We checked out of the Park Villa shortly after breakfast. Isaac called to let us know that Sharon was already on her way to the hospital in Nakuru to get her eyes checked and receive a new pair of glasses. Veronica and her mother left with her at 5:30am… that means that they should be back by nightfall and Sharon should be seeing things clearly for the first time. We are extremely excited to see her when we head back through Narok on our way to Nairobi. Today, it’s a 2-3 hour drive to Masai Mara after we quickly hit an ATM.
There was nothing quick about it. It turned out that the stop at the bank also included a stop at the market to pick up supplies for Entumoto Safari Camp. No worries, after some shopping we were on our way. The ride was picturesque for the first 45 minutes. The asphalt road was well maintained and smooth. We passed a giraffe about 20 minutes into the trip and I though Sam was going to come out of her skin. I was unable to get a photo of her expression, although it lasted about 20 seconds – mouth wide open and eyes popping out of her head. It was priceless. Unfortunately, after those 45 minutes, the smooth tarmac turned into dirt road. They’re trying to pave a new road into the mara, but they are very slow… I’ve been told for the last 7 years that this road was going to be paved. This is the first time I’ve seen them actually working on it. That means the next 2 hours are going to rattle our teeth and test our vertebrae.
Test them it did. If you’d like to have the experience, drive your car at about 45mph down a train track. The car rattles so hard it’s a wonder that pieces don’t start falling off. We snuck onto a section of new pavement, but that lasted for under 7 kilometers before we were back on dirt road. Oh, by the way, the rippled soil is also laced with football sized pieces of granite which makes you drive like you’re being shot at – serpentine!. It’s so bad, you’d think they didn’t want anyone to go to Masai Mara in the first place! We stopped again another 45 minutes later. David, Isaac’s brother was driving by and stopped to give us a proper greeting. Oh, I almost forgot, Onezmus was back! He’s going to drive us to the Mara then drop us off and Entumoto before turning around and heading back to Narok. He wants to have a more thorough repair of the cooling system in the car before we take it back on Sunday. He’ll be returning with the repaired vehicle on Sunday and we’ll probably drop him off in Narok as we come by. We’ll also be stopping to see Sharon and her new glasses! And now, back to our story.
So there we were, stopped in the middle of the dusty Mara Road talking with David. A young boy herding cows came by to see what the commotion was about (apparently we were a little too loud while greeting David). He stood about 20 feet from the car, just staring apprehensively. I would guess he was around 10 or 11, dressed in a thread bare t-shirt and dirty shorts. The shoes on his feet were sandals made from old car tires – a common “recycling” program here in Kenya. I approached him slowly and held out my hand while speaking Kiswahili. A small grin came across his face. Yes, a grin… not what most would expect from a 10 year old boy who’s in charge of 30 cows. I know, right? We actually chatted for a little while, and I eventually slipped him a 20ksh coin (usually referred to as “20 bob”) and he slid it into his pocket without any indication of doing so. It was almost like slight-of-hand. He then asked if I had a pen. Sure I do! I went back to the car to retrieve the pen that was at the bottom of my backpack. I’m sure he would have preferred a soccerball, all I had was a pen. I know he wanted a soccer ball because that’s what he asked for first. I couldn’t fulfill his first request, but that wasn’t the case with the second. I took a quick selfie with him, showed him the picture to make sure it met with his approval, then headed back to Isaac and his brother who will still talking with the girls.
I caught up with the conversation and we told him of our plans for the remaining time in Kenya. He hoped to meet us again when we drive through Narok on the way to Nairobi. It looks like that’s the third thing on the agenda. Leah and the kids, Sharon and her new glasses, and now, David.
The ride continued to be bumpy but I knew that we’d forget about it in it’s entirety as soon as we arrive at the preserve. I was right.
In the first 15 minutes of arriving at the conservancy, we saw zebras, Thompson Gazelles, giraffes, antelope, warthogs, water bucks and maribol (sp) storks and elans. Sam was on cloud nine. Sergio was excited, but Sam was over the moon. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and she wears it well. We emptied the land rover and entered the lounge are to have lunch. It was a wonderful departure from the previous4 days… we had pizza! Two ladies run the kitchen here at Entumoto, and they’re like unicorns - everybody thinks they’re great, but they’ve never seen one. Everyone cleared their plates before we headed to our respective “tents” to drop off our bags and get ready to head to the Rescue Center. We didn’t really drop off the bags, though. It was more like the Masai that work her dropped off our bags, and we were grateful because the family tent is pretty far away from the dining area and lounge… and it’s all uphill.
I’m not sure how, but by the time we were ready to leave, the plan turned into everyone (except Karen) walking up the mountain (don’t let anyone tell you it was just a hill) and down the other side to get to the Rescue Center. Isaac would drive, and meet us there with Karen. Who am I kidding? Of course it was Andrea’s idea… and up the mountain we went. What started out as a walk up a 136º incline rapidly turned into what seemed like a 120º mountainside. Yes, I’m still sticking with the mountain vs hill defense. James (Masaii #1) was in front of the group, keeping us save. His friend whose name I can’t remember (Masaii #2) was James was quite talkative and answered all our questions. There was only a brief spell where he was not in front. Andrea took over during the 120º section, and James was quick to hand over his spear so that she could take point. I was the guy in the back panting and sweating… in that order. It really was a neat experience, and the views were spectacular. We came down the other side on more gradual pace. Yeah, why did we seem to run up the hill and then stroll down it? We were about 10 minutes from the Rescue Center when Karen called me. “Where are you?” It was 3:45 and we were going to a 3:30 meeting. I was relieved when she said, “We just got here.” Karibu Kenya.
bringing up the rear.
bringing up the rear.
