Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pain, Suffering, and Horrible Sorrow

Words cannot express how difficult these last couple days have been. Where do I even begin?

Pain. First, I guess I will start with the least significant piece of news. As my friends Zep and Nairi were saying their goodbyes to the children and packing up their things for America, I began to feel this horrible pain in my right side. "Hmm...this feels sort of familiar...whatever, I'll be fine." As I often tend to do, I tried to ignore my symptoms and focus on the tasks at hand; holding babies, taking pictures, and saying goodbye to my friends. However, at one point, the pain got so bad that I had to put the kids down and step outside for some air. For approximately the next two hours, the pain was unbearable. I curled up in my bed and hoped it would pass. To make a long story short, I think I had a kidney stone (or infection?). My mom called the doctor and I started taking antibiotics. My side is still a little sore, but I'm not in nearly as much pain as I was the other day. Whew! (Please don't worry about me).

Like I said, my pain is the least of the bad news and horribly insignificant in comparison. Sadly, let me tell you about Neema. Neema is a little girl at the baby home who is about three or four years old. She is absolutely beautiful. Her smile melts your heart and her laugh is outrageously contagious. She came to the baby home about two years ago after suffering some of the most horrible trauma and abuse you could ever imagine. Neema was repeatedly raped by her father. When she first came to the baby home, she was frail, tiny, and in so much pain. Because of her abuse, Neema currently frequently suffers rectal prolapses. Basically, the end of her colon ends up on the outside of her body. She had one surgery a while ago to prevent this from happening again, but like many procedures in Africa, it didn't work.

A few days ago, Neema woke up in the morning in a great deal of pain. The poor little darling walked out of her bedroom with her back hunched over and her little bum in the air. "It hurts," she kept saying while pointing to her nappy (diaper). Her normally joyous face was now scrunched up, wincing with every movement. I held Neema that morning until she fell asleep. Apparently, there's nothing we can do for her and eventually her insides work their way back in again and she goes on with her daily routine.

Luckily, it only took a day for this to happen and Neema is back to her normal, happy self again. But can I take a second and say, "WHAT?! A two-year-old?! Her own father?! How disgusting and cruel do you have to be?" How could anyone ever do such a thing? I was truly heartbroken holding her and watching her have to deal with the consequences of such cruelty. I don't know if I've ever felt more helpless. Precious Neema. Please keep this beautiful little girl in your prayers.

Suffering. I don't know how many of you follow the baby home website, but if you don't, let me tell you about another gorgeous baby, baby George. Georgie is one of those babies who people are drawn to automatically. Not only is he a handsome little thing (a future heart-breaker for sure), but he is almost always full of joy. You will never find George crying just for attention or whining for a different toy, etc. More often, you will find him smiling, eyes twinkling, and full of innocent wonderment.

Lately however, little Georgie (about a year old) definitely has reason to be crying. George was born without an anus and has had a colostomy bag since birth. In hopes of easing current and future difficulties, George has undergone several surgeries in the last year and now has an anus. This is fantastic news for any child, but especially for an orphan in Africa.

Yesterday, George finally came home from the hospital and today I got to spend some time with him. As we looked after him, Erika (another long-term volunteer) and I began to well up with tears. George has had each of his surgeries (all major) without ANY pain medication whatsoever. He has a huge open wound in his side where the colostomy bag has been (now stitched up), and his intestines disconnected and reconnected, a hole carved out between his legs for an anus, and to top it off, he has the worst case of diaper rash I have ever seen. The diaper rash alone is about three square inches of open flesh. He also has a scar from his bellybutton to his ribs from a previous surgery. Imagine, just for a second, the amount of pain this baby has experienced. You can't. It's impossible for us to imagine the kind of pain he is in because we will never know that kind of pain. We have been blessed to live in a country where morphine and vicodin are anywhere and everywhere. You wouldn't even consider surgery unless you KNEW you wouldn't feel a thing. Georgie had his intestines cut apart and sewn together and felt every single second. It's amazing he's still alive.

So as we watched him try to get comfortable and cry with every movement, how can I not ask why? Why does this little, tiny, beautiful baby have to suffer so much? When will it end for him? He deserves a happy, healthy, and long life full of running around, kicking soccer balls, and laughing with friends. Why does this little baby have to suffer like this? Why? Just why?

Horrible Sorrow. So if this wasn't devastating enough for you, I apologize, but what I'm about to write is a million times worse. Yesterday afternoon, five month old Stella passed away. She died. So suddenly. So unexpectedly.

A week ago, Stella was a healthy, happy, and very chubby little girl. She seemed to have no health problems at all. I was on shift in the tiny baby house. Stella was laying on a blanket and began to cry. It was just about time for her feeding, so I picked her up for a bottle. When I picked her up, she was a little floppy; kind of limp. One of the mamas and another volunteer noticed and the mama looked concerned and felt her fead for a fever. We took her temperature. No fever. I fed her the bottle and then held her in the rocking chair for a few hours, watching her carefully. During this time, she began to breathe kind of funny. It was almost like she was wheezing, but it was more like she was making a little noise (like a mix between "peep" and "grunt") with every breath. The mamas made note of it, told the assistant manager, and kept a close eye on her. Two days later, she was in the hospital with what the doctors called pneumonia. She was treated for pneumonia and tested for malaria. No malaria. No fever. No improvement. The next day, they put her on oxygen and Amy demanded she be moved to ICU. There was no room in ICU. That afternoon, she died. Doctors tried for 25 minutes to resuscitate her, but it did not work. Just like that, Stella lost her life.

How could this happen? She was healthy and happy! She was chubby and well-developed, not premature. She literally just died! Died! A five-month-old baby who I was rocking to sleep less than a week ago, died. What?! What?!

Forever Angels has lost five babies in four year, all of whom were premature, days old, and malnourished upon arrival at the baby home. With the other babies, it would have been a miracle if they survived. But who could Stella die? It was so unexpected, so unfair.

