The good: Warm sunshine, baby elephants, giraffes, little girls in Sunday dresses, and the sing song Kenyan accent
The bad: That sinking, edgy feeling that I may be robbed, or bitten by a mosquito at any minute… it will take me a few days to shake this one (don’t worry mom, it’s all in my head)
The ugly: A sweet little girl (maybe 3 years at the most), in her pretty Sunday dress, begging from us as her mother watches from the curb
We arrived safely in Nairobi last night, New Year’s Eve, at around 9:30pm. As soon as we walked off the plane, we noticed a familiar smell in the air… it’s the smell of heat with a touch of exhaust. Our blue jeans and sweaters will be at the bottom of our suitcase for the next three months. Things went smoothly at the airport; bank cards worked (which is important), visas were accepted, and we had a nice taxi driver who charged a reasonable fair. Our hotel, the 680, is over-priced, but just fine. We passed many ladies of the night on our way to the hotel.
Terry’s sleeping is still wonky… I am expecting him to crash any minute now. We were up until well after 1am and Terry got up at 4am and was out for breakfast by 6am this morning. I think he’s had about 9 hours sleep total in the past 3 or 4 days. Anyway, I joined him for breakfast around 7am… which would be called one in Kenya. They start their day at 6am, so if you are meeting someone at what we would call 10am, you would say, I will meet you at four. Six is their midnight – just one of the confusing things about Kenya.
On the way down to breakfast, I bumped into an American fellow, Chris VanDuyne, on the elevator and asked him to join us for breakfast. He is a fascinating guy. He is completing his third master’s degree at Columbia University in New York and has just been accepted to Harvard for his PhD. His degrees are in Government and Non Profit Organizations, Healthcare, and Education. He will do his PhD in Urban Planning. Chris started a charity, Fearless Charities Inc. (fearlesscharities.org), after reading an article about a hospital in Somalia that had no equipment because no one would take it to them. He decided he would be the guy that would. Hospitals donate old equipment and pay him a small fee to deliver the equipment to countries like Somalia, Haiti. The hospitals get a $20,000 charitable write-off for about $1,000 and the cost of his travel expenses. He has stopped in Kenya on his way to Somalia. He is a pretty focussed guy, that hasn’t done any touristy stuff on all of his trips to Africa. He came with us to the Elephant Orphanage and The Langata Giraffe Centre. Terry was pretty happy to have someone new to talk politics and economics with.
Before I get to cute little elephants – and boy oh boy are they ever cute – I’ll just touch in on that sinking feeling I was mentioning. After breakfast we went to find a cash machine. It is a holiday and the streets were very quiet, but every 50 metres or so, there would be 3 or 4, sometimes half a dozen, security guards on the street, just kind of hanging around. It’s creepy. They seem quite bored, very skinny, so not very threatening to the bad guys I wouldn’t think, and, I don’t know… there’s something just disturbing about a deserted street covered in askaris (Swahili for guards).
I asked Maina (pronounced May-eee-na), our taxi driver, why all the askari. He says some people want to steal. It threatens them. There is no problem. Alright, I guess. We stopped at a look-out point over Nairobi and three young men asked us to sign our names here… a petition? Then we saw they were looking for “sponsors” for school. Maina pointed out that they do not want to work. It is not good. They should at least do a little something if they want money. You see now, why we need the guards. There are people who just don’t want to work. But they want to eat.
O.K. Now for the baby elephants! The baby elephants are rescued and raised at the nursery for up to three years, the time they need milk to survive. They are bottle fed every three hours for the first two years and then every four to six hours for another year. At three, they are transferred to Tsavo Park where they can eat large amounts of vegetation and will eventually integrate into the wild. I could go on and on, but I see this entry is getting quite long enough. The September 2011 issue of National Geographic has a great story with amazing pictures about the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The elephants are rescued after their mothers are killed often by poachers or from starvation. This little guy (picture to follow) was rescued when he was only a week old – he is 4 weeks now. The elephants look out for each other and form very close relationships. Their trainers have to be sure to rotate so that the elephants don’t become too attached. I think I know what I want to be when I grow up.