Posted by: kasiawilk | January 12, 2011

December: A Month Full of Varied Experiences….Part I

December – where do I begin to describe how fabulous this month has been for me….I must emphasize this month has been mostly a holiday month giving me time to travel and visit this beautiful country and the experiences I’ve had have been remarkable.

 I was still busy during the first 2 weeks of December at work with facilitating staff clearance processes, and working with the Monitoring and Evaluation team on organizing and updating the databases of all A2E projects and data over the last 5 years. It’s been an ongoing process of setting up a more efficient and better system to provide better data management techniques that will allow more feasibility in what can be done with the data collected. I have also received confirmation of being relocated to Machakos sometime later this month (January) and I’m looking forward to assisting in project startup and implementation, as well as being able to do field visits and provide innovative documentation techniques of Jhpiego’s varied and numerous outreach activities.

Ludan and I initially travelled for the first time back to Nairobi for the weekend at the beginning of December to take part in a central region VSOC meeting and Global Education Event focused on Climate Change. The VSOC meeting intended to allow volunteers from the Central region of Kenya to discuss important matters and issues that have been arising at our placements and also to re-unite and share how our first few weeks have been going. Following the VSOC meeting and lunch, we partook in a Global Education event on Climate Change since its effects often have a larger impact on small rural communities where the dependence on water and farming is more pervasive. There were various speakers from different climate change groups throughout Kenya who provided some interesting facts on the effects of climate change in Kenya. We were all given trees to plant after the event and we planted about two dozen. I felt great during this whole process of taking a small step together with the VSO community to do something positive for the environment.

We later met up with other volunteer friends to hang out in Nairobi and stayed with fellow volunteer mates Gareth, Joanne, Allys, and Eddy near Langata Rd. Our friend’s flat directly overlooks the Kibera slums, Nairobi’s largest slum population. Measuring a few kilometres, it has its own set of rules and laws, and as Gareth mentioned, can be quite easy to get lost inside. I was reminded of the many stark contrasts I have witnessed in Nairobi > very affluent and wealthy “western” areas such as Parklands and Westlands meet some of the poorest and neediest areas of Nairobi such as Kibera in relative proximity.

 I’ve experienced such stark contrasts many times in Kenya– one day I am in a rural home made out of twigs and cow dung speaking to a Masai warrior whose diet consists of milk, blood, and meat; the next day I am in Westlands in a wealthy friends large home with full furnishings and appliances and can shop at the local mall and eat at fine restaurants. Seeing both sides of life – the wealthy and the poor, continuously makes me ponder about the basic needs of human beings and what really constitutes happiness. Is happiness defined by what you have or the people you are surrounded with? I believe it is the latter for my most profound and joyous moments in Kenya have been spent in good company with those who lead simple lives yet have generous hearts. It is with the local people and children that I have seen true beauty and true happiness. It is in the simplest moments, in the simplest of places, in the genuine smiles and eyes of others, in sharing our cultures, where I have found my happiest moments. Based on other similar experiences I’ve witnessed in life during my travels I’ve come to the conclusion that materialism can often times enshroud us in disconnection from what is human. When we are stripped away from all of our possessions, our status, our appearances, our wealth, then we are naked in our humanness, our connection to others feels more genuine, and communal solidarity is easily formed. The bond formed between two poor men is stronger than the bond formed between two wealthy men….why is this so? Think about it…

 Our next weekend trip involved visiting Mount Kenya which is not too far from Embu. In fact, we can even see the tip of Mount Kenya from the outskirts of Embu where lies the Mount Kenya Forest. Ludan and I decided to travel there during the second weekend of December for we knew we’de be relocated to other areas come January and we really wanted to see this extinct volcanoe, standing as the second highest volcanic mountain in all of Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro being the highest in Tanzania). We knew we would not climb the mountain (standing at a steep 17,058ft) since it requires endurance training and takes at least 5 days for a mini climb (12 if you want to reach the peak), but we were happy to go and get some good views of it up close and see the local wildlife.

