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The Ostrich Wakes: Struggles for Change in Highland Kenya    by Jean Davison Amazon.com order for
Ostrich Wakes
by Jean Davison
Order:  USA  Can
Kirinyaga, 2006 (2006)
Softcover
*   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Anthropologist Jean Davison returns to Kenya to see for herself the changes that have occurred in that country over the three decades she has been visiting at times living and working with the people she has been studying.

She has interviewed women who 'weathered British colonial occupation', as well as modern women for whom education is first and foremost in their plans. Hampered by a lack of electricity in their villages, computer training is not common. However, they have begun to use cell phones, making long treks through the countryside and up and down mountainsides unnecessary when news must be spread. Davison's concern over the practice of circumcising young girls on past visits is mollified when she learns that the newly democratically elected president has banned it. But the problem of HIV/AIDS is not spoken of freely people are ashamed if they or a member of their family is afflicted with the dread scourge.

Having made many friends over the past years, the author is able to talk to quite a few girls and women, to get their take on present conditions, and hear their hopes and plans. She is able to distinguish what life skills the girls learned at home which, of course, differed widely with what they learn today at school, if they are lucky enough to go to school. In years past, free schooling involving paying a fee to line corrupt school officials' pockets. The new president has declared that schooling is to be free no fees. But that requires building additions to existing schools to accommodate the influx of heretofore unschooled children.

Davison tells us that growing coffee used to be a boon for small farmers, but again corrupt officials paid less and less for the product and Kenyans gave up the crop. Now they grow tea, but are seeing the same thing happen. At the end of a harvest, they may not see any profit at all. The Ostrich Wakes is an intriguing book by a woman who seems to truly care about the people to whom she talks, and of whom she writes.

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