Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Maasai Mara: Part 2

Previous post here.

After finishing up our large breakfast, we digested while watching the hippos. Some monkeys were chasing each other up and around the roof of our cabin, and a monitor lizard even emerged close to the edge of our deck. Ngerende, in addition to its luxury, is known for being very eco-friendly. The cabins were built without the removal of a single tree, so they blend into the environment. All the better for animal observation.


Because it was Joe’s birthday, we scheduled a joint massage at the spa. It’s not something we’ve ever done on vacation, but how often are you going to get a massage overlooking hippos in the Mara River? We blissed out while we were exfoliated and massaged and then were led to our lunch set up under a tree, again overlooking the Mara. We had just enough time to rinse off and change before it was time for our last game drive.


Why did the giraffe cross the road? To visit the rhino sanctuary!
Due to poachers, there are only 2 remaining rhinos in the Maasai Mara, and they are guarded by a guy with a large military-style assault rifle. Their names are Queen Elizabeth and Kofi Annan, and they were very sleepy when we saw them.


Our other goal for the game drive was to find a leopard, which – spoiler alert! – didn’t happen. Also, the skies were cloudy, so the light wasn’t as good as the previous game drives. However, we still managed to snap some good pictures, and we found a 2 day-old baby giraffe hidden in a bush with his anxious mother circling nearby. Also, hyenas are mean and give me the creeps.



I was disappointed that our last game drive was a little underwhelming, but you can’t really control nature. Fortunately, we were able to drown our sorrows in some Pinotage and another delicious dinner. I had mentioned to Walter that it was Joe’s birthday the next day and asked if he could put a candle in his dessert, but dessert came and went with no candle. I figured the intention had been lost in translation so I let it slide.

The next morning, we headed out for a bush walk with Daniel, our Maasai culturalist. He was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and explained to us which plants had medicinal value, including one that they use as a kind of deodorant. Then he brushed his teeth for us.


That particular tree’s branches have antibacterial properties. And it seems to work; all the Maasai we saw had very clean and white teeth. As we trekked across the landscape, he would stop to ask us questions. When we came upon a pile of perfectly rounded animal scat, he asked which animal it belonged to. I remembered Philip telling us on Crescent Island that giraffe poop was always perfectly rounded, so I answered, “Giraffe,” in the midst of other people shouting out, “Gazelle! Topi!” I think that Daniel was impressed.


It was getting to be breakfast time, so we headed back to the lodge after a brief stop on the banks of the Mara. This is where the hippos come out at night and walk up to 5 km for all the grass they need.


We worked up an appetite on our bush walk, so we happily ate our fill of fruit, granola parfait, eggs and sausage, and fresh bread. While we were finishing our coffee, Walter approached with a smile on his face and told us to stay put for “a surprise.” Not long after, we heard the characteristic whooping and chanting that signaled the arrival of the Maasai warriors.


They circled our table before the chef arrived with a large cake, complete with one trick candle that refused to go out.


Then we partook in a ritual that involved Joe feeding me some cake and me feeding him cake while everyone clapped and chanted. It was wild and WAY more involved than anything I had imagined the lodge would do.


I don’t think Joe will soon forget his 31st birthday celebration thanks to the wonderful staff at Ngerende Island Lodge. Unfortunately, we had to leave our little slice of paradise. The plan was to stop down in Maai Mahiu for some nyama choma and beer for a late lunch/early dinner.

We pulled into a very busy parking lot in the Kenyan equivalent of a strip shopping center. There were a lot of storefronts, and it was unclear where we were going but Philip and his brother Nicholas led the way through the door and a narrow corridor, past the grill where the goat was roasted and to some seating. I kid you not, Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers were playing overhead. Very quickly, our beers and roasted goat arrived.

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Joe asked Philip when the goat we were eating had probably been killed, and his answer was, “This morning.” Very fresh. The little piles of salt on each corner added a lot of flavor to the meat, and shortly after the guy had finished cutting up the goat, some pieces of ugali (a kind of cross between grits and cornbread that you eat with your hands) arrived. We demolished the goat and our beers and ordered another round. We were all in a very happy place, and I think Joe got more of a birthday celebration than he did last year in Kenya.

