Monday, February 20, 2012

Mount Kenya and Maji Moto

So since I've last blogged, we have had two really big adventures.
A few weeks back, PACU took a school trip to Mount Kenya. There was about 50 of us. We were supposed to leave PACU at 6 am, but Africa time, we left at 6:45, drove the 5 hours to Mount Kenya, stopped to pee (thank goodness!!! I was about to burst by the time we arrived), took some pics, and then we hiked the 9 kms up to base camp, which is 10,000 kms above sea level. It's cold up there, and it's a long, difficult hike. I made it up 8 kms, then my lungs began to give me trouble, so I had to ride the last km to base camp. We had some lunch and told each other riddles, John Wesley (one of Sian's profs) gave a little speech (no big surprise there), took some more pics, then we made our way back down. That was a long, very tiring, but very rewarding day.

 Our stop in Muranga Town on the way up put us in contact with the only "Starbucks" in Kenya. It's not quite the same...

At the main gate. 

 The long haul up begins.

Reached the top! 

 Goofing around.

 More goofing around.

 Canadian pride!!!


On our way out.

So that's our Mount Kenya trip in a nutshell. Sorry I didn't take more pics en route: it wasn't too scenic on the way, the road was surrounded by trees and bamboo and we couldn't really see too much of anything.

Last Wednesday, Sian and I had the pleasure of delivering 6 Bumbo chairs to Happy Life that had been sent with Cal Anthony from Ontario! You see, because the babies don't get held as much as they should, their back muscles don't develop properly and they have a difficult time learning how to sit, crawl and walk. As I mentioned before, Happy Life has a physiotherapist who comes to work with the babies a few times a week, stretches them, and props them up against the wall to get those muscles strengthened, but they are always sliding down and she can only work with five babies at a time. So I thought about these Bumbos and how they are designed to combat these very problems. I told my mom about it, and the project totally took off! She began to look into Bumbos and discovered that they are manufactured in South Africa (though not distributed to any African countries), and is run by Marathana, a Christian organization who puts a portion of the proceeds back into South African communities in a variety of ministry formats. There was a number of people and groups who donated directly to this undertaking, including, but not limited to, the Port Rowan Community Church's senior youth, as well as the ladies in the Woodstock General Hospital's medical records department. And together, my parents we able to pull together 6 new and used Bumbo chairs and we able to send them with Cal Anthony, who is with the Eastern Ontario District of the PAOC and came to Nairobi last week. So last Wednesday, Sian and I delivered the chairs to Happy Life. The staff were thrilled! They wanted us to express their most sincere, heartfelt thanks to everyone who donated. As soon as we brought them upstairs into the nursery, the ladies on duty just began to plunk babies inside until they were full! SO ADORABLE!!! Their little heads just bobbed! There are a few pictures below (sorry about the poor quality, we took pics with our video camera because our picture camera was dead. I will take better ones this week.)

Since I had been sick this last month, I've been staying away from Happy Life, so as to not spread my virus. So when we arrived, the staff informed us that they had received two new babies while I had been gone: Baby Sean, and Baby Amy. This is Sian with Baby Sean...

And me with Baby Amy. Apparently we're connected somehow, because Baby Amy has been sick this last month as well! So we had a little chat and we decided that now it's time to get better ;)

