On our way to the Nanyuki airport we stopped by the side of the road, where a rusty hand-painted sign marks the equator, for a photo op and a little “black magic” – a man demonstrating that water drains in a clockwise direction north of the equator and counterclockwise to the south. Of course FIL, who holds a PhD in physics, was eager to explain afterwards that this was all a bunch of hooey. (Don’t bother arguing with him – apparently some folks at MIT have proven that it is indeed a bunch of hooey.) We all took turns snapping the requisite pictures of each other in front of the equator sign. A string of ramshackle market stalls was set up nearby and the vendors kept coming up and hassling us to check out their wares. None of us wanted to do any shopping for once, so we told the men that we had a plane to catch and looked around desperately for Tonnie, who normally would rescue us from such circumstances. He was having a drink in the shade with our drivers so I went over and said, “Uh, Tonnie, I think we want to go!” He got the message immediately and hustled us out of there.
We had to wait for a while at the airport for our big 4-engine prop plane to arrive. I really didn’t like this plane – I was staring out the window at those huge spinning propellers the whole flight. We landed at Nairobi Wilson airport around 11:30, walking past the familiar waiting room where our adventure had begun just two weeks ago. At this point we split into two groups: Tonnie, DH and I, MIL & FIL, and R2&B climbed into two vans to visit the Mukuru slum, while the rest of the group headed off to do some shopping downtown.
I was completely unprepared, psychologically at least, for the long drive over horribly rutted roads into the Mukuru slum. Over the previous two weeks, I had gotten used to the stares that our comparatively luxurious vans and buses garnered as we drove through the villages and towns of
We drove through endless muddy streets lined with corrugated tin shacks, colorful hand-painted signs hawking all manner of odd goods and services: Cefra Dispensing Chemist, selling drugs and cosmetics…Starehe Beach Hotel, advertising chai and several kinds of “chapoo”…Ebenezer medical clinic, providing emergency delivery, circumcision, family planning, and HIV/AIDS services…a rather shady-looking establishment called the Shades Butchery…Uncle’s Café, “for delicious food”…a blue-and-white clapboard shack offering “Hair Kuts”...The contrast between abject poverty and First World luxuries was staggering – we passed a field where people and goats were picking through a vast pile of garbage, only to turn the corner to find a video house advertising the day’s soccer games on satellite TV (Chelsea vs.
Even in this appalling setting, a little light shines through. Everywhere we went, we were chased by children smiling and waving and shouting, “How are you? How are you?” over and over again. We waved back at them, feeling helpless, yet delighted that we could bring a little cheer to their day. Tonnie said that they probably see people “like us” two or three times a month. I wonder if they recognize the Micato vans, and know that Micato is doing something to help.
Micato operates a non-profit organization called America Share which, with the support of their clients, provides food, clothing, school and medical supplies for nearly a thousand orphans across
It was quite a shock to drive from the Mukuru slum to the shady, gated parking lot of the Italian restaurant where we met Jane Pinto and her daughter Anna for lunch. The rest of the group was already there; we joined them at a long table in a beautiful courtyard for delicious pizzas and pasta. Those of us who had gone to the slum then went back to the Collector’s Den for our final shopping opportunity. DH and I bought a tall Maasai spear (they break down into three pieces for easy transport), a long piece of batik-printed fabric depicting a string of zebras, two T-shirts, and a beaded belt, which all came to $109. Our next stop was our “day room” at the
Our final stop was the much-anticipated Carnivore, a dimly-lit, smoke-filled restaurant where the main event, is, naturally, meat! The centerpiece of the restaurant is an enormous circular grill; a constant stream of servers meander between the tables bearing long steaming skewers, forking out hearty portions of pork ribs, roast beef, chicken wings, turkey drumsticks, alligator chunks, and ostrich meatballs. In the center of each table a tiered platter holds a dozen different sauces and condiments, topped by a little flag which we were supposed to “lower” to signal when we were finished. I was not impressed with the alligator – it tasted like a cross between fish and chicken and was really bony – but the spare ribs were delicious! Many of us sampled the dawa – a delicious concoction of vodka, lime juice, honey, and crushed ice, all mashed together with a wooden stick (similar to a caipirinha, or Brazilian margarita).
Our goodbyes were emotional but rushed…J&H were going back to the hotel for the night, as they would be leaving for Johannesburg in the morning, and R2&B were flying to Egypt on Monday to start, amazingly, another two-week tour. Saying farewell to H was especially tough, as she had become my “adopted mother” over the course of this trip. We all promised to stay in touch and then the rest of us who were flying out this evening piled into the bus and headed for the airport. N&D were dropped off first, then we headed to the British Airways terminal, as R&C, MIL & FIL, and DH & I were all on the same flight to
We arrived at the gate with about two hours to spare and were stuck in a huge waiting room with no access to bathrooms or refreshments. It was really stuffy in there and by the time we got onto the plane we were all feeling tired and cranky. A man standing in line with us pointed out a famous British TV personality who also looked a bit miffed, probably because no one recognized him. We waited on the plane at the gate for another 90 minutes, during which time I started to feel a bit claustrophobic from breathing the canned air. Our state of mind was not improved by the fact that one of the ovens in the kitchen galley started smoking, although the flight attendant assured us that it was just steam! We watched “Man of the Year,” refused dinner (since all we had done today was sit and eat) and actually slept for two or three hours. We had a high-carb breakfast box in the morning. Fortunately we made up time in the air and arrived in
Finally, regretfully, my tale must come to a close. As I write these words, five months after our safari, I am flooded with fleeting images of Africa…the chaotic streets of downtown Nairobi…the kiss of a greedy giraffe…a blazing orange sun rising over Amboseli…an elephant train making its slow way across the acacia-studded plains… the mesmerizing eyes of a lioness in Ngorongoro Crater, and that startling primeval urge to flee…the history of humankind painted in the striated cliffs of Olduvai Gorge…a thunderhead forming above the endless plain of the Serengeti…the animated faces of the Maasai villagers who opened their homes to us in the Mara…the lively stories of our marvelous Micato guides and drivers…and of course, the people who enriched the whole experience with their laughter, their camaraderie, and their shared wonder for all that Africa has to offer – my amazing safari mates!
I sincerely hope that through these words and images, I have been able to convey some sense of the endlessly diverse beauty and culture of