All of us at the baby home are truly heartbroken. I cannot even describe the sorrow, the hole in our hearts. Stella was such a beautiful baby whom I will never forget. She has gone from being a blessed baby to truly a forever angel.

I apologize for this depressing update. There's so much more I could write (how life is so unfair and how much we take for granted, especially when it comes to medical care back at home), but I don't know how much more I can bear to think about it all. Please pray for these babies. Please tell other people you know that there are suffering and dying (unnecessarily) babies in Africa (and around the world). Please don't forget them. Don't change the channel when you see a "save the children" commercial. Allow yourself to feel it. Feel the pain for these kids and then act on your empathy. They are helpless. We are not.

Truly heartbroken,

P.S. I attended the funeral for Stella today. I haven't cried that hard in a while. All the mamas attended and we mourned the loss of one of our family members. Stella had no parents, no family. We were her family. We loved her so much.

Please keep Stella and all of us at the baby home in your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Infant Depression

Hello again!

For the first time since being here, I wish I was home! This is not because I'm not enjoying myself (I am definitely in my happy place), and it's not because I am lonely or miss the comforts of home. It's actually because BreAnne, my cousin, is in labor!!! I so wish I was there with her, holding her hand, telling her she can do it, push, push, push, etc. I'm with you in spirit BreAnne. Cacey and I both are. It's driving me crazy not being there! Uggghhh! To make matters worse, about an hour after getting the text saying she was having contractions, the phone service went out and I couldn't send or receive any messages! Today, the reception is a little better, but still spotty. Ahhhh! I NEEEED to know this stuff! :) Keep me updated people!

In thinking about BreAnne's baby, I was beginning to get emotional. I was just thinking how lucky that baby will be. No matter what, BreAnne's baby will be loved more than anything else in the world and given anything and everything he or she (we will soon find out!) will ever need. Obviously, this was making me emotional because I have been working in a place with 55 babies that will never have that. They will never have half that. In Tanzania, there is a phrase in Swahili that Tanzanians call children who end up in orphanages. Loosely translated, it means "the lucky ones." They are considered lucky because they will receive food, water, shelter, and clothing. Even kids who have parents aren't guarenteed these things. There is a little boy that rides his bike in front of our house that is wearing shorts with one entire pant-leg missing, and half of his little butt hanging out. His shirt has a hole in the back where it has been worn down, not torn. He's probably nine years old. I'm looking for shorts that will fit him, but for now, I am thinking about giving him one of my shirts. I wish I could give him more, but how can we do that for every child like him? Like everyone always tells me, I know I can't save the world. Blah blah blah. I'm going to do the best I can.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but a month ago, the baby home got a new little boy, Jacabo. I am pretty sure his story is that he was abandoned in the street and was taken to Social Welfare and then brought to Forever Angels. He is probably 15-18 months old and SOOO cute. When new kids arrive at the baby home, they are always a little shellshocked for the first few days. They usually cry a lot and do not want to interact with the other kids. This lasts anywhere from a few days to about a week, and it's usually fewer for the younger kids.

It has now been a month, and Jacabo is still in this phase. I have never in my entire life - in all the daycare kids with hard lives, foster kids, clients, or other orphans I've worked with - seen a child as sad as Jacabo. He is completely lifeless. He just sits there, staring. He has absolutely no interest in playing with the other kids. If I or another volunteer tries to play peek-a-boo, sing, or anything else, he just won't smile. I have gotten him to smile by tickling him a couple times, but as a whole he is just the saddest child I have ever seen. He is also ALWAYS tired...and not tired in a sleepy baby kind of way. I will be holding him and he will just close his eyes, as if to escape his surroundings. Have you EVER seen a child close his eyes when they are not tired? NO! If he were an adult, or even a child just a few years older, I would diagnose him with depression in a heartbeat. I have just spent a lot of my internet time looking up infant depression, treatment, etc. What most of the research says is that he has probably developed "learned helplessness." Basically, he has been rejected so many times, not having basic needs met (crying for food, attention, etc), that he has just learned that he will never be content. He has learned to be helpless. He needs someone to love and take care of him, one-on-one, 24/7 for a long time (forever preferably). It's just so hard at the baby home because there are so many babies to take care of at all times. You just can't really do one-on-one. Tomorrow is my day off, so maybe I'll just go down and spend my whole day with him. Today during feeding time, I was watching him and literally tearing up. It is just so sad you guys. SO SAD. I can't say it enough. I feel my heart...and it hurts for Jacabo. Please pray for him.

Running out of internet time...keep BreAnne and Jacabo in your thoughts and prayers.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Before I begin writing about my busy week at the baby home, I just want to say how happy I am that Cacey is having such an amazing experience in Kenya. How awesome are her blog entries?! Wow Cate!

So yes, I have been very busy at the baby home. Last week, Michael and Aika left the baby home to go live in Mavuno Village. They were both so happy and excited for their new mom and dad. Michael waved with a HUGE smile on his face as he got into the car to go. I stayed with the other kids for a while on the other side of the fence. Not only was it sad to see Michael and Aika go, but perhaps the most sad part was seeing the faces of the kids who were not going. Pilli and Esther seemed to be the most affected by seeing their friends go. As Michael and Aika packed their little bags and said their happy goodbyes, Pilli and Esther stood on the inside of the fence with tears in their eyes. They wouldn't talk and didn't want to be held. They were just taking it all in. Esther and Pilli are pretty happy-go-lucky little girls and besides the occasional four-year-old issue, they aren't really "whiny" and definitely don't cry that often. I think this might be why it was so hard to watch them watch their best friends/siblings leave them behind.

I actually was getting so heartbroken by the whole thing that we finally picked Pilli up over the fence and took her to give Michael and Aika one last hug goodbye. They hugged and kissed each other, looking each other right in the eyes the whole time. It was like they knew they would never see each other again. Everyone was trying to be so brave. They knew that they were going to their new mom and dad, but I think they also knew they were leaving Forever Angels, and more than that their "family." (Ugh, I'm getting all teary just thinking about this again).

