Adventures In Kenya: Chapter 2
Right Round Under
In Kenya the heat and humidity are thick and chewy, and I am delirious with illness. But thrilled to have landed, excited to see what is around the next corner, and looking forward to meeting loads of new people. Please note that you can read Chapter One here Travels to Kenya: Chapter 1
We are here because I wrote a guidebook for students travelling with a field school that is visiting Kenya and Uganda and we are meeting up with my husband, who is teaching. Coming to this country is an opportunity I can't pass up, even if it means travelling with my 13 month old daughter. But I really don't know what to expect. While I have done loads of research about Kenya, the cultures, the people, the environments, the crime, the employment, the schooling, and the governments, I still feel unprepared.
After my first 15 minutes in the country, I know I am unprepared.
In case you missed it, you can read Travels to Kenya: Chapter 1, first,
and there is a link back to this page. Chapter Three is still bubbling away, but I promise it will be worth reading. ;)
All writing is copyright by Me - Teapixie! All photos are credited. I will replace photos with my own digitals when possible.
Please Don't Shoot!
To describe the Nairobi airport as chaotic is diplomatic. This is like North America flipped 'round. To get off the airplane I first have to produce my boarding pass. Does that not seem backwards? Once through Customs I am in a blur of people. I have 5 bags of clothing, baby food, diapers, a baby bed, and my daughter on my back. I can feel the panic rising because I can't imagine finding my husband in this melee.
"Over Here!" I hear him yell. I am spinning around. I can hear him but I can't see him.
Suddenly I can feel my daughter twisting hard, as if she is trying to get out of the backpack. I look over my shoulder at her and she has seen her Dad - he is here. I can feel the relief washing over me. I have just travelled for 34 hours from Canada to Kenya. Along the way I passed out, ill. (See my story here Travels to Kenya: Chapter 1)
All I want to do is collapse but that is definitely not in the schedule. We are whisked into a taxi that has a children's car seat but no seatbelts and as the car begins to move, I can see the ground passing beneath us through the holes in the floor. Holy smokes - what are we in for?
My introduction to Nairobi is the drive from the airport to the hotel, along the Uhuru Highway. I see the towering acacia trees and instantly wonder if I'll see giraffe. Even though I'm a wee bit delirious, it's actually possible to see them because Nairobi National Park abuts the highway. The trees are enveloped in the haze of pollution that is caused by the reliance on charcoal for cooking and lack of pollution control on vehicles, the haze that contributes to those amazing sunrises and sunsets that you see in so many images.
"BEEEEEEEEEEEP" goes our driver's horn. There are multiple cars driving side by side on our two lane highway; painted lines on the road mean nothing and "assertive" is the answer to survival. As we enter into a roundabout, a woman is crossing the street. Not a single car slows and the woman never changes her speed. Are we about to see a death on the street? No, the second her foot leaves the path of a car, it whizzes past her - and there are many paths to cross. She makes it safely across, but it feels like a miracle.
In the roundabout a police officer stands with a gun in his hands. He is not aiming at anyone but yelling loudly at different drivers. "Please don't shoot." I keep repeating to myself, in my head. I am in shock. My daughter is so young and I'm wondering how much longer she's got.
Our driver doesn't slow for anything. He whizzes past street-side sellers and their customers, swerves around other vehicles, and makes twists and turns down side roads. I look questioningly at my husband who whispers, "He's one of the good ones, this driver was arranged ahead of time and it was really hard to get one. I asked for a car with seatbelts...." I just keep holding my breath and my knuckles are white from gripping so tightly onto the baby car seat.
It seems that there is some safety in keeping the car moving; slowing down or stopping will put us at risk of being robbed.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
At the hotel I sit with my daughter in my lap while my husband registers for our room. It seems that the luxury room that was reserved for us has been given away, but they've got another room they can give us. I don't care. I just need to get into the bathroom.
