Thursday, October 29, 2015

All in Their Places with Bright Smiling Faces

When my daughter Val volunteered in Kenya for six months in 2010, she spent time at the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp at Maai Mahiu. Most of the homes were still tents held together by sticks. 

However she was able to witness the opening of Southern Cross Academy.
When she and I returned to Kenya in May of 2013, there had been many changes at the camp.
As well as at the school. 

Here it is 2015 and improvements have continued.

Through generous donations, the school has increased the number of classrooms it has. Still the need is great. One can’t look at these faces though and not be moved. Kids are kids no matter where they live or what their circumstances are. All any of them need is a chance. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Our First and Foremost Goal

The vision my daughter had when she formed Tumaini Volunteers was to take groups of volunteers to Kenya to work on specific projects which would provide sustainability. We started our nonprofit organization two years ago, and though we had lots of thoughts in our heads, we knew that someone would have to return to Kenya to find our initial project. After doing what research we could from across the seas and talking via the latest technology with our contacts in Kenya, we decided to research the feasibility of raising chickens.
Southern Cross Academy at the IDP camp at Maai Mahiu was our target.
Our third full day that we were in Kenya earlier this month, Denise (my partner in crime – I mean, fellow volunteer) and I headed out to Maai Mahiu.
Because this is Kenya, there was no direct route. A reliable young man known as Madfish took us to Kikuyu via matatu.
There we met David, a project manager I guess you would say, who works directly with the IDP camp, as well as dealing with government officials. He was the only person we worked with who wore a suitcoat and tie, at least at the beginning of the day.
Entrusted to David’s care, we took a private car to look over a chicken production in Kikuyu. I felt bad for the chickens living their lives inside. I wanted a better life for our chickens at the school.
We were soon on our way, via a city bus, to Maai Mahiu. Then we walked. And walked some more.
Finally we made it to the school, Southern Cross Academy. I will write about that another time, but for more now I will tell you that I was pleased to see that they are already raising chickens. And that they got to have fresh air and sunshine. And a chicken’s favorite thing – ground to scratch on.
Currently, the eggs these chickens lay are being used at the school in the kids’ lunches.
The hope – and the plan of Tumaini Volunteers – is to step up chicken production and get enough birds to lay enough eggs to sell at Naivasha, the next largest city down the road. The cook at the school is already taking care of these chickens and she is ready to take on more responsibility.
It sounds like a good place for Tumaini Volunteers to start their first project. Check out our website or Facebook page for more information. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Brutal Plane Ride

I have been back from Kenya for a week. I already posted three days’ worth of safari stories, because it was so amazing. It’s not like the rest of the trip wasn’t just as amazing, it’s just that life and death on the Serengeti is what people want to hear about.

I read the posts I had written the weeks before I left on this trip and feel that I owe it to you to update you on my physical complaints. 
Heading to our gate at Chicago O'Hare 
The two eight-hour plane rides to get to Nairobi were brutal, as you can imagine. The first flight from Chicago to London was through the night and the flight wasn’t full, so I moved back a row so that Denise and I could each have two seats. The added space did not help me at all. The bursitis in my right hip screamed the entire night and no matter what I did I could not get comfortable.

We got into London in the morning and had only a two hour layover. Walking briskly through Heathrow airport loosened up my hip, but I really only wanted to stretch out on a couple benches and sleep for just five minutes. 
London Heathrow on the way home as who had time for pictures on the way there. 
By the time we were halfway from London to Nairobi, I was beginning to shut down mentally as well as physically. The lack of sleep was giving me a headache and making me sick to my stomach. The steward kept asking if he could get me anything but all I wanted was to get off the plane. Not happening at 30,000 feet.

Arriving in Kenya, I was on autopilot, following the crowd through the airport, customs and baggage claim. Denise, my partner in crime on this trip, kept me upright. I don’t think she realized how stressed I was and that I would have had a total meltdown if she hadn’t been along. Actually, honestly, I would have cancelled the whole trip at the last minute if it hadn’t been for her. So glad that didn’t happen.

