Vacation with zebras

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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Amboseli NP
August 13th 2009
Published: August 13th 2009
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Today we let Okundis house outside of Homa Bay. Everyone was so joyous, taking pictures and handing out gifts (lots of Obama buttons and stickers) but the day of course was tinged with the sadness of leaving. I was still not feeling well so I wasn’t as merry as the rest but it was still just as hard to leave everyone. Zilpah and all the children kept asking when I was coming back, which I’ve learned to respond “I hope to come back one day God willing” because they understand more that I really don’t have huge control over when I come back. I would be back next summer if I could but there are more issues to returning than they can imagine, especially because the children think of mzungus as all being very wealthy and don’t understand why we can’t come back.

Finally setting out after the morning of goodbyes, we rode in the Ombogo girls’ school bus to Kisumu where we needed to get some supplies and drop Itanal and Elan off. We didn’t make big to dos on these goodbyes as Itanal is pretty sensitive and because we all knew how sad it is to say goodbye so we didn’t need to express it. We headed onward to Rabour Village, a village in beautiful northern Kenya where I was supposed to spend my last three weeks after everyone had left. I love the area of Rabour, minus the roads. The dirt is a beautiful deep orange/brown color and everywhere it’s green! The temperature is also probably about 10 degrees colder than Homa Bay area which was a nice break. We were going to Rabour for two reasons. Tim is friends with people there as Slum Doctor has another program there. We went to see his friends, the area and the project.

A school was started in Rabour for preschoolers (I don’t know if it was by SDP or by whom) but the teachers realized the students never were paying attention, not retaining any information and overall it wasn’t quite working. They soon realized the students weren’t getting enough food at home so SDP has started a feeding program where the children receive 2 meals a day and 2 snacks. From my impression, for some children these are the only meals they may receive in the day. We arrived by the bus and I just have no clue how we fit. The roads are the worst roads I’ve encountered thus far and apparently almost impassible when the rains come. With the mini ravines and crevices to each side of a large schoolbus, sometimes even in the middle of the road, I am so thankful Kenyan drivers can make anything work.

We visited the school shortly after arriving just as the kids were getting out. We were taken to the three classrooms as there are three sections of children broken into age groups. Each group sang us a little song except for the littlest ones as they were having nap time. We walked into the room and couldn’t see the children but just this pile of shoes. Some shoes were neatly lined up but others were kicked off with such excitement at the prospect of nap time. Then we walked in and saw all the little cuties spooning out across mats. One of the cutest things I’ve seen thus far.

At Rabour we were also meeting a professor from the states who is originally from Kisumu but teaches in the states somewhere (I forget the school and her name so please forgive me for the lack of details). She is currently taking her sabbatical in Kenya to study violence in the lives of Kenyan children. Working primarily in Kisumu, she’s looking at a 10 mile radius of schools from the post-election violence of 2008. She’s learned about a lot more than just the post-election violence and has been the first source that many children have chosen to share with. She speaks five languages and asked some really provoking questions about what do you do when it seems like everyone has an ulterior motive here and how can you help but let people be self-reliable as well.

She only stayed for a bit because it looked as if rain was coming and she knew she’d get stuck if that was the case. After she left we just kind of hung around and played with these adorable 2 week old kittens. I have a strict no petting any animal, whether cow, goat, dog, cat, anything, when in Kenya but I broke it for those cute little kitties. However I soon realized that even at 2 weeks they can have fleas so I promptly put them down (I was holding all three) and sprayed my entire body with insecticide. Around this point I started feeling really chilly so I climbed into bed for awhile. When I didn’t feel hungry at dinnertime, the 4th or 5th meal this occurred at, I decided to take my temperature which was almost 101.

We decided it was bedrest for me so I went back to bed where Heather read us a bedtime story from the book she was reading, Stiff. Stiff is about all the things cadavers are used for, each chapter being dedicated to a specific issue. This one happened to be facelifts and it was grotesque but captivating and a perfect ending to a strange day.


As bed rest was the order, I hung out in bed for most of the day. Sadly I didn’t get to see the children again but I didn’t want to risk getting them sick in any way. Kathryn and I went on a short walk around the village and it was so beautiful I just can’t get over it and I can’t wait to show pictures. The roads really are like badly groomed hiking trails throughout the village, about the width of two people and have the ability to entrap an ankle in the many cracks and not let go.