I spend the night on the cold tile floor because I am so sick that I can't stop vomiting, and yet, I'm desperately hungry. The problem is, as soon as I eat, I get sick again. One step forward, two steps back.
My husband says that I probably have jet lag and that, "everyone gets sick when they arrive." But I wonder, how many people are this sick before they arrive, but who I am to know?
Photo Credit: Mohamed Ibraham, Clker.com
I have to get on another plane soon and I can't be sick. As long as my stomach is empty, I won't get sick, so I am not eating. A different taxi arrives to take us back to the airport where we will get on a plane to Mombasa. In the light of day, Nairobi is a bustling mecca. Small business seems to be the core of existence and street-side kiosks are everywhere. The air is enveloped in the dirt of the streets, but every man we see is wearing a crisp white shirt. During our time in Kenya I can't figure out how the women are getting the shirts so clean - mine are always grey.
The flight to Mombasa is short but mesmerizing. From the air we can see the pride of each family: tiny farms with banana trees and patches of corn. The farms are so small that there is no way a whole family can be supported by farming alone, but to own a farm is the Kenyan dream. I swear I can see tea farms in the highlands. And then we are descending to the tarmac of Mombasa Airport.
We walk off the tarmac and wait to be picked up by someone from the field school. The humidity is so heavy that I am finding it hard to breathe. I have never been able to breathe in saunas, but there is no escaping this climate. It's hot, it's wet, and it wraps around and inside the body. I look at my little girl and her hair is curling and frizzing. There is no need for anxiety. I just relax and breathe knowing that my state of mind will affect her state of mind.
We wait for our ride for two hours. It is so hot that I am hoping for air-conditioning in the vehicle. But that is not the case. Instead, we are packed into a wide-open truck driven by a Kenyan staffer from the field school. It turns out we are only one of a number of stops along the way. This is a supplies run, so we stop at a sort-of big box store to purchase items to feed, house, and teach the numerous students.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
The feeling of being in Mombasa is surreal. I have to keep reminding myself that I am alive, not dreaming, and that it is all real. Life is so much closer to the ground here. Paint is peeling from the buildings, likely due to the humidity. Everything seems run down. Car traffic is thick but there are huge numbers of people walking along the roads, often without shoes. When I see these feet I think of the amazing acacia tree spines, which litter the ground and I wonder how people can get around barefoot.
Months before leaving on this trip violence broke out near Mombasa in reaction to election results. This is not considered an unusual incident after an election in Kenya, but it is unusual for me. And yet, as I see these people carrying on with their days, caring for their children, getting their business done, I can't imagine the widespread turmoil that occurs after elections and leads to this violence. But it is true; people will party hard around elections, so hell breaking loose is the norm, but there are underlying ethnic tensions that surface, as well. There is presently an Alcoholic Drinks Control Amendment during elections being considered in Kenya.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
Mombasa to Tiwi
We are not staying in Mombasa. The camp is set up in the tiny community of Tiwi near Diani Beach. This means that we depart Mombasa by ferry, heading south. The boat looks like a piece of floating road and is over-stuffed with walk-ons. Our sailing lasts only minutes before we drive along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
We turn off the main road onto a dirt road, passing one of many cement houses that is complete with an indoor charcoal fire and unscreened windows that do not have glass. Malaria is rampant along the coast of Kenya but window screens are unheard of and mosquito netting is rarely seen. The floor of the house is a continuation of the dirt that is the yard. The land seems barren and has been overgrazed by domestic animals.
We drive down this dirt road through groves of palm trees until the road opens wide to present little thatched-roof cabanas and a main activity centre. Life here is lived outside, so these cabanas are like the cement houses we passed - without screening on the windows. We are travelling with our own mosquito netting, it is part of the included supplies in the field school.
Photo Credit: Tripadvisor.de
Each morning I fill a kiddie pool with water and place my daughter in it. It is placed in the sand under the palapa-covered, ocean-side bar because it's the only way she will stay cool and stay out of the sun. I then ask a studying student to watch her as I pass out on a couch for hours. I just can't seem to shake this sickness. Is it the heat? Is it the water? Is it the food?