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The stove where the goat is roasted. Everyone seemed very surprised when we told them that we don’t eat a lot of goat in America. I support bringing back goat as a sustainable meat source. Another guy sat down at a table across from us and a strange cut of meat appeared in front of him. When I asked what it was, the answer was, “sheep’s head,” and I nearly did a spit take. Hey, more power to you.

Our trip to the Maasai Mara was unbelievable – not just the animals but our accommodations as well. It’s a total bucket list trip, but if you ever find yourself in Kenya, I highly recommend Ngerende Island Lodge for your Maasai Mara lodging.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Maasai Mara: Part 1

As I was traveling to Kenya, Joe confirmed that we would be able to take a long weekend trip to the Maasai Mara, which is essentially the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti. He refused to tell me where we were staying but would get all giggly and excited whenever I asked, so I knew it would be nice. We left early on a Friday morning for the 4+ hour drive. It didn’t help that we had a 30-minute pit stop when Philip’s car overheated at the top of a big hill. The last 40 km were on a very bumpy, poorly maintained road, and I was keen to get there. The lodge kept calling Philip to see where we were, so I figured we’d have a nice welcome.


Little did I know that we would be greeted by a bunch of whooping, dancing Maasai warriors who danced and chanted us to the main building of the Ngerende Island Lodge where we were then treated to a traditional jumping contest. I live for stuff like this, but I think Joe was a little embarrassed.


Side note: I had to turn off my over-analytical brain that felt some guilt about supporting a kind of exploitation of their traditional culture. As one of the few remaining traditional cultures on the planet, there can be some voyeurism that goes along with the Maasai. At the same time, the lodges and their tourists help provide for and support the Maasai people in the area.

After being greeted with a cool washcloth and some freshly squeezed juice, we filled out our paperwork and introduced to the staff. With only 7 tents and 14 guest capacity, we got to know the staff very well. We went over our food preferences with the chef and were led to our cabin by our “butler,” Walter. When we walked into our cabin, I tried not to totally freak out. I could’ve sworn I had walked into an issue of Travel and Leisure magazine.


That deck and nice furniture? Yeah, overlooks a hippo pool in the Mara River. Would you like to take a shower while listening to hippos grunt and splash around? You have come to the right place. Other nice amenities included blazing hot water heated by solar energy and an incredibly comfortable bed. At night, the walls rolled down, mosquito curtains surrounded the bed, a fire was built in our cabin, hot water bottles were put in between the sheets, and a hot bath was drawn. Insane.


We headed back to the main building for lunch. However, our three-course meal was not served there, but we were led to a cabana near the pool area where Walter pointed out a crocodile sunbathing on the opposite shore. The food was all prepared from the kitchen garden on-site, and the seafood was flown in from Mombasa.


After relaxing for a little while, it was time for our afternoon game drive. Since the animals are most active in the dusk and dawn hours, the game drives follow suit. No sleeping in on this vacation! The morning game drive leaves at 6:30 am! On our afternoon game drive, we spotted the “regulars” – zebras, giraffes, various kinds of antelope, etc. I was happy and surprised to see a few ostriches.


You never know what you’re going to see, and on this particular game drive, we nearly witnessed the death of a Maasai man walking home. On the horizon, we saw a herd of water buffalo, when suddenly, a group of 4 broke away and started running for the guy. Fortunately, he booked it towards a tree, jumped up in it with his feet cycling in the air, and the water buffalo passed him by. Don’t mess with these guys.


As the sun began to decline in the sky, we happened upon a group of 5 lions – a mother with 3 daughters and a teenage male.




Striking a pose.
The lions was making this group of zebras a little nervous.


Finally, we left our new friends to hunt for dinner as it was getting seriously dark. Our five-course dinner included a soup in which the kitchen had written our names in cream and a creative tofu-mushroom starter. I was pleased that the wine list was predominantly African wines, and we enjoyed a bottle of South African Chenin Blanc with dinner and then by the fire. Then it was time to retire to our hot bath and comfortable bed before our 6 am morning wake-up call and Walter’s arrival with a pot of hot tea and some coffee cake.

