Sunday, November 18, 2012

I may be following this logic long after I turn 22...

Time to start our research

Last week, BG and I spent the day with Maasai families for our Kenya home stay. This was a much different experience than the home stays in Tanzania for multiple reasons. In Tanzania, the family spoke pretty good English and communication was fairly easy. Here in Kenya, our Maasai mama spoke Kimaasai and a little bit of Kiswahili so we used a lot of hand signals to communicate. The first task that we had to do was fetch water for the family, which the mama told us about by asking “Unapenda maji?” (Do you like/want water?). After realizing what she was trying to say, we grabbed the water jugs and started walking. It took about 20 minutes to get to the creek and then mama filled the jugs with water and made sure we stayed away from the creek like the few inches of water was able to sweep us away. After she filled the jugs, we tied fabric around the handles and positioned the fabric on our heads like headbands with the water resting on our backs. So now I can say that I have carried water on my head with a Maasai mama. And I made it all the way back to the home with it on my head! Needless to say, I was pretty proud of this accomplishment. We also got to play with the baby girl of the family (she was only six months old) and the kitten and puppy that the family had until I saw the puppy had fleas and decided petting him was a bad idea. The rest of the day we drank a lot of tea, made bracelets, helped prepare cabbage and ugali (a staple African food made with ground corn and looks like mashed potatoes) and ate lunch with our hands, helped to build a house in the rain by putting sticks in the siding that will be covered with cow dung, and set up to make charcoal by gathering goat poop and dirt with our hands and spreading it on logs. 

Our Maasai mama, 4 of her 6 children, BG and I.

Yesterday we finished exams and got assigned our Directed Research topics. I was put into the Wildlife Ecology group and we will be studying the water quality of the Noolturesh river that people and wildlife use every day. This was my top choice and I am so excited to start this project and hopefully learn new ways to extract water from the rivers in a more sustainable way. The first task is a group project proposal which we are to research the topic and make a plan for the next few weeks of research.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

rhinos and baby elephants!

About a week ago we got back from our second expedition. This time we went to Lake Nakuru National Park. This is a park that is based around Lake Nakuru that was filled with cichlid fish which attracted a variety of fish-eating birds. Within the fenced park there are also rhinos, a lot of buffalo, lions, zebra, giraffes, baboons, colobus monkeys, a variety of ungulates and other animals. Here I got to see quite a few black and white rhinos for the first time since I have been to Africa. This trip was a lot like the Serengeti: full of learning about the park and animals within and lots of game driving time. Yet, there was a big difference: it rained every day that we were in Nakuru, marking the beginning of the short rainy season in Kenya. Yet, we were up for game driving in rain or shine. We put our rain coats on and headed out to see some wildlife.
For a few weeks now we have known that going to an elephant orphanage in Nairobi is a possibility and I was hopeful that this fantasy of seeing baby elephants up-close could come true. The day that we left the park we had a chance to go to the elephant orphanage called David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust if we were ready in time and if there wasn’t too much traffic when passing by Nairobi. So after our 6am breakfast, we all rolled our sleeves up to hurriedly pack our hostel into the Rhino (the truck that carries all kitchen supplies and suitcases on expeditions) and head out of Nakuru. The orphanage is open to the public from 11am-noon, so it all depended on the traffic whether we would make it on time. The whole ride there, I sat in the front of the car excitedly biting my nails as the others in the car kept repeating that there was no way that we would make it. After what felt like an eternity of zigzagging in and out of traffic, we turned off the main road and yes, we were heading to the elephant orphanage!
Our car got there at 11:15, so I ran through the parking lot to the place where we can see the elephants eating and hear one of the handlers talk about the history of the orphanage. The orphanage’s objective is to take in young elephants that have lost their mothers and raise them until they are old enough to be released into the wild and join another herd of elephants. There were about 15 elephants there munching on tree branches and being oh so very cute. The baby elephants were so perfect and wrinkly! Then one walked towards the fence that separated them from us and we were able to touch their wrinkly goodness! They were surprisingly rough and had wiry hairs that scratched my hand. I was so happy and fortunate to be able to touch one of the most amazing animals in Africa.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mt. Kilimanjaro

A couple pictures that I took of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, which happens to be practically in my backyard:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Greetings from Kenya!

Our time in Tanzania ended in a whirlwind of events, lots of smiles, a few tears and an Iraqw farewell prayer. The last 7 weeks have gone by in a wonderful flash and I have gained lifelong friends and memories at the Moyo Hill Center of Tanzania. And even though I left Tanzania, I was able to travel with 29 of the most amazing people to Kenya and begin a whole new journey.
The Kilimanjaro Base Camp in Kenya is much different than Moyo Hill for all the right reasons. This camp is much bigger and in a more rural area. This means there is more wildlife around including snakes (yes, the poisonous ones), scorpions, lizards and baboons. The baboons think they own the place and can be seen walking around the camp any part of the day and like to hang out on the front porch of my banda (cabin). The bandas don’t have bathrooms here so there is a short walk to the toilets and showers. The best part of the showers is that on clear days there is a beautiful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro (pictures to come). The Kenyan staff is equally friendly and welcoming as the Tanzanian staff. They also help us practice our Swahili.
One of the first few days in Kenya was Halloween! Even though it isn’t celebrated in Africa, we made a celebration of our own. The afternoon started with costumes and I went with a ghost costume made with a white sheet and two eye holes. It was fun to see what costumes we made with the little clothes and supplies we brought to Africa. We carved pumpkins, trick-or-treated to each other’s bandas and had a costume contest. Even though the local staff thought we were weird, it was a fun holiday.
From the first week in Kenya, i can tell I am going to like it very much here!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The beauty of the Serengeti

There is only one word to describe a 5 day camping trip in the Serengeti: unreal. We drove for about 7 hours and after a few rest stops we arrived in the Serengeti with sleeping bags, tents and headlights and not knowing what to expect. Part of the drive was spent game driving through the Serengeti towards the campsite. Game driving includes lifting the top of the land cruiser so we can stand up and look for animals in the bush. On the way to the camp we saw zebra, Thompsons and grant’s gazelle, impala, buffalo and some lions lounging under trees. Once at the camp, we pitched the tent which proved more difficult than it sounds. We used large tents that held five people and our s had some difficulty: we ripped the fabric by staking the wrong part to the ground, the zipper was broken and one of the poles was missing. After overcoming these slight problems, we had our home for the next few nights.
            The next few days included a lot of sun, animals, laughter and reflection. Being in such a beautiful and serene place makes me think about how fortunate I am to experience this as it is something that can’t be described in words or pictures. Seeing a leopard sleeping on its belly on a tree branch with all four legs hanging off, watching hippos roll around in mud pools, listening to the heavy footprints of elephants as they slowly walk past, witnessing a serval take two graceful hops into the tall grass to come out with a rodent, staring into the beautiful colors of the sunset, sharing this time with some great friends and lots of laughter, these are all things that are too good to put into words.