We drove a few hours and I was pleasantly surprised to find our “Serena Mountain Lodge” inside the Mount Kenya National Park to be beautiful and comfortable with a balcony view of various wildlife as they came to the manmade watering hole set in front of the lodge in order to maximize wildlife viewing which we took advantage of even from our bedroom balconies! The food was also a change from the local nyama choma and chapati we had been so used to eating the last few weeks and I gorged on the rich and varied buffet like no other – I had no idea when I’d be able to eat so much great food again! We weren’t the only ones that enjoyed the restaurant food as the local sykes monkeys tend to steal the restaurant food and can even grab cookies right out of your hand…I had my own balcony experience with a Sykes monkey that jumped on my back!

 We were woken up very early at 6am to see the clear and best view of Mount Kenya as well as some Buffalo that had gathered around the watering hole. The sunrise view of the mountain peaks were beautiful and we shared the views on the rooftop floor with our monkey friends who were sneaking around to get breakfast and had a few more close encounters with us! We later ventured on a nature trail with a guide and saw various wildlife including a buffalo hiding very close in the bushes (they are the 2nd most dangerous animals next to the hippo!), dikas and other deer, colobus monkeys, warrior ants, and various other small animals. A nice tea break in the bush with milk and rum and cake was a pleasant break and we learned a great amount about the environment and forestation of Mount Kenya.

 The next morning we were woken early to see wild elephants gathering at the waterhole amidst the peacefulness of the forest. I felt like going into a state of meditation as I looked out on the beautiful landscape and view of Mount Kenya and listened to the various morning songs of birds and wild creatures. This was probably the most peaceful moment from my whole trip thus far, and I still remember it with great detail. After lunch we ventured to Sweetwater Tented Camp to visit the chimpanzee orphanage. Although we could not find the sign along the road and passed it, getting lost, we eventually made it just in time to see these magnificent creatures. Containing somewhere around 97% of the same genes as humans, I wondered if they experience the same thoughts and emotions that we as humans do…love, anger, frustration, sadness, joy, peacefulness….every chimpanzee we saw had their own personality including Paco, who stands out in my mind as the showoff, standing up on two feet displaying his masculinity as he called for food. Sadly most of these chimps have been rescued from decrepit living conditions in cages, experiencing cruelty from humans, abuse, and maltreatment. They are not fit to ever be released back into the wild and depend on the orphanage to sustain them for the rest of their lives. I can’t imagine how anyone could feel ok with themselves while keeping such a beautiful animal in a cage for 9 years on display to the public in a gas station as was one example…thank goodness for Jane Goodman who began a movement to rescue chimpanzees from abuse back in the 1980’s. She has done much to study and educate others on their way of life and rescue many of them from their abusive pasts.


 We had a mini safari during our ride through the sweetwater conservation park both to the orphanage and on our way back. Measuring some 90,000 acres, the park is home to the big 5 animals (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino) including the white rhino which is numbered only to be 8 in the world! Sweetwater has 4 of them. As we were rushing to make it in time to the chimpanzee orphanage in the rickety old car across very bad roads, we would drive around the corner, and see a herd of wild lions walking along the road beside the car. We turned another corner, and saw an elephant run across the road, a giraffe peek out from behind the bushes, zebras run ahead of us, etc. On our way back we also saw warthogs, buffalo, gazelles, dikas, baboons and various monkeys, as well as a beautiful sunset over the Kenyan grasslands. What a great trip! Later that night after eating some deluxe dinner, we continued to watch the various animals gathering at the waterhole before dozing off.

 We headed back on our third day to Embu, but not before stopping at the Mount Kenya National Park to get a closer view of the snowy peaks. We managed to see them only for a few minutes before the clouds rolled in and covered them completely which did not fare well for great photos. We did however enjoy the views as much as we could before journeying back to Embu. I took photos along the way of the diverse landscapes, seeing how the mountainous and northern vegetation turned into semi-arid desert cacti trees, then turned into tropical rainforest like vegetation close to Embu with fields of banana tree plantations and much hotter temperatures. I have to say this was a weekend well spent exploring the colder regions of Kenya and if we had more time, I would probably be up to the challenge of climbing the mountain, but for now will have to settle with the photos.

 Stay tuned for more of my December trip experiences in my next blog!

Kwaheri for now….


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