We finally met up with Isaac and Karen who were waiting outside the main office, usually occupied by James. Sure enough, out came James with a big smile and hearty handshake. Kenyan’s do this thing when they approach you to say, “Hello.” If they already know you, and are excited to see you, they hold their hand almost even with their head like there coming in for a “high five.” But no! They want you to slap hands with them but the cracking sound culminates with your thumbs wrapping around theirs and your fingers and hands falling naturally around their hand. The louder the sound, the more they like it. Sometimes it makes your palms throb, but these are the things you do when you’re in Kenya. Again, when you see what’s going on around you, you don’t think about the cold showers (yes, I know, I haven’t had one on this trip), bad roads and extreme heat. Instead, you think about people you’re serving and the lives you are forever changing by being here and working to help them meet their educational and health needs. Moreover, you’re simply showing them that you care.
We stopped into James’ office, which is very small but everyone squeezed in, including James and Masaii #2 (although they were forced to stand). We talked about the girls, the center itself, and schooling. Unlike at Masakonde, the fact that the students were on holiday worked in our favor. When we finally left and entered the great hall, all but 8 girls were there… that means we had approximately 60 in attendance. James said a few words before asking me to speak but before that, the girls wanted to sing for us. Their voices were beautiful and the sounds echoing off the walls and tin roof only accentuated the songs. When they finished, James spoke some more before asking me to come up and say a few words. He translated so that everyone was sure to understand what I said. I told them how beautiful they were and how much people cared about them and wanted them to succeed. All of it was met with cheers and applause. Next, I introduced Sam and Sergio. Sergio gave his wide smile while Sam was overcome with emotion. They were tears of joy, and nothing was going to hold them back. Almost immediately, two of the older occupants of the center came and sat on either side of Sam, supplying compassionate hugs and a shoulder for her to rest her head on. That almost got my waterworks going. I choked some back before my thoughts were overtaken by Karen voice as she helped hand out the games that we brought. Uno, Trouble and Sorry topped the list, but it was Bop-It that really got them fired up. Sergio held a wide smile the entire time. Isaac tried it a couple of times to show them how to play Bop-It before handing it over to them… they giggled into their hands as they watched each other play. It was beautiful.
Next came the dresses. It started out quite smoothly. Karen was handing out dresses one at a time, but things weren't moving quickly - we would be there for the next two days if we didn't pick up the pace. We sped things up and it may have seemed like a bit of a free-for-all, but it actually went pretty smoothly. We brought We distributed a lot of pillow-case dresses during our last trip, so this time the dresses were geared more towards the older girls… in this case, older means 10 years of age to 18. Karen and Andrea would each remove one dress at a time and James would call out to a girl that would fit in it. Again, it looked like chaos, but it was well organized. Everyone got something! Even the younger girls who got pillowcase dresses last time were given a t-shirt to wear under them. Each girl immediately changed into their new outfit. The drab concrete floor and dark walls were made brighter by 60 bright colored dresses and shirts! Everyone was smiling. Everyone! James then had everyone go outside so that we could take some pictures. I thought the colors looked bright inside, but when they were placed against a pale green backdrop, they popped up like Easter lilies. We took pictures of the entire group, then while the children continued to play in the courtyard, James called them over one color at a time. “Red!” he would shout and all the girls who’s t-shirts were red. Unfortunately, they stood behind a bush so you couldn’t see the bottom of the dress and how simplistically beautiful they were. A group of girls were stroking Karen’s long blonde hair on one side of the yard while another did the same with Sam. As you can imagine, long hair is rare, but long blonde hair is almost mythic. The same curiosity fell upon the hair on our arms… it made me glad that I wasn’t wearing shorts. I think it's important to give a special shout out to those ladies (our friends) back home without whom we would not have been as successful at the Rescue Center. Sue, Adelle, Peg - you know who you are and we can't thank you enough. You are changing lives. The smiles on these faces speak volumes.
Eventually, we had to leave. Although she walked out under her own power, you could almost sense that Sam was being dragged from these girls kicking and screaming. This is the most difficult place for Andrea to leave, too. She felt a connection here before we even visited for the first time, and this place will always occupy a special place in her heart. It was a spectacular day, just spectacular. What a powerful way to bring the day to a close. We continued to talk about our time at the center as we drove back to camp. The sun was going down, but our spirits stayed on a high.
It was dark when we got back to the conservancy entrance. It was another 15 minutes before we’d arrive at camp. Darkness had enveloped the Land Cruiser. The only light came from the headlights, and bright yellow eyes danced in the bushes as we drove. Occasionally, we come upon a heard gathered on the dirt/stone road. A group of Cape Buffalo really startled the group. By “group” I mean Sam. She let out a loud, high pitched, “Oh!” which startled everyone else. It resulted in giggles from everyone except the Buffalo. They just let out low groans as they got up and walked out of the light of the headlamps and back into the darkness.
We freshened up before gathering again for dinner. This time it was Tilapia and it was wonderful. Chakula ni kitamo. The food is delicious.
Ni me choka sana. I am very tired.
See you tomorrow.