We left for the airport at 2:30 where we took an insane car ride for the final time through the roads. At the airport we were the first ones there and so we went outside and “took” some food as they say here. They had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu which is the perfect sick food. However, (I feel like there’s always a however) it was cold and weird cheese and possibly made me sicker. The plane ride was something else. The turbulence really got to me but I just put on my ipod and went into another state of mind, physically blocking out the illness I felt. When we landed, Kathryn and I were dancing to “I don’t feel like dancing” by the Scissor Sisters. It amazes me how music can turn a moment around.

We landed in Nairobi safely, with no airsickness and went to an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was really good but the whole group was pretty tired and I wasn’t feeling well so the meal lacked our normal energy.


Thursday morning we left bright and early for Merrueshi, a village of the Maasai people. The Maasai are a nomadic tribe that is a pastoral people. They still tend cattle, taking them wherever there is food and water. Because of the drought this year, many of the Maasai have had to go all the way to Mobasa on the coast to find enough food and water. Identified by their wooden clubs and red cloth attire and beaded jewelry, the Maasai are throughout Kenya and still adhere to their traditions pretty vehemently. Before we left we had met with Kakuta, a man from Merrueshi who spent six months in Seattle and six in Kenya. He started/works at an NGO that has done many community development projects for the Maasai including a clinic, primary and secondary school. We planned to stay at Simba Camp, an ecotourist site that is in Merrueshi and staffed by the Maasai people. About 5-6 groups of people are allowed to stay there every year so we are very lucky.

Willis drove us to Merrueshi and gave us fun facts along the way. For most of the way I just listened to my ipod and watched the landscape which was a good break from all the craziness. We stopped at a nice shop, our first real tourist shop, where I bought a beautiful painting on cloth of women dancing which reminded me of the girls at Ombogo. When we left we started on the Great Road, the road in Kenya known for large transmission of HIV/AIDS between prostitutes and drivers.

When we arrived at Merrueshi we were greeted by many Maasai warriors, women that work at the camp and Samuel, the man that runs the camp. Being a Maasai warrior is a stage of life that traditionally I believe all men go through. Men go through these stages in age groups which really ranges because nobody knows exactly when they were born. Most people we talked to actually don’t know their age in terms of dates but instead might be told “You were born the year the cow died”. Marking lives by events instead of dates is an interesting concept.

Samuel introduced us to a little bit about Maasai culture and then we were allowed to hang out for a little while before we went to Kakuta’s mothers house for tea. Tom, a Maasai warrior who schools in Nairobi, returned to be one of our guides and is Kakuta’s step brother. He talked to us about the construction of homes which are so durable! The doorframes are meant for someone 4ft tall and although they seem small, have beds that can fit 7 Maasai warriors There were three beds in the hut, one for the wife and children, one for the husband and one for recovery from illness or circumcision. Men and women are circumcised in the Maasai culture at maturity, they approximated around 13-15 for girls and 18 or so for men. It’s a very open topic to talk about here as it is a rites passage in life and something celebrated, not shameful or something to be hidden.

At this tea time we learned how big of jokesters the Maasai are. They love to make jokes and pull your leg about things. When we were leaving they told us we had to direct our way back to the camp. As a directionally minded person I thought this would be a piece of cake but in that desert, I couldn’t tell right from left! It was very disconcerting as I’m used to being able to find my way almost anywhere. After the warriors laughed at us and took us back to the camp we had our first Edward meal. Edward is the camps chef recruited from Nairobi. He made the best food I’ve had in Kenya yet. I couldn’t eat a lot this night because I was still feeling sick but he made salad and soup, two of my favorite things while sick. Every night he would present the food to us, unveiling each lid meticulously and describing what lay within to the chorus of gasps from our group from the sheer anticipation of the meal.
Full and happy, we sat around the campfire and joked with the Maasai before retiring early for another filled day.


Friday morning we woke up at 6am to have tea and go on a nature walk lead by the Maasai warriors named Larpoppet, Moloki, Kwenya and Tom. The Maasai are not only cow herders but amazing trackers and have the best eyesight ever! Because of this, the nature walk was one of the most unique experiences of my life. We saw about 9 giraffes on the walk as well as monkeys and gazelles and birds and a porcupine den. I started to learn how to track but I’m really really bad at it. I can track birds but that’s about it. Whenever we’d get to a new track the warriors would ask us what we thought it was. Normally Tim would guess correctly and Kathryn was getting pretty good at tracking as well.

We went to a manmade watering hole that was dried as it isn’t the rainy season. The whole basin was cracked and you had to watch where you step because each individual block could move. Kathryn and I decided to have a race across them which was pretty fun, even thought I lost. Those blocks are really scary and wobbly! We returned for an amazing breakfast of sausage and eggs and bacon. It’s just like Edward could read my mind of what would be amazing.

