Thursday, July 22, 2010

On the Mara - Jambo Bogani

Maasai Mara
Landed on the Mara

The Great Rift Valley

We landed in our Cessna on the grassy plains of the Mara. It was like a scene from Out of Africa. Children with wide grins and dogs suddenly appeared out of no where (or so it seemed), racing our plane as it taxied to a stop. It was our first welcome party and as I viewed the scene from the small portal window in the plane, I could feel my eyes filling.  The flight had debuted the majestic vistas of the Great Rift Valley, the mountain ranges and the lush green and gold patchwork of the farms and grazing lands below. I was running on emo-overload; Darcy was struggling not to toss her cookies!

We eagerly accepted the invitation to hike the 15 minutes from the airstrip to the Bogani cottages. I lingered back from the pack, casually snapping pictures as I walked, breathing deeply - filling my lungs with the freshness of the cool air, admiring every plant, tree and curiosity that I saw. I got a personal introduction to the thorny acacia tree while I wasn't looking.
We walked through the gates of Bogani with more than a little excitement tingling in our tummies. There was a collective feeling of anticipation building which deepened even further when we heart faint strains of what sounded like children singing. It got louder the closer we got, and when we rounded the corner, nothing could have prepared me for what we saw next, and the welcome that awaited us. The Bogani staff were lined up, swaying, singing their hearts out. More tears ...

I knew we were in for something extra special. We got introduced to the cottage that would be our home for the next five days. And now I will do the same for you ...

Our open air dining hall
The view from the dining hall.

Notes from my journal:
Surreal to be here. Everyone feels it. I have to pinch myself to assure that I am indeed in this majestic, magical country. I am more excited than ever for the rest of our journey to unfold. Our group is lively, from different occupations and walks of life, ages - with one thing in common: a desire to learn and understand the Kenyan way of life and the challenges this nation faces. We all want to give back in any way we can. The group is giving, unselfish and generous with one another. It is amazing to me that in a few short days they are feeling like old friends.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 1 - Ellies, Giraffes and Beads

To ease us into our new time zone and sooth the jet lag somewhat they had us spend a full day in the Nairobi area before we headed out to Bogani. This included visiting David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage - our first taste of the African wildlife up close and personal. Many of the ellies were orphaned as a result of poaching and the killing of their parents. The handlers bring the baby ellies out each day for an hour at 11 am so people can watch them feed and then romp and play. The infants love to wrestle with one another, piling into a muddle of reddish skin and dirt. It was mesmerizing to watch the personalities of these playful mini giants emerge so quickly before our eyes. Just when it wasn't surreal enough ... "cue giraffes"  two giraffes sauntered gracefully across the backdrop of the whole ellie scene. Pinch me.
We moved along to the Giraffe Centre which is dedicated to breeding and preserving the endangered Rothschild giraffe. You can feed the giraffes and if you are feeling a little lonely and don't mind a long tongue, you can even share a big wet kiss with a long necked beauty.

After lunch our final stop was a visit to the Kazuri Bead Factory. Kazuri means “small and beautiful” in Swahili and the factory produces hand made ceramic jewellery, beads and tableware. The neat thing about this place is that it started with two Kenyan women and grew to provide sustainable employment for many other single mothers who need regular employment. Kazuri has grown and prospered and now ships their handmade jewellery all over the world. The shop is an explosion of colour and textures and completely lures you in. I found myself loading my basket with a potpourri of shiny beads, necklaces and bracelets - gifts for the girls and women in my life back home. Because it was Sunday, the workers were off however the shop echoed with their vibration, laughter and the positive, handwritten posters taped to the walls told the rest of the story. This was a good place in which dignity resides - a workplace in which the women could access the health clinic; feel proud of their craftsmanship and entertain possibility.
Notes from my journal:
~ peaceful breakfast on the veranda at Karen Blixen, breathing in the freshness and peace
~ an embarassing encounter with the coffee press
~ getting a piece of branch from a local man to clean my teeth
~ scenic beauty of the National Reserve
~ Tuskers in the bar before dinner
~ dinner with candlelight and Celtic strings
~ stimulating conversation
~ tearful when asked about my personal highlight of the day ... dream come true
~ wishing I could share this with hubby
Next stop ... FTC Bogani camp on the Mara.

Let Me Introduce You

Our original group of 13 expanded to include some other smaller groups. We ranged in age from 14 to 60, and came from central and west coast areas of Canada, Phoenix, San Fransisco, and Texas. We started off strangers and within a day, were like a blended disfunctional family who took care of one another.

Let me make some introductions:

Lovely Lisa (Texas teacher) & Mama Megan (Phoenix). These beautiful ladies shared our Bogani cottage ... as the gigglers in the loft. Lisa was seeking reflection time for the next phase of her life. Megan and I shared something special and had more than being 50 in common.
The Canadian Teachers - Stephanie, Naomi & Susan. They journeyed to Kenya to help build and see first hand the school that their primary students had worked so hard to raise the funds for.
Travis the Single Guy & Rebecca the Sweet Single Teacher. Travis took alot of teasing as "the single guy" and was under close monitoring by Darcy as she studied for potential sparks. Think we found some?
West Coast Honey Mooners Drew & Kim. This dynamic duo plunged themselves into this experience in the name of their son who at age 8 worked for several years to help raise money for the school.

