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Israel/Palestine & Egypt Trip

Week 16: Mom’s Second Post

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Robert had made arrangements for his host family, Eustace and Priscilla Mbogo, to spend the day with us.  The Mbogos are a delightful couple, and it was especially fun to be driving around Nairobi rather than walking.  We saw parts of the city we had not seen before as we drove to the Nairobi Safari Walk.  As Mr. Mbogo said, this place offered us a chance to see some wildlife we would not see on a regular safari.  I was especially interested in the albino zebra and the pygmy hippos.

On the way to the By Grace church and school compound, we stopped at a grocery store so that Priscilla could pick up a few items.  There were a number of street vendors operating in the parking lot.  Mr. Mbogo bought Tom a red chukka (what the Masai wear) and for me a piece of fabric which I wore as a skirt over my slacks for the rest of the day.  We then proceeded to the Mbogos’ home where we were served a traditional African dinner.  After the meal, the Mbogos showed us By Grace church and school which they founded.  They have accomplished much during their lives.

From Family Visit

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We took a taxi from the AACC to St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.  It was good to meet several of Robert’s friends before church.  The church building was unusual in that everything about it was completely traditional, except for the fact that all the huge windows on both sides of the sanctuary were completely open to the outside and everyone was very comfortable.  Robert’s Young Adult Volunteer coordinator Rev. Phyllis Byrd preached a very eloquent sermon.

After church, we all (4 Quirings, 4 Byrds, and 6 YAV’s) made our way to an Ethiopian restaurant.  The Ethiopian meal experience was extraordinary.  I have no idea of the names of the food.  Anyway, what happens is that three or four people share a large platter covered with what looks like (but is not) unbaked pie dough.  Scattered on the platter are maybe ten different food items.  Rolls of the dough are provided as silverware.  The diner tears off a bit of the dough, scoops up whatever she wants to try and then consumes the whole thing.  Much of it tasted very good.

From Family Visit

And Shelvis who missed the picture:

From Family Visit

After lunch we returned to the church for their Christmas program.  The music was fabulous, but it was a bit of a pain not to understand what was said in between.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This was the beginning day for our safari.  Our driver/guide Christopher picked us up at 7:30 a.m.  Christopher said he had worked as a guide for forty years, and I do feel we profited from his experience.  We traveled in a white Toyota minivan with a pop-up top.  We headed out of Nairobi toward the Masai Mara Animal Reserve.  The drive to the safari area includes a panoramic view of the Great Rift Valley and roads that alternated between standard quality to extremely poor.

From Family Visit

As we got closer to the reserve, we observed many Masai villages, homes, and stockades and the Masai themselves herding their cattle.

We arrived at Sopa Lodge around noon and were greeted by servers offering us rolled up damp washcloths with which to remove the dust of the journey from hands and faces.  We were also served fruit drinks.  We found our rooms to be large and comfortable.  We especially liked how each room had a little porch with chairs so that a person could sit outside and enjoy the outside air and the views.
Since sunset is a prime time for animal viewing we ventured out at 4 p.m.  As we drove into the reserve, I was reminded of the pastures in Kansas and also of the scenery on either side of Highway 40 as a person travels west in the US.  Far different though was the variety of animals visible everywhere.  We first saw many zebra, wildebeest, impala, gazelles, and buffalo (according to Christopher, the most dangerous animal in the reserve).  Our first sighting of big game was a large number of giraffe grazing along a creek bed.  We kept driving and came upon an even more imposing sight–a herd of about twenty elephants.  The group included a bull elephant and several baby elephants, which were kept in the middle of the herd.  It was quite a thrill to see so many elephants.  We had to head back to the lodge before dark, but we felt fortunate to have seen so many animals.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We left the lodge at 7 a.m., eager to see what our second day on safari would bring.  Christopher seemed to think we had been quite fortunate to see all the animals we had seen the previous evening.  We hadn’t seen any lions though, so his focus for the morning was to hunt down this elusive prey.  He went to several locations where the lions usually are, but no luck.  Then all of the sudden we could hear great excitement in the men’s voices that chatter continuously on the two way radio.  It seems a rhinoceros had been spotted.  Christopher said he had not seen a rhinoceros in the park for six or seven years.  Sure enough, after maneuvering over the trails, we came upon the rhinoceros having his or her breakfast and quite unconcerned with all the attention from several vans of tourists.  According to the guide book, it is rare to see a rhinoceros on safari.

