Day 96: Hippos scare the shit out of me, and moments of awkward cultural appropriation


Coffee, cigarettes, and a full course lunch of Indian food and dairy deserts is the worst combination before an arid safari ride. After visiting a small Maasai village in which both during and after a tour all villagers crowded me to sell me their crafts, I couldn’t help but feel awkward as the villagers placed a necklace, a ceremonial carved club, and a kikoy on me (traditional Maasai garment). I was involuntarily appropriating their culture, and that would only be okay had I joined their community like in Dances with Wolves or Avatar. But the fact is: James Cameron isn’t here and these are not giant blue people.

I am a liberal arts student who happens to be studying in Kenya thanks to naivety and an absurdist embracement of luck. As a few of my classes include geographical sociology and gender development, my synapses spark when the villagers pleaded for my nonexistent money:

This is just like in the lecture! This is post-colonial! This is capitalism bastardizing traditional culture to make us feel better about “Othering” impoverished Africans while we Snapchat on our smart phones. This is Zizek talking about charity in capitalism: we’re redeeming ourselves as consumers!

I spent the last of my shillings on a gourd wrapped in cowrie shells thinking it would work well with the goat-skin drum I’d build when I farm in Tanzania next month. By the time I return to my band, I’ll practically own a drum kit of traditional African instruments.

We left the sand-struck village to tour the Maasai Mara park again, only to stop outside a river littered with Africa’s most dangerous animal: the Hippopotamus. A cliff divided us, but I still felt too close for comfort. I recalled their speeds of over 20 miles per hour, their canines that collectively span over 20 inches, and just the little fact they kill 2,900 humans a year (much, much more than lions). These little giants are the closest relative to the whale, and they kill crocodiles. As they are largely herbivores, their sharp teeth evolved not from eating meat but fighting each other. With only their snouts and eyes visible they appeared like dragons hiding behind a thick cloud of smoke. Its their damn snorts and chortles that get me the most.

I felt like a Hobbit in Smog’s lair. My chest started feeling weird, and, to mix fictional universes even further, I started talking about chestbursters in the Alien series. Fortunately, I instead suffered the luxury of too much safari, coffee, and cigarettes for one evening. Sometimes you appreciate life so much more when you don’t have to worry about chestbursters.

Getting back, I couldn’t eat if I tried, and I could hardly lie down without curling in the fetal position. So my hypothesis to this puzzling condition is that the lack of roads made my stomach acids (fueled by coffee and Indian food) fly onto the opening of my opiated esophagus.

And that’s okay, because it was Thanksgiving dinner and eating subpar turkey without mama’s cranberry sauce at a five-star lodge would only make me homesick. In fact, eating around all these khaki-clad Germans (refer to last post) on this American Holiday while in Africa would only make me feel detached from my roots.

So like any other American on a Thanksgiving safari I decided to rest my chest on my bed and to use the nonexistent internet I paid 1000 shillings for.

Unpacking my gourd I waved it in across the air to warn any mosquitos.

I, too, sing Africa.


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