If not now – When?

Adventures around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Archive for the tag “Kenya”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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”).

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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).

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

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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….

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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).

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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.

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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.

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More later……

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xo

Maasai Mara, you take my breath away!

We are going on safari in the Maasai Mara! I am filled with anticipation as we board our tiny 18 seater airplane where the copilot turns around to inform us to stay buckled up for the flight and we should help ourselves to water from the cooler at the back of the plane; he then gives us a plastic container of mints to pass around. I watch as the woman piloting grabs the handle with her silver bracelet and leather glove to build up speed and take off into the air above Nairobi – and then, 45 minutes later to land safely on the dirt runway at the tiny Mara airstrip.

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We help ourselves to our luggage from the bin below the passenger cabin and are escorted to the land rover for the 5 minute drive to the wonderful Mara Explorer camp. As we are driving, we see three necky female giraffes and we stop to gawk.

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We arrive at Explorer and are checking in on the open air reception area where there are bright yellow “black headed weaver” birds fluttering in the tree where they have built many many onion shaped nests; below is our first hippo sighting expelling air from just below the surface of the muddy brown Talek River. We follow a beautiful stone path to our luxurious #4 tent – the farthest tent out where our friend Harmon Hooterite Parker had, in years past, built the solid wood floor. There is a porcelain tub on the deck outside the tent, colorful African woven rugs on the floor and a long wooden vanity. There are hippos snorting and bellowing in the river right outside the tent. I text Teri :” Yeah. I’m not coming back.”

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We have a quick lunch and then meet our extremely knowledgeable guide Samson to go on our first game drive. He is experienced, agreeable, and communicates well in English (teaching us more Swahili along the way too!); he is also a Maasai so we learn about the culture and traditions which is an added bonus. Samson tells us to stay inside the truck (unless he gives the green light to “mark our territory”) and to stay quiet – not to make any loud or sudden noises that will disturb the animals. We readily agree to the “rules”.

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The three of us pull out of camp and see our friendly giraffes and then go deeper in the Mara to experience the Big Five (elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos, leopards) all in our first trip out; we are told this is very rare especially since both the rhino and leopards are elusive and their numbers are few. We drive past a herd of buffalo to find the lurking hyena; he is lying in the tall grass and I literally gasp as we stop the truck immediately next to him – I am not expecting to get this close. I can see his face and mottled longish fur in close-up detail; he is not concerned with our presence other than maybe we have blown his cover to the buffalo; he lopes away, looking over his shoulder at us. We find lionesses with their cubs and, again, the beauty and close proximity take my breath away. It is truly an awesome sight.

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In all, Chris and I go on four game drives (for one morning drive the kitchen packs a picnic breakfast – Samson sets the table on the hood of the land rover using one of the Maasai blankets from the truck as a tablecloth). Samson examines the horizon, listens to birds and other animals, observes footprints, watches the behavior of both predator and prey animals, and communicates with other guides; he uses all of these clues to help us find the impressive animals. He drives over muddy “roads” (it has rained much more than usual), through rivers and up the slippery banks, into the grassy savannah, around heavily spiked acacai trees – all with our trusty open-air land rover. He identifies birds, explains animal behavior, stops for photos (“Sure! Why not?”), and laughs with us; he truly loves his job and is also in awe of all the Mara has to offer “Wow! Look at that! It is so beautiful!!”.

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There are so many birds to see and Samson is an expert.

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We experience a patient mother cheetah and her playful cubs under a bush – all with their cheetah tear markings on their faces.

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There are strutting ostriches, running wildebeest, striped zebras (one with a fairly fresh crocodile wound), herds of tail twitching impalas, topis with their “blue jeans and yellow socks”, graceful gazelles; we see retired general buffalo, forgetful warthogs with their “wifi” tails (running away then suddenly stopping :”wait. why am I running?”), hooting hippos, hungry ribby lionesses with “low bellies”.

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We come across one such lone lioness suddenly. She is scanning the vicinity, sizing up her options – a topi behind us, and a pair or warthogs over the steam. We position ourselves to quietly watch her. I am certain she makes eye contact with me; I can feel myself react – not out of fear, but out of making a connection with this powerful animal. She elegantly strides away.

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We see many elephants – enormous mothers protecting their calfs, there is a massive bull scratching against a thorny acacia tree; these are magnificent animals!

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On the morning that we leave the Mara, we go on our last safari. We are on the lookout for male lions. We are in luck; Samson spots two heavily-maned aristocratic lions: Blackey and Lipstick, traversing the valley toward their resting spot for the day. Blackey is limping as a result of a three week old injury; his loyal friend Lipstick forges the way and patiently waits for Blackey to catch up. These regal and proud creatures disappear into the horizon.

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This has truly been a highlight. I feel humbled by the stupendous wildlife we have experienced. Thank you again, Kenya.

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Maasai Mara, you take my breath away!

 

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