As we continued our search for lion, we spotted a giraffe standing like a statue under a tree fairly close by.  We drove right up to this giraffe, taking all kinds of pictures and admiring this unusual animal.  Then behind the giraffe we noticed a young elephant moving along at a faster clip than seemed normal for an elephant.  Christopher thought the elephant was going to find water, so we left the giraffe under the tree and followed the elephant—all from the safety of the van, of course.  A little further down the trail, sure enough, there was the small elephant with his trunk in the ground, apparently getting water from a source we couldn’t see.

From Family Visit
From Family Visit

About this time our young elephant friend decided he or she didn’t like being stalked.  This young elephant got in front of our van in the middle of the trail in a challenging position.  Christopher then gunned the van motor and the elephant took off.  I am thinking if the elephant had been larger we wouldn’t have done all that, but all’s well that ends well.

The final big event of our morning safari was our encounter with the true king of the safari.  After hearing a lot of chatter on the radio, we noticed a number of other vans heading for this one clump of bushes.

From Family Visit

The first thing we noticed was a dead animal fairly close to the trail.  Then Christopher got off the trail (a no-no) and pulled around the bush so that we could observe the large male lion lying under the brush, yawning, licking his chops, and showing off his huge teeth.  This was at very close range.  We took our pictures and got out of there.

After lunch and rest at the lodge, we went out into the reserve one more time that afternoon.  We saw two female lion, but not at such close range.  We also observed a cheetah up in a tree, also at long range.  The big game was so overwhelming that I have forgotten to mention the ostriches, emu, and many unusual birds that we observed.  We felt that we had had an outstanding safari experience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What an unusual way to spend Christmas Eve!  We got a fairly early start for our drive back to Nairobi.  Before getting totally out of the reserve, we had our last significant encounter with wildlife—a whole troop of baboons beside the road—quite entertaining.

Halfway back, we stopped at a trading post for a break.  Patrick saw a drum he liked, and Tom was attracted by a small piece of animal sculpture.  However we didn’t think these items were worth $60 each, which was the asking price, so we left with no souvenirs.  After getting settled back into our room at AACC, we walked up the street to eat at the Chicken Inn.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The big event of our day was our invitation to dine at Rev. Byrd’s at 3 p.m.  When we first entered the large living room, we went around and shook hands with all the other guests who were seated in sofas and chairs which bordered the room.  The guest list totaled twenty—four Quirings, six YAV’s and the rest were family and friends of our hosts.  After a bit, Tom and I (as the oldest guests) were invited to wash our hands first.  This apparently is a Kenyan custom, which of course makes a lot of sense.  Anyway, everyone present had to wash their hands before eating.  As the longest married, Tom and I were the first in line to enter the dining room where a large table was loaded with delicious food including pumpkin pudding with marshmallows and a turkey looking just like a Norman Rockwell picture.  We ate in the living room with the help of small tables strategically placed around the room.  Three kinds of desserts were available.  In the course of the evening, the YAV’s exchanged gifts, sang Christmas carols, and toasted the health of all with wine and fruit punch.  It was wonderful to be able to share Christmas Day with Robert, his YAV friends, and our generous hosts.

From Family Visit

Friday, December 26, 2008

Since many Nairobi citizens return to their villages for the Christmas holiday, the streets were quieter than usual as Robert and Rodgers drove us to the airport in the AEE van.  We made it in plenty of time.  It was very hard to part from Robert!

We considered ourselves very fortunate because the plane from Nairobi to London was almost empty.  We felt free to move around during the flight.  Both Tom and I took window seats, and I was surprised to discover that a person can actually see the Sahara Desert, the Mediterranean Sea, the Alps, and the English Channel including the white cliffs of Dover, from 30,000 feet.  As we approached the airport, flying over the city of London, I could recognize several famous landmarks, which was a thrill for me.  But by the time we landed and got situated in our hotel, it was too late to do any sightseeing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to face our nine hour flight.  The plane was full—every seat occupied.  We were thrilled to finally get to Houston.  The flight to Tulsa seemed to take no time at all.  Our thoughtful neighbor, Linda Newton, was at the airport to greet us.