The next morning, we found our lion friends again, saw some elephants, and witnessed the gathering of a ton of zebra and wildebeests at a salt lick.


Zebras make some crazy noises when they fight.



The morning light was simply stunning.


The lions had been unsuccessful at killing some prey and stalked off into the bush to sleep the day away. We headed to a breakfast of fresh fruit, freshly-squeezed fruit juice, eggs, and house-baked bread.

Coming up: our Maasai culturalist brushes his teeth with a branch, rhinos, I correctly identify giraffe poop, and a birthday surprise for Joe

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tea and Sympathy

I am extremely grateful that the chaplain department has let me jump in with both feet. Instead of shadowing and being bored while I struggle to understand Swahili, the Kenyan chaplains I have worked with have encouraged and included me in every level of patient and staff care. At the same time, they have challenged my preconceived notions about the efficacy of more conservative theology in pastoral care, and I am continually reminded that the most important thing is context, context, context. The chaplains here are smart, immensely faithful, and very sophisticated in their spiritual care and leadership of Kijabe Hospital. The mere idea that I thought they might be anything but points out my own sin and bias. It might not be how I’m accustomed to doing things in America, but I have so much respect for the work they are doing here.

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Words that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Standards of Care Manual & Procedures for chaplaincy in the US: Holy Spirit and evangelism.

Every day is a surprise and a challenge. On Monday morning, we walked over to a doctor’s house as a chaplaincy staff to comfort him and his family after the death of his mother the previous night. We sang and prayed and read scripture and offered words of comfort and encouragement. It was a very holy moment.

So this afternoon, when I learned we would be traveling by car up the road to a town about halfway between Kijabe and the highway to visit another family, I was not surprised. From what I could gather, the wife of a former nurse had fractured her arm and had been discharged home. When we arrived, she didn’t even let us take off our shoes at the door before she was pulling us into the house, a very nice one by Kenyan standards. We sang “How Great Thou Art,” prayed together, read Scripture, sang, and prayed some more. The woman, Hannah, spoke of her faith throughout the trying circumstances, of overcoming doubt, of feeling Jesus’ presence with her in the immediate aftermath of her injury. Her faith, her trust in God was nearly palpable. I closed our time in prayer for the family who, fortunately, spoke English. As I was mentally preparing to go, the family insisted that we all take tea together.

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First, Hannah’s husband came around to each of us with a pitcher of warm water and a bowl to wash our hands, not unlike how I prepare before celebrating the Eucharist. Out came the carafes of piping hot chai tea and the mugs placed in front of each of us. Additionally, plates piled high with mandazi, a kind of fried bread not unlike a beignet without the powdered sugar, appeared from the kitchen. I was trying hard to keep my emotions in check because I was so touched by the family’s generosity and hospitality. Mandazi and chai tea became bread and wine, the sharing of sacrament together, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where Kenyan and American, strangers and old friends, are all welcomed at the table.

Radio Silence

Dear Friends, I have many blog posts and many pictures to share with you from Kenya, but I am having issues with Windows Live Writer and the slower internet connection. When I get a stronger/faster connection, I cannot wait to tell you more about the trip. Please be patient with me! Thank you, Kira

Monday, January 14, 2013

What’s gnu with you?

I wasn’t sure that anything could surpass the Lake Nakuru experience, but Joe was very excited about our trip to Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island. Crescent Island is unique because there are no predators there. The animals were brought to the island for the filming of Out of Africa and just left there. So the giraffes, the monkeys, the wildebeests, the water bucks, the zebra, and the dairy cows all exist together without threats from lions. It’s kind of like a modern-day Garden of Eden. We arrived at Crescent Island, which is essentially a woman’s house, met our guide, Bernard, and set off on foot to walk the island. But first, Joe made me stick my head in the mouth of this hippo’s skull.


Then we walked up to the top of the ridge for a view of Lake Naivasha. It was a beautiful day, and many sailboats were out on the water. We could see the tops of the greenhouses that make up many of the rose plantations in Kenya and took in the view. Following our brief pause, we walked down and first spotted the dik-dik, a small antelope, hopping through the low brush. We had our first up close and personal encounter with a water buck.


