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Some Thoughts, and a Trip to Lake Baringo, Kenya, for My Good Friend, Greg Wright…

April 13, 2012

I write this blog post with a very heavy heart. I have just spoken to a great friend back in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in the U.S. who has been stricken with colon cancer and whose time in human physical form is waning…I love this man, named Greg Wright, dearly…

The love comes not from having spent our childhoods together, nor from sharing undergraduate experiences on a college campus or in cramped dorm rooms pulling “all nighters” or even “keggers,” nor from working together as union members on an assembly line or as fellow environmentalists engaged in a pressing struggle to halt habitat destruction…no, this love stems from a friendship established during our days of graduate study at Michigan Technological University when we were both 38-yrs-old.

Usually, strong friendships form early in life, often during high school days when shared challenges of athletic competition, teen relationships, or simply trying to find your purpose in life create lasting bonds of mutual respect, admiration, and love for one another.  Of course, a majority of men will never call these strong feelings of deeply caring for each other, “love,” but the love is nevertheless real and understood, even if unspoken.  However, in this case, my love for Greg was forged from a mutual respect for, and love of, the natural world. In logical terms…We both loved the natural world…we are of the natural world…therefore, we share a love for one another…Yes, much too simplistic, but this line of thinking really is at the core of our friendship.

Emotionally, I am in pain, because while my friend faces the biggest of life’s challenges in Michigan, I am half-way around the world in Kenya, giving my time and money to a new life’s venture–forming an ecotourism company and a nonprofit organization.  If I were wealthy, I would hop on a plane tomorrow to spend time with my ailing friend; but, I am not, so I ponder whether the time I had spent with Greg in early October, 2011, will be the last time I see my beautiful friend…

If it is, I’ll always certainly remember those moments in October, 2011, when we drummed first around a fire at Grand Lake, the rhythmic thumping sounds echoing around the lake and reverberating off the smooth still surface waters to the far shores and beyond…we howled as we percussed, and a couple of bands of coyotes–one band nearby, the other across the lake–joined the chorus, exuberantly celebrating life with us; and, then a week or so later in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the backwoods, drinking some red wine and eating some peanuts from the shells, along with a few pieces of deer jerky compliments of my brother, Phil.  I can still see the jumping  flames of our fire, hear the cracking of those shells in my head, and taste the jerky in my mouth before the saltiness of the cured meat was delightfully enhanced by the tannins of  merlot washing over my palate.

I know Greg was feeling as good as I was during these shared moments around a couple of campfires at Grand Lake and in the heart of the Keweenaw Peninsula…I shall never forget these fire-seared memories with my friend, Greg Wright…The experiences were equal parts meditational, metaphysical, spiritual, peaceful and love-filled.  We never spoke of the latter, of course…our love for the natural world, and each other, was understood in the crackling of the fire, the starry night sky and shooting stars, the lapping of water on the shore, the sound of drumbeats amplifying our heartbeats for all the world to hear, and in the shared intervals of calm silence that conveyed universal messages from the Great Spirit to contemplative souls…It all combined to say, “I love you, my brother!”

I also spent a day in August with Greg, his sister, Sally (from New York), and her husband, Lou, at the Eagle River Main Street Bridge Festival in the Keweenaw, where we listened to local musicians and singers–including Greg’s wonderful friend with a great voice, Gail English–near the shores of Lake Superior; and, Greg showed us his musical talents when he played the drums with a band on stage during one of the sessions. Greg is an excellent drummer; and, it was great to see Sally and Lou reveling in the moment of seeing “little brother,” Greg, displaying his musical skills in such a beautiful Michigan setting–a cherished opportunity to be in the presence of someone they dearly loved, while Greg was joyously immersed in the music he loved so much!

By the way, Greg played in several bands, and he was very flexible, happy to bang away on the drums during rock n roll sessions with a younger group, or simply tap lightly and rhythmically to generate the familiar soulful sounds of jazz with a somewhat older ensemble…As I said, Greg was flexible. I suppose the word, “flexible,” is maybe the best word to describe my friend.  “Renaissance Man” comes to mind as well; but, “flexible” seems to more clearly capture the essence of Greg…When he had his heart broken, he was flexible enough to fall in love again…When he needed work, he was flexible enough to do what he loved–play music in a pub; teach a wildlife class; run tours in Yellowstone; join a wolf study project; buy a house cheap, learn carpentry, fix it up and rent it out; start up yoga classes and drum circles; etc…Greg was not one for the mundane, either–he enjoyed outdoor adventures–but, he was flexible enough to allow others into his world, regardless of intellectual ability–Greg was no “snob”–and share his passion for life and nature with them, inspiring others, rather than being an aloof backwoods hermit.

Perhaps most “flexible” of all, though, is Greg’s intellect. Never one to stop learning about the world and discovering the beauty in life, Greg would read, listen to music, watch movies, meditate, practice yoga, turn to the internet when necessary, explore new places and trails previously untrodden, return to familiar places to learn new insights, and engage in respectful conversation as easily with local bar patrons as he does with learned academicians. He was wise enough to steer clear of politics, but never one to shy away from controversial issues near and dear to his heart, especially issues of protection of the natural world that he so cherishes.  But, most of all, Greg learned from quiet reflections in the places he viewed as sacred–places that were his ultimate source of wisdom, strength and comfort…often with only a traditional drum or two, and his dogs (currently “Echo”), by his side…

Additionally, I must confess, Greg has been much wiser than me in his embrace of loving companionship, ever open to the idea of seeing life through a different lens–a life “lens” that can only be crafted by two people in love. Though his relationships with women all-too-often did not have fairy tale endings, Greg seemed content with having shared love for whatever length of time was availed to him; and, he seemed to learn from each loving encounter and embrace the fact that we are here on Earth to just be, ebbing and flowing with the tides and winds, sharing and experiencing life in the waves crashing over and around us, feeling life’s essence in every moment and life experience…and, just being grateful for having had the chance to do so–to love–for as long as possible.

If these are some of the last memories I have of my friend, Greg Wright, then so be it, they will have to suffice; though I will always long to see my friend in physically-animated form, much preferring our stimulating conversations about life while seated around a fire or on bar stools; enjoying his company while canoeing across a lake or snow shoeing in a winter wonderland; camping under stars in the wilderness or hiking a nature trail and picking wild berries along the way; admiring his musical talents at a farmer’s block festival, street fair, art show, or other out-of-the-mainstream location; or, simply walking his dogs and jumping in Lake Superior to top off a hot summer’s day.

I will miss all these moments shared with Greg at various times in my life…The annual reunions with my friend “up north” in the summer after teaching all year will, all-too-soon for my liking, not be possible… So, I wish today to take my friend, Greg, back home in Laurium with beautiful friend, Erika, and trusty dog, Echo, by his side, on a journey of a lifetime…Since Greg cannot make the trip to Africa to go with me on safari, I thought I would take the time to bring a brief safari to Greg…I hope you’ll join us, too, for a glimpse of Africa’s beauty found in it’s wild places.

Buckle up and sit back, Greg; sip a nice glass or two or three of red wine (Alex is driving–Well, in that case, maybe have four or five glasses of wine!); and, enjoy my friend!

We decided to drive to Lake Baringo, about 90 miles from our Kirobon homestead in the Kenya Highlands, on Tuesday afternoon to get in some bird watching (and whatever else we might see) before nightfall at around 7 p.m…

 

Along the route, we stopped a few times–once to take a “roadside break” in the thorny scrub; and, twice to look at some birds, a pair of Northern White-Crowned Shrikes and an African Grey Hornbill.  I’m always telling our driver to “STOP!” and then jumping out of the car to spy some type of bird with binoculars or get a quick photo for the archives…you’ve been warned!

Because of some pot-filled roads, it took us about 3 hours before we arrived at Lake Baringo.  The time was around 4 p.m. (9 a.m. Michigan time), so we had a good two hours to walk around our campground at Robert’s Camp, as well as the adjacent lodge’s, on the shores of Lake Baringo before darkness would begin to creep in.

Lake Baringo

We decided to check in and unload our gear at our tents before exploring the grounds further; but, before doing so, we had a couple of visitors checking out our vehicle–more specifically, checking out their reflected images in our car’s windows and mirrors! It was great seeing them so preoccupied with a couple of perceived intruders, since this presented me with the opportunity to get some nice close up pictures of these Jackson’s Hornbills…

Though we had a nice time watching them landing on the side-view mirror and pecking at their images in the windows, we didn’t think it was a good thing for these hornbills to be slamming their beaks into tempered glass so angrily; but, after observing for awhile, it did not appear that the birds were any worse for the wear, fortunately:

After the hornbill show, we proceeded to our tents to unpack our bags, refill our water bottles (it was about 85 deg. F still), grab binoculars and head out with trusted guide, Willy Tiren, to see some bird life.  Spot any bird, and you can be assured that Willy will identify it for you, and correctly…He truly is a special naturalist!

Friend and co-owner of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, Alex Kotut, along with friend, Eric Baskowy, of neighboring Solian Village in the Kenya Highlands, were part of our “tour group.”  The four of us headed out of Robert’s Camp to go for a stroll along the Lake Baringo shoreline in an adjacent lodge’s compound.

Before arriving at the neighboring lodge, we had to detour outside our camp proper and follow a dirt path to the lodge.  While walking the dusty trail (rain hadn’t fallen for nearly 2 months), Willy spotted some Yellow-winged Bats in overhead tree branches which were clearly visible, with some harboring young beneath folded wings.  This was a treat, as the bats were beautiful and sighting any bats during the day here was not a common occurrence.

After admiring the bats for several minutes, including a cluster of about a dozen in another tree, we entered the grounds of the neighboring lodge and saw a Lilac-Breasted Roller, a beautiful medium-sized bird with pastel hues of light blue, pink, brown and turquoise, along with a Pearl-Spotted Owlet, a diminutive owl unfazed by the hummingbird-like sunbirds harassing it as it perched in a large tree.  The owlet did not seem interested in making itself the least bit inconspicuous, like most other owls during daylight hours.  I could only surmise that it was a diurnal owl species; but, nonetheless, I was thrilled to see this small owl, since owl sightings have always been considered a “treat” by me, whether in North America or, now, Africa…

In another tree, not far from the “owlet tree,” a Fischer’s Lovebird, a small parrot that has made it’s way to Kenya via Tanzania, was building a nest in a tree cavity.  Personally, I think we need a whole lot more “lovebirds” in this world…Greg, I know you agree with that assessment!

Beyond the lovebird, our birding expert, Willy, found out from a friend working at the lodge that there was a rather rare African Scops Owl hanging out in the scrubby brush near the entrance to the lodge.  I was excited, to say the least, to now be searching for a second owl just minutes after seeing a first!  It was nice to have seasoned workers around the lodge with an interest in bird-watching and keeping an eye out for rare sightings that could be shared with guests.  Of course, the prospect of getting a few hundred shillings for their bird-finding efforts from said guests certainly helps to keep their interest in tracking area wildlife, particularly the birds in this case. No matter, I was happy to help the local economy and see some awesome birds at the same time…Kind of like killing two birds with one sto…oh, sorry, not the best idiom to use here; so, let’s just say, two birds in the bush are better than one in the hand…What say you?

Continuing on…after some intensive searching amongst the thorny brush and withered vines, the African Scops Owl, roughly the size of the Pearl-spotted Owlet, came into view.  Seeing an owl during the day, as alluded to previously, is something akin to a spiritual awakening of sorts–a wonderful encounter with a mythological species, made all-the-more-so because of the fact that it is rather rare, at least for most, including me, to see them so readily!  So, I reveled in the moment, having viewed not one, but two, of these magnificent creatures within ten minutes of one another…I happily kept my gaze fixed on the bird in the brush, that would certainly disappear from sight if I were to avert my gaze in another direction for even a moment.  I could have sat there for hours with this feathered friend, but since nightfall was only an hour or so away, we all thought it best to leave the little fellow be, and saunter off to other parts of the lodge’s compound in search of more birdlife.

So we walked down to the Lake Baringo shoreline, passing some familiar, long-tailed Speckled Mousebirds along the way, as well as a Nubian Woodpecker foraging on the ground, similar to what a Northern Flicker might do back in Michigan. This is the most common species of woodpecker seen in Kenya.

A hybrid Red-Bellied/African Paradise Flycatcher was fluttering amongst the tree branches overhanging the Lake Baringo shoreline, chasing after flying insects as the evening light was fading.  I want to say that the Paradise Flycatchers are beautiful birds, especially the long-tailed white and black African Paradise Flycatcher, but I tend to view all living things in this “beautiful” light, even the mosquitoes I oftentimes squish into oblivion…admiring form and function as much as anything else.

Sorry about the resort to violence in some of my mosquito dealings, but there’s only so much high-pitched “buzzing” around the head I can take–still in need of more spiritual awakening, I suppose…I’ll work on it; but, with some lower-elevation areas, like Lake Baringo, having malaria-carrying mosquitoes, I tend to view my mosquito-whacking as a bit of a necessity to reduce my risk of malaria…But, as I said, I do find even the irritating mosquito beautiful.

After all, the mosquito feeds how many other beautiful species in this world?  True, some mosquitoes have brought untold misery and suffering to millions and millions of human beings; but, what is that saying?  Don’t shoot the messenger (though I suppose swatting a few now and then is okay)!  After all, it is not the mosquito causing the pain and suffering–it is the malarial-causing Plasmodia parasites, using the mosquito as its vector, which are responsible for all the misery.

Besides, humans are not without fault in their own capacity to wreak havoc on the planet and other species–including exacerbating the malarial scourge by warming the planet over the past hundred years or so through the profligate burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels–often acting as “technological vectors” in the spread of invasive species to all parts of the globe, which now imperils normal ecological functioning of a multitude of ecosystems…So, the bottom line…All creatures have their beauty (and perhaps some blemishes); but, like my friend, Greg, I’ll choose to focus on the positive aspects of species, including humans (though that is not always easy), and see them all as beautiful in my eyes, even if compelled to use self-defense on occasion…By the way, did I mention I counted 25 mosquito bites around my ankles one morning in Nairobi?  Fortunately, still no malaria for me, yet, though Nairobi is generally not noted for being an endemic hotspot for malaria anyway…but, let’s keep hoping that Plasmodium doesn’t find me to its liking…or, better yet, let’s get those programs I’ve been reading about to produce vaccines against the malarial parasite into overdrive (and put an end to the million deaths per year caused by this amoeba); then, we’ll all have nothing to dislike about mosquitoes or Plasmodia, except for those annoying sounds and itchy bumps…a nice trade-off, I think, for not getting malaria!

Enough about mosquitoes now…Don’t want to bore Greg with endless mosquito tales when there is so much more to see in Kenya!  Like this beautiful view of Lake Baringo, with the Goliath Heron–the biggest of the world’s herons, hence it’s name–in the middle of the scene…Lake Baringo is a fascinatingly unique freshwater ecosystem, with perhaps the most unique characteristic being its “floating islands” of native vegetation.

Today, along the shore, the water level of Lake Baringo is still well above historic norms, as the heavy rains that fell intermittently in the Kenya Highlands from August through early December flowed over and through the ground into tributaries and rivers that ultimately fed Lake Baringo. Combined with the unusually heavy rains that fell in the Lake Baringo region, flooding struck the area, causing several deaths and displacing thousands of people for a period of time, in addition to washing out a few sections of road leading into Lake Baringo.  To give you an idea of the amount of rain that fell, the following picture is of a structure that was high and dry when we visited Lake Baringo in July, 2011.

My friend, and our guide, Willy, lost a family member during the floods.  Here in Kenya, tragedy is often very close to home, so to speak…When disaster hits somewhere, it is likely that you personally know someone affected.  It is not just something reported on television, and you feel bad for “those people,” because some of those people are often your family, friends, neighbors or relatives…But, the people of Kenya are very resilient, including those in Baringo County, and epitomized in the silent strength of my friend, Willy Tiren, whom, I might add, also lost his cousin recently to an asthmatic episode not long after he had been bitten by a hippo that happened to be foraging on land during the night in an area that no one had expected them to be. The heavy rains, covering their usual terrestrial foraging grounds, had altered the land movements of these massive “river horses.”  I have a lot of respect for Willy and his perseverance in the face of enormous adversity, much like my American compadre, Greg Wright!  These two would have made great friends, indeed…so, Greg, meet Willy; and, Willy, meet Greg!

Continuing our walk along the Lake Baringo shoreline, keeping a sharp eye out for large reptilian carnivores that might have a human for a quick snack, we spotted an African Jacana taking its own stroll along the shore, reminding me of the much shier Sora back home in the U.S.  I never tire of watching these birds picking at food amongst the tangled aquatic vegetation either along the shore or on the mats of floating vegetation extending further out into the lake.  They also have one of the most unique nests I’ve ever seen, consisting of some floating vegetation associated with some emergent plant stalks. Reminded me a bit of the Forster’s Terns’ nests I had visited with the Canadian Wildlife Service on Lake St. Clair in the Great Lakes region of North America during my graduate study days, or the Black Tern nests I had observed at Pt. Pelee National Park in Ontario, Canada; but, the Forster’s and Black Tern nests were much more elaborate and seemed to be sturdier, perhaps an indication of the greater threat from stormy weather in the Great Lakes as compared to the much smaller Lake Baringo, which likely remains much calmer throughout the year because of its size and, more probably, as a result of it being situated in a “calderic bowl” surrounded by mountain ranges and rocky basaltic escarpments that provide clues to the area’s volcanic past.

A good thing we had been treading lightly along the shoreline, because there was a medium-sized Nile crocodile resting at the water’s edge.  In the tropics of Kenya, there is a need for a heightened sense of awareness, and the basking crocodile drives home this point quite well, in my opinion.  Strolling through the woods in Michigan, or along a Great Lakes’ shoreline, there aren’t many things that can ambush you and have you for a snack, or potentially end your life with a venomous bite.

However, having been in Kenya for nearly seven months now, and finding myself in fairly close proximity to poisonous snakes, crocodiles, and the infamous African “killer” bees, along with having to pull my pants down quickly on a few occasions to extract some marauding safari ants from places ants should never be–I’m sure you’ve seen these ants on television at some time or another, traveling in massively-impressive linear colonies overland (or building “body bridges” across water courses) in search of anything that moves, including people, I have now discovered–there is no need for hysterical or phobic behavior while in Africa.

Like the average human being, I have found that animals, in general, like to be left alone; and, respecting the space and homes of other living things results in a reciprocation of respect from those non-human organisms.  The trouble occurs, as I have alluded to, when people stop paying attention to what is going on in the natural world around them…I suppose this is why the national parks prohibit tourists from stepping out of safari vehicles while in the parks, except at designated “picnic areas” constructed for this purpose.  Losing too many unaware guests would not be good for the tourism business!

However, with Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, our guests will have a chance to not simply sit in a vehicle and take in some magnificent scenery and wildlife from a safe viewing location, but you will be able to do some hiking, if so inclined and fitness level allows, in many parts of Kenya (and elsewhere) under the watchful eye of not only myself (believe it or not, this American is getting pretty good at hiking in the bush and keeping an eye out for potential dangers well before any untoward incident might occur), but seasoned safari drivers/guides with years of experience hiking the wild and scenic places of East Africa.  Not only that, but since foot travel is done exclusively during daylight hours and on well-worn trails, it is rather easy to spot potential trouble well ahead of time and avoid close encounters with potentially deadly animals, or even plants that can inflict a bit of pain, too, like stinging nettle.

So far, the only “bites” I’ve had to contend with, aside from the mosquitoes, have been those of safari ants (as mentioned above), usually occurring when I would be so fixated on seeing a bird that I wouldn’t notice I was standing on top of their path until they let me know; and, one sting when I leaned on a stool that also happened to be the resting place of a small wasp, which didn’t take kindly to nearly being crushed to death!  After some quick retrospection, I felt the sting was warranted…Interestingly, the sting felt just like the pain inflicted from a stinging nettle prick (which I had experienced back in my Michigan days), all of which gets me to thinking about evolution and the incredible survival adaptations of life forms.  So many wonderful, albeit often painful, things to contemplate, which I shall never fully have the answers for–a sort of biological meditation on the mysteries of life, which I find rather enjoyable and mentally invigorating, keeping me more aware of the fellow creatures sharing this beautiful planet with me and how our actions are linked, for better or worse, until death do us part…

Okay, enough philosophizing, let’s keep walking along the shore and looking at the sights with Greg…What kind of sandpiper do we have here, Willy? “That’s a Common Sandpiper.” Thanks, Willy!

What’s that small bird flitting about in the treetops, Willy? “That’s an Upcher’s Warbler.” Great–that’s about my 310th new species of bird in Kenya for me!  We then heard a territorial call of an African Mourning Dove, sounding nothing like what I had been used to hearing each morning up in Kirobon. Funny how birds that are quite common and make such familiar and distinctive calls, can all-of-a-sudden make some call that I would never have guessed as coming from that same bird…I suppose one simply needs to get out much more often than the average human to make more extended observations of the world around us…

I’m a big fan of outdoor education, by the way, and learning from nature’s examples.  All subjects can be taught outdoors, in some way, shape or form; and, students’ brains can’t help but be stimulated and moved in some way by the vibrant world around them.  What’s the alternative?  Lock students in concrete cells all day and tell them what they need to know…Boring!  The following is a phrase I’ve heard and seen in Kenya being promoted by the Kenya Wildlife Service: “Twende Tujivinjari!”  This refers to getting outdoors and visiting wild places, and translates into something like, “Let’s go have fun (or enjoy)!”  I say all educational institutions should adopt this slogan, and paint it in big, bright letters at all entrances (and exits) to their facilities: “TWENDE TUJIVINJARI!”  More on this a bit later…

Let’s go see what this elderly gentleman with the big camera lens–not nearly as big as the huge, and I mean HUGE, telephoto lenses some of the Chinese tourists were lugging around–is up to…”Jambo! How are you, sir?”  “I’m just fine, thank you…”  We had happened upon an Italian touring Kenya, whose love is insects, particularly being fond of butterflies, and birds–Gianfranco Colombo, like the explorer (he explained), was an entomological and ornithological researcher, to put it in more academic terms.