So our second little adventure took place this last weekend. Sian goes to school with a guy named Jackson, and Jackson is Maasai. The Maasai is one tribe of the 52 in Kenya. The Maasai are the inhabitants of the world famous "Maasai Mara" safari. Like, the picture that you have in your mind of "African plains", this is where they live. So, this last weekend, Jackson took us to see his village in Maji Moto, a region within the Mara. We had arranged to sleep in the Guesthouse in Maji Moto, along with a documentary team from Central in St. Catharines (small, small world...), and Rob Beyer here in Nairobi (who sort of maintains the Guesthouse in Maji Moto) arranged for this doc team to see the whole traditional Maasai stuff, so we kind of piggybacked on their being here. 
We took a taxi Friday afternoon into downtown Nairobi to catch the shuttle to Narok (the shuttle is actually my previously mentioned "Shadow" van from the Kakamega post. There's the accent for ya...) The shuttle is basically a matatu with a lot more leg room that is used as public transport for longer journeys. So we took the shuttle 2.5 hours into Narok, and from Narok, took another taxi 1 hour into Maji Moto. The road our of Narok is paved, then turns into a dirt trail road through the savanna into Maji Moto. We arrived at the Guesthouse at around 5pm, and a group of about 10 Maasai men were there in the full traditional Maasai outfits. The red cloth patterned with blue, black, striped and checkered; the stretched earlobes and pierced and slightly stretched helix; all the Maasai jewelry; everything, picture perfect for the doc guys. The first thing they invited us to do is Warrior Training (basically dodgeball with these green stick weeds that whiz through the air and leave huge welts if you get hit). I wasn't allowed to play because I'm a woman, but I was totally cool with that. After Warrior Training, they did their music and dance and jumping. Their music is all vocal. The leader sings the melody while the other Maasai sing harmonies, and utter these sweet guttural sounds that sound like clearing one's throat from the very bottom of the lungs (I have no idea how they do it. I'll have to post the video.) Their dance is a combination of a bunch of different moves led by one and the others follow behind in a line, turn and back, doing the same move as the leader. One of the moves done often is kind of like doing the wave, leading with their head and rolling down their neck, shoulders and down through the lower body. They also incorporate a forward head bob similar to the way a bird moves it's head when it's walking. (Like I said, I'll have to post the video.) They are also very famous for their competitive jumping dance. They get into a circle or semi circle, and one or two at a time go into the middle and show their stuff (similar to a Western dance-off). They jump as high as they can, maintaining an upright posture, and they never let their heels touch the ground. They jump maybe four to seven times, then retreat back into line. It's their cultural way of showing off for the girls ;). After all of this, they made a fire. They use a flat piece of wood with a small round hole in it, a rounded dowel-like stick and a machete. They place the machete on the ground, the flat wood on top of with the hole over the machete, making a cross shape with the hole in the cross-point. Then the insert one end of the dowel into the hole and twist the dowel back and forth, creating friction between the wood and the dowel, which creates hot ash like coals on the machete. The coals are then transferred from the machete and buried into a pile of dry donkey dung. The process is repeated five to eight times until they have enough coals inside the dung to light the dung on fire. And there you have fire. While they were making fire, the storm that had rolled in began to let loose rain (odd, since it's the dry season and has not rained in two months, and isn't supposed to rain for another month). Once the rain sort of let up, they began preparing supper. Which was goats. They were alive when we arrived, and we ate them for supper. If you are squeamish or an intense animal lover, scroll down to the asterisks.
They lay the goat down on some leafy branches, so as to not spill blood on the ground (that would attract some very large predators), suffocate the goat by clamping it's mouth shut and covering it's nostrils. When the goat is no longer breathing, they slit the goat's throat, and, by tradition, drink the blood right from the throat. They collect the rest and it is used as a source of iron (absolutely no spiritual connotations about this process, it is simply them not wasting their resources). Once the blood is pretty much drained, they skin it, extract the ribs and meatier portions and BBQ them the way we do hot dogs, only the stick the pokers into the ground and let them cook over coals. They cook everything- nothing goes to waste. They boil the organs in water and gathered herbs into a soup, except the liver, which the BBQ like the ribs, and they fry the smaller meaty portions. Sian wants me to add that he was offered a raw kidney, and that he accepted (GROSS!!) but he's proud of it. Okay, I think the gory is done.
************************************************************************************ No worries, my squeamish friends, both me and a guy from the doc team couldn't bear to watch most of this process. Anyway, so that was supper, which we ate by the campfire, since it's pitch black by 6:45pm (and when it's dark in Africa, it's DARK. Absolute. I can hold my hand in front of my nose, touching the tip of my nose with my palm, and not see my fingers. It engulfs everything. Night is BLACK in Africa.) After supper, the Maasai took us for a night hunt. Maasai are very conscientious about development and seek to avoid it, yet some modern conveniences like flashlights and oil lamps are used often. This may get a little too graphic for our animal lovers, so again with the asterisks.
The Maasai have these heavy wooden clubs called rugus which they throw at their smaller prey. They will have a handful of guys, and when they see a smaller animal, like the jumping rabbit that we saw, they run towards it, surround it, and chuck their rugu at the animal. If it was intended to be dinner, they would aim for the head and intend to kill, but when we went, they used lighter, unclubbed sticks, just intending to stun it long enough for us to get a look, then let it go.
Welcome back (for your peace of mind, as before mentioned, the hunt was not to kill, but to stun so that we could watch how they would have done it in real). After this, we walked over to the manyatta's (village's) watering hole, where, at night, herbivores such as zebra, gazelle, buffalo and antelope will come and drink. Our Maasai men informed us that these animals come to drink around 9pm, and that the lions know it, so they set themselves up accordingly. So we needed to be back indoors before 9pm. Since it was still early, we went to the hot springs. The guys all went in, but being the only girl, me and Jackson chatted just up the way a bit until they were finished (I'll describe it tomorrow night). This was partially due to the fact that Maasai men and women bath in separate springs and since the Maasai guys were there, I didn't want to offend that, plus it would have been really awkward. After the guys were done, we wandered around in the dark for a while, which is not very relaxing, since the savanna floor is littered with cacti and thorny trees and these little prickly bushes that stick you if you walk into them. After our little wandering, we went back to the Guesthouse and sat around the fire and drank chai (which is caffeinated, but I didn't think about it). Tried turning in at eleven pm and laid awake in bed until four am. Then up again at seven am. I was not impressed...
