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The trip to the land of the Queen

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Wilson Kipsang Kipkazi, leader of the Endorois community in Kenya, experiences the joys of London’s climate and marvels at the Tube on his first visit to the UK to promote MRG’s Trouble in Paradise campaign.

It was 11.30 pm; I tightened my seatbelt as the plane took off from Jomo Kenyatta international airport. From the look of things the plane seemed to be heading to the moon, but after a short while it started to turn into a direction I was not able to identify.

The journey to Heathrow took us just eight and half hours, but it took us another thirty minutes queuing to be allowed to enter the UK. The welcome I received was not so friendly, but my letter of invitation from MRG seemed to smooth my passage.

On completion of this rigorous check my passport was finally stamped authorizing me entry into the land of her Majesty the Queen of England. I emerged from the endless corridors of Heathrow into arrivals where I met a middle-aged gentleman holding a sign saying KITKAZY (whom I rightly assumed was my taxi to the hotel).

On leaving the airport I was exposed to the outside world, with temperatures which reduced me to shivering – it was terribly cold. I really had underrated the climate during the winter season in Europe….

The taxi driver was talkative and humorous on issues of life and the economy (he complained that its at its worst level ever). He asked me which country I came from, and I told him that I was from Obamaland. He was so excited that I was from a country which gave America a new President and told me he hoped Obama will not push Britain around the way Bush junior did with Iraq.

I arrived at the hotel around 7am where I was met by MRG’s Trouble in Paradise campaigner Emma who sorted out my room at the hotel. After having breakfast at a nearby restaurant owned by a charity, we went to the offices of Minority Rights Group on Commercial Street. In the office I was introduced to the members of the organization who welcomed me to London and to MRG.

On this first day, I had meetings with staff to update them on the latest news from my community and later we met with Tina from the Baring Foundation, who, through MRG, will be funding capacity building and infrastructure for the Endorois over the next few years – we had fruitful discussions that will foster good relations between the three organizations in the future.

This really was one of the very terrible days in London, for it was raining and quite cold and I was not able to enjoy the abundance of sunshine that we have in Kenya….

On the second day of my stay in London I met Dr. Cheryl Mvula, a travel consultant who gave me some great advice on community tourism and how the Endorois might go about benefiting from tourism more fully in our area of the Rift Valley.

Later that day Emma and I attended the World Travel Market at Excel exhibition centre in eastern London. I had the privilege to travel by train for the first time in my life (and more so an underground electric train).

This was magnificent use of my time in the UK, allowing me to meet exhibitors from all over the world who organize safari trips to Kenya and talk to them about the plight of my community.

Late in the night of the same day I had the opportunity to visit the BBC at Bush House, where I was interviewed for World Service Radio on the Endorois’ eviction from Lake Bogoria and its implication for my people.

On the third day, to mark the occasion of World Responsible Tourism Day, we held a press conference at the Press Association near the Queen’s residence, which was very successful. The Director of MRG and myself explained to journalists about why tourists and tour operators need to be aware of the issues affecting indigenous peoples when they take their holidays and specifically about the wellbeing of the Endorois people who lost their lands for the creation of an animal sanctuary.

Upon completion of the press briefing, Emma took me to visit the Queen of England at her palace. Despite the fact that we were not allowed to enter her residence, we had the privilege to go near to her perimeter fence and take pictures of the palace undisturbed by the guards guarding her home.

kipkazi

We also had the opportunity to visit the Kenyan embassy in London and met Mr. Barno, who is an agricultural attaché in London. Emma was so good in showing me around London, despite me getting a little bit confused about all the magnificent developments that were done over a hundred years ago. It was really amazing and quite challenging to someone from a developing country like Kenya.

The fourth and final day I had further meetings in the MRG office and an emotional farewell party for Cynthia and Ishbel, who were leaving MRG to join other organizations after serving selflessly in the organization for many years. The speeches were quite moving and many members of staff including myself had to shed tears of disappointment at being left by friends with whom we had worked for many years. Cynthia for sure has been a beacon of hope to many in the Endorois community.

On Friday morning Emma called for me at the hotel at 7am to make sure that I reach the airport on time for my plane back to Nairobi. My flight back was quite enjoyable as the plane cruised over several countries all the way from London and I was able to appreciate the views during daylight.

My trip to London has tremendously changed my life; it was a remarkable tour that shall be a permanent history written in my life, courtesy of Endorois Welfare Council and MRG. I believe that many people in my community will benefit from what I learned on the trip to the land of the Queen.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.

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