White Christmas

White Water Rafting on the White Nile

It’s December 24th.  We are in Jinja, Uganda.  I wake up earlier than intended and lie in bed unable to sleep.  Excitement runs through my veins.  I listen to music playing softly on my iPod as the sun begins to rise.  The others wake up.  We get changed and spend the next hour watching the Nile flow by reminiscing the evening before.  Dinner had been a sunset cruise on White Nile and its source, Lake Victoria.  Our boat had passed Livingstone’s monument, who discovered the source of the Nile, and one of Gandhi’s shrines, whose ashes were scattered here and across the world following his death in 1948.

It feels like forever before we are loaded into an open-sided truck and shipped off to get breakfast, complete with a life vest and bright coloured helmet.  The trailer, piled high with rafts, gets hooked up to our truck and off we go.  The paved roads become dirt, the smoothness gives way to potholes, and the dust becomes near unbearable.  I don the broken sunglasses one last time.  We are close, I can tell.

We are unloaded and the instructions begin.  I am excited and true to form, can’t stand still.  Our shoes are off and placed with a change of clothes in the truck, which will meet us at the end.  There is no turning back.  Whooohooo!!!

We are given a pep talk, which included tips: what to do when the raft flips; who to give the sunscreen to; check your life vests; practice flipping and getting back into the raft here in the calm water before reaching the rapids; you get more footage in the souvenir DVD if you are dramatic so flip your raft, fall out, lose your shorts.  My eyes widen.  I had woken in the night with the footage of the previous day’s group replaying in my mind.  The rapids are rushing in every direction as fast as I can image.  The rafters were tossed around like ragged-Anne dolls.  To my horror, my realization in middle of the night had been that my shorts might fall off.  Now, I tighten them as much as possible, uncomfortably aware that this makes them inches shorter.  We translate for Natalia and are loaded onto our raft.  I want the front but they say I am too small.  I sit where they put me, towards the mid-back, choosing to trust the professionals.

In a comical way, our guide informs us that today is his first day working these rapids.  We are not sure that we like the humour.  Then he tells us what to do if we fall out and into the rapids.  When he informs us there are kayakers out there who will save us we feel relieved.  This is better.  He and a kayaker show us how to hold onto the kayak when they rescue us.  They then teach us how to paddle and I become impatient.  I’m bursting at the seams with excitement but must remind myself that not everyone grows up with a canoe.  Learning to paddle may be important.

There is a girl in our raft who is terrified and cannot swim.  There is another girl who is still learning to swim.  The guide tells us there are two ways of doing the rapids: the harder or easier route.  My independent-fight-for-yourself side must speak up.  The hardest route of course!  We are here for Grade 5 rafting.  Let’s take on the challenge – no question!  That’s why we’re here.  Complete with a winning smile.  I catch the frightened girls’ eyes and feel sorry for her but I don’t want one person to hold back our Christmas trip.  I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a kid.  My friends and I had this trip planned for months. I think to myself ‘Send her to a different raft if need be.  I want the full experience.’  I feel somewhat heartless and am uncomfortable with it.  She asks if I’ve ever rafted before. Never.  I’ve always wanted to do it here.  I’m so excited!  She says I must be an adrenaline junkie.  I just smile.

In the calm water we flip the raft and must climb back in from the water. The guide gets back in.  So do two of us; the one guy on our raft, and myself.  We thought we were home-free but instead we earned the responsibility of pulling the other five people into the boat.  I realize this is much more difficult than it looks as my help in pulling the first person onto the raft results in their landing directly on top of me.  At least I didn’t fall out of the raft and into the water on the other side.

What seems like forever is finally over and we are off.  I’m so excited!  A small part of me freaks out, but it’s too late, we’re committed!  Whooohooo!!!

We make it down the first rapids, no problem and are shocked to see others lose a couple rafters.

We approach the second rapids.  The camera man watches from shore.  We are dared to stand and wave.  Three of us do, myself included. Back down in the raft as soon as possible, we survive the rapids.  These are warm up rapids.  Now we are ready for the big stuff.

