"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Building Futures, Inc.

Building Futures, Inc.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Monday, February 18, 2019

Good news!  Sharon’s feeling much better this morning!  That’s a relief to everyone.  We could hear both of them giggling as they prepared for the day. Our rooms were diagonally situated across the hall, but the windows along the ceiling facing the hall meant that you could hear everything.  Every room had them, and they were all open.  There must not have been many people on the floor, though, because Sharon and Nasinkoi were the only two we could hear.  Again, they were laughing and talking and despite not knowing exactly what they were saying to each other, it was clear that these girls were close friends.
The rooms were spacious and comfortable, although we really could have used a fan (like the one that Karen had in her room).  She had a large floor stand model that she had trouble getting started, but eventually figured it out.  We spent most of the night on top of the covers trying to stay cool.  6am arrived quickly, and it didn’t help that I was up blogging late the night before.  I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.  Andrea, Karen and I got downstairs where Isaac and Richard were waiting with Sue and Ryan.  Each of them had coffee or tea in front of them with the sugar bowl always within Isaac’s reach.  Kenyan’s like sugar.  Isaac consumes sugar like a Kenyan taunting diabetes.  The girls had not come down yet, so I went up and knocked on their door. In Kenya, most places have the equivalent of a skeleton key, and once you enter your room, you turn around and use the same key to lock it from the inside.  I leave my key in the door after I lock it.  Sharon and Nasinkoi did not.  It took Nasinkoi awhile, but eventually she got the right angle with the right depth to release the bolt.  She emerged with a  smile and handed me the key.  Sharon followed us down the stairs to the are where the rest of our party was seated. They sat and had tea while I stood and drank my coffee.  Isaac stood next to me as we talked about the plan for the day. He suggested that he stay behind to ensure that everyone was comfortable.  We hadn’t originally planned to be accompanied by these two young women, so space was tight (this was with us shipping bags ahead of us in another car).  I notified the rest of the group of the change and as expected, everyone was fine with it.  We hopped in the Land Rover and headed for Lake Nakuru.
It wasn’t more than 15 minutes away!  It was an abnormal treat to have the destination so close to the starting point. We stopped to get our park passes and entered through the gate.  Lake Nakuru National Park is also run by the government (obviously) but it’s quite small compared to Masai Mara – this means that animals are in a smaller area, thus a better chance of being spotted.  The vegetation was vastly different from Masai Mara.  The lake means a constant water source, so droughts are rare.  The forest surrounding the lake was incredibly dense in spots, and as the sun was climbing higher into the sky, it made for a some spooky pictures with the lake as a backdrop.
The cool temperatures were made worse when Richard opened up the top of the car so that we could stand while taking pictures.  It was freezing.  Granted, 53ยบ is not freezing, but it was to us, which meant it was REALLY cold to Sharon and Nasinkoi.  They got the blankets.  That left the adults in the vehicle trying to curl into fetal positions while trying to look through the windows for animals.  We passed by the old standbys while Karen quizzed the girls on what we saw. Zebra= punda malia, giraffe= twiga, warthog=pumba, and on and on and on.  They giggled and laughed and pointed with excited, wide eyes.  The rest of us shivered and reveled in watching their enjoyment.
There are birds everywhere here – all shapes and sizes.  Multiple species of ibis, pelicans, cranes, starling, teals, herons and vultures. Although they are known for the flamingos, we literally came across 2 white rhino.  TWO!  We stopped and took pictures as Richard explained the difference between the white rhino of Nakuru and black rhino of Masai Mara.  The white is clearly more docile.  These two were pretty close and never even gave us a glance.  Their mouths are wider, too, and almost looked cartoonish, extending from one side of their head to the other.  Once finished snapping photos, we continued driving. If someone wasn’t satisfied by 2 rhinos, what about 5?  We weren’t driving for 5 minutes before we came upon them grazing next to a small pond. Again, they paid us no mind and just went about their business of filling their bellies.  They were magnificent!  
We sat their longer than we did with the first two, but eventually went back to driving.  Time was passing rapidly, so I had to ask how far we were from the hotel.  Their check out time was 10am, and it was already close to 9:15.  It was enough to cause him to change course.  Rather than driving all the way around the lake, we turned around and took a slightly different route back.  It took us closer to the water and closer to the section of the lake where the flamingoes congregate.  The air smelled like a mild low-tide.  What else would you expect from a salt water lake that had receded? We were able to get out of the vehicle to walk closer to the water’s edge.  The earth we walked on was cracked and in various stages of dehydration.  As we got closer to the water, our shoes sank deeper giving us the indication that we were close enough.  The flamingoes were still pretty far away, but there were some smaller groups that were 100 yards away - their pink feathers unmistakably recognizable against the black water.   They were beautiful.  We walked around in the soft soil for a bit, snapping pictures of the birds and each other before getting back into the 4x4.  
We spotted more giraffe, hyenas, gazelle, cape buffalo, spring bucks and antelope as we exited the park, stopping periodically to take it all in.  It was still cool as we drove, but not as cold as it was when we started.  That only meant the goose bumps were not as noticeable as they once were.  We made it back a little after 10 and had to work around the staff to grab our bags and exit the hotel.  It didn’t take long before all the bags were downstairs and everyone was accounted for… time to get into the car for another long ride.  This time, we’re en route to Isaac’s parents house.  It’s always wonderful to see them.  They are like family, and they feel the same about us.
We arrived much dirtier than we were when we left.
We were on a dirt road for most of the drive.  I’d say it was dusty, but that’s not right.  It was more like powder… whole wheat flour.  It was everywhere, and I mean everywhere!  As we drove, cars would approach from the opposite direction and we would frantically close the windows to avoid eating the dirty powder that blew in the wake of the opposing vehicle’s tires.  If we slowed down to quickly, our own “wake” would catch up to our own windows and catch us by surprise.  It was awful, yet we laughed at it.  We did our best to mask the dirt flavor by chewing gum, tootsie rolls and starburst.  Don’t judge. Regardless, it worked.  It also helped that Ryan and Karen were making us laugh through the entire ride.  They are funny; no doubt about it.  Andrea and Sue were also adding to the humor of it all.  They’re jokes complimented they’re children’s.  It all made the ride go faster.