For those of you who watched my Africa video that I made last time, I don't know if you remember, but at the very end of the video, I had recorded a little baby voice saying "I wuv you." That little voice was Michael and at that time he was about two-years-old. It took me weeks to teach him to say that the first time I was here. So as he was leaving, I just kept thinking about that little baby voice, so innocent, so young. I asked him if I could have one last big hug. He gave me one of the biggest, best hugs I have ever received. He just held on so tight and squeezed. I kissed him and said, "I love you Michael." He said, "I love you."

Okay, I can't write about this anymore. My heart hurts. Okay, one last thing...I know that them leaving the baby home is a good thing. They are going to get to live in a family environment now. The one little thing that scares me is that the place where they are going is brand new. So if it turns out to be a not so good place or if they run out of funds or the parents decide they don't want to do this anymore, then Michael and Aika are abandoned again and Forever Angels can't do anything about it anymore because they will be too old. That's not going to happen. That's not going to happen. Just keep them in your prayers. I will miss both of them so much.

The baby home also got a new baby this week. I was on shift in the "tiny baby" home where there are (I think) 10 babies all under six months old. It's a little piece of heaven, the tiny baby home. They are all soooo sweet and just want to be cuddled and cooed at. Anyways, while I was working in there, Amy came in with a new little bundle of joy. His name is Joshua and he is one month old. Apparently, they found his mother naked, wondering in the streets, so the police just took the baby from her. I think I heard she is a psychiatric case and just ran away after they took the baby. These cases are particularly sad because when the baby has relatives that are alive, they can't be adopted. So think about that for a second...this baby is going to spend literally is ENTIRE life in an orphanage. From one month, to 18 years.

He is so precious. He weighs about 8lbs and has more hair than any baby I have ever seen. They are perfect little ringlet curls that are as soft as silk too. So cute. I'm happy I get to see him grow for the next five months. Oh, and I am also happy to report that he does not have malaria or HIV! Yeaah! Pray for him too, okay?

On a happy note, guess who I got to see?! SEBA and OMARI!!! They are baby twins that were at the baby home when I was here last time. Their mother had died during child birth and their father couldn't care for them for the first few years. They went back to live with their dad about a year ago. So, I was working in the tiny baby home and one of the "mamas" (nannies) said her name was Felista. To make a long story short, Felista worked at the baby home two years ago when I was here too. Apparently, Seba and Omari were two of her favorite kids and she would take them home with her for overnight visits sometimes. Well, I guess she met their dad and fell in love with him and they got married! So Felista and I got to talking (I guess that is what you can call trying to communicate in two different languages), and I told her how much I LOVED Seba and Omari, blah blah blah. She then invited me to their baptism which was the next day! I can't even begin to tell you how happy I was.

I was on shift that day in the morning (I was actually called to cover Felista's shift ironically), so I couldn't attend the actual ceremony, but she said I could go to the reception afterward at her house. It was quite an adventure getting there. I went with Lillian, the baby home assistant manager/Tanzanian woman, and another volunteer who also knew them before. We took two dahla dahlas to get there, which are the minivans crammed with people (I counted over 20 people in ours!). I had to stand up right by the sliding door that they keep open while driving a majority of the time. I don't know if I've ever held on to anything so tight in my life! haha! Anyways, Lillian wasn't 100% sure where she was going either so we got a little lost wondering this little village. Eventually, we made it after a hike up this big hill and lots of people pointing and shouting "Mzungu!"

Felista's house is very tiny. Again, the living room is probably smaller than my bathroom at home. We felt very honored to be guests of this occasion because it was only us three, the new god-parents, two aunts, and Seba and Omari's parents. SEBA and OMARI are EXACTLY the same as they used to be!!! Seba is kind of quiet and shy and Omari is a little flirt! As soon as they saw us though, they ran up and gave us big hugs, jumping on our laps. I almost cried! I have thought about those kids every day for the last two years. I never thought I would see them again, ever, and here I was holding them on my lap! They were so big (now three-and-a-half). We brought them a coloring book and crayons and some gummy bears. I have never seen kids so happy to get a coloring book. They wouldn't put it down the whole time we were there. Kids at home have no idea how good they have it. Seba and Omari might never see another coloring book ever again. I was so happy that we could make them so happy. I only wish I would have brought more!

So the reception was kind of like a little mini wedding. First we had a big dinner which consisted of (SO MUCH) rice, meat, and cabbage. They filled my plate so full that I was worried I would burst if I ate everything on it. Then, it was so cute, Felista had Seba carry out the cake. The cake was nothing fancy; as basic as a cake can be. Seba made it all the way from the door to the table and then she dropped it right on the floor! It was so cute! She was so proud to be carrying it and she was being so careful and then, oops! We all ate it anyways. :)

Seba and Omari both cut the cake together (like at a wedding) and then they fed each other a little piece. They then went around and fed each person a bite on the end of a fork. I swear, it can't get any cuter! I wish I could find my camera cords so I can upload the pics!

For any American child, I can imagine that they might be quite bored sitting in a tiny room with a bunch of adults. However, Seba and Omari's friends kept calling their names to go play outside with them,and they kept shouting, "Sitaki, Sitaki!" which means basically, "I don't want to!" Seba would turn to Omari and say, "Sema sitaki!" which means, "say you don't want to." HAHA!

Anyways, seeing them made my entire month. They both didn't want to say goodbye and they walked us all the way back to the dahla dahla. I love them so much. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to see them again. It was such a random, chance thing that I just happened to start talking to this woman who just happened to be their new mother! Thanks God. :)

Sorry this is so long. I'm running out of internet time. Pray for my babies.

I love you all!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pinch Me

I went on the most amazing safari EVER.

