Thursday, April 14, 2016

Faces of Talek Town

            On our side of the Maasai Mara, we have the convenience and blessing of having a town nearby. Talek town is relatively small (especially in comparison to larger Kenyan cities such as Narok or Nairobi) but ever expanding in size and influence. Talek is home to a primary school, secondary school, medical clinics, multiple gas stations, hotels, restaurants, a bank, numerous clothing, grocery, and general shops, as well as open-air automotive garages and repair centers. Talek is situated just outside of the reserve and within a 20-minute drive from our camp. Bringing together a mixture of tribal and religious affiliates, Talek is a melting pot of cultural diversity and a hub of entertainment and resources for not only the local people but also tourists and us fisi-campers.
            Becoming familiarized with the ins-and-outs of Talek is a process that doesn’t take too long. Weekly, we frequent the town every Wednesday for “Market Day”, where we stock up on groceries, camp supplies, gasoline for our Land Cruisers, butane for our oven, phone credit, and all too routine tire puncture and vehicle repairs. But aside from the weekly visit, we stop by Talek every once in a while to enjoy the local restaurants, hotels, bars, and to run any errands that spontaneously arise.
            Talek wouldn’t be all that it is without the people that inhabit its seemingly fluid limits. I’ve been here for nearly ten months now and have made lasting relationships with shop owners, mechanics, tailors, and many other residents that have undoubtedly permeated and enhanced my experiences. The people of Talek are welcoming, understanding, trusting, kind, insightful, and overwhelmingly engaging. Through these relationships my eyes have been opened to lifestyles seemingly much different than my own, but in reality what I’ve come to learn is that we are all just people, doing what we can, with what we have, where we are. Here in the Mara and in Talek, life is just simpler. The value of genuine interaction, looking into another’s eyes and actually taking the time to listen and respond appropriately has been instilled in me whilst living here. In anybody’s life there is always much happening, much to think about and much to be done, but what I’ve learned through my interactions with the people of Talek is that there is always time to be taken to connect with another. For my post this month I wanted to share some of these influential persons, those that have not only greatly impacted my year but significantly and continually impact the town of Talek as a whole.
Here's Anne (top left) in all of her glory - she is such a caring individual. Beneath her we have one of her tailors who is a mastermind of innovative clothing creations, and to the right you can see Anne's shop, known as Vision General. 
             Anne is a one-of-a-kind woman. Each week for Market Day she helps us out by gathering half our list of produce items, most of which she grows from her own garden (green peppers, cilantro, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, butternut squash…). She owns a tailor/grocery/general shop and fashions the local school children with their uniforms as well as providing the people of Talek with unique and personalized clothing items.  A woman in charge, she manages multiple properties all while doing so with a contagious sense of optimism and tranquility.
In all its splendor, Bel-Mara Green Grocers. To the top right, Mama Christy tries to hold in a smile after I slaughter some simple Swahili phrases... and beneath her one of her daughters Diana relaxes outside the shop peeling some sugar snap peas. 
            Bel-Mara: the shop we visit for any and all of our produce needs and desires (bananas, watermelon, avocados, mangos, pineapples, kale, cabbage…). Mama Christi owns the place and her daughters help her with the workload when they’re in town from university. These women provide ample amounts of fresh vegetables, fruit, and various sweets to the town, having made a name for themselves through their unmatched customer service and charm. They’re constantly giving me lessons in Swahili and often treat me to a fresh ungumu (like a scrumptious doughnut hole) whenever I’m passing by. Bel-Mara is also our source of sugar, tea, kerosene, matches, wicks, scouring pads and steel-wire, and other random camp supplies. They’re much like family to all that live and work in camp.

Ali! Don't let this picture fool you, he's always joshin' around! 
             Ali is the man. Always sporting an ear-to-ear grin, he owns Tawfiq, one of the gas stations in town, and has been a friend to Talek camp researchers ever since he opened the place. Trustworthy and full of energy and life, Ali never fails to make me chuckle. Providing us with reliable diesel for our vehicles and butane for our stove, we wouldn’t be able to get around or cook without him.
This is Siyat, one of the Mubarak workers. Soft spoken, he always knows exactly what we need and even carries it out to our cruisers to load up the supplies for us. 
          The guys of Mubarak have been friends to me from my first Market Day back in July of last year. Mubarak is a popular general store and always crowded with people looking for a cold soda or juice, grocery or household item - you name it, they probably have it. We get our boxed milk, flours, and phone credit from the store. They’re always relaxed, despite their constant flux of customers, and have taught me a thing or two about taking it easy throughout the rush of a daily schedule. They even give me a free soda every now and then!
Meet Maina, Talek's live-in mechanic.
            Our go-to mechanic in Talek, Maina, owns his own open-air automotive shop known as Rafiki Auto Garage and just recently opened up a top-notch spare parts shop, Rafiki Auto Spares. For those Disney-lovers out there, remember Rafiki from “The Lion King”? In Swahili, ‘rafiki’ means ‘friend’, and Maina certainly has been a great friend to the project. If we’re ever out on observation sessions and need the rescue of a mechanic, Maina doesn’t hesitate to travel wherever we are in the territory to save us. He and his team are always blasting some catchy tunes and busting a move while they work on vehicles at their garage. Maina and his guys are reliable and they never fail to put you in a good mood. His services have helped us out of many pickles and he not only aids fisi camp but the entire community too, including residents’ personal vehicles and lodge vehicles as well. So in a way, the tourists (or us!) wouldn’t be getting around without the expertise of Maina and his team of mechanics. He truly is a heck of a guy, and beneath his solemn exterior he is a softy at heart, having listened to many of my ramblings about vehicle problems and providing me with soothing assurance that all is well – "hakuna matata" you could say.
            Talek, as with any place, is full of surprises if you just take the time to look for and appreciate them. Between busy observation sessions, hectic research responsibilities, and near constant camp management duties, I’ve found myself balancing the ‘work’ of this position with (of course) the grandeur of the Massai Mara and bush living, but also the unexpected, revealing wonders of Talek town itself. It possesses a character all its own, one that can be attributed to the people who call it home. Talek is more than a town - it is truly a community, where friendship, family, and love are abounding from the walls of every shop, where you need only spend five minutes in the town center to experience the surge of energy that is unique to this space and place.

            Talek town will forever be a part of me and I owe that entirely to the relationships I have been blessed enough to have formed. I am a behavioral ecologist, yes, but I first am just a person like any other. In Talek, this could not hold more true. In supplement to the guys in our camp, these wondrous friends of Talek have taught me that we are all living in the moment, that we all only have the current moment. We have this saying in camp: “Today is today. Whoever says tomorrow, is a liar.” Through my experiences in camp, Talek, and my ventures around Kenya, I think it is wise for all of us to remember that life in unpredictable, that yes we are all “too busy” far too often, but there is always time to pause and absorb.

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