We arrived shortly after 1pm, and Isaac’s father was the first to appear.  I stepped out of the car and started patting my shirt and pants, watching the dust fly off me as if I was slapping my hand into a pile of flour. I emerged from behind the auto to see a Isaac’s father smiling wide holding his hands out to me.  He welcomed us over and over again and invited us inside to sit down.  Isaac’s mom stepped out, but only just beyond the door.  She’s still walking with crutches following her broken ankle.  She and Andrea were quick to exchange stories when she noticed the cast on her arm.
After introducing Sue and Ryan, we exchanged greetings and updates on those family members that weren’t able to join us on the trip.  We didn’t need to introduce Sharon and Nasinkoi, because they had already been here. Nasinkoi had something to say, and she said it.  “Chai, hapa,” she said pointing to the ground.  “Tea, here.”  When Isaac brought the girls to Nakuru for their first semester at school, he stopped here and spent some time with Isaac’s parents.  Both girls were all smiles as Isaac’s parents carried on a conversation with them.  Isaac translated and we just watched with grins on our faces as they went back and forth - the exchange like watching a tennis match.  The “grand slam” would come later.
Lunch was soon served – mashed potatoes mixed with corn, goat stew, skumawiki and chipati.  Karen served everyone and the dialogue continued as we ate.  I was surprised that they let her do it – it’s very rare for a guest to serve the host… just another indication that we are among family.  While we sat there, a couple chickens periodically tried to enter the house and were quickly shooed away by Mister Kasura wielding his walking stick.  At one point, a donkey came into view through the doorway.  Sue was sitting next to me, and she clearly had a different view than I did.  She said, “Hm.  A donkey… she looks pregnant.”  I responded with, “What? Do you mean the one with the testicles?”  She bent over in laughter.  That is how this trip is gone.  Someone consistently makes a comment that makes people howl with laughter. It’s actually nice that it’s not always Karen and Ryan.   
When lunch finished, we gave them a wind chime as a gift and hung it just outside their front door. There was enough breeze that it worked like a charm.  Mr. Kasura said, “This is the only house in Kisiriri with a bell like this!”  He was elated!  (Kisiriri is the town he lives in).
It was then that Isaac and his father began an excited exchange with lots of pointing and smiling. Isaac finally caught us up. Apparently, Isaac’s uncle (Mr. Kasura’s brother) used to date Nasinkoi’s mother.  Yup, you heard me.  The plot thickens.  Well, they dated for quite a long time before deciding to get married.  They actually lived with Isaac’s father while they planned. Unfortunately, Nasinkoi’s mother was told she had to marry someone else.  The family came and took her and beat her until she gave in.  Isaac’s uncle could do nothing to stop it.  She would eventually marry Nasinkoi’s father – and he eventually abandoned them.  When Isaac finished telling the story, his father began speaking again. When he stopped, Isaac said, “Wow,” than filled us in.  His father didn’t realize the connection until long after the girls left.  He said that it’s a wonderful thing that we are helping her and Sharon because this is just another connection that we share. “God continues to bless us with family.” There was a short silence before everyone simply agreed in amazement at the story they had just heard.  We had a brief exchange about how blessed we were to now have a part in that story.  
We didn’t have time for a tour of their land this time.  It had grown late and we needed to get to Narok and check into the hotel.  We went outside where Ryan and Sue broke out the sweets and small toys.  A crowd of kids had massed outside before they started handing things out.  We watched the smiles flow through the crowd like a wave.  The children were patient and appreciative.  A great combination.  Time kept moving, however, so it was soon time to get going.  He was the first one to greet us and the last to say, “Olaseri.” (Goodbye in Ma’a)
Richard had to do a K turn to get us facing the entrance/exit.  He would have failed his driver’s test in the US.  Even when he finally got it, the tires were slipping in the grass.  He finally stopped and put the car into 4-wheel drive and climbed the hill and got back on the main road… yup, another dirt road.
We continued to talk about the connection with Nasinkoi as we brought the girls to their mothers. Sharon was first.  Her mom met us outside a gas station where she was selling roasted corn.  She, like her daughter, has always been the more reserved of the two families.  She gave here a hug, thanked us for the ride and we said our goodbyes to Sharon.  Continuing the same as we pulled away.
Unlike Sharon, Nasinkoi’s excitement was oozing out her pores.  Before we even made it to her home, she was out of her seat and heading for a door.  When the car finally stopped, she jumped out and lept into her mother’s waiting arms. She, too, was excited to have her daughter home.  We all exchanged greetings, and she asked us to see her home.  Saying it was “modest” would be an understatement.  The home was made of mud and dung that was pasted to slats of timber.  Just inside the door sat a bunk bed with two double sized mattresses on each level. The bed took up all the space in that area.  To the right was a small area the size of a standard closet – this was the kitchen. A similar sized room was to the right of the bed; probably a storage area of some kind.  That was it. How about if I tell you that Nasinkoi is the eldest of 8.  
We came back out to the car so we could all say our “goodbyes.”  Nasinkoi and her mother still held a tight embrace as we pulled away in the direction of Isaac’s home.  We stopped at Veronica’s home (she’s the Special Needs teacher at Masekonde Primary School).  She was rather insistent about us stopping, and Isaac seemed uncomfortable with the visit. We soon learned why.  As it turns out, she just wanted us to meet the parent of another one of her students, and began to talk about what a good candidate he would be for the Nakuru Special School.  We weren’t there for more than 15 minutes before we started to say goodbye. I would later find out that she had this woman and her child come from a long way just to make this “connection” and sales pitch.  We’re heading to Masekonde tomorrow, so I’ll be sure to have a conversation with her then.
Two minutes later we arrived at Isaac’s front door.  We walked in with a bag holding gifts for Leah and the kids and sat on the chairs in their main room.  Isaac’s plot of land continues to show ongoing work.  He’s finished a fourth apartment and is about to start a fifth. He’s socking money away to pay for his children’s college education.  It’s brilliant!  He’s proud of what he’s done with good reason.  He’s a good man.