Gianfranco could speak fluent English, and he had a penchant for humor–two pluses in my book!  We walked for a bit with Gianfranco, talking birds and insects and trees and flowers, and just about anything else that caught our fancy…He was an engaging personality, about 60-years-old, but very healthy looking–I’m guessing a lot of olive oil in the diet…and, he seemed to have a passion for nature, just like Greg, Willy, Alex, Eric, and I.  After about a half hour of sharing good company, Alex and I took Gianfranco’s business card, invited him to come back and tour more of Kenya with Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures in the future (which he seemed quite open to the possibility), and then we parted ways with a mutual “Ciao!”  Part of the fun of starting up your own tour company and checking out all the parks and tour locations is meeting new people, many from different parts of the world, and it was great meeting Mr. Gianfranco Colombo, like the explorer, whom we hope to cross paths with again…

Darkness was beginning to set in about 6:45 p.m., so we headed back over to Robert’s Camp to put any final touches on our sleeping quarters–we’d have only flashlights later in the night, as the tents had no electrical hook-ups–and get ready for dinner.  We washed up a bit, then proceeded to the dining area, which did have electricity for lighting, so we didn’t have to eat by lamp or flashlight.  Some tiki torches were lit to ward off mosquitoes, perhaps more important here than in Kirobon or Nairobi as Lake Baringo is known to have malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes.  As I have not been taking any prophylaxis in the event of being injected with the malarial parasite, the torches were at least a psychological confidence booster.  By the way, I do carry anti-malarial drugs in the event I do come down with malaria, which I feel is bound to happen as I stay longer and longer in Kenya and visit places where risk of malaria is prevalent…

The meal was nice, consisting of tilapia, fresh from Lake Baringo, rice, and some vegetables. There’s not much in the way of desserts at these tented camps, but most places have a cash bar, so you can enjoy a beer or glass of wine, or other drink of choice, before, during and/or after your meal.  I enjoyed a glass of red wine, thinking a bit of alcohol in the blood would stymie any malarial assault should it occur under the cover of darkness…Cheers!

Following the night-cap, it was off to the tent to download some of the days pictures onto my Mac, reliving the day’s events and sightings in my head as I scrolled through the pictures.  I find that it is one of the things I have really become fond of doing at the end of a day’s outdoor travels.  Compare that to sitting inside the house all day and reliving the events of the day–often brutal and spiced with violence du jour–fed to you by others on the television…Seems like there’s a difference to me; but, to each his own, as the saying goes…

After finishing the day’s pictorial recap, with about fifteen new species of birds recorded in my “Birds of Kenya” field guide, I settled in for some sleep–the night was comfortably warm, about 70 degrees F–and pondered what tomorrow might bring…However, about 9 p.m. as darkness fell over the camp, there was some loud grunting coming from water’s edge.  About fifteen minutes later, there was some loud “munching” sounds not more than thirty feet from the tent Willy and I were sharing for the night.

One of Willy’s friends, who worked at the camp as a security guard–more so to keep human-wildlife close encounters to a minimum, rather than fending off human intruders–had made his way to our tent and told us we should come with him if we wanted to get a “snap” (Kenyan for “photo”) of the enormous beast outside our tent.  With our escort armed with a “pop gun” for making noise, which was often all that was needed to send the hippopotami scurrying back to the safety of the water, we carefully crept around some trees to get a better view of the large herbivore in our midst….no, not quite a Dian Fossey “gorillas in the midst” type of moment, but plenty good enough for me at that particular moment!

Not having much luck in the dark with getting good pictures, especially while trying to always keep tree between me and the hippos, I was able to snap a picture of one of the “river horses”–hippopotamus, fyi, comes from Greek roots, meaning “river horse,” in case you’ve been wondering why the heck I’ve been mentioning “river horses”–before we decided that tempting fate any further just might not be worth it, especially after remembering the story of Willy’s unfortunate cousin…so, we went back to the tent and settled in for a night of listening to hippos grunting and munching all around us–quite wonderful really!  I know you see and hear them, too, Greg…

What’s in store for Day 2?  Greg, I hope you packed your binoculars, because you’re in for a day of some great birding, buddy!  Join me as we go first overland, then over water, to view some unique habitat and spectacular bird life…

Waking early the next day around 6 a.m. to prepare for an early morning 5-km stroll through some dry, thorny scrub-brush habitat smattered with invasive prickly pear stands, I was a bit groggy, but happily content, after watching and listening to hippos for the better part of the night. Every now and then I would hear the loud pops produced by the night watchmen followed by the thundering gallop of hippo hooves over the ground, culminating in a big splash as they entered Lake Baringo…yes, quite an entertaining night!

With binoculars in place and camera at the ready, along with broad-rimmed hat and bottle of water in anticipation of the day’s 90+ degree (F) heat and intense sunlight, Willy and I–Alex and Eric needed more sleep after dreaming all night of hippos and crocodiles dancing around their tent–trekked out of camp for our four hour bird watching tour.  First up, a female Pygmy Batis (the female has orange breast stripe, while male has dark breast stripe), which looked very similar to the Chin-Spot Batis I had seen around New Year’s Day, 2012, at a restaurant/lodge complex–about an hour from Kirobon–where Alex, Eric and several other local residents from the Kirobon-Solian-Sabatia area had planned a dinner meet-and-greet with the new forester (while bidding adieu to the old forester).  Nevertheless, this was another new species for me, so I was thrilled to see it…Just stepped out of the campground and onto the nature trail, and up pops a bird I had never before laid eyes upon in my 49 years on planet Earth…cool!

We continued down the trail and came across a few birds I had seen before, including the Crested Francolin, a grouse-like bird; Yellow Apalis, an African warbler; and, the Brubru, a bird I particularly appreciate, not simply because of its beauty (like all birds, I suppose), but its name is close to my heart, sounding a lot like “Brucebruce!”  You just need to say it like a French person speaking English might, and then it comes out practically the same…Take a look at the picture here–kind of even looks like me, in my younger days, of course…handsome fellow!

Before long, though, we were sighting birds previously unknown to, and unseen by, me…and unheard…Singing away with a high-pitched call from the top of a tree, we heard, and saw, a Pink-Breasted Lark; and, not too far from the singing lark was a White-Bellied Canary.  With the sun rising, many of the early morning birds were cast in shadows, making pink look rather orange on the Pink-Breasted Lark, but it also seemed to give the lark and canary a dignified luster, colors not shouting to the viewer, just saying, “Take me as I am, because I’m beautiful enough, even in shadowy form!”  So, that’s exactly what we did…

After admiring our newfound friends for a few more minutes, we moved on, spotting a couple more species I have become familiar with, one much more familiar than the other.  I believe you will soon concur…First, the rather stunning White-Headed Buffalo-Weaver, which often comes just close enough for a pretty good picture, but just far enough for a pretty good picture.  Of course, for those of you who can afford more powerful lenses than I, such quandaries are not an issue…Today, though, the White-Headed Buffalo-Weavers seemed a bit more sociable, offering themselves up for some nicer closeups. Asante!

The other group of birds we came across had some little ones tagging along, which usually doesn’t present a personal safety issue when dealing with birds; but, this was a big exception!  Say, “Jambo,” to the Common Ostrich family…We kept at a safe distance (I think, because this was the very first time I had ever happened upon a pair of adult ostriches with young)…I deferred to Willy on this one and followed his lead, with the male ostrich following our lead intently as well, which made me just a tad bit nervous.  The adult female gazed up at us on occasion while feeding, but seemed to know that Papa Ostrich had her back and those of the young…Through binoculars, I was quite amazed at how well camouflaged the young were, whose spiky feathers blended in with the brush almost perfectly!  If danger threatened, no running for these little ones, just stop, tuck head low and stay still, and you’re likely to be overlooked; but, if that fails, Big Daddy has you covered, as we soon learned when an approaching dog got more than it bargained for in the form of an enraged male ostrich high-stepping it through the brush intent on stomping the dog if it didn’t head quickly for the hills…Impressive to watch the black-feathered male pursuing that dog, with wings puffed out as if to say, “I’m big and bad and ticked off, so if I were you, I’d run!”  And, yes, the dog did run…

After the impressive male ostrich display, we headed in the opposite direction and spotted another two new species. The Three-Streaked Tchagra, a bird in the shrike family, was skulking in the thick brush, perhaps on the look out for unsuspecting locusts, lizards or other carnivorous fare.

Up in a thorny acacia, a Yellow-Bellied Eremomela–yes, “eremomela,” you heard right–was flitting about, presumably after small insects, or a tasty treat offered up by the acacia, in the early morning hours. I am not sure where the word “eremomela” comes from, or what it means; but, if you find out, please email me at: bruce@tembokangatours.com.  Thanks!  What I can say is, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one; and, it is another kind of African warbler…and, it has some nice leaping ability, as seen in this photo!

It was getting hotter now with the time approaching 9 a.m., though still comfortable and not needing a drink of water just yet.  We passed a herd of goats moving through the brush and dry, open ground.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much more life would be here in this wonderful gem of a place, indeed all of Kenya (okay, well, the whole world), if not for all the overgrazing from goats (and sheep and cows and donkeys), that are seemingly running roughshod through all manner of habitat throughout Kenya…Domesticated animals are obviously a mainstay here (but may not be in 2040, when the population of Kenya is expected to be double its current 35-40 million), as in many places; but, there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement that overgrazing is, or is becoming, a major problem, especially in more arid regions, where ground cover is more vulnerable to the ravages of unrestricted livestock grazing.  Perhaps the vegetation in these parts are used to heavy grazing, having evolved with the likes of all manner of herbivore from zebra to giraffe, impala to gazelle, cape buffalo to wildebeest, and rhino to elephant; but, somehow, without the predators, I can’t imagine things are anywhere close to what they should be…

Moving on…”What’s that?”  A praying mantis nest looking a lot like a well-formed piece of styrofoam molded to a branch on a shrub.  It was the first thing I recognized that Willy was stumped on…I’m feeling more and more like a Kenyan naturalist!

Not far from the mantis nest sighting, a familiar melodious call was coming from a cluster of thorn-covered trees–thorns of a variety that are best avoided, as I’ve been entangled in them on a few occasions and the experience is not at all pleasant…The only thing I can compare it to back home in the U.S. is getting entangled in a brier patch or a tangle of multiflora rose branches, except these are another notch higher on the nasty scale.  We honed in on one of the trees, where a Black-Headed Oriole was moving about in the branches, stopping every now and then to make intermittent calls of “weelka-WEEo!”

Hanging upside down in a nearby tree was another of the Yellow-Winged Bats we had seen near the camp the previous day. Its beautiful yellow color was more brilliant in the ever-brightening morning sunshine than in yesterday’s fading light, and its ears were impressively long.  I still marvel over the bat being the only flying mammal (sure, okay, granted, the “flying” squirrel does some GLIDING, but that’s not sustained flight by flapping of wings)–an anomaly of sorts in an aerospace sector dominated by Class Aves…and, I haven’t even talked about echolocation!

Another species with great hearing that is used to locate prey is the owl…speaking of which, there was a rather big one resting in a large tree under which we were now standing to get a bit of a break from the intensifying rays of the sun as it moved higher in the sky, with temperatures steadily climbing…I am in need of some water now.  So I drink some water, and then slowly and quietly I get closer to this amazing bird.

I looked up at it, and it looked down at me with one partially opened eye, which it then shut akin to the way a creaking door might slowly close, seemingly too tired to keep it open; perhaps having stayed out too late last night…I took some nice pictures, filmed it for about 15 seconds or so, and then I left the Spotted Eagle-Owl to continue its siesta in peace…I’m sure it needed all the rest it could get in preparation for another big night!

The time was now approaching 10 a.m. with the temperature touching 90 degrees (F).  Fortunately, the air was not at all humid, like you might experience in Florida or along the Gulf Coast, or even in Michigan, on hot summer days, so I was still quite comfortable, though needing a few more sips of water as we traveled onward…Willy, on the other hand, brought no water to drink, apparently conditioned to go without water for several hours, even in such a hot, dry climate.

In the distance we heard, “goaWAY! goaWAY!”  Not wanting to go away, I immediately recognized this familiar call of the aptly named White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird.  The White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird is common in lower elevation dry scrub habitat, so it was no surprise seeing this one.  However, I was able to approach this particular individual much more closely than any other I had previously come across.  I really enjoyed this close encounter…Perhaps all the Go-Away-Birds, like all the children in the Kenya Highlands, are simply getting more and more used to seeing this “mzungu” (white guy) tromping around Kenya…it’s a nice thought!

Grateful for a more intimate look at the White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird, a contentment fell over me…I was in the outdoors, in Kenya, in Africa…walking in an ancient caldera…a place where some of the earliest humans evolved…nice!  Could the day get any better?!  I no longer paid any attention to the day’s heat…I just wanted to see more…

We soon came across a bird perched on a rock, much smaller than the Go-Away-Bird, and looking like a species I had seen before in the field or a bird book.  I thought it might be a wheatear, a very rare bird back home in Michigan; and, yes, indeed, my trusty field guide, “Birds of Kenya,” informed me that it was the Northern Wheatear, preparing for migration back to its Arctic breeding grounds.  Of course, my human bird encyclopedia, Willy, could have told me the same, but I’m trying to become somewhat of an independent Kenyan bird expert myself; so, I figured, I had better do some intensive studying and id’ing of birds on my own once in awhile…

It is appropriate that many of these long-distance migrants spend their non-breeding months in Kenya, home to the greatest distance runners on Earth…The Northern Wheatear has been recorded traveling over 18,000 miles during incredible journeys between subSaharan Africa and their Arctic ranges!  I’ve heard of the “Yellowstone to Yukon” migratory route before, but “Africa to Alaska” beats that by many thousands of miles…And here is a small bird, right in front of me, that may end up in the U.S. in Alaska…now that’s really cool!  I feel a close connection with this incredible migratory songbird species…

Though much of the ground was sparse, dry and covered in scrawny-looking vegetation, there was an amazing diversity of bird life around Lake Baringo.  Wherever we looked, we saw another species or two…Foraging for seeds on the dusty ground was a Speckled-Fronted Weaver, about the size of a house sparrow; up in a tree, an even smaller Northern Crombec, whose stubby tail looks about half the size it should be, feeding on tiny caterpillars; and, nesting on the ground among rocky terrain, yet another life bird species for me, a Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, blending in beautifully with its surroundings, only noticed by me because Willy’s sharp eye and knowledge of the terrain made its presence known.

After watching a brilliantly-colored Violet-Backed Sunbird probing a long, tubular flower (similar to, but much smaller than, flowers blooming on a trumpet vine) with its long, slender, curved and pointy bill (I guess I could have added “dark” as yet another bill descriptor, but I guess four adjectives will suffice), Willy and I had something else more provocative to see and show Greg…

Now I hope all the ladies out there reading this don’t get offended; but, in a bush that was more limbs than leaves, I spied my very first Kenyan tit!  Man, was I ever excited!  I had been waiting for a long time–since my teen years, I think–to see one…I remember a teacher back in high school biology class mentioning something about tits and feeding behaviors while reading through some National Geographic magazines; and, I had read an article awhile back that there were some Great Tits in Britain that were doing, well, great, by changing foraging patterns in lock step with seasonal changes brought about by climate change.  And, believe you me, if I had my druthers, I’d have loved to have seen some Great Britain Tits–er, I mean, Great Tits in Britain–if I hadn’t been so busy teaching over the years, and now I’m too preoccupied working in Kenya on an ecotourism venture and starting up a nonprofit organization to get over there.  So, the next best thing was seeing this Kenyan tit…More precisely, it was a Northern Grey Tit–not exactly my favorite colored tit, but it would have to do for the time being.  Plus, it reminded me of a nice-looking Chickadee I used to see back home, if you know what I mean…Trust me, I’ll be on the lookout for better colored tits in Kenya; and, I know my good friend, Greg Wright, would be right here with me if he could!

After the excitement over the tit sighting, I needed a drink–it was getting much, much hotter now!  One local that apparently didn’t seem to mind the heat was a slow-moving Leopard Tortoise, which quickly went into its shell at our approach.  I examined it up close, which I always do if any living thing (or dead thing, for that matter) offers itself up for closer inspection, and noted its spike-covered legs for added defense against potential predators. I figured they must not be very good to eat, since I have seen many of these tortoises in Kenya since my arrival.  If it were, with so many destitute people with children to feed, I think that these tortoises would be much less numerous…That this herbivore still thrives in the midst of so many goats, sheep and cows is quite impressive.  I sometimes wonder if humans and their domesticated animals are “weeding out” all the good sources of food and leaving behind the less nutritious and unpalatable plants to take over, like so many of the Jimsonweed- and evening nightshade-type plants I see in the Kenya Highlands after so many decades of grazing pressure from domesticated animals.

About 11 a.m…I’m reaching for water a lot more often now as the temperature rises into the 90s…but, enjoying myself too much, we continue our bird watching venture.  An elegant Blue-Naped Mousebird was spotted nibbling a seed pod in a barren tree.  All the trees here seem to have either thorns or spines on them.  Again, not sure if this is solely due to natural selection, or unnatural domesticated animal selection…

We next crossed an open expanse of ground utilized by the locals as a football (that’s “soccer” for those back in U.S.) field.  In the barren sand around the perimeter of the football field are numerous small “craters” I immediately recognize as the lairs of the voracious antlion larvae.  A kind of soulful warmth runs through me every time I see something familiar that links me to home…this antlion den is no exception.  I can’t resist agitating the inner rim of the funnel-like structure with a tiny twig, attempting to mimic an insect trying to climb out after having stumbled into the death trap.  Sure enough, the antlion larva starts catapulting sand grains upward with its impressive ice pick-like mandibles, causing mini-landslides, which normally would cause a struggling insect to slip ever downward toward its doomed ending in the jaws of the antlion.  I think for a moment about tossing an ant nearby into the lair for a more real-life demonstration of the antlion’s predatory behavior, but I don’t have the heart, thinking like a true Star Trek voyager not wanting to mess up the karma of this “alien world” I am exploring for the first time!

In a thorny thicket, a Red-Fronted Tinkerbird lurked, well-protected by thorns, never offering itself up for a clear photo op; but, I felt a need to share it with my friend, Greg, because it was but one example in a family consisting of several kinds of these tiny, interestingly-patterned birds inhabiting Kenya.  Plus, its name is pretty cool, and, though I’d seen a Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird in the Highlands already, this was the first red-fronted one I’d ever seen!  That’s about my 30th life bird so far during this brief tour around Lake Baringo…

It was now just about time for a rendezvous with our sleepier friends, Alex and Eric, who were instructed, by cell phone, to meet us along an asphalt road (or “tarmac” in Kenyan lingo) at around 11:30 a.m.  After checking out the impressive iron-red, basaltic face of a nearby escarpment formed long ago by volcanic activity in the area, and after watching and listening to a female Jackson’s Hornbill in a distant tree making an interesting call that echoed off the face of the escarpment, we saw our familiar Nissan X-Trail in the distance, with just enough time to hear the “cawing” of some Fan-Tailed Ravens flying above the rim of the escarpment high above us.

Greeting our friends with a “Jambo, Jambo!” we got into the car and, following Willy’s instructions, Eric took a dirt road to a place where Willy had seen a rare Star-Spotted Nightjar hanging out for the past month or so; but, as luck would have it, the bird had flown the coop…Undeterred, we proceeded to follow Willy to a nearby site where we might find a Slender-Tailed Nightjar.

Along the way, a group of seven Bristle-Crowned Starlings flew past–another first for me…the starlings had a distinct elongated form with impressively long tails and, sure enough, raised crowns that were still quite noticeable even in flight with a decent pair of binoculars.  We also saw a couple of Hildebrandt’s Starlings in some low-growing brush, flying down to the ground to pick at something edible and then back up into the brush.  They looked almost identical to the Superb Starling with a beautiful iridescent blue sheen above and orange belly below; but, it lacked the white “necklace” separating its blue chest from its orange belly like the Superb Starling, and its eye was a darkened orange-brown, while the Superb Starling has a whitish-yellow eye.  Just a final word about the starlings in Kenya–they are quite beautiful, and they come in a variety of forms and colors, unlike the rather dull, albeit vocally-talented, European Starling familiar to North Americans and Europeans.

Not long after stopping and searching the area intensively, we not only found the well camouflaged Slender-Tailed Nightjar, but we found a male and a female about fifteen feet apart.  I’ve seen a few of the Montane Nightjars flying around at night in the Kirobon Highlands after being illuminated by headlights while pursuing insects with beaks agape, but this was a treat to see some nightjars so close, being able to appreciate their plumage while nearly reaching out and touching them. Awesome!

Happy as a Pink-Breasted Lark, we exited the dry scrub and headed for lunch at Robert’s Camp, where our order of omelets and sides of potatoes and fruit salad awaited us (as we had placed our order the previous day, knowing we would be preoccupied in the early morning hours…well, at least Willy and I).  During lunch, we saw a high school class on a field trip with their instructors.  They were from the privately-run British Greensteds School in Nakuru.  I found out that they were team-teaching geography, geology and biology in an outdoor classroom that students in poorer school districts could only dream about.  It was the type of learning that I used to love engaging students in as a teacher back at Anderson High School in Southgate, Michigan, and before that, at Mt. Carmel High School in Wyandotte, Michigan.

Kenya is trying to change its instructional ways, just like most other nations around the world, in order to develop more engaged learners and independent thinkers capable of using the scientific method (including experimentation) to logically gather, analyze and evaluate data; formulate hypotheses about real-world phenomena; and, synthesize conclusions, as well as more questions for further study and evaluation, based on experimental findings and observations.  This is commonly referred to as “inquiry learning,” and is much more hands-on and student-driven–often occurring in group settings with students collaborating to problem solve and trouble-shoot solutions–rather than the way in which too many learn in today’s traditional classrooms, including most classrooms in Kenya, where learning is mostly teacher-centered and rote in character.

I was, on the one hand, elated to see students learning in the beautiful outdoor classroom setting of Lake Baringo about plate tectonics and volcanism, along with geothermal energy, climate, and other worldly-relevant topics, while also improving their ability to formulate coherent thoughts, think and express themselves creatively, and advance communication skills through journal writing and group discussions; and, as I learned from their instructors, there was much more of this type of travel and outdoor learning embedded in much of these students’ curricula throughout the year.  On the other hand, I’ve already seen too many schools in Kenya, and to a lesser extent back in the U.S., that restrain student learning and stymie creativity by teaching them in rigidly disciplined settings, students being fed fact after fact by teachers more concerned with feeling in control and looking good in front of “superiors,” rather than formulating strategies to make learning for their students more meaningful, challenging and fun, including a heavy dose of inquiry learning in outdoor classroom settings.  If outdoor education is good enough for the elite of Kenya (and elsewhere in the world) and their children, then it should be good enough for the less privileged and poor children of Kenya (and elsewhere in the world)…

Finished with lunch and my take on the state of educational instruction, we grabbed some paw paw fruit for the walk down to the Lake Baringo shoreline where we would catch a motorized boat for an afternoon tour of the lake.  Along the way, I saw my first White-Billed Buffalo-Weaver, the largest of the weaver birds I had seen in Kenya so far; some Common Drongos, dark purple-black birds with forked tails about the size of nightjars, whose behavior reminded me of flycatchers; a Beautiful Sunbird, which was quite literally, beautiful, as it sipped nectar from a pink flower; and, a Jackson’s Golden-Backed Weaver, another first for me, in molting-phase plumage.

