The Wild Hunt
April 23, 2010 § 3 Comments
Friends and family!
I have received a tremendous amount of wonderful feedback on my blog, most recently from Flying Kites staff and new friends, so I am feeling only more encouraged by the incredible base of people supporting me!
I will admit this post has been very hard to write, not because of a lack of happenings but instead the opposite. I have been through quite a bit in the last two weeks. I went into Nairobi on Tuesday the 13th with Hannah to meet three beautiful, orphan girls who we have decided to take in and make part of family. It was an incredible process to be part of and was yet another affirming reminder of why I am here. We had a hair-raising ride home along the Rift Valley in our Flying Kites Land Rover through the dark, and when we got home I fell sick with a very strange and very intense fever. I was shaking uncontrollably and my heart rate was through the roof. One of our volunteers, Peter, thankfully took care of me, and I managed to fall asleep around morning and woke around 2 in the afternoon feeling extremely weak and sore, but somewhat normal otherwise. I called my mom around 2:30 to check in, only to find her crying and learn that my Grandma Pat had passed away.
She was one of my best friends and someone I will forever miss sharing this world with. We grew so close in the time that led up to her failing health, and I learned a great deal about myself and my incredible mother through our relationship. My mom has shown tremendous strength in the face of such loss, and it is because of her and my dad that I have been able to find peace in losing her at a distance that has never felt further away. For those who have sent me such heartfelt notes and for Angie, who along with my mom spent some of my grandmas last days by her side, caring for her and holding the phone to her ear so we could talk for the last time, I am forever grateful for you.
I had planned to depart to Uganda the next morning, but at this point was physically and mentally exhausted. With the encouragement of my parents though, I decided follow through with my trip, knowing my grandma would indeed be with me and seeing my wonderful friend Dave Betts would certainly help to bring me joy. I woke up Thursday the 15th at 5:30 a.m., packed my bag, caught a two hour matatu (African van/taxi) to Naivasha, a two hour matatu to Nakuru, a motorcycle to the bus station, and a five hour bus to Bungoma (near the Ugandan boarder), where Dave lives. It was a seamless journey, during which I saw much of Kenya I had not yet seen and saw my grandma in everything: the mountains, the children beside me, everything. It was exactly what I needed. Time to be alone, to reflect, and then see a friend who in was not only a piece of home, but in no time flat had me smiling and laughing.
For those who know Dave, I will tell you his beard is thoroughly out of control and he has all the other area NGO employees clinging to his many stories, as he does everywhere he goes. We stayed our first night in Bungoma, which felt like New York City compared to Njabini, and had a great dinner at an Indian restaurant, where we met people from all over the U.S. doing various aid projects. I also got to see fireflies for the first time and eat chicken for the first time since I left the States! The next morning we got up early, went and saw the amazing construction work he and Connor Dinnison had completed thus far, and then headed to the boarder to hopefully get to Jinja (Uganda) by nightfall.
Crossing the boarder during the day was a breeze (give money, get stamp); crossing at night unfortunately is a much different process. We caught a 2 hour matatu from the boarder and had the most beautiful drive. Uganda feels very tropical feeling, full of rice fields, banana trees, mango trees, troops of baboons, and the air is full of whooping bird calls and chirping frogs. Our matatu didn’t get into town until dark and our plan was to make it to Bugugali Falls, an area we were told was a great place to stay. We had reserved a banda for the night at a place called Eden Rock Resort (the word ‘resort’ here means something very different than at home) and the motorcycle we hired assured us that he could get us there.
We rode through the night on a bumpy dirt road until it became impassable because of mud, at which time the driver pointed up the road and insisted we’d find the resort if we just walked a little further. We suddenly found ourselves in rural Uganda in the dark, slipping along in the mud, with our cell phones for flashlights, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. We walked a good distance and talked mostly about how mad our mothers would be at us. After scurrying through a local bar area and a small run-in with a Rotweiler, we made it to Eden Rock. We had the ‘bar and restaurant’ to ourselves, which we were excited about, and later found was because we were the only people staying there. We had a few Ugandan beers, called Nile Specials, counted the 60 geckos on the ceiling, and headed to bed.
We woke up the next morning and cruised into Jinja, which is an awesome city! Dave said it looked like New Orleans to him, at least what we imagined post Katrina. It borders Lake Victoria and the Victoria Nile River, which is the source of the Nile River flowing north to Egypt. We spent the day exploring, watched fisherman throw colorful nets, cruised through a local night market lit by hundreds of little kerosene lamps – butchers, produce sellers, sandals made of shredded tires, championship shirts for teams that didn’t win – hung out in a tiny local bar as the power came in and out, and ended up drinking beers in the kitchen with the cooks by the end of the night. It was a great day. Uganda is extraordinarily cheap, so I was able to get some great gifts to send home as well. To give you an idea of the cost of things: 10,000 Ugandan shilling equal five dollars; a motorcycle ride around town costs about 75 cents; a meal costs between two and three dollars; a hotel room for two with breakfast included costs about ten dollars. Our hotel room included a 5:30 wake up from the Mosque next door and by 8 a.m. we were in the back of a truck heading to the Victoria Nile for a day of rafting.
I have never been rafting before and absolutely loved it! Our guide was a woman named Jane from South Africa and made our trip all the more entertaining. It was Dave, Dave’s sister Holly, her coworker Lisette, myself, and a man named Hong from Korea. Hong ended up biting off a bit more than he could chew, being both unable to swim or understand the commands of the guide. We were instructed to intentionally flip the boat, practice swimming in a small rapid, and right the boat again. After a stretch of sporadic cat-pawing at the water, it’s easy to understand why Hong was caught severely off guard by the intensity of our trip. He was a comedic relief for us, spending the rest of the journey in the safety boat shouting “Danger! Danger!” before we reached each rapid. It was such a blast! We crashed several times, had a number of kayakers in tow collecting us and the paddles, and one guy taking a ton of pictures! The trip included lunch on the river, a bbq dinner at Bugagali Falls overlooking the Victoria Nile, and a night’s stay in a tent with two beds and electricity. It was incredible. That night we visited a friend of Dave’s, who has bought property along the river and is building a beautiful vacation home for he and his fiancé – cost to build the house (materials and labor) = $8000, just to give you another reference. That night we went to a beautiful, white-linen restaurant, overlooking the river, beside a pool, with frogs chirping so loud it was hard to hear, and we ate a magnificent dinner. Bbq ribs and gin with a lime. It was heavenly.
The next morning I woke up in my tent with the sun shining in, the sounds of the river, and the beginnings of one of the hardest days of my life. Dave and I had a great breakfast at the same restaurant and headed into to Jinja. My stomach had felt strange when I woke up, but in a matter of minutes started to wrench and cramp until I could hardly stand. We went to a café we’d visited the day before that was very ‘mzungu,’ assuming they would have a decent bathroom. Such was not the case, I was directed to a small bathroom in an attached church with no toilet-seat, no ability flush, no light, and it was so small I had to stand on the toilet to shut the door. I arrived to this little hole in the world at 11 a.m.; I left at 6 p.m. Dave was incredible friend to spend his day checking in on me, and to save some unsavory details, I have only once ever felt so awful, and it was when I got E. Coli. It turns out of the eight of us who ate dinner that night, something like five ended up getting what we think was salmonella.
Never-the-less, we now had to hurry to the boarder before dark, and I was nowhere near okay. Dave’s friends (and mine now too) from the One Acre Fund could not have been more sweet or patient as I ran in and out of corn fields while the sun went down. We made it to the Uganda / Kenya boarder at around 9:45 p.m., got out the van, and started on foot through the gate. Two men with guns approached us and said we could not pass unless we gave them our coats. Nick, one of the guys from the One Acre Fund who has lived here for some time, asked for their credentials – position, boss’s name, badge – and while they fumbled to answer, he said “Just walk. These guys can’t do anything.” So we did. And despite their big talk, they didn’t do anything. We were now, however, crossing the boarder without a stamp releasing us from Uganda, so when we got to the Kenyan side, we had a whole ‘nother bunch of corrupt folks to navigate. They were trying to work some kind of deal where we would have to pay to pass because we didn’t have the stamp we needed from the fake cops who wanted our coats. Thankfully, once again, Nick and his fiancé who have lived in Kenya for two and seven years, orchestrated our way through. Needless to say, I was a pathetic mess, definitely not much help, but I learned a ton from their handling of the situation. We got back to Dave’s and I did everything I knew how to care for myself for the sake of getting home in the morning.
I woke the next morning, stomach uneasy, took medicine Angie’s mom had thankfully gave me (I love you Mary!), and for no other reason than to be home – decided to go for it. I missed the morning bus, so instead I took a five hour matatu from Bungoma to Nakuru, stopping in every tiny town to pick up every imaginable sort of person, and as a tremendous understatement, I can say it was a test of patience. I made it to Nakuru, caught a two hour matatu to Naivasha, and got out at the main matatu stage. Being a mzungu, matatu conductors swarm you, trying to pull you to their car company. I said “I’m trying to get to Njabini in the shortest possible route. I’ll pay extra.” One man said he had an “express route” to the Fly-over (an easy transfer to Njabini). Long story short, the “Fly-over” he was referring to was not the one I knew, nor was it flagged to me in route, so I ended up in Nairobi at the main stage at dark. Not a safe place to be. By luck, grace, and a little grandma Pat… a group of the Flying Kites staff just so happened to be in Nairobi getting supplies, and came to the rescue. I made it home and the welcoming from the kids nearly brought me to tears. It really felt like I was home.
I feel great now, and if you read this to the end… thanks for sticking with me. It was a really challenging week, but I am certainly living the dream I had hoped to, wrinkles included. I am again thankful for all your support and I will do my best to post both pictures and my most current playlist of tunes soon!
Have an incredible day, seriously, and be grateful GRATFEUL GRATEFUL!