We went back inside to join everyone.  Karen opened each of the bags one by one starting with Tatiana, then Caleb and finally Leah.  Karen got each of the kids smiling as she clowned with the items she pulled from the bags.  Tatiana’s dresses got the most smiles from her.  Caleb smiled with each item, and hid his face when she pulled out the boxer briefs and asked him to try them on… immediately!  Leah was grateful for the gifts, too.  She also smiled the entire time.  We joked a bit more before we divided up into two groups.  Half of us went with Richard, while the other half climbed into Isaac’s Land Rover.  He was holding onto 6 of our bags while we traveled to Nakuru.  Now those bags were in his car.
We made it to the Park Villa Hotel at about 7 (I think).  Dabash (the hotel “manager” we always see) was waiting in the doorway as we pulled in.  He gave us all a big smile and “welcome back,” then called for some young men to help us with our bags.  I was grateful, because he put us on the third floor… and those bags are 60lbs apiece.
We dropped our bags and went back downstairs to head across the street for dinner.
This restaurant is a favorite of ours.  They have the best roasted potatoes we’ve ever had.  It’s something simple, but they’re phenomenal, and (with the exception of Leah’s), we have never found their equal.  We place a drink order, then Isaac ran me back to the hotel so that I could retrieve a couple items from the bags we left in our room.  When we got back, we laughed and shared stories like we always.  When we get together, that’s what happens.  I handed the items over to Leah, stating plainly that they were hers (and not Tatiana’s).  The first was a box of these egg-shaped chocolate covered something-or-other that we know the kids love.  The second was a gift that Andrea got for her.  She knows that Leah loves ginger, so she brought a box of frosted ginger cookies. After the chicken, and the potatoes, and the kachumbare (a salad made of red onion and tomatoes), and the stewed spinach, we all had a cookie.  It was a great closer.  We all headed back to the Park Villa.  Isaac and I stated behind with Richard while everyone else retired to their rooms.  We had to “settle up” with Richard for the use of his vehicle/time.  Suffice to say that we won’t be using him again.  The price he charged was ridiculous, and it would have put Isaac in a very bad position.  He knew it, too, and was saddened and embarrassed by it.  This wasn’t his fault, and I made sure that he knew it. I didn’t want either of us to lose any more sleep than we already had, so I gave Isaac a hug and went to bed. Or so I thought.
Karen was about to hop in the shower so I helped her with the water heater – which worked too well. It heated the water to an absolutely intolerable temperature, so she was forced to regulate the temperature by turning it on and off.  Ugh! That means that we would be doing the same then next morning.  Now, however, it really is time for bed... it's 2:30am.

Here are some more pics that I couldn't fit in the body of the blog.  Enjoy!



 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Sunday, February 17, 2019

I’ve never driven northwest from Nairobi.  We’ve gone in that direction, but it’s always been too long a drive (7 hours)  versus a $50, 45 minute flight.  That’s a no brainer.  This was a much shorter 3 hour drive along the opposite side of the Rift Valley.  It was spectacular.  The views are better than I expected, and the roads were in much better condition. This is apparently a route that fewer trucks/lorries are permitted to take, which helps with the speed as well as the second-hand diesel emissions.  

The landscape was beautiful and changed every few towns.  As we left Nairobi, there were people selling their wears in between cars in areas where the traffic slowed down.  Next came areas of thicker vegetation with a sight I’ve never seen before. The road was virtually curved out of a hillside, so its shoulder was up against a tall vertical wall of dirt or rock. In that small space were different retailers with the same items to sell.  Turkeys and ducks!  Yes, you heard me.  I’ve never seen such a thing.  The ducks were roaming free around a small stool or chair, and the turkeys were in an enclose further from the road.  They were also only on the left side of the road.  Weird.  As we made our way along the rift valley, we saw goat pelts and hats for sale!  Next came baboons in small groups that were eating various articles of garbage that a passer by tossed out a window.  That turned to larger areas of vegetation and small kiosks where farmers would sell their fruits and produce from pitched stands.  The colors and presentation were spectacular.
We stopped halfway through the journey to use the restroom.  There was a nice market attached to ta gast station, so Andrea suggested we get some apples.  This place was spectacular.  It was the equivalent of a US convenience store, but the majority of itemss for sale were fruits and vegetables, along with some drinks that were available from a clear door cooler.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  Andrea got the first one, but I was right on her heals.  I was happy to be biting into something that wasn’t fried.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some fried foods, but in the back of my mind I know that I’ll be returning to a 5am workout regimen when we return.  We loaded back into the Land Rover and continued on.
We stopped at the school first.  Nakuru Hills Special School is set just off the road; literally.  When we turned and stopped at the gate, I think our bumper may have still been on the road.  Isaac jumped out to open the gate.  As we drove, he informed us that the children won’t be at the school because of midterms. Yup, that meant that ALL the student in Kenya won’t be in class.  Yup, that meant that all the schools we’re visiting, you know, the ones where we panned on spending time with the kids, will have no kids to play with!  Most frustrating, but like everything else here, you really just have to roll with it.  Shucking and jiving is just comes with working in the third world.
Sharon and Nasinkoi were back in there room waiting for us.  We had to fill out some paperwork before being allowed to leave with them.  That was good. Once that was out of the way, we met the girls and talked with them a bit before climbing back into the car. Nasinkoi has gotten much chattier. Actually, Karen said it much better – she’s is clearly more confident and that school is responsible for the forward progress.
With the exception of a few other students, everyone was gone.  These are the times when they are most homesick, because they lack the funds to drive back home for a week.  No worries, our timing couldn’t be better.  Although we can’t see the girls performing in their school, we can reunite them with their mothers and siblings.  It’s still a win.