Guy needed to make a trip to Ewasso Nyiro to camp at a place that phonetically sounds like "El Kramatian" to begin working with a friend on his research with lions in that area. He decided it would be a treat for me to come along, and I agreed!

We took along his girlfriend Daisy, and her twin sister Alice to keep me company and just to make the trip double the fun. They are very sweet and adventurous girls who I get along very well with. I thought Guy might be nervous taking three girls on safari, but he insisted the ratio was just fine. :)

We packed up enough food to feed 12 guys for two weeks, a few pairs of clothes and sun screen and headed down the road. I was so anxious to get going, because we were going to meet up with Sam and Johann to watch their traditional Masai wedding that the people of the tribe insisted on throwing for the two of them! We went through Oligosailie, Ongatta Rongai, Kesselian, and then through to Magadi. There is a huge soda factory in the middle of Magadi that is surrounded by these huge black pools of alkaline waste water that reflect so well you can't tell where the sky ends and the earth begins. I would have never thought pools of acid would be so beautiful. There was this pink film on top of the pools and hundreds of light pink flamingos wading around in them. I took as many pictures as I could. It was so beautiful!

We made it half way up this rocky cliff that must have been a grade of about 70% and Guy announced we were stopping for tea. I have to tell you that these Kenyans are addicted to tea, and they will stop for tea no matter where they are or what the conditions may be. In Nairobi I liked having tea every ten minutes because it's not only delicious, but its really cold in Nairobi. In Magadi, it was about 90 degrees. I wasn't in the mood for piping hot chai, but...when in Rome! :) We took some pictures overlooking the salt flats and then continued on down the road to our camp destination.

Alice had this idea at the beginning of our drive that we play a game called "chicken." This game requires a camera and some pretty stupid passengers, but sounded like fun and a good way to get us all pumped for our adventure. Basically, you put the car in neutral and put the camera on the dash while everyone runs around the car a few times and takes their previous seats again. This isn't so dangerous if the car is going slow enough, but Alice was so excited that when we first attempted to play she jumped out at about 10mph and fell flat on her face in the dust. I was the only person who saw her fall, and thought we ran over her. I WAS TERRIFIED. Before I could even jump out to see if she was okay (or alive) she had already popped up and ran to the car holding her left arm and absolutely covered in dust. I thought she had a concussion, broken wrist, ribs, you name it! Turns out, Alice just had a sore shoulder and some scrapes on her arm, but only after we stopped for about 30 minutes so Guy could convince her she was okay and so she didn't throw up in the car. We didn't attempt to play this game again.

The next hour was acacia trees, rocks, and DUST. This stuff is a beautiful shade of autumn rusted red and is more fine than baby powder. It gets everywhere. By the time we reached Ewasso we were all absolutely covered, it's like a free sunless tan!

We decided to stop at the research camp where Sam, Johann and friends were getting married, but they were down at the river so we decided to find a good spot to camp and set up shop. We got as far as clearing a spot, tents up, and lunch and were interrupted by some Masai men who looked like they had a problem. Guy talked with them in Swahili for about 45 minutes and I knew there was an issue when about 10 more Masai showed up and Guy kept using mannerisms of reassurance. After about ten more minutes we had paid them 1000 shillings (ten bucks, more or less) for the "day use" and packed up our whole camp to find a new spot. He didn't explain much, except that they seemed to not want us there and were concerned about the three girls' safety. Good choice Guy! We drove back to the research camp to see if the bride and groom were back from the river and eventually find a new place to crash.

This is the part I am so sad I can't put into words, but will cherish as a memory for as long as I live: I got to witness a traditional Masai Wedding ceremony. These ceremonies are performed for tourists who pay them, but it's usually only a mock practice, they aren't in traditional dress, and they aren't doing it from the heart. Sam and Johann were woken up around 6am to begin every ritual part of a Masai wedding. We didn't get to see all of it, but we arrived right around the good part. :)

Sam was in a long beaded suede top with colorful beaded headdress and necklaces, bracelets, and a horse tail "whip" looking thing. Johann was in a matching pants and shirt beaded outfit with a walking stick that was beaded all the way from top to bottom. As we walked up the women (Nditos) were all in a huge circle with Sam in the middle singing and chanting. The men (Marans) were in a circle jumping about 15 feet in the air and making this beautiful guttural humming sounds and dipping their heads in and out of the circle. Johann came up to us and said, "isn't this incredible?!" It was about 95 degrees and he looked exhausted, but it WAS incredible. It almost brought me to tears to be able to see this dancing ritual. They were so happy and so filled with passion! This dance is hundreds of years old! It was being performed just as it would have been before there were separate continents! I couldn't believe my eyes, and everyone kept turning to me and saying, "You know, not just anyone gets to see this." I didn't need it to be said to know that I was the most privileged guest at this Masai wedding. They welcomed me as they would have welcomed their own, and were teaching everyone how to dance and chant as they did. It was magical. The discovery channel would have KILLED to be me at that moment. :) I can't even explain it, the most incredible cultural experience of my entire life. Johann and Sam got to eat fresh cow fat (still warm, ugh!) sit in a mud hut together, walk on fresh dung for good luck, get lectured by their Masai Mama and Papa, whipped with a horse's tail, take a trip to the river to be re-cleansed, among other special traditions. They had three pigs, one whole cow, and a sheep that were sacrificed for the occasion and it was truly a Masai celebration!

We decided to set up camp and come back later, but after preparing our spot for a second time and taking a quick dip in the river we decided just to go to bed. (The most fun part of picking a camp site in this part of Kenya is that they are ALL good sites, and you get to use a machete to clear the grasses for your own tents! It was my job to clear all the spots, and it was dirty work, but very fun!) We had a delicious curry dinner that was previously prepared and frozen, drank some wine, and went to our tents around 10pm to sleep.