Each day I am aware of students coming and going with new hairdos. When I finally pull myself upright and walk to the water's edge I see a mobile hair salon is set up on the beach beside our camp. Many of the girls are getting fine corn rows, some are getting haircuts. It's all quite magical to see their delight at having access to a new style of beauty services.
As the tide washes over my toes I start to think about the snorkeling gear I packed. I have to use it. The field school includes scuba diving lessons and the fellows who teach the scuba diving have explained how to cross over the coral reef at low tide so as to snorkel with the fish of the Indian Ocean. I can't quite understand their instructions, but I figure why not give it a try.
An hour later my husband I have got our head gear on and are carrying our flippers as we walk into the crashing surf. The scuba guys said something about jumping backwards off the edge of the reef, into the surf. We pull our crazy-tight rubber flippers onto our feet with much ado and start to walk backwards. Everytime a wave crashes in, I fall forwards. It doesn't seem logical, but I'm trying to follow the instructions. Where the waves are breaking is where we're supposed to jump backwards.
Everytime I jump, I get washed forwards onto my knees, back onto the coral reef. After 1/2 an hour of falling forward I no longer have any energy. To my disappointment and my husband's, I give up. I have gashes in my knees. I didn't start with a full tank of gas, being so sick, so it hasn't taken much to wear me out. As a consolation prize, we go to an area where the waves are not active but there is about 3 feet of water and we snorkel with the colourful fish and eels. It's an incredible secret world, under the surf.
When we return to scoop up our daughter, I get invited on a walking safari in Shimba Hills National Park.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
Read This If You Dare....
Have you ever gotten sick while travelling? Share your horror stories here. To my loyal readers - some of these stories might get gruesome, so you may want to skip the comments. ;)
Have you ever gotten sick while on vacation?
Shimba Hills Walking Safari
It is very rare to do a safari on foot because it is dangerous. Wild animals are not interested in the safety of humans. Sometimes they are just plain curious about humans and will get too close for comfort. Sometimes they are so lackadaisical that they don't even respond to the presence of humans. For example, a lion lay on a road that my husband's group was driving on, and did not want to move. It noticed the vehicle drive up, turned away, and then went to sleep.
In the morning we wake and I am sicker than ever. I am afraid to go on the safari. I explain to my husband that I don't want to go. He encourages me, saying that I will not get another chance to do such a trip. I get dressed and climb in the Land Cruiser.
After a wild driving journey, down roads that could hardly be considered trails, I am overwhelmed with fear and illness. I tell the rest of the safari members that I will stay in the vehicle while they go out on the hiking adventure. My ignorance is shining through like a light in the night and they are all laughing at me because it is less safe for me to stay in the vehicle alone. The safety is not about wild animals, but about robbers and thugs. Any person alone anywhere here is a bad idea, so I am in on safari.
Where we parked we can see signs of elephants; broken trees and split tree-trunks, caused by elephants walking directly over them. This is going to be an interesting hike.
As we begin walking I realize I am on the most amazing safari I could ever experience. Not only am I on the ground, which means that the gold grasses are towering over my 5'3" height, but I am being guided by experts in biology, sociology, and anthropology because I am with the professors from the field school. Any question I ask is expertly answered. It is better than reading National Geographic. I see baboons high up in the tree tops, elephants baying in the distance, Roan and Sable antelopes, and a dik dik.
Our guide, with rifle in hand, continues to lead us along, warning about snakes. It appears that people in this part of Kenya are very concerned about snakes. We have already had one in a student tent and that went badly for the snake and the tent when numerous Kenyan staffers merged on the situation with machetes in hand. Fortunately, all of the staffers came out with all of their digits.
I am very afraid of snakes. But I am also afraid of everything that moves here and I can't see anything because of the tall grass. As we break into a rainforest I feel like I can breathe again. In fact, it starts to feel cool.