We then drove a short distance to the Waterbuck Hotel.  It’s beautiful, 
This was just a fun shot outside
of the Nakumat.  Another rare
Rhino sighting
inside and out!  Before grabbing our luggage, we decided to grab a bite.  It was already 1:30 and everyone was hungry.  The food was delicious, too.  It was buffet style with literally dozens of things to choose from. The staff was wonderful, too.  Two women in particular were touched by Sharon and Nasinkoi and helped them with everything from describing the food choices to helping them plate items.  They also helped them back to their seats.  It was really nice to see such kindness toward them.  Both of them ate like pros.  Nasinkoi is a tiny thing, and when I saw the plate in front of her, I thought, “No way.”  I was wrong. It wasn’t a sprint for her, it was a marathon.  Her pace never slowed or quickened and she didn’t stop until the plate was empty, as was the bowl of soup.  Karen sat next to her and commented about how well the school was doing with them. They mimicked some of her behaviors, adding them to the things that they’d already learned.  When she finished I fully expected her to lean back and unbutton her waistband!  She leaned back in the chair like Archie Bunker, rubbed her tubby for a bit, then she interlocked her fingers behind her head with a heavy exhale as if to say, "Crushed it."  True dat.
After lunch, we walked next door where a mall was conveniently located.  I bought some more minutes to purchase a internet bundle (or two) and then we all proceeded to Nakumat to find the girls some clothes to change into for the ride home tomorrow.  They have three uniforms to use while enrolled in classes, but they have nothing else with them, so we thought we’d buy them outfits to change into.  It was fun having them try on dresses, blouses and skirts. Again, it was Nasinkoi who was the most entertaining.  Where she is incredibly expressive, Sharon is much more shy.  Either way, they’re adorable.  We found a couple outfits for each and headed for the registers. Nasinkoi has a sweet tooth, so her and her buddy each got a chocolate bar before we left.  We sat downstairs and chatted about the day’s events, as well as the upcoming plan.  The girls sat devouring their chocolate while we talked and took pictures.
The food soon began to settle, so we headed to our rooms for a nap, planning to reconvene in the lobby at seven.  Andrea, Karen, Sharon, Nasinkoi and I came down first, and occupied the first set of chairs placed at the bottom of the stairs that led to our rooms.  Speaking of which, they’re nice, too.  They kept us all close to each other.  Karen was next door to Andrea and I, and Sue and Ryan were across the hall from us.  Sharon and Nasinkoi were in the room next to them.  Although Isaac called their head teacher to ensure that the girls would be okay staying in a room like this, another member of the staff, Lucy, volunteered to take them to their rooms to show them how everything worked.  This is a new adventure for these two and I’m sure they’ll have wonderful stories for their mothers when they see them tomorrow.  Isaac and Richard arrived at 7:20 and we made our way back into the restaurant.  The buffet line had been removed, and menus were place in front of every other person.  The menu was loaded with options, Andrea wasn’t that hungry, so she ordered chicken pie, but everyone seemed to settle on the old Kenyan standard – deep-fried chicken, skumawiki and chips.  Isaac and Richard abstained and just ordered sodas.  Prior to ordering our entrees, they took our drink order and it was the first time I thought about having a beer!  Sue ordered a Tusker and I almost came out of my seat!  I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t even thought about a beer.  That ship had now sailed, so I ordered a White Cap and Andrea had the same.  It was fabulous, as was the meal.  Sharon sat to my right, then Nasinkoi, then Karen at the head of the table.  Coming back was Ryan, Sue then Andrea with Isaac opposite Karen.  Richard took the only seat to my left.  We weren’t very far into the meal when I heard a tremendous sound of sadness come over the table.  I had completely missed it because she covered her face, but Sharon had just gotten incredibly sick at the table.  I did my best to help, but everything just kept coming up.  Andrea and Sue came over to help but the damage had already been done. We felt horrible for the poor girl, so Andrea and Sue to her to the restroom to clean her up as best they could. Isaac grabbed some staff who came in and quickly cleaned up the floor and table.  I was told that she paused for a second to look at her friend and assess the situation, but Nasinkoi just kept on eating.  Her focus was impressive.  Karen moved her to the seat at the head of the table and stood by her side. And the eating continued.  She ate like it was her job.  I don’t know where she was packing it all, but she was a juggernaut.  Eventually, for fear of duplicating her friends illness, we had Isaac ask her to relax and stop eating.  If looks could kill, Isaac would have dropped dead.  If Nasinkoi knew how to flip someone the bird, she’d have popped him in the nose with it!  While her unstoppable eating lightened the mood, the look she gave Isaac made us break out into laughter.  The girls emerged with Sharon and Sue walked her up to her room to continue the clean-up efforts.  She happens to be nurse, so that only helped the entire situation.  Andrea, who is right there with her is a bit limited on this trip.  She broke her radius and ulna at the wrist in her left arm last Friday, and she’s in her second cast.  They brought her back the day before we left to have the bone set and her arm recast. It’s a long story, but suffice to say, you can’t keep her down... just like Sharon’s lunch.  See what I did there… Sharon couldn’t keep her lunch down... okay, I think you get it.  Sometimes I laugh at my own jokes.  This was one of them.  Fortunately, Andrea’s asleep next to me.  Karen would have laughed, and probably Ryan but that’s about it.  I bet they laugh if they read this.  As I think about it, I’d wager money on an LOL out of each of them. Enough about my killer sense of humor, back to the story.  Regardless, our hearts broke for Sharon.  Truly.  She took it in stride, and we were grateful for Nasinkoi's reaction and subsequent behavior because it enabled us to find laughter in a very uncomfortable situation.  I know that the first thing Andrea's going to ask in the morning is, "Can we go check on Sharon?  I want to make sure she's okay."  I really hope she is.  Being sick is no fun, but being sick in a strange place can be daunting.  I know that someone will stay behind with her if she's not up to traveling in the morning.  Andrea will probably be at the head of that line.
This next paragraph may want to be passed over by the faint of heart.  Sitting in front of Sharon’s now empty chair was the food that she never really touched.  Her chicken, vegetables and French fries were all intact on the plate… there was also a pool of vomit that was placed like some one added it with a squirt bottle. I know it sounds gross, but it’s the truth.  The only thing that made it even more funny was what happened next.  Karen commented that if this happened in the states, the staff would have said, “You’re on your own and the patrons would leave immediately.” Richard’s response was, “Oh, no, it’s just a normal thing here.”  He then asked a waiter to back up the contents of the plate so she could take it back to her room in case she got hungry later.  I shit you not.  I’m laughing again as I type this.  The fact that the stupid bag is sitting on the dresser in plain sight just beyond my computer screen as I type makes me smile even more.  
