"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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

02.25.2011 Final thoughts... after the traveling finally ended...

Well, we landed in Keekorok after a much smoother flight.  It didn't matter, though.  Although she waited until we got on the bus to take us to Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Karen still passed out.  It was a longer one, which obviously stresses us out more than the shorter ones.  She lay across the seat, with her head against Casey's hip.  Again, everyone was eager to help, but wait for us to ask for it.
It took a while for her to come to, but once she did, she was fine.
We made it to the airport in short time, and after we got all the bags inside, most of the group went next door for something to eat and drink, Tamye and Kevin stayed behind with the bags, and I went to Unit One to see if Kevin's bag was still there. 
I had a much easier time.  The Duty Officer was much nicer, and 10 minutes after talking to her, I was wheeling Kevin's suitcase to him.  He was excited to see it, but didn't show any interest in opening it.  He's a good kid. We continue to be amazed at how easy it was for him to deal with not having his clothes when he cam eto visit a third world country.  I'm not sure the rest of us would have faired as well.

Everyone came together at 9pm, and we got our tickets, went through immigration, and immediately headed for the Emirates Lounge.  Yikes, the one in Nairobi is different than the one in JFK... and the one in Dubais for that matter... we should have expected that, though. 

Karen set up a Facebook page for Rich while the boys slept on leather lounge chairs.  I tried to do more blogging - still unsuccessfully.  It seemed like forever before we finally boarded the plane.  The inside of the plane was nicer than the lounge was.  It was a quick 8 hours to Dubais, then another 14 back to JFK.  The plane ride lasted forever.  Everyone slept a little, but I wish I would have slept more.

We landed in JFK, and proceeded to the JetBlue counter for our flights home.  We checked our bags in and were all set.  Rich's family wasn't so lucky.  While Andrea waited with Jack (who was feelig nauseous), Rich, Tamye and Casey got worked over by the ticket agent.  They had a reservation, but they didn't have seats.  It took quite some time, but miraculously, seats appeared.  We headed for the terminal, grabbed a quick bite to eat, then went to our gate and waited.

We got on the plane a little later than scheduled, but we were happy to be on our way.  Or so we thought.  No sooner did the plane take off, but it turned around and landed right away.  I was asleep, but Andrea was among the many passengers that smelled something similar to an overheating curling iron.

As we landed, the runway was full of fire euqipment.  It was incredible to see, and somewhat unnerving to experience.  We sat on the plane for far too long before finally being told we could leave.  They said they were bringing another plane for us.  They did.  2 1/2 hours later.  We landed in Rochester at 1:30am, and didn't make it home until 2.  But we're all home, and we're all safe.

Being able to share in this trip with my family was just short of miraculous.  Although we weren't able to share this journey with Jim, he was with us every step of the way.  I'm glad that our friends felt him, too.  Although they didn't get the opportunity to shake his hand, they, too, met him in every child's smile and every adults hug. 

It's not easy to leave all that you know behind and travel to a 3rd world country, yet they all did it.  That may say something about me, but I think it says more about them.  My family and friends are what made this trip that much more special, and I can't thank them enough for being there with me through it all.

This journey continues...

Thursday, 24.02.2011 Last day

We left at 6:15… Father Ed was sleeping soundly, or at least that’s what we hoped. We went to his tent to check on him, but after several unanswered calls, we assumed he was still sleeping. Tamye wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to skip the game drive this morning, too.



We set out for the hippo pool, which Kevin wouldn’t have missed for the world. The hippo’s his favorite animal, and he was eager to see one up close. He saw a lot more than just one! As we journeyed out, we passed by hyenas and more buffalo. Elephants marched in the distance, and giraffes were picking leaves off of the tall trees. We drop past herds of gazelle and antelope, and finally arrived at the hippo pool.



As I said, he saw more than one. They were absolutely enormous. There were some baby calves and larger bulls. They didn’t look so big as when they were mostly submerged with just their eyes and ears showing, but on several occasions, they rose high out of the water, and you could see how immense these animals were. Kevin reveled in it. We stood on a fallen tree to get a better look at them. It was perched above what looked like a small beach that the hippos might come to and rest in the shade. Kevin asked Isaac what would happen if he jumped onto the beach. “In less than 2 minutes, you’d have hippos at your feet, and they would not be happy.” Kevin stayed on the log.

Other people joined us, and soon after, one of the individuals jumped onto the shore. Sure enough, next thing we knew, there were 3 hippos about 3’ from the water’s edge. It took a lot less than 2 minutes. Isaac quickly told him to get back up onto the log. He obliged, and after a few minutes, the hippos returned to the deeper water.

After lots of pictures, it was time to head back. As we passed by a small plant, Isaac said, “This is a morning glory.” Jim’s voice echoed in my head. When we would arrive at Mbaka Oromo, Jim’s first order of business would be to go to the 1st graders and sing “Good morning morning glory, chased by the dew. Good morning, morning glory. God morning, good morning to you!”

