A Masai chief’s impressions of Athens

Athens was the first stop on Jonathan Kip’s first trip out of Kenya and the first major city he had ever visited. Kip, 32, is one of the 16 Masai chiefs in Kenya and recently visited Greece at the invitation of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage. The society wanted to hear about the wildlife and tourist centers he manages for his people within the framework of Lewa, a major wildlife sanctuary that is home to the Il Ngwesi, the Masai community Kip leads. «When I go home, they won’t believe me when I tell them what I saw here,» he said, as we strolled down Filellinon Street. When I suggested that we walk through the city together and talk about his impressions, he was initially hesitant. After just a day in Athens, the sheer volume of new images and information had already exhausted him. If he hadn’t been wearing his traditional Masai robes, he would look no different than any other tourist in the city center. His calm demeanor revealed nothing of the astonishment and disappointment he later confessed to feeling when we asked him for his impressions. Rude stares The Greeks who passed us in the street were not all polite. Fortunately, the impolite ones were the exception, but rude stares were not unusual, even from some of the Africans selling CDs on street corners. «The buildings are bigger than I thought they would be,» he said. «Most of the people are friendly but it was too much for me, I’m not used to seeing so many, or so much noise.» He was astonished to hear that, in Athens, people who live in the same apartment building often don’t know each other. «I wouldn’t like to live next door to someone I don’t know, people whom I can’t talk to, or ask for help,» he said. «I think I know most of the 6,000 people in my community,» he continued. «For example, we believe that the children belong to the community, in a way. Naturally, they are mine or yours, but if I see a sick child, I’ll look after it until it is well, as its father would do. The same thing with old people. Not only do their own children look after them but the whole community does.» Kip also has a different approach to work. «I work all day, as long as I can, because I work for the community, not for myself,» he said. «I don’t think it is a bad thing to work 12 hours for the community. But I can’t compare the two societies. Here I can’t even walk around, as there are so many cars and so much noise.» Not as God made it When I asked him what he thought we had lost by living in cities like Athens, he said «everything.» «You might have money, but you have lost everything else. I’m sorry to say this, but I pity your grandchildren,» he said. «You once had wild animals, but you don’t now. You once had trees, but now I see only a few. You don’t have fresh air anymore. Those three things you have lost completely. The environment here is all built up, even the trees. Nothing is as God made it. I am proud of where I come from, because we don’t have a single tree brought from somewhere else. They are there as God planted them, the trees and the rocks. If this is what your environment is like now, I wonder what it will be like in 100 years time.» ‘Don’t touch it’ He liked the Acropolis, especially because it is still around after so many years. «But please don’t touch it,» he begged. «I know renovation is going on, but I would ask people not to change it. It is the only thing you have to show to your grandchildren.»

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