When we came back to our rooms and talked about it with Ryan while Sue and Isaac checked in on Sharon and got Nasinkoi situated, Ryan made a similar comment about Nasinkoi’s focus.” He said it this way.  “She turned her head to look at Sharon like, “What the fu***? (insert pregnant pause) Wow, this is good chicken.”  If there was a thought bubble above her head, I bet that would be the contents.  I don’t know how to convey how nonchalant the comment would have been.  That just made us start to laugh all over again.  I was actually standing there with the bag in my hand.  Again, it just made it funnier.  As his mom came back I said, “Sue, would you like this?”  She said, “What is it?”  I said, “Sharon’s leftovers.”  Her reaction was priceless.  It was as funny as a half-hearted dry heave could be.  Yes, it was pretty funny.
Enough of the gross/funny stuff… although I’d be happy to give you more details if you see me. Everyone’s probably asleep except for me, and I plan on joining them as soon as I post this.  Although now that I think about it.  I may post yesterday’s blog now, then post today’s first thing tomorrow morning.  Otherwise, you get two days at once and that might be overload.  I don’t want to scare away my reader.  I’ll throw in some pictures tomorrow and get it posted.  If I go to sleep now, I can get 6 hours before the day starts anew.  We’re heading out on a safari near the lake at 6am before returning for breakfast then heading for Narok.  See you tomorrow!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Friday-Saturday, February 15-16, 2019

I’m sitting on a plane en route to Nairobi.  Andrea’s to my right, and Karen’s asleep in a single seat across the aisle.  While Andrea only got a couple hours in, Karen continues to be out cold.  We’re approaching the 3-½ hour mark.  Good for her. I was falling asleep in my seat while waiting for the flight attendants to bring lunch.  Andrea woke up as I finished, and now I’m wide-awake.  We don’t land for another 4 hours, so Karen might be up all night… nah… she enjoys sleeping too much.  
We’ve hit a couple patches of turbulence that caused some glasses to spill, but they were both brief. Sue and her son Ryan have joined us on this trip, and they’re several rows behind us.  Like Karen, Ryan’s a teacher, although his specialty is art while Karen’s is 3rdGrade.  They travelled with us 7 years ago and took this opportunity to return. We’ve already had some laughs at both Rochester and Schiphol airports, so we sure to be laughing every day. Ryan’s a hoot-and-a-half.  No great stories so far, other than the “signature drink” on Delta is much better than it’s counterpart on KLM.  I like me some gin, and although that was the primary ingredient in both, Delta won that jump ball easily.  Bombay Sapphire, apple-cranberry juice and a splash of ginger ale versus something called “The Flying Dutchman” – Damrak gin, Bols blackberry liqueur, fresh lemon and sugar syrup.  It tasted like they may have run it through the Flying Dutchman before they served it to me.   Good news… you can get it mailed to you premixed.  Hooray.  The meals on both flights were really good.  I ordered food for the ladies so they could get it when they were ready. Karen’s still not ready.
My left leg is starting to cramp up a bit, so I’m going to walk around a little bit.  I’ll try to add some more when we get to Karen (the town, not the daughter).  The three of us are traveling with a total of 9 bags and although I have an email from Isaac that contains a letter from Chief Kasoy stating that 6 of those bags are humanitarian donations, I wasn’t able to print it out between flights. Hopefully they’ll take an iPhone image, hopefully I’ll be on top of my game, and hopefully the customs agent will be a Luo.  Not too many white guys speak luo, so that usually falls in my favor.  Either way, I sense another jump ball coming up. You’ll find out if I got jumped high enough ex post facto.  I’ll try not to leave my feet too soon.
We got off the plane and waited for Sue and Ryan to join us.  I grabbed the first airport agent I saw to inquire about Ryan’s visa. Although he applied online weeks ago, his approval never came through.  We got lucky. This guy was the same one running the office he pointed us towards.  10 minutes later, Ryan emerged with his visa.  Beautiful. I started walking with everyone behind me, and got into a line that most foreign passport holders don’t enter. It’s a somewhat unspoken rule about the COMESA line, and let’s leave it that way.  Everyone else form the plane had already gotten into line, so it was VERY long.  We ducked into the COMESA line.  I was the fourth person in line.  If this is any indication, it’s going to be a great trip.  Now, onto baggage claim.
I think they Sue’s suitcase was literally the last bag off the plane.  I was hoping that we’d get the bags on carts and toward customs before the majority of people.  There was only one person checking “incoming goods” so it’s always nice to get there just ahead of the mad rush.  IF it’s one thing these feux police hate its attention.  When we come through with bags, it causes a log jam which results in heavy sighs, and clucks from everyone behind us as they collect into the wider end of the funnel we’re causing.  In the past, that’s worked great; they would rather wave us through that put up with the consternation of 300 people behind us.  This time, however, we when we got to customs, there was no line, and nobody behind us.  
Sidebar.  Something I have noticed when talking with old friends is that most of my experiences are related to music.  That was poorly phrased; let me try that again.  My memory seems to be more vivid when recalling events where music was present.  That’s better.  My friend Jim, on the other hand, associates much better with sports.  He can tell you everything; what the weather was like, whom he was with, what happened at the game, most of the plays… and even what he was wearing.  I work backwards.  If I’m asked about something, I immediately thing about the music in the background and build the picture from there.  My musical tastes are quite broad, and I’ll blame that on my older brother.  We have three sisters between us, and he exposed me to music that was popular well before I was born, and those artists are some of my favorite.  Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Band… the list goes on and on.  Although he also played a lot of jazz, some of his favorites never took root.  I will never understand Miles Davis.  That’s not good or bad, It’s just the way it is. So be it.  My brother would reciprocate by drawing a line in the sand over 80’s music.  Sorry, I love it and I’m not afraid to say it.  Okay, this was the back-story for the next part of the blog.  I remember listening to the album Shakedown Street by the Grateful Dead over and over again.  I would later learn that their music spanned generations, but when I was a kid, I was captivated with that album.  Sorry, I’m starting to digress again.  Shakedown Street.  That’s where I found myself last night.
