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My African Adventures

Journey into Your Unknown : Join My African Adventure

Remembrance Candle with Zebra and Giraffee

Since most of us are restricted to no travel, have memories of your past trips come to mind? For me, my October 2009 Kenya trip wants to be revisited. Gerrie Lane, CSJ accompanied my husband Craig and I on the excursion and gave us this remembrance candle. She died from cancer shortly thereafter. "Breathe, breathe, breathe," I tell myself as tears fall gently down my face. My own appendix cancer a year earlier brought my own mortality into clear sight. Along with it, my deep fears of living and dying surfaced. On a visceral level, I understood that life gave me no guarantees.

How does one plan when the future looks different and unfamiliar? You might be experiencing this with the COVID-19 implications. Or perhaps a cancer or other chronic health condition has already placed you in a position that makes it difficult for you to continue living in the same way. Although you may not like it, I am happy for you. For over 40 years I have been in recovery. Today I read the Days of Healing, Days of Joy entry that said: "Recovery ... Overcoming the Fear of Living." My heart calms because I know that I am not alone. Many of us not only fear living, we fear dying, we fear success, we fear failure, we fear others and ourselves. Those tears fall again as I release the pain of holding my grief inside.

Could this trip clear my mind and give my life new meaning? Would I witness nature working harmoniously together? Would these insights be applicable to our human world? Prior to the trip, I prepared for the external world I would encounter. Best of all my internal world was getting ready. Excitement, patience, uncertainty, and courage would accompany me as my desire to gain confidence in life became apparent. An underlying heart-felt question was, "how many moments could I be happy in and feel carefree?"

You are invited to journey with me as I highlight key aspects of this adventure. You will meet the Samburu and Maasai tribes as well as the local people. You will get up close and personal with the animal kingdom. Together may we re-discover what is most important to each of us. In this way when things go back to a so called normal after the pandemic, we can bring these uplifting changes with us.

Day 1 of My African Adventure

Picture of David and Muthoga by van

After a 14–hour flight, we arrived in Nairobi around 9:00 pm. The sign at the airport said, "Smile, you're in Kenya." My enthusiasm was hard to contain and showed up as a prominent smile on my face. We were welcomed by Muthoga, our guide, and David, our driver. They partnered with the Wilderness Inquiry non-profit organization to take us on this camera and cultural African safari.

Picture of our fellow travelers

Craig has served on the board of the organization and was willing to figure out what needed to happen to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Craig has been a quadriplegic since he was 16. For me I love his gentleness. He got to share it right away. As he was being pushed into the front seat, his head hit the windshield. When he was upright, he said, "We'll have to work on that." From the back seat, my smile emerged again. In the darkness, we drove to our hotel. The sounds of dogs were heard, and few lights were seen. We took time to meet our fellow travelers, ate some snacks and then retired to our mosquito netted beds. When I was growing up in Minnesota, we went camping. I remembered how annoying the mosquitoes could be, so I was grateful.

Karibu is the word for welcome. Throughout the trip, Muthoga, taught us Swahili words. More importantly, he gave us these words of wisdom which were printed on our itinerary:

"The secrets of successful international travel is to combine the savvy and personal organization necessary to avoid your new world's pitfalls with a non-judgmental attitude that will allow you to take in its wonders."

As you come along with me, let us be mindful. We can experience everything as it is and appreciate what it teaches us. Afterall, we are in this thing called life together. What each of us does, affects another.

Day 2 of My African Adventure

Woman weaving baskets Man firewood on bicycle Woman Baby on Her Back

Driving through Nairobi, I saw my first glimpse of Kenyan life. People were everywhere. There are approximately 3 million people who live in the city. People were carrying sticks from the forest, balancing groceries on their heads, carrying babies on their backs and transporting firewood on their bicycles. We saw shepherds herding cows through the city. A plethora of animals and humans co-existing together. We heard mooing and shouts as we slowly moved along.

Woman walking outside her shop strip mallCraig and I tend to travel by ourselves because we enjoy being spontaneous. However, we were extremely grateful to be on a Wilderness Inquiry trip and have David as our driver. There really were no roads as we know them. No signs indicating where you were or how to get to your destination. Often, we found ourselves on dirt roads with much dust following in our wake. Our vehicle was rather noisy so not a lot of chatting going on inside. We got to know our fellow travelers when we had dinner together.

