Kenya calling: 16-year-old Coleman answers

facetime-logan-coleman6-horizLogan Coleman shows off a memento.
PHOTO BY ERIKA MAGUIRE

She’s traveled halfway across the world, organized her own month-long trip to Kenya, studied the modernization of African cultures, interned with the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, speaks near fluent Swahili, and one day hopes to work alongside the African Union. Oh, and she’s only 16 years old.

Logan Coleman, a Charlottesville High School junior, says she's long had an interest in African culture. And although she'd been exposed to African customs and lifestyles through school, she realized early last year she wanted to experience the culture first-hand.

“For me, going to Africa has always been sort of a calling,” says Coleman, who cites Disney's The Lion King as her first exposure to Africa. Wishing to travel to the continent on her own, she began learning Swahili and saving up for a trip. During her months of research, she found an organization, the Maasai Girls Education Fund, which not only sees learning as key to ending poverty in Kenya but also became her ticket to living with a Maasai family.

“Unlike a lot of the programs I looked at, which were expensive and primarily for sightseeing, this organization," Coleman says, "helped me find a host family which would allow me to stay in one place and form relationships with people."

By traveling outside of a tour, Coleman hoped to experience the authentic culture, rather than a polished tourist-y version, in an effort to understand the degree to which the pressure to modernize is having an impact on a way of life.

“As Americans, we assume Africans want to change,” she says. “Though they really enjoyed small technology like my iPod and cell phone, modernizing goes against their cultures. Even though they’re farmers, they are incredibly self-sufficient, and it would be asking a lot of them to change.”

During her 30-day stay with the 14-member ole Lemanyi family, Coleman helped with a lot of the daily chores, herding goats and sheep as well as collecting firewood.

“Living with the Maasai as a member of the family really allowed me to get a feel for the culture and the way of life,” Coleman explains. “It became really natural in ways I never thought it could."

Like the other family members, Coleman lived in a hut consisting of dried cow-manure, mud, sticks, and grass. And although each day began around 6:50am with a diet consisting of cabbage, tea, and "every part of a goat and sheep you can imagine,” she found the environment surprisingly comfortable. She hopes to spend two months this summer in another country in east Africa.

“The experience was incredibly worthwhile,” she says. “I cannot wait to go back.”

~

In December, C'ville Coffee will feature photographs taken by Logan during her stay in the village of Ngurumani in Kajiado, a Rift Valley Province in Kenya.

Read more on: Logan Coleman

8 comments

Just FYI (hopefully this site is of interest to you)
We've [Bernard Pollack and Danielle Nierenberg] been traveling across Africa and documenting our journey on a website called Border Jumpers [www.borderjumpers.org].
You can also follow us on Twitter @borderjumping
Currently en route to Uganda... (just came from Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania!)

The bus between Nairobi, Kenya and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, leaves at 5:30 in the morning ââ?¬â?? and takes fourteen hours. Kampala Coaches claims on their website to provide a safe, comfortable, and worry-free journey. Their mission is ââ?¬Å?to exceed customer expectations, all the time and everytime,” and their vision is to ââ?¬Å?provide unparalleled services.”

We arrived at the bus station at 4:30amââ?¬â?as instructed by the agent we calledââ?¬â?to make sure we had a seat. Like most of the bus stations we’ve visited from New York to Nairobi, this one was in one of the shadier areas of town. By 6:00am the bus hadn’t arrived. At 7:00am we were still waiting. Finally, at 8:00am the bus pulls out of their tiny Nairobi office. We’d pulled an all nighter the evening before, thinking we’d be able to sleep during the bus ride.

When the bus arrives it is crammed full with people continuing on to Dar from Kampala, Uganda. We’re forced to squeeze into two seats in the very back of the bus, with people on either side of us.

The whole ride was a comedy of painful experiences -- a nearly 350 pound women sat next to us, the odor of people who had traveled all night hung in the air like a fog, we couldn’t recline our seats and there was almost zero leg room. Welcome to traveling in Africa, we thought to ourselves.

