I booked a tour through Urban Adventures to a suburb of Nairobi, where the itinerary was to visit a local market, clinic, and home, and then have a cooking lesson. I had used this company before and came out of it a little less than enthused. See post on 7/11 for details. This time, the guides were early. Cecelia and her driver met me in the lobby of the Kenya Comfort Hotel and Suites, we connected with the other passenger, Seiyta (spelling), from Melbourne, Australia, and we went on our way.
Our mission for the day was to immerse in local Kenyan life, in a suburb of Nairobi. We visited a local vegetable market, where we learned the structure of the value chain (farmer, driver (takes title), wholesaler, retailer, and customer. We learned the markups of various fruits and vegetables, and got to interact with the vendors, who were all very friendly and happy to see us. We even got offers from women to marry us and go back to America. Most important in this portion of the trip was how happy and friendly the people seemed to be. They subsist on very little, and yet smile the day away. I am not saying this as a disconnected tourist, but as someone who spent considerable time in the field, witnessing this. Cecilia drove this point home by repeating it many times during our tour.
The clinic was fascinating, in that the doctor, nurses (Cecilia volunteers here as a nurse as well), make do with what they have in the face of numerous medical issues, not the least of which is hypertension. Sure, STDs and HIV were part of the conversation, but hypertension, due to the stress of living in that kind of environment, was a focal point of the conversation. I came away from that experience thankful, and at the same time, ashamed, at how misdirected American health care has become. Here, in this suburb of Nairobi, which, to most Americans, would be a slum, the diligence and care that this little clinic illustrates should be a lesson to our disturbed health care system.
Finally, we went to Cecilia’s home, were we were treated to a lunch of chapatti, rice, kale, potato stew, and meat. It was delicious, and Cecilia’s children joined us. We then made chapatti from scratch, which involves mixing wheat flour, water, salt, and sugar into a ball that resembles a pizza crust before rolling. We then rolled it, adding flour where necessary. Once it was in a nice round shape, we then fried it with ample vegetable oil, and ate it. Now, I know how to make chapatti. Chapatti is much like a pupusa, without the fillings. It is Kenyan delicacy, at one time reserved only for special occasions.
If you are ever in Nairobi, ask me for Cecilia’s info and take a tour with her. She is fantastic.
One of my objectives in coming to Kenya, thanks to my friend Kathy, was to find suitable organizations to contribute to. Like Kathy, I am interested in what happen to the children from the slums like Kibera, as they are the most vulnerable of Kenyan citizens.
Because I have been posting photos on Instagram, I was followed by Mr. Ben Manyunyu Barthel, whose mother, Paschalia Nduku, founded the InuaMimiRescueCenter, a charitable organization devoted to, as their Facebook page indicates, “Putting a Smile on a Child’s Face.” That seemed like a perfect cause for me and Kathy, and so I reached out to Ben, who come to meet me at my hotel.
We discussed the purpose of their organization in the lobby of the Best Western/Meridian hotel in downtown Nairobi. Ben, and his friend Sam answered all of my questions about the organization, facilitating a donation. I found the two of these gentlemen very endearing, honest, and noble, taking on a cause that is urgent in Nairobi, and in many cities in Kenya – the present and future of the city’s youth. The children who are raised in the slums, like Kibera, have limited escape routes. Without the initiatives of people like Ben, his mom, and Sam, these kids seem doomed to a perpetual “groundhog day” of begging and struggling to survive in circumstances that are beyond comprehension. So kudos to Ben, his mom, and Sam. And the many others in Nairobi and across Kenya who are working to make a difference.
What can one say about a safari that is not evident from the photos? I have a few words that may not immediately come to mind. One is awe. I am nature nut, some might call me a tree-hugger. Almost nothing is more pleasing to my eye than a starlit sky, a raging river, a snow-capped mountain, or a herd of wildebeest grazing on an open plain. Last year I went on safari in South Africa and Botswana. This year it is Kenya and Tanzania.
Kenya has not disappointed. This is safari country. I just finished four days in Tsavo East and West and Amboseli National Parks, in the southeast corner of Kenya. Tsavo East has a healthy number of lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, and all the other little furry creatures people don’t think too much about in their zeal to see the “Big 5.” By the way, the Big 5 are lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. I did not get to see the rhino on this tour, but I did see quite a few last year, particularly in Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Tsavo West is home to the leopard, and we found one. Other than that, this part of the safari was disappointing. Unlike Tsavo East, Tsavo West has very heavy brush, which gives the animals plenty of places to hide. So I did not get to see very many animals. However, when a leopard is spotted somewhere in the park, the guides communicate this fact via CB radios, and everyone rushes to that site. Thus, thanks to my excellent guide and driver, Becker, I got to see my first wild leopard. They are amazingly beautiful, elegant, powerful, majestic creatures, and pure eye candy.
Amboseli is an assault on all the senses. Huge concentrations of elephants, zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, gazelles, and birds of all shapes and sizes await. We also saw many hyenas (one of which tried, unsuccessfully, to eat a warthog), mongoose, jackals, and of course, lions. Lions are lazy by nature, and some sleep more than 20 hours a day.
The lodge did not pay me to write this. If you make it to Amboseli, stay at the Kibo Safari Camp. Amazing luxury tent cabins with views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, friendly staff, and feet away from the national park. The food is good, the WIFI is terrible, but the digs and the proximity to the park, not to mention the nightly planetarium, make this an awesome place to safari. Did I mention it has the most refreshing swimming pool of all time? Yes, a swimming pool in a safari lodge.
This is enough. I will let the photos do the talking. Click here.
Next stop, Nairobi.