The one nicknamed The Washer, for tearing away people’s clothing is before us.  We are the first raft to go.  My heart is racing.  We paddle, we paddle harder, we get down, all according to the guides instructions.  We remember him saying that if we flip, this time we must let go of the paddle and let go of the raft’s rope and assume the safety position.  Check.

We are down in the raft, holding on for dear life.  We are tossed up on the rapids and down again, up again, almost to the top but not quite.  We are sent backwards into another wave and are spun.  Before I know it, our raft is lifted high and we are flipped out of nowhere.

Water is everywhere.  With my arms and legs I reach.  For what, I’m not sure – something, anything.  There is nothing but water.  No raft, no people, no paddle.  In a split second my natural reaction to swim kicks in.  I realize that I don’t know which way is up while I become acutely aware that I’m running out of air.  I still myself and after a second, which felt like eternity (I was beginning to wonder where my body would turn up) when the life vest finally decides to serve its purpose and it pulls me upward.  I open my eyes and mouth just in time to close them again.  I am pummeled and tossed, while trying to stay in the safety position; my legs out before me, arms by my side.  My head is above water again and I breathe in the wave which comes from behind.  Thankfully it sends me to slightly calmer water and I am able to float visibly.  I open my eyes and am relieved to see a kayak rescuer in front of me.  Someone is at his front, I go to the back.  As he brings us to a safety boat I am coughing continuously.  He asks if I am okay.  I am fine, just full of the Nile.  I look to see who is at his front.  It is the frightened girl.  We are united in our first out-of-the-raft experience.  We loved it.  The sensation reminded me of surfing in Barbados, particularly beach that was notorious for pummeling surfers again and again.  Our guide comes to collect us and another girl who floated by.  We then paddle back upstream to collect the other 4 rafters from where they waited on shore.  They were rescued earlier, while I was still under water.  It had felt like forever.  It was probably only almost a minute.

There is a 45 minute stretch before the next rapids.  We share stories, sunscreen and swim in the Nile.  There are a series of rough rapids and we flip three more times.  We were a strong raft, not losing our rafters and not flipping often.  The four times we do flip are epic.

That night after listening to Christmas music and exchanging gifts, we meet up with the others.  As every other night, everyone staying at Jinja Backpackers’ Campsite, our accommodation, gathers to watch the footage of the day’s rafting.  When showing our first flip, The Washer, there was a unanimous gasp across the room.  Someone’s voice wavered, “Where are they?”  In the film, our raft eventually emerged upside down.  Only three or four red helmet heads pop up seconds later, further in the rapids.  The rest of us, myself included, are still being washed.

Adrenaline junkie?  Bien sûr!

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January 18th Already?

So I looked at the date and had to take a minute to write that I am arriving home in one month!!!  Yahoo!  I have mixed feelings and a couple ideas about what will happen next, but am glad to be returning for a bit.  There is nothing like coming home to family, friends, home cooked meals …access to a kitchen, my own bedroom, water coming out of the tap lights that work and when they are turned on… On top of all this, I really hope there is still some snow left for me!  Perhaps this is asking too much?

My Christmas and New Years blogs are just about finished.  I’m just waiting on photos to upload before I share them.  As we all know, photos tell stories of their own, and with these experiences, it’s only fair the writings are accompanied with the photos!

Work is crazy, deadlines are coming and on top of it all, it turns out I am head north tomorrow to visit some primary schools in Nyahururu and Ol Joro Orok.  Then I will have more experiences to share!

This weekend: take some time for myself, get those photos uploaded and catch up on this blog with a salted pretzel and mustard.  Sounds perfect!

Everything is Normal in Nairobi

Life has assumed itself a sense of normalcy here in Nairobi for most people.  A normalcy which was questioned by everyone when the security at work had heightened over the weekend and the latest security warnings had been sent out by the UN and western embassies.

The warnings explicitly state to avoid UN Avenue, the UN, western embassies (particularly the US embassy which is across from the UN) and Village Market (the nearest mall to the UN).  All of these are the key landmarks of Gigiri; the neighbourhood within which my life here exists.