We entered customs and the agents watched wide-eyed as we approached.  3 white people with 9 bags- close to 700lbs of items.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  The agent came over, but I was prepared for her.  At this point, if agreeable, you can begin to dicker with them.  You have to size them up quickly.  Do they smile?  Do they maintain eye contact?  Does their tone vary as they speak?  Are they at all interested in what you have to say?  This time, I checked the “No” box on each.  Not good.  If I had an exemption letter form the Kenyan Treasurer it would be smooth sailing. That was another, “No.”  What I did have, though, was itemized sheets showing exactly what I was bringing.  I broke them down onto two sheets of paper.  One was “gifts” (that one always puts dollar sings in their eyes), and one was “Donations.”  Chief Kasura from Masai Mara had “stamped” the donations list – most of the items were being given to people in his jurisdiction.  The “stamp” is simple, but speaks volumes when in country.  It makes the document and it’s contents official and approved.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for this particular woman.  It was the equivalent of someone expecting to see Fleetwood Mac, but finding out it’s a cover band… made up of teenagers from next door. Ouch.
She sent me to her supervisor where I repeated my “soft shoe” routine.  She, too, was unimpressed.  I was heading for a 48% tax on all of it.  Again, Ouch.  She then sent me to the woman who collects the tax.  This would be may last chance.  Smile, YES.  Eye contact, YES.  Tonal changes, YES.  Interested, very YES!  I was at the tail end of a bad cop, bad cop, bad cop, good cop routine.   She was particularly interested in the pad project… until… “The internet seems to be down.”  Welcome to Shakedown Street… this time, though, there was plenty “shakin’ on Shakedown Street.”  “I won’t be able to give you a receipt.”  Bingo. I can work with this.  I got her laughing as I literally tightened my belt in front of her and starting complaining about my aching back.  A not so subtle hint to “no money for food or lodging.”  Again, smiles and laughter.  I’ll cut to the chase.  It started out as a 50,000ksh tax and I got it reduced to 10,000.  That’s $100USD.  I wasn’t thrilled with it, but it was better than what I was expecting, and it could have gotten worse.  Now it’s hakuna matata.
I left my passport with the first agent with enabled everyone else to leave with the bags and say hi to Isaac.  By the time I left, I thought everything would be loaded into the vehicles waiting outside.  I was wrong. Karen and Andrea came back to show me where the cars were, and when I passed through the sea of taxi drivers jockeying for position, I saw 1 car and a lot of bags on the asphalt.  The second car did finally show up, but an irate policeman was right behind him.  The next 40 minutes were bursts of short exchanges; none of which calmed the officer down.  The guy driving the car came in the wrong way, and the officer seized the opportunity. Shakedown Street.
This one was much less costly.  He actually got into the car with the driver and drove around the airport.  By the time they got back, the money had already exchanged hands.  Another 1,000ksh.  Ten bucks. Just get us to the hotel.
Everything was loaded and we laughed and reminisced with Isaac and our new friend Richard (driving). We made it to our rooms, but still wouldn’t fall asleep before 2am.  We woke up at 4.  I actually think Karen woke us up at 4.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.  Okay, backstory time.  Karen plays these weird ambient sounds to help her sleep.  She told us that it was a “fan sound,” but if it was it was from a 1950’s Humphrey Bogart movie.  Karen got a lot of sleep on the last leg, so when she woke up at 4, she was giddy.  We made the mistake of asking her what dying animal sound she was playing.  We then got a montage of the options at her disposal.  Desk fan, ceiling fan, affirmation (which sounded like Alexa telling you how great you are), water running, waterfalls, rapids, and it culminated with whale song.  She giggled after each one.  Finally, we said, “Play whatever you like, just turn the volume down.”  Humphrey Bogart returned, only softer.  
The only other issue was the light in the hallway.  I think we were the only ones in the building – Sue and Ryan were across the hall. There was only one other room on this floor and I was confident that it was unoccupied.  After our shenanigans (between arrival and the whale song) any occupant would have been happy to relocate.  The top half of the door was etched glass, and a transom above the door was glass, too.  Tis meant that the light from the hallway POURED into the room.  It was like daylight, too.  The majority of light bulbs in this country seem to be almost yellow and bathe everything they hit in this molasses hue.  We could have slept much easier with the molasses, but this was like taking a nap at noon under a bright sun.  I finally got up, went outside and shut it off.  There was another light outside our window that provided just enough light to allow me to return to bed without banging into walls. Once the sun goes down, you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  I tend to walk into walls in the daylight, so it can get rather tricky at night.
The next thing I know, Andrea was getting up to work out.  6am.  Yeah, that’s what I said.  I fell back to sleep until 7am when she returned.  Karen showered last night, so she got to stay in bed a bit longer. Andrea hopped in the shower, and chose to take a cold one.  Karen got shocked a few times and Andrea wanted no part of that.  She tried, but after one zap, the heater got turned off.
I, being a cagey veteran, turned it on.  Truth be told, I’ve taken enough cold showers in this country, that if I have an opportunity to use hot, I will.  I didn’t get shocked until I tried to turn the temperature down a bit.  They’re shocks came when they held the handle.  Either way, we were wearing sandals to ground us. Yes, it wasn’t much of a ground because we were standing in water, on tile.  As I type this, it clearly wasn’t one of my finer moments, but to be honest, the water was hot so I’m fine with it.
Breakfast consisted of hardboiled eggs, pan-fried chicken gizzards, sliced watermelon and tea.  The gizzards were awesome!  They remind me of my mother’s cooking.  I always remember her them in soup or cooked just like these were.  I was very excited to see them, and the flavor did not disappoint.  More memories washed over me.  I guess we can add “food” to my “memory reinforcer” repertoire. 
