Freewaters Project in Tulwet, Kenya

Leaving Masai Mara turned out not to be as difficult as getting to it, but the only obstacle was meeting up with Jon from Kigali in Kisumu before heading to North-western Kenya. Jon took off a couple weeks from work and decided to join me for the tail-end of my journey, and bring me back safely and sanely to Kampala where I had only just booked my return flight home from.

Barnabus showing me the first well

We both arrived at the chaotic bus station in Kisumu around 8pm, but apparently it’s a hoppin place to be so every hotel but the last we tried was full. We ate some tough chicken and Tusker lager for dinner, and the following day set off for Tulwet. The bus we chose told us they were leaving in 20 minutes and pulled out 50 minutes later, and then took 4 hours instead of the quoted “3,” but this was all very good according to East African terrestrial travel standard.

We were greeted in Kitale, the nearest town to Tulwet, by Maina, a project organizer for Freewaters. He works for a Kenyan company called Love Mercy Drilling, and they helped facilitate the bore-hole drilling.The Freewaters Kenyan team leaders Barnabus and Franco took me and Jon out to the field, into the heart of Tulwet village. We drove along mud-red roads meant for bare-footed people, so the old range rover barely scraped through the narrow trails to each of the 6 wells we would visit.

They were scattered around the rural village, spread out so that no family would have to walk more than a kilometer to fetch fresh water. We also visited one dry well, and at the drop of a rock discovered it was full of water, making the Freewaters project 7 wells strong.

this mother shared her gratitude for the wells with lots of smiles and laughs and a tow of children who may or may not all have belonged to her

The villagers, especially the numerous children, always ran out to greet us, watching intrigued at our examination of every well. They admired silently, but once in a while peeped out a smile or word of thanks. They looked at me as the personification of their Freewaters gift, and wanted to hold my hand and thank me over and over for the clean water they now have, and all the healthy children and seniors who have stopped dying from contaminated water and water-borne diseases. They asked for more wells and more visits, yet had no idea how the shoes I was wearing were the reason behind the project.

my Vezpa shoes on the well, with some usual miniature spectators


Becoming a Masai Princess


my masai garb

There is a road from Serengeti, Tanzania, to the Masai Mara, Kenya, since these two parks are essentially the same national park within two country borders. Google maps shows this road, and it was once possible to cross the border within the park. Its unclear to me whether its closed only to tourists, but the pitiful thing for me was I now had to get to Masai Mara in the most indirect, complicated way possible.

It took me an entire day to travel back out of Serengeti, west all the way to

me and "Wilderness Willy"

Lake Victoria, then north to the border town of Sirare. It took another day to drive with Kenya back east to the Masai Mara, along a flooded, pot-holed road at an average speed of 30km an hour in my friend’s Land Rover. I was visiting two Masai friends I had made at the Tourism Conference in Kampala earlier this month, and made the mistake of offering to pay fuel which turned out to be $180US. I would have paid three times more for the treatment I received, since both friends gave me an unforgettable experience in the national park they call home.

For the two days I was with them, I wore the most beautiful Masai dress. It was bright red, covered in beads, and my ankles, wrists and head were adorned in more colourful jewelry. I was treated as a Masai by all we met, with utmost respect and attempts at communicating in the Masai language. I did not pay for my tour-guided game drive, park fees, meals or accomodation because of their generous hospitality.

a cheetah!!

I had dreamed of seeing a leopard or a cheetah, and within an hour of entering the park I saw both, as well as a pride of lions and a herd of elephants. Masai Mara national park was so different from Serengeti – it was a vast, flat plain, with single, isolated trees once every square kilometer. The grass was so well-grazed that you could see the horizon curve, the ground just a uniform, green carpet.

the lionesses and cubs

the lion king

As you approach the park from the west, the road drops down a huge cliff, into the valley of the Masai’s. The Masai people are still living in and around the park, in the same way they have for hundreds of year. They are one of the few tribes in Kenya that maintains a long history of culture, resisting ‘development’ and ‘westernization’ by keeping their mud huts and colourful dress. They live side by side with the wilderness of the park, boys as young as 13 killing lions with a spear, and men spending years of their lives nomadically grazing cows. They wander freely between countries, indifferent about the political notion of a ‘border’, their Masai culture irrespective of whether their brothers are from Tanzania or Kenya.

My friend James, attending grad school in South Carolina, told me that the thing he misses most when in the US is being with his cows. One cowboy will spend weeks alone with his cows, knows exactly how each and every cow is, and forms incredible bonds with his herd. Their sole purpose is to stay with the them, live off their milk, and at all costs protect their lives from the free-roaming lions, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards constantly posing a threat.

a leopard feasting on a buffalo kill, which could very well have been an unlucky cow

One of the most beautiful yet paradoxical sights I saw while in the Masai was a herd of cows and zebra grazing together. My ‘western’ notion of an African Safari or National Park, the ideology of a conservation area full of wild animals, doesn’t allow me to picture zebras grazing alongside livestock. The idea that domesticated animals, their farmers, and all the stars from the Lion King live harmoniously in a lawless land is still something I can’t get my head around.

Freewaters Sandals and Water in Kenya

What do these two have in common? Freewaters is a footwear company that just launched in California, debuting 10 mens and 7 women’s sandals. Their shoes are innovative sandals and flipflops stylishly designed with ergonomic support, creating a very high-tech, comfy place for your feet. Why do I care? Because I’m one of their women’s product samples and have 4 shiny new pairs of freewaters flipflops that Im going to wear and tear in my upcoming travels.

women's sandals Sola, Vezpa, Capetown and Bossa Nova

I’m pretty excited about this after my recent trip to India, because when I was there I had the perpetual problem of my shoes breaking. The flipflops I wore there were only a few months old (Hawaianas), but since I walk so much when I travel, one broke after the first day on India’s less-than-navigable sidewalks. I then bought a pair of flipflops for 100 rupees ($2.25), which broke the following day on a hike around Hampi’s Hindi temple ruins, and I realized very quickly that Indian-made sandals are far from duarble; throughout the rest of my barefoot walk home, I probably saw 10 odd sided, broken shoes scattered along the trail. Luckily I managed to find one functional right-sided shoe, and a few meters later, the broken left sided one which I fixed and had another pair of sandals… which broke the next day.

I doubt these Freewaters sandals will give me any trouble, and in fact, I may have a hard time even wearing them out since they’re so well made. But, the best part about these shoes isn’t that they look great or are super comfy to wear, but the mission behind the product: Freewaters is trying to design the best sandals while finding solutions to the global drinking water pandemic. Their first humanitarian initiative is a project in Dago, Kenya, where they are digging a series of freshwater wells to provide safe and reliable drinking water in an area of the world where water-borne disease is a serious problem. For every pair of Freewaters sandals one buys, it allows them to provide clean drinking water for one person for one year. Since March 22nd is World Water Day, perhaps now is a good time to get involved.

For more information, to see how you can help, or to buy your own pair of sandals, check out www.

For more information on the grassroots organization implementing the Freewaters direct cause initiative, go to