I’m not sure anything or anyone can fully prepare a westerner for a trip to Africa. I went in to this adventure thinking I knew what to expect. And then I arrived.
East Africa is a land of contrasts and contradictions. There is no infrastructure. I had expectations of spotty wi-fi, iffy cell coverage. We did have decent Internet at a couple of our hotels, but only in certain areas, and even that failed completely several times. Electricity faltered a few times at our hotels. Outside of a modest-sized town, there is no running water, no bathrooms, limited electricity. Yet there are cell towers in the middle of nowhere, sometimes plunked down near a traditional market or next to a thatch roof.
The place is staggeringly gorgeous. Natural beauty is everywhere in myriad form: hills, mountains, plains, rocks. The colors are amazing…lunar red soil, verdant green trees. The people themselves are brilliant, with an inherent love of color, and their traditional patterns and fabrics. And what could be more arresting than the Maasai, with the most distinctive saturated reds and blues you can imagine; a flash from a distance, surrounded by their herds of goats or cows, with adornments that catch the light.
As a group, we are a novelty here, even without the movie cameras and sound equipment. A gaping, jaw-dropping spectacle almost everywhere we go. Depending on the region we are in, people are open, friendly and curious, shouting “Jambo!” with a wave. And in other places, they just stare. Africans have their reasons to be cautious.
This is definitely the road less traveled. For good reason: the roads are indescribably atrocious. Thank goodness for great drivers and land rovers. The dust makes its presence known, settling with a pinkish hue on our clothes, and the taste of iron on the tongue.
Traveling with the Sharing the Rough jewelry film documentary team is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Visiting schools that suggest hope for people here and the gem trade; seeing and buying rough gems; clambering into gem mines; and even a safari: I hope that I help transport you to Africa with my posts and thoughts in the next few days and weeks.
To find out more about Sharing the Rough, or to contribute to the film and the people and schools the film supports, visit their site here.