So Saturday, the doc team went out to look for animals in the early morning. a little later on, Jackson, who had returned to his manyatta for the night, came back to collect us and take us back again with him. So we walked the African plains for an hour and a half, 4 kms to his manyatta to meet his family (we've heard many Africans refer to a 4 km walk as being 'just there' as in, "Jackson, how far is this walk?" "Oh, it's just there." "Jackson, how far is just there?" "Hmmm, about 4 kms."). His manyatta had a few mud and stick huts, a booma (spelling?) which is the protected corral where they keep their livestock overnight and a lot of adorable kids covered in flies! We met the dignitaries, the children greeted us by bowing approaching us with bowed head, which you touch your hand to, which signifies respect for their elders. We then went into his family hut, which is mud walls, no windows, a fire to cook over, and raised 'beds' which is a wooden platform with goat skins overtop that you sleep on. So there is no light, little air from the fire's smoke and it's about 110 degrees, because the fire is only coals, and there is no ventilation. So we sat and had chai with Jackson's mother and sister-in-law, and they gave us Maasai names. They named Sian Leshan because Leshan is the name given to a baby born when it's raining, and when Sian arrived Friday, so did the rain. So he was Leshan, and she named me Naserian which simply implies peace or blessing. After we finished chai, Jackson showed us around his village, then we headed back to the Guesthouse, where the doc team was packing up to leave. We had lunch, chatted for a bit, said our goodbyes and they headed out. Jackson left to tend to something or other (he's a busy guy in his area), so Leshan and I took a nap (8 kms on 3 hours of sleep in the heat of the day will do that to a girl). So we just relaxed for a bit. Then at 4pm, we headed over to the Girls Boarding High School where Jackson taught C.R.E. for a term (Christian Religious Education, mandatory in the Kenyan school curriculum). On the walk over, it began to pour rain (Leshan...) but it let up while we were inside. So they had a fellowship, which involved singing and dancing, Jackson gave a message, then we danced and had a sort of coffee, chocolate, tea mixture which was really good. Then we headed back to the guesthouse. We got our shower things together, and headed over to the hot springs, just Sian and me and Jackson and one of his Maasai buddies, Josh. Jackson and Josh stood guard while Sian and I went in. The hot spring was this shallow pool that has hot tub temperature water flowing into and out of. So you can lay on your back, half submerged in this lovely hot water, and stare through the trees at the stars, and the stars in the Mara are unlike any I have ever seen. Firstly, they are different stars than the ones you see in Canada, and among them is this huge streak of the Milky Way. I have never in my life seen so many stars so clearly. It takes your breath away. It makes you not want to look at anything else (which is dangerous when you're walking). And they flicker, like they dazzle. I can't even begin to describe it. It's like shining a flashlight at a spinning disco ball and the reflections light up thousands of tiny, perfectly cut diamonds laying on an enveloping, unreflecting woolen blanket that is the blackest of black. You know, that comparison is pretty lame, and does not even do the smallest amount of justice to those stars. I'm just going to stop trying. So we showered up in this bath (the stream where the water trickles in is hot enough to boil an egg. Seriously. Jackson was going to bring an egg to show us.) and we headed back to bed.
Sunday, we walked around the village in the early morning, spanned some final pics, went to the Maasai church, where they danced and sang, then the pastor began saying something or other in Swahili, and another guy translated into Maasai, all the while these seven little girls were all squishing right up next to me, trying to get to be the one to sit next to the mzungu. Then the pastor invited us up to say something, which was translated (it feels so unnatural having your words be translated), then we were invited to sit up at the front behind the pulpit while the pastor preached (I'm assuming). Then did some sort of altar call, where a bunch of people surrounded the stage and were praying and praising (could've been in tongues, but I really have no way of knowing), then Jackson, who had been preaching elsewhere, pulled us out of service because our "taxi" was here to take us back to Narok. I say "taxi", because this car was the greasiest, nastiest, most falling apart piece of junk either of us has ever seen. Sian said his crappiest field beater was in better shape than this thing. So we rattled and shook and crackled our way up the dirt road, attempted (poorly) avoiding all the potholes and bumps and washed out areas, until we finally got onto the paved road into Narok. Once we were on the paved road, the driver put the pedal to the metal. It sounded like we were going to take off, like in an airplane. I guess the car couldn't handle to speed, because we're going along at like 80km/hr or so (seemed much faster) and the hood flew up, ripped off and flew over the roof of the car, landing in the ditch. So the driver stops the car, begins to back up, swerving from one ditch to the other ditch, back and forth, all over the road, as if backing up can't be the least bit straight, gets close, and runs over hit hood. We told him that he ran over it, so he stopped, and we were right on it, so he pulls ahead, throws the hood back onto the car, ties it on with this frayed piece of binders twine that he had kicking around in the boot, and continued on. About five minutes up the road, we get a flat. So we call another taxi, throw some rocks at a plastic bottle in the ditch for about twenty minutes while we wait, finally the second taxi comes and takes us ten minutes up the road into Narok. We caught a shuttle back into Nairobi, and then a taxi home to PACU, where we are dusty and sunburnt something is rotting in the garbage (which we forgot to empty before we left) and, or course, we have no water. Anyway, I'll save you the boring old details. So that was our weekend! I'm going to post those pics now, then I'm going to let Sian have the laptop because I've been typing this thing for like three hours (again, so sorry about the length, I just didn't want to leave anything out).