I am not scared or nervous but think this is an interesting time to be here.  Will people operate with the same caution they did when the Al-Shabaab threats first came in autumn?  Or will people assume that the threats have resulted in nothing to Nairobi so far, and that nothing further will?  My observations: while security has gone up, individual awareness and security has not.  I would argue that this and street smarts – operating with extra caution – are definitely the characteristics to presently be acting upon.

However, that being said, some people are not surprised by anything.  I was told today by both security and investigation officers that “everything is normal in Nairobi”.  This means that the odd, unusual and somewhat creepy text messages and phone calls I’ve been receiving are normal.  That being accused of being the girlfriend to a man who already has a girlfriend, whom the man wants to marry, but who turns out to already be a husband to a wife who is in the hospital and just gave birth is normal.  That people find out Westerners’ numbers and try to entrap them in situations later used for blackmail is normal.  That winning the lottery and being dragged into a real Kenyan soap opera is normal.  It was just like one of their popular radio shows where they try to bust people who are cheating on their significant others.  Crazily these stories are common.  Yet, I still do not get it.  How did they get my number and who are they?

Acting on advice, tomorrow I will be purchasing a new sim card – definitely time for a new phone number!  Oddly enough, from what I’ve heard, I have been fortunate to make it 5 months with only an accommodation incidence.  If that’s true, here is to hoping my good luck continues!

Humanity Comes First

Elephant Orphanage: The David Sheldrick Wildlife

In early December I decided to go to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage.  This is within Nairobi National Park and is where infant elephants are taken and raised if they have been orphaned.  Elephant communities themselves do not stay in Nairobi National Park because the park is too small.  Elephants require lots of space.  Walking 100 miles a day is an average stroll for a herd of elephants.    According to the Trust, 30 years ago the number of elephants in Africa was 3 million.  Now, the number is less than 400,000 and is declining steadily.  This is because the space elephants require is no longer available due to the huge population explosion which resulted in elephants competing with humans for space.   Of course, being kept within the limits of a national park is not the best option, leaving elephants are dependent on unreliable rainfalls; however it remains the best alternative when the elephants are viewed as threats when they step outside the park.  If not seen as threatening, they are seen as valuable – not only for their ivory, but also for leather, curios, and meat.  There is much more information about this available at the Trust’s website: http://sheldrickwildlifetrust.org.  It also shares unfortunate details about elephants being poached and trafficked, particularly the infants.  It is incredibly sad.  The International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) also has some interesting information available.

It was at the Elephant Orphanage that I learned elephant orphaned younger than 3 years cannot survive without milk.  Usually the mother elephant’s milk supplements elephant infants’ vegetarian diets for the first 5 years of its life.  While elephants are known for being human-like and emotional, resulting in their strong nature to care for and protect each other, mothers are also aware that they cannot supply milk for an orphan infant without sacrificing the survival of her own.

The Trust developed a milk formula similar to the natural milk of elephant mothers, and has the elephant infants spend a large portion of their day in Nairobi National Park, encouraging them to thrive in their natural wild habitat.  This might seem contradictory considering that the elephant infants sleep in the same stall as their individual Keepers; however this is necessary for the elephant survive as elephants only thrive if they are happy.  They are inherently emotional and need to know that they are valued and in community.  They develop a bond, each with their own Keepers, and are reliant on their Keepers until their rehabilitation is complete.  The orphans grow up with each other as family until they are eventually re-integrated with their herd in the wild.  Their herds are usually traced once the elephant infants are discovered so that they will be able to release the elephants to the same herd.  The goal of the Trust is to rear the orphaned elephants in such a way that they grow up psychologically sound.  Most of those released to the wild return to their herds in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park after spending time at a short rehabilitation camp re-introducing them to the park.  They are monitored to ensure that they are accepted and welcomed into the herd.  Apparently it is true, elephants never forget.  They remember and recognize their trainer throughout their lifetime.

Elephant orphans, as humans, each have their own stories however many have similar stories with their mothers having been poached resulting in an elephant infant without milk or nutrients, falling behind in the herd and eventually on its own.  At the Elephant Orphanage there were elephants who were discovered by their mother’s body, wandering a settlement on their own, or being washed up on shore.

The elephant orphans grow up with each other as family.

