35 photos from Kenya for perspective on the new year | Laura Kranz
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When the new year rolls around, I like to spend time thinking through experiences and recognizing ways I’ve changed because of them. I don’t have a very reliable memory, but I’ve archived tens of thousands of photos over the years to help me remember.

A topic I get caught up on regularly in my introspection is having an inflated perspective of my problems—and being surrounded by that inflated perspective in middle-class America.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I drew a few comics for the school newspaper. I was embarrassed that, of all the tragedy going on in the world, all my peers could think about was the next high school dance.

Sketch cartoon homecoming laura converse art

Spelling errors and giant phone aside, it makes my point. We are frivolous people, caught up in frivolous problems.

I was pondering this topic when I stumbled into my photo archive from August of 2009. During this month, a friend and I went to Kenya with a retirement-age husband-and-wife team from my family’s church. They had been helping establish various aid organizations run by locals in cities around the country.

Many of the experiences I had there burned into my memory.  I saw a lot of things that I didn’t understand when I drew that comic. My trip to Africa changed me, and put more concrete knowledge behind my frustration with our frivolity.

A lot of it was hard to see, but I want to share some of it with you.

35 photos from Kenya and Tanzania

I stayed in this compound for three days (if I remember correctly): Open Hand Children’s Home for Abandoned Babies. And yes, that’s an open sewer.Africa-3464

I don’t think this sewer is gluten free, soy free, or organic.Africa-3451

This is the front gate of Open Hand in the slums of Nairobi.

This is inside the compound. Cement floors seemed like such a luxury.Africa-3348

Behind these doors is the murky well all the residents of this part of town fetched water from.  The water would come up green, and we would have it sit for a few days so the sediment would go to the bottom.  Then it was used for dishwashing, bucket showers, and clothing.Africa-3468

I took this shot in the wreck that was downtown Mombasa. There was a cholera outbreak at the time there, so being near standing water was a bad idea (as was buying any fruits or vegetables). This child was salvaging a piece of broken candy from the sidewalk.

This is a Maasai woman, watching a man from her village get baptized. I’m not sure I want to know how that ear thing was started.


This is a kid from one of the nicer orphanages we went to. Africa-2963Here’s a man at the ferry terminal to Mombasa. Luxury cruise, here I come!

Need your computer fixed?  Here’s the best place in town.Africa-2639

Clotheslines were everywhere. All the Kenyans I met were pretty fastidious about washing their clothes.Africa-3477

One of the orphans. If I remember correctly his name was Boaz—though Obama is my second guess. I’ve never met so many babies named Obama in my life.Africa-3359A man at the Akamba Wood Carver Village outside of Mombasa is making one of his statuettes.  Ever seen those African tribal masks, figurines, djembes, or other wooden paraphernalia? It was probably made at a place like this.Africa-2809

One of the older children at the Mombasa orphanage.Africa-2964

The kids were very photogenic, and extremely excited by cameras. They loved being photographed, then being shown their picture on the screen.Africa-2985 This guy was right outside the door. I didn’t like thinking about him when I was trying to fall asleep.Africa-2606 Wonderland Integrated School: a fortress in the Nairobi slums.Africa-3476

If I remember correctly, this little farm was a little ways outside the town of Karen.
Africa-3523 I followed one of the orphans to school one day.  This was her path.Africa-3472 Another shot of the path to school. Africa-3470 These people traveled out of the city to fetch water.Africa-3517 On her way to the mall to get an up-doAfrica-3508 A wall in Mombasa with a desperate style of graphiti.Africa-2694

Her name was Blessed, and her sister behind her was named Brilliant.Africa-3597

Another shot at the Akamba Wood Carver Village. I don’t think their desks are very ergonomic.Africa-2815

Donkeys at the spontaneously-formed dump in the middle of the road.  It’s a thing.Africa-3573

Most of the floors were dirt.  They would sweep them multiple times a day so that they could see snakes more easily.Africa-3596

Modern architecture in Tanzania.

A few Maasai children, welcoming us into their village.Africa-3607

The Maasai dressed in brightly-colored fabric, though many of the children had hand-me-down clothes from relief organizations.Africa-3620

Some of the children’s cheeks and foreheads bore circular scars that I assume were from some kind of ritual.Africa-3626

We were two language-tiers away from being able to speak with these people: we had a translator who spoke the villagers’ language and Swahili, and we had another translator who spoke Swahili and English.Africa-3631

This was actually not an uncommon site: sandals made from motorcycle tires.Africa-3642 Mother and child at a very upbeat church service.Africa-3667

Glass was often set in concrete at the top of walls surrounding more well-off neighborhoods. This is Nelson Mandela Ave, in Mombasa.  The coral-like rock the island was made of would protrude everywhere from the red dirt roads, making driving … interesting.Africa-2604

Closing thoughts on the photo collection

There are hundreds more photos from my Africa trip, but these 35 images resonated with me as I thought about the coming year.  The problems we humans deal with have had so many different faces over time and in different places, and it’s easy to get caught up in them instead of examining their roots.

And while it’s easy to shake my head at struggles that seem so frivolous, many different struggles affect us in very similar ways. How else could someone who has never experienced bloodshed or war find the Psalms of David resonating so deeply with them?

I plan to put more effort into remembering the state of humanity as a whole, and not just what I wish was different about my own situation.


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