We divided the bags into two groups and sent all the donations/gifts to Narok while we took our luggage/backpacks with us to Nakuru.  We hopped in the vehicle with Richard still behind the wheel.  I’m typing as we drive, so I think I’ll stop now so I can take in the scenery.  It’s a route I’ve never taken and it’s an impressive view of the other side of the Rift Valley.  You’ll hear about it tomorrow. Peace out.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

I have to level with you all.  I was intending to write the blog when I was on the flight to Amsterdam. Instead, I’m typing it while in the Nairobi airport.  We took off on time at 11:59pm, but we landed at 1:30am.  No, you can’t fly to the Netherlands in 1.5 hours.  Shortly after we took off, as we were still climbing, I heard a horrible grinding noise.  Everyone had to hear it.  The plane shook, and although the sounded quieted, there ws still some residual humming. Soon thereafter, the captain came on to notify us that he had to shut down one of the engines.  “You may have noticed a loud grinding noise…” he began. He then said something that I don’t remember.  What I do remember is that he said, we’ll have to return to Nairobi but not for a little while.  We need to dump fuel.”  Interestingly enough, I wasn’t nervous at all, despite the plane shanking and rattling as we got rid of a full tank of gas.  When we landed, the guy behind me said that he happened to be staring out the window when it happened and he swears he saw a red light coming from the engine outside the window next to us.  Even that didn’t make me nervous, but you know what?  I’m nervous now.  I’ve been up for 24 hours and I’m getting the nods while I wait for my flight to Amsterdam. After several phone calls, I rebooked myself onto a flight at 8:05 this morning, and it wasn’t easy.  I just kept telling the person on the other end of the phone, “You’ve got to get me home tomorrow.”  If all goes according to plan, I’ll land in Rochester at 11pm tonight. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be sound asleep as soon as I sit down in the plane.    Let’s get back to the start of my day…
 I made it down to the lounge at 5:30am.  I left my camera on the desk, so I quickly pulled out the chip to load pictures from the previous day.  I loaded them while we ate (it was just the two of us), and managed to publish the prior day before departing for the elusive rhino.  The pancakes were real pancakes!  Well, actually they’re call “pan-drops.”  The Kenyan pancake is more like a crepe, but this pan-drop thing was definitely a USA pancake.  There was also a fried egg, accompanied by toast, bacon and passion fruit.  The passion fruit was entirely too tart, but I scooped the gooey stuff onto a spoon and into my mouth.  One was enough for me.  It had a weird consistency that reminded me of mucus.  If that’s not enough to prevent you from trying it, I don’t know what will.  Maybe you’ll like it?  Sure you will.
Isaac grabbed some thermoses of steamed milk and biscuits so we can have coffee on the mara, and placed them in the back of the land rover.  We were off!  Driving throught the conservancy is like having a game preserve all to yourself. Despite the drout, there was still some water left in the small lake, and the animals were coming from miles away. Antoni made a comment that the land is so dry, that when the wildebeest began their migration, they just walked across the mara river, because there was no water in it!  All we did was a driveby because we had to get to “the other side” if we had any chance of seeing a rhino.  In the same way the Luo have distances described as “just here” (“just hee-ya) and “Just there,” (“just they –ah), the masai have “just on the other side, and “just on this side.”  No matter how you slice, either one is a long way.
I’ve begun to have Isaac clarify any distances and times as Kenyan or American.  “It’s 15 minutes away.”
“Is that Kenyan time?”
“Yes…  30 minutes.”
We hadn’t seen the rhino yet, but we took a break to have some coffee. We once again found a tall tree with a large canopy.  You could see for miles from this vantage point.  Elan traveled in packs along the hillside. Zebra grazed in the valley below. Giraffes moved even more slowly at this distance, and they were tracking across the flats.  A pair of male impalas played, crashing their horns together. This place is amazing.
On the way to the rhino that we weren’t sure was there yet) we saw a family of lions; 3 lionesses and 9 cubs.  The sun was just rising over the horizon, and the and the rays were casting phenomenal shadows as the light highlighted the pale color of their fur. Fur… that reminds me.  Haret gave me a cow belt… made of cow.  Funny thing is, it doesn’t look like leather; it looks like cow. It’s pretty cool, actually.  
As we made a loop around them, we saw an animal I’ve never seen before. I hammerkop.  When you see it, you understand the name.  Its head is shaped like a hammer.  I didn’t go looking for any frogs, but we did cross paths with everyone from dinner.  They were in another Land Rover with their guide Abraham.   We told them about the lions we saw, and then about the hammerkop. We’ll be long gone by the time they return to camp, so unfortunately, we may never know if they saw it… or it’s prey.  We then found the Rhino, and it was spectacular!  These animals are quite hard to find.  They come down to the plane to graze at night, and later in the morning, they return to the hills.  Once there, you’ll never find them.  This one was solitary, and thankfully, not too shy.  The sun was rising behind him, so the lighting was perfect, too.  I could have watched him for hours, but we didn’t have that kind of time.  I said, “goodbye,” as Isaac raised his hand looking for a high-five.  He got one.
We stopped to see a cheetah on our way back to camp.  This one had a damaged eye, but was still beautiful. These guys are built for speed, and you can see why.  They are lean alert; constantly looking around, checking the air for scents. This one quickly darted to the other side of the bush to lay down in the shade.  We then headed back to Entumoto to grab breakfast before leaving.
It was the best breakfast I think I've ever had in this country.  It started with fruit and the main course was eggs, pancakes (the US kind, not a Kenyan crepe) called "pan-drops,"  bacon, (which was more like a slice of pork) and a tomato (again, thank you Great Britain).
We stopped at the Sekenani gate to see the warden, but he was not there. Instead, we contacted his second in command.  She was happy to meet with us at Sarova Camp where she was preparing for a presentation to the government.  We drove there immediately and sat down to chat.  Despite here stoick demeanor, she was quite interested in our desire to continue to help the community by expanding the man gate to accommodate vehicles. She asked us if we had any pictures of the maternity and the gate in question.  We supplied her with plenty.  She then informed us that she wanted to include them in her presentation to the government.  The topic was centered on ways for the game preserve to help the masai communities living in and around masai mara.  Timing is everything.  We said our goodbyes and continued on our journey.  As we left Masai Mara, we stopped in a small village to see Haret. He was in his shop working when we arrived.  He immediately stopped to come out and stay “hello.”  He was also kind enough to give us each a cold Fanta.  As we sat and waited for him to come back out, I felt a tap on my shoulder through the window.  I turned to see a smiling Chief Tira (the village elder).  He smiled wide as he said “hello” and “goodbye” mixed with a bunch of “thank yous.”  The last think he said was “Safari njema!”  Safe travels.  