I saw 3 sets of elephant orphans.  The first were the youngest and newest to the shelter.  They came wearing blankets for it had been so chilly that morning.  If it had been a warm day, apparently I could have seen them having a mud bath.  They only drank their milk and walked around.  When I think elephants I think large round creatures.  The youngest one was still very traumatized.  He was found washed up on a shore and had just arrived at the shelter recently.  He would not drink the milk and barely moved.  I’ve never seen an animal more sad, or an elephant thinner.  It broke my heart.  Unfortunately, I was not surprised when writing this, to discover when looking up the website that he was one of the few who did not survive the Trusts’ intervention.  Found washed up along river shores, he was not only traumatized but also weak and predisposed to sicknesses, such as pneumonia, which took him in the end.

The second set we saw were older and came running for the milk.  They supplemented their milk diet with branches and although they were only by a little older than the first set, they were significantly bigger and had much more energy.  Certain elephants of the second set continually checked in on the first set, seeming to take care of each other, although most often the elephants kept near their Keeper.

When both these sets left, in came the 2-3 year olds.  They were huge and gregarious!  Full of energy  they played with both their trainers, each other, and the crowd.  They were full of life and of all the space they had they stuck together side to side huddled like they were discussing a football play.  A nice testimony of how the Trust has helped elephant infants thrive, this third set left everyone hopeful that the lives of the first set will one day turn around.

The Trust also looks after orphaned rhinos, which up close look both scary and gentle at the same time.  Their skin is so incredibly thick, dry and rough.  I can’t help but wonder how it keeps from cracking.  Since rhinos don’t use cream, there must be a purpose.  One thing I’m sure, nothing can penetrate that skin so I’m guessing rhinos don’t suffer from sun damage.

I was torn.  There animals are cute but part of me feels that we shouldn’t be seeing them as an attraction – at least not the youngest ones when they are clearly still traumatized.  However on the other side, between 1987 and 2009 the Trust has successfully hand-reared over 85 newborn and very young elephant orphans (in addition to those older and fit enough to go directly to the Tsavo rehabilitation camps) that they have proven to be effective if they have the continued funding, and how better to receive donors?  They have a program where you can sponsor an elephant much like a child.  This seemed like a great and innovative way to raise funds for the Trust, and as much as I knew mom always wanted an elephant as a little girl, I couldn’t bring myself to support this when there are so many hungry, abused and orphaned people in this world.  I knew she would agree, but I am still glad to learn that there is someone looking out for these beautiful creatures.

My heart did go out to them, especially as it is my own species which has created so much damage and trouble for these animals in the first place.  However there are many humans which suffer as a result of our own actions as well.  There is one thing I cannot change, no matter how cruel mankind may be to these lovely animals, there is equal and undeserved cruelness towards fellow human beings.  It is justice against this where my effort and support must always lie first and foremost.

To me, humanity comes first.

Uganda and Rwanda, here I come!

Let the Christmas Holidays begin!  In a few hours I will be on a bus heading west.

First stop: Uganda.

While I miss everyone from home, this year the only white Christmas I’m dreaming of is white water rafting!  Of course, white water rafting in Jinja where the Nile meets Lake Victoria is a childhood dream come true!  I don’t remember where I was when I first heard this was possible, but I’ve wanted to raft here for as long as I can remember.  I’m so excited!  Then on to Kampala to see the city, meet some friends and perhaps do a couple day trips.

Next stop: Rwanda.

In Rwanda I am planning to go to Kigali and see the genocide memorial sites, as well as do some trekking in and around Musanze, and perhaps a few other places too.  I’ve heard from many people that Rwanda is one of the world’s most beautiful countries.  I am looking forward to being able to judge for myself.  I am already amazed by the small country.  Rwanda’s visa application process is incredible!  Simply apply online. They give you a reference number and a tracking number.  A day later you receive an e-mailed visa that needs to be shown with a valid passport at the border crossing.  Ideally you’ll arrive at the border crossing mentioned when applying for the visa online.  It seems so logical.  AND, you only pay for the visa they stamp into your passport when you actually arrive at the border, so if for some reason you don’t make it, it’s okay because you didn’t have to spend the money on the visa ahead of time.  How genius!  For those who didn’t know, Rwanda is well-known for having female leaders.  If this is just a taste of where the country’s headed, I expect to hear great things.  No wonder they say it’s a truly interesting place.

