Thursday, August 5, 2010

Community Welcome

Elenerai Primary School
We were an oddly pieced together group who seemed to have an easy bond. Conversation was bubbling constantly, enthusiasm overflowing like foam on a hastily poured beer. It was as though we needed one another for nothing else than to have assurances that we were indeed experiencing something special.

We loaded into the fleet of Land rovers and headed over to Elenerai Primary School to meet the community. We were reminded that we were considered to be guests by the local people and to conduct ourselves accordingly; refrain from randomly snapping pictures without first establishing a relationship or asking permission.

As we pulled up we were once again greeted with song. The children were clustered at the entrance and sang through their grins. Each one high-fived us or shook our hand as we passed, and asked us "What is your name?". We walked slowly, navigating the flood of children and the ocean of emotion that was welling, and the joy that was flowing abundantly.  Such open, genuine hospitality as I have ever known.

We sat under a canopy as the welcome continued in a somewhat more "formal" fashion. The whole community turned out - teachers, students, parents, elders and the Me to We youth groupfrom the Bogani tent camp who were there to school build. Each adult stood and introduced themselves, as did we. The children organized in front of us and performed a few songs, clapping and moving their bodies to the rhythm. Then the Mamas took over, singing and clapping as they made their way from the back to the front where we sat, motioning to join them, pulling us up to dance. We sat shyly at first and then one by one we just let go and went with it ... losing ourselves in the moment, in the celebration.
Cameron's dad was presented with a goat as a gift from the community and suddenly the little herd of goats that wandered the Bogani camp made sense.

Speeches were eloquently delivered, applause given, and gratitudes exchanged. The sense of community pride was palpable. One of the community elders thanked us for using our precious time to visit his country and to learn more about Kenya. He told us that although they appreciated the work we would do at the school, the real value in us being there was that we would become ambassadors of the Kenya we would soon discover; that we would take our stories and knowledge about their country home to our own countries. He stood tall and erect, his voice strong and words measured. After a pregnant pause and more applause everyone dispersed to play with the children.

Elenerai Primary School childrenWe asked each child their name ... and I was surprised at the number of biblical names. I met at least a dozen little girls named Naomi. They would ask us our names and then repeat them back to us like a chorus. You could tell they enjoyed the sound of some names more than others by their smiles and inflections. Names they liked would be hollered out in sing song voices ending with giggles. Others would simply be repeated in quick monotone response.
Elenerai Primary School children
Darcy's new friends showing her their new classroom.
The children were full of fun and wanted nothing from us other than a picture. They posed willingly, regrouping with different friends and then gathering eagerly around the camera to wait for their image to appear. Then they would ask, "Please - one more. Me only".

The whole time I tried to grasp what I was witnessing and the experience I was partaking in. The first day of our Bogani journey was a long one ... full and emotional. We ended the day with dinner in the dining porch. It was magical. The fires blazing in the fireplace and the chimineas that dotted the perimeter countered the chill of the fresh Mara air and coupled with the vast inky sky - created the perfect atmosphere to decompress. We nursed our wine and Tuskers as we chattered about our day and when it came time to honour the tradition of sharing our highlight of the day, my throat mysteriously tightened and all I could muster was "ditto" to the previous person's remarks. More tears. Honestly -- as someone who prides myself on my iron clad control and restraint, I was completely baffled by my teary responses - and the cause of them.

Darcy and I donned our headlamps (ha! and she laughed at me when I bought them) to journal as the electricity was only turned on for a few hours each evening and shut off around 10:30. This of course varied according to the World Cup game schedule. Our good intentions to journal were cut short ... the sum total of the day took its toll. We dropped our mosquito nets and snuggled our hot water bottles and succumbed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Our Fearless Leaders and Caregivers

Our first day at Bogani was a long one - long but satisfying. There was so much "new" to absorb, with little time to do it. After we settled into our new digs, rinsed the Mara dust from our faces and inhaled deeply we relaxed into a delicious lunch served al fresco under the canopy and Mara breezes of our dining porch.
Kim and Mary

Before we ate, Kim - one of our facilitators - introduced Mary, who introduced the meal. Through her wide, glistening smile she gave a run down of the delectables about to be served. This was a ritual that was repeated every meal. Isaiah was our waiter and he worked with Mary to pamper us, filling our glasses with fresh juice and our bowls with desserts and fruit salad. He was Maasai and had large holes in his ears with beaded jewelry in them. We were fascinated by them and he laughed when I told him that Darcy had tried to make bigger holes in her ears too. And then there was Flo - a fantastic, beautiful force of positivity who managed Bogani and took care of our every comfort. She shared so much of herself with us and was a big part of the reason we felt so welcomed and at home there.
Flo, Darcy and Mary

The facilitators were great; intelligent warm and accommodating. We started with Emily and Kim in Nairobi. We left Emily behind and met Michelle at Wilson airport for the flight to the Mara. Kim has been involved with Free the Children since she was twelve years old and is now an accomplished speaker and motivator. Michelle and her husband both work for Free the Children and are raising a son in Nairobi.

Michelle - photo courtesy of Robin Strachan
Cameron rounded out the facilitator team - the sole male amongst a pride of courageous lionesses. He was affectionately called Camaroon by everyone we met. Kim and Cameron were especially supportive of and encouraging to Darcy regarding her interest in international development. The staff worked nonstop and had a way of providing a cohesive foundation for the group.

I couldn't end this post without introducing the four Maasai warriors who accompanied us everywhere and shared their knowledge of the wildlife, plants and culture.
James, Darcy, Jackson, Lyn & Clinton


Now that everyone has been introduced, you can all come along for the rest of the journey - the next best thing to being there.