I silently sat in the jeep for the ride back.

We got back, and cleaned up. The plane from Keekorok wasn’t leaving until 4pm, so we had some time to kill. We gathered in a sitting area away from the restaurant that overlooked the pool area and the courtyard. There was a bar nearby that kept us all from getting thirsty. We sat and told stories about our favorite parts of the trip so far. Isaac joined us, and Andrea and I brought out the gifts we brought for him. He was happy for the fleece and the blanket. We also brought him one of my Building Futures Inc., golf shirts. We added gift, however. Andrea had given Jim a Building Futures embroidered jacket. It was a prized possession of his, and spoke about it often. It was among his things that we retrieved from the embassy. Isaac was the first guide to ever show Jim around Masai Mara. He was 5 years younger then, and a new guide. He had older brothers, Andrew and Daniel, who were much more seasoned, but Jim chose Isaac. He’s been choosing him ever since. Everyone he sent to the mara, he insisted that they use Isaac. Isaac had a special bond with Jim, as did all of us. He believed in Isaac, and Isaac knew it. He’s now very well known on the Mara, and knows all the trails like the back of his hand. Andrea and I decided to give Isaac Jim’s jacket. He stood up and put it on immediately. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Isaac said some words about Jim… how he was like a father to him. How he looked out for him. How we should keep him alive within all of us. The tears continued, despite his best efforts to the contrary.

Just then, something pretty amazing happened. Although we haven’t seen a bee since we’ve been here, a solitary bee joined our party, and landed on the lip of a soda bottle. Ed pointed it out, and I said, “Oh, that’s a honey bee.” Andrea simply said, “Jim.” I can’t tell you what I was feeling at the time… all I could think was “wow!” You see, Jim was also a beekeeper.

I knew he’s been with us through this entire trip, and if the morning glories weren’t enough, that bee was certainly was.

After some more stories about Jim, Isaac informed us that some friends here in Fairport were bringing him to the US for a visit in the summer. We were so excited to hear the news, that we almost came out of our seats.

Now we look forward to July to once again be reminded of our days at Masai Mara.

We left for Keekorok at 2:30, and looked for more animals as we drove. We had additional time at the landing strip to take some pictures with Isaac and Andrew. The plane arrived. We loaded the bags and headed back to Nairobi, waving to Isaac as the plane lifted into the sky.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wednesday, 22.02.2011 Masai Mara

We went out for an early game drive.  They had coffee and tea with small cakes to snack on before venturing out.  We weren't alone in thinking that it's good to get out early.  The restaurant didn't open for breakfast at 6:30, but we were leaving before then.  We drank what we could and departed.

It's cool in the morning, and most of us were in long pants with a jacket.  They didn't last long, because as the sun came up, the jackets came off.  We were returning before breakfast ended at 9:30, but our guide made the most of it.



We ate our fill at breakfast… made to order omelettes, cereals, fruit plates… it was all delicious. We talked earlier about going to a Masai village as opposed to going on a game drive, so Isaac and Daniel picked us up at 10:30 and drove us to a nearby village. The Masai are dressed in bright colors so that they can be seen from far away. It also does something for the livestock they keep, but I missed that part on this tour. Sorry. We watched the men performing a traditional dance done before hinting lion. Scared the crap out of Karen! They jump up and down grunting and leaning forward as they land. They moved closer and closer to Karen who slowly moved behind me. It didn’t help her though, as one of the tribe came closer and closer to her, finally finishing with a loud “hi!” at the end. Kevin, Jack and Casey then joined in, carrying a traditional Masai weapon. We then went inside the village to see the women dance, and Andrea, Tamye, Karen and Katie took part in that. They put beads on them as they continued to sing and dance.


The village itself is made up of two concentric circles made of long thick branches stacked on top of each other The outside circle protects the village from predators, and the inside circle pens the livestock at night. Their huts themselves are made of dung, and are built by the women. They’re pretty short, too, because my shoulders were level with most of the roofs. We stepped inside to take a look around, but it’s difficult to see in complete darkness, though it was broad daylight outside.

They showed us how they made fire using two sticks and some brush… pretty impressive actually. I think I’d have been impressed if I was ever a boy scout!

It was shortly after this that Karen pointed out that the men from the village were rather fond of Katie. I later found out that we could have got 10 cows for her. Isaac was kind enough to point out that her computer skills could bring it up to 13. Although tempting, we moved on into the village to barter with the craftsman that make all kinds of trinkets. Bracelets, necklaces, salad spoons, masks, animal carvings… it was very similar to the masai market we went to in Kisumu. Boy do these guys overcharge! They followed us everywhere collecting everything we showed any interest in, then tried to charge us a price for groups of pieces. This is where, once again, Jim’s spirit took over. You see, I’ve seen Jim work his magic with the people in the market in Kisumu, but have never really been as flamboyant about it as he was. He’d get people laughing, and large groups would surround him as he haggled over pennies. “It’s all part of the fun of it,” he would say to me. I could hear his voice in my head as I did the same.

