escort.)
Malindi is a city on the ocean with a rich history of tourism, especially from Italy. Little children see a white person and instead of the typical “Mzungu, mzungu” they shout “Ciao” – a passed down greeting from that era. You’ll find good food in Malindi, shopping and beaches. Easy reach to fantastic beaches and boating.
Jescar from Magarini sent someone to meet us at the bus stand and we traveled on a small bus inland. It was dry season and the rains had stayed away the last rainy season, so the land was parched. The larger village of Marafu has a guest house, where we spent our nights. In the morning we piled into motorbikes (2 passengers each) and headed for the school.
What a welcome! Almost 200 children lined the road in and sang. There was a show for us of acrobatics. And of course, speeches and food for all. I was impressed by the teacher’s commitment to the project.
And now, 2 years later, we are on our way back to Magarini to realize Jescar’s dream that she called “Power of Hope”: A Permaculture Practicum. There’s work to do: water systems need completion, food forest and gardens will be worked on. And for those interested in building, there will be construction with compressed earth blocks, natural plaster and some stove building.
You will be working with villagers, teachers, and children. You’ll find yourself communicating with hands, drawings and mimicry when the language gets tough. You’ll pick up some expressions in the local dialect and maybe learn some Kiswahili. Your sense of time and place will adjust to the local pace and the hot climate.
You will be staying in tents. If our funding comes through we’ll have some canvas Safari tents for the interns- otherwise, we’ll ask you to bring your own. You’ll be eating local food: rice and beans, some vegetables, ugali. This is important: leave your food preferences at home and participate. Also important: respectful clothing. In the heat loose shirts and dresses are most comfortable. Bring a sunhat.
A must visit from Magarini is a canyon called “Hell’s kitchen” where you walk down into the colours of the earth.
On your way back to Nairobi you might stop in at Kilifi at a hostel named “Distant Relatives Ecolodge and Backpackers” This place has been hosting Permaculture workshops for a few years now. Another tip for travel to or from Malindi: take the new train from Nairobi to Mombasa- it runs through Tsavo National Park where you stand a good chance to see a few elephants along the way.
All in all you’ll find Kenyans to be visitor friendly and helpful. Prepare yourself with a little bit of Swahili vocabulary. And relax. “Hakuna Matata”.
We’d love to have you join the practicum. Check the website for options and fill out an application form. OUR Ecovillage alumni receive special discounts.