Soon after we met with the Maasai women who showed us how they did their beading and allowed us to assist. They made beautifully beaded works of large necklaces to watch bands to sheaths to basically anything you can think of. They use leftover jar lids with the middle pushed out or other left over materials for the bases of the jewelry like bracelets. After they showed us how to bead we had the opportunity to purchase some of their works. At the bizarre we bought a lot of jewelry (probably too much!) and Doug even bought one of the traditional spears. I got to try my hand at bargaining and had to restrain from buying too much as I’ll be heading to India next and need to leave room in my suitcast.

In the afternoon we got to rest for a little bit but then we walked to the projects I mentioned early. We visited classrooms in the primary school and walked through the clinic and secondary school. Apparently the Nordstroms, as in the originators of the store, have come to this village and donated a lot as their names were on some of the buildings. It was great to see the projects and meet more people but we were also excited to return and relax for a little bit longer. That night we had singing time and a preview of the Maasai dancing. Their songs are beautiful harmonies with a lead singer from all the warriors and the dances include a lot of grunting and jumping which is really entertaining to watch. The grunting is near impossible for me to do although Douglas caught on pretty quickly. I’d equate it to beatboxing which seems to be easier for males to do.

After the adults went to bed, us “kids” hung out with the warriors until late leaving the compound trying to find zebras. The moment we walked outside we saw two giraffes just staring at us from across the dry riverbed located behind the camp near the actual town. There weren’t any zebras around but we weren’t being very sneaky so Kathryn, Tom, Douglas and I doubled back to try and see them. Unfortunately we scared them away from the watering hole but it was still a really fun adventure.


After our late night of zebra hunting we had to wake up obscenely early to go on safari. Leaving at 5am we went to Amboseli to go on safari. Safari actually just means a trip. So if you were going to Kenya from the US you could say I’m going on safari to Kenya. I haven’t heard that commonly used but I think it’s important to note that safari extends to more than just animal watching.

The morning was freezing cold and felt like a morning back in Bellingham. I was definitely not expecting that but I guess I don’t normally wake up at 5am so I don’t know the normal temperature then. A half hour into the ride we got a puncture but the driver, Douglas, and Tom fixed it really quickly. The highway that takes us down to Amboseli is a smooth sail but the actual road to the park is pretty horrendous in a much different way than Rabour. It’s all gravely and grated and gave us quite a scare a couple of times. Within the first two minutes of driving into the park we saw a mother elephant with her two little babies and a giraffe eating right next to the road. The day continued with many more animals including wild beasts, zebras, lions, monkeys, Thompsons/grand gazelle, crusted crane, hyenas, hippos, water buffalo, a million birds (my favorite is the weaver bird).

From 9-3 we actually hung out at a hotel by the pool because normally it’s too hot for the animals to be out. Let’s just say at 9 in the morning we were looking for saunas and hot tubs, two things not commonly found in Kenya and elicited strange looks from the staff when we asked the location of the sauna. We spent most of this day reading by the pool and trying to get into the cold water. It finally warmed up but the pool was still freezing in comparison to the lukewarm outside temperature. The food at the hotel wasn’t as good as I would’ve imagined for a 5 star resort but we were pretty spoiled by Edward so I suppose not much could compare.

We returned at 3 back to the bush as they call the wild here and saw more of the aquatic animals like water buffalos and hippos. It was a chill ending to a wonderful day and we returned to the camp exhausted. As our final night, the Maasai warriors prepared a performance for us. We weren’t able to tape it because it was so dark and there was no light but there was a lot of grunting and jumping and singing and walking around and moving in unison. They grabbed everyone and had us try to dance with them which was really enjoyable. After the structured performance a lot of us just hung out with the warriors and sang. They really wanted us to sing but singing is such a…personal/private/possibly embarrassing concept for Americans. I decided I needed to get over this weird phobia and I sang a couple songs with the help of Tim and Marie because I felt bad the warriors kept performing for us and we had nothing in return. I actually feel good at singing and dancing here because it seems like people really enjoy it so that’s been a exciting discovery.

We decided to go on another zebra hunt but we were a little more proactive this time. We sat in the shadow of a large water tank and turned on the water. Although at first I had to have the zebras pointed out (I swear, the Maasai have the best eyesight ever!!) soon more and more came out of the forest. It was hard to distinguish the stripes but you could see little blobs of white emerging. Every once in awhile the zebras would get a whiff of our scents and would trot away a little distance but because they couldn’t see us they would come back. In the end there were about 40-50 zebras there and it was one of the coolest experiences of my entire trip and a wonderful way to end our vacation with the Maasais.


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