Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
I arrived. Kenya Airways new 787 Dreamliner with built-in entertainment systems was very nice. The flight was packed and the seat spacing gave United Airlines a run for the money. The flight was on time and the process into Kenya (Visa and customs) only cost me $50. The agent looked at my aged $20 and $5 bills, frowned and stamped my passport. They prefer nice new crisp US currency. I have no idea if they would have made change.
For the first time overseas I bought a cell phone. $60 got me a nice new “dumb phone” and 2,000 minutes. I’m not sure how long 2,000 minutes is when talking to the states but I think Africa time is likely a factor of 10. I’ll find out.
Discovered another set of 1st world problems:
- can't type text on a dumb phone.
- 26 letters and only 10 numbers
- auto spell is no help if it gets it wrong.
- I can only seem to remember one cell phone number - my work phone. Finally remembered my wife's phone number
- don't know how to make an international call. US country code is 1 - lucky for us
- can only seem to get the phrase "I love you" typed into the phone for my first text back home.
- Laura thinks some strange guy from a foreign country is texting her (she's partly right).
My driver, Laurence, picked me up and took me to the Hampton House for a quick shower and a bite to eat with Erna Grasz (CEO of Asante Africa Foundation).
The British left a lasting legacy in Africa – the roundabout. More time is spent in Nairobi roundabouts than almost any other singular activity. God save the Queen!
After a full 30 minutes of rest in Nairobi we were off to the west to the town of Narok. To get there one must travel about 3 hours from Nairobi on a paved road (with Africa sized potholes and real speedbumps – not those little things we get in the mall parking lots). We crossed the great Rift Valley – a split in the earth’s crust that runs from Jordon to Mozambique.
Absolutely spectacular. This valley is widely thought to be the cradle of mankind. In Kenya (at least here in Kenya) it is filled with agriculture dispersed settlements. This is mainly Maasai country. The people are wonderful and curious whenever they see a Mazungu (White person). I look around and the only white person I see is in the car mirror.
Our first stop was St. Mary’s Primary school in Narok. St. Mary’s is a girl’s boarding school with about 600 students. We did an interview with a wonderful young lady named Teyia (Asante Scholar) and spent time photographing the kids and the school. It has been more than 18 months since my last trip to Africa and I immediately remembered what I really enjoyed about visiting – the smiles and eyes-full-of-life you see in almost every kid. Their eagerness to see us and the laughs and smiles when they see their faces on the backs of the camera are wondrous. Almost every kid can’t wait to shake your hand. They are also very intrigued by the hair on the backs of the hands (and arms) of white people. I was pretty sure I’d have no hair after all the pinching and pulling. (Thanks to my doctors for the neuropathy virtually eliminating any pain that such hair pulling might cause). I like to search the crowd and find that one or two kids that are to shake my hand. I love to make eye contact with them and, without saying a word that either of us understand, pull them in and shake their hand. It almost always gets a loud roar from the crowd – they know the shy ones. It just warms the heart to see them finally break into a big smile.
Some of these schools (the ones closer to the small cities) see white people reasonably frequently. St. Mary’s is only a few hundred yards off the road to Narok and I’m sure they get the occasional tourist or NGO visitor. Even so, they seem to love the attention (maybe it just gets them out of class to mess around).
The second stop was an adventure. Longisa is a village about an hour to the west of Narok (now remember – I started my journey in Livermore, California at 7 am on Sunday morning. It’s now 4 pm on Tuesday in Africa and I haven’t seen a bed yet.) The last 10 km were down a “road” that would have been closed to 4WD in the US. We were in a Toyota (car).
St Phillips School in Longisa is the highest performing school in the district and I had never seen anything like it. The facilities were basic buildings with a roof, dining hall, dorms, pit toilets). 600 kids, 5 cooks and a teaching staff that seemed different. The headmaster was an amazing guy. He was organized, focused and determined to make a difference! They had a collection of reading material that looked a little bit like “anything they could get their hands on.” The leader and the school were very unique in my limited experiences in East Africa. Both were very impressive considering the location and resources available. We have 3 Asante Africa Foundation scholars at this school. We interviewed each of them and took their portraits (a $250 value in the US – cheaper in Africa).
I fell asleep on the way back to Narok (as soon as we hit the tarmac). Lodging and dinner were at the Chambai hotel and conference facility. The “road” through town to the hotel makes me want to look up the definition of “road” on the internet (which I do not have access to). I guess I’ll have to survive without connectivity for a little longer.
By the time my Chicken stew arrived, my dining partners were finished with their meal. I should remember that at many of these places, the animal you order for dinner is still alive when they take your order (not kidding). Makes me want to order something lower down the food chain.
Bed – sleep – finally!