Several years ago I was thrilled to check off a place on my bucket list I have always wished to see: Kenya! On this trip I not only experienced luxury tented safaris, I was also able to spend some time in a couple of local Masai Mara villages.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is in the southern part of Kenya bordering Tanzania. And it is quite a magical place; furnishing you with nature up close and personal, gorgeous landscapes and stars that can be seen into eternity. The luxury tented camps offer a throwback to the classic exquisite grandeur from movies like “Out of Africa”. They deliver all the modern amenities like warm running water, electricity, luxurious bedding, swimming pools, and endless first class service. And as a bonus you get to hear lions roar in the night.
We had a cinematographer and professional photographer on our tour. And it was an honor to mirror some of his wildlife photography work he was creating to ultimately publish a coffee table book from various African safaris.
The first time (or second or third time, frankly) you see an elephant or giraffe in the wild you scramble for your camera with overzealous excitement. Then you come to realize they are all over the reserve. And by day 3 or 4 you think, oh, another elephant….Whatever. Then you hope for the cats….Cheetahs, Lions, Leopards. Then you wish for a kill. I was fortunate to see it all over the course of 12 perfect days. It is an incredible way to lose yourself in nature, as there is not much of a way to stay connected. And it is also a great way to learn patience. Waiting on animals for you to click the ultimate photo can take hours. My experience became even more interesting as the time passed….
Being a citizen of one single country my entire life, I have only seen the election process from my home country of the USA. Sure, I have seen video of new democratic voting systems, such as in Iraq. However, I never saw any actual polling place in person besides my home country. As it turned out, my timing in Kenya was perfect.
The general elections were held on 4 March 2013. … The presidential elections were ultimately a contest between Uhuru Kenyatta of the National Alliance (TNA) and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki having served two terms and not being eligible for re-election.
On election day I asked our guide, Mithu, if he would take me to their polling station in the Masai Mara so I could see what it was like inside. This was their first election after Kenya’s new constitution and I felt it would be fascinating to see this process of electing a president on the African continent. Mithu laughed thinking I was kidding with him. I loved when he laughed because he had a beautiful smile and black-as-night skin which made a stunning contrast. I tried my best to make him laugh or smile whenever possible because he lit up a room. ..or tent, in this case. But this time I was not kidding. And once we established that, he honored my request.
He drove me to the polling station that afternoon across the African plains in our safari jeep. I thought to myself, who passes elephants and giraffes and zebras on their way to vote? This was truly extaordinary. We arrived after a 20 minute bumpy, dusty journey. Mithu exchanged a few words with the guard holding a machine gun and then they gave me the motion to enter the small bare-bones, colorless cinder block building. And just like that I was across the threshold into the secret realm of voting, reserved only for Kenyans.
I was taken aback for a moment when a man working there said “Hello Miss Evans”. I did not recognize him and I was pretty certain no one knew me at the Masai Mara polling station. Or ANY Kenyan polling station. Then I realized he worked at our safari camp. I explained to him I was interested in seeing their voting process. It was a slow time at the station, so he took his time and showed me the ballot. I was astounded to see over 20 candidates. I had chatted with many locals (I do not know of any citizens anywhere in the world who do not like to talk about their upcoming elections) and found that the race would come down to Kenyatta or Odinga. From the folks I visited with, Kenyatta and his family pedigree was the better choice (his father Jomo was the first Kenyan president).
So I cast my “vote” for Kenyatta. Of course, I was told that the ballot card would not go in the giant plastic tub where the rest of the voting community had placed their cards. But for a split second I though I saw a wink and a quick smile. But I cannot be sure. I was ushered to the next table where a lady took the cap off a special indelible marker and covered my left hand pinky nail with black ink to symbolize that I had voted in the election. The team bid me a fond farewell in English and Swahili “kwaheri na asante” and sent me out past the machine gun guy. Although I could not take a photo inside, I did get a snap of my black colored pinky nail at the exit.
Voting results in many countries can take days or weeks to be finalized. However, the announcement was finally made several days later that Uhuru Kenyatta would be the next president of Kenya. Shortly after the announcement, Raila Odinga cried foul and announced to the media the election was rigged. Mr. Odinga’s lawyers claimed there was a conspiracy. They had argued that because Mr. Kenyatta skirted a runoff by such a small margin,
(some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million), the errors that had been discovered were enough to mandate a new election. Ultimately the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled on 30 March that the election was indeed fair and they would not have a re-election.
However, it did get me musing. Especially after all the election questioning that had happened with the USA election of 2016. Was it possible? Was my vote one of those 8,000 mystery votes that made it into a plastic tub illegally? Did I actually vote in Kenya? Is it possible there are sketchy polling places everywhere in the world? I will never know. However, I had that indelible ink on my pinky finger for months until it gew out….reminding me of a democratic system in a country far away from my homeland…and an indelible place in my heart for Kenya forever..
Monday Musings. Have a great week ahead.