Waking up at 4am was terrible. The balloon ride was awesome! We woke up early (thank you captain obvious) and as we walked to the land rover, we heard noise coming from the forest and our driver, Steven, jumped backward. The Masai walking with us did not. They are like firemen, they ran toward the 5 ton elephant that came through the trees. Two others stood guard next to Andrea and Karen. The elephant was about 40 feet away… I didn’t stick around to measure. The warriors “pushed” the elephant back and told us it was okay to drive on. We did.
Did I mention that the balloon ride was awesome? Well, it was. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Our pilot was French and joked with us the entire time. When I say “us,” I mean the 15 people in the basket. Yes, it was a big basket with 4 compartments each able to hold 4 people comfortably. We started with the basket on it’s side. We climbed in and sat down as if we were in a rocket ship about to take off. A generator then blew hot air into the balloon until it rose into the sky. Eventually, our heads rose from the grass and we were in a seated position waiting to ascend, and ascend we did. We never went as high as I thought. I don’t think we were ever more than 60’ off the ground. It gave us a great opportunity to see the migration. We saw a small fraction of the 1.5 million wildebeest and 500,000 zebra. The zebra would quietly munch on the high grass while the more numerous wildebeest grunted and mumbled. As the propane was opened and the flame burst high, the sound caused them all to scatter. I imagine their not used to noises coming from above them. If there are noises coming from above, they’re probably vultures, and by then it’s too late to be worried. When we landed, we got back into the vehicles that brought us in the morning. They then took us to breakfast - a feast set up in the middle of the Mara. It was breathtaking, and gave us a chance to chat with our fellow riders. After breakfast, we were then shuttled over to Isaac who was waiting patiently in his Land Rover.
Isaac is a wonderful guide. We laughed and joked as we drove throughout the reserve. We took some great pictures of the animals we saw. We stopped and had lunch under a shade tree. I packed a couple of bottles of my favorite hometown beers from Fairport Brewing; a Peter J IPA and Raider Red Ale. Isaac had them refrigerated the night before and brought them in a cooler for this special occasion. the next time I have one of these, I'll be back in Fairport at the brewpub with my friends John and Jim, telling stories and laughing at ourselves. We finished and returned to searching for animals. We saw the wildebeest crossing the Mara River into Tanzania, and although crocodiles were close, nobody got snatched. As Isaac was telling us how wildebeest are dumb animals, they were kind enough to show us how dumb. They crossed the river in a long line and climbed the bank on the opposite side. The animal leading the charge made a right turn and looped a round a patch of land and rand down the same embankment they just ran up. The turnaround was so quick that he was passing his friends traveling in the other direction. Apparently they're like lemmings. Ultimately, the majority of them ended up right where they started. We watched a croc slowly meander through the water toward the crossing animals. Although the zebras also migrate, they didn't join in this crossing. When asked why, Isaac simply said, "They ah smaht." True dat. Before long, we were taking pictures of Karen driving the Land Cruiser. The girl never drove a stick before but she can now; provided the driver seat’s on the right side, the gears are left handed, and your on a dirt road with nobody near you. I think we’re all safe. It was a great experience.
At the end of the day we returned to the Maternity Center where the Masai wanted to have a meeting with us. Construction continued after we left the day before, and they were already to the lintel. We took some pictures as we walked behind the clinic to the meeting place. We rounded the corner and Andrea gasped. “Beautiful!” she exclaimed. The small courtyard held chairs and benches to accommodate everyone. The majority of those in attendance were sitting on the benches already, and they were all Masai women dressed in their typically ornate fashion. Andrea was right, they were beautiful. The tribal elder arrived, followed by the area chief. The men were outnumbered, but that’s okay. This is about the ladies, after all.
Opening remarks were made by the chief, then Isaac spoke. The chief translated everything to English for us. Next was my turn. Although I had a similar meeting last year, there were many new faces in attendance so I started with the same story I told last year. The men her have absolutely nothing to do with childbirth. Nothing. They aren’t around until the baby is born (and cleaned up). They cringe and shake their head’s in disagreement when we talk about our participation in the states. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what I said. “I was in the room for the deliver, but I also cut the chord.” I’m not sure who was repulsed more, the men or the women. Many put their head in their hands and laughed. Others stayed transfixed on my words. “Maybe one day,” I said. The men shook their heads violently, and the women laughed. I went on to explain that we were just the faces of 1000s of people back in the US that support our endeavors. They cheered as the chief translated English to Ma’a. I closed by saying, “We will be back.” The village elder spoke next. He, much like the chief and Isaac thanked us profusely for the help. Andrea, although initially declining the opportunity to speak, changed her mind and stood before the group. She’s not comfortable in that kind of a setting. She thanked everyone for the warm welcome and the kindness they all showed us. She did great.
Next came the women’s turn to speak. The leader of the group was named Mama Helen. Our eyes met earlier and she smiled to say she remembered me. My eyes replied in the same fashion and we both laughed and clapped our hands together. She spoke eloquently, again thanking us for the help. Suprisingly, her comments included saying that, “one day, maybe men will join us in delivery.” The men were not so quick to shake their heads this time. They just stood quietly. Andrea, Karen and I cheered. Before she concluded, she called me up to present me with a Masai Club. This was a huge honor, but it was about to get better. Andrea and Karen were then asked to come forward, and they were presented with Masai necklaces. I actually watch two women make them behind the benches as the meeting was going on. She then gave us Masai names. I am now to be called Lemaiyan (meaning blessed). Karen is Namunyak (meaning “humble” and “last born”). They’ve been going through a long drought, and it rained when we arrived. As the meeting continued, the rain clouds were gathering again. The name they gave Andrea was Nalotuasha (meaning “bringer of the rain”). At 9pm we would learn that Nalotuasha has yet to have complete control over her powers, but we’ll get to that later. Everyone cheered and clapped before the chief made some closing remarks. Hugs, smiles and pictures ended the meeting. We jumped back into the vehicle and headed back to the camp. Again, we lost sight of the animals and talked only about the meeting with joy and love in our hearts.