We stopped at an outdoor market where vendors were selling all types of wares. Women were weaving baskets and I marveled at the expansiveness. They recycle and are creative in their use of resources. Most of the clothes were second hand from America.

Back in the van, we noticed strip malls periodically lining the roadside. I wondered how businesses worked here. Who stopped at this woman's shop? What was she selling? We travelled by too quick for me to ask our guide.

Day 3 of My African Adventure

Woman weaving baskets Ellie with 2 Girls Classroom Assembly of Students

Our guide, Muthoga, grew up in Naromoru which lies at the foot of Mount Kenya. A small glimpse into his surroundings. There we walked the roads and got a sense of local life. Along the way, we met some children going to fetch water. They use plastic containers. When they get home, they boil the water before drinking. Wow! How ignorant I felt about how others lived. A good reminder to appreciate all the conveniences I take for granted. The two girls were excited to be photographed.

We visited the Naromoru Disabled Children's Home Rehabilitation Centre where they help children with club feet and other bone problems.

We also visited Muthoga's school. Some children walk six miles through the forest. to get there. It made me think of my dad telling me, "Well, I walked uphill both ways to get to school." This was after I shared that I was tired of walking to school.

The school buildings are made of wood and are well worn. We were introduced to the children in an assembly style. We brought jump ropes along. After I showed them how to use them, the children tried and succeeded. The principal, Gladys, was a good sport and showed us that she could jump rope with the best of them. Many smiles and giggles came from the children.

Afterwards we were invited into a classroom where they did a song for us.

Day 4 of My African Adventure

Warrior with phone Pool Animals Reaching UP to Top Tree

We drove on the Great North Road which goes from Kenya to Egypt. Muthoga's friend was walking by the gas station when we were filling up the van. Since we had an open seat, he joined us. It was so fun to see how they worked together. Luckily, he spoke English. He talked about the need to care for the environment so that it would continue to provide for them.

This season had more drought than usual. When we arrived at our lodging, we were told to stay away from the pool at night.

Elephants came there to get water and would not be happy if we showed up. They respected our space during the day.

We were grateful for the careful planning of restroom stops. The one modern day technology Kenyans have embraced are the phones.

They are used mostly to transfer funds. This restroom sign blends the past with current living. See the warrior holding the phone made me smile once again.

We officially started our animal safari. It was amazing how our guides could locate the animals in the thick. However, most species were out in the open. Our vehicle maneuvered the rocky terrain roads so we could get a close view of them. With little water, the plants and shrubs stagnate. The animals do what they need to for food. It reminds me sometimes I too need to stretch myself to reach new heights.

Day 5 of My African Adventure

Africa Map Marien in House Men Starting Fire Ellie Holding Hands

We visited the Samburu tribe living in the Rift Valley. I was moved by the simplicity and poverty. When we met the Samburu women, they performed their traditional welcome dance. The eldest woman was 86 years old. After the dance, we were given necklaces to wear. As we joined hands with a small group of women, they sang another song. Because I didn't know what to do, I felt awkward and some discomfort. They showed me how to walk to make the necklace move. Before I can add this skill to my resume, I need to practice a lot more.

The men were proud to show us how they could start a fire. Again, the conveniences I automatically enjoy came to mind. There was little shade. The heat from the sun made the air dry and dusty.

Marien was their leader. She speaks 3 languages: Kiswahili, English and the Samburu tribal language. She talked about the tribunal traditions: polygamy as well as circumcisions. These were new concepts for me. Their cultural ways added more confusion to my mind. It was not until I got home that I would unpack their meaning. She also shared that when someone dies, they place animal blood on the body and place it out in the open. They hope a lion will eat the corpse. In this way whenever a lion is seen, they can think of their ancestor.

We purchased our first memorabilia. As we walked back to the van, Marien asked my husband if he wanted another wife. Craig replied, "Do you have air conditioning?" Another wonderful trait of his is to bring humor into conversations.

Day 6 of My African Adventure

Mother & 4 Day Old Hippo Oxpecker Riding Zebra Back Lone Acacia

Today's adventure was thrilling. Even our guide had not seen a four-day old hippopotamus before. The mother cow and her calf were some distance from the hippopotamus's den. If you want to see the baby, look closely around her ear.

