We have a few final experiences to share with everyone before we depart from Kenya and move on to South Africa. It is amazing to realize how much we were able to do and see in only two weeks here. At home, two weeks will disappear in a flash of school drop-offs, soccer practice, piano lessons, and perhaps some weekend leisure activities or family time. In Kenya, we filled two weeks with Maasai cultural immersion, Lake Naivasha walking safaris, Indian Ocean snorkeling, and Nairobi-based adventures — it feels as though we have been here for months! We realize how time has slowed down for us, how long the days seem (in a good way), now that we have taken away all of the relentless household demands we face at home as a family of five with school-aged children. Two months into the trip, we have definitely shifted into a lower gear and are in a different groove. It’s a whole new relationship with the hours of the day and how we fill them. Very liberating!
We had just about a day and a half left in Nairobi after leaving the white sands of Watamu. First on the list was to visit our adopted baby elephants, Sonje, Lima Lima, and Kamok, and watch them come in for dinner and bedtime at the elephant orphanage. Here are a few photos of our time with our little pals!
SCHUYLER: Sonje was so sweet and much more social than I imagined her. She definitely put on a show for me, throwing hay all over her head. I was able to feed her some hay by hand through the bars of her enclosure, and she threw that on her head as well! I really feel like I got to interact with her, and petting her was amazing. Her skin was much rougher than I had imagined it would be, sort of like feeling hardened mud or clay. Sonje was so beautiful and gentle. I am so glad I got to meet her!!!
ZOE: When I visited Lima Lima, she kept sticking her trunk through the bars to explore me! Dad tried to blow into her trunk because we were told that the elephants love that. Lima Lima kept on taking her trunk away from him and sticking it through another bar, teasing him, so he would follow her trunk around her enclosure. They played that game for a while and it was really funny to watch! True to her reputation, Lima Lima was a playful, energetic new pal. I loved meeting her and all the other baby elephants. Also, watching the elephants coming in to be fed was quite hilarious. They ran in a single file line, stampeding toward the warm bottles of milk awaiting them in their individual enclosures. They each knew exactly where to turn when they entered the orphanage, veering left and right at high speeds, trumpeting their excitement while the keepers made every effort to slow them down as they eagerly attacked their bottles. There was all kinds of trumpeting and ear flapping throughout, and I could have watched the show for hours. It was a really special way to end our time in Kenya!
THAYER: Kamok was SO cute! When I saw her she was hiding behind her blanket and would poke her trunk through. At one point, she came out to see me. She loved to play with her tiny trunk and sniff me and feel my hand. I knew that she had not felt a hand like mine before. I really liked her. I wish I could snuggle with her!
Elephants coming in for dinner!
Jeff’s personal wildlife encounter…
While at the orphanage, we also met a large, male rhino named Max who had been rescued as a 4-month old orphan and was blind.
This is Max – he’s not a small rhino…
Now a full-grown adult, Max is living out his days in the comfort of a generous enclosure at the elephant sanctuary and paces around his pen snorting and crooning when he smells visitors. It appears that Max smelled Jeff quite strongly, because as we were standing around listening to a staff member describe the rhino’s rescue, Max backed his rear end right up to his bars next to where Jeff was standing (unaware of Max’s rear). Who knew that rhinos pee backwards? To mark his territory (that would be Jeff), Max unleashed a fire hydrant of urine from between his legs, backwards, through the bars, and literally bathed Jeff in it from the waist down. The orphanage staffer hardly blinked at this display and calmly described how Max was marking his territory, while the other 25 people who witnessed this were naturally in hysterics. When no one offered Jeff a towel or even a place to clean up, we realized that this must happen just about every evening to some poor (Jeff would like me to add “heavily scented, manly and threatening) man and the orphanage staff has long ago stopped taking notice. Thankfully, Blair snapped a few quick photos to capture the moment for eternity!
Nearby the elephant orphanage is a nonprofit conservation center that operates educational programming for Kenyan school children about wildlife conservation/preservation, and houses a breeding program for the endangered Rothschild giraffes. Visitors can go and feed the giraffes being raised there (who are returned to the wild by age 2), and can learn about Kenya’s efforts in the realm of conservation and environmental stewardship. Thousands of Kenya’s young people visit the center every year. After walking among these majestic animals while at Sanctuary farm, we had an even greater appreciation for getting up close and personal with their heads and and seeing those long black tongues in action!
Meeting Pamela Mbogo
For the past five years, our family has teamed up with several friends back home to sponsor the education of a Kenyan high school student named Pamela Mbogo through a program called Education for all Children (EFAC). Founded in 2008 by Nancy and Rod Van Sciver in Rye, New Hampshire, EFAC is already helping over one thousand Kenyan girls and boys receive a quality high school education and a chance for a better life. Pamela graduated at the top of her class last year, and Blair has been “mentoring” her via regular email conversations throughout the mandatory 10–month time gap between high school and university. Together with our Portsmouth friends, we now continue to sponsor Pamela as a first-year university student. She scored in the top 3% of all Kenyan high school graduates on her entrance exam, earning a coveted spot and government scholarship to the program of her choice (combination of engineering, computer technology, and mechanics) at a university in Nairobi.
For years now, Pamela has been a far-away student whom we hoped we were helping, but with whom we had very little contact or personal connection. For Pamela, our family and her additional sponsors felt just as vague and distant, if not more so. I’m sure you can all imagine the excitement and joy we felt upon meeting one another during our time in Nairobi! Pamela spent an afternoon with us in between her classes and school commitments. Over tea and cookies, we learned about her life as a college student, about her family, her aspirations, the challenges she faces at this time. We showed her photos of our family and friends at home, and even taught her how to make guacamole from the avocados on the trees at our house (she loved it!). The girls showed her how to color with their markers and mandala coloring book, and they swapped drawings with her before she left. They also taught her how to play 4-square on the deck, which she picked up quickly and seemed to love. It was a wonderful visit that we will never forget, and we could truly see in person the difference that EFAC is making in the lives of so many bright high school students like Pamela. We continue to email with Pamela every week and look forward to following her progress as a student and watching her bright future unfold.
Saying goodbye to Kenya
Leaving Kenya is bittersweet for us, because we have to say goodbye to our amazing hosts and great friends, Pickle and Lobsang, and to the beauty of the people, culture, and landscape of this country. We are eager to explore South Africa, of course, and to continue our adventures on this continent, but we know it will feel different from the energy and intensity we felt traveling in a lesser-developed country like Kenya. No small consolation, the breathtaking backdrop of Table Mountain awaits us in Cape Town, S. Africa, where we will spend two weeks before heading off on safari near Kruger National Park! See you soon!