Haret emerged once again and he too gave us big smiles before we left. He’s a good man, and a great builder. I couldn’t be happier with the maternity construction.  The process was seamless, deadlines were met, and the communication was great.  There wasn’t a hiccup anywhere in the process. What more could you ask for?
We then went to see one of the other builders that supplied us with an estimate for the classrooms.  His shop was a bit further out, and looked a bit more like a flea market, but he has a good reputation as a builder.  Based on the signage, things lying in front of the shop, he also changes tires and serves food.  Things that make you go hmmmm.
Now we’re off on our 2 hour drive to Narok. The first part is dusty, then it’s paved, then it’s dusty again.  While on that route, we pulled over in front of some kind of drilling station. I wasn’t sure why until another car joined us.  It was coming from the other direction, and once the dust in the wind settled, Isaac’s brothers emerged!  I hadn’t realized it, but they were communicating with Isaac to arrange this impromptu meeting.  It was a wonderful surprise, and an even more wonderful send off.  We soon returned to the car and continued our drive.  We finally returned to tarmac and our speed increased.  
When we arrived in Narok, Isaac dropped me at Naiva’s (market) with Veronica, Sharon, Nasinkoi and their mothers.  We had arranged the meeting to make sure that they got the funds for eye exams, and we wanted to make sure that they had the necessary supplies for the upcoming semester.  Before that, though, they had some presents for me.   A beautiful beaded masai belt, candleholders for Andrea, necklaces and bracelets for Anrdea and Karen, and even a bracelet for me.  This one was thicker and more pliable than I’m used to. It had my name spelled out on one side, but I could turn it inside out to hide it if I want.  Neat!  I gave Veronica the necessary funds to get eams and glasses for the two girls. Isaac and Veronica will take them to Nairobi for testing in the next two weeks.  Once done, we ventured into Naivas for supplies.  There was the usual things… toilet tissue, soap, toothpaste. Then there were some curveball like “pants.”  Girls this age don’t wear “pants,” they wear dresses, so “pants,”  yup, you guessed it.  Underwear.  The more interesting one was, “boob-holders.”  No explanation necessary.
Forty dollars later, each mother had peace of mind that the daughters had what they needed.  When told them to pick out some chocolate, they even got one for me!  We left the market and were talking when Nasinkoi cam up next to me.  She is sometimes more expressive than Sharon, but not usually.  This time, however, she was.  She quietly cam up on my right side and took my hand.  Like our children would when they were young.  Partly to let you know they were there, and partly for the security.  I looked own at her and stroked the top of her head.  She nuzzled her head into my chest, smiling.  It was a sweet memory that I will cherish from this trip. Palpable caring.  These sweet girls are special in many ways.
We went outside for a bit while waiting for Isaac to return.  He pulled in and said he couldn’t find me. There must have been another 6’6” white guy on the other side of the lot… Left and right don’t mean as much when you’re not pointing at the same time the instruction is given.  One more set of “goodbyes” and we hopped in his car and drove off.
Now the biggest hurdle for us was the climb along the Rift Valley. It turned out to be an even bigger hurdle than expected.  One lane in each direction, and it’s the only road that heads south… loaded with lorries of all shapes and sizes.  Matatus, personal vehicles, commercial ones… it’s a mess.  The sun was dropping before we finished our ascent.  Eventually, though we did manage to make it over the crest. Going downhill was not that much faster. Instead of crawling up the hill with the engines straining, we were traveling down the hill with the brakes screaming.  It was dark by the time we got to Royale.  There was no time for a stop at Love Birds Curio where I was hoping to find something specific for some co-workers.  We had stopped at a couple before leaving Narok, but no luck.  I hopped in the shower to scrub off the dust while Isaac went to order dinner.  When I finally unpacked and repacked, I met him in the restaurant where we waited for another 30 minutes before the food arrived.  I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous.  We still laughed as we ate.  I was sure to pay Isaac for his time and automobile use, as well as giving him enough additional money to purchase 2 sewing machines for the Rescue Center.  Andrea has been wanting to do that for over a year, and I’m excited to let her know that they should be there within a week or two. Oh boy, it was almost 9:40pm when we left.  The plane leaves at 11:59pm and I wanted to be there by 9… I’ll have to settle for 10pm. We didn’t’ get there until closer to 10:15. Isaac walked me to the gate before we FaceTimed Andrea to let her know I arrived safely.  That’s the normal routine – I’m under Isaac’s care from the time I leave the airport until I return.  He’s done his part, the rest is up to me… and the pilot.
As I said before, we had an engine issue and returned to Nairobi.  No worries.  My midnight flight became an 8am flight, so I just stayed at the airport. I’ve been up for 26 hours at this point and everything was moving, whether it was stationary or not.  I was having trouble keeping my head upright. Literally.  I started typing while drinking coffee.  Not working.  Second cup, still not working.  I was only able to type a sentence before I could feel my eyes trailing off the screen and my head begin to fall forward.  I tried a smoothie this time, and although they brought me the wrong one, it did the trick.  I didn’t help me type anything more, but it did get me to my plane and in my seat.  I fell asleep quickly, and although it was fleeting (probably 2 hours), it was enough.  
From their on, things were thankfully uneventful.  I flew through JFK instead of Detroit, so I wasn’t able to check on the status of my missing iPad, so I’ll have to call them later to check in.  The immigration line was ridiculously long, but I got through in plenty of time to grab my bags, place them on the domestic belt for loading and head to my gate. Delta gave me a bump to first class, and I will be able to sleep like a baby.  Now I’m wishing I was in Detroit so I had an extra 30 minutes to sleep.
I’m home now, and it’s freezing.  There isn’t anyplace I’d rather be.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.  Let’s do it again in February.