Our ride, Tony, was waiting for us just outside and as late as it was, we were greeted with smiles at the volunteer house. I loaded up on ibuprofen, Benadryl and Zanax and crawled into what had to be the most comfortable bed in all of Kenya. Eight hours later, I was awake and feeling good.
No more headache or stomach ache. An ache continued in my hip during the entire stay, but it wasn’t enough to slow me down. I could move better than I had in the past two weeks.
I loved being back in the neighborhood, where these faces greeted us every day. 

Kenya was apparently all I needed.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Drama at the Masa Mara, part 3

We had already had a tense afternoon, waiting for a river crossing, and then instead witnessing a kill, right under our noses. But one last drama unfolded before us that Saturday afternoon on Safari. 

Tony, our driver, watched the lioness and confidently nodded, “she was just killing for fun.” Under another tree was a wildebeest she had no doubt killed earlier. With the easy pickings in the herd, she couldn’t resist taking down an easy kill.

She rose and walked back across the plain. In the direction she was heading, a huge handsome male strutted towards her. Our safari van was in his direct path, but he treated it as though it were a rock that had always been there. 

He didn’t veer from his course, passing so near to our van, that his hair may have brushed the fender. None of us inside looked that closely, because we were too busy freaking out.

The male and female lions barely acknowledged each other as they passed, he continued into the bush where the young wildebeest lay and she flopped down on the plain, near the herd of dazed wildebeest.

As the first male lion ate his afternoon treat, another swaggered into the picture. “Here we go,” Tony announced. “There will be a fight.”

But no, the second lion must have already had his fill on the wildebeest smorgasbord. He laid down on his haunches a few hundred feet away, the late afternoon sun shining on his stunning face. And I swear, he shook out his mane, as if he were Fabio.
Whatever else happened on the Mara that afternoon, I don’t remember. We saw some more elephants and the rest of the grazers, even a hyena, but even though we had missed the drama of seeing a crossing, we were more than satisfied.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Drama at the Masa Mara, part 2

We were on safari at the Masai Mara Game Reserve in south-west Kenya. It was getting late in the day and we had just given up on seeing a dramatic river crossing, when we stumbled on a huge herd of wildebeest. Would they try to cross the Mara River, outwitting the crocodile lurking there? 

It took us very little time to agree that we would follow the herd, waiting them out to see where they would choose to cross. We sat in the silent vans, engines off, trying to guess at the direction the herd would take. Izzo entertained us with stories of previous safaris and close-calls.

Finally he decided it was time, there was only one place that the herd would cross now. Tony and Izzo turned over the engines and we began bouncing back to the river. The wildebeest had stepped up their pace from a walk to a slow canter in anticipation of reaching the Serengeti with its wealth of grass on the other side of the Mara River. The three silly topis who were too afraid to cross the river earlier had joined them. 

Only yards from the bank, a sight caught someone’s eye. A crouching lioness.
The wildebeest had increased their pace, set on their destination. Until the lioness bound into their mass. 

Chaos ensued and the wildebeest turned from the river and galloped back into the plain, stirring up a cloud of dust. Above the fray, bleating could be heard.

As the dust settled, a figure emerged – the lioness with a small wildebeest by the throat. She hung on, strangling the life from the young animal. 

When the wildebeest went still, she dragged him into the brush. 
We drove closer and saw her resting peacefully, panting, her paws covered in blood.

But that was not yet the end of the drama. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Drama at the Masa Mara, part 1

While in Kenya earlier this month, I had the chance to go on safari in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. It was an amazing couple of days, the number of animals we saw was astounding. Over the next three days I will share clips from my journal of the drama that unfolded one afternoon. 