People are excitedly talking about our destination. I was told that we would end our trip at a tree house. We are walking single file and I can't quite hear what people are saying, because they're all talking at the same time, but I think we are headed towards water. Is it a puddle? Is it a river? Is it a lake? I have not seen any water here except the Indian Ocean.
We break out of the trees to see a glittering pool of water that is being formed beneath the crashing 80 foot Sheldrick Waterfalls. The air is so refreshing but I am too afraid to go in the water. I am worried that I will get some kind of waterborne illness on top of whatever it is that I'm fighting. But the sight is stunning. Many of the profs have jumped in and are sitting under the waterfall. Their delight is contagious. Our whole group of adventurers are smiling and laughing and telling jokes. The relief of the lower temperature is incredible. And the coolness means I need a bathroom.
I am out in the middle of a rainforest with 8 people and now I need a toilet. I begin using my powers of thought to hold myself together. I have to wait until we reach the tree house, whatever that is. Will it have a toilet? I only know of the kind of tree house that kids would build - they don't have toilets.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
Not In Kansas Anymore!
The guard decides it's time to leave. He is working on a schedule that includes us arriving promptly for lunch. Everyone drags themselves away from the cool water and we ascend to the tree house. The walk is very short.
The tree house is amazing. It is a conglomeration of buildings built high in the canopy and they are all connected together. Not only are there toilets, but there is a luxury restaurant that serves up delicious meals. I have to admit that I can't really taste the food because the view is one that I've never seen before. The tree house is built high so that humans can be in the vicinity of animals, without interacting or imposing on their environment. We are overlooking a huge watering hole where elephants come in their social groups to drink and bathe. I have never seen anything like it.
After our white linen luxury lunch (it's the poshest meal we eat while in Kenya), we walk back to our vehicle, climb inside and prepare to leave with our driver and armed guide. One of our members has found a stick insect inside the cab, so we all want to observe it, before letting it out. Just as our driver slows the vehicle to allow the insect's exit, I get my first and only sighting of giraffe.
Everyone in the Jeep has gone silent. We are watching the two giraffe winding their necks together in such a graceful fashion, and it looks so incredibly intimate. How could something that clumsy looking carry itself with such poise? I am so moved that tears run down my face. I feel like such a fool, but my reaction combined with the beauty of the moment brings smiles to the faces of everyone I am traveling with. They appreciate the degree to which I am affected by my first encounter. In a way, it's a payback for all of the knowledge they have shared with me today. Educators love to see their students make discoveries.
We are now racing the sun. Driving on Kenyan roads after dark is not safe and everyone in the Land Cruiser knows it. We drop our armed guide off at the entrance to the park and zip along on paved roads. It is dark before we get home, so everyone is a little edgy.
I go to bed that night dreaming of giraffe, waterfalls, elephants, grass, orangutans, tree houses and the rainforest.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
Interested in a Shimba Hills Safari?
Would you like to learn more about Shimba Hills National Park or the safari program to the tree house? These links will get you a little closer to joining the adventure yourself.
I am still nursing my daughter, but she has progressed to eating baby food. I will keep her on this diet while we are in Kenya, so as to avoid her getting sick. Additionally, we are drinking only bottled water and I am carrying baby wipes to clean her and myself. I want to stay extremely clean so as not pass any of my illness onto her. I am washing my hands so much I think the skin is going to fall off, but it is working because she hasn't gotten sick, yet. "May the Kenyan Gods smile down on her and keep her from illness." It is my greatest fear, that I expose her to some sort of illness. Before we left Canada, she and I were subject to every travel shot necessary. While in Kenya we are both on anti-malarial drugs. She seems to be responding without any side-effects. I can't believe how well she travels.