Sweet Janine  & Lively Laura ( Can Teacher). Janine was a loving soul who has dedicated herself to her personal convictions. Laura was our roommate at Bogani and we loved her perspectives on education and life.

Dr Jon & Janice (another Canadian teacher). This couple really grew on me. Jon was quiet and reflective and Janice was extremely inqusitive and expressive.
San Fran Teacher Tania, origninally from Mexico. Anything this tender hearted lady said sounded glorious; her soft accent was addictive.

The Family T - Denise, Adriana, Jeremy, Lorne. This family have travelled the world together and are the most interesting family I have met.

Robin and Gavin (Cameron's other mom and dad) were there to see their son in action!

More than once I caught Gavin's eyes brimming with pride and big wet ones as he watched his son interact with the children, and saw how they loved him back so freely.

Here is a shot of part of the group on the top of the Mountain of Strength - including Jackson, the Maasai Warrior who spent alot of time with us.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Landed in a Dream

When I was thinking of what to write first about our trip, the answer seems logical: start at the beginning. But honestly, I can't decide when the trip started. So our posts will not be linear, in a perfect straight timeline, but rather in clumps of memories and impressions, just as they materialized to us.

I suppose the magic started just outside the ladies' washroom in the Nairobi airport. A pretty woman with golden hair grabbed my arm and asked me if I was Lyn. My mind raced ... had I dropped my passport? I answered that yes I was, and her face burst into a sparkling smile. "I recognised you ... actually Darcy ... from your blog." Instantaneous warmth, familiarity and kinship. She introduced herself as Megan and the spark was set. We had our first friend! In the hours following the lengthy wait for a visa and then baggage Megan was assigned to the same bungalow as Darcy and I at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden Cottages. The universe made a perfect match. Later that night we met our roommate Lisa who would complete our quartet for our Nairobi stay.

Staying on the exact property that made up Karen Blixen's coffee plantation was surreal for me. Out of Africa is one of my favourite movies and I found myself walking around in a dream turned into reality. This  would the recurring theme of our trip ... walking in a dream.

Our first night in Africa - in Kenya - was a mardi gras to my senses. Everything was exciting - the authentically decorated cottage with the mosquito net and stone floors and shower; the screams, twerps and chirps of exotic birds unknown to me; thumps and pitter patters of the feet of little creatures on our roof and the surprisingly cool, fresh air that we inhaled deeply and exhaled reluctantly.

Megan, Darcy and I walked explored our little patch of luxury eagerly chorusing oohs and ahhhs and giggling like school girls (that would be Megs and I).
From my journal: Woke up early this morning to the sounds of birds whistling, a dog barking and the crowing of a rooster. Africa is amazing. She assaults your senses, crawls under your skin and holds you tightly in her grip.
The first day was spent getting acquainted with the other people who would become our far away family. Introductions to follow!

Breakfast on the verandah at Karen Blixen Coffee Garden.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Home Again

We're back! And as you can probably guess, we didn't have Internet access but for a few minutes (in which Darcy managed to fire off a bunch of emails and update all of her social media statuses). So we recorded our impressions and thoughts the old fashioned way - by writing in our journals every night.

We are back from the greatest, most moving experience of our lives. I expected to be astonished, enlightened and mesmerized but I did not expect to dampen the Kenyan soil with my tears; nor to have my heart squeezed and filled to overflowing with love. I did not expect to find people with such generosity and strength of spirit or to be welcomed  with soaring song and celebration. I did not expect to be greeted by each and every person I encountered with the sing song "Jam-bo" -- including Mamas bearing water jugs, men herding goats and donkeys and children perched on the roadside hills. It was like an ongoing chorus ...jambo (hi!) accompanied with the widest smiles and two handed waves.

So if you are interested, you can watch for more posts as Darcy and I untangle the thoughts, emotions, connections and activities that made our trip the monumental experience it was.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Packed Up

After months of anticipation, the trip is here - now - tomorrow. I was determined to have my bag packed when I went to sleep tonight, and I am relieved that it's done. My medium sized duffel ensured that I didn't overpack.  I am definitely forfeiting variety and style for comfort and practicality. As I stacked my tee shirts it occurred to me that everything was the same colour - and solid. Oh well ... everything will match??

It's cold on the Masai Mara this time of year so I had to pack warm clothes; the bulky polar fleece and sweat suit to sleep in took up alot of room in the bag. Still had lots of room for my toothbrush though!

I am taking my netbook and camera equipment in my carry-on along with a book and journal. I will record most of my musings in my journal, but the netbook will come in handy for blogging when I get Internet access.

So I got all of the stuff sprawled out on the bed (above), into the duffel and messenger bag. Mission accomplished!
Honestly, I don't know how I will sleep tonight - way too excited!

I provided a detailed list of everything I am bringing with me on the Packing List page of the blog.