We are still a bit incredulous that we actually have experienced life in Nairobi, Kenya, that we were able to go on a safari, and that once again all of our family was together at Christmas.


Week 16: Dad’s Second Post

We had a great last week in Kenya.

On Saturday, December 20, we drove with Robert’s host family, Eustance and Priscilla Mbogo, around Nairobi. It was nice to see the city from a vehicle instead of walking, and to have someone who knew the city do the driving.

We went to the Nairobi Safari Walk, which is next to the Nairobi National Park. We were able to see many native African animals. There were quite a few African children visiting the park, and they were very interested in us, since they hadn’t seen that many wazungu (white people).

After the Safari Walk we went to a large grocery store that was located in a large aircraft hanger. There were vendors in the parking lot selling African crafts. Mr. Mbogo was able to barter with them and purchased a red shuka (what the Masai wear) for me, a cloth wrap for Helen to wear around her skirt, and an Obama bracelet for Patrick.

We then went to the Mbogo’s house where we had a traditional African dinner. We found that before you have a meal everyone must wash their hands. We then went to see the school and church the Mr. Mbogo had founded (he built a house for himself and then turned it into a school. He rents a nearby house).

On Sunday we went to church at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. It is a large church that is celebrating its 100th year anniversary. The church has large open windows and doors, so it doesn’t need any air conditioning. The service lasted 2 hours and included a wedding. After the regular service was over and some of the people left, they had communion.

After church we all went to an Ethiopian restaurant. Our party had 14 people. They brought out several large trays of food. To eat the food they supplied rolls of bread. You would break off part of the bread and scoop up what you wanted to eat. It was very good, although we weren’t sure what some of the food was.

That evening we went to a Christmas program at the church. They had a very large crowd. We enjoyed the music, especially one traditional Christmas song that was sung in Swahili. This program lasted 3 hours.

On Monday we started our safari. I thought the safari would involve driving a few hours on good (or pretty good) roads to the animal park. I was VERY wrong.

Our driver Christopher, who has worked as a guide for 40 years, picked us up at 7:30 am. After driving for 5 or 6 hours in a 4 wheel drive Toyota minivan with a pop-up top, we arrived at the Masai Mara Animal Reserve. The roads consisted of paved roads, gravel roads, roads that used to be paved but were mostly potholes now, and very dusty roads. On some of the paved roads with potholes, Christopher would get off the pavement and drive on the gravel side. On the dusty roads we would have to roll the windows up when we encountered another vehicle and then roll the windows down to get ventilation. It was also interesting to pass a vehicle on the 2 lane roads, when you could see another vehicle heading toward you in oncoming lane. But each driver knew the rules of Kenyan roads, and would pull back into their lanes before a collision.

The scenery was fantastic as we headed toward the park. Nairobi is located in the highlands, so we drove down the mountains into the Great Rift Valley. The sky was very blue and you could see for miles. Along the roads to the parks the police had set up several checkpoints, but our driver was able to drive through them without stopping.

Outside the park we started to encounter wildlife. We also drove by Masai villages and Masai herding their livestock.

Inside the park we stayed at the Sopa Lodge. It is located on a hill overlooking the park. The lodge consisted of 50 traditional round buildings with thatched roofs, each with 2 rooms in each building. Each room had a porch overlooking the park. It had a large reception building and dining room, each with a thatched roof. The meals were great, and one night they had a variety of African dishes served on the patio.

After resting in our rooms, we drove out into the park at 4 p.m. Christopher had raised the top up so we could stand up and get a better view of the animals. We saw zebras, wildebeest, impalas, gazelles, buffalo, and elephants. It was great to see them in the wild in large herds.

On Tuesday, we left the lodge at 7:00 a. m. The weather was great in the park. Since we hadn’t seen a lion yesterday, Christopher was determined to locate one. All the drivers of the vans in the park are in communication with each other on 2 way radios. As we drove along you could hear them talking in Swahili. As we were searching for a lion Christopher heard on the radio that rhinoceros had been spotted. After driving to the location that had been reported, we, along with several other vans, saw the rhinoceros. It was grazing and didn’t pay any attention to the vans. We then drove further into the park and found a giraffe. We were able to drive up very close the giraffe. Close by the giraffe was a herd of elephants. One of the smaller elephants left the herd and went looking for water. We followed the elephant on his search for water. After he had finished drinking, he decided to go down the same road we were on. He walked toward the front of our van. To scare the elephant away, Christopher gunned the engine and the elephant left the road and let us by.

