Umoja Village Safari, Celebrating Kenyan Women, Heritage and Culture.
When I first heard about the existence of the Umoja Women’s Village, I was intrigued. With my upcoming trip to Tanzania and Kenya, I knew I wanted to somehow visit this place and meet the women who stood together to make a safe haven for themselves.
I discovered that only one Safari company based in Nairobi makes weekly trips to the village and brings visitors to hear the women’s stories, visit their museum and provides an opportunity to buy their crafts.
Sinja, also known as Nashipae, has settled in Kenya from Germany and is married to a Kenyan aeronautical engineer. They live in the town of Thika which is a story all unto itself – as she also runs a daycare center for the children of a slum in Thika. A slum without proper sanitation or electricity that has been festering with problems for 50 years.
So Sinja runs a safari company called Travel With Nashipae travelwithnashipae.com and I had the good fortune to go to Umoja with her, and two other tourists and another staff member from the safari company. They had hired a very competent and charming driver in a very comfortable van. The van needed to be comfortable because the ride is five hours from Nairobi (four hours from Thika).
(Image cred. Sinja, at Umoja Village, Samburu )
I had been focusing on our end goal, and did not realize that in fact we would pass through the Equator line on our way north to the Samburu county where the village is located, near Archers Post, a former British Army settlement
Sinja had told us about the village guide, a young resident of the village who had been studying hard and whose English was excellent. Lucy. She met us at the entrance to the village, and asked us to wait while the villagers gathered together and prepared to welcome us. The women quickly assembled and began to clap and sing with warm smiles. The villagers were clearly very happy to see us.
Lucy explained the history of the village going back to 1990 and its founder . She talked about what all the women had been through, and explained that if women did want to marry or re-marry, they would have to leave the village. The young boys too have to leave the village when they become men.
She told us that although the women had managed to amass a large herd of cattle, unfortunately that entire herd of around 100, had been stolen by a neighboring group few days earlier. She said that they cannot defend themselves well enough against such attacks. The attacking outfits have guns and other forms of weaponry,are mostly men warriors, whereas the Umoja Village women neither believe in violence nor any form of armament. The local police apparently did nothing to help, and so they resolved to start allover and try to buy more cattle which they need for milk and meat.
The entrance fee to the village $10, Museum fee, sales of beadworks and crafts help support the village. Clearly, more visits are needed to help these proud women with a resolve to empower themselves against early forced marriage,FGM , domestic violence in pursuit of education and women rights yet continue suffering from poverty in their new livelihood.
I discovered with awe that the Samburu women had named Sinja “Nashipae,” which means “a woman who is always jovial”
My time at the village, the experience i had, sitting on their beds(bed from cow skin) in the Manyattas (nomadic shelters made with cow dung,skin and mud, the school tour and singing and dancing, is a nostalgic episode that i will keep revisiting everytime I travel to Kenya.
It was sentimental!
Before long, our time with these women was over, we satrted to depart, it was too soon, I still wanted more. More of their music,of their stories, of the village!
As the women sang us their farewell song, I was behind them as we began to leave the village. I could see scars on their backs from being wounded,very likely by the cruel men who had turned on them and driven them to take such drastic action to build their own village.
Even while back home in USA I still awed by this Village. I am inspired everyday by the collective determinism by those women. I am thrilled that Women empowerment,as they taught me, is built on the foundation of courage, hard-work and individual responsibility.
I am delighted I got a chance to visit this village in person, hear their story and buy some beautiful traditional Samburu beadwork which will remind me of their resolutions to live a better life.