I didn't sleep at all the first night. There are so many animal noises you hear on safari at night, and they all sound like they are right next to you! Aside from that, I would wake myself up after dreaming of crazy baboons using their dexterity to unzip my tent and drag me into the bush! Maybe it was the curry dinner but I had the weirdest dreams that night. It seems funny that my biggest concern was the baboons considering the leopard calls Guy heard in the night, and the lion tracks we found just yards from our tents!

I got up with the sun and realized the true beauty of the spot we had picked to camp: right on the edge of a sand cliff overlooking a bend in the Ewasso River lined with fig trees and looking at the Nguru Man Plateau and the Loiter Hills in the distance. Stunning. As soon as the sun hits you on the equator it get hot, so we quickly ate breakfast and went swimming. The river in this area has no hippo in it (otherwise we wouldn't have been able to swim) or crocodile, so we just explored and threw figs at one another. A few Masai came up to check out what the crazy Mzungus were doing and told Guy he must be a very happy man to have three lovely wives. He referred to us from that point on as wife#1, #2, and #3 (that was me). We met up with everyone at the research camp to discuss plans for lion research and possibly go for an evening tracking drive. While Guy spoke with the others about the logistics, we the twins and I sat under an acacia tree to read.

This was the first time I asked Alice to pinch me. I kept saying, "how did I get this lucky?" and they couldn't give me an explanation. :)

After going for another swim we piled into a Land Rover and headed off to show Guy the tracking equipment and a little about the perimeter. One of the other research assistants hadn't yet been out, so this was a "getting our feet wet" kind of game drive. There were eight going out, including a few of the girlfriends of the lion trackers and us. I grabbed a seat sitting on the roof of the truck next to Alice, and Daisy sat on a tire in the back with one of the girlfriends named Christine. Paul drove, and Guy sat in the car with the rest. Everyone kept saying we probably wouldn't see anything except zebra and giraffe, but I was SO excited to see them that I couldn't contain myself. I had the biggest smile on my face, even after the tenth time trying to dodge the thorns of the acacia trees from smacking me in the face (even though they are as sharp as razors and had gotten a few of my fingers pretty bad).

The sun was setting, and we drove for about an hour showing Guy how the frequency of the collars work, and how we could hear the two collared female lions by the beeps that come from the radio signal. We drove around and heard nothing for a while, but I was busy taking pictures of all the other wildlife. There were zebra, giraffe, warthog, impala, buffalo, toucan, guinea fowl, and all so beautiful! The sun began to set when we first heard a "beep" and decided we might get lucky after all! Paul the driver announced we were coming up on Gate 1 into Chompole Conservation Center and wouldn't be allowed through, but decided to just go to the gate anyway to follow the frequency. We were in luck! No one was at the gate! We drove through and continued our trek until the beeps came closer together and very loud. After reconsidering my seat choice, I started thinking I might actually get to see a lion! A few minutes later we were stopped dead in our tracks watching two female lions just resting and staring at us. They were so beautiful. When they got up and moved on, we would start our engine and follow them. When it got dark, we decided to turn around and go back through the gate, and see if we couldn't pick up the frequency again.

Using a GPS tracking system, we noted the points at which each lion was seen, what they were doing, their general condition, etc. It was really cool seeing the systematic way they were doing this research, and I felt like I got to share in the pioneering effort to learn about this endangered species! How cool!

We went back through the gate and amazingly started picking up the signal again. We found the female again and she was with about three other females! We would stop, watch, observe, shine the spotlights here, was work, but it was so awesome! I was in charge of a spotlight because I wanted to see in the dark, plus it made me feel better having this huge thing I could maybe throw at any large animals curious as to how I taste. Holding on to the side of the car for dear life with one hand and trying to follow a female lion with a spotlight through the bush was more excitement than I could handle. I kept squeaking with laughter at how amazing it was that I was participating in this!

At one point we lost the females we were following, and we stopped in a field to readjust the signal. Behind us from about 100 meters away came the loudest, most blood-curdling scream anyone has ever heard. Our eyes all widened a bit, and Paul threw the car in reverse and we drove straight toward the screaming (at this point I was like, "Um, guys? Is this REALLY a great idea? I mean, I'm sitting on the roof!" but of course kept that to myself and pointed the spotlight in whatever direction they told me to). We drove up on six female lions ripping apart a warthog. There were glowing eyes all lining the clearing of animals waiting for their turn, and Paul and Guy began counting lions, seeing the two collared females and recording what they saw into voice-recorders. Erica, one of the girlfriends, got out a video camera to catch everything, and I just sat in shock holding the spotlight on this incredibly raw scene in front of me. We parked only about 45 feet away from where they were feasting, so of course I wasn't going to take my eyes off of it! There was this immense mixture of pure fear and excitement, and we were all glued to these lions just tearing and crunching bones and fighting over pieces of flesh. I swear it was exactly like a Planet Earth episode, except I hadn't waited for three years to get the footage, I was just in the right place at the right time. Unbelievable.

Daisy and Christine were still in the back of the truck looking on when we heard a very loud, very close "ROAR" come from the back of the truck. The seventh female had been scouring the perimeter of the clearing to keep other animals away when we had swooped in to get a glimpse of the action. We were right between her and the kill, and she decided to attack our car! Christine jumped straight up to the roof with one motion, and Daisy froze with fear. I looked for room to jump in the cab but Alice and Erica and Guy were all in the way, so I braced myself to get ripped apart by this lion as I reached back for Daisy. The lion quickly ran around us and up to the dead pig to begin her feast, and Paul explained that "We must have been in her way, but sometimes they attack cars just for intimidation" Um...does anyone need a new pair of pants?! Holy Crap! We almost got eaten by a lion! Poor Daisy was alone in the back, but Paul insisted we were safe so long as we stayed inside the car, so we continued watching.

Now I have to apologize to my mom because I told her we were getting out of Nairobi because of the Referendum and it might be dangerous being near city centers, so I would just go on this quiet safari/camping thing. Instead, I went out on a night game-drive and held a spotlight for researchers and almost got eaten by a lion. My bad.