We then heard a lot of talking on the radio. Someone had spotted a lion. We drove over to where several vans were parked near some brush. The first thing we saw was a dead buffalo. We then drove around the brush and found a lion resting in the brush. We were just a 10 or 20 feet from the lion. It was quite a sight.

We then went back to the lodge to rest and have lunch. We went out again that afternoon and saw several more lions, as well as a cheetah. As we drove around the park we saw many more animals and birds. It was truly a great experience.

On Wednesday morning we headed back to Nairobi. There were quite a few animals outside the park. We came across several monkeys.

Shortly after we left the park we came upon another police checkpoint. Christopher got out and reported how many people he had in the van. It appears that they keep track of how many people enter and leave the park.

After our long drive back to Nairobi, we checked back into the AACC and we rested that afternoon. That evening we walked over to the Libya Oil convenience store (which is like a QT convenience store) and had dinner at the Chicken Inn.

On Christmas day we walked over to the apartment Robert and Patrick were staying in. We rearranged our luggage for our departure Thursday morning. Then we walked over to Rev. Phyllis Byrd’s house to have dinner at 3 p.m. As is the Kenyan custom, we went around, shook hands and introduced ourselves to all the quests in the house. There were twenty guests for dinner. It was a very enjoyable dinner, and everyone was invited to have seconds. After dinner the guests exchanged gifts and sang Christmas songs. We then were driven back to our room to get rested for our trip home.

On Friday, December 26th Robert and Rodgers drove us to the airport in the AEE van. Because many of the Nairobi citizens had gone to their villages for Christmas, the traffic was very light. We made it to the airport in plenty of time. Robert and Rodgers helped us get our luggage into the terminal. After saying goodbye to Robert and thanking him for a great time, we went through three security checks and boarded the Virgin Airline for our 8 hour flight to London. We enjoyed this flight much more than our flight from London to Nairobi, because this flight had a lot of empty seats and we were able to stretch out, while the flight to Nairobi had been full and crowded.

As we flew to London, we were able to look down and see, among other things, the Sahara desert, the English Channel, the White Cliffs of Dover, and churches and castles. After landing in London we had to take a city bus to our hotel. The people were very friendly and helpful. It was very cold in London, but our hotel was very nice.

The almost 10 hour flight from London to Houston was completely full. Usually the three of us sit together, but on this flight I was sitting in another row between two other people.

After arriving in Houston, we went through customs. It felt good to finally be officially back in the United States. We then had to pick up our checked luggage, and checked our luggage again. We went to the gate to wait for the flight. They then notified us that the gate we were leaving from had changed, and then they changed the terminal. Luckily we had enough time to walk over to the new terminal.

The flight from Houston to Tulsa was very enjoyable. There was enough room to stretch out and the flight was very short. Our neighbor, Linda Newton, picked us up at the airport (thank you, Linda) and drove us home. We all went to bed and had a restful nights sleep.

We all enjoyed our experience and the opportunity to spend a family Christmas together in another country and culture, and experience the beauty and excitement of Kenya.