The masai would write a price on their arm, and I would erase the last digit. They’d look at me as if I was nuts, then the haggling starts. I would say things like, “For that price, you can no longer be rafiki yangu (my friend)!” Crowds gathered, both from our group as well as from within the village. I didn’t realize until we were almost done that we were surrounded by about 30 people. That’s where the height comes in handy. I had an absolute ball, and the look on everyone’s faces reminded me of the look that must have been on my face as I watched Jim in action. It was awesome.

I thought another moment about the 13 cows, but Katie said, “I love the people, I love the area, but the dung huts… not happening.” We left with Katie, not the cows.

We got back to Sarova Mara, had lunch and relaxed before the last game drive of the day at 3:30. After that, we were going to have a bush dinner. They drive us out into the mara and serve us dinner. We didn’t know what we were in for, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.




The sun had gone down by the time we left for the bush dinner. We pulled up to a roaring fire in the middle of nowhere. You couldn’t see more than 30 feet in any direction with the exception of the tables set for our dinner. Lanterns hung on the poles that supported a hug canope that would keep the rain off. The rain never showed, but the winds certainly did. Thankfully they died down as the night progressed.

We stood around the fire for a bit, and talked to a masai warrior who told us what was happening. He had us say something in masai, but I can’t remember what it was. We later learned that it was, “come out.” After we shouted, about 15 warriors came running out of the darkenss yelling and screaming. They immediately began their “we’re hunting lions” dance. The warrior that scared Karen earlier in the day was there, and he smiled a brilliant white tooth filled grin as he came by her. She was once again hunddled behind me as they ran from the trees. Tamye was on the other side of me doing much the same. No sooner had they arrived, they disappeared into the dark. They were our protection for the evening. They would prevent any animals from wandering into the area where we sat. Thankfully, they succeeded.

The food and drink was delicious, but the conversation was even better. Isaac and Andrew joined us for dinner, which made it even more special. We told stories of our adventures thus far, and mixed in stories about Jim. It was another wonderful evening. I was sorry that Andrea and Kevin couldn’t be there, even though the wind would have made them both very cold. I always feel better when Andrea’s near, so I was excited when we finally headed back to Sarova. Kevin was feelling a little better, but was still not interested in eating. We filled them in on what happened at dinner, and they filled us in on their antics while we were gone. Apparently, the animals around the tent were pretty active, so they were happy to have us home, too.

Our last game drive is tomorrow morning. We decided to start early so that we could clean up before leaving the hotel.

Kevin was feeling worse and worse, and his stomach ache was joined by a migraine, so Andrea decided to stay back with him while we went to the bush dinner. She’s a good mom. Really. I’m a very lucky man.

Tuesday, 22.02.2011 in Masai Mara

We set out for Masai Mara at 7:30. We were supposed to leave at 6:30, but the car that was going to be transporting the luggage broke down. They, of course, didn’t tell us until 7:15. We still made the flight in plenty of time, and some of the luggage was strapped to the roof. Karibu Kenya.

 We made it to the Kisumu airport with plenty of time to spare, and landed in Nairobi uneventfully. I ran across to the international arrival gate to look for Kevin’s bag… no such luck. It was that the bag wasn’t there, rather, there was nobody around that showed any interest in helping me find it – except for the women at the information desk. I couldn’t even get to the baggage claim area. They kept saying, “Someone will be here to help you in 15 minutes… the man with the key to the lock on the cage isn’t here.” 45 minutes later, I joined everyone else on the bus. Frustrated, but excited about Masai Mara.

There’s another non-profit that runs a shuttle service to generate extra income. It's a bit pricey, but they're reliable and it's for a good cause.  What they'll do is, depending on your speciality, deliver you to a section of the country that needs your expertise.  Builder, doctor, surgeon, dentist... they'll take you where you're need most.  They're a pretty interesting group, and one of the founders will be pickinng us up when we retrun to Nairobi.  They brought a 24 seater bus to pick us up this time, so we had plenty of room. It’s a short 20 minute ride from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the much smaller Wilson Airport. That’s where the smaller puddle jumpers run to the Mara.  Before we left Nairobi, I tried to find Kevin's bag.  While the two women at the information desk were helpful, it ran out at that desk.  The unit manager didn't want to hear my story, and sent me running all over the airport in vain.  "Come back in 15 minutes, I'm sure they man with the key to the cage will be here then."  "It's probably just another 15 minutes..."