You can imagine how steady I held the spotlight after that, and between picking bird-sized beatles and moths out of my shirt and shorts I was high on adrenaline and glued to this scene. The hyenas were trying to steal the carcass, the jackals gave it a good attempt, but these lions weren't going to stop until every last drop of blood was cleared from the elephant grass. We were there until around 10pm, and I was recorded a few times on Erica's video as saying, "oh, my parents are going to kill me!" :) It was one of the most rare things anyone gets to see, and most Kenyans spend years in the bush without ever witnessing lions hunt, kill, or even feed. Guy was upset that I kept having such great luck, and made a point of reminding me every five minutes that this sort of thing doesn't just happen and that they could have spent years out there doing research and not seen anything like what we saw on NIGHT ONE!

Wow. Wow. Wow. So many indescribable things happened that night. I still can't believe I was blessed enough to witness it all, to be with those people, and to have survived a much-too-close-encounter!

We had pasta and leftovers and went to bed. For some reason I slept like a rock that night, and woke up at 8am happier than I've been in a long time. We ate breakfast, intertubed down a bit of the river, said goodbye to everyone at the research camp, and drove back to Nairobi. In two and a half days, I experienced what I can only describe as the fabric and frequency of the heartbeat of life. I found an emotion that is a mixture of pure joy, adrenaline, excitement, and wonder. It's so much more than these words and just thinking about it brings me to tears.

We got home and learned that the Referendum had passed (great news) and that I am going to get to work at a Five Star Lodge for ten days with some family friends of Guys as a sort of hostess (also great news!). Seriously, I couldn't be more blessed or happy for all these opportunities. I feel like life doesn't get any better than this, and instead of wondering when someone's going to wake me up from this dream I'm just going to keep on enjoying it. I hope that everyone in their lifetime gets an opportunity to experience some of these amazing things, and I want everyone to feel the joy that I am so lucky to be experiencing here.

I hope I described enough for everyone to get an idea of how incredible those few days were. Kenya will forever be a part of my soul after all that. If I haven't described something to your liking, please email me and I'll do my best to give more details. I probably left a lot of things out just trying to get the sequence of events down correctly.

Mom and Dad, please don't be mad at me they said there was a very low chance we would actually see any lions and things just escalated from there. I mean, I couldn't exactly just hop out of the car and say okay I'm walking back then, you know? :)


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Referendum

Some of you might know a little bit about the current political environment in Kenya but for those of you who don't, I wanted to give you a very basic background because it's something I've been thinking about and living with everyday here.

Kenya gained its independence only about 100 years ago. It was settled initially by Portuguese traders and eventually by German and British colonists. The appeal to these groups in Kenya came from the delicious coffee, tea, and spices, as well as ivory (now illegal). One of the larger independent tribes in Kenya was the Kikuyu tribe who fought for political independence from the colonists and eventually gained rights for Africans within the first political structure. Jomo Kenyatta acted as president of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) but then became the leader of the more aggressive Kenya African Union (KAU).

The KAU fought European colonists in numerous uprisings and movements for African rights (such as the right of an African to own a coffee plantation) mainly backed by the Kikuyu tribe. When Kenyatta became the first Prime Minister of Kenya, the Kikuyu were the first tribe to benefit since Kenyatta himself was a Kikuyu. Within the political structure of Kenya there are hundreds of smaller political parties, although they call themselves a democratic nation. These smaller sects have tried to unify for years to achieve progress for the people, but as you can imagine with so many different groups it is hard to appease everyone.

A more official declaration of independence came in December of 1963 and Kenya was declared a republic in 1964. Kenyatta served as an autocratic leader until his death, leaving both racial and tribal animosities that still exist today. The leaders who followed Kenyatta also served in an oligarchical fashion and further suppressed certain groups and minorities.

The Referendum which was voted on Wednesday August 4th, 2010 was a concentrated attempt at emancipation for the people of Kenya. The constitution that WON with 67% voting "yes" (approx 6 mil. people) and only 30% voting "no" (approx 2 mil. people) included things like a woman's right to own property, youth's rights, and is taking away the power from the corrupt bourgeois leaders. There is a bill of rights and also a dual-citizenship clause which might allow Kenyan born citizens to also have, for example, British citizenship (which Guy's friends are all hoping for since most of them either live in the UK now or go to school there).

Guy and his family have been kind enough to endure my questions and we have been talking a lot about what this whole process means for Kenya. It is the most important step to the progressive movement since Kenya's independence! The referendum is not perfect and will take many years of implementation, clarification, and hard work, but to vote 'yes' was a step in the right direction, and Kenya has been celebrating since Wednesday evening. Corruption will still exist, but the the constitution is now working for the people and not a few rich politicians from dominating tribes.

I watched the official announcements last night of the results and there was a collective "thank you" from the leaders that Kenyans went out to vote for the future of their country. After hearing short speeches from the Prime Minister and President, it was clear there is much work to be done, but the "people have spoken." For many this result brought a huge sigh of relief and everyone here is happy there wasn't any reported violence.

Kenya is a relatively new country and they have come a very long way in the past 50 years, but I want everyone to keep it in their prayers. The people have so much hope and pride in their home and I can't help but feel their frustration at the corruption and forces holding them back from progress. These people are smart, economical, and enterprising! They are a huge growing force in the world and they deserve to be represented by their government and share equal rights under the law.

I am so lucky to be here during this turning point in the country's history and to witness the spirit of the community since they are all so in tune to the pace and direction of their futures. It is so refreshing to be here during this time of change, and there is something so stimulating and electric about the energy of these people! Try to imagine if you were there when the Declaration of Independence was signed, or when women first gained the right to vote! It's really exciting!

I have to say, again, that I am so thankful to Guy and his family for being the perfect people for me to experience Kenya with. I am so spoiled to be around highly educated and informed citizens who have so much passion for their country and home. This experience has changed me and although I don't know everything about all this political stuff, I think I know enough to appreciate the process.