Soon, the coaches staff realized they wouldn’t be able to fit all the luggage under the bus, so they decided to pack the entire middle aisle with bags stacked on top of eachother. Keep in mind that we were in the back of the bus and the luggage prevented any sort of escape route if we should crash.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. The driver drove so erratically that we later thought he must have been drunk, stoned, or completely insane. Danielle thought cocaine, I voted for alcohol. The bus was flying over the unpaved roads and because we were sitting behind the back wheels we felt every single bump and wild turn of the wheel. At times, the bus was airborn as it flew over bumps and up and down hills. Both of us were jolted out of our seats on several occasions.

We begged them to stop -- just to let us use the bathroom -- about four hours into the journey. Bernie had to tell the staff that Danielle was pregnant (she’s not) to get them to stop. When they pulled off the side of the highway, they told her to just ââ?¬Å?walk behind the bus”Ã¢â?¬â?where any passing cars could see.

After that, we'd finally had it.

When the bus stopped in Arusha, Tanzania (the first feasible destination for us) about seven hours into the journey, we just got off. Enough was enough.

Kampala Coaches is one dirty, dangerous, disaster”Š

****RE: LES NEUHAUS****

"As Americans, we assume Africans want to change,” she says. ââ?¬Å?Though they really enjoyed small technology like my iPod and cell phone, modernizing goes against their cultures. Even though they’re farmers, they are incredibly self-sufficient, and it would be asking a lot of them to change.”

Ok, so she used the term 'farmers' rather than 'livestock herders'... Can 'farmer' not be used colloquially to refer to people who live off the resources of the land? Maybe?

As for cell phones, yes, the technology is definitely present in Kenya - but think about this logically... In the US we have had cellular technology since the 1970s, we have over 20 mobile service providers across the nation (and I have yet to find one that provides full coverage over our small city), and yet there are STILL many American citizens who wouldn't have a clue what to do with a cell phone if I put it up to their ear and said 'speak.' And you say "most of the men [of the Maasai] have cell phones in their pockets, even as they graze their cattle"? If you have any evidential photos I'd love to see them, I'm an artist currently working on a multimedia international humanities project- send to c8marie@gmail.com ? Thanks!

But what I really wanted to talk to you about, Les (may I call you Les? I feel you and I could be good friends, Les, and I hope that you don't take offense), is the relevance of your response to the article. See, what I got from the piece was something along the lines of:

Logan Coleman is an extraordinary young woman. While most 16-year-old girls in high school are rolling up their gym shorts to half-cheek exposure and practicing the subtle art of tossing a ping-pong ball into a flimsy red cup, she's learning the Swahili language and eating 'every part of a goat and sheep you could imagine.' She's learning, researching, working, educating and contributing to the world, passionately dedicated to the more-than-worthy cause of enabling education of the people of Africa.

I don't think much else needs to be said, Les, but I would like to leave you with the following as a final point for contemplation:

"It's not a lot to ask of them to modernize," - Les Neuhaus.

Would it be too much for me to ask of you, Les, to move to Nguruman, find out exactly what it is the Maasai tribespeople need to be 'modern' (before that, you may need to find out whether the other 95.5% of the world's population has the same idea as the US as to what 'modern' means) and then perhaps, if it's not too much trouble, could you engineer the implementation of the new 'Modern Maasai' way of life throughout Kenya? Is that too much to ask? I'll even come with you -- you have my email address now! I just hope the tribespeople are up for the total life and culture overhaul... Maybe our next project could be de-industrializing America!

Thanks for the stimulus, Les. Hope we can do it again sometime.

And Logan - love you dearly ;).

Ms. Coleman, your diplomatic skills are well developed for a young woman of your age. It must be a testament to your parents and the intellectual atmosphere of Charlottesville.

Cheers.

Cait!

Thanks for the thoughtful response in The Hook. And yes, I do, in fact, have photos of Masaai tribesman using cell phones as they graze livestock, as I have sold commercial/corporate photos of such to Safaricom, Kenya's largest cell-service provider. (That's why I mentioned it.)

I actually just moved back to the U.S. this year after living and working as an all-platform journalist (mostly print correspondent/photojournalist) across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, for the last six to seven years. I lived in Kenya for more than three years, in total, and have lived in Sudan and Ethiopia, too, among other places. I have covered events in the afore mentioned countries, along with places like Somalia,
the DR Congo, Rwanda, Chad, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc ... I have worked for The Associated Press, Reuters, the European Pressphoto Agency, Al Jazeera English, CNN International, the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the U.N.'s humanitarian news agency, IRIN, and more.