Anyway, we’ll see how this trip goes and how far we get.  After all, we only have 12 days!

I’ll write about the adventure in January, as well as a few other things I’ve been fortunate enough to do the last few weeks, such as visit friend’s family in Kikima and go see the elephant orphanage.  So much to share!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Among the Masaai

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On a matatu to town, a bus to Ngong, and a motorcycle to the family compound in Masaailand; it was around noon by the time Deanna, Markus and I finally arrived.

The way was interesting.  Nairobi city was the hustle and bustle of life and business found in any big city.  Ngong’s market was the busy hub of the somewhat quaint town found partway up Ngong Hills.  We stopped here to purchase some rice and flour (the type that is used for making chapati) for the family, and some bottled water for ourselves, before hiring motorcycles to take us the rest of the way.  The driver, Markus and I on one bike, Deanna and a driver on the other.

We had gone towards the end of the rainy season.  Thankfully the rain that night had not been too strong the roads of dirt and rocks were no longer completely mud.  It would have definitely been unsurpassable in certain areas.  I was so glad to have brought my sunnys, the Aussie word for sunglasses, because the dust was bad.

I marveled at the brown and green terrain, looking at the man-made ponds storing the rainwater and wondered how they were already seeming to dry out even though it was still the rainy season.  Water really does mean life and I could only guess what would happen when the first month of the dry season had passed.

We rode past many Maasai wrapped in bright red, boys and men, watching over their goats and sheep.  Some goats, stretching themselves along the tree trunk to reach the green leaves above, seemed to be eating the leaves clustered on the thorny trees.  Was I seeing right?  Of all bushes and trees, why choose this tree of thorns?

We passed cactuses.  I am always surprised to see them growing here in Kenya.  Seeing cactuses here, in the rolling hill terrain under the direct sun makes sense, but seeing them up in the Ngong Hills and in Gigiri where the altitude is higher and the temperatures cooler always surprises me.  It seems so unnatural.

Our driver wore a baseball cap.  Half way down one of the bumpy hills he started fidgeting with one hand in his pocket.  Not so cool when there are two passengers and their bags behind him, and the road resembles something like a mined obstacle course.  I asked if he needed help and he pulled out a tuque (or knit beanie).  I placed this over his baseball cap.  Whoever thought Kenya would be hot and humid was wrong.  There are tuques everywhere and even I, the Canadian, am constantly in sweaters.

We entered the compound through a new gate and fence.  Instead of being greeted by the entire extended family that we were told was visiting for the weekend, we spent the day with the primary school children, a couple secondary school children and one grown child.  The others had all gone to the Christmas Bazaar in Ngong to sell their goods.  The secondary school-age children were in charge.  The young kids did some work beating the maize, and the rest of the time they spent playing skip-rope or running around the compound being followed by some very cute puppies.

The family that lives here is polygamous.  There were numerous family homes on the compound.  The homes were made of earthen ingredients, mainly mud and sticks.  In some places the mud had fallen away and the internal stick structure was visible; quite interesting.  From inside we could see the grass or straw strings used to tie the roof in place.  Of course, not every home was like this.  The father’s place was now made of brick and the newer building as well.  In this earthen building, the kitchen was inside and the room small filled quickly with smoke making it hard to see.  The rice and beans awaiting us satisfied and I was reminded how simply it is to live in a rural setting; memories of Bolgatanga, Ghana flooded back to me.  The sound of children playing accompanied by the older brother’s radio blasting some tunes from the neighbouring house filled the air.

I found myself thinking how interesting it is that families everywhere are similar no matter how different the circumstance and context.  Even in this relatively modern Masaai family some of the issues I heard about had parallels quite similar to those one would hear about in North America and in other cultures around the world; others were quite different.  The sons of the first wife are the ones which raise the livestock and therefore have not attended school.  Even though they hold a very valuable position within Masaai culture (according to the Masaai, God entrusted them to care for the cattle, which are invaluable) these young men are disappointed that they could not attend school.  One of the older daughters had a child with someone she wants to marry but her father won’t allow her, and last year one of the younger daughters wanted to run away because she was scared of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  FGM is one practice that the family continues because it will ensure the daughter is considered eligible for marriage within her community; giving her a better future than to be thought unclean and remain unmarried.  However, being relatively modern, they had it done in a hospital.  Yes, this is illegal, but having hospitals practice this is far safer than having it done in the bush. (If you’ve seen this, you’ll understand how scary my nightmare after watching it was.  In that nightmare, I too was forced to marry someone old enough to be my grandfather.  Thankfully that nightmare was not a long one.)