He was not terribly amused. We wandered past some more water buck, impala, and gazelles to spend some quality time with a family of giraffes. I believe the guy below was the father. He let us get the closest to him.


It was pretty unreal. Little did we know that we’d get even closer to some giraffes a little later on. Mostly, we took in the stunning scenery spotted with all kinds of animals.


Between Bernard and Philip, we learned a lot about the different animals, their dispositions, and the differences in their scat. But I didn’t take pictures of that. The giraffes were probably the best part of Crescent Island. This guy below was only one week old. Precious!


Zebra are remarkably similar to donkeys, and I remembered to never get too close to the hindquarters of a donkey or horse. But how often do you get to get this close to a zebra?


We had snapped more than our fair share of pictures, and it was time to head back to the car. Lunch was going to be roast goat, commonly known as nyoma choma. Ours wasn’t exactly nyoma choma because of the presentation, but after walking around in the sun, a few Tusker beers and a big plate of roasted goat and the most perfect roasted potatoes I’ve ever had definitely hit the spot.


Because the previous day had been so busy, we opted to take Sunday a little easier and spend part of the afternoon at Lake Naivasha country club. For 200 KES a person (about $2.50), we got access to their beautiful pool area and enjoyed some Stoney ginger beer.


After an adventurous weekend, I wasn’t too excited to head back to work at the hospital on Monday. It has been a strange mix of vacation and work, but the work also provides a kind of routine that does not usually impact a true vacation. More updates from the hospital to follow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

You’d Better Be Running

“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.” – African Proverb


We hit the ground running early on Saturday morning to get to Lake Nakuru. Coming down the road from Kijabe was a frightening experience, but we were treated to some beautiful views, including a euphorbia forest. We took our time getting to Nakuru, including stopping to take pictures and chase some baboons on the side of the highway. Nakuru is one of the “premium” wildlife parks run by the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), so it cost us $80/person to get in the park, which ended up being more than worth it.


A large group of baboons greeted us upon our entry into the park. Unfortunately, some people feed them from their cars, which isn’t good for the baboons or for the humans who don’t have food for them. This mom and her baby didn’t bother us though.

Impala and vervet monkeys stood close by and watched us pass. Nakuru is known for its flamingos and birds and as a good place to spot some rhinos. I was just as excited to see gazelles as at the possibility of seeing a rhino, a hippo, or a large cat. Fortunately, (spoiler alert) we saw all of them!


We came upon a large herd of water buffalo. They are enormous and mean-looking but amazing animals. We were protected in the car, but this guy didn’t seem to be too happy with us staring.


As it turns out, I have some pretty good animal-spotting eyes. So when I saw three large lumps floating in the lake, I asked our driver Philip what they were. Hippo spotting! Even though they were a good distance out there, I managed to capture the largest one yawning. Eventually, they all sank underwater far enough that we moved on.


We went up to Baboon Cliff overlook to get a bird’s eye view of where we had just been. If you look closely over my shoulder, you can see the water buffalo heading to the water. We asked a nice man to take our picture, and it turned out he was from Afghanistan. He did a very good job and took lots of pictures of us from the overlook.


Coming down the cliff, we visited a few possible locations where cats like to hang out but without any luck. Instead, we spent some time with some giraffes and then were about to head to lunch when we happened across a driver we’d been following around most of the day. He let Philip know where a lion was, and we went to try our luck. Sure enough, we found a lioness sleeping with some of her cubs. Amazing.


Even though we were in a hurry to get to lunch, we had to make a stop for this giraffe who was so close to the road and offered us a great photo opportunity. We made it up to Lake Nakuru Lodge for a buffet lunch and sat out on the back porch to watch baboons and impala frolic by. A Masai warrior acted as baboon security. After we ate, our server invited us to take afternoon tea out by the pool. Safari is tough work, so we were happy to relax for a few minutes.


