The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

And then I fell in love with Africa...

September 12, 2009

Wow! I’ve had another one of those days that I can’t even adequately put into words. Hopefully putting pictures up with the blog will work – if not they will be posted very soon.

IMy morning started off with chai and brown bread as usual, though this time the bread had peanut butter on it which was really exciting and also seemed to help clear up my Tusker induced tummy ache! Then I met up with Micheal, his host brother George, Rachel R., Alex, Lisa C., Lydia, Laila, Zach, Anton, Anton’s host sister, Sara and cousin Ann by Le Pic elementary school, a grade school that is sort of centally located in Riruta Satellite which is coincidentally enough where the older two of my host siblings attend school.

We all took a Citi Hoppa Bus to the Nakumat Center. It was so crowded that for the first half of the ride I was sitting almost in Rachel’s lap and for the second half of the ride I was wedged in so tight in the very back seat between Zach and Anton that I couldn’t move a muscle, but that was probably just as well as my feet didn’t touch the floor and I think that being wedged in so tightly was a pretty effective seatbelt.

Once we reached the nakumat center, a couple of people went in to buy snacks. I went in and purchased a Kenyan cell phone. The great thing about it is that it is an unlocked phone, so anywhere in the world I happen to go I can just get a SIM card and be set to go. The phone itself was very cheap and I got a very plain one, but an unlocked cell seems a good thing to have in the family and I’ll definitely pass it along should anyone else I know require one after my African adventures are over. If for whatever reason your cell company allows you to make international phone calls without an astromical fee and you want to chat with me, e-mail me and I will send you a number!

After the Nakumat stop, we caught a matatu to go to Ngong. Matatus are sketchy privately operated vans/small buses that essentially have no rules and are all decorated crazily. Ours was no exception. Though it looked pretty normal on the outside (we didn’t notice the “Jesus Forever” banner on the back until after we departed), the inside was all done in red and green vinyl! Our group took up pretty much the whole matatu!

The matatu driver asked our group if we liked reggae. We all did, so we said yes, not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. At first we were all just kind of bobbing out heads to the beat, bouncing along with the many potholes on the streets of Nairobi, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Then, we started listening to the lyrics. “Abortion is not a human right,” belted the female singer, “abortion it is a crime. It is a crime. It is a crime. It is a cry-eye-eye-mah!”. Unfortunately, the beat was all too catchy and I am sure we will all catch ourselves humming it this upcoming week. We were all relieved when the driver changed the radio to a station specializing in praise Jesus type pop – none of us were quite comfortable driving along blasting anti-abortion anthems, though considering we were driving past “Choose life say no to drugs!” and “Choose life say no to sex!” murals painted on churches, probably no one we were driving by minded in the slightest.

Finally we reached Ngong and the trek to begin our trek began. We walked through a small area of stores, a huge market, many small homsteads (with children shouting “Wazungu!” and “Hello, howareyou!”, of course) and past a couple of charming churches before reaching the main enterance to the park.

Thankfully George, Michael’s Kenyan host brother and Sara, Anton’s Kenyan host sister were along to haggle with the park rangers to make sure we weren’t charged unfairly because we were foreigners. Our rates ended up being 100 Ksh for the wazungu in the group and 50 Ksh for the Kenyans (about $1.30 and $0.66 respectively) for park entry.

For those of you familiar with (one of my all time favorite books and movies), Out of Africa, you might remember the Ngong Hills are one of the areas Karen Blixen frequents. As an unrelated, but nonetheless interesting aside, a whole suburb of Nairobi is named “Karen” for her and is where most of Kenya’s expat/residential wazungu can be found. Anyways, the Ngong Hills are where Denys Finch (the Robert Redford character in the movie) is buried. None of us were sure if his grave is marked or not and we only hiked the first couple of very many hills, but it was amazing for me to be in the place that inspired such a beautiful work of art.

I did chat with people for much of the hike, but sometimes I just had to fall silent and walk quietly a little bit, or stand off by myself and watch the far off black and white dots of colobus monkeys scurrying among the trees while as many lines from Blixen’s writing as I could remember ran through my head.

For the first time, today I really fell in love with Africa. I can’t even describe the feeling that seeing that much incredible open space creates. It was awe inspiring, spiritual almost (and indeed we did stumble across several individuals who had gone up into the hills for prayer and meditation) and though I did join in with the group and attempt to play dodgeball and frisbee at one point after our lunch break, all I really wanted to do was just stand at the top of one of the hills and look around me and take it all in.

We hiked past Masaai and their cattle, sheep and goats. Both man and beast have the same drawn, sinewy and long legged appearance due to the current drought situation. But they are so adept at maneuvering in their environment. While us wazungu and our city Kenyan friends, slipped and stumbled and shouted and giggled our way through the hills, the Masaai and their charges travel in a manner nearly silent.

We also came across several small groups of cross country runners training in the hills. No wonder Kenyan distance runners reign supreme world wide – these men were off on long hilly training runs at an elevation of 6,000-7,000+ feet!

I admired them all so much and felt so soft and weak and pale and useless. What an amazing thing it would be to have a body that in tune with your surroundings.

The Hills were simultaneously both more and less beautiful than I had imagined them.

More because their sheer magnitude and the sweeping views of the valley and gently rolling hills below is something the human imagination, or at least, my imagination, can’t even really conjure up a picture of unassisted. The best I way I can describe it is that I felt a great sense of peace, that if places like this still exist in the world, perhaps there is still hope to retain some of Nature’s great diversity.

The only thing that made it less beautiful, but saddened me greatly was the abundance of trash on the main path, especially discarded plastic water bottles. We picked up as many as we could on the way, but it still wasn’t enough.