On this topic, I recently saw the film, Desert Flower, based on the true story of Waris Dirie who ran away from a nomadic family in Somalia as a young girl and eventually became a globally renowned supermodel. http://movies.nationalgeographic.com/movies/desert-flower/  Of course Waris’ Somali culture and the culture of the Masaai I visited are very different.  The FGM practiced in each country is different; however elements of FGM, various reasons for practicing it, and why it is so difficult to stop the practice in both cultures are similar.  Desert Flower was a hard film to watch but it was incredibly done.  It revealed the ups and downs one feels when in a new country, seemingly lost and trying to assimilate to the foreign country surrounding them.  For Waris it was a painful process but she has become a heard voice, able to accomplish so much.  I remember my mother speaking to me about Waris when she first spoke up with raw honesty.   .”  I highly recommend looking into Desert Flower Foundation.  http://www.desertflowerfoundation.org/en/   “According to records kept by the United Nations more than 8000 girls become victims of this heinous crime every day.”

We go for a walk to see the local school and Deanna, who lived here last year showed us around.  A fully-furnished school, there was even a library, nice latrines and piped water.  I am impressed.   We climbed out behind the school and up a cliff.  From here we could oversea much of Masaailand, with Ngong Hills in the distance.

Upon returning the family compound we decide risk the rain and head out to the valley with the secondary school-aged boy and grown one.  The boy left us part way needing to check on the goats.  The remaining four of us trekked on.  We are told that all this land belonged to the family.  Our informant had grown up here but spent the month of September in Spain.  I could not imagine what this Masaailand born and raised, man must have thought when arriving in Madrid.  He spoke of the nice metro, the beauty of the Spanish countryside, the delicious food, and of the lack of natural environment within the city area, and of people engaged in constant partying which included too much drinking and drug use.  He works for a Spanish organization picking people up for the airport in Nairobi once in a while.  His questions to me were about Canada, the metro system of Toronto, and whether or not our cities have natural or artificial nature.

We were a good distance from the family compound and almost at the valley when the rains started.  It was after all, still the rainy season (we had visited one weekend too early, for the following week it barely rained at all).  We marched through what we could until it began to fall like buckets of water being poured from the heavens, and eventually took cover under a tree.   Someone joined us.  He turned out to be a nomadic Masaai that had come to this area in search of better grazing for his cattle.  The wind blowing rain around the tree at us, we run to another.  This one was better, but you had to watch yourself; it had thorns.

By my feet there was a spider’s web.  I point it out to my traveling companions, the 2 muzungus beside me.  Deanna said it looked like the web of a funnel spider.  She warned us to be careful because as funnel spiders are poisonous.  Really?  Oh, of all the luck.  This unfortunate fact was reconfirmed.  Thank God she said that because, as in tune to my natural reaction when looking at spider webs, I had already been looking for something to throw at it.  I vocalized this and was told that was definitely NOT a good idea.  I should have considered this fact already seeing as she had already warned me about poisonous spiders in the outhouse – as if that wasn’t scary!  Of course, Markus thought it would be funny to play a prank on me and freak out pointing near my foot.  I should have seen it coming.  I’ve known Markus long enough and he’s really funny but not when you’re the one being pranked – especially when you can’t escape because of the thorn tree above and around you.  Need I say I was unimpressed?  I’m not sure why they didn’t understand my logic when I then decided I’d rather get rained on, but it seemed quite logical to me.  A funnel web must mean the funnel spider is nearby.  And poisonous or not, big or small, I know I want nothing to do with it.