Our meals, on the other-hand, are incredible. I can't believe what the Kenyan staff can cook over an open fire. From birthday cakes to linguini alfredo - and everything in between - even French fries! The Kenyan staff are incredibly skilled. The drivers can fix the vehicles in the middle of nowhere with amazing ingenuity, the cooks are virtuosos of charcoal fires. I have never, ever seen anyone in Canada with these sorts of expertise. My husband told me of a metal smith he met who worked over an open fire, using very simple tools (like an anvil and a hammer) to fashion bracelets from copper and brass. I have studied jewelry design and I can tell you that having such skill with an open fire is truly impressive.
We are now at the end of our three week visit to Tiwi and I am just starting to feel like eating. Understandably, the cooks are starting to feel like they don't want to cook anymore. The last meal we eat is a starch fest of pasta, potatoes, and rice, which is likely a result of the camp running out of food and the cooks running out of energy. And maybe because it's just starch, my stomach seems to be appreciative. Hurrah!
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
The Sorrow Of Departure
When Your Vacation Is Over, How Do You Feel?
Goodbye Tiwi Beaches
Departing the camp is emotional. Our daughter has been practicing her walking, stepping wildly around the big, rubber-like, black millipedes that look like retreads strewn all over the paths. We have appreciated the crazy equatorial sunsets that last for about 5 minutes, or at least it seems that way. The women with their babies tied to their backs in slings have looked sideways at me and my daughter because of the transformer backpack/stroller in which I tote her around. I can't imagine carrying her in a sling now because she is so big, but they continue to carry their children this way for a couple of years.
As I pack up, I keep thinking of these women and their babies. My husband and I leave behind much of our clothing, baby food, baby clothes, diapers, cloths, wipes, and a potty seat for the women who clean the rooms. They will find use for all of it. I also leave behind the old Tupperware turkey container. YES! I travelled with a Tupperware turkey container. My Mom, who is ingenious, jigged a portable potty for our daughter out of this container by placing a potty seat on top. If the airplane toilets hadn't scared the training out of her, she would have used this as her throne on Tiwi beach.
We didn't just leave things here, we also brought some things home. By spending here, we hope that we have helped some Kenyans to survive beyond tomorrow.
In preparation for leaving, a group of us go to Diani Beach to buy souvenirs. I look at t-shirts with giraffe and elephants, but I will be in Europe for a month after this trip and I am afraid to spend my money. My budget is small. The proprietors are very careful to leave me to look at items and are disappointed when I don't buy the shirts I have fingered. I travel through the tiny plaza and am one of the last to return to the shuttle truck that will take us back to camp. Just as I've finished climbing the ladder onto the flatbed, the clerk from the t-shirt shop comes running out to the truck and begins climbing the ladder, calling to me. "Please, miss, come back to the shop. We will drop the prices. It will cost an extra 100 shillings because you are using a credit card, but we will include that fee in our prices."
The whole bus is watching to see if I will succumb to the pressure or keep a stiff upper lip and send them away. The person who comes to the truck is neither disrespectful nor forceful; they are pleading.
I feel embarrassed, but that is a reflection of my cultural norms, not the seller's. I think twice about the offer and about my ability to spend money here. Of course I can spare the money to make a purchase. I climb down the back of the truck and follow the woman to her shop. I get over my limitations and they have made a sale; one of the very few sales that they will make today, if not this week. Tourism on the coast of Kenya has been extremely quiet because of the political unrest and the internationally reported robberies of tourists. The number of tourists being robbed on the coast of Kenya doesn't compare to the number of crimes that are occurring in my home city each day.
We return to camp in time to say goodbye and to climb into mini buses to start what will be our incredible 48 hour journey to London. Kenya has changed me and my little family. We will never, ever be the same people again. It is a change that I welcome because it has helped me to become more worldly than I dreamed possible. I no longer believe in tolerance - I see it as a condescending concept. I want to accept people for who they are, and I am learning to do that. I know the world is bigger than I, but I am now bigger as a human being for having experienced the world that is the Kenyan coast.
Check back for the next installment of this story as my adventures continue....
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com
Further Reading About Kenya
If you want to know more, there is always more to know.
Please feel welcome to leave me some feedback or to talk about adventures of your own. I promise to read every message.