After 45 minutes, we left... still not knowing if the suitcase was even there.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later we arrived at Wilson Airport.  It was a pretty nice airport for its size, and certainly for Kenya. The bench seats were padded, and the restaurant upstairs had a good selection. TV’s were mounted on the walls in the corners, and we watched nervously as we heard about the earthquake in New Zealand. A primary school was visiting the airport while most of us were upstairs at the restaurant. Karen remained downstairs, and we watched the children marching outside, passing by the window that Karen obviously sat in front of… waves hello and broad smiles adorned most of the faces as they passed by. We were sure Karen’s face was pushed against the glass as they walked by. We laughed as one of us mentioned a zoo analogy. They walked by Karen as if she were behind a glass enclosure – everyone got a chuckle out of that.

The plane arrived, and it was small; able to hold 16 passengers. We got buckled in, and waited for the flight to begin. Loud engines, coupled with a bumpy ride down the driveway kept anxiety pretty high. We forgot about that nervousness as we climbed. The plane got tossed around in the wind as if it was a feather in a hurricane. We swayed side to side and intermittently dropped 10’. It was like being in a rollercoaster, but not being able to see the track.  Kevin was not happy.

We tried to keep ourselves occupied by watching the ground and looking for animals as we flew over the Rift Valley. We saw some, but not enough to draw our attention from the planes jarring movements. We landed on a dirt strip at Keekorok. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was going to save us from driving 8 hours from Nairobi. Karen was the one Andrea and I were most worried about, and our fears were realized as she lost consciousness as she stepped out of the plane. A small steel set of 4 stairs separated the airplane from the earth, but Karen only made it to the first. Andrea was glad I got off first, because I caught her as she fell forward. Isaac and his brother Andrew came running from their Jeeps to help. We laid Karen in the closest shade we could find, and just waited for her to come back to us. In retrospect, it’s important to note that Rich, Tamye, Casey and Jack took all of it in stride. I don’t know that I realized it at the time, but it was if they trusted everything that we were doing to take care of Karen. She would pass out a couple more times before we get home, and each time, it was as if they have been with us every step of the way. That’s comforting, and it’s special… and it should be noted.

We all climbed into the jeeps after Karen gave us the “ok.” I don’t think we were driving for 5 minutes before animals started to appear. Thomson gazelles, topi, warthogs, impala, elephants… they were all beautiful, and everyone loved them. The landscape was breathtaking, and Sarova Mara was georgeous.


The family tents were just as advertised... one bedroom had a king size bed in it, and the other had 3 twins.  They were connected via a large common room with couches and tables.  The back of the accomodations consisted of 4 sliding glass doors that overlooked a thick forest.

We dropped off our things, and immediately went out on a game drive.  Awesome.  The kids all climbed in a jeep with Isaac, and the adults went with his brother Andrew.  It was the perfect opener.  Everyone was excited, and took tons of pictures... eventually, we'll get them all together.  I rarely come home with pictuers of me here, and I'm also looking forward to seeing what other people see.

We got back for dinner at 6:30.  Buffet style, with something for everyone.  REAL salads, too!  Lettuce and everything!  I know that may sound pathetic, but there are things that you miss while you're gone, and salads was one of them.  While traditional Kenyan food was there, they had half-a-dozen types of bread/rolls to choose from, and on top of the 3 entree stations, there was a 4th and 5th that prepared dishes for you based on the ingredients they had at the time.  Tonight they had a pasta bar with a vodka sauce and a standard tomato... vegetable would get mixed in based on your preference, and bam!  You're eating to your hearts content.  The only thing not included in the meals were drinks, but $10 USD goes a looooong way here.  I dont' believe that beers and sodas for the group every got over $30 (and there were 10 of us),

Once full, we all retreated to our tents.  Not a mosquito in sight.  There were these little things in the trees that looked like furry armadillos with no tails, but they were harmless.  Andrew told us their name, but I can't recall it right now.  Dik diks also wandered around the property.  They look like very small, but stocky, fawns with large eyes.  They were pretty skittish, and didn't really bother anyone.  We saw one monkey as we walked to our room (and ours was the furthest away).  It stopped and stood up looking at us.  It looked to be about 4 1/2 feet tall standing there, and apparently didn't find u svery interesting, because he got back down on all fours and scurried into the woods.  We never saw him again.
Soft beds, and soft pillows... most slept soundly.  Well, I slept soundly.  Kevin's stomach started bothering him - not sure if it was the fish head he ate yesterday or the flight.  Probably the fish head.  Fortunately, each of our tents had it's own bathroom.  Animal noises kept Rich up, as he would periodically run to the screen with his flashlight looking to see what marsupial was trying to break into the room.  Much like Kevin, Rich's stomach issues would arrive soon.  It's a tough way to form a bond, but they laughed about it a lot, and took it all in stride.

Tomorrow we go on another game drive, then it's off to visit the Masai in their village.  Should be cool!