Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In All Rwanda's Glory

Coincidentally, yesterday began the 15 year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. The war lasted 100 days and I think approximately 800,000 people were killed while the world did nothing. I fear the world is making the same mistake now in Darfur. We said after the Holocaust "Never Again" and yet we allow these atrocities to happen. Check out to see how you can help. Check out Hotel Rwanda or Shooting Dogs, both movies that address what happened in Rwanda. Let us never forget what happened there and let us not turn a blind eye on what is happening presently. Here is my own experience with that great continent, Africa:

Have I mentioned how lucky my life has been on here yet? If not, let me take this moment to say my life has been incredibly lucky and incredibly blessed so far. I have a great boyfriend, an awesome sister, wonderful and loving parents, and I have had amazing experiences because I have had several opportunities to travel abroad.

Right after I graduated from high school the travel group took a trip to Kenya. There was some nervousness on everyone’s part because we were going right after September 11 and the whole world seemed a bit screwy. It was an adventure the whole 5 days we were there, starting with the plane ride. Nae and I sat next to this older Kenyan woman and when Nae didn’t finish everything from her dinner the lady kindly asked if she could have it. I would never ask a stranger for their half-eaten meal but she must have been stoked on the airplane food. She then started asking us about what we were doing in Kenya and invited us to come to her family’s house. It was near where all the flamingos are, Lake Nakuru. Unfortunately, we weren’t headed in that direction so we had to decline. On landing, Glen was taken away by airport security with all of our passports. We were a little sketched out, but turns out they just processed them all at once for us rather than do one at a time to save us time. Our driver picked us up and said we could either go to a hotel and rest or go to see this orphaned animal facility. It is one of my biggest regrets that the group voted to get some rest. They reasoned we would see plenty of animals on the safari, which was totally true, but when I go back to Kenya, I will be going to the facility. After a rest it was time for lunch. We were driven to the Carnivore restaurant ( we got to sample hartabeast, zebra, and alligator along with other types of animals we would be seeing shortly on the Masai Mara. Servers brought out each type of meat on a huge skewer, announced what it was, and then cut you a few pieces of if you were down to try it. There were a couple of monkeys jumping around the patio roof as we ate, too.

After lunch we drove to the smaller airport in Nairobi. Each person and their bags had to be weighed. It was pretty disconcerting to look out on the air field and see the bodies of more than a few burnt out planes scattered around. I think we were all secretly freaking out that our flight could end up like these ones on the ground we were seeing. We got up in the air not very long later and hit some big clouds and had a pretty bumpy ride. I remember keeping a death grip on A’s hand. As we got close to the landing strip, I started to see what I thought were big boulders on the ground. As we came in though I could see what they really were: elephants!

A couple of cars came to pick us up and we immediately went for a drive. My Godfather, Mom, A, and I ended up in a car together and off we went. We saw ostriches and zebra and gazelles of every different sort and then we came upon a pride of lions just relaxing in the afternoon heat. I remember being a little nervous about how close we were able to get to them. That day we also checked out the elephants, again very very closely, and they had some babies in the herd with them. As we went to check out three giraffes, a storm came over. The sky turned this incredible dark blue color and the grass was so golden. The giraffes looked beautiful up against those two colors and it’s a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

We then headed over to our camp. We were let out of the cars and then down in to a little row boat that was pulled across the Mara River. A guide walked us in to the camp and it was then that it started raining. A and I shared a tent and it was like no tent I had ever seen before. It had 2 regular beds in it, a wood floor, and a separate room that had a flush toilet, sink, and shower. At night if you wanted to go to dinner or head over to the bar you simply stuck your lantern outside the door and then waited for a guide to come get you. Our guides were not guys to mess around with, either; they were real Masaii warriors and they stood guard outside all night long with nothing more than a stick!

In the morning someone would come to your tent and you’d be awoke with “Jambo, good morning ladies” and then you’d get a tray of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and some cookies to get you warmed up for your morning drive. Nae said she had heard noises in the middle of the night (and so had we, lion calls can be heard for miles away) and when she looked out of her tent there was a herd of elephants headed down to the pond in front of our tents and one had stopped and looked like it was leaning against our tent! After quickly drinking the tea and throwing on some clothes, we’d get in to the cars when it was still a bit dark out and get going. Most mornings we saw lions eating something. One morning we came across a pride out in the open and they had a bunch of babies in the group. We watched them play for ages and it was the cutest thing ever. When a male came in to the group, the babies jumped on him and tried to play with him. Another morning we came across two independent (i.e. were probably juveniles who hadn't taken over a pride over their own yet)lions who were on an old hippo kill. The smell was nauseating but it was awesome to see them eating and their faces all covered in blood.

We saw all of the big five animals (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard). The only animal I didn’t see was the cheetah, which was disappointing, but while the rest of the group saw it me, Mom, Nae, Glen and his 3 kids took a hot air balloon trip over the Mara. It was an incredible feeling to be up there floating quietly. We saw lots of alligators and hippos along the water and it was funny to see a giraffe watch us coming and not process its fear and go running until we were nearly passed it. We landed where ever our bottle of gas ran out, which happened to be very close to the Tanzanian border and also very close to one of the only remaining Wide (not White, that’s a misconception/mispronunciation) Rhinos in that part of the park. We had a great breakfast outdoors and then drove back to camp.

After the morning drive on most days, everyone then went back to camp to have a proper breakfast. The breakfasts were held outside and the chefs there must have had some French pastry training. They had the best chocolate filled croissants in the world. Often we’d be joined by a warthog who would wonder between the tables looking for food. The warthog fell in love with Glen and would be by him as much as possible. After breakfast was another drive for a few hours, before another outdoor lunch, and then a few hours off through the heat of the day to sleep and relax while most of the animals were doing the same. One of the days we forfeited our afternoon drive so that we could leave right after lunch and go to the local Masaii village. We were greeted by all the little kids singing a song for us. When we entered the village, all of the women were dressed up and singing, as well. Then the young Masaii warriors came out and showed us their prowess by having a jumping competition. My Dad got in their with them and it looked like he got 6 inches off the ground compared to them being able to jump four feet just straight up with out a running start or anything. We were then showed in to someone’s house to see what they were like. It was a tiny, dung hut with two rooms and a fire going so it was very smokey inside, too. Everyone had all of their crafts set up and we bought heaps of figurines and bracelets and arrows and these really ornate necklaces. I wish I could’ve bought it all. The craftsmanship is amazing. Every person’s bracelets were different because they used beads to symbolize their age, family, and marital status, I believe.

After the afternoon drive it was time to go back and shower and get ready for dinner. Dinners were amazing, too. The food was so rich and they made the best soups in the world there. After that, there was a huge bonfire you could sit out at. Sometimes it was quiet and some nights the warriors would come around for a song. Then it was off to bed early to get up at 5 the next morning to do it all over again.

It was an incredible trip and I feel like I have Africa in my blood now. All I want to do is go back and I think about it all the time. Any movie or documentary or book I can get on Africa I jump at. It is a place like nowhere else in the world. I hope it stays as wild and as full of wildlife as it is today for along time so that I can take my children there someday. I have already convinced Boyfriend that that is where we need to go for our honeymoon if we get married. I told our travel group that and they said, “Just get married there, we want to come, too!” and at New Year’s when everyone went around the group to say where their favorite trip ever had been to, at least 75% of the group said Kenya, it is just that great of a place.

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