After two months in the capital, I have finally arrived in the real Kenya. I got here via a dirt road and walking into the interior for half an hour, accompanied by barefoot women singing us welcoming songs and children who carried our luggage. Here there is neither running water nor electricity. With the other internationals, I am staying in the only cemented house around. Everybody else lives in mud huts. Chicken and cows walk around freely, we eat with our fingers and we work on the fields. This is a beautiful, much more authentic experience than staying in Nairobi.
This is how I sounded in 2009, when I reached the Kenyan countryside for the first time. Although I had only been in the country for two months by the time, I seemed to know how life in Kenya is supposed to look like. And Nairobi was not representing the “real” Kenyan life.
But the following video shows daily life in Kenya, too.
I was assigning authenticity to a certain lifestyle with certain features. I didn’t allow it to look any different.
The problem here is judgement.
Experiencing something as authentic, declaring something as real, is based on stereotypes. You will hardly find somebody saying “skyscrapers, wifi and luxury hotels are the real Kenyan experience”. (Apart from the smart guys who made the video above.)
“Authentic” also suggests a kind of human primal state, which we, the travelers, can dive into with our advantages and our hunger for adventure and exploring.
We assume normative power: the exclusive monopoly of defining everything.
And if you remember correctly – that is how racism works!
The African Students Association from Ithaca College in New York launched a very powerful campaign in 2013 to tackle the stereotypes about “real, authentic” Africa.