Kenya, Summer 2011, Part 1

21 July 2011


Here I am! In Nairobi! It is 7:20 AM and I’m wishing I could’ve slept more. But after over 24 sleepless hours I think I can be happy about sleeping for nearly seven. My flight from New York to Amsterdam was the best flight I’ve ever had. It was just me and a young man my age, who I befriended along the way. A few facts: His name is Nathan and he is from Holland. Hair- short and brown. Skinny. Enjoys soccer. His birthday is August 16th and he is going on 19. He is studying something along the lines of computer marketing. He has never read the Harry Potter books.

We had fun together, talking, playing cards, watching movies. I taught him how to play “Egyptian rat screw” and “go fish.” Understandably, he preferred the former. The seven hour flight was so much more bearable having someone interesting to talk to. The time flew by. Ha ha. Get it? I made the mistake of letting him go without getting his full name, so I can’t find him anywhere on the interwebs. We will probably never see each other again. But maybe the universe will allow our paths to cross in the future…

22 July 2011

Nairobi, 12:17 am

Today, Courtney and I went to the Yaya Center, which is a three-story mall near our hotel, the Gracia Guest House. We walked there, led by a young woman on her way to take her employer’s children home from school. We picked our way through dirty streets and gazed up at shining new apartment buildings. Once we reached the center, I was shocked at the similarity between this shopping mall and one I might find in the United States. Inside the center, consumers sip chai and window shop, while pasty-white mannequins stare blankly back at them. Some stride by in business suits, others lounge at a café chatting on their cellphones. I felt like I’d stepped back into America, like I’d never left.

If you exit the center and walk a few blocks, you’ll find sheet-metal shacks and open fires burning along the streets. Maasai men lead their goats through traffic and vendors walk between cars selling snacks, DVD’s, and trinkets.

Tomorrow we are going to going to the elephant orphanage and the giraffe refuge center. Then, on to Narok.

Baby elephants at the elephant orphanage in Nairobi. The elephants are orphaned after their mothers have been killed by poachers. To learn more about the orphanage or adopt an elephant go to 

Photos by Cathy Brett 

23 July 2011


This morning we left for the Nabolu Girls’ Centre at 9:00. We went to the center in Luka’s car, driving a long dirt roads that look more like canyons. As we drove, dust billowed behind us and peeking out of the clouds were smiling children, waving and shouting “muzungu! muzungu!”– white person! white person! in Swahili.

Once we got to Nabolu, girls came out to greet us, taking our right hands in theirs and leaning in to brush  each cheek against our own. “Supa! Supa!,” (“hello” in Kimaasai) we said, over and over. One of the girls took my hand and led me to the classroom, an average size room with a low ceiling and a cement floor. There, after introducing ourselves, the girls sang and danced for us. Hearing them sing was energizing and uplifting, for the joy and pride with which they sing is extremely powerful. I couldn’t contain my smiles.

Next, we went to the new building site where we will construct a better facility for the Nabolu Girls’ Centre. We blessed the site by standing in a circle, hand in hand, and passed a squeeze, like we do at the WEB conference. Afterwards, the girls discovered that I’m studying Swahili and began talking to me. I used only the fundamentals- but I still spoke the language! And this simple interaction allowed me to get to know the girls a little better. I wish I could spend more time with them. Maybe I will come back someday…I hope I can find the strength.

This country is so poor. People do not live here. They survive. And me- I live so luxuriously. I hate it. Here, people live in metal shacks, sleep three to a bed, eat close to nothing. I’m renting a condo and trying to keep myself from eating too much. I feel like no matter what I do, people here will never have what I have. It will take centuries to close that gap.

The girls, however, are inspiring. They ran away from home to pursue their education. Left their families, their possessions, everything, and walked miles to get to Nabolu. These young women are the true feminists. I can only hope to be half as brave as they are. I guess in my world I don’t have to have that much courage…life is simply easier.

I smiled so much today that my cheeks hurt.

Singing and dancing in the classroom at the Nabolu Girls’ Centre. Photo by Cathy Brett. 

25 July 2011

Maasai Mara

Last night was our first night at camp. We arrived around dinner time and met all of the students, teachers and Maasai men and women who facilitate the camp. We set up our tents and joined everybody for beans and chabati around the campfire. We talked and laughed, sharing stories and getting to know each other. Bedtime came around 8. The stars were spread across the sky like thousands of diamonds spilled on black velvet. I woke up once in the middle of the night to the sound of rain.

Before coming to camp, we– Courtney, Cathy, Jackie, Kitty, Nick and I– stopped at the “shuka shop” in Narok where we ogled at countless shukas, long sheets of colorfully patterned material that the Maasai drape over their shoulders. I ended up buying a black, teal and purple women’s shuka. The women’s shukas are more light-weight than mens’ shukas, which are warmer and made of heavier material…I eventually bought one of these, too. I wear it all the time around the house now. We left with more than we needed and headed for the bead co-op at the edge of town. The bead co-op was started by a Prescott College student. You can check it out hereThe women at the co-op sat on the ground stringing tiny beads of blue, red, white, all sort of colors together to create necklaces, bracelets and earrings. One woman laid a shuka out on the ground and put different pieces of jewelry out for us to choose from. I bought two necklaces, some bracelets and earrings. It was so hard to decide. Each piece was beautiful and completely unique.

At the bead co-op. Photos courtesy of Cathy Brett.

The drive into the Mara is a rough one. The part of the road that is paved is covered in potholes, craters. Most of the road, however, is dirt– dust, actually– and interrupted by streams and ditches. Hundreds of little roads weave in and out of the landscape where people have made their own map. The six of us bounced up and down, crammed in Nick’s little car. I could wipe thin layers of dust from my face with my fingers.

The Great Rift Valley, where we stopped to enjoy the view on our way into the Mara. 

Although it’s a hell of a ride, traveling through the mara is worth it. We saw wildebeest, giraffes, gazelles and zebras along the way. The land itself is magnificent. Vast plains covered in green grass and tall trees, speckled with villages and cattle. All sitting underneath a crisp grey-blue sky.

26 July 2011

Maasai Mara, Camp 

Camp: Various paths have been created that lead to our separate tents, which sit within little groves of acacia trees. The paths also lead to the research center and the bathrooms. We have two squat toilets that are inside metal outhouses, and we have another that is a composting toilet. Outside the outhouses is a wash station where a pack of water is hung on a tree. Beyond the toilets is the shower, constructed similarly to the bathrooms. Inside is a pail and a large bucket. To shower, you stand in the pail and pour water over yourself with a cup.

We eat three meals a day. Breakfast is around 7:00 each morning and we all sort of eat in shifts around the picnic table. Each morning, breakfast is accompanied by two large thermoses of chai and a smaller thermos of coffee. Lunch is at one-ish under the ramada by the center. Dinner is around 7:00 at the campfire. The food is simple, but delicious- chabati (sort of like a tortilla, but thicker), noodles, cabbage (which I grew to absolutely love!), lentils (I cook lentils aaaalll the time now!), rice, beans, and occasionally, eggs. For breakfast, we eat omelets, crêpes, and a peculiar combination of mashed potatoes and porridge, which is a strange grayish purple color.

The students attend class and work on projects while Cathy, Courtney and I work on the Open Meadows grant and the documentary. We often work in the research center, which is solar powered and equipped with a computer, a library, and a printer.

I really like it here. It will be hard to leave.


Camp: my Walmart tent, which held up just fine; the research center and lunching ramada.


1 Comment

Filed under Prose, Travel

One response to “Kenya, Summer 2011, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Kenya Dig It? | Untethered as a Cloud


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