Most of my work over the last few years has focused on poverty,
humanitarian crises, war and conflict, political instability, various national elections, endangered animals, hostage situations, diplomatic affairs, etc.

I am actually interviewing for the News Editor job with C-Ville Weekly and will be in Charlottesville next week after a round of telephone interviews with the leaders of the paper. I am actually a little burned out on the international stuff and want to settle in a great community, like Charlottesville!

My point in highlighting the problems with The Hook's story was not to come down on the adventuresome and young Ms. Coleman, but to reveal the lack of vetting by The Hook's writer. I feel the piece should have been written in Ms. Coleman's own words -- like a diary piece on here experiences, as I felt The Hook's writer was in over her head on writing the piece and Ms. Coleman could have told the story much better. As a prospective candidate for the news editor job at C-Ville Weekly, I would have asked Ms. Coleman to write up a 500-word story on her experience, her musings and reflections of modernity vs. pastoral living in Africa, and what she wants to do down the road. (Who knows? -- If I DO, in fact, get the position, maybe I will ask Ms. Coleman to do just that!)

Maybe I should have said all of that in the original comment ... my apologies for not making that clear.

However, that said, please feel free to peruse samples of my print and photo work on my web site, http://lesneuhaus.com, or go to my blog, http://driftermedia.blogspot.com, if you feel inclined.

I agree wholly with you that Ms. Coleman is sharp, but I wish the
writer would have had the understanding to be able to bring out the best in the piece.

I look forward to speaking with you again, sincerely! Your response has given me pause to be more mindful of readers in C-Ville, to be sure!

In a positive spirit of transparency ...

Cheers,

Les

Hello to everyone. I had not planned on adding to this blog, but just felt the need to clarify a couple of things on behalf of the family that took me into their home.

1. Ngurumani is in the mountainous region of the Kajiado district. So they are, in fact, farmers. Cabbage and papayas were our main food staples, while the animals were actually only killed every so often by the Moran warriors. I understand where your confusion comes in, because most of the Maasai do live in the dry bush where an irrigation system is out of the question.

2. I did not mean to imply that the Maasai were "guffawed" by the cell phones. Yes, there were a select few who had them in the area but in this village there siblings who had modernized had moved to Nairobi, which yes I completely understand is hugely industrialized capitol, and had brought their phones with him. In no way, at least in the specific region I was in and I will not speak to the rest of the Maasai, were cell phones a cultural norm, nor my iPOd and camera.

3. I understand that Swahili is often used to describe a certain East African Culture, and that Kiswahili is the actual name of the language. However, Swahili is often used at least in America, and certainly in Charlottesville, to refer to the language and I do not feel the Hook should take any sort of factual hit for using this term.

I truly appreciate your observation that it is difficult to have written this piece without much further research into East Africa and its tribal customs. I imagine it was difficult for her to write about this trip, just as it is difficult for me to explain it still. I would love to hear more about your many experiences internationally, and talk more on this as well. Good luck at the C-ville thing!

Everyone, thank you so much for all of the input and interest!

This is amazing. It is wonderful you have a calling that is so passionate. I know you will be doing great things in your life and setting an example for your generation.
Tobi Zion

These writers would do well to use you, as an example, of how to grow up well. More students need to get away from home and find themselves in their adolescence, as you have done. Good luck. You have set a great example for your peers and their parents, many, who are afraid to even let them hike alone in the woods.

http://www2.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/education/article/uva_write...

The language of East and Central Africa is not "Swahili" -- it's Kiswahili. Swahili refers to the culture of the East African coast, primarily in Kenya.

And cell phones are VERY common in Kenya (there are three service providers), so I would be very surprised that Maasai tribespeople would be guffawed over seeing a cell phone, as they are the most commercially-advertised tribe of the country and aren't naive about modernity issues. It's not a lot to ask of them to modernize, as most of the men have cell phones tucked into their pockets, even as they graze their cattle.

Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, is one of the most modern capitals on the African continent.

In addition, the Maasai are primarily livestock herders, not really "farmers."