Keep Kenya in your thoughts!


P.S. Ciara, thank you for telling me about the cheese. I guess now I can stop eating it with every meal. ;)
P.P.S. Everyone please continue sending me emails. They are a welcomed reminder of my home and the people I love and miss so much.
P.P.P.S. Cody please take care of your thumb and try not to injure yourself while I'm so far away, it makes my tummy hurt! Use a wire hanger if the cast gets itchy! :) I love you!

A Wedding in Kenya

I was lucky enough to attend the beautiful wedding of Samantha Russell and Johann du Toit.

The wedding was held on Guy's property in Kittengela, right where the river comes to a bend and the bank flattens out to reveal these massive rocks lining the edge of Nairobi National Park and the plot. This spot is amazing, and I promise I will get the pictures to everyone as soon as I can!

I thought this wedding would be something extremely out of the ordinary, but aside from being in Kenya, it was a very simple, romantic, thoughtful ceremony. We walked through the tall yellow grasses down to the ceremony site where we were greeted by about 12 ushers (like groomsmen) and escorted to a hay bail covered in burlap and fastened with wheat. There were also large brown vases filled with different types of grasses and wheat. Johann is a farmer (represented by the wheat) and Sam did all her PhD research with ecosystems by studying different types of grass (hence, the grass).

Once all 150 guests were seated and it was time for the ceremony to start, the bride walked down the aisle in a beautiful white Italian silk gown. The groom was wearing a shirt and vest to match both the bride and the ceremony site. Anyone watching could have easily mistaken this for a wedding in California. There was a welcoming Hymn, a few readings by the parents of the bride, best men, etc. There was an Apache Marriage Blessing read aloud, a signing of the registers after reciting vows, and prayers read for the deceased, and then also for Kenya (since the referendum was only 4 days away). Before the recessional, we were all asked to have "sun downers" with the bride and groom, and also that we stay and party until sunrise! Sun-downers are a HUGE tradition in Kenya (maybe elsewhere also?) and it is basically gathering at sunset with a drink and sitting and chatting with friends. I am bringing this tradition to California!

Kenyan weddings are awesome. We had a delicious meal with tomato soup, chicken, steak, salad, rice, and all the beer, wine, and champagne anyone could want! They REALLY wanted their guests to stay. After the three best men gave their speeches, and all the in-laws gave their blessings and advice the dancing began. Kenyans know how to dance, and they definitely know how to party! The dance floor was busy all night and into the wee hours of the morning. I tried my best to stay up with the bride and groom but had to turn in around 4 am when I found myself barely keeping my eyes open in front of one of the fire pits. :) It was a beautiful reception under huge white tents that placed in the middle of a National Park was so simple, but so perfect! They let the beauty of their country speak to who they were and everyone celebrated their happy future under the stars. I was told there were about 20 people left at 6am which I thought was extremely impressive since the bride, groom, and all the in-laws were included! They received special pastries for lasting all night, and had another drink with the bride and groom to signal the official end of the occasion.

I have to thank both Sam and Johann for inviting me to their wedding and also to Shirley and Jonah for extending that invitation to me. I had so much fun getting to know their friends and family, and they were both so kind to me at the wedding. I kept thinking I was the luckiest girl to be in a place where I could actually feel people's warmth and everyone wanted to have fun and enjoy being together! I keep talking about this amazing sense of community I feel here, but it really is a phenomenon in itself! Kenyans just seem to be bound together naturally, and this wedding was no exception.

Sorry to get all mushy on everyone, but I really had the best time. I will never forget watching the bride's mom and father-in-law dance to Shakira's "It's time for Africa" song at three in the morning while the rest of the guests scream the words at the top of their lungs. You all missed out. :)

The Cherry on Top: I was also invited to the traditional Masai wedding thrown for Sam and Johann by the Masai people near where they have been living while Sam did her research. Please look up the Masai under "images" or something on Google if you don't already know something about them. They are some of the last remaining traditional indigenous tribes in Africa, and in the area where Sam and Johann live, they actually still hold traditional ceremonies that aren't for tourists or money. They are beautiful pastoral people, and I got to see some of the traditions that absolutely NO ONE gets to witness because they are sacred the the tribe. National Geographic would be SO jealous! I will describe all that I can put into words when I blog about my safari...

So, everyone needs to add "Go to a Kenyan Wedding" to their bucket lists because even if you're not into the whole romance and love bit, you can always attend just for the masses of food, alcohol, and dancing! :) What an incredible night.



I want to talk about Mutatus for a minute. A mutatu is a form of public transportation in Kenya. The funny thing about these "mini-buses" (they have technically around 12 seats and look like the smaller volvo vans) is that they are all privately owned.

If anyone dies in a car accident in Kenya, you'd better bet there was a mutatu involved. They are wreckless! They will drive right into you without thinking twice, and they have an average of about 20 passengers inside that don't seem concerned in the slightest! The drivers honk incessantly, they pass people on the left or right (doesn't matter, wherever there's room), they throw passengers out while the vehicle is still in motion, and they definitely have no concept of general traffic laws.

They all have different themes and are decorated to fit the name or concept on the sides or back of the vehicle. I wanted to just give you guys a list of some of the themes and just try to imagine how ridiculously they are decorated. I will put a slight disclaimer on these themes because I have no idea who is reading this blog (some may be like PG-13ish?) Also, some are sad or more serious so don't think that all are meant to be comical...

Only on the Facebook -one of my personal favorites)

Snoop Doggie Dogggg -yes, there were 4 g's

Pound it -paw prints all over this one

Original Gangster -starting to pick up on a genre here?

The Nuns of the Night -had the Virgin Mary painted on the side of it

Motley Crew -Hehe this one had a huge picture of Will Smith on the side of it. He wasn't a part of the Motley Crew!

In Style -Couldn't even tell what the decor used to be because it had been smashed in and horribly repaired so many times.

