Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Kissed a Giraffe, and I Liked It

Friday afternoon, I went back to the maternity ward with Pastor Kithae. Several women were having complications that required them to terminate their pregnancies, so we prayed with them. After our afternoon chai break, I went to find Joe in the ICU, and though the rest of the day had been calm, craziness had broken loose. He explained to this large family that their father’s heart is basically a ticking time bomb. It has so many problems that any medication to fix one aspect will make another one worse. Then the ICU was getting a new patient, so he had to wait to get her settled. I went back to our house, changed, and went on a walk around town.


Dr. McAvoy, the residency director at Vanderbilt, has been here at Kijabe with his family, and Friday night was their last night so he invited us along with the KRNA (Kenyan Registered Nurse Anesthetist) students over for chai and dessert. His wife had graciously baked a bunch of wonderful American-style desserts, which the Kenyan students ate but found very sweet for their palate. By the time we had said our good-byes, it was raining quite hard. Somehow, I managed to not slip and fall in the mud, but there were some close calls!

The next morning, we woke up early to journey to Nairobi where Joe was giving a four-hour lecture. The fog in Kijabe and at the top of the hill was incredibly thick and unforgiving. The last time I’d seen fog that thick was in January 2012 in Sewanee! By the time we got to Limuru, the fog had dissipated a bit. At one point, a car trying to pass on the two-lane highway, swung out in front of us, and we narrowly avoided a head-on collision. While Joe was doing that, Philip took me to the Giraffe Centre and the elephant orphanage.

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The Giraffe Centre is home to ten Rothschild giraffes, a sub-species that is endangered due to humans taking over their habitat. For 1000 Kenyan shillings (~$12), you can feed the giraffes up close.

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Since I was the first guest that morning, I had the giraffes to myself for a while. One of the educators taught me to fold my lips over my teeth and put the pellet between them to get a giraffe kiss!

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Their tongues are long, purple, and rough to strip the leaves off of the acacia trees, so it felt a little bit like a bigger, slightly more slobbery version of my cats’ tongues. They are beautifully awkward animals, and while I’ve seen them in the wild, this was an incredible experience.

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We had some time to kill before the elephant orphanage opened, so Philip and I took tea at the Giraffe Centre, and I watched the reactions of other families and groups as they fed and kissed the giraffes.

The elephant orphanage is open to the public only from 11 am to 12 pm daily. We got there a little early to get a prime spot to watch the elephants come in. There are currently 25 elephants who came out in 2 groups. They range from 3 months old to 5 years old, though most elephants prepare to transition out of the orphanage at 3 years old. Of course, the babies are adorable.

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One of them was a spunky little guy and had his trunk wrapped around the scarf of the girl next to me. We watched them eat, drink, and spray themselves with mud. Their trunks are truly remarkable.

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Many of the elephants in the orphanage were orphaned by poachers and human-wildlife conflict. The caretaker told us all about their names, their ages, how they were found, and any other distinguishing details. Many of them were found by the Mobile Vet units that patrol the natural areas, and it was heartbreaking to hear how they would stand guard over the bodies of their dead and mutilated mothers.

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You can adopt an elephant for a minimum of $50 a year, though it costs $950 a month per elephant, and they receive no special funding. Philip and I went to lunch at Nairobi Java House before picking Joe up. Philip had said you can buy anything you need on the streets of Nairobi, and that seemed to be true. Not just newspapers and additional money for your cell phone, but we saw a guy carrying a full-size coat rack and others selling giant stuffed animals in addition to bundles of corn.

The drive back to Kijabe was less eventful than our trip to Nairobi that morning, though just as we were getting close to Kijabe, Philip pulled over the car and told us to get out and to bring my camera. In the trees above us were some Colobus monkeys, a species I had never seen. They look almost like flying skunks with big fluffy white tails.

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We both slept hard last night, our first good sleep since we’ve arrived, and we’re getting ready to go to church. It’s nice to be able to sleep in on Sunday and get to worship in the pews!

Happy Father’s Day!