The afternoon was getting on, and we hadn’t gotten a good view of a rhino. On our way to see some rhinos, we enjoyed seeing three secretary birds and some baboons that got way too close to climbing into the car window. Finally, we spotted some white rhino standing up way out in a field. The pictures don’t read as well on the blog, but there are definitely some grey-ish lumps in those pictures, as well as some warthogs and more gazelles and impala.


By that time, we were ready to make the trek back home, though we stopped first in Nakuru town to do some grocery shopping and hit the ATM. Saturday night was hectic and crowded on the main street, and unlike in a bigger city like Nairobi, to say that we stuck out would be an understatement. Some of the younger children openly stared, but everyone was friendly. When we finally got home, we were dusty and dirty from the highway and the park roads but thrilled to have seen so much game.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

After Joe finished giving epidural injections yesterday and I took a short nap, we headed up the stairs to Rift Valley Academy to walk the guard trail. The history of Rift Valley Academy as a school for the children of missionaries is quite interesting and includes Theodore Roosevelt laying the cornerstone of one of the main buildings. But we were there to stretch our legs and hopefully see some monkeys, and we were successful on both accounts.

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There are about 5 monkeys in that tree, though the iPhone picture doesn’t quite do them justice. We stopped to listen to an African Gospel choir rehearsal and watched as the sun begin to sink over Mount Longonot before heading back towards home. Joe confessed that there was no tea or coffee at the apartment, so we walked into the Kijabe Central Business District to the Super Duka.

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We bought a 2L CocaCola Light, 100 bags of pure Kenyan tea, a pint of frozen yoghurt, 1 kg of turbinado sugar, and a small notebook for me for less than $8. Joe insisted that we use the change from our 1000 shillings to get some chapati at Mama Chiku’s, which I had heard a lot about the previous year. Even though we had dinner at home, we made an appetizer out of a few chapatis and some chai at Mama Chiku’s Hotel.

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This morning was my first day at Kijabe Hospital, and I wanted to make a good first impression. Except that the shower is a force to be reckoned with and my hair dryer doesn’t work with the convertor. Oh well, this is Africa.

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Joe gave a lecture on sepsis to the ICU nurses, and I pretended to be enthralled. He took me on a tour of the hospital (including the woodworking and metal shop!). It is like being in another world: 8-10 patients in a room, minimal hand sanitization, mopping up bodily fluids with soap and water, and relatives camped out on the lawn waiting for visiting hours. And apparently Kijabe is known as “the nice hospital because there are sheets on the beds.” Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not at Vanderbilt anymore. Nonetheless, I am very impressed by the creativity and flexibility in using the resources around. I mean, who needs a crash cart when you have a Craftsman toolbox?

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Then I met up with some of the chaplains, and we talked a little about how long I would be there and my experience. Being from significantly more conservative and evangelical backgrounds, they didn’t seem quite to know what to do with the information that I am an ordained priest and the only minister at my church but were welcoming anyway. I was paired up with a younger male chaplain, and we went off to the women’s ward for “bedside evangelism” – standing up in front of the room, introducing ourselves, giving them an encouraging word, and praying.

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One girl had lost her mother and brother in the same house attack that landed her in the hospital with a gunshot to her thigh. Stephen spoke mostly in Swahili and would translate my prayers phrase by phrase. At 12:30, the families come into see the patients, so we took a lunch break. I walked back to our apartment since Joe had made me a sandwich. In the afternoon, Stephen and I did some more individual visits, including one with this 19 year old with spina bifida.

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Stephen had asked her if she wanted to accept Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior today, and she said yes. Then he turned to me and asked me if I would lead her to Christ. I politely let him know that wasn’t really part of my tradition but that I would observe and support him. Pretty much just like chaplaincy at Vanderbilt. Or not. Like any good day of ministry, it was thoroughly exhausting. We even missed the tea break at 4 pm because we were with an elderly woman who might have malaria and her daughter. Not actually quitting at quitting time? Now that’s a quality of ministry that transcends cultural and political barriers. Joe picked me up at 5 pm, and we walked home together, changed, and then went for a walk around Kijabe to catch up on our days.

We might not be at Vanderbilt or in Kansas anymore, but Kijabe hospital has its own charm that I could get used to.