Thursday, June 16, 2016

Maasai Mara Safari

Well, nothing in my travels goes without an adventure and our safari was no exception.  We were up and out of our nightclub hotel by 8:30 on Saturday morning with the intention of arriving to our safari camp in time for lunch.  Ah, best laid plans...  We stopped in Narok, a town close to the national park and then headed on our way, but had to pull over to make a quick adjustment to our van.  We got back in and the engine wouldn't turn over.  So, we sat on the side of the highway for about an hour on the phone with a mechanic until they realized that the issue was the van was parked on an angle, preventing gas from getting to the engine.  We had to manually pump gas into the engine and then we were back on our way.  I thought that was the adventure...nope, wrong again.

The directions we had to our camp were minimal and the phone number we had for the camp connected us to a guide that didn't speak clear English or Swahili and those were the only two languages we could work in.  We kept calling and asking where to go and we kept being told to "follow the road."  Unfortunately, the road kept splitting and twice we were told to take a turn that was in the wrong direction.  Most of the way I figured we would eventually find our way or they would come to find us.  Then, around 6pm, I could see dark storm clouds and rain coming across the plains and I knew it would be getting dark in about an hour and I felt a small pang of anxiety.  We had no idea where we were, our cell phones were getting spotty service, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere surrounded by animals and wilderness.

It rained, the road got muddy, our van was sliding all over the place, and then it got dark.  Really, really dark.  Our guide kept saying he could see us flashing our headlights, but he didn't come to get us.  Sakwa was super frustrated at that point.  He'd been driving almost 12 hours.  Finally about 7:30 a matatu (van taxi) came up the road behind us.  They'd never heard of our camp, but suggested we follow them down the road to town where we could at least get cell service.  We started following them, slipping and sliding through the mud, and about ten minutes later came upon a maasai man on the back of a motorbike.  It was our guide.  We were so relieved!  We had to drive another two hours to get to the camp through fields on barely tread tracks, forget roads.

When we arrived there was a whole group of maasai men waiting for us along with Owar, the concierge (best way I can think to describe his role).  Owar had a tray with hot towels and iced tea to greet us right out of the van.  The Maasai men grabbed our bags from the van and we were led to the lounge tent, full of comfortable beds and chairs with books lining the walls and a bar in the corner.  Dinner was ready to be served and we were starving having been in the van with no lunch or dinner all day.  It was served at this beautiful ornate table, under a tent, outside.  After dinner we were taken to our tents.  The whole place seemed like something out of  a safari movie.

The name of our camp was Speke's Camp and it really was completely off the grid.  No entry gate or signs, no wifi, no phones.  Just us, a settlement of tents, and the plains.  In the morning we were woken up with tea and coffee delivered to our tents.  Breakfast again was served at a beautiful table with made to order eggs and fresh fruit salad.  Sunday was safari day!  We had two 4x4 vehicles which were driven by Dominic and James, our Maasai guides.  The pictures speak louder than any description I could provide.

Selfie with a lion.  He's back there in the shade!

Selfie with hippos!

Another selfie with lions!

Picnic lunch on the plains

Giraffe selfie!

A rainbow after a short rain storm

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Post Election Violence and Peace Building

Our last few academic days lead us from Naro Moru to Eldoret.  On the way to Eldoret we stopped by Thompson Falls and the Rift Valley.  The Rift Valley stretches from Egypt down to Mozambique and is considered the birth place of civilization.  The pictures don’t really do it justice.  We then stopped in Nakuru for lunch and to visit the Menengai Crater, which was created when the interior of a volcano collapsed in on itself.

View from the edge of the crater

After leaving the crater we got back on the road and headed to Eldoret.  Eldoret is a town in Western Kenya that experienced a significant amount of post-election violence in 2007.  As we learned from a few of our other site visits in Nairobi, the election itself was a trigger for the violence that many experienced, but it was not the direct cause.  Kenya has a long, complicated history of colonization and land injustices that have sparked conflict between different communities.   After rumors of fraud during the 2007 elections several different communities began to fight over ownership of land and political control.

Many innocent civilians sought shelter from the Red Cross or in churches.  In Eldoret, at least 26 people, but probably more, sought refuge in the Kenya Assembly of God Church.  On January 1, 2008 opposition forces descended on the church and set it on fire.  The entire building burned to the ground with everyone locked inside of it.  Most of the victims were women and children.  

We visited the site of the church and it was one of the most sobering, chilling places I've ever been in my life.  The cinder block wall and iron gate remain, but there is no longer a building.  One single grave seems to be well maintained, under a tree, in the center of the plot of land where the church used to be.  It is for a five year old boy.  There are other wooden crosses strewn about the ground, most saying RIP and nothing else.  A few have names on them, but as a local police officer told us, the vast majority of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and DNA testing was far to expensive.

Gate of the Kenya Assembly of  God Church in Eldoret
Grave of a five year old fire victim
When we left the church we headed to another town called Kakamega to have lunch with a man who does peace building in the region.  What he talked about in terms of the time it takes to do peace work and how communities really have to lead the charge was so in line with work I've been involved in in Philadelphia.  I was also struck by how much he talked about trauma-informed care and using survivors as "healing companions," people who have experienced trauma, worked through it, and are paired with others to help them with their process.  Not only did their methods of work resonate with me, but it gave me a broader understanding of how this kind of work can be done and the breadth of people with experience to do it.

After our lunch meeting Sakwa took us to the home where he was raised and where his parents still live.  It was a quick visit to drop something off and to get a bathroom break, but it was nice to see his home town.  Especially having had the opportunity to meet his parents earlier in our trip.  After our quick stop it was on to Kisii, a stop over on our way to Maasai Mara for our end of trip safari.  Our night in Kisii was interesting to say the least.  I've never been to a place quite like it.  It's not a huge town, but the city center is compact with a lot of night clubs and night life.  We didn't know anyone there and so decided we would just find a hotel when we arrived.  Well...that was an interesting decision.  Our hotel ended up being right above a night club and you had to walk through the entrance of the club to get to the hotel stairs.  It was loud, but the sheets were clean, the bed was comfortable, and after the long drive all I needed was a hot shower and a place to lay my head.

View of the drive to Kisii
A night out at our hotel/club