After seeing a plethora of animals that morning, we parked under a tree and our guides – Tony, Izzo and Boni – spread a blanket on the ground and pulled our bag lunches from the back of one of the vans. I didn’t think it would be much of a lunch, but holy cow – a piece of chicken, a ham sandwich, a banana, bag of nuts, and juice box. I thought that was pretty good. 
We were also under the tree owned by a big ol’ baboon and Izzo very cutely fed him a banana. 

We were just finished eating, when suddenly one of the guides cried out, “there’s going to be a crossing.” Okay… So we threw all of our stuff in the vans within a second and off we bounced towards the river, in anticipation of seeing a herd of wildebeest dramatically cross the river as we have seen on so many National Geographic specials.    

At the river, a small mixed herd of zebra and wildebeest were hovering on the top of the bank. A group of zebra on the other side were calling to their family. A few zebras would head down the bank, but come right back up. Pretty soon a croc was lurking in the water, which of course really spooked the zebras. 

The whole herd moved to another spot. Three topis joined them and they became the leaders in going over the bank and down to the river. 
They did that three times before they gave up, so finally the zebras decided it was time to make their move. Several of them went down to the river, and began drinking water, wading in half-way up their legs. The croc slowly made his way to them, once again skulking just under the water.

One zebra jumped in and swam half-way across to the sandbar in the middle of the river. His relatives higher up on the bank sent him encouraging brays. He was torn between plunging on and returning to the rest of the herd he had just left, the part of the herd being studied by the croc.

Finally the zebras on the far side won out and the lone fella on the sidebar splashed into the water and joined his partners. Six or eight remained, sipping the water at their feet. The croc continued his vigil, patiently waiting, studying the herd, weighing his options.

Without warning, without any provocation, the zebra turned and ran back up the bank. They were done. They had chickened out and no amount of coaxing from their cohorts on the other bank would bring them back to the shore.

The three guides gave us our options – continue to wait for the cowardly zebras to make up their minds or head back to the tree-line where the leopard had been seen. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be; we would not see a dramatic crossing, an innocent grazer pulled into the water by a ruthless crocodile. We decided to try our luck with the leopard.  

We headed back across the plain and over a rise in the endless landscape. The two safari vans came to an abrupt halt by the scene before us. Tens of thousands of wildebeest stretched before us in both directions, an endless line of the mangy animals, heading towards the river to return to better grazing on the other side. 
Izzo assured us that this herd would cross the river. Or would they? Stayed tuned. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Last Post From Home

Today is our anniversary, 18 years of wedded bliss. I should not be leaving for Africa today. Everything is pointing against it. My hip is still aching, my mom is being needy (no fault of her own, the poor thing), I wasn’t able to check-in for our flight ahead of time, my suitcase is eight pounds over the limit. I do not see any signs that I am supposed to make this trip. I keep asking God for guidance, for a sure message, but I haven’t gotten anything.

Surely this is all Satan working against me, trying to undermine my confidence, working to my very core. Like Job, he is trying to drive me away from my faith, not only faith in God but faith in myself as well.

When I went in on Wednesday for therapy on my hip, I told the physical therapist that he is Rudolph. I am Santa and I am about to cancel Christmas, cancel my trip, disappoint our host there as well as the kids he works with. I need Rudolph to show me the light, guide my path, provide the miracle that will allow me to go to Kenya and not cancel Christmas.

My physical therapist laughed and said, “I’ve never heard that analogy. I hate to tell you this - I can help your hip pain a lot, but I can’t do miracles. You will still be in some pain come Sunday morning.” Yet, I told him, nope, you are Rudolph and you can save Christmas.

In reality, I know there is only one Rudolph. That would be Jesus Christ. He not only can save Christmas, He’s the One who made Christmas!

And I get that. Yet I sit here, knowing that I still need to finish packing, take my last long hot shower, eat my last bowl of Cheerios, change the dressing on my mom’s infected finger for the last time and leave my house in three hours. And I just don’t want to do any of it.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I don’t know when I will be able to blog again, but I will try to keep you posted, as time and internet access allows.  
My bags as of 8:00 last night