Reluctantly, we all hiked back down the hills and took buses back to Riruta. Rachel and I headed off down the street in the direction of our homes only to run into my host mama and her daughter, Alicia. Mama wangu was very excited to meet Rachel. Then she sent me running back into the house to change out of my messy boots and pick up the beautiful black and blue kanga she gave me on the day she came to first meet me, in order that we could take it to the seamstresses down the street to have it made into a dress or skirt for our final picnic lunch gathering with our Riruta homestay families next Saturday. We even found matching beaded Masaai sandals in a shop next door.

Mama is insisting on paying for my dress, though she will let me buy the sandals and the “bangles” – Masasi jewlery we are going shopping for a the market tomorrow - though she will do the haggling so that I won’t have to pay mzungu prices. She is determined that I will be the best dressed girl there and chattered away in Kiswahilli at the seamstresses describing them what she wants my outfit to look like. As best I understood, she wanted a long A-line skirt to show off my “long, long legs” and a fitted, sleeveless top for my “tiny shoulders”. I am so excited for my dress to be finished and so grateful once again to my host mama. Keep this quiet though – it is supposed to be a surprise for the other L+C students. Now that I finally have her convinced that Bryan and I are not madly in love and intending to have half a dozen in children in the next couple of years, I think she intends to have me engaged to a young man in my L+C group before I leave Riruta next week!

Her generosity continues to amaze me. This evening I was telling her that in an e-mail my mom had told me to please thank her for taking such good care of me. She in turn informed me that any mother of mine must be a very good and loving person and that if my mother is ever to travel to Kenya, she is not to pay to stay at a hotel, but rather my host family would be thrilled to open their home to her as well as me. I think this city itself is so ugly and awful, but many of its people are some of the most beautiful I have ever met.

Baba tonight helped me figure out how to work and charge my phone and as a family we all sat and watched “Land of the Lost” together because none of us had ever seen it. Pretty much every movie you can buy in Kenya is pirated and this was no exception. It was a disc containing both “Land of the Lost” and “17 Again”. The film was terrible, but it was great fun to watch it with my host family, because they were all laughing so hard, especially Baba who is a great fan of Will Ferrell.

Tomorrow morning I am meeting Laila and Alex for a pre-Church run, which will hopefully keep me from fidgeting too much during the Kiswahilli service.

After today’s little taste of natural Africa, I absolutely cannot wait for safari. I’ve already learned so much here, but I’m almost positive that particular experience is going to be truly life changing.

Loving all of your e-mails and comments! Keep ‘em coming!

And now a long list of PS type things that are just too good not to share.
1. Baba was super impressed with me, when he was asking about my evening last night and he found out that only did I drink a Tusker, I drank a BIG Tusker, not the little green one. Mama on the other hand was disappointed I went to only one bar/club.
2. Any good and easy anti-sore throat ideas from anyone? I am totally starting to lose my voice. Kenyans are really loud, so being able to shout is pretty much a necessity for daily life here.
3. Everyone else laughed at me on the hike today because I was wearing so many clothes (long brown pants, tank top, orange dry fit long sleeved shirt over the top) while most others were in shorts and t-shirts and tank tops. But guess who isn’t sunburned the color of a nyanya (tomato)…haha, yep, I win!
4. I won’t be engaged by next week, but my friend Rachel just might. All of the young men at the end of her street (6 or 8 of them at least) all know her name and greet her enthusiastically, one even by saying “Rachel, Rachel, I love you, I need you.” Which of course means I have now taken to greeting her in the same fashion each time I see her.
5. Some Kenyan kids on the hills kept calling Zach, who has thus far kept his pact to not shave or cut his hair on the trip, “Jesus” during our hike today.
6. After being so chivalrous and walking me to my door last night so I wouldn't have to go down the dark alley all alone, Zach went to his home only that his compound had been locked and though he pounded on the door, no one heard him, so he was forced to scale the family's security wall and ended up landing in a thorn bush. As a result, his right elbow and lower arm appear as if he's been in a really impressive swiss army knife fight. Perhaps the wounds help with the whole Jesus thing.


  1. Dear "Heel,"
    I am entranced by your descriptions of Africa. The tale of Heel and the Hills was beautiful. You are writing your memoirs already!

    I used to have an international phone card, but I do not know if it's still working. I'm going to try to find out if it is, and if so I will have to get the number of your unlocked cell phone.

    I do not know what to say about Uncle George as my usual retorts are probably far more offensive than you would want to use, especially if it does turn out to be a cultural thing. If you get to the point where he is seriously creeping you out, though, call me. (As to the marriage question--try "It gives my mother something to live for.")

    I am glad you were able to eventually procure peanut butter; knowing how you live off the stuff I'm sure not having it was a trial! For the sore throat, try tea with honey if it is available. If not, I have heard apple cider vinegar suggested, but I am not sure how well it actually works.

  2. Dear Hill,

    I love reading about your crazy African adventures! It sounds like you are having an amazing time, even despite your homesickness and sketchy anti-abortion buses.

    I was showing our Saddle Club Spoof to some people a few days ago and realized how much I miss you! I hope you have an amazing time for the rest of your adventure. I think I have an international calling card...I'll need to dig it out and see if I can call you.


  3. Dear Hill,
    What an amazing adventure. Life remains hectic her, I'm sure Esme has told you they are trying to get JoJo in foal will know tomorrow if it works. Ashton is regaining her confidence. Rob is down with Mousie and George Morris in CA as I write. All the critters miss you as much as we miss you.

    Preparing for my Parent 60th Anniversary this Sunday at our home, not without it's sibbling drama, sheesh last I checked we were all over 49!

    Miss you so much. Take care Lots of love Sherry