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In my 10-plus years in the tourism industry, I travelled through Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Surprisingly enough, my most expensive stay was right here in Kenya, at the Mpata Safari Club in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve (costing approximately 1,000 USD per night). The Mpata Safari Club, like many other units in the Maasai Mara, provides accommodation to tourists who visit the ninth wonder of the world.

In addition to the annual wildebeest migration, the Mara is also home to each of the “Big Five” (Lion, African elephant, African buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros). To make the most of a stay in any of Kenya’s national parks and game reserves, visitors normally take three game drives per day: one very early in the morning; a second one between breakfast and lunch; and the third one in the late afternoon. Since most of their time is spent outdoors, the choice of accommodation depends on availability and price – except for those who know about the accommodations found at Mpata. And the difference is in the architecture.

Seen from the air, the main club house at Mpata is precariously perched on the Oloololo escarpment and shaped like a butterfly in full flight. It is an exclusive club with 23 cottages. The cottages are hut-like units which fan out behind the club house. Although the Maasai Mara is not connected to the national grid, at Mpata each cottage has instant hot showers, courtesy of the clean, safe and environmentally friendly power of the sun. Each unit also has a Jacuzzi. And to top it all, each has a panoramic sweep of the vast, game-filled plains right from the comfort of the bed. What better way to observe nature’s greatest spectacle, the wildebeest migration?

Looking back now, it seems to me that the imagination of world-renowned architect who designed the Mpata Safari Club, Edward Suzuki, was inspired by the African plains. Mpata Safari Club is a perfect blend of state-of-the-art architecture, cutting-edge technology and African inspirations.

Recently, I had reason to recall my Mpata experience as I walked through the Bomas of Kenya. Bomas of Kenya, which roughly translates into homesteads of Kenya, is a tourist village at Lang’ata just outside Nairobi, which has a sample of homesteads from Kenya’s major communities: Kamba, Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya, Taita, Teso, Maasai, Kisii and others. As I walked through the village, something I had never noticed before struck me. Each homestead found at the Bomas of Kenya has room for more than one wife. Typically three wives was the norm.

In contrast, each homestead has room for only one man – and his hut is strategically located near the entrance. In the more sophisticated homesteads, the man’s hut has a back door through which the man could access any of the wives’ huts and no one would be the wiser. I am tempted to think that long before Louis Sullivan made the phrase famous, we in Africa already knew that “form follows function.”

© Esther Mbithi 2008
Published in the Carleton University Magazine, Winter 2008

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