Making our way to water’s edge, we boarded the fiber-glass reinforced boat, put on some life preservers, and Willy shoved off with a forceful push and quick hop into the moving boat.  We initially puttered near shore close to our campsite, looking for more bird life.  Beneath trees that were partially submerged in water due to the unusually heavy August-December rains, we eagerily took in some vibrant bird activity and sounds, viewing a White-Browed Coucal, a fairly common bird but rather large and intimidating, particularly to the smaller birds around it that were none-too-pleased by its presence.  We watched as the smaller birds incessantly scolded the Coucal, which sauntered in and out of thick cover, not too disturbed by all the ruckus…

Motoring further along the shore, we observed an intra-African migrant, the African Golden Oriole, up in the treetops, pursuing insect prey.  The oriole was all yellow (or golden) with black wings and upper tail feathers. This was the 32nd life-bird for me during this trip, but the African Golden Oriole never quite availed itself for a decent photo, so we appreciated its color pattern and form through binoculars for several minutes.  However, the Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl (life-bird #33), sitting on a large limb near the tree’s even larger trunk, did!  It’s rather stunning pink eyelids were quite conspicuous as it gazed down at people in the boat below. This was the fourth owl we’d seen now during this trip and I was becoming fonder and fonder of Lake Baringo and its bird offerings by the minute…

The owl clambered higher to a more secluded perch in the big tree, apparently not liking to be ogled by a boatload of strangers–maybe the white-skinned guy was giving off too much of a glare; so, we backed out from beneath the tree and set course for a colony of nesting waterbirds consisting of cattle egrets, cormorants, darters and herons.  I was very interested in seeing this colony of birds as I had traveled with the Canadian Wildlife Service during my graduate school days at Michigan Technological University in the summers of 2002-03 to observe several rather impressive nesting colonies of Great Lakes waterbirds.  To witness a similar phenomenon in Kenya, I thought, would be rather fascinating…But, first, say “hello,” to the African Fish Eagle perched in another tree along the shoreline, before we put the boat into overdrive and head for deeper water.

And, what about the young fellow wading in the water among overgrown brush and aquatic plants?  “Hey, aren’t there crocodiles in there?!”  “Yes, but he’s fishing for tilipia…” “Great, he’s catching fish that will then attract crocodiles during their struggle to get free!”  That was definitely something I would never be doing…  However, looking at it from the young man’s perspective, having grown up around the water, learning about all things aquatic, including habits of crocodiles and where the really big ones might like to hang out…I suppose in my more dare-devilish days of yore, I just might be fishing for tilapia in croc-infested waters (and hippos, too–don’t forget about the hippos)…

The fishing pole, by the way, was a type of cane pole; but, I never did get a good look at the hook and line…while the tilapia bait consisted of a mishmash of adult dragonflies, of which there were many, many varieties at Lake Baringo. In fact, Lake Baringo would be a wonderland for anyone with a sole interest in studying or researching dragonfly biodiversity or other topics related to these wonderful insects…I often found myself being pulled in the direction of these aerial marvels while working our way through some dense mats of floating vegetation…

Shortly after our brief chat with the young, very brave fisherman, our boat operator shifted the motor into higher gear and we headed to the breeding colony situated in some trees that were nestled in the middle of a vast network of interconnected floating islands of aquatic vegetation, which extended out into the lake from the shoreline along one side of Lake Baringo.  We motored past several African Jacanas and Squacco Herons, which took flight at our approach, as well as an African Darter emerging from the water after, what else, darting after some fish in the depths of Lake Baringo.

We slowed briefly along the way to check out one particular floating island where Willy had noted the rare Purple Swamphen in years past, informing me that visitors would come to Lake Baringo just to see this unique bird in order to add it to their life lists; so, even Willy got excited when he caught a glimpse of this bird, head rising just above the swamp grasses, sedges and other aquatic plants growing within the floating vegetation mat.  It then gave us all a special treat as it flew from its more reclusive location and flapped its way to a new locale…Needless-to-say, this was another new species for me!  Was I excited? Yes! But, then again, I get excited every time I don binoculars and camera and explore this great beautiful world we live in!

After our good fortune with the Purple Swamphen, we picked up the pace again and, within ten minutes we were beneath a mixed colony of several hundred pairs of Cattle Egrets, Long-Tailed Cormorants, African Darters, Purple Herons, and a few Great Cormorants thrown in for good measure…It was a magnificent sight to behold–well, mostly magnificent, except for several dead young birds that had apparently lost their step in the thorny branches above and fell to their deaths in one of three ways (disclaimer–the following is NOT nice!): First, some were impaled on the sharp tree spines; second, some were strangled to death after their necks became wedged between a “v-shaped” limb after slipping from their perch; and, third, those that fell and had the good fortune of avoiding the spines and strangulating branches often became a quick meal for the wily crocodiles we saw waiting patiently beneath the colony of nesting birds.  It reminded me of the nature programs I saw about seals giving birth on some remote Pacific island with great white sharks patrolling the waters for inattentive or inexperienced young pups…the sharks knew when and where to be for an easy meal; and, the crocs of Lake Baringo were no different!

We lingered around the mixed nesting colony for about fifteen minutes, observing the young birds moving around in the spine-covered branches above us, most moving quite deftly among branches now that many were near fledge stage (i.e. nearly ready to fly).  We also caught sight of a couple of fairly large crocodiles in the water below the tree branches, biding their time until a feathered meal plopped into the water from above…We watched as one lucky young cattle egret that had fallen into the water quickly swam to a cluster of thick swamp grass, and then scaled over the grass and up into a small shrubby tree around which the swamp grass had grown.  Hopefully, this young fellow in its new “home” would still be dutifully tended to by its parents, just like many of the other young birds in the larger colony were being tended to by their respective parents, which were seen arriving with meals of fish, frogs and other fare for delivery to hungry mouths; and, then the parents quickly launched themselves back out into the lake to find more food for their ravenous, fast-growing youngsters…all-in-all, a fascinating scene that definitely brought back memories of the Great Lakes!  After some more gular fluttering from young birds trying to keep their cool under an intensely hot midday sun and in a place where shade was hard to come by, we turned away from the colony and set our sights on one of Lake Baringos many protruding islands…

First, though, we had to negotiate some more of the thick mats of vegetation before reaching open water; but, this slower-going only gave us more time to admire the scenery, marvel at how high the lake waters had risen since a July visit last year, and check off a few more species of birds as we went.  There were Chestnut, Lesser Masked, and Northern Masked Weavers, as well as more African Jacanas, Squacco Herons, African Darters, and Long-Tailed Cormorants.  In addition, we noted several Whiskered Terns flying smoothly and effortlessly over the waters, like all terns seem to do; and, we saw new species number 35, an Allen’s Gallinule, flapping and running over the water away from us upon our approach through more floating vegetation…I enjoyed the dragonfly show along the way as well!

We finally reached the open water after about twenty minutes, during which time we had to stop and reverse on several occasions to free our prop from the entangled vegetation that had engulfed it…No problem…this simply gave me more time to dragonfly watch at close range…

Out on the open water, we made good time to one of the islands.  The “desert rose” trees with pretty pink flowers, looking much like miniature baobab trees, beautifully accented the island, which was otherwise sparsely vegetated and rocky.  Getting close to the shore, a Monitor Lizard emerged from the water and climbed onto the island.  Monitor Lizards are fairly common, as I’ve now seen at least five of these rather large reptiles, with one encounter scaring the “bejeebers” out of my business partner, Alex, after it had played dead for several minutes before suddenly springing to life in an all out sprint for better cover.  We still have a good laugh thinking about that one!  By the way, Monitor Lizards are not poisonous, but can give a rather painful bite…so, handle with care!

We also watched several black-and-white African Pied Kingfishers–quite common at all the Rift Valley lakes–catch and eat a few tilapia.  Some would cackle in the small trees along the shoreline for a bit, then fly up and hover above the water for several seconds before diving headlong into the water after a tilapia.  There appeared to be a 50-50 chance of catching a fish or not…We enjoyed watching this foraging display, as well as a couple of kingfishers slapping their catches hard against a tree branch before deftly flipping them around with their large bills and swallowing the fish headfirst.  It was quite apparent that humans weren’t the only ones who liked eating tilapia in these parts…

Approaching our island port, where we would disembark for lunch–or so we thought–a very familiar bird appeared, actually several of them…the regal-looking Black-Crowned Night-Heron.  This cosmopolitan species is one which is fairly common in the Great Lakes, having made a comeback in population size after being adversely impacted by industrial contaminants during the height of pollution in the 1960s and ’70s.  But, today, it is doing much better in the U.S. and, in fact, a few of the birds, prior to coming over to Kenya, were predating many of the Common Tern chicks in Detroit River colonies I had helped restore through habitat restorations.  The Great Lakes Common Terns were also the focal point of my master’s thesis that involved measurements of historical pollutants in their eggs around the Great Lakes.  So, seeing the Black-Crowned Night-Herons in Kenya brought on a mix of nostalgic euphoria and mild contempt; but, hey, no hard feelings…at least while in Kenya!  Besides, with my good friend and fellow wildlife researcher, Greg Norwood of the USFWS, looking after the terns now, I know they are in great hands back home…

After tying up our boat at the dock on “Baringo Island,” we went ashore and greeted the clerk behind the counter at the traditional hut-styled check-in facility for the island resort.  Looking forward to having lunch after a few hours of being in the sunshine on Lake Baringo in 90+ degree heat, we were informed that lunch was not being served that day to island visitors, due to a lack of guests currently staying at the island resort.

A bit frazzled by that revelation, as we would now have to go a couple more hours without lunch and the blood sugar level was running low, we nevertheless inquired if we could take a tour of the resort–after all, we were already there, so we might as well check out the accommodations for future guests of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures.  After paying an annoying (remember, I was hungry!) “tour fee” –it seems everyone in Kenya wants some sort of fee for any service provided–we were escorted around the lodge premises.

The walk up a spiraling gravel-covered incline past guest rooms, resort lounge and restaurant, and several scenic overlooks of Lake Baringo, along with the bird life en route to the main island lodge situated at the highest elevation, caused the distaste still lingering in my mouth over a “touring fee” to slowly dissipate.  Perhaps the sweet calls of Common Bulbuls feeding on figs from a tree rife with the small, circular fruits–or maybe it was simply my vicarious consumption of dozens of figs as I watched the birds eagerly dining on them above–was responsible for my attitude change; but, simply immersing myself back into the machinations of nature, and forgetting about human annoyances, seemed to be enough to refocus my mind on more beautiful encounters ahead, rather than food and stupid f$#@ing fees…After all, I mean, weren’t we doing them a favor by coming all the way to their resort just to see what they might have to offer to our future guests, including cuisine?!

So, what is one of the first things we get to see when reaching the main lodge with built in swimming pool?  The owners eating lunch at the bar!  Fortunately, the owner, his wife, their son and his wife were quite hospitable, engaging and humorous.  They were originally from Australia and, perhaps fittingly, the owner had a dry sense of humor which fit him well…I wasn’t enamored with their penchant for smoking lots of cigarettes, but we were outdoors in a beautiful setting and we were going to have something to drink while seated under a canopy next to a swimming pool, where a nice-looking brown-skinned young lady was sunbathing in a two-piece bikini…I felt much more relaxed and comfortable!  At that moment, I thought of you, Greg Wright, and another great friend of my mine from back home in the U.S., John Nasarzewski…Cheers fellas!

After some more friendly banter between Australians, Kenyans and American (though now with a registered Kenyan Green Card, I might add), we were offered a tour of the lodge’s tilapia fish farming operations.  Fish farming at a resort?!  Yep!  I thought the same thing, but was quite interested in seeing the operation. So, we traipsed down to the nearby fish farming facility with a dozen or so large rectangular cement fish tanks housing tilapia in different stages of development.  We were informed by those in charge of the fish farming operations that they had gotten the fish from Lake Baringo and bred them.  The only food required was algae!  And, I love the taste of tilapia (maybe the vegetarian diet of tilapia makes them taste so great), so this appears to be an excellent food industry for people in many parts of Kenya.  Sadly, start up costs to build the tanks is too much for most individuals or groups to afford; so, people like our wealthy Australian friends, have come in to fill this fish farming niche, albeit while employing and benefiting many of the local people.  This is a venture I have filed away in my memory banks, perhaps for future reference when America-Kenya Connections might be able to help some Kenyans build and run their own sustainable fish farming facility…

The whole resort was actually quite ecofriendly, excluding the goats, with guest quarters and other structures built with local materials and architectural styles; and, the luxurious interiors of the guest quarters did not detract at all from the feeling that you were in a more or less native setting with great open views of the surrounding natural landscape and Lake Baringo.  In other words, no four-story hotel here, just many beautiful guest houses and an atmosphere of relaxation, with houses and guest facilities connected by gravel paths and stony stairways…A really nice job of blending the facility’s architecture and layout with the surrounding natural environment, which includes a lava rock-strewn landscape providing more evidence of the region’s volcanically-active past.

We returned to the pool/outdoor lounge area to chat a bit more with the resort owners, have another drink, and watch Willy save a young Beautiful Sunbird from the swimming pool it had somehow managed to fly into.  Not sure if it was this particular birds “maiden flight” from a close by nesting perch, but nevertheless, it needed Willy’s help if it was going to live to make another attempt…After scooping the distraught bird from the pool, it attempted to fly away, only to belly flop from Willy’s palm down to the ground below.  No, it wasn’t nice to see, but the bird seemed fine, and Willy scooped it back up and deposited it onto a branch in a nearby bush to let it to dry off in peace.  Not far away, a male adult Beautiful Sunbird was taking a break from the heat.  Perhaps it was the young one’s dad…

Following the sunbird rescue, we finished up our drinks, exchanged business cards with Perry, the owner, and bid his family, “Kwaheri” (good-bye).  We then proceeded to descend the spiraling walkway to the boat dock.  Along the way, though, we were treated to some more bird life, spotting a Red-Fronted Barbet, a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak-sized bird (for you North American bird watchers) with a beak about the same size. But this bird’s red was painted on its forehead, not breast, and was a mix of black and yellow (not white) plumage, for the most part.

We stopped briefly to check out another guest house; and, near the overlook of Lake Baringo in a patch of woody shrubs sat an African Pygmy Kingfisher, a bird I had really wanted to see all day long.  I had observed the small Malachite Kingfisher on several occasions, but never the Pygmy Kingfisher, an even tinier specimen.  Unlike the water-hunting Malachite Kingfisher, the African Pygmy Kingfisher was a landlubber, preferring to pick off insects on land, rather than fish and aquatic fare.  I found the Pygmy Kingfisher to be just as spectacularly colored as the Malachite, if not even more so!  That’s the great thing about bird watching–the diversity available for viewing, with all the different color patterns, songs, flights, sizes, habits…I can’t think of anything else that offers such varied opportunities for experiencing something wonderful and beautiful every time one ventures out into the world; and, I haven’t even mentioned the added mental and psychological benefits of simply being out of doors and all that has to offer…As they say in the Kenya Wildlife Services’ campaign to advertise parks and wild places in Kenya, “Twende Tujivinjari!” (Let’s go enjoy!)…Amen to that!

Though I could have spent much more time hanging out with the African Pygmy Kingfisher in order to get to know this new life bird a bit better, we had a schedule to keep, so we continued on…until we came to a thrush eating some berries on the walkway.  It was a Spotted Morning Thrush.  I had seen all manner of thrushes in Kenya already–White-Browed Scrub-Robin; Cape Robin-Chat; White-Browed Robin-Chat; Cliff Chat; Olive Thrush; Grey-Winged Robin; and, a few other chats; but, this was a new one, and giving me a real closeup view, for which I was extremely grateful…

At the island shoreline, we watched as a juvenile Long-Tailed Cormorant flew past.  There are no “cormorant controversies” here in Kenya that I’ve heard about yet, like those back home in the Great Lakes, where the double-crested cormorant population has exploded during the past 35 years or so with the full impact of their presence on fish populations and island vegetation not fully known, though there is ample evidence in many locales of the birds’ negative effects on more established native flora and fauna.  The problem, though, as I see it, with coming down hard on a particular species for a peculiar set of environmental problems or ecological disturbances is that we too often fail to prescribe solutions to our own heavy hand in contributing to these problems and disturbances, or laying the groundwork for other species to thrive in the altered habitats we’ve created through overdevelopment, persecution of predators, and introduction of invasive species, to name a few of our untoward effects on the world around us…But, I digress…back to the boat and Kenya!

I had long forgotten about the “tour fee” by this time, having thoroughly enjoyed my island visit.  And, if anyone out there is looking for a honeymoon get-away, well I think I have the place for you!  You know where to find us to inquire…

We boarded our boat and headed back to the mainland, speeding past pieces of driftwood along the way, with each piece seemingly having its own resident dragonfly as a sole companion.  The water was calm, as usual–this was my fourth trip on the lake in the past 6 months–and I appreciated this “lake calm” as I do not do well on larger vessels in rolling waters…a thing called “sea sickness” rears its ugly head, unfortunately.  I’m really liking Lake Baringo more and more with every trip I take here…

Nearing 5 p.m., we dropped anchor and went ashore…actually, we just motored aground and hopped out onto soggy, muddy turf back on the mainland, but “dropping anchor” sounded cool, so even though we didn’t have an anchor, I went with it…Anyway, we made our way to our supply of drinking water to rehydrate after a long, wonderful day on the lake and island, which followed the four-hour morning walk.  Never one to pass up a birding or photo opportunity, I took in a few of the more common residents of Kenya, the flycatcher-like immature Common Drongo with long, forked tail I had seen earlier in the day; and, a bird, whose high-pitched squeal is often heard as much as it is seen, the White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver, one of the many varieties of generally small weaver birds, famous for their hanging nests in all manner of vegetation, with some being single-family homes, while others are often huge condominiums housing many residents.  The White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver was one of the former; though, like all weavers that I’ve encountered, they built nests in close proximity to each other, so that there’s always a community of fellowship in the land of the weavers!

Almost ready to leave, but not quite yet, we had heard that the African Scops Owl was still in the area; and, our friendly bird-spotter from the next-door resort was happy to show us its whereabouts…I’m willing to bet, though, that I was more happy than him!  We followed a flat stone-slab walkway around the resort cottages and slipped between a couple of them, passing a groundskeeper sweeping the walkway with a very creative, locally-made broom consisting of a long stick handle and a bundle of  plants secured to one end for sweeping, which I found to be quite fascinating…Now, where in the world could you possibly be fascinated by “broom fashion?!”  Answer: Kenya!

Around and in back of the guest rooms near the workers’ sleeping quarters, there was a large tree with brush surrounding it.  We slipped through some barbed wire, of which there is plenty in Kenya, by the way, and tried various viewing angles of the tree and brush to see if we could locate the owl, which our friend had sighted earlier in the day; and, knowing the sleeping habits of most owls, it was likely still in the immediate vicinity…Success!  The stunning African Scops Owl was biding its daytime, waiting for night to fall so it could go about its nocturnal business of snatching even smaller critters than itself for a quick meal, including lizards, large insects and the like…If this was going to be my last impression at Lake Baringo, then I was a happy camper!

Quite satisfied, and car loaded up and ready to go, we thanked our owl-finding friend (and gave him a “tip,” of course) and began the journey homeward.  However, feeling a bit hungry, though happy, we drove into Lake Baringo’s community town center before beginning our longer trip back to Kirobon.  The “town center” was a cross between a dilapidated downtown and neglected mini strip mall, with peeling paint and missing sections of concrete on some buildings and dwellings, the road rocky and pock-marked, and garbage scattered about the area.   We parked the car on the side of the road and checked out some mud-and-stone fish smoke houses.  A few skinny dogs with ribs showing then followed us as we headed over to a “street vendor” frying and selling freshly caught tilapia.

“Chef Granny” (reminded me of “Granny” on the Beverly Hillbillies whipping up some ‘possum stew) had a slew of seasoned tilapia boiling in oil in a large stir fry cast iron pan.  I imagined that those large pans were quite a prized possession, as most pans in Kenya that I’ve seen the local people using are of the cheaper aluminum variety (though major stores are now carrying stainless steel pots and pans).

Never one to pass up a fish fry, we ordered a few fish and eagerly consumed the offering of tasty white flesh served on yesterday’s newspaper (well, I didn’t check the date, so I can’t really be certain of that last factoid)…Suffice it to say that this wasn’t the most hygienic of “restaurant settings” in which I had eaten, but the fish sure tasted great!  With a bit of flesh left on the bony fish skeleton, along with the head, I tossed the remains to the skinny pregnant, lactating dog, which hastily accepted the offering…I had made another friend!

With something in the belly for the three hour drive back to Kirobon, we thanked Willy for his services, compensating him for his usual terrific efforts, and dropped him near his very modest, to say the least, traditional thatched-roof circular home located in the dry scrub around Lake Baringo.  We assured him we would be back to visit and that he was in the future plans of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures as one of our trusted wildlife/bird guides…I sincerely hope you travel to Kenya and get to meet this humble, unassuming, extremely talented wildlife/bird guide, with whom we have become very good friends…until next time, “Asante Sana, Willy!”

Heading toward the fairly bustling town of Maragat, while dodging missing sections of asphalt, we were on our way back to Kirobon and I was hoping that the mosquitoes that bit me at Lake Baringo didn’t carry the malarial parasite that had struck Willy a few times and so many others around the lake.  I would just have to wait and see what happened over the next few weeks.

If there’s one drawback to visiting Lake Baringo, then that’s it…Having camped in a tent, we were more vulnerable to mosquito bites during the night, as they mainly sought shelter from the intense heat of the sun during daylight hours.  Normally, visitors who tour Kenya are on anti-malarial medications as a prophylactic measure, just in case; but, since I’m staying for a long time, I have a prescription for an anti-malarial drug which I would take in the event of malaria onset.  So far, so good…

At the present moment, however, the only thing we had to be concerned with was the herd of camels crossing the road in front of us…Seeing sheep, goats and cattle crossing, or feeding along, the road, or even donkeys, for that matter, was a rather common occurrence; but, camels crossing the road was not something regularly seen, though it did happen on occasion…and, this was one of them.

Plowing into livestock, or camels, is hard to do in Kenya, because they always travel in fairly big herds or flocks, they are tended to by a human “shepherd,” and drivers generally have plenty of time to see them in the road ahead in order to adjust their speed to accommodate such animal crossings.  Seeing wild animals crossing the road was not out of the question, as we had seen some zebras and baboons do so, but their crossings were much more unpredictable, hasty and frenzied than the domesticated animals.  The camels fell into the “domesticated crossing” category, and soon we were on our way home after a minor camel delay…

On the trip home, I thought about the roughly 110 species of birds I had seen–40 completely new to me–which got me to thinking about my “ornithology road trip” with Greg and other Michigan Technological University students.  That three-day “mad dash” across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was great fun, being led by talented ornithology professor, David Flashpohler, during Spring of  2003.  I recall having seen nearly the same number of species on that memorable trip as I did on this day trip to Lake Baringo.  Some wonderful memories, Greg!

Well, that just about concludes our journey to and from Lake Baringo, my friend…I hope you enjoyed the tour, Greg!  If you couldn’t make it to Kenya, then the least I could do was bring a bit of Kenya and Africa to you…I hope I accomplished that in some small way…You’re an awesome human being, Greg; and, I wish I had the opportunity to be with you during a time when friends and family are needed the most…Please be assured that you are thought of each and every day by me during my time in Kenya.  I love you dearly, Greg, as I know so many others do…Alex and the whole Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures’ family send their love your way, too.

Alex and I have prepared a heartfelt message for you in the video that follows…There is an expression in Kiswahili, Greg, which seems appropriate for whatever lies ahead in your next life’s journey: “Safiri Salama, my friend!”  “Safe travels!”   I’ll be thinking of you often, my brother in the days and years ahead…Peace always, Greg!  Love, Bruce

 

Come Train with the Greatest Distance Runners in the World!

March 26, 2012

A Special offer for those in Kenya, who might want to spend a day testing their endurance with the greatest distance runners in the world! Extend your stay for the ultimate fitness experience, as well as to enjoy some of the planet’s most memorable wildlife encounters during safari excursions in between training sessions! Turbo charge your training, so you can join us for our “Mt. Kenya Climb for Kids” in October…Karibu Kenya!

Find our offer on Tripbod at this link: Kenyan Runner’s Camp

Please note: I’ll be posting a lengthy blog soon about my impressions of some of my many (and growing) experiences while traveling to various parks and locations in Kenya, particularly my thoughts on wildlife excursions and interactions with the Kenyan people I’ve met along the way…Stay tuned!

Asante Sana!

Bruce

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An Open Invitation to Educational Institutions from TemboKanga Tours and Education Ventures (Kenya)

March 23, 2012
Kenya School Tree Planting

TembokangatoursInstitutionLetter

*Note: For a downloadable version of this letter with pictures and captions, please click on the “TembokangatoursInstitutionLetter” link above.

Jambo (Hello)!  Welcome to Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures!

In 2002, Michigan, U.S.A. resident, Bruce Szczechowski, working on his master’s degree in Applied Ecology, met Kenyan exchange student, Alex Kotut, at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.  During their time at MTU, Alex and Bruce became great friends.

With several other MTU graduate students, Alex and Bruce visited Yellowstone National Park in the winter of 2003.  It was in the wilderness of Yellowstone that the idea of starting up a safari business in Kenya first arose.  Recently that idea has become reality with Alex and Bruce forming Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, which was officially launched on February 14th, 2012.

Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures would like to cordially extend an invitation to your faculty and students to consider Kenya as a learning, volunteer and cultural exchange destination in the near future.   Educational opportunities in Kenya abound and include, but are not limited to, the following: tropical rainforest ecology; ocean ecology; African savanna ecology; ornithology; forestry/agriculture; wildlife ecology; climate change; alternative energy; education; anthropology; Rift Valley geology; and, a host of other subjects that can be explored in the unique setting of equatorial East Africa.

Additionally, not only will instructors and students have the opportunity to develop and study, respectively, appealing curricula carried out in the tropics of Africa—the birthplace of Homo sapiens—but they can also engage themselves in once-in-a-lifetime cultural programs and volunteer community projects set up by Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures in conjunction with America-Kenya Connections, a Kenyan nonprofit organization founded by the owners of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures.

Some of these programs and projects include, but are not limited to, the following: local school-sponsored tree plantings; experiencing community life by living with, and assisting, local families in the Kenya Highlands’ agricultural region or the Maasai in traditional village settings; assisting with construction and refurbishing of community structures, including housing, classrooms, libraries, athletic facilities, and bathrooms; providing support to orphanages; implementation of solar projects that benefit local families and communities; devising and constructing water collection and storage structures for schools and rural residents, as well as orphanages; construction of biogas units to decrease the need for firewood; helping local Kenyan entrepreneurs market recycled plastic “posts” for fencing projects in rural Kenya, reducing the need for wooden fencing; marketing sandals made from old tires,  as well as art/craft works to buyers abroad; constructing greenhouses for school agricultural programs, or for rural women as a source of  sustainable income; and, forging unique and lasting bonds with local community groups, so that relationships formed during trips to Kenya may continue to benefit disadvantaged Kenyans, even after instructors and students have returned to their countries of origin.

Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures will be able to provide full room and board, transportation, and security, as well as internet technologies, for any educational institutions desiring informative instruction in a safe and secure setting in tropical East Africa.  Medical facilities and experienced staff will also be available to handle any health-related problems that might be encountered while in Kenya.

By partnering with Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, your students and staff will also have nearly unlimited options to travel throughout Kenya–in between study, research and/or community volunteer projects–and enjoy safaris to major national parks, including the world-renowned Maasai Mara NR (site of Disney’s filming of “African Cats”) and Amboseli NP (where views of wildlife against the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at over 19,000 ft. elevation, will leave you mesmerized), as well as off-the-beaten-path destinations where the richness and diversity of life abound in tropical rainforest, Kenya Highland, and Rift Valley lake settings, to name but a few of the places where you will encounter the most magnificent array of large fauna anywhere in the world; so, don’t forget to bring your camera to record some very special wildlife moments and memories! Oh, and don’t forget your binoculars, either,  so you can get a close up view of not only beautiful mammalian species, but also some of the most spectacular bird life in the world, with over 1,090 avian species having been recorded in Kenya!

Having been an educator for nearly 20 years prior to co-founding Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, and with a master’s degree in Applied Ecology from MTU, professional teacher certification from Eastern Michigan University and a bachelor of science degree from Wayne State University (as well as extensive ornithological expertise garnered from a decade of work with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures’ CEO Bruce Szczechowski has the requisite knowledge and experience to provide professional support for any academic endeavors in Kenya.

Complementing Bruce’s scientific and educational acumen, co-founder, Alex Kotut, with an extensive background in business administration, has a vast network of colleagues in Kenya who are able to provide all essential support and updated facilities for educational programs, including access to Kenyan educators and institutions, the most knowledgeable tour guides in Kenya, trusted security personnel, modern living accommodations, and reliable sources of transportation.  Additionally, Alex’s family and community relations allow Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures the unique ability to foster lasting partnerships between educational institutions and local Kenyan communities.

For more information on how Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures can assist your institution in establishing educational programs in Kenya; organizing humanitarian programs/projects to help address the needs of Kenyan people and the environment; and/or, facilitating other cultural exchanges in Kenya, please visit our website at http://tembokangatours.com, and contact Bruce Szczechowski and Alex Kotut at info@tembokangatours.com.

When contacting us, please leave your name, email address and phone number, so we can promptly answer any questions you may have and call you to discuss a possible partnership with Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures.  We look forward to hosting you and your educational group in Kenya in the near future.

Karibu Kenya (“Welcome to Kenya”)!

Asante Sana (“Thank You Very Much”)!

Bruce Szczechowski (CEO) and Alex Kotut (President)

Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures

P.O. Box 35913

Nairobi, Kenya 00200

Email: info@tembokangatours.com

Website: http://tembokangatours.com

P.s. For some recent photos/videos from, and another blog about life in, Kenya provided by Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures, that will allow you a more personal look at Kenyan wildlife, rural living and community projects, please click on the following links:

https://picasaweb.google.com/114848145073388530079/KenyaPhotos1

https://picasaweb.google.com/114848145073388530079/KenyaPhotos2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGFtB26ZpoE

https://twitter.com/#!/tembokanga

https://tembokangatours.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/kenya-update-part-2/

https://www.facebook.com/Tembokanga

Testimonials: Meet the Owners of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures:

 “I have known Bruce for over 10 years as an effective researcher, outstanding teacher, and passionate naturalist. He has a strong sense of wonder for the natural world, a keen interest in sharing his knowledge, and an ability to inspire others to care for the Earth. Bruce’s unique gifts and talents make him an ideal person to lead and guide Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures.”

Dr. John Hartig, Refuge Manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Jan. 23, 2012)

 

“I have known Bruce Szczechowski for about fifteen years now. I worked with him on a project to restore and monitor Common Terns in the Detroit River, as well as on other wildlife monitoring projects. Bruce is a brilliant naturalist with a breadth and depth of knowledge of the natural world that is hard to find. His passion for enjoying and protecting wildlife and wild places is infectious. He is a consummate researcher and educator with an ability to translate the technical into compelling stories and experiences for the novice. It is a privilege to know Bruce and spend time with him on educational and research projects.”

James N. Bull, Ph.D., Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan; Past President, Detroit Audubon Society (Feb. 6, 2012)

 

“Bruce is the ideal sparkplug for this venture in Kenya, bringing in people eager to learn about nature and culture on the other side of the world. He will put his entire self into making this an outstanding experience for participants. As eager as he is to learn, he is even more enthusiastic about making it possible for others to do likewise.”

Dr. Rolf O. Peterson, Research Professor and World-Renowned Wolf Expert, Michigan Technological University (Mar. 3, 2012)

 

“Alex has been a close friend of mine for nearly 10 years after arriving in Michigan from Kenya for college studies. Upon our first introduction in 2003, I was immediately impressed by Alex’s interpersonal skills and professionalism in the way he went about his studies and personal business. Actively engaged in the environmental literature ‘reading group’ I sponsored on the campus of Michigan Technological University, Alex showed a deep love and caring for the natural world, often expressing a desire to build a future business that offered other people the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty found in his own country of Kenya. Today, after having spent nearly 10 years in the United States away from his family, friends, and home, Alex is returning to Kenya to make that dream a reality as President of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures. From my personal dealings with Alex, I can testify that he will do his very best to insure that Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures is a well-organized and professional operation that is intensely focused on providing his visitors with an unforgettable African wildlife and educational experience.”

Frederick J. Young, Ph.D., Environmental Studies, Michigan Technological University (Jan. 19, 2012)

“Alex has been a friend of mine since childhood.  We attended school together from pre-school to Teacher’s Training College.  I would just like to offer some perspective on Alex’s background and the type of person he is, so that guests of Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures can be assured that they are dealing with an exceptional human being.

After graduation from college, Alex was given the responsibility of head teacher for various schools in Kenya’s Rift Valley, because of his outstanding and excellent work.  Alex often showed his care and concern for his students by helping disadvantaged children in the community to continue with their studies. Alex was also a life counselor for troubled youth, married couples, and people who had lost hope in life.

While Alex was in the United State of America he continued assisting the pupils back in Kenya with monetary contributions.  He also contributed to the building of his home church in Kirobon Village.

Environmental conservation is another major area of interest for Alex.  He planted trees and advocated for soil conservation by helping construct terraces and gabions in environmentally sensitive areas in order to reduce soil erosion.  He also combined his passion for the environment with his love for teaching by sponsoring, and participating in, tree plantings at schools in the Kenya Highlands region of the Rift Valley.  After returning from the U.S., Alex continued to sponsor tree plantings in order to restore the forest in his home area that had been badly damaged by local use of firewood and grazing animals.

Additionally, Alex has been very interested in advocating for conservation of wildlife since he was young; and, we have visited various National Parks in Kenya together, like Nakuru National Park, Maasai Mara NR, Tsavo NP, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Baringo, just to mention but a few of the places whose conservation efforts Alex has contributed to. Kenya is known for its wildlife conservation programs, and Alex is eager to become a bigger part in these efforts to protect wildlife through the nonprofit organization, America-Kenya Connections, which he co-founded with his American friend, Bruce Szczechowski.

Be assured, when you come to visit Kenya for educational opportunities, volunteer assistance or wildlife viewing—or hopefully all three—you will be in great hands with the guidance and help of my good friend, Mr. Alex Kotut.”

Eric Cherop, Assistant Principal, Koibatek District, Rift Valley, Kenya (Feb. 15, 2012)

 

 


Kenya Update–Part 2

January 29, 2012
Endangered White Rhino Adult with Young, Lake Nakuru National Park

Kenya–Part 2

I hope you find this most recent update from Kenya informative, yet mildly entertaining, and, at times, somewhat provocative.  I am definitely “no longer in Kansas,” but I think you will find some parallels between life in Kenya and life in the U.S. (especially those of you with some “country living” experiences, like my Missouri-dwelling cousins, whom I like to affectionately refer to as the “Polish hillbillies!”), while also appreciating the inevitable differences between a technologically-advanced nation that is nearly 240-years-old, and a relatively nascent country (“born” in 1963), whose progress has been stymied for centuries by the socioeconomic ravages wrought by European colonization, racism and slavery, as well as in more recent decades by diseases, like malaria and AIDS.  Perhaps this lengthy expose is a bit overly focused on food (my celiac disease has a way of intruding in this update from time-to-time), but I hope you’ll find at least some of my observations from Kenya engaging enough to read this in its entirety…

Jambo Sana (Much Thanks), everyone!

Bruce

Over two months have now passed since my return to Kenya in late October, and I am happy to report that all is going well here, relatively speaking.  I, along with my business partner, Alex Kotut, and his family and friends in Kirobon Village (near Eldama Ravine, and about 3 miles south of the Equator, for those of you who want to “Google Earth” the location), and many people across Kenya, have endured a very wet month of November (one of the usually rainy months here in the Kenya Highlands—in fact, “Kirobon” means “Place of Rain” in the local Kalenjin dialect).  Typically, during several months, there will be sunny or partly sunny days (temps around 75-80 deg F) with moisture condensing in the cooler evenings to produce evening/night time rainfall.

In November, however, the rains often came day and night—and heavy—each and every day.  The local people noted that they hadn’t seen such consistently heavy rainfall in recent memory; and, many parts of Kenya endured flooding and the social upheaval that comes with it…a phenomenon being seen more and more around the globe, in which unusual climate patterns are becoming the norm, unfortunately.  Equatorial East Africa does not appear to be getting a “free pass” from the unpredictable wrath of climate change…

As a result, I spent several days with Alex and a dozen or so neighbors helping to repair some sections of clay-based, rural roads that had turned into mushy quicksand-like pits.  We were rather fortunate, in that we live at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, so flooding was not a major threat, though swollen streams posed a few travel problems; but, perhaps even more fortunate for rural Kenyans, whose livelihoods are dependent in large part upon their livestock, no passing cows or donkeys were lost in the mud pits before we finished dumping several loads of large rocks into these road hazards (although one donkey had to be pulled to safety from the muck by several locals).  The road-building experience with Alex’s neighbors, I might add, was the type of collegial affair that I hope characterizes future America-Kenya Connections’ projects undertaken by our nonprofit organization of the same name…

As far as gastrointestinal hazards go, I can safely report that, after making some “gluten-free adjustments” to my diet (after sorting out some “miscommunications” with Alex’s family relating to my gluten troubles, which I will elaborate on later), I am faring much better now on my Kenyan diet.  I am also getting more and more accustomed to the 7,000 feet elevation, as well as my new sleep/wake cycle (which is not such an easy “mind/body adjustment” to make after spending 48 years on a season-altered Michigan biological clock at approximately 600-feet-above-sea level, and then abruptly switching to an equatorial clock characterized by a monotonous 12-hour day/night cycle that happens to be seven hours ahead of the usual Michigan time schedule).

The food is good, if a little bland and repetitive at times, but perhaps most importantly it is creating more of an “ovo-vegetarian” out of me every day (no “lacto-“ for me, generally, as I’ve mostly avoided milk products, outside of yogurt and some dark chocolate, for most of my adult life).  I see this development as a good thing for my eco-friendly conscience…I am consuming most foods, though the diet here is quite heavy on complex carbs from sources like potatoes, rice, corn/sorghum (“ugali” is a type of boiled concoction of corn/sorghum flour that hardens into a semi-solid “paste,” and it is a staple of the Kenyan diet and often consumed by hand), as well as other legumes and grains, like millet, beans, and peas; and, some wild plants, like arrow root (a starchy aquatic tuber).  Wheat products are also part of the Kenyan diet, but after a gastronomic “experiment” gone awry—due to a real party-pooper known as “gluten”—I am no longer privy to the conspicuous consumption of anything wheat-based, including cereal, bread, cakes, cookies, or “chapati” (read below for more information on this tasty Kenyan delight).

Fruit intake mainly consists of bananas, mangos, oranges and small watermelons (with plenty of seeds—I was spoiled in the U.S. with the seedless varieties), along with some other exotics here, like pawpaw (no relation to the “paw paw” trees back home, and a bit like cantaloupe, but softer and somewhat milder tasting), passion fruit, guava, and heart fruit (which looks vaguely like a heart and is quite tasty).  Sometimes we get some apples at the market, which I like, since I usually ate two a day back home to keep the doctor away, of course (though I’m thinking I may have to alter that to “an orange a day keeps the doctor away” here).  I shall keep searching to expand my fruit (and vegetable) list, as I love both for their taste and health benefits (being somewhat of a health nut most of my life).  Just yesterday, for example, we ate some strawberries from South Africa.  I am trying hard to eat local to keep my environmental impact to a minimum, but sometimes the temptation of familiar fruits is just too much (just ask Adam and Eve)…

Oh, and for the guacamole lovers out there, we have an avocado tree in our compound, and I’ve enjoyed a few with my breakfast (though not enough, as most of the fruit was gone before I arrived in late October—I am learning the fruit seasons as I go).  There are no corn chips available in the rural Kenya Highlands, either— you can’t run to the local supermarket at midnight to buy a bag of Fritos or other corn chips when you have a case of the “munchies”—so I haven’t made any salsa and guacamole dips yet, but that may change, since I have persuaded my friends here to make a version of corn tortillas.  As alluded to above, they make a nice wheat-based chapati (which is also a traditional mainstay of the diet in Kenya—even more on these later), but I convinced them, after much cajoling, to try the corn flour to support my gluten-free dietary ways.  My friends laughed and hesitated at first, but they eventually gave in to their own curiosity; and, just like that, perhaps the first corn chapati in Kenya was brought forth into the world from the hot surface of a wood charcoal-fueled wrought iron cooking apparatus!  I must say, they tasted quite nice—almost like a flat cornbread…now, I just need to figure out how to get them a bit crispier and then I’ll work on the guacamole dips…

Alas, this “creation story” does not have a happy ending, as the “corn” chapati didn’t seem to change anything, and I began to have constant knots in my abdomen and intermittent bouts of diarrhea and constipation episodes—yes, I know, not nice to read, especially if you’re eating something while reading this…I just couldn’t understand why I was having such a bad time with my intestinal system.  And, to make matters worse over time, thinking I had been off wheat since I had gotten to Kenya, but still having some intestinal problems, I foolishly reasoned, “what the heck, wheat-free isn’t working, so maybe I don’t have any gluten sensitivity after all; so, I might as well try everything, even the wheat chapati.”  Big mistake!  My intestinal knots began to turn into double- and triple-knots…So, about two weeks ago, I ate my last wheat chapati and vowed never again, while on planet Earth, to touch or taste anything wheat-related…

After informing my friends of this pledge, I requested once again a 100% corn chapati, which my friends said was “impossible to make without a little wheat to hold it together.”  I was a bit stunned, as I had thought all along that I had been eating nothing but corn flour in the so-called “corn chapati”…My friends did not quite grasp the severity of my condition and thought that a little wheat was okay for me.  However, knowledge is power; and, I informed Janet and the others who do the cooking here that I absolutely, positively cannot consume any wheat whatsoever from here on out…Gluten-intolerance, I am sad to report, does not fare any better on the other side of the Atlantic or the Equator!

This turn of events had perplexed Alex’s wife, Janet, somewhat, as she (and other Kenyans) had never heard of such a thing as “gluten intolerance” and the need to avoid wheat.  As you might imagine (with people being mostly the same all over the planet I am finding), I was getting “advice” on how to overcome this condition—“eat more roughage with the chapati”; “drink more chai (tea) to soothe the stomach”; “don’t worry about what you eat so much” (akin to the notion that it’s “all in your head—not your stomach!”); etc…Fortunately, with a few years of medical school training and a lot of my own research on the issue, along with many personal dietary trials and tribulations (including the current one that merely dispelled all notions to the contrary), I am confident in my diagnosis and wheat-avoiding prescription to keep my gastrointestinal ship (shi#?) flowing in the right direction…

I am now quite confident that those in Kenya, who previously did not fully grasp the severity of my condition, completely understand its cause and miserable effects; and, I feel like an omnipresent dark cloud has been lifted from me during the past two weeks as my system repairs and heals—I can actually feel the aches in my entire body, and the fogginess and light-headedness in my head that I had been experiencing, lifting from me like the proverbial ton of bricks being removed from one’s shoulders…If you have gluten-sensitivity, you likely know all-too-well what I’ve been talking about; if not, consider yourself lucky, and not simply because you get to eat doughnuts for breakfast and I don’t!  Okay, enough about that, I think…

As a side note, since we’re on food (or food-related topics), politicians who “flip-flop” in Kenya (yes, they have those types here, too) are referred to as “watermelons.”  When I inquired why that term is used to describe these politicians, Janet informed me that such politicians are like a watermelon that may look good on the outside, but tastes bad on the inside.  How many “watermelons” do we have back in the U.S.?  I don’t want to venture a guess; but, along with the observation that there are many signs of “Obama-mania” around Kenya, that is all I will say about politics…I don’t want to get deported before I’ve accomplished anything of note.

Back to food (already?)…Protein is a bit harder to come by here, though you get it in beans and a bit in the rice (usually white rice, though I have bought wild rice and have had it served on occasion for its higher nutritional value, though I seem to be the only one who really enjoys it); but, we do have chicken and beef about once or twice a week (though the servings are definitely not “supersized,” perhaps for the best), as the cows are mainly for milking, and beef can be rather pricy; and, most people raise chickens for their eggs, which makes sense to me…

Goat is served more frequently, likely due to its cheaper price than beef; but, I must admit, I do not care very much for goat meat, as its meat has a stronger taste and odor to me being from the West.  I tend to avoid eating much of it, even if my hosts may find me a bit odd avoiding such a good source of protein.  Most Kenyans seem to enjoy goat meat a lot.  I did try some goat heart not long ago, which, I must confess, tasted very mild and was much better than the other goat meat I had previously consumed.  Also, a goat’s rib meat was better tasting to me than the other, rather chewy “detached meat”; so, if I had my druthers concerning goat meat, then goat heart is number one; goat ribs number two; and, other goat meat number three or never (perhaps the latter is the musculature where the consumed garbage takes up residence—a study may be in order)…While eating pieces of the goat heart, I couldn’t help but think of stories about Native American hunting parties taking down a deer or bison, and then thanking the animal for its sacrifice, followed by the passing around of pieces of raw heart for consumption while giving praise to the Great Spirit…I’ll likely stick to the cooked variety should I be offered the “delicacy” again, thank you, though I have a feeling I may have eaten my last goat heart…

Besides the goat heart, I also sampled some Kenyan sausage here about a month ago at a welcoming party for the new forester (forestry management is very big here, as people use a lot of wood for construction and firewood, and they often need permission for cutting timber from the forester when they require a lot of wood for a project or event).  The “sausage” consisted of chopped liver, lungs, intestines, etc. (something akin to “chitlins” back home, I suppose, but with more “goodies”) stuffed inside an intestinal casing—way too strong for me by itself, but with some chopped tomatoes and hot red/green peppers (and perhaps a cold beer or glass of red wine to wash it all down), excellent!  For a wannabe vegetarian, I have some lingering guilt over these feelings, but I tend to rationalize by thinking about the lions and cheetahs here killing and eating gazelles, zebras, etc…Some animals simply feed the carnivores in the grand food web scheme of things…Okay, for the vegetarians out there, I’m guilty as charged!  I feel a bit like a hypocrite caving to my carnivorous “id,” while harboring saintly visions of lions sitting down with lambs in my “superego.”  I can only apologize to both the vegetarians and carnivores out there for this mental and gastronomic conundrum…I suppose I could be described by Kenyans as a “watermelon” on this dietary issue.  So, will I try more Kenyan sausage in the future?  Perhaps, “yes,” with the condiments (and maybe some wine next time, since barley is not kind to me, either), but definitely not without…

I still think I will end my life as a vegetarian—maybe during my last day on Earth?—based on the fact that more people can be fed on a plant-based diet versus a resource-depleting, meat-based one; but, it will take a while longer, though my Kenyan lifestyle is moving me in the right direction, along with my love of living things in general.  Thankfully, too, everything I HAVE eaten here is “free range”—no sadistic factory farms around here—but I’ve been told to beware of unscrupulous vendors passing off worn out donkeys—free range or not—for goat meat…buyer beware!  In fact, I just heard a story on the one news channel we get with our “rabbit ear antenna” television in the rural Highlands (powered by solar energy, I’m proud to say), which reported the theft/killing of fifteen donkeys in the Naivasha area (about 180 kilometers—yes, “kilometers”…when in Rome…—from Kirobon).  The newscaster warned meat buyers to be aware of the possibility of donkey meat being sold as goat meat.  Just one more reason to avoid goat meat…

By the way, there is no refrigeration/freezing option in this part of Kenya, yet.  Meat is generally bought from the butcher the day before preparation the next day, being salted and then stored overnight in a cupboard.  No plastic wrap, foil or zip-loc bags here, so that’s nice…For bigger occasions, a live goat or cow is slaughtered the day before, or day of, an event, like a wedding, memorial service, etc.  For example, a cow was killed in Alex’s Mom’s yard just across from our compound for the culmination of Alex’s sons’ circumcision ritual (more on this later), but I never like attending the “kill.”  I did go see the butchering afterward (after all, I did dissect human bodies in medical school, so gross anatomy doesn’t faze me at all), and these local butchers were very skilled at cutting up the meat.  Also, a vet comes in and inspects the cow parts for any signs of disease before it can be served at these types of major occasions.  Thankfully, our cow passed the inspection (and, I haven’t heard, yet, of E. coli poisoning from beef in these parts, like in the U.S.).  It tasted good with the usual fare, everything being consumed by hand at the celebration, as there were not nearly enough utensils to go around for everyone’s use, which is often the case at big events.  And, yes, for those inquiring minds out there, water is available for washing one’s hands prior to such “hand feedings,” with several women walking around with pitchers of water and catch basins to allow all in attendance a hygienic (well, as hygienic as possible) eating experience…Don’t worry, if you are a “germaphobe”—I can always track down some utensils for you should you come over for a visit and attend such an event…

Chickens are kept by all people I’ve seen/met in rural Kenya, with some being “broilers” (for meat), while others are “egg layers” (as I alluded to earlier).  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be an egg layer should I be reincarnated as a chicken some day, since the broilers are, of course, unceremoniously “dispatched” with a machete the day of their consumption.  After being raised on a meat-filled diet for so long—and as I described above—the carnivore in me still rears its canine-toothed head every now and again, and I really enjoy the taste of free-range chicken here in Kenya on the rare occasions it is prepared…It can be enjoyed at many restaurants, however, if one wishes to indulge more often, especially if visiting a larger city on a regular basis.  But, just to reiterate for emphasis, I am TRYING to adjust more to a meat-free diet, not merely for conscience’s sake, but with global population rising toward 9 billion people by mid-century, I believe we all need to start adjusting our ways, where possible, to put less strain on a world increasingly stressed by human demands.  I really don’t care to live in Charlton Heston’s “Soylent Green” world…(not sure what “Soylent Green” is?  Please Google it).

Milk is another important source of nutrients, including protein, for most Kenyans.  The milk comes from their cows, and it is drunk after having been boiled and cooled.  Just like chickens, every family in rural areas of Kenya has cows (or goats) for milking.  I have observed the milking process first-hand, but have not fondled the cows’ teats just yet—I’m not that desperate, despite some rumors to the contrary, as only a middle-aged bachelor can appreciate; however, my observations allowed me to discover the secret of sweeter tasting milk: the addition of molasses to the hay and fresh-cut Napier grass upon which the cows feed.  Also, before milking, the teats are coated with petroleum jelly to keep them from getting chapped from the milking process…okay, I know, that is a bit too much information; so, back to the PG-rated version of “Kenya—Part 2”…

Some of the raw milk is also placed into homemade gourds for several days of fermentation, and it is then consumed as a kind of yogurt.  I tried it a couple of times, and the taste was nice, but my intestinal system didn’t fare too well afterward, so I’m limiting my intake and may try some small amounts again in the near future, as I’m probably building up the intestinal flora now to deal with most foods here…I’ll keep you posted on how it goes the next time—I’m sure you’re all interested in finding out!

Milk is also mixed with “chai” (Swahili for “tea”), though the milk/tea concoction (with some added sugar for sweetening) is referred to generally as chai.  Since the milk is boiled, I feel okay drinking the chai, though I don’t consume it very often; but, the plain milk simply has too strong a taste/odor for me, and it is quite rich in fat content, so I do not drink it.  As mentioned previously, I was never much of a milk drinker back home in the U.S., so my aversion to Kenyan milk was not unexpected, though it was much to the chagrin of my hosts.  But, there are some Kenyans who, like me, avoid milk because it simply “does not agree with them” (“lactose intolerance” comes immediately to mind); so, they take some pressure off me when it comes to my milk-shunning ways…I believe a positive milk-drinking disposition is stressed in Kenya not only for nutritional value, but also because milk is a source of income for many of the rural poor here (as well as others who own a lot of cows and are a bit more well off); so, having everyone consume a lot of chai and/or milk is in everyone’s economic best interests.  With the added sugar to sweeten it a bit, the chai is rather pleasant tasting, though I still prefer my percolated organic black coffee whenever and wherever I can find it…for now, Nescafe instant coffee will have to suffice, though I am converting to the local brand of Kenyan instant coffee, Dormans, over time and I am finding its taste more to my liking than Nescafe.

And speaking of coffee…I’m still looking for a consistent supply of good coffee—preferably organically grown—so we are going to grow a couple acres here beginning in March/April (when the next “rainy season” commences and coffee is usually planted).  The store-bought brands are okay (for instance, Nescafe and Dormans, as mentioned previously), but I’m eager to grow some “organic equatorial coffee” (Tembokanga Coffee?) and try it…I will keep everyone posted on how that venture goes; and, who knows, maybe we can eventually offer some as a gift to our safari guests and export some to anyone out there who might be interested in acquiring some organic Kenya Highlands coffee from the tropics…

For cheese lovers out there, I am sorry to report, there is no cheese on these farms due to that thing called “refrigeration,” or lack thereof, mentioned previously.  But with the increased push to electrify rural parts of Kenya going on now—and we may have electric lines strung to Alex’s house within the next two weeks—there is hope for the “cheeseheads” out there.  I’ll still be pushing solar power like crazy through our nonprofit organization, America-Kenya Connections, but it is nice to have a reliable backup, too, rather than just a generator, especially when an increasing portion of the electric grid in Kenya now being fed by geothermal and hydroelectric power sources (though oil is still a major source of energy for the generation of electricity; and, “blackouts” are still a common occurrence across Kenya, including in Nairobi).

I have recently recommended making fried potatoes (referred to by my hosts, along with French fries, as “chips”) to my friends and we now prepare them on a regular basis.  I always had fried potatoes and eggs back in the U.S. for breakfast, so now I am enjoying them here in Kenya.  The change in taste and texture from the usual boiled potatoes is nice; and, since I am not eating any more wheat (good-bye sweet-tasting chapati!), I needed something to perk up my palate, even if something as simple as fried—in extra virgin olive oil, I might add—and lightly-salted potatoes.  I have also recently gone from eating plain fried eggs to eating onion/green pepper (and even pea) omelets, which is also nice…now, if only I could find some cheese once in awhile to top them with; however, I am happy to report, I have finally found some ketchup without additives to put on my fried potatoes and eggs…

For those of you who ARE wheat/gluten-tolerant, I just wanted to say a bit more about the chapati…Prior to swearing them off, I had become very fond of the taste and texture of this Kenyan dietary staple.  Chapati are the Kenyan version of tortillas (and are very similar to our Polish “nalisnikis,” which I prepared often back home in Wyandotte, Michigan, before my gluten-free days).  My late Grandmother, born and raised in Poland before coming to the U.S. in the 1930s with my Dad and his brother, used to love eating them whenever I prepared them; so, perhaps that is why I found the chapati so irresistibly warming to my soul, as well as my stomach.  The chapati, depending on the proportion of ingredients added, can be soft or a bit on the crispier side, but any way they came out, they had an excellent taste and texture.  I had become accustomed to making an egg, tomato, and chapati “breakfast burrito” each morning, which was quite good…Sorghum, millet, and corn flour may also be combined with the wheat (or whole wheat) to make slightly different tasting versions of the chapati; but, they were all great-tasting to me…So, you wheat lovers out there, you are in for a real Kenyan treat when you come over for a visit!  I am still going to oversee the creation of a “true corn chapati” in the near future—perhaps they’ll come out like a crispy corn tortilla, which would be fine with me…Living on a gluten-free diet simply requires some culinary ingenuity.

Since I am providing a thorough report on food in Kenya, I should also mention that some pleasant tasting millet porridge is served here, too…However, my main dietary objectives now are getting consistent and healthful proportions of fruits and veggies each day.  Gradually, I am accomplishing this goal by venturing out to the family “shamba” (garden) more often and picking some carrots, as well as getting more onions and peas from the greenhouse.  The onions will be harvested shortly en mass for sale to local establishments in order to supplement family income (assuming, of course, I don’t eat them all first).  The peas are quite sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked.  So I am actively working on my diet and trying to find a “happy medium” for myself (and to not stress out my head chef, Janet, too much in the process).  I really appreciate the understanding and patience of Janet—affectionately referred to as “Mumma Dennis”—and Alex’s daughter, Charity, the “second-in-command” in the cooking department, as they graciously cater to my preferences.

A special shout out here to Charity, who has been dutifully providing meals for me since returning home from boarding school, where she recently completed the Kenyan version of high school.  She is now awaiting the start of college life in August.  I have been very fortunate to have her around, because she really knows how to cook and doesn’t mind my dietary idiosyncrasies; in fact, she seems to be finding ways to add more flavor to my meals by mixing the boiled potatoes with tomatoes and peppers, for instance, and always making sure I have a couple of vegetables with my meals, as she knows I enjoy them a lot.  She has been like a “personal assistant” to me, and I owe her much thanks…I’m just a bit nervous thinking about what I will do when she goes off to college later in the year…for now, though, I will just appreciate her hard work and concern for my well being, while she is still around…

Oh well, so much for a good thing…After writing the above passage, Charity began working the week of January 9th as a teacher’s assistant at a local school—Solian Primary School.  As a former teacher of 20 years, I can appreciate the importance of her work and its demands.  After a week on the job, Charity seems to be enjoying her “teaching” and holding up well, even if a bit fatigued at day’s end—no surprise there!  And, yes, I am surviving with the aid of others here; and, after all, having a “personal assistant” was spoiling me a bit, which can lead to an attitude of entitlement.  So, I whole-heartedly embrace this recent change and will begin to cook my own breakfast (like the good old days in the U.S.) on our propane-heated stove just as soon as Mumma Dennis is no longer around to make a nice breakfast for me…I could get used to this Kenyan lifestyle!

In sum, I am adjusting to the dietary regimen and time/elevation/sleep cycle changes.  Some rough stretches for the alimentary canal, mainly for the reasons delineated (and not from some outbreak of cholera or dysentery); but, sans gluten, making steady progress on reaching normalcy…The fruit is good and it helps with GI tract “maintenance,” but, like the veggies, there wasn’t enough around each day for my liking; so, as with the “veg expeditions” into the shamba, I have been venturing into the garden every few days to pick some nice oranges that have finally been ripening in the December/January sunshine after the heavy November rains.  Plus, we usually have an ample supply of locally grown bananas.  However, I do miss the daily servings of apples, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, etc., especially with some yogurt; but, I am happy to report, I have had some apples and strawberries (compliments of South Africa) recently…Just to interject some levity to this dietary discussion, though, I must emphasize that it really is not a big deal adjusting to these changes, even with the personal annoyances that may come with them (and a gluten-free diet), especially when seeing so many people destitute around Kenya. Keeps things in perspective—be thankful always for what you have, and don’t bemoan what you don’t…Amen!

So, I will try not to sound like I’m bemoaning anything…but you can buy a good brand of yogurt in Nairobi (“all natural”—yes!), but elsewhere, and without electricity/refrigeration, good store-bought yogurt is not to be found—only artificially-preserved and -colored varieties.  I tend to stay away from products whose ingredients read: “milk, bacterial cultures, and acceptable flavours and colors.”  Something about seeing “flavour” spelled that way makes me nervous (no offense to my Canadian friends).  I now know the exact location of the store in Nairobi where I can get this “good yogurt”—i.e. all natural; nothing artificial—and I plan on stocking my small refrigerator in our office/apartment complex with plenty of it…One tends to file away in the memory banks (and portable GPS unit)—especially when moving from a place of unparalleled abundance, like the U.S., to a place struggling to make ends meet, like Kenya—the coordinates of “special products” near and dear to one’s heart and gut, much like a food-caching squirrel in winter or a snow-bound bird remembering where its favorite feeders are.  I must confess, though, that the major supermarkets in Nairobi (and other major cities) are well-stocked and have most everything one might need/want, including some “junk foods” (like chips, candy, cookies, etc.); so, the sight of aisles of food and other household staples is reassuring to me, though I know so many in Kenya do not have the luxury of filling a shopping cart full of food when needed as I am able to currently do…

Now, perhaps some of my comments and descriptions of the cuisine and my diet here in Kenya have made some of you a little leery about coming over; but, just so you know, should you come for a visit, all places that you would stay at have nice restaurants with “normal” meals that you are all used to.  It’s only living in the rural villages and eating the local fare for extended periods of time that a “GI transitional period” might be required; so, don’t be dissuaded from making a trip to Kenya in the future based on diet.  Besides, by the time you get here, with my gluten-sensitivity, I’ll have everything figured out for you…Like Charity being my personal assistant, I’ll act as yours should you decide to drop in…All the lodges/hotels have western-style foods and modern facilities; so, you can be assured of having safe and healthy foods that you are used to, as well as comfortable facilities to address any “end-of-digestion” needs, if you catch my drift.  This is not to say that I haven’t bailed from a few restrooms in some of the cities, like Nairobi and Narok—the overpowering stench from the facilities too much for my mere mortal American body to stand before I could answer nature’s call…Again, don’t worry, I have these places circled in red on my maps and I’ll make sure we detour around them to better smelling pastures (unless, of course, you’d like such an experience for yourself, so you can tell others about it like I’m now telling you; and, trust me, you’ll never forget the experience should you indulge your senses)…But, let’s leave this discussion on a happier note…Even in the tented camps in the Maasai Mara and Tsavo NP,  for example, there are comfortable bathrooms, so you don’t have to risk lion attack out in the bush or trampling by an elephant…I hope I have left you smiling a little bit!

All of that provides a nice segue, I think, for those still wishing to explore the traditional dishes of Kenya…In fact, Alex and I plan on offering all visitors a trip to the village of Kirobon for some bird- and monkey-watching expeditions, as well as meeting the locals and sampling some traditional chai and chapati, along with some chicken (for the carnivores out there) and fresh fruits and vegetables from the shamba.  Also, to put your minds at ease, we would provide only bottled water for all guests, though I drink the “spring water” from the tap at Alex’s here in the Kenya Highlands.  I feel it is relatively safe, especially being at 7,000 feet elevation, and I believe I am used to the water up here (but, should that change, I’ll let you know)…Elsewhere, in Nairobi, or at National Parks, I only drink bottled water—better safe than sorry, I say.  The “sanitary” sewer infrastructure in Nairobi (and other Kenyan cities) is still quite lacking, as evidenced by one of our November visits to Nairobi during a rainstorm in which sewers overflowed and the stench of raw sewage filled the air in various parts of the city.  No, not pleasant; but, after all, we are still talking about a developing nation in Kenya; and, lest we forget, raw sewage still pours from increasingly deteriorating combined sewers into our own lakes and rivers back in the good ‘ole U.S.A…The take-away lesson: “Wash your hands, no matter where in the world you are; and, drink bottled water when in doubt!”  And, oh yes, “fix the damned sewer systems before the plague or something akin to it resurfaces!”

Also, for those of you who like fresh baked bread or have a “sweet tooth,” we may be opening up a small “bakery” of sorts in Kirobon in the near future.  I think there is a market for it, and it could provide a job or two for a couple Kenyans with baking talents and the entrepreneurial spirit, as well as provide another modest source of income for Alex’s family.  Fresh-baked bread, along with the chapati, sounds great…I can’t enjoy it, but I will not bemoan the fact; and, I will just add that I hope you will be able to enjoy them in Kirobon sometime in the future, along with many, many Kenyans.  Instead of “Cinnabons,” you can enjoy “Kirobons!”  Anyway, with a bakery, we can also delve into some cookie/cake making (did I hear someone say, “candlestick making?”  No, not now, but maybe later); and, when/if my 78-year-old Mom comes for a visit, keeping health concerns in mind, she can feel right at home with her sweets, and maybe whip something up for the locals, which would be awesome!  And, maybe if you schedule a safari during your birthday, we can sell you a discounted cake; say, 100 Kenya Shillings (about $1.20 U.S.), which would be half off our regular price of 200 kShillings…well, okay, we’d throw that in for free if you are willing to spend several thousand dollars coming over on your birthday…We can meet you half-way…we’re flexible!

“What about that safari business?” you may be asking by now.  No, I haven’t forgotten about one of the main reasons for my coming to Kenya, but December here is mainly devoted to holiday travels and celebrations with family and friends, such that business is put on the back burner for a few weeks.  It is one of those, “you have to be here to understand it” type of deals—everything seems to come to a halt, business-wise, during this end-of-school-year holiday season.  With many students returning home from boarding schools, it is an important time of year for families to reunite and enjoy each other’s company; so, family gatherings and reunions also take precedence over business activities for most people here during the entire month of December.  It is also the time when many couples get married in Kenya and teenage boys undergo a special circumcision right-of-passage ritual (more on that shortly).

However, on the Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures’ front, we now have an office/apartment in Nairobi, which is situated in a nice new apartment complex near the airport (within viewing distance of Nairobi National Park, which is about 2 miles away as the crow flies) and which will serve as our home-away-from-home—as well as our office, of course—when in Nairobi.  This will be a nice change from going to Nairobi and having to stay at Alex’s brother-in-law’s or sister-in-law’s place in the more crowded sections of public housing.  Alex and I owe a lot to Duncan and Cynthia (and we are looking forward to their continuing help with business operations and getting to know our way around Nairobi); but, though I’ve never felt unsafe, it is a bit of a hassle not having your own place to stay each night, plus it puts a bit of a burden, to put it mildly, on Alex’s in-law’s.  Suffice it to say should you ever come to Kenya for a safari, Alex and I now look forward to seeing you fly in past our own office/apartment complex and landing in Kenya, before picking you up for your personal safari with Tembokanga Tours!

We should be open for business by the end of January…We are currently working on the finishing touches to our website—after navigating some unforeseen delays in that area—to officially launch the business.  Tembokanga Tours and Education Ventures is now officially registered with the Kenyan government, so we are essentially “good to go.”  My work permit, I am thrilled to report, too, has just recently been approved, which will enable me to stay here for all of 2012 and 2013 should all go well (with a renewal option at the end of 2013).  I am very happy about that; and, I am grateful to Cynthia, who fortunately works for the Prime Minister (who may become Kenya’s next President at the end of this year)…nice to have friends in high places, eh?  We have also recently hired a gentleman who has extensive knowledge of the safari business—18 years with another big company—and a few of Alex’s relatives, who are tour drivers/guides and a travel agent; so, we are quite optimistic about putting together a very competent “team” to get us going and growing…we’ll keep everyone posted on our official launch in late January (or, perhaps, early February, at the latest)…

We have also hired a lawyer to help us navigate the Kenyan government’s bureaucracy for the purpose of registering our nonprofit organization, America-Kenya Connections; and, we should have our license to operate, hopefully, by the end of January, which would be super!  To have both our safari company and nonprofit operational by the end of January is exciting to think about…I already have some awesome teacher colleagues at Southgate’s Anderson High School (my former place of employment) pushing projects to raise funds for various programs here in Kenya as I write this; so, we are already off to a good start, in my opinion, even though we aren’t “official” yet.  Thanks a million to Mwalimu (“teacher” in Swahili) Jen Balogh and AHS students for taking the initiative and raising funds for the purchase and installation of a water tank at a Kenyan school, as well as the purchase of numerous solar lamps for lighting homes in Kenya…awesome and inspirational!  We look forward to providing them with some pics/videos of the projects in the near future, especially with all the students now returning to classrooms across Kenya for the start of the 2012 school year…Other teachers and students are raising funds to help feed orphans for a year, which is incredibly heart-warming to me, as well as a godsend to Alex’s brother, William, and his 40 orphans!  Hopefully, there will be something others out there can help with in the near future as well—we definitely can’t do this without the help of so many other caring individuals…Asante Sana!

To give you some idea of the needs in Kenya, I wanted to briefly delineate a few projects here which might be of particular interest to potential donors: Alex’s village has a project to build new facilities for preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grades, which will cost about $65,000 to complete…There are other construction projects, though not nearly as pricy, such as construction of sanitary bathrooms for schools (about $1500), water tank purchase/construction ($1000), biogas units for homes using animal waste ($1500), etc…Also, we have solar projects in the works (for solar lamps, solar cell phone chargers, rechargeable flashlights, etc., in addition to solar panels)…Various orphanages need food and supplies (about $7,000/year), as well as facility upgrades…We are also working to help fund a reforestation organization which will help plant countless trees in Kenya for habitat restoration purposes, prevent soil erosion, and hopefully help ameliorate the severity of climate change impacts (along with the solar and biogas initiatives).   We also would like to build community centers in poor rural areas, which would include libraries, computers and exercise facilities for youth…Schools need all kinds of classroom upgrades, from better rooms, desks and chairs to basic supplies, as well as musical instruments and athletic equipment, like jump ropes, soccer balls, etc…Clothing is always appreciated, too, as well as bikes for transportation…and on and on…the needs are many here!  Everything we will be doing in Kenya, though, is intended to help educate or improve the health and economic well being of the people, as well as the environment.  We also will be donating 10% of Tembokanga Tours’ profits to local causes through our nonprofit group, so that whatever we do will, in some way, also help the general public.  For those of you who haven’t checked out the brief video prefacing some of the projects we will be focusing on through America-Kenya Connections, please click on the following link:

We are especially keen on providing support for projects that can eventually become self-sustaining.  For example, bottling water in the Kenya Highlands for selling, which would be very interesting, with the potential to generate income for local people, as well as monies for local projects.  I am well aware of the potential adverse ecological impacts such a project could have, so this will have to be studied in great detail before our organization would ever sign on to such a project, though I feel it can be worked out in a sustainable manner (particularly during the rainy months).  With the reforestation project, we want the environmental group to look at selling saplings/trees/flowers to generate income to support their ongoing endeavors, so that it becomes a self-sustaining venture, and we do not have to keep plowing money into this operation after we have seeded it (yes, pun intended).  With the solar lamps, we will have people pay half of what they pay for kerosene lamps each month; and, after one year, we will be able to purchase another lamp for another person in the area, so that everyone pitches in to help with the project over time…We want to help, as well as educate and empower, people, and not simply make them dependent upon us ad infinitum.

Another project we would like to get involved in is selling sandals made by the Maasai from old tires, as well as other personal articles, like bracelets, anklets and necklaces.  We would buy them and then ship them overseas for sale by willing family members and friends/acquaintances, with half the profits (anywhere from $2-4 per item) going to fund nonprofit work in Kenya.  We would also like to get a tractor, which is in demand in rural areas, as not many can afford to buy them.  We could lease it out at modest rates for harvesting work, or other work hauling stones or timber.  There are a lot of initiatives that can be implemented, while also helping the communities, particularly in rural areas of Kenya, to become more self-sufficient…I am excited about the possibilities!

Maybe some of you, as individuals or a group, could come over and help people with some construction projects in the future, too; or, think of an endeavor that excites your soul, which you would like to initiate or help fund.  I would like America-Kenya Connections to be a conduit for the implementation of not only our ideas, but also those of future contributors, in collaboration always with the Kenyan people, of course.  I look forward to hearing about some suggested projects from the many talented people reading this.  I have already gotten some suggestions about shipping items via large containers from colleagues at Anderson H.S., as well as the biogas project from my good friend, John Nasarzewski…please keep the suggestions/ideas flowing!

Before we ratchet things up on the business and nonprofit fronts, though, I have been enjoying the beautiful weather in Kenya for the past month-and-a-half or so—the November rains have stopped and we have finished the road repairs, as mentioned previously—with day-time temps now around 80-85 deg-F and a brisk, but nice-sleeping-weather, 45-50 deg-F at night.  I sleep in a non-insulated one-room  “wooden guest house” when in Kirobon, which is situated about six feet from the family’s main house; so, it gets a bit chilly during the night, especially when there are clear night skies that do not retain much of the day’s heat.  It is akin to sleeping nightly in a small cabin in Michigan’s North Woods during the Fall season…and, in my goose down sleeping bag, I feel right at home and quite cozy each night.  This sleeping arrangement is actually good conditioning for my eventual attempt to scale Mt. Kenya in early October of this year, and Mt. Kilimanjaro in early October of 2013…Let me know if anyone is up for one (or both?) of these “Mt. Kenya/Kilimanjaro Climbs for Kids.”  More info on these dormant volcanic excursions will be forthcoming…

The beautiful sunny skies, warm temps and nice breezes during the day for most of December, and now continuing into the first two weeks of January, have been quite the change from the overcast skies, snow and cold I had endured every Michigan winter during my entire lifetime.  No “snow days” here for students, either—I do miss those, being a teacher for twenty years, as well as the general “White Christmas” atmosphere and celebrating with friends and family during the holiday break; but, life always presents us with choices and sacrifices…so, instead of taking the “good” with the “bad”; I’ll simply take the “good” here, and relish the “good” I’ve left behind!

I do have good “family” and friends here in Kenya; and, we just had a big ceremony for Alex’s two teen sons, as well as three of their friends, who just completed a circumcision right-of-passage.  These “young adults” get circumcised in the outdoors (under strict care of a doctor, of course) and then spend about 30 days camping in self-constructed shelters (though they are helped by parents and friends with the construction, as well as food supplies/preparations each day).  During this time outdoors, they do many hikes and are visited each day by male village elders and friends (sorry, no women allowed), who instruct them on what it means to become young, responsible adults.  The welcoming home ceremony is the culmination of the ritual, which, again, is a big deal here, so there were many people—about 350, including family, friends and residents from the area—who attended the ritual’s “grand finale” on Saturday, December 24th.

The holidays here are definitely not hyped nearly as much as back home, which, in many ways, is quite nice–no excessive emphasis on mass consumerism, especially in the rural areas, where most still have the rabbit-ear antennae televisions I mentioned earlier, and very few stations to view; so, corporate advertising, thankfully, is almost nonexistent in these parts (though “Furahi na Safaricom,” “Be Happy with Safaricom,” a telecom company, has been emblazoned into my brain).  The only thing I really miss about not having several television stations to tune into at this time of year is being able to watch “A Christmas Carol,” “A Christmas Story” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” with my friend, Alex, and his beautiful family…Might there be a satellite dish in the future?  You’ll have to come over and find out…

During the school break/holiday season, aside from the circumcision ritual/ celebration, I also have attended the following: Closing ceremony for Solian Primary School (in which the top three students in each grade—Classes 1-6—were honored with a brand new plate or drinking glass and eating utensil; and, unlike public schools back home, the various classes performed some religious songs accompanied by dancing for the audience—definitely no separation of Church and State here; in fact, “religion” is a mandatory subject in Kenyan classrooms); Alex’s nephew’s wedding (“Bill and Eve”); a Kotut family reunion of sorts at brother, Caleb’s, house; the new forester’s welcoming party (in which I discovered Kenyans can down their fair share of beer/alcohol with the best of ‘em!  “Tusker” is the domestic beer of choice, by the way, though there are imports, too, including Guiness, for anyone who might be wondering about the beverage selections in Kenya—I downed a modest two 20-oz. bottles of Tuskers…I know, not representing the U.S. very well, but it was my first alcohol consumed since my return to Kenya, and I was a bit concerned about the gluten content, as barley can be problematic, too…Besides, there are many with alcohol problems here and I have made it my policy to never overindulge—unless, perhaps, I’m at a nice resort at the end of a few weeks’ safari with some “foreign visitors” from the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere, and good wine is being served); a house-warming party for Moses (Alex’s brother-in-law, in which I was one of the “guests of honor,” who had the privilege of cutting the ribbon that “sealed” the house); a memorial service for Alex’s father (“Joshua” died 2 years ago at age 84—he’s buried in his backyard with a tombstone that reads: “Sunrise 1925, Sunset 2009”); a fund-raising event for the local school I mentioned previously that wants to build new classrooms; and, a “Kirobon Village Christmas Party”…so, I have met many of Alex’s extended family, as well as friends and local residents during this recent holiday season.

After all these December celebrations, we will now be able to focus more on business since the school break and holidays are over, and Alex now has all his family obligations behind him.  I must confess, being a bit of an introvert who loves seeking solitude in nature, it has sometimes been a bit much for me attending all these functions (where I am often asked to speak as a sort of “VIP” from the U.S.), especially as the Kenyan concept of time and sticking to a time schedule is very lax, to say the least!  On the other hand, it has been very nice to be accepted by family and community and to meet them on a more personal level, but I am getting anxious to “get to work,” so to speak, and focusing on specific tasks to help the community and people here, as well as prepare for our tours and future guests.  However, I do recognize that this has been a special time of year for family and being with friends, so I was happy to be able to take it all in for the first time and be a part of the holiday celebrations in Kenya.

I will admit, too, that seeing everyone in a festive mood and enjoying good conversation and company made my mind drift across the Atlantic Ocean back home to the U.S., where I had celebrated the vast majority of my Christmases and New Years with family and friends there (save for a holiday trip to Spain to visit my dear friend, Seniorita Isabel Martinez Munoz in 2005).  With many people here speaking Swahili at these events, it was very difficult for me to participate in, and enjoy, the conversations and comradeship.  It made me a bit nostalgic for “home,” enjoying the winter break with teaching colleagues and friends after months in the classroom, as well as spending the holidays with family.  Hopefully, I will begin to pick up more Swahili as I am here longer, so that I can at least understand more of what is being said at these gatherings and events, but I know that will take time and patience.  Just so everyone is aware, Kenya is a former British Colony (gaining independence in 1963—the year of my birth, by the way), so everyone (except, perhaps, the “old timers”) speaks some English and I can converse with most people on some level.  But, needless-to-say, I do miss the fellowship of my friends and family back home, especially during the holidays…

As a side note, I have enjoyed some face-to-face conversations with my family recently via “FaceTime,” which is a program on Apple products, which allows people to hold a “video conference” for “free” (though, of course, you have to have a wi-fi plan or some other type of internet access to do this).  It’s very simple to use, so if you have this feature on your Apple device, please let me know, along with your email contact info, and maybe we can hook up some time from Kenya for some “face time” and you can meet Alex and others in Kenya for some “America-Kenya Connections.”  And, for the Canadians out there, yes, I see you as part of “America,” too—it’s a big continent!

Before ending my discussion about the holiday season, I do want to share my Christmas Day with everyone…The Christmas celebration began at the village church in Kirobon at around 10:30 a.m. (temperature around 78 degrees F with sunny skies—was it really Christmas?!)…I sat in on the mass with Charity, Michelle, Sammy, Dennis and Alex (about two hours long, with kids, including Michelle, doing some singing in Kiswahili of some familiar Christmas songs—Joy to the World; We Three Kings; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; but, sorry to inform all my Polish brethren out there, no rendition of “Dzisiaj w Betlejem” was heard!), and then we had a nice late lunch of fish (tilapia is what they mainly serve here and it is very good, tasting a lot like Great Lakes’ whitefish), chicken (which I also find quite tasty), and some goat (not high on my favorite meats list, as mentioned in detail previously), along with some ugali (which is never seasoned much, so it’s somewhat bland tasting), some mashed potatoes with peas and corn mixed in (which was nice, but, again, not much seasoning), and some chapati (I was still carrying on with my ridiculous “pretending–I-didn’t-have-gluten-sensitivity” experiment)…A very nice way to start Christmas, even if I’m not much of a church-goer nowadays (as I have discovered nature visits and quiet contemplation put me more in touch with the Creator than anything else)…But, I was simply open to the idea of experiencing a “Kirobon Christmas,” regardless of my own personal spiritual leanings and evolution.

Pulling an anti-Scrooge (prior to Scrooge’s ghostly visits anyway), a wealthy gentleman from the area, who operates many successful restaurants in Kenya, paid for most of the lunch and catered it for about a thousand people from the village (about the entire village population and then some)—pretty awesome!  There was no giving of gifts for Christmas (and, from the reaction of the kids, there seemed to be no expectation of any).  This was actually quite refreshing to see on the one hand, as the people just enjoyed a community celebration of Christmas with everyone being well fed.  You could see by the people waiting for food in line that there were many of little means; so, I am sure they loved feasting on the food and were grateful for it.  On the other hand, seeing children get presents and seeing their expressions of joy is really nice, too; but, it’s easy to see that the focus of Christmas here is the birth of Jesus, and not on getting a lot of material things (as there isn’t much money for them anyway)…

At these events, I am, as alluded to earlier, treated as somewhat of a dignitary–always given a front-row seat with food being brought to me and other “VIPs” (likely much more deserving of the special treatment than I) seated nearby.  I’m not always comfortable with this special treatment, but it is the way of the Kenyan people, so I simply appreciate the gesture…They always introduce me at these type of occasions (and many others), and let everyone know that I am starting up an NGO (America-Kenya Connections) with Alex in order to help fund charitable works; so, no pressure on me to get things going, eh?!  I am often called upon to say a few impromptu words, as well; but, fortunately, at this event, I was just recognized by the chair of the event and didn’t have to say anything (though Alex did).  However, following the speeches by the VIPs, there was some music and dancing; and, yes, you probably guessed it, they called me out to dance in front of everyone to one of the Kenyan songs.  Fortunately, Alex, many other friends and locals of the male gender—this particular dance was only for the middle-aged men to strut their stuff in front of the audience, while other age groups and both sexes in attendance had their chances later—followed suit and joined me, so I wasn’t alone, thank goodness!  It was fun and I had a good time with it, even while knowing in the back of my self-conscious mind that all thousand pairs of eyes were on “mzungu,” the white guy!  The locals seemed to really enjoy the sight, too, and I was glad to have entertained them somewhat…Some friends may have some pics, so I’ll send them if they did just as soon as I get them…I’m just as interested in seeing them as I’m sure some of you are…

This was followed by some comedy routines (and I was involved in a couple of jokes—I was the last-born brother of one of the comedians, by the way), after which I got tired and left (being there from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. was enough sitting, aside from the dancing, for me) and I walked a mile or so back home with Shadrick and his daughter.  He is Alex’s nephew who named his son, Bruce, after me (which I still find very humbling)… Little Bruce is now almost two months old and is doing great, by the way!  Alex and his family stayed for the modest fireworks display, which were brief, but they enjoyed them…and, I’m happy to report, that no one had their fingers, toes or other parts blown off, as happens all-too-frequently back home in the U.S. during 4th of July celebrations…All in all, a very pleasant day with seemingly the whole village celebrating the birth of Christ, all without any exchange of material gifts, just the sharing of good food and company—Christ surely must have been happy to see this…And, from the personal perspective of one concerned about the squandering of planetary resources and climate change, I’m sure Santa expended much less energy and resources during his rounds as a result of this humble celebration of Christmas in Kirobon Village, Kenya…One last word about Christmas in Kirobon—I placed a bough from a local pine tree in my room just above the door, so I could have a bit of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas…

Speaking of carbon footprints, I am extremely glad to see my own shrinking markedly during my few months in Kenya…I’ve taken roughly four hot showers since I left for Kenya on Oct. 27th, and those shower waters were warmed with a special “hot water on demand” electrical device attached to the showerhead, using much less energy per shower than a conventional one in which a water heater is used to warm the water.  I have a water tank atop my new bathroom now, which feeds a showerhead within.  During the day, the water in the tank is warmed a bit by the intense rays of tropical sunlight, and I then usually shower in the afternoon in lukewarm or slightly chilled water.  We will be purchasing a solar water heater soon, so I’ll then have truly hot water for showering, which will be nice, but it will also be carbon-neutral, for the most part (excluding manufacturing, of course).  I’m hoping all the carbon I plowed into the atmosphere during my flight to Kenya has been offset by my shower habits over the last two-plus months, but I’ll have to do some research to definitively claim that as a truism…And, if you come over for a safari, you will also have the opportunity, as Alex and I have already done, to partake in a tree planting activity with locals, which can help reduce your travel’s impact on the planet’s biosphere (and, you’ll likely take some solar-heated showers to boot, among other carbon footprint-reducing practices while on safari with Tembokanga Tours).

There has been no household electricity from coal-fired sources or other fossil fuels, outside of the generator used for a couple of days during Alex’s sons’ right-of-passage celebration; otherwise, everything at “home” (internet wifi; cell phone charging; etc.) has run on solar energy from the two modest panels we have installed on the roof and the two solar-charged lamps we use at night.  With the intense sunshine during the months of December and January, we usually have had an adequate supply of electricity every day, with the exception of those days when everyone and their uncle seems to come over and use our solar power to charge their cell phones, which was quite often during the holidays when so many had returned home to Kirobon for the many family gatherings and celebrations.  Ahhh, Kenya…I look forward to getting America-Kenya Connections up and running, so everyone can have their own solar charging set up…If anyone out there works for a solar panel company, and we can get some shipped over here at a nice rate, please let me know…

Oh, yes, I did want to mention that there were a few other times that our solar power took a hit after some African pied wagtails had built a nest beneath one of the solar panels; and, they and their three young ones often covered the panels with their droppings, which resulted in a noticeable decline in stored energy until the panels were cleaned off.  I am happy to report that the birds have flown the coop recently, and all three young ones fared very well until their parents chased them from the yard after they had grown up (about 3 weeks after first taking flight); however, I have noticed the adults wagging their tails once again atop the roof near the solar panels…

Just a word about cell phones…Everyone has a cell phone in Kenya it seems, except for students in school—thankfully, cell phones in schools don’t seem to be a distraction at all, at least not yet (the omnipresent threat of a “beating,” like those doled out by Catholic nuns and paddle-wielding teachers in times past in the U.S., may have something to do with that), but that may change as the price of smartphones declines and internet can be accessed more affordably with cell phones (and the “beatings” become more and more frowned upon, especially with one recent headline noting that a student had died after being beaten at school by a teacher)…

Even those in the bush have cellular access, including the Maasai.  It seems that Kenyans, like so many people around the world, love to keep in touch with family and friends, never going anywhere without their phones, just like most Americans nowadays.  I have been without a cell phone for over two months now and I seem to be doing just fine (as are my eyes that can now see far away objects much better after getting a break from staring at small letters on my disabled Blackberry, though a heavy egg, mango, carrot, etc., diet, loaded with lutein, beta-carotene and other eye-invigorating nutrients, may be helping with improved vision, too).  Perhaps I am doing fine, too, simply because I have access to the internet most days now and can use Google Voice, or Apple’s FaceTime, to connect with family and friends back in the U.S…Suffice it to say that it is getting easier and easier for people to communicate quite easily no matter where in the world they may be; and, in Africa, texting and talking to each other are just as popular as back home…

All clothes here are hand-washed and dried in the sun/wind on a clothesline, so there is no burning of fossil fuels there, I am happy to report.  I must admit, and on a selfish level somewhat grateful to report, that usually the women do this work—i.e. Janet, Charity, or women hired to help with such chores around the house or farm (which does not cost much per day for this hired help); however, I did help out on a couple of occasions out of guilt, I suppose, as well as to be able to say that I participated in most aspects of life here in Kenya (still haven’t killed anything for dinner yet, or milked a cow, and don’t plan on doing either), regardless of gender roles that are prevalent.  In fact, I also helped on a couple of occasions with cutting and carrying firewood from the forest (though there are male hired hands who also haul wood, too, though mostly I have seen the women/girls doing this).  I wanted to see for myself how difficult it was for them to cut and carry this wood on their backs, which looked quite laborious and difficult; and, not to my surprise, yes, it was very tough work, especially hauling the wood, often over fairly long distances back to the house.  I didn’t even mind the giggles from the local people—including children—who saw me lugging my firewood back home, because I thought it would be good for the young boys to see a grown man doing some “women’s work.”  This experience got me to thinking that, perhaps everyone should at least try gender role reversals a few times in their lives, so that they might better appreciate the work of the opposite sex (disclaimer: try that in the bedroom at your own risk!).  I actually liked using the “panga” (a machete, essentially) for chopping the dead wood and it was fairly easy for me to master the cutting technique; but, I haven’t been volunteering my services to go back out into the forest to chop and carry more wood lately, and I am not at all ashamed to admit it…One last point, the panga is very sharp and it wouldn’t take much to lose a finger or two, and I have noticed quite a few people here lacking digits since my arrival.  10-year-old Michelle, Alex’s youngest, cut her finger twice while wielding the sharp instrument; though, fortunately, I can report, she still has all ten fingers intact…Now, be honest, how many of you would let your 10-year-old play with a machete?!

I have also recently carried a five-gallon water jug (no, not empty, but filled to the top with water splashing out as I walked!) from a stream up a nice incline for about a half-mile during work in the family’s maize field, which is about 5 km from the family’s house in Kirobon.  I wouldn’t like to do that all the time, either, as so many women do around Kenya (and Africa, in general), and which makes water projects so important to improving the lives of so many Africans, especially women…I often see the women carrying wood or water with ropes securing the cargo, with their heads acting as “load stabilizers,” with the rope draped across their foreheads and the cargo slung across their backs.  If they are lucky, a donkey helps with these transport burdens.  For special projects, when large amounts of timber are needed, or when the harvested maize—I helped one day to detach corn cobs from the stalk and de-husk them up in the corn fields during the recent harvest—needs to be hauled from the field and back to the homestead, a tractor with a trailer is hired to transport the bounty.

So, I have observed that the women do much of the work around the house and farm, tending to the gardens, hauling firewood and water, preparing meals and doing dishes and clothes by hand, as well as house cleaning.  I am proud to say, though, that I have taken over sweeping/washing floors each morning while I’m at home in Kirobon (though we will, of course, be going to Nairobi more often now that the holidays are over in order to focus our efforts on business and NGO work from our office there).  The place is not very big, so it’s not that difficult, but I know the ladies around the house appreciate the help, as they have washing and cooking to attend to each morning.  The men generally busy themselves with the construction, auto, repair, and electrician-type work—anything mechanical and tool-related, including, when required, any tree cutting with chainsaws, which few here have due to expense.

Just one more word on the corn harvest mentioned above…The heavy November rains made many of the clay-based roads in the Highlands leading up to the maize fields a muddy mess, making them impassable for tractors and other vehicles.  There was widespread concern that such an important crop, whose harvest provides a family with its corn flour needs for the entire year (as well as essential income from the sale of excess corn), would be lost to the torrential rains.  Fortunately, the rains subsided in early December, and the intense tropical sun dried out the roads and fields in time for an end of year harvest.  I’ve been reading a lot about many parts of the world suffering from crop loss due to drought or flooding, and now I understand quite well how devastating such losses must be to so many people around the world whose livelihoods, and indeed survival, depend in large part on the successful harvesting of their crops each year.  For now, this part of Kenya dodged the “climate change bullet,” though it only seems like a matter of time before ruinous weather creates untold hardship for subsistence farmers in the Kenya Highlands.  Planning for the worst seems to be a prudent idea; and, so Alex, Janet and I are taking steps to diversify our income-generating options… Unfortunately, too many others here in Kenya (and around the globe) don’t have those same options as we do because of a lack of any type of monetary savings.

On another energy-saving front, we also haven’t done much driving during the holidays, as relatives and friends living in Nairobi had come to Kirobon during the holiday season to visit their families, so our vehicle (a 2003 Nissan X-Trail that gets approximately 9.8 km/L—have your wunderkind do the conversion for extra credit, I’m too lazy) has been parked much of the time, markedly reducing my carbon footprint.  The infrequent trips to Eldama Ravine or Nakuru, larger cities near Kirobon, were taken only when necessary to buy household goods, like toilet paper, soap, rice and other staples, like fruit, sugar, and bread.  During these trips, I always seek out American-made peanut butter (the Kenyan variety is not very tasty, in my opinion), a bottle of olive oil, apples, coffee, a few cans of sardines, and perhaps some dark chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth (all driving up my carbon footprint, I’m sorry to admit).  These trips might also include needed stops at the bank, post office, clothing store, pharmacy, livestock supply store, hardware store, auto repair shop, etc.

Since my return to Kenya, we’ve needed a tire repaired a couple of times, along with an alignment, break work, tune-up and some suspension work, including ball joint replacement; so, car care, I know already, will be a priority in Kenya, especially with the twenty miles or so of rugged Kenya Highland roads needing to be negotiated on every round-trip.  A “car budget” is essential, as one never knows when a repair will be required (just ask my good friend, Randy Baker, who visited Kenya with me in the summer and we “enjoyed” a slow tow back to Nairobi by a lorry—truck—carrying a load of bananas).  But, even during these round-trips, we tend to be somewhat environmentally conscious, intended or not, as there are always “hitch hikers” on the dirt roads ready and willing to accept a ride into town from one of the few vehicles traveling to and fro in this rural part of Kenya.  So, we always end up “car pooling” with several other locals—having 7-8 people in our vehicle each trip is commonplace…We have become like a de facto taxi to a lot of Kirobon (and Solian—another nearby village) residents.  Public transportation is available, but I would never use it out of safety concerns.   Too often I read or hear about accidents involving “matatus,” the transport vans so prevalent on roads here.  Plus, they are always packed to capacity (about 15 passengers)—great for the environment, but too claustrophobic for me…Too many of the drivers, I have observed first-hand when we have traveled to and from Nairobi, navigate recklessly; and, night driving is to be avoided as much as possible on the main roads, as vision is limited, which creates hazardous passing situations that I have also witnessed first-hand, much to my chagrin and brief terror…I have survived, though, and learned—live and learn, as the saying goes, thank God!

Driving in Nairobi is a whole ‘nother experience entirely.  Driving, like in all parts of Kenya, is done on the left-hand side of the road, not right like in North America; and, the driver is seated in the right front seat, not the left, which takes some getting used to.  I like to describe the drives around Nairobi as a type of “controlled chaos.”  If you’ve never been driven around in a so-called “third world” country before, you’re in for a real treat should you come to Nairobi for a safari with us…Just another reason to visit, and really, not much to worry about, as you’ll be in a nice sturdy Land Cruiser and you won’t be in Nairobi for long…plus, you can hold my hand whenever you’d like…I’m used to it all now—my flinching days are well behind me…Now, about navigating the road to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve—you’re in for another one-of-a-kind experience!  Well, just come over and see for yourself—I don’t want to spoil everything for you…

As I’ve mentioned before, my diet is also heavily slanted to the vegan side, and the majority of produce is local (or regional), except for my personal energy-intensive “imported indulgences” I have delineated above; so, most of my feeding habits, I am happy to say, lean toward a much diminished carbon footprint here in Kenya.  Also, there have been several days now when there has been no gasoline (“petrol” in Kenya), or propane (“gas” in Kenya) available from gas stations in the area; so, this also restrains us from using fossil fuels for driving and cooking—a good or bad thing, I suppose, depending on which way you look at it…good for the future survival of life on planet Earth; or, bad if you’re having a baby and need to get to a hospital in a timely fashion!

Of course, all of this “carbon savings” may change if someone (or a group of people back home in the U.S. and/or Canada) ship over a Ford F150…Our nonprofit is in need of a heavy-duty, durable vehicle, like an F150…As stated previously, the roads are extremely tough to navigate in the rural areas (as witnessed by our numerous vehicle repairs), and America-Kenya Connections could use one for delivering supplies over here…I see this as being great pr for Ford Motor Co.—the people love vehicles here and anything new.  It would become the talk of this part of Kenya, for sure, and word would spread rapidly…Just thought it might be worth someone back home checking into, as I have family and friends who work at Ford…Kenya would also be a nice African market for Ford to grow its presence, as there are some wealthy people who love the newest thing to hit the market (and Africa could use some hybrid vehicles, too, so if there’s a hybrid Transit Connect available, that’d do the trick).  Besides that, it’d be great to show off some American Union-made automotive technology here in Kenya, since I’m tired of seeing all the Toyotas and Nissans on the roads and so few American-made models…I’d like to cruise in a Ford F150 (or even better, the Transit Connect Hybrid) around the Highlands, rather than our own Nissan X-Trail—I feel somewhat like a Benedict Arnold driving around in a Nissan when the need arises (just can’t find a Ford or GM or Chrysler, though I did see a 1970s Ford Capri cruising the streets of Nairobi one day)…Can someone back home please help me out asap?  Okay, I’d settle for a Ford Escape Hybrid…

On to another topic…I met a young French couple here about three weeks ago at Alex’s sons’ ceremony.  They were visiting Alex’s brother’s orphanage nearby, and “William” brought them to the ceremony at Alex’s house.   Julian and Sophie were very nice people, who may return to Kenya in the future to help assist with nonprofit works here.  They were disappointed that their Kenyan contact may have misappropriated the funds they sent which were meant to help William’s orphans; so, they may utilize America-Kenya Connections as their contact for future donations, which we would be more than happy to handle and insure that it gets to the right place.

Julian and Sophie also mentioned that others from France may join them sometime in the future in Kenya and that, in addition to visiting the orphanage, they and their friends might like to go on a Kenyan safari, which our company, Tembokanga Tours, would oversee.  In fact, while in Kenya, Alex and I took Julian and Sophie to Lake Nakuru National Park on December 31st for a mini-safari in our Nissan X-Trail, so they could get a taste of the beautiful wildlife and national parks in Kenya.  We are excited about this possible future partnership and will keep in touch with Julian and Sophie; and, maybe there will be an opportunity for some Kenyans and I to visit France in the future… sampling some nice French wine along the Atlantic coast of France sounds really good to me, though it would obviously put a dent in our carbon footprint, unfortunately; but, we’ll just have to plant a whole lot more trees upon our return to Kenya should the trip ever materialize.  It was just nice, though, on a more basic level, to see a couple of “mzungus” (whites) in the village and converse with them for a while about their impressions of Kenya during their brief stay (they spoke pretty good English, fortunately).  Along with my friend in Spain, Isabel, it is nice to establish some European contacts for possible future collaborations on nonprofit works, as well as spreading the word about our safari business.

Speaking of “mzungu”…Prior to the celebration at Alex’s house that concluded the circumcision right-of-passage for Sammy and Dennis, Alex had his house repainted, including the aluminum sheet metal roofing, and his yard landscaped, which made his house look quite “spiffy” for the occasion.  Many friends who visited jokingly dubbed the house, “kap mzungu” (“house of the white man”), because they said Alex, after spending time in America with some of his white friends (and now playing host to me in Kenya) was converting his house into a “smart-looking, white man’s home.”  I believe it is the only kap mzungu within at least a hundred-mile radius of Alex’s…

Some other observations while in Kenya:

-Seeing the Big Dipper on several nights upside down in the early a.m. hours (about 4 a.m.) was a bit odd, but it was cool to see the familiar constellation from an equatorial viewpoint in Africa.  Since we are just south of the Equator, there was no chance of seeing the North Star on the horizon.  I plan on finding some nice “star charts,” so I can begin to get a better grasp of the constellations in the night sky here, which is quite breath-taking, especially during clear, dark nights that are increasingly common now that the rains have gone…Venus seems to be a bright constant now just after sundown in the western sky, and Jupiter is always visible overhead and during most of the night.  Alex and his family have enjoyed looking at Jupiter through my spotting scope on several nights and viewing some of Jupiter’s moons (usually four are visible), as well as our own moon with all its pock-marked craters dotting its four billion-year-old-plus surface…I never seem to tire looking at these images in space!

-While on the topic of the night sky, we also saw the International Space Station pass overhead one night recently, which reminded me of its sighting on numerous occasions at Grand Lake in Presque Isle, Michigan, with my good friends and neighbors, Tricia and Roger, who both share my enthusiasm for star gazing, as well as just enjoying each other’s company around a nice campfire…Prior to my departure to Kenya in October, Roger, a pilot, gave me a very powerful laser pointer that he had purchased in the Netherlands during one of his stops there.  It is great to have this “tool” to point out heavenly objects with ease, and Alex’s family and friends here have found its brilliant beam of focused light energy to be quite fascinating (along with the Apple computers I brought over for business use, though the two MacBook computers quickly became nightly “video projectors” for watching movies, like “The Sound of Music,” “Madagascar,” “Big Momma’s House,” and “Spider Man” during the Christmas break).  I look forward to using the laser pointer during safari tours in the Maasai Mara and elsewhere, in order to point out well-known celestial objects and constellations to our guests in the darkness of the bush…Asante Sana, Roger (and Tricia)!

-I just had my first Pepsi about two weeks ago (Jan. 7th).  I am not a pop (“soda” in Kenya) drinker by any means, though all Kenyans I’ve met seem to really enjoy a soda when offered one (most of the rural poor spend their money on more essential items, with pop being a bit of a luxury for them), never turning down a Fanta Orange, Sprite, Krest (tastes like Squirt), or a special favorite of many, Coca-Cola.  Most soda comes in glass bottles here that are recycled for future bottling operations (even without deposit laws), but Alex found some 10-oz. cans of Pepsi at a store in Eldama Ravine.  He had spent some time with my late-Dad, Walter, in Wyandotte during a couple of visits while staying in the U.S., and he immediately noted the prolific Pepsi-drinking ways of my Dad during those visits.  So, he bought two Pepsi’s in my Dad’s honor, and we cracked them open and had a Pepsi toast to “Li’l Wally!”  Alex does a fairly good impression of my Dad, too…In Alex’s words: “He lays on the couch watching T.V. and opens the first of several Pepsi’s…He then takes a nice big drink…’gulp, gulp, gulp…AAHHHHH!’”  We’ve placed the two empty Pepsi cans on either side of a “U.S.A.” wood carving that sits on a shelf in Alex’s large family room (the only other room in his house aside from the three modest bedrooms).  I think it’s a fitting tribute that my Dad would definitely appreciate (in fact, were he alive, this knowledge of Pepsi in Kenya might have been enough to get him to come over for a visit)!

-My Dad, however, would not have been impressed by the television programming here in Kenya.  He spent many nights flipping through the myriad cable channels at home, obsessed with anything related to WWII.   I must say, I do miss some PBS programs, particularly “The News Hour,” or informative documentaries about historical, social or global events, as well as “The Antiques Road Show” and anything nature-related.  Any big sporting event was easy to tune in to back home in the U.S.; and, I was privileged to access “The National” for an alternative view on world affairs and “The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki, as well as “Hockey Night in Canada,” on CBC television—the Canadian Broadcasting Company network I was fortunate to have access to living just across the Detroit River from Windsor, Ontario, Canada my whole life.

It will be interesting to watch coverage of our November elections, and the peoples’ reaction to it, in Kenya, too, though we currently have access to only one main channel, as noted previously, which is viewed on a small, roughly 15-inch black-and-white (appropriate, perhaps, for a Kenyan “kap mzungu”) T.V…It is a UHF variety T.V., so we have one of those clothes hanger-type antennae on the roof with an insulated wire that runs down through the ceiling and attaches to the T.V…Gospel music videos are the norm on Sunday mornings—actually very nice songs and outdoor scenery, even though I can’t understand Swahili very well—and each night, including Saturdays and Sundays, the line-up is: Kenya News (in Swahili) at 6 p.m.; Kenyan Soap or Comedy (in Swahili) at 7 p.m.; Spanish Soap (in English voice over’s) at 8 p.m.; Kenya News (in English) at 9 p.m.; and, then everyone usually drifts off to bed as the light from the solar lamps wane.  By the way, dinner is usually served around 8 p.m. each day…Yes, a bit late for those of us used to life in America; but, as most people in rural Kenya work in the fields and don’t get home until around 6:30-7 p.m. as the sun sets, including the women who do the cooking, it makes sense that most families in Kirobon and the surrounding farmlands enjoy a rather late dinner…I am finally getting used to this eating schedule after a couple of months back in Kenya…

-I have now crossed the Equator about 51 times…I think it may be a record for a Michigan resident!  Staying in Kirobon, just south of the Equator, we often travel back and forth to areas just north of the Equator for business trips, visits to William’s orphanage, or just doing some sight seeing or shopping.  There is a village near the crossing of the Equator (marked by a nice big “you are now crossing the equator—0 Kenya” sign) called “Midwal,” which translates, appropriately enough, to “middle of the world.”

-For the record, roosters crow a lot more often than I thought.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s morning, noontime, or evening; but, they definitely don’t crow at nighttime.  This is not merely anecdotal information, but intelligence gathered after several months living in Kenya.  Also, cows are smarter than I thought…they seem to find their way into barbed wire-bound fields quite often when searching for greener pastures (though the worst offenders are outfitted with “Y-shaped” sticks around their necks to prevent them from trespassing into other’s fields); and, they respond well to hand-directing gestures, like halt, move aside and go that-a-way…I am happy about this, because cows are always roaming around on the roads in rural Kenya, and they are very big animals that could cause big problems should they suddenly get upset; but, I’ve never seen a cow not get out of the way of a human being yet (or for that matter, a car) when the two meet in close quarters, thankfully (I suppose the cows that didn’t “cooperate” have already been turned into steaks).  I have not seen a cow as roadkill, yet (though I have seen a hyena as roadkill), because I believe drivers respect their size, as well as the value of the animal to its owner…I’ve also found that cows eat any plant material that we do, and then some, including oranges, which was news to me…and, of course, they defecate a whole lot…The dirt/rocky roads here are really “dirt/rocky/cow manure” roads, thanks to all the cows dropping their payloads at random.  Shoes are recommended, though some children and adults can often be seen barefoot.  I am told that it is not a good idea to do so, as heartworms can infect the human animal as well.  So, heartworm medications are often consumed at regular intervals by the locals here, rather than simply being given to pets, to insure that they are parasite-free…so, needless-to-say, I wear shoes (and, so far, I have forgone the heart worm medications)…

-Just a quick word about “pets” here…Most people either tolerate cats and/or dogs around their homes, though some keep rabbits (usually the white albino variety).  Cats sometimes find their way into houses, but never dogs…not sure why the feline bias, as I’m sure they both carry some parasites on them—perhaps the cats are better rat catchers around the house, so they are appreciated (and tolerated) a bit more for their hunting prowess.  Most people seem to be apathetic toward their dog(s) and/or cat(s), simply leaving out leftovers for them and that’s about all the attention they seem to get.  Being from pet-loving America, I have taken a bit of a liking to the dog that was found in the forest abandoned as a puppy and taken home by Alex’s sons.  Nobody really names their dogs or cats, either, but I couldn’t resist giving “our dog” the name of “Bingo.”  He seems to like it, and somehow appreciates English better than Swahili, I think…He loves to follow us whenever we go for hikes in the hills or walks/jogs down the road.  He has a particular dislike for the monkeys in the forested areas, though he never catches any; but, dogs are often kept around the fields in order to prevent too much “monkey business” in the cornfields.

Recently, Bingo almost lost half his ear when a Rhodesian ridgeback hybrid trespassed into our yard and he seemed to get the worst of it, though I am happy to report, with some rudimentary first-aid (alcohol poured in the wound—ouch!), he is no worse for the wear.  He’s just three, and with some kick-boxing training, I think he’ll fare well in the next go ‘round…And, for those of you wondering about rabies with all these dogs roaming around, no, I haven’t met any rabid animals yet…I’ll let you know if I do.  Also, I feel compelled to add, it doesn’t appear that any of the animals I’ve encountered here—sorry, pig lovers, but I haven’t seen any here—have any racist leanings (nor do the people, for that matter)…the cows, chickens, dogs, cats, etc., don’t seem to respond to me any differently as a result of my skin color being white, rather than the brown that they have seen almost exclusively during their time on Earth—an example many human beings could learn from…

-Oh, before I forget, I mentioned previously about the importance of the maize harvest to so many people in rural Kenya (as well as those in the city who consume plenty of corn, I suppose, as prices would skyrocket in cases of widespread corn crop failure), but I didn’t mention how I personally saved Alex’s family’s corn harvest from, not the rains, but their cows!  Cows?  Yes, the three family cows nearly spoiled the corn harvest party for Alex and his family…It was about 3 a.m. and I had awoken to answer nature’s call on January 2nd, the day after the corn from the fields had been transported via tractor-trailer to Alex’s house.  While outside, I heard a clattering of sorts coming from the makeshift outdoor “kitchen” on the opposite side of the yard from my room.  Pots were rattling, but at first I simply thought it was the wind, or even Janet, who sometimes arose early to begin household chores, like cleaning pots and pans; so, I thought nothing of the noise, finished my business, and went back to sleep.  However, about 15 minutes later, I heard the clanking sounds again—too loud to be rats—as well as some “crunching” noises just outside my room.  I got up again and grabbed a flashlight, as well as a sturdy 5-foot long walking stick—I wasn’t taking any chances, as there are daily “dog skirmishes” each night in the surrounding areas that often spill over into our yard, with our dog, Bingo, often in the middle of things (though it never seems Bingo starts these late night skirmishes, I might add)—and walked out into the dark of the night.  With eyes adjusting to the dark, I made out two very large figures bathed in the dim light from my “torch” standing atop several of the 90-kg bags of shucked corn just brought in following the 3-day-long corn harvest.  Startled a bit at first, my eyes quickly focused and I recognized the massive silhouettes as two of Alex’s prized dairy cows, which had managed to chew right through the stiff plastic bags and had begun feasting on the harvested maize.  Though not raised on a farm, I intuitively recognized this situation as “unnatural.”  Fortunately, I could also now see that only a couple bags had been opened up and not much of the corn needed for the next twelve months had been consumed.  I then ventured over to where I thought Janet might be in the kitchen rearranging pots and pans, but instead of Janet, I found a brown-and-white spotted beast consuming some of last night’s ugali from a big pot in the corner of the kitchen—the cow bumping into an adjacent table covered with other pots, pans and dishes as it happily chewed away…Somehow the three cows had managed to dislodge a restraining latch on a gate that normally keeps them out of the human’s compound and confined to their own.

Evaluating the situation, I decided it best to wake up Alex and have him corral the cows, rather than me, since the cows still might not see me as “friend,” rather than “foe” just yet, and I didn’t want to risk an early a.m. trampling.  However, with Alex leading the way, I was able to help direct these rather amiable and obedient animals back to their neighboring pen.  No harm, no foul, as the sport’s adage goes…I also learned the next morning that not only had I saved a lot of this year’s maize harvest from the cows (as well as the need for a renovated outdoor kitchen), but I had saved the cows from the corn!  Though cows have a particular fancy for sweet-tasting corn, excessive consumption can cause severe damage to a cow’s “fermentation factory,” perhaps even leading to the animal’s demise.  As cows are very expensive and important to Kenyan families for their milk production, I was glad that in my aging—now 49 after my recent birthday on January 3rd—I can’t sleep without having to get up and urinate at least once during the night hours, which allowed me to save the cows (and the corn)…Besides, it’s just nice to be able to gaze up at every night’s sky around 3 a.m. and see a stray meteorite blazing across the horizon, or the upside down Big Dipper, or the zillions of stars up above that make me understand quite clearly how spectacular the universe is, and that we all need to do so much more to create a truly sustainable world that continues to support the miracle of life well into the future…

-Speaking of my birthday, I went to “Kabarnet Resort,” about forty-five minutes from Kirobon (and my 50th trip across the Equator; 51st on the way home), with Alex and his family for a nice late lunch of chicken (for myself, while everyone else enjoyed goat meat) and fries, along with some vegetables.  It was a nice, relaxing way to spend my birthday, as the resort was mostly empty with students returning back to school and adults’ holiday vacations coming to an end.  It was a bit surreal being in Kenya for my birthday celebration and hearing background music playing over the loud speakers, which included songs by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Lionel Ritchie, Alabama, Chicago, and—I know my good friends, John and Kristina, will appreciate this one—John Denver (Thank God I’m a Country Boy!), and a lot of other country westerns.  Was I in Kenya, or was I in Branson, Missouri?!  The African pied crows, black kites and brown parrots flying around the resort let me know that, yes, I was still in Kenya…As we were departing, a gentleman with about 25 live chickens—no kin to Col. Sanders, as far as I could tell—showed up and he was discussing their sale with the resort’s management just outside the entrance to the resort, which was another reminder that I was, indeed, in Kenya and not back in the U.S…

-Prior to my birthday celebration, we toasted the New Year of 2012, as well as the 18th Birthday of Charity, Alex’s oldest daughter, eight hours before those in the Eastern Time Zone of the U.S…We managed to find some champagne at a supermarket in Nakuru a couple of days earlier to help me carry on a New Year’s tradition of sorts…For some reason, this always reminds me of Lawrence Welk (my late-Grandmother’s favorite) and his band playing Auld Lang Syne…I must be getting pretty old, eh?