Our armed guide and I walked upriver. Craig stayed behind because the wheelchair could not handle the terrain. With camera in hand, I was fortunate to videotape a crocodile after it had killed a zebra in the river. The rapid current took the upended zebra and crocodile downstream. They were headed straight towards the hippo cow and her calf. Once the crocodile and the kill were in sight, the other hippos made a mad rush from the den surrounding the mother and baby to protect them.

We began to see how everyone in the food chain was getting involved. Not only was the crocodile trying to get its fair share of the zebra, the piranhas got into the action. No harm came to any of the hippos.

Riding back to our lodge, we saw a frequent site. An oxpecker, a bird, catching a ride on the back of a zebra. They share a symbiotic relationship. The oxpecker eats ticks and bugs on the zebra, getting a free dinner while helping the zebra stay healthy.

Many of the sunsets were filled with vibrant colors with a lone Acacia lining the horizon. When the sun went down the temperature went with it.

Day 7 of My African Adventure

Pews in Smallest Church Monkey Thomson Falls Monkey Hole in Roof

Smallest ChurchExquisite ArtworkOur fellow traveling companions were two nuns and a priest. They were delighted that we stopped at the smallest known church with a total of four pews, two on each side. The predominant religion in Kenya is Christianity.

We visited Sweetwater's Sanctuary, home to some of Jane Goodall's chimpanzee refugees. From there we headed to Thomson's Falls on the Ewaso Ng-iro River. Having a quiet picnic, we enjoyed the breathtaking beauty.

Sometimes we would see someone cooking roasted sweet corn alongside the road. Most of the time, we ate outside with a roof sheltering us from the sun. Often monkeys wanted to partake in the food. At some places, men with slingshots and rocks would discourage them. Once a monkey did land on our table, picked up a bun and took off. No, I did not run after it asking if it needed some butter.

Pride was taken in the preparation of our food. Fruit was plentiful. They catered to our American diet. Quite a few of our accommodations were at safari lodges and we ate buffet style. I remember the excitement of a cook when she told us they had made chocolate cake. It was not the sugary sort of cake we eat here. We drank bottled water and enjoyed wine with most meals.

Kenyan roasting sweet corn Buffet Cooks

Day 8 of My African Adventure

Leopard Elephant Buffalo Rhino

We were fortunate to see the big five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Our safaris started early in the morning and went until lunchtime. The question was what to do with my unscheduled time in the afternoon? My body was yearning to do a cardio workout. Since it was not safe for me to go on walks or a run by myself, I was grateful that I had kept a jump rope. Many of the lodge staff were intrigued when they saw me. They did ask our guides what I was doing.

flamingosFor me, exercising has been a way to release buildup energies and that is why I created the Meditative Movement™ technique. If you are new to this program, the distinguishing factor is the addition of saying core value affirmations and it can be done when jumping rope and walking. My affirmation that I spoke when I jumped was "I Can." This is a version of the first movement that I was given. Click to learn more. After my workout, I read, napped, and rested a bit until we went back out on safari. We stayed out until dusk.

My favorite sighting were the flamingos. We did take a boat ride that brought the hippos up close and personal. The wheelchair barely fit into the wooden boat and this meant he was high up. I was reluctant to go partly because there were small holes in the bottom. I was so happy to be on the regular seat. No life jackets. Yet if I fell in the hippos would not eat me because they are herbivores. And I chose not to think about the crocodiles at this time...too scary. I focused on being safe and enjoying this risk.

This evening's accommodations were treasured. A quaint sitting area with the beautiful separate tent enclosure. A mosquito netting surrounding the bed. Lots of space for Craig and I to be together. And a shower adjacent to the bedroom was so delightful. Yes, I do enjoy modern conveniences. The buffet eating area had breathtaking art.

Netting Around Bed Lodge Property Favorite Bedroom

Day 9 of My African Adventure

Goat Killed Jonathon Our Guide Explaining Houses Built By Women

Circumcised Girl Wearing Headdress We were given the precious opportunity to stay on Maasai property for two evenings. Our accommodations changed to small tents with outhouses. Yet the ability to be with the tribe was heart-felt. To celebrate our arrival, they killed a goat. One warrior got to drink the blood, and this was considered an honor. Here I remembered Muthoga's words of wisdom, no judgment.