Risk or Die Hungry -interesting considering the spirit of the people here. I thought this was really profound.

Mzungus Only -white person mutatu only?

Live in the Glory -had random Bible verses on the sides

Mary y Juana -get it? what kind of leaves do you think were all over it? :)

Black Mamba -it was painted green, maybe the driver is color blind? Or maybe the joke's on me.

Pimple Mobile

Obama-nator -he was born in Kenya so they are a huge fan of him here, regardless of his policies.

Non-smoking -funny because there was a cigar box on the front dash

Jay-Z's Ride -the driver of this one had a grill and all kinds of bling

Kibaki's Back-up -Kibaki is the President of Kenya

Zero to Hero -only if you make it to your destination

Tusker Tank -probably the biggest export in Kenya. :) It's beer, and a great source of pride for most Kenyans. I've had a few and they are pretty good, but this mutatu probably gets stopped by the cops a lot so they can get beer bribes only to be disappointed that there are only a dozen terrified tourists inside.

Luxury -let's just say the theme didn't match since there were about 30 people crammed in!

Disco Divas -purple with a disco ball hanging from mirror and brightly colored seats

B.J.'s fast and easy

Last Chance pray before you step into my death trap! :)

Guy and I never take mutatus because they are very dangerous and usually waste so much time trying to accumulate as many passengers as possible. I am lucky that he is nice enough to take me around in his car that is much bigger than most of these vehicles, yet he drives kind or like they do. :) I was told that the younger more adventurous people in the area Guy grew up in would choose a mutatu based its theme. Why someone would get into the "Pimple Mobile" is beyond me.

I hope everyone is doing well and are enjoying these blogs because I really look forward to writing them. :)

Also, I read that there is now cheese in Mwanza...and I'm stoked.

Love love love,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Love

How I love this place, let me count the ways...

Never mind, there are too many. :)

First, good news, Imma (the Mama/nanny who I took to the hospital) is feeling much better. She took a few days off work and I was pretty worried, but she came back yesterday with a big smile on her face and many "asante(s) (thank you)." I said, "Imma! How are you? What was wrong?!"
She said, "My wee, was dead."
"My wee...was dead."
"Hmmm...I'm sorry Imma, I do not understand."
"How do you say...???...I have a UTI.
HAHAHHAHAHAHA! How funny huh? Not only did she know the official, English term, but she also knew the abbreviation. I'm glad she is feeling better now.

Tomorrow Michael and Aika are leaving the baby home. They are too old to be there now and have really outgrown the baby home and the other children. It will be REALLY sad saying bye to them, as they were at the baby home the first time I visited two years ago. You should hear their English now! So impressive! They have also learned that most of the volunteers don't speak Swahili and will say things in their sweetest voices with big smiles and hugs such as, "You are a snotty nose." Thinking they are being sweet, the volunteers (me included my first few days until I figured the little stinkers out) go, "Awww..." and give them a big hug.

They are going to live in a place called Mavuna Village. It's a new orphanage-like place where the kids live 10 kids to a house, each with a Mama and Baba. It's a much healthier model and will help give them the attachment and stability they need. They are really excited for their new mommy and daddy. I'm happy for them too, but it will still be sad to see them go. We painted Aika's toes bright pink yesterday, so she will arrive to her new home in style. :)

Zep, Nairi (my two friends from work), and I started doing play therapy with a couple of the older kids. Our first day we decided to try it out with some of the kids who may not be considered in the most need of therapy, just to see how it would go. I decided to do a projective drawing assessment with one of the oldest girls (stated age 4, but she is probably about 6 or even 7). I gave her a blank piece of paper and a pencil and asked her to draw a person. Zep, Nairi, and I do this with our clients at home and it is often very telling about how the child feels about him/herself. What this little girl drew broke my heart. First, I should explain that at the baby home, this little girl is kind of the leader of the pack. Because of her age and size, the other kids don't really mess with her and she typically gets what she wants. She is quiet to the volunteers typically, but seems a bit bossy some of her younger "crew."

She drew a picture of a girl who looked VERY sad. She had a sad face with many, many tears all down the front of her face and dress. The figure had no arms and was standing in pouring rain. She even drew "thunder." In the corner of the picture, she drew a sun. Thinking hopefully, I asked, "oh is the sun coming out to make the rain go away and the little girl happy?" She looked at me directly in the eyes and very quietly said, "no." (Can you hear it? That was my heart breaking).

Imagine what it must be like to be this little girl. Abandoned by her parents. Sent to live in a place with 54 other abandoned babies. Now she has been there for about two years and has seen many of her friends (almost all of the babies that were here last time I was here) be adopted, find their families, or move on. She seems so tough on the outside, but inside she is crying. Poor thing. I am looking forward to working with her for the next five months. I hope I can make a difference.

On another note, today I'm going to visit another orphanage in town. It's an orphanage for older kids, age 4 to 14 I think. Apparently, a twenty-one-year-old Canadian girl just took it over. I really want to meet her. I am going to see if maybe I can do some play therapy at her orphanage eventually too. I'll let you know what it's like.

I can't wait until Cacey gets here! (Shout out to my sista'!). She is going to LOVE these babies just as much as I do. I have a feeling, we will either convince each other to stay forever, or have/need to convince each other to go home again.

OH! And Cacey, if you are reading this...good news! The grocery store here expanded since the last time I was here and they have SO much stuff now! There is even shampoo...annnnddd...Pillsbury (sp?)Strawberry Cake Mix! I made a cake last night, but we had this really shady oil that I'm not to excited about. Oh yeah, and halfway through baking, the power went out, so it was left half-baked for a while. No one wants to eat it. Haha. Leave it to me to ruin a box cake! But yes, don't worry about starving. We will be fine. There is plenty! Oh...and Cacey, they have CHEEEESSSE! It's $10 for a little block, but's cheese!

Anyways, that's all for now. Much love!