The rains over, we looked at the valley from high above on a very steep and slippery cliff’s edge and traced the road we had come on as far as we could see.  Heading back to the family compound we see the other Masaai man again and say farewell.  This time he is moving the cattle and I was in awe.  These were the nicest, biggest cattle I have seen in ALL of Africa.  Sure, I haven’t been everywhere, but they were far from the skeletal emancipated cows I’m used to seeing in this part of the world.  These cattle were full, muscular and huge!  I wondered what it must be like, moving from place to place to ensure they can eat.  Caring for them so much that you must travel so far from your family for so long.  Then again, I suppose these valuable cattle also contribute to the family.

We arrive at the family home and the older sister has begun to prepare some chai for us.  This is the first time I had chai the Kenyan way, with tonnes of milk and heaps of sugar.  We graciously accepted and drank the warm liquid sugar.

Our ride back to town was earlier than expected because the rain was threatening again.  Having a motorcycle, I knew how unsafe and unsurpassable the road would become when it is flooded out or a pile of mud.  It was hard enough getting here, slipping here and there as we did.  Our driver came and picked us up just as the rains began to fall again.  We made it to Ngong and got on a bus which pulled out of the market just as the rains began to fall.  We arrived in Nairobi and got onto a matatu which left the stage shortly before the rains began to fall.  We entered the boarding house minutes before the storm rolled into Gigiri.  What timing!  And what an awesomely culture-filled day!

Ngong Hills

I never felt so out of shape in all my life as when I did hiking Ngong Hills months ago before the rains came.

Ngong Hills are the peaks of a ridge formed along the Great Rift Valley.  Ngong Hills refers to the 7 peaks found there; however there are most notably 4.  These 4 explain the meaning of the Maasai word Ngong, or knuckles.   The stories we were told, tell of the Maasai people who lived on the hills doing something displeasing to God.  God eventually punched the ground expressing his feeling to the Maasai.  This action gave the peaks their knuckle shape while making the sound “ngong”.

Like the city of Nairobi, Ngong Hills are at a high altitude, and each peak is a steep climb upwards.  It really is surprising the effect altitude can have.  I could not help but think of this as I caught myself breathing heavily fairly early on.  Even though I knew I wasn’t in the best of shape I’d ever been in, anywhere else these Hills would have been no problem.  It was great for our self-esteem afterwards, however, when we found out that most people don’t climb all 7 hills, and if they do, they have their cars meet them at the other side.  Not us.  We had invited the driver to join us, so after the first 7 steep and high peaks into the hike, we had a brief picnic before making our way back across all 7 for a second time.  Actually, we more likely struggled to make our way back as the last two peaks were quite difficult on the return.  By that point you are out-right exhausted.  Of course, there was one of us who ran the last few peaks, but let me say that our dear friend from Madagascar is constantly training, and didn’t have a backpack to weigh him down (not even lunch for that matter, so we had shared).

Standing tall, Ngong Hills provide a great view overlooking Nairobi as well as over Maasai land.  From the peaks of the Ngong Hills it is amazing to compare the differences visible in the terrain and to think that these Hills are the only things separating their drastic opposites.  Nairobi is green and luscious with city skyline full of skyscrapers.  Maasai land is brown and dry with the very odd pond to store water and with the outline of a family compound here and there.

The first few peaks we climbed took us to a place where birds were singing and flying around us.  They were so close to us and seemed so peaceful.  It was quite the beautiful setting, making it easy for me to understand how people could climb all the way up here every couple Sundays for church.  We happened to see a church meeting on the top of one of the peaks.  People of all ages (I have no idea how the hobbling elderly got here) – reading the Bible and praying up where they felt closer to God.  It must have been so serene before the tourists come traipsing through with their guards (mandatory for small groups to protect them from the increasing number of thugs in the area, and from buffalo).  We didn’t see any wild animals however there were plenty of sheep, goats and cattle.  The cattle we always heard before we saw because of the bells hanging around their necks.

Our driver had teased that he would have to carry us back to the car by the end of the hike.  Well, as it turned out we almost had to carry him back.  He was just as exhausted as the rest of us.  He even sent a message the following day to check in on us.  He was concerned for our health as even he had trouble getting out of bed the following morning.  Don’t worry, we were fine and at work the following morning.