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Along with having a pleasing smell, one of the essential requirements of being part of the RocketNews24 team is a certain measure of eloquence. I can proudly say that the rest of the crew writes really, really good (they also help me out a lot, quite obviously).

But sometimes, words aren’t quite enough. How can mere prose do justice to the subtle hues of a cherry blossom, or the reverberations of a temple bell? Sometimes, in order to properly carry out our mission of spreading the simple joys of Japanese culture, we have to carry it with us and head out into the world, which is just what we did recently while traveling Africa.

Unfortunately cherry blossom season is still about five months away, and we couldn’t fit our cast-iron bell in the overhead bin, so we settled for the next best thing: bringing boxes of the chocolaty snack Pocky to share with the Maasai people of Kenya.

Our reasons for choosing Pocky as our goodwill gift were twofold. First, Pocky is one of the most representative and accessible Japanese snack foods. It’s been around for generations, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Japan who hasn’t eaten it. It’s even developed a bit of a name for itself in North America, where you can find it for sale at Asian-centric supermarkets and anime conventions.

On top of that, we were visiting a Maasai village on November 11, which Pocky’s manufacturer Glico has dubbed Pocky Day, due to the 11-11 date looking like four Pocky sticks standing side by side. Technically, 11-11 is also Pretz day, in reference to Pocky’s non-chocolate covered corporate cousin pretzel sticks, but we like our snack foods like our women: sweet, rather than salty.

And so, we set out from Nairobi, following the ribbon of tarmac leading to our destination: the Amboseli region, homeland of the Maasai people.

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▼ We made sure to keep an eye on the levels of the three most important things when driving through the wilderness: gas, oil, and Pocky.

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▼ Our driver quickly became a fan.

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Amboseli is located near the border with Tanzania, and the five-hour drive gave us plenty of time to admire the beauty of the Kenyan countryside.

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▼ Whirlwinds are a common sight along the dusty roadside

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Along the way, we looked forward to being able to see the reactions of people eating Pocky for the first time. It’s such a ubiquitous part of the Japanese snack pantheon that none of us could remember the first time we tried it. It’d be like trying to recall the first time you drank a glass of orange juice.

Eventually, the asphalt ended, and we found ourselves cruising down a bumpy dirt path. Shortly after we pulled over to snap a picture of a giraffe having lunch, we had to pull over again and wait for a herd of livestock to cross the road before we could continue our journey.

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A short time later, we noticed a figure up ahead. As we pulled closer, we saw it was a Maasai boy carrying an ostrich egg.

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“Hi!” he called out and waved to us. “Can you spare some water?” the young man asked.

We told him we could, and also took this opportunity to give out our first sample of Pocky.

We asked him if he liked it as he crunched on a stick. Perhaps a little shy being on camera, he silently nodded and gave a slight smile before saying good-bye and continuing on to wherever he was headed. We hopped back into our car, and after driving for a while more, finally arrived at the Maasai village.

▼ Another group of kids we ran into along the way

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▼ The Maasai village

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“Jambo!” we called out, giving the standard Swahili salutation, as a group of villagers came out to greet us and perform a welcome dance.

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One of the village’s leaders, a young man who spoke excellent English, told us “You should join them in the dance!” We asked him to hold our camera for us, which he was only too happy to do, snapping off pictures with the speed and skill of a professional photographer.

Once the dance was finished, we walked back towards our impromptu cameraman. “We brought a really popular Japanese candy called Pocky. Would you like some?” we asked.

“Of course!” he agreed “Hey, come try this!” he called out to another member of the group.

The man who came over had the proud demeanor of a warrior, and the steady, self-assured gaze to match. We offered him a pack, and watched as he tore the plastic open with his teeth, partially shook a single stick out of the hole he’d created, and began to nibble on it.

We were surprised at this unique technique for eating Pocky, and it certainly does keep melted chocolate from getting all over your hands. Still, we told him we usually grab a whole stick in our fingertips, and he seemed to concur it was indeed the easier way to eat it, as the grin on his face grew.

Apparently won over by his endorsement, a number of his friends came over to try next. All of them agreed that Pocky is indeed tasty stuff, and we learned that licking the chocolate off a Pocky stick is apparently a natural human instinct, common to all citizens of planet Earth regardless of culture or place of birth.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to let the adults have all the fun, so next we stopped by the schoolhouse where we observed the children’s English lesson before handing out treats.

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Sadly, before long it was time to start the long drive back to Nairobi. As a parting gift, we handed out the numerous giant Pocky balloons we had brought along. “What the heck are these things?” our Maasai friends said with a laugh.

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The villagers sent us off with a song of appreciation and friendship. We couldn’t understand the words they sang, but we were moved all the same, and called out what little Swahili we knew as we drove away.

Asante! Thank you!

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Kwa herini! Good bye!

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Photos: Rocketnews24
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