Week 13-2: Obama’s Grandma’s House – Kogelo

Wednesday morning Cosmas and I woke up very early at his sister’s house on the other side of Mfangano Island. We went around and said our goodbyes which take longer than your usual US goodbyes and even longer than your average Kenyan goodbyes. We hopped on a boat and were off…for a 3 hour boat ride to the mainland. Then we walked about 50 ft across the mainland and hopped on another boat to take us to the main-mainland. Apparently our first mainland was a peninsula so it was quicker to take a boat to the main-mainland. It took Cosmas a while to explain that one to me. Once on the main-mainland there was a matatu waiting to take all of the people from the boat. I hid so that Cosmas could find out what the price was without my whiteness making it 3-4 times higher than it usually is. When I did pop up from behind where I was hiding the driver yelled, “Mzungu, come here, come sit in front,” so I did. Cosmas had to sit in the back which made me sad because I was being treated differently because of my skin color, but they assumed they were going to charge me 3-4 times the normal price so the least they could do is give me a front seat. The matatu kept picking up people until the small van was bulging out. At one point we had 5 people standing with the sliding door open outside the van as we went down the road. We had around 20 people in a van made for 9.  Eventually, the driver asked Cosmas for his money. Cosmas paid the man for 2 and pointed at me. Then they started talking in Luo and I hadn’t a clue what they were saying, but I knew it was about me and how I should pay more. I asked Cosmas after we got out what all had been said.  He said that he told the driver that everyone should pay the same price, but the driver said that wazungu should pay more. I felt bad for Cosmas sticking up for me, but was very happy to have a Luo friend who did. After an hour and a half ride we got to a small town and I hid while Cosmas found us motorcycle drivers. After a few minutes he came around the corner with 2 motorcycles and we were driven down back roads to Grandma Sarah Obama’s house.

Note: Sarah Obama is Barack Obama’s paternal step-grandmother.  In Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father, the last section of the book is about his first trip to Kenya where he visits Kogelo, meets his grandmother, and sees where his father and grandfather are buried.

It was about 10 km (4.5 miles) outside the city. It was fun and interesting riding on the back of the motorcycle because when kids would see me I would hear, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as they frantically waved their arms at me. I waved back when I could see where they were yelling from. We finally turned off the main road (if you could call it that) and went down the drive until we came upon a large gate and fencing. As we pulled up there was a van that had just pulled up before us that contained a couple from India, an old man from Switzerland, and a man from England. They were in Kenya for a farming conference and wanted to meet Grandma Obama and give her letters. However, we were told that Grandma Obama was not home, but one of her grandkids was coming out to meet us. Her grandkid was extremely polite and graceful. He met with the others and received their letters. The old Swiss gentleman very genuinely asked the grandkid to apologize to his grandma for everything that the Europeans had done to Africa and I could tell he meant it and it had been haunting him. As I was waiting by the gate one of our motorcycle drivers came over and started talking to the grandkid in Swahili. My Swahili is not great yet, but I understood him say that Sarah was home, but didn’t want to come out which made sense. If she came out every time someone stopped by she would spend all day every day greeting people. So, we sat there outside the gate for half an hour and talked amongst ourselves. Sarah’s grandkid came over right before we left and thanked me for coming to visit. I apologized for being annoying and for all the visitors that they are receiving now and he again said, “no, we appreciate you coming and I want to thank you again.”  And with that we were off. The motorcycles took us another 10 km in the same direction to a new town where we caught a bus to Busia, a border town in Kenya.

Very Short Video of Sarah Obama’s Home:

Outside Home

From Mfangano

With Sarah Obama’s Grandkid

From Mfangano

Week 8-3: Bore Hole and Maasai Land Round 2

Last Tuesday, I was told we were going on a trip to see a bore hole on which AEE was working.  So, we hopped in the van and were off to Suswa (the knowledge of the name of the place we were going did not provide me much help because it wasn’t on my map, but I thought that would just add to the adventure). I learned Suswa is in Maasai land and about 3 hours outside Nairobi.  When we got there we didn’t arrive at the bore hole, but at the enormous tank in which the water is stored.  It has 4 compartments that all work independent from each other, so if 1 breaks they can use the other 3 and work on the broken 1. The water is piped in from 2 bore holes which were quite a distance away in opposite directions.

The Tank

From Maasai

Foxfires, William (my boss), and I on top of the Tank

From Maasai

We had to visit with the chief of the region to discuss the pipes we were putting down, but his dad was sick and so he had gone to town to slaughter a goat, then when we got to town he had gone back home so the bore hole leader left the foxfires and I in Suswa and we had some down time which was nice. We just sat in Suswa for a while.

Children in town who kept following me

From Maasai

The chief was found and discussed so we headed home.

On our way home, we stopped at another bore hole project which had been completed. I made a video of it for your viewing pleasure:

There was a very small child who was following us and finally asked one of the foxfires to meet me. I leaned down and asked “what’s your name?” to which he responded “give me a pen!” I told him I didn’t have a pen and he left, but in the video he makes a cameo for fun.

That’s all for now.  Have a great day!

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