Warrior Training

Storm rolling in.

Building fire. Sian tried his hand at it.


Preparing dinner.

Suppertime Friday, and my feet were FILTHY. It's so dusty out there!

Proceed with caution if you are squeamish....


On our way to Jackson's manyatta.

Jackson's sister-in-law preparing chai. I really had no idea of anything that was in there until I looked back at the picture taken with the flash. I've had friends who have been in these huts, and looking back at their pics, realized there were people in there that, the whole time, they had no idea were there!


Kids in the booma. This one was a day and a half old.

And back to the Guesthouse.

Sian goofing around. What else is new?

Jackson speaking at the Girl's School.

They pulled me up there to dance, but white people just can't move like they do!

I told you I can't move like that!!! They just laughed...

Where the ladies to laundry.

The watering hole.

The hot springs. You can't really tell, but they were amazing. Sian wants to build one in our backyard when we have a house someday.

Church. The specks in all the dancing pictures is the dust they kick up.

Our flat...


Anyway, we love you all, and so appreciate your support, your prayers, and even that you care enough (or are curious enough) about us, that you take the time to keep up with what we're into. We can't tell you how encouraging it is to know that we aren't alone over here.
We love you! And again, I apologize for the length (I'm getting really bad at this short-and-sweet thing)... Sorry, sorry!!!