Back Again

1964 Crossroaders Return to Africa

by Ross W. Wein and P. Jerome Martin

This trip was certainly different than in 1964. This time we were presenting at a conference held at a five star hotel in Entebbe, Uganda and visiting with government and university representatives. Our personal goal was to rekindle some of our Operation Crossroads Africa memories from 1964.

In that year we were two farm boys bent on adventure.We prepared for our trip by reading Facing Mount Kenya and Black Like Me, learned everything we could about agriculture in Kenya, and then met at Rutgers University for orientation. Here we rubbed shoulders with Rev. James Robinson, met members of the Student Non-violent Coordination Committee (the movie Mississippi Burning depicted the murder of some members of this organization) and established ties with more than 200 other Crossroaders.Within days we were on our first plane ride and our first international trip – to Nairobi, Kenya. After orientation, in a small town in the White Highlands called Limurua, we moved a few kilometres down the road to the YMCA Rural Training Centre to set up demonstration poultry shelters and cattle crushes used to treat cattle health problems. Later we worked at the Limuru Presbyterian Hospital where we painted and repaired beds. The work was not the important part of the 10 weeks; the value was in the meeting of people with vastly different backgrounds.

It is impossible to capture in a few words our life changing experiences in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. The savannah landscapes, the wildlife in the National Parks, and the Indian Ocean were spectacular to these farm boys. Friendships were made with students and teachers. Only one year after Kenya Independence and two years following Uganda Independence, the British influence remained strong. High political optimism did not mesh with realities. Social inequities in the urban and rural living conditions were driven home as we drove over pot-holed roads to visit schools and tea farms. Evidence of poverty was everywhere. Water and electrical systems failed. Roads were dangerous and accidents were common.

After we returned home, we gave 50 presentations to raise funds for Crossroads, and then got busy with family and career. Eventually we lost touch with many Crossroads friends and colleagues. We watched the international news in dismay as we were treated to photos of civil strife in Uganda. Ross returned after the Asian citizens were chased out of the country and saw the devastation of Makerere University, the rural chaos, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.Then came the strife in Rwanda and Burundi, and later Sudan smoldered and burst into fire.We were untouched physically but we were connected emotionally.

Now we have returned to Africa. After the conference, we travelled on to Nairobi. The media cannot provide the experiences of a visit. The smells, touch, and tastes renewed our long-term memories. During this trip, we retraced some of our footsteps. Makerere University was in construction mode. In Lake Victoria, the water hyacinth threat to village fishermen had come and gone and the Rift Valley was still spectacular.We found Limuru forest converted to tea plantations and the Agricultural Youth Training Centre has a strong two-year program with 100 students. The Nairobi National Park, increasingly encompassed by the city, is still spectacular.

Some things have not changed fast enough, or for the better. The rich are still rich and the poor are still poor. Colonial power has been replaced by the colonizing force of world industries and commerce. Subsistence farms are divided into ever smaller units because of rapidly growing population. The roads still have potholes. Security is a major issue for the wealthy and night driving is to be avoided. Starvation plagues parts of Africa. The HIV/AIDS threat hangs over all. While these examples sound grim, there is evidence of a brighter future. Communication technology is making life easier for some, as evidenced by cell phones which are everywhere.

Computer access is revolutionizing education, which is seen as the solution for many and not just the privilege of a few. We met many people on this trip who have much to teach us. It is our wish that many more Canadians will have similar opportunities to gain experiences in future Canadian Crossroads International programs.

Jerome Martin (Kenya 1964) worked with Alberta Agriculture and the University of Alberta and is now owner/publisher of Spotted Cow Press of Edmonton. Ross Wein (Kenya 1964) has been a university professor in environmentalstudies and natural resources and has trained graduate students at home and overseas, including Kenya and Uganda.

 

Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: