If not now – When?

Travels around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Living and Breathing this Bridge

Today marks the beginning of week seven on the bridge site. Seven Sundays ago, Chris and I got into Harmon’s rugged red four wheel drive truck, left Nairobi and drove across Kenya, through the Maasai Mara, to this corner of the Olare Orok Conservancy at Mara Plains Camp. We jiggled over bumpy clay colored Kenyan roads weaving around seemingly bottomless potholes, through wet and slippery river crossings – slowly and with gritted teeth, Chris white-knuckling the steering wheel – avoiding unseen protruding rocks. We dodged dried up gulches formed by the hard, heavy, and fast rains that we would come to experience. We passed by Maasai men wrapped in red, herding their cows and goats or, on occasion, jumping (literally for joy, I’m told), the incredible African wildlife and under the Kenyan white swirling clouds and dramatic cerulean sky.



We made this journey on unmarked, unpaved, and uninhabitated conservancy “roads” using two navigation apps, a hand drawn map, and using such landmarks as: “sign posts”, and “the fallen tree” (we added our own such landmarks on subsequent trips into the bush town, Talek to buy supplies : the “bad river crossing” – turns out it was the correct river crossing, the “anthill”, the “small bent tree”, and the “carcass” – we learned our way without this one well before it disappeared). There have been many many trips across the conservancy; each time a unique and awe-inspiring experience – the windows down, no radio, no seat belts – just us and the enticing Kenyan countryside.





We have developed a routine, and are becoming….seasoned….a bit; we are understanding the rhythms of the camp – especially guest schedules which dictate what work we can accomplish (how noisy and messy can we be?), when the guys working on the bridge come and go, the daily temperature and weather (when it rains it becomes cold and soggy; otherwise, by our early afternoon rest, it is so hot that we are searching for the refreshing coolness between and underneath the pillows). We are even aware of the wildlife patterns we see daily and hear nightly. There are lions and hyenas calling, elephants foraging just outside the tent, wildebeest and zebras grazing on the horizon, and the nocturnal and elusive genet cat that has appeared on our deck several times.






So…..seven weeks ago, we arrived, met our new friends Ben and Holly (They are British/Kenyan late thirties camp managers who have many pre-Mara-Plains-Camp stories to tell about Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and growing up in Kenya; they use words like “reckon” and “rubbish”).


After a tour of the camp, we started assessing the situation. The bridge spans 30 meters and is 600 mm wide; it was designed by a young American, son-of-African-missionaries Bobby Reese (we would come to call on Bobby for boots-on-the-ground-in Nairobi support, topping up our M-PESA account, bridge clarification and advice, along with some “engineering humor and banter”). Our work, here, has been to demolish the existing bridge (condemned due to damage caused by flash flooding and resulting river debris that tore the sagging Indiana Jones type bridge out of its usability), and then facilitate the build and assembly of the new Harmon Parker/Matthew Bowser/Bobby Reese/Chris Leibfried Tent 4 Bridge. The rest of the team are three skilled Bridging the Gap guys – Francis, Gordon, and Geoffrey – and 6 local workers – all hard working and agreeable guys (they all have taught me many Kiswahili words – numbers, animals, and bridge words like, well “daraja” or “bridge”; they laugh good-heartedly when I try to pronounce and use the words).


There is a sequence to building a bridge; Chris, as the site engineer, insists on precise and quality work (he is never far from his tape measure or Bobby’s bridge drawings Read more…

Roar, guffaw, chirp

By now, our friends and family have stopped asking us, “You’re going WHERE?” or “WHY are you going THERE?” But if they were still asking, our response this time would be,“we are going to Kenya to build a bridge”. The WHY answers come in many forms: “for as long as I’ve known Chris, his dream has been to help build bridges in Africa”, “Harmon and Teri Parker offered this amazing opportunity and we took it”, “it gives us a chance to really spend enough time in a culture with traditions, languages, beliefs, lifestyles very very different from our own and learn from it”, “so we can support an organization, Bridging the Gap Africa, who change lives in a walking world where a bridge can literally mean the difference between life and death”, “because we can – and if you can, you must!”, “if not now, when?”. You get the idea….


Our current abode is Tent 4, a spacious, bright, well-appointed enclosure, nestled along on the Ntiakitiak River in Mara Plains Camp in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Suffice it to say we are in the African bush, but we are, by no means, roughing it (the project is a fund raiser, of sorts, for Bridging the Gap Africa – BtGA).





Through the drawn curtains and mesh screening I become cognizant of the sounds of morning. Chris has been up for hours, contemplating. I hear the distinctive sound of the screen zipper sliding quickly up its track as he lets himself in after his trek across the river to the dark kitchen with, of course, our morning coffee (it is sometime between 5:30 and 6 am). The bird noises go beyond chirping; there is a call that sounds like “co-coa-puff”, another resembling the igniting of a gas burner, another sounding like rusty squeaking bed springs, others are sweet repetitive singing, warbling, and responding. There may be a final huffing roar of a lion or barking whoop of a hyena before they settle for the day. The hippos are periodically guffawing like crusty old men laughing at each other’s off color jokes.




I am aware of the sounds surrounding me, particularly since we must be sensitive to the experience of the guests at Mara Plains; I try to “stretch my hearing” throughout the day. I want to sense what I can only hear in this present moment; the noises of the Kenyan Mara. The dramatically striped zebras with their yipping barks and snorts of air graze and watch. The skittering and sliding on the roof of our tent we realize are the vervet monkeys who peek over the edge of the canvas and give us a side-to-side head shimmy. The wind gently blowing through the leaves relieves us, a bit, from the heat of the day. The distant rolling and rumbling thunder bringing cleansing rain that might or might not cross directly over us. The raucous jackhammer croaking of frogs in the river who are heard, but not seen, begins at dusk. The hippos bellow 24/7! The Kenyan BtGA men confer in low Swahili murmurs. The Land Rover engines turning over at dawn to begin the morning game drives indicates that we have some time to do our clamorous work for a few hours. The droning chugging of the generator, high-pitched sound of hack sawing through re-bar, and the clinking of hammers on nails signify progress on the building of the bridge.





More later……




We have left the playful barking sea lions, the clanging cable cars, the innumerable restaurant choices, the unbathed homeless people, uber rides, and the hilly streets of San Francisco to start our RV adventure.



We are now traveling as a hermit crab does, with his bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and transportation all wrapped up in one package. Chris and I have our roles and I think we work together with synchronicity. Chris drives the behemoth, sets up charging cords and speakers, oils the squeaky doors, and tends to the camp fire. I organize, keep things swept and tidy, navigate, find cheap gas, and make the peanut butter and jelly while Chris pumps the gas into the deep tank.

I wake up before the sun rises. It is a brisk morning in Pinnacles National Park and we are camped in a secluded, treed spot. I walk out of the campsite up the camp road a bit and my senses are so alive that I can feel the texture of my flip flops on the soles of my tough feet. The sky is becoming blue; the birds are flitting and chirping; the conifers emit that fresh piney fragrance that alerts you to their presence, and I can feel myself breathing. I see the scrabbly footprints around our picnic table from the raccoon visitors who most likely scooped up the remnant breadcrumbs from our previous night’s dinner. I plant my feet on the ground, straighten my spine, fill my lungs, and look up in the sky; my gratitude is overflowing. We are lucky to be here.

Chris maneuvers the RV up, up, up as we ascend into King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park at over 7000 feet above sea level. We travel along the park road into the Sequoia National Forest and find our way to Stony Creek Campground. It is a piney area with shafts of sunlight shining through the trees. After getting the RV leveled, Chris builds a blazing fire, we open a bottle of red wine; we absorb and enjoy. I look up through the clearing in the trees and see one bright star. As the sky darkens, there are more and more pinprick stars and it is dizzying. We philosophize about the vastness of what is above us….

About 14 or so miles up the road, stands the largest tree (largest is defined by the volume of its trunk, in this case) in the world – the General Sherman tree which is estimated to be about 2000 years old!. There are many people visiting and it is impressive – we decide to go a little further up Congress Trail to experience more of these majestic and nearly everlasting trees.  Of course, this is black bear country and we are lucky enough to see a bear lumbering through the Giant Forest not far from the path. There are many sequoias – some in groves and others fairly separate; some are named (McKinley, President, the Senate, etc.). I touch the base of one of the gigantic trees – the bark feels like a scratchy wool fabric and as I gently tap it, the noise sounds almost hollow. It is not what I expect. Again, the fragrance is prevalent and beautifully aromatic.

We have arrived at Red Rock Canyon State Park. We are camping in a sparsely attended, primitive Ricardo Campground. We have left the lush woods and are in rocky, sandy, and dramatic landscape amongst the gusts of wind, joshua trees, textured rock formations, and the ubiquitous silence..We have another clear, crisp, starlit night. Time for wine and another campfire.

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