A Jacaranda tree, full of vibrant rich purple blossoms, was the first thing I notice when I woke my first day in Nairobi. I have not seen anything like it before. Especially on a gloomy day after the rain the bright purple is stunning. They seem to be the only trees with life. The rest of the trees host leaves that are a dull and dark, however once you get close enough you realize the lackluster is because of the red African soil that the wind continually sweeps on them.
The red of the East African soil is just as potent, in an entirely different way. On the regular warm, sunny day, the dirt is packed hard, easy to run on, but as a gust of wind comes or a matatu flies on by, I remember again my regret of not wearing my sunnies.
Give it a couple hours and a quick bout of rain brings the dirt to life. What was once fine dust blowing into your eyes becomes an unavoidable mess. You sink deep into the sticky red mud wherever you go. If you’re not traveling by foot you can count on traffic being twice as long.
Let me set my tone that you cannot hear in this reading—in no way am I writing about the dirt as a complaint or consider something as petty as the dirt an inconvenience. I actually quite enjoy the challenge and most often I am either captured in my wonder of all the different colours of soil or how much the weather determines a day, or I have assumed the position of an observer and am simply watching commuters navigate their way through the mud on foot or by a vehicle, or I am pondering the life of Wangari Maathai and the development work she did through the means of trees.
The late Wangari Maathai: “the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D” (Green Belt Movement, 2011), a professor, noble peace prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM). Wow. Quite the title.
GBM was founded in 1977 (53 years ago) as a reaction to the droughts and food insecurity due to climate change that was severely affecting Kenyan women. The program serves to plant trees, to educate and advocate for climate change issues, and to employ a watershed-based approach to conserve ecology through tree planting.
Not only does Maathai’s Green Belt Movement continue today, almost a decade after her pasing, Maathai was honoured at the University of Nairobi with the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace & Environmental Studies (WMI). Environments will be impacted for the better and female students will be educated and inspired to earn doctorate degrees because of Maathai’s legacy.
Here is a report on Maathai and her GBM, it’s a quick read–perhaps boring if not read with the wonder of trees and the challenge of legacy.