This non-judgmental attitude was exercised many times that day. When a girl is circumcised, she wears a headdress signifying the completion of the act. See her in this picture. I did see her and myself in her shoes. My heart wept inside as I learned about the cutting and or removal of all or part of the external female genitalia. More to come when I unpack my experiences when I get back to the States.

At a store, I had purchased the Obama blanket. It felt funny to have his face on my backside, yet that is how it worked when I wrapped it around me. Our guide Jonathon wears his blanket during the day, then takes it off and uses it as his bed sheet. As he shared how the chores were distributed, I learned that the Kenyan women do so much. Not only do they care for the children, they build the houses, they gather food. In exploring the animal kingdom, I learned that this approach mirrored what the female lion does. The male lion who certainly looks distinguished sunning himself on the rock, readily enjoys her efforts after a kill is made.

My mind was screaming. It all seemed unfair. If you recall, this trip was meant to give me clarity, not add to my confusion.

Lioness King of Jungle Animal in Tree Food for Dinner

Day 10 of My African Adventure

Women, Mothers, Babies Kenyan Children Kids Interested in Pictures Women sitting in home

Explaining Houses Built By WomenOur day was spent visiting the land and its' people. With the help of Muthoga, Craig talked with the Elder. He politely asked if he could take the Elder's picture who consented for a $1 bill. The most pressing question was how do you handle the holes in your ears? Don't they get caught as you run through the forest? He proceeded to wrap them in such a way that he avoided this problem. He then showed us the stick used to clean his teeth. Simple everyday things we do to care for ourselves.

For the most part, the women were quiet as were their babies. I wondered what they thought about. What were they going to do today? It was a joy for me to take the younger people's pictures and watch their faces as they viewed themselves. It brought me back to how we use mirrors in the States. How often do you see your own reflection? Since it's been 11 years, I wonder if their current phones have a built-in camera. Some children kept their distance and watched us curiously.

We were graciously shown a home. The entry way was too small for Craig. Even at 5'2", I had to duck to go inside. The sleeping quarters were tight to say the least. We saw their pantry and how they cooked. Small amounts of light were visible through the lone window.

When it got dark, they built a blazing fire. Sitting in a circle, we watched the men performing a ritual dance. That night I heard the hyena in the distance. They were searching for any scraps left over from the goat. Quite an eerie sound to end our safari.

Pantry Men Dancing Around Fire Hyena

Day 11 of My African Adventure

Boy Sitting on Curb Woman working at Kazuri Woman painting jewelry

Today we enjoyed so many experiences being back in Nairobi. Our visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was awesome. The organization exists to protect Africa's wildlife and to preserve habitats for the future of all wild species. We learned about the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned elephants, rhinos and other animals. Again, my heart opened hearing how poachers were killing elephants. An orphaned baby elephant has a dedicated caretaker that cares for them like a parent would. They even sleep with them until they are released back into the wild.

As the largest land animals on the planet, elephants are among the most exuberantly expressive of creatures. Joy, anger, grief, compassion, love; the finest emotions reside within these hulking masses. Through years of research, scientists have found that elephants are capable of complex thought and deep feeling. I resonate with their emotional intelligence.

Back in the city, we were into the hustle and bustle. This young boy seemed intrigued with our whiteness and perhaps seeing a wheelchair for the first time. The purple flowering jacaranda trees were so vibrant.

We fed giraffes at the Giraffe Centre the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W. Kenya). It is a Kenyan non-profit organisation. Their main purpose is to educate Kenyan school children and youth on their country's wildlife and environment, as well as give local and international visitors an opportunity to come into close contact with the world's tallest species, the giraffe.

We toured Kazuri, which means "small and beautiful " in Swahili which began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting in hand crafted ceramic beads. Its founder started with two single motherhood women and soon discovered that there were many others in the villages around Nairobi, most of who were disadvantaged and were in great need of regular employment.

Today Kazuri has grown tremendously and now has a large workforce of over 340 women skilled in the crafting of ceramic beads, strung into beautifully and artistically jewelry. It was fun to purchase my earrings and necklace from them.

My last night in the city, I prepared to return home. Little did I know how difficult life would be once I got there. Join me in the upcoming weeks when I post what I learned and how I unpacked this adventure when I was back in the United States.

If you are interested in learning more about these kinds of trips, visit Wilderness Inquiry.

Feeding the giraffes Jacaranda Trees Sunset

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