-Oh, have I mentioned the spectacular bird life over here?  The number of species is quite impressive, as there have been over a thousand species documented in Kenya at some time or other, and there are six-hundred commonly seen species around Kenya at any time of the year.  I have seen over 265 species in my roughly three-and-a-half months here—about half the time spent visiting nature areas; and, about half that time spent doing any significant birding…The bird calls and sightings are commonplace, and the avian cacophony in the tropics contrasts sharply with the quiet Fall and Winter seasons back home in Michigan.  I must say, though, that I really appreciated the quiet stillness of Falls and Winters past, as I always found great peace in those quiet, reflective moments spent outdoors in the Fall woods or in the silence of a Winter snow-covered meadow…Perhaps in the future, I’ll immerse myself in such contemplative quiet once again, but for now there are always sounds of life here in Kenya, no matter the month, it seems—birds, crickets, katydids, etc…In fact, upon my return home from my first trip to Kenya in the summer, I remarked to my good friend, Greg, that it seems strange that the landscape is so quiet in Michigan compared to Kenya’s.  I can say that a “palpable, ever-present biodiversity” is probably the greatest contrast between my new Kenyan residence and the U.S. I had become accustomed to over the years…Here in the tropics, it is always like summer back in Michigan…I truly hope Kenya continues to protect and preserve its wildlife in its national park’s system, because such conservation efforts, along with constitutionally-granted rights to all life, reveal a higher ethical standard by which Kenyans view nature and it offers a uniquely positive example to the rest of the world regarding the relationship between humans and nature.   This is not to say that Kenya doesn’t need to find ways to reduce its cutting of forests and clearing of land for human uses, and learning to live within the limits of planet Earth like people everywhere, but Kenya has a truly unique role to play in conservation efforts with its incredible biodiversity still intact and protected in many places.

-Kenya, regrettably, is not without its share of invasive species that are causing ecological damage here.  Among the most prominent plant invaders are: water hyacinth (an aquatic nuisance from South America); eucalyptus tree (disrupting forest ecosystems and water regimes after being brought in from Australia for its wood products); and, the prickly pear (a cactus from America taking over dry parts of Kenya).  Some animals include: the Nile perch (introduced as a food source to Lake Victoria), which has displaced many native fish species; house crow (from India), which is displacing the pied crow and other avian species, especially in coastal areas where it is most common; and, of course, the relatively aggressive and ubiquitous house sparrow from Europe.  Perhaps even more problematic are disease-causing invaders, like organisms associated with dengue fever, cholera, and virulent strains of E. coli…Invaders are seemingly here to stay; and, like places all over the world, control strategies have been formulated and implemented for the never-ending struggle to prevent massive ecological upset and native species loss from the adverse effects of invasive species.

-Electricity has just been hooked up (Jan. 10th) at Alex’s mother’s home just a few hundred feet away from Alex’s, and we are expecting power within a week or two.  It was interesting to see electric lines being strung from electric poles just put into the ground and thinking about how I had just witnessed history.  Never before had these local residents had electrical power, outside of the few (like us) with some solar power, to produce lighting, power a television or charge batteries.  The joy in the peoples’ faces here spoke volumes about their own pride in the moment and their extreme satisfaction in finally being able to enjoy some of the fruits of Thomas Edison’s labors!  I really enjoyed being here for this moment; and, even though it’s not solar power, more and more of the electrical grid in Kenya, as mentioned previously, is being fed by geothermal and hydroelectric power, which are much more benign than electricity from coal-fired power plants.  No one seems in a hurry to run out and buy a stove, washer/dryer, refrigerator or some other “energy hog” appliance, either, as they know they would be expensive to purchase and operate, so I also know that the primary use for electricity will be lighting and powering small T.V.’s that are much less energy-demanding than the new monster HD T.V.’s back home…

As stated before, this historical moment will not impact our nonprofit agenda of bringing more solar power to Kenyan residents, as this will ultimately be more economical and sustainable for them (and the planet).  I also believe that with a greater push toward more solar and the growing emphasis on geothermal energy, Kenya can be a country which sets an example for the rest of Africa, and the world, to follow when it comes to using “clean energy” technologies for generating power; and, I’m glad to be a part of it, if only a small part…My one beef, though, is that I can already see glare from Alex’s mother’s “security night light” creating just a bit of “light pollution” here; and, it’s only a matter of time before others copy this trend and further ruin the star-gazing atmosphere (or at least taint it), while wasting energy.  No security light was needed up to this point in Kenyan history in this part of Kenya, which begs the question: “Just because one is able to do something, should it be done?”  Perhaps some education regarding this matter will help keep this “problem” to a minimum…

-One last word on energy conservation before I start to wind down this update (perhaps now approaching novel status?)…The subject is near and dear to my heart as I believe addressing the causes of climate change, and adopting a lifestyle that supports a moral imperative that values life on Earth rather than insidiously undermining its foundation, are the most important actions we can take during our lifetimes to insure some semblance of a livable planet for future generations.  Yes, a bit “preachy” for one thinking about a Ford F150, but so be it—after all, I’m a teacher at heart, and all teachers can get a bit sermonizing at times…Here in Kenya, the utter lack of pressure to buy things, or buy them for others, is incredibly refreshing (much like the focus on the Christ child during the Christmas Day village celebration and “feast,” rather than presents of material goods).  How much energy have I saved in three months, and have Kenyans saved in their lifetimes (whether out of personal choice or, more likely, out of necessity), in not purchasing vast sums of manufactured things for themselves or others?  And not only energy (and less climate changing carbon in the atmosphere to boot), but a palpable change in focus from one of self-absorption, particularly with regards to one’s “toys,” to one of social engagement with others, or one of quiet meditation and introspection about one’s purpose in life and creation, in general.  I believe we need the latter more than the former in order to acknowledge the growing environmental crisis people are facing on this planet and make the necessary corrective changes to blunt the full traumatic impact of impending climatic upheaval and resource depletion upon the world’s 7 billion people (going to 9 billion by 2050).  I am very happy that I have a second chance of sorts in Kenya to forego a mass consumerist lifestyle—not always easy—and reshape my life a bit into one that is less demanding on our dwindling planetary resources.  Landing in Kenya has been a blessing of sorts, though not without its trying moments; and, I am hopeful that I can at least help my friends—and they can help me—to build a better model of sustainability before we all rejoin the soil microbes…Perhaps I can only help to see this goal to fruition in remote Kenya Highland villages through personal aid (and some of the profits from Tembokanga Tours), as well as through the aid of donors to America-Kenya Connections.  However, this is a much more personally rewarding life I am currently living and pursuing than that which I have left behind, save for a few of the mind-opening lessons I was able to engage former students in as a teacher at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Southgate Anderson High Schools back home in Michigan…

I continue to hope that the U.S., and my fellow U.S. citizens, have the capacity to fundamentally change and lead the world NOW down a new path of enlightened self-survival by reining in excessive consumption of resources and ceasing to lead the world in “per capita resource depletion”; but, this will not be easy.  So, I implore everyone back home to contribute to poor nations, like Kenya, so that they might transform their economies with your help into economies that don’t strain planetary resources like the current economies of the U.S., European nations, and increasingly China and India and other developing countries.  Instead of being a “do as I say, not as I do” scenario, aiding African countries (and other poor nations around the globe) will allow them play out a “do as I do, not the way I do” scenario.  African nations, like Kenya, can then serve as development role models for others to emulate, basing their energy economies, for example, on solar and geothermal energy sources, as well as biogas projects, wind power, and more efficient mass transit systems.   The U.S. has always been a world leader in so many spheres of influence; but, now America—no, Americans—have the chance to begin spearheading efforts to transform the world’s economies into life-affirming ones that do not incessantly degrade life-sustaining planetary resources or the relationships of humans to each other and all other living things.  I hope you can help in some way with those efforts underway here in Kenya through America-Kenya Connections…I also hope that some day, many of you will be able to travel to Kenya and participate in, and witness first-hand, such efforts…and, who knows, maybe even the U.S. will find itself learning important lessons by which to build a better future from the transformational changes occurring in Kenya and elsewhere around the world that have been stimulated, at least in part, by the supportive efforts from the developed world.  One can only hope…

-I am very enthusiastic and optimistic that our work will result in many positive changes for the Kenyan people, as well as the environment here, because I have met so many conscientious, talented, hard-working and ambitious individuals during my brief time in Kenya.  There may be a misperception in the developed world, especially in high-tech places like the United States, that Kenyans (and Africans, in general) lack the knowledge and expertise to implement the necessary improvements to build world-class infrastructure, businesses, and sustainable enterprises; but, I have found that the majority of people in Kenya, whom I have met, possess the requisite skills and desire—lacking only access to high tech training and capital—to launch their own successful economic ventures and improve the quality of life for themselves and fellow Kenyans.  The people of Kenya possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit and individual initiative, which I believe, if channeled in ways that support sustainable and regional socioeconomic development models, can lead to the formation of a nation that shows the world how to overcome the burdens of poverty and disease, while at the same time modeling an energy economy that is environmentally benign and does not contribute to the increasingly worrisome rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The Kenyan people are a very proud people, who have many ideas for improving the lives of their families and country…It is my sincerest hope that many of us in the western world can provide them with the means to create these positive changes, so that we can then learn more from them, too, as so many economically-empowered Kenyans become increasingly able to add their brilliance to the global community of ideas for sustainable economic development.  If you come for a visit to Kenya, I’m certain you will sense this same drive and desire in so many Kenyans longing for a chance to create productive new economic enterprises that benefit themselves, their children and their country; and, with your help, I know that many of them will do so…

Okay, enough of the “preaching.”  Let me close out this update by sharing with you some of the ways I really know I am in Kenya:

-When I not only hear roosters crowing early in the a.m., but I hear the distant “grunt-roar” of black-and-white Colobus monkeys…

-When, at night, I don’t hear the cries of the whip-poor-will or night-hawk, but the montane nightjar; and, instead of rather slow-moving raccoons or skunks scurrying across the night road, you often see sleek-bodied white-tailed mongooses (with impressively long tails, I might add, and looking a lot like “stretched out” weasels) quickly making tracks from one side of the road to the other…

-When neighbors know you’re interested in nature and wildlife, in particular, so they bring you things like chameleons and caecilians…and monkey skulls for viewing, though I much prefer the live, swinging-from-tree varieties!

-When rats crawling around in your walls and ceilings is not startling to the rural inhabitants, nor is finding about six dozen or so making a home in your storage shed, which we recently discovered upon cleaning it out, and which may now, hopefully, put a dent in our wall and ceiling population.  We are all just a bit tired of smelling dead rats emanating from the walls of our rooms after one has perished due to rat poison ingestion…unfortunately, live traps don’t really work around here with so many of them around in the recently harvested fields.  Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we will replace our current home with one made of rat-proof bricks, so this deadly cycle of poisoning can come to an end, particularly for the rats’ sakes…

-When abundant cockroaches ramble about in the outdoor turf, which we do not, fortunately, find crawling around the interior of the house and my personal sleeping quarters…Oh, that reminds me…We have had our “grass” mowed once since I’ve been here—to spruce up the yard a bit for Alex’s sons’ concluding circumcision celebration; so, that goes in the “conserving energy” category, too!  The cows, released in the yard on occasion (though not purposely during the corn harvest!), do the trick, I am happy to report…now if only we could do something about those methane emissions…

-When there is no garbage collection in small villages, just incineration of personal garbage, or burial in deep garbage pits dug on one’s property—mainly, burning of garbage occurs, which does not sit well with me and my environmental education, especially the part that says something like, “burning of plastics can produce dioxins and other toxic compounds known to cause cancer in humans.”  The worst part is when the wind is blowing in the direction of the house while I am inside typing something, like this update, and no one has informed me that this event would be taking place and that, perhaps, I should vacate the premises until the last of the smoldering fumes have been extinguished, so as to lessen my chances of developing cancer—that was the day I took a small table and sat under the banana trees in the shamba with my computer, just upwind of the plastic-scented, drifting smoke…I may not have so politely informed Alex that it would be more prudent to burn “stuff” when the wind is not blowing smoke into and around the living quarters, especially when someone is inside those living quarters…Yes, as some back home can relate, I am not the easiest person to live with due to my rather passionate concerns about health (both my own and the planet’s)…

On this garbage front I have, in about two-and-a-half months in Kenya, generated approximately two small plastic bags of waste, mainly consisting of paper products, but with the occasional dental floss plastic container or skin lotion bottle (sorry, but my white skin needs a little help over here).  I have managed to reuse the plastic bag (those kind you get at drug stores) so far, but the plastics were deposited in a deep pit dug in a corner of Alex’s compound, while the other materials were burned (when the wind was blowing away from the house, of course)…Nonetheless, living in rural Kenya, one sees every environmental insult he/she inflicts upon the natural world with great clarity; and, I believe in the long run, I will be even more sensitive than I already am regarding the potential adverse ecological impacts of my actions and life choices.  In the U.S., it’s still all-too-easy to throw things away and not think twice about it, though I see this behavior changing somewhat in our resource-stressed world with a greater emphasis on recycling.  Even in Kenya, there are creative people increasingly collecting plastic wastes and recycling them into plastic planks and “boards” for construction use, in order to earn a better living for themselves.  It is one of my goals for America-Kenya Connections to support such efforts by purchasing and distributing thin plastic “posts” for use in fencing farmland in the Kenya Highlands, where large amounts of wood are now used for that purpose.  Such a project would help more struggling Kenyans earn a better living, but also help poor farmers and the environment by reducing the use of wood products.

In Kenya, though, on a positive note, many people, especially in the rural areas, use items over and over again (like so many people did during the Great Depression era and the decades that followed)—since trips to markets and money to buy things are limited—like plastic jugs to carry and hold water; shards from a larger broken mirror for personal use; plastic bags for carrying goods; clothes with holes that are worn without caring what others may think—something that so many people in the U.S. would never do; I have never seen a pair of shoes discarded, no matter what condition they are in; mattresses are seemingly kept and used forever; pieces of plants are used as “string” to wrap vegetables, instead of using rubber bands; etc…

However, if there is garbage to be rid of, most of it is simply burned or tossed on the ground at the point of origin and not into a trash container, because there are none and nobody is there to collect it (though I have seen some in bigger cities, like Nairobi, whose city center streets are actually quite clean, and where ambitious youth collect plastics for selling to the plastic recyclers mentioned previously); so, litter is a common sight in the countryside and along highways, as well as in poorer neighborhoods of Nairobi and other cities.  At first, I felt that this was horrible; but, over time, I have come to see the visible litter as a constant reminder that we really have nowhere to put garbage that is “okay.”  Landfilling garbage is no better, from my Kenyan perspective, than throwing it on the ground at one’s feet—we all need to do better, whether in the U.S. or Kenya, to become as waste-free as possible; and, seeing the garbage in front of me here—trash collection trucks are still not common in many parts of Kenya—rather than out of sight/out of mind in the U.S., may be best for keeping the problem of waste front and center, making one constantly aware of how one’s choices can desecrate a sacred planet (at least until the problem of toxic and non-biodegradable waste is once and for all resolved to the planet’s satisfaction). Besides, I also think the ever-present garbage stimulates the mind to brainstorm novel ways to reuse materials others have discarded, especially when poverty is so palpable in many parts of Kenya.  For example, aside from the recycling of plastic waste into usable plastic construction materials, many youth collect plastics and foams and compress them into spherical shapes, which are then wound tightly with abandoned cords or other tough string-like materials to form soccer balls.  For a video of plastic waste recycling in Kenya, please check out the following link:

-When the signature call during the day is that of the African mourning dove (much louder call—COO-COOOO-COO! COO-COOOO-COO!—than the modest “cooing” of the North American mourning dove).

-When your new flush toilet bathroom, along with sink and shower, are VERY nice amenities to be blessed with; though, as noted previously, I am looking forward to some solar-heated showering in the near future…I am most grateful to Alex for having granted me this special “commode-ity” for my personal indulgence!

-When I read about an Oklahoma mother back in the U.S. asking a 911 operator if it was okay to shoot an intruder; and then, in Kenya, I hear a news report about a person who stole a motorbike who, unfortunately for him, was caught and promptly beaten to death, with his body burned and dumped into a river with no trial over the vigilante justice…a sort of Wild West mentality rules here, which I’m sure delights many back home and appalls an equal number—please don’t shoot the messenger here!  I must say that this type of “justice” seems to reduce the incidence of such crimes, though I do not have any studies or data to back up this statement; but, there never seems to be any news about a group of “Charles Bronsons” catching and beating the wrong person in a case of mistaken identity; though, I suppose, if the person beaten is dead, then who’s left to testify to the contrary?  And, therein lies the problem with this type of justice…I did hear a rare news report about a man being beaten to death, because it was thought that he “bewitched” a child who had died after a fall from a tree…I am not sure what became of those who killed this man; but, the incident definitely conjured up images of 17th Century America and the Salem Witch Trials…so, suffice it to say, when in Kenya, obey the laws, be kind and respectful to others, make a lot of friends, and don’t openly celebrate Halloween, at least not in a witch’s costume; and, I’m quite certain, you will be treated very well during your visit…and, we’ll be sure to keep you away from the coastal city of Malindi, where recently twenty people were killed because they were thought to be witches!

-When a “snack” at school is a cup of porridge; and, breakfast for boarding students is some chai (the milk with tea) and a couple slices of white bread, and that’s it…lunch consists of mixed beans (and sometimes rice as well) without much variation during the school year…I bring this up, because my new “daughter,” 10-year-old Michelle (Alex’s youngest), has gone off to Solian boarding school for the first time for Class 6.  Many youngsters here spend much of the year away from home at boarding schools, which is also much different from being in the U.S…After day one, Michelle sent a message home for her Dad to bring “soda, biscuits, and juice” during the weekend when visits are permitted, which is not likely to happen—the first year of boarding school often comes with new, unwanted doses of reality for many young students.  And, even for parents!  I remember on my first trip to Kenya during the summer of 2011—Alex’s first summer home after nearly 10 years in the U.S.—and we made an impromptu visit to his oldest son’s school during a weekday and he was denied access to his son…He was incensed by this lack of sympathy for his desire to see his son, Dennis, and I felt a sense of the same for his predicament.  How could a school that he was paying tuition for his son’s education be so callous regarding a father’s desire to speak with his son after so many years overseas?  I was incredulous over this stance, as was Alex, to say the least, but it did not change the administration’s mind—rules were rules, and Alex had not informed the school of his impending visit, so he would have to come back on the weekend…I give Alex a lot of credit for not punching someone!  I could not see this happening in the U.S. to a father wanting to see his son or daughter…

-When you feel the intensity of the tropical sunshine beating down on your skin, and you can sense that it is truly different than the sun you’ve been accustomed to feeling in the northern hemisphere.  Should you come to visit, please bring light clothing to cover your skin during the daytime (though nights are cool and comfortable, so you’ll even need to bring a jacket), as well as a hat and some sunscreen, just to be safe…There is also a very noticeable difference between out in the open sunlight, and taking shelter in the shade, much more so than similar situations during summers in the Great Lakes region, where humidity creates uncomfortable heat even when sitting or standing in the shade.  There are places, though, in Kenya where the temperature gets well into the 90’s and flirts with 100 degree-F heat during the day in certain months, making you feel like you’re in Arizona or Las Vegas; so, be prepared for temperature fluctuations on your travels to various parts of Kenya should you make it over in the future…

-When a break for construction workers or auto mechanics consists of a chunk of sugar cane, stripped of its hard exterior by machete and then chewed and sucked dry, the pulp spit out of the mouth.  For not visiting the dentist’s office much—10-year-old Michelle had never been to a dentist in her lifetime—most people here seem to have excellent teeth, mainly due to the fact that sugar is rarely consumed at meals, though the affinity for soda (and sugar cane, I suppose) has gotten some into trouble over time.  The chai is spiked with some sugar, but it doesn’t seem like that source of sugar promotes tooth decay, whether it is because the chai consists of tea and milk that counters tooth decay, I do not know; but, most Kenyans I’ve met have bright, white teeth that I am envious of.  They also seem to have hard teeth, as I have seen many Kenyans open soda caps with their teeth, though others are quite adept at using one bottle’s top to pop another’s…Just as soon as I get my Green Card, though, I think I’ll find a dentist and schedule my two yearly check ups and cleanings (I have to keep Dr. Glovis happy back home, so whenever I return and visit him, my teeth will meet with his approval)…

-When you are driving down a road—main highway, rural back road, or even a Nairobi street—and observe people urinating on the side of the road, which happens fairly regularly, though, by no means, is it a particularly common past time here.  By “people,” I mean “men.”  I have yet to see any women doing this, either out of modesty or due to differences in anatomy, but at least the men always have their backs turned to the roadway.  In Kenya, you do not get fined or thrown in jail for such acts of “discretionary urination”…perhaps Kenyans are more open to the fact that sometimes “you just gotta go!”  Personally, I always need to find some bushes first…There are efforts underway here to build more public restrooms…

-When you see Kenyan runners—world-famous—plying the back roads of the Kenya Highlands that parallel the Great Rift Valley.  I have only managed to get out on the roads a few times for some jogging stints, but when I did, I was always joined by several young children who couldn’t resist accompanying me, no matter if barefoot or in rubber boots more suited for muddy roads than running; and, I could just picture some of the great Kenyan distance runners laying down tracks as youngsters on some of the same country roads at seven- or eight-thousand feet elevation.  It made me think of the great Kip Keino, and other great Kenyan Olympians and World Champions…the Kenyans really haven’t looked back since those Kip Keino days of the 1960s, and they have been winning long-distance races routinely in the years that have followed up to the present time, somewhat in the same manner as the U.S. men’s basketball team has historically been winning games at world events.

I have some friends here who are putting together a local Kenyan runner’s club—and I have been helping with some basic funding (like paying the entrance fee to last year’s Nairobi Marathon for several runners)—so that we might assist with the development of the next great Kenyan running champion, as well as the next generation of great Kenyan runners…I can’t help but think, whenever I see a boy or girl racing off to school in the morning—not wanting to be scolded for arriving late to class—that he or she may simply be “training” to be the next great Kenyan running champion…I feel extremely privileged to be involved in some small way with this athletic project, because I know the great pride the Kenyans take in their running acumen and champions.  I hope that some of you runners out there will come over and join me for some training with these elite world athletes, as well as to view some fantastic wildlife (second-to-none, in my opinion) during a few days of R&R at Kenya’s beautiful national parks in between running sessions…

Well, I think that’s about it for this latest update from Kenya…I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences and impressions of life in Kenya.  I have enjoyed reflecting and writing about them, as well as sharing some of my thoughts about life, in general, on this incredible planet called Earth (or as Bill McKibben refers to it, “Eaarth,” since we’ve messed it up pretty bad in recent decades and it’s no longer the same place)…Please stay tuned for my “Kenya—Part 3” update in February…perhaps a bit shorter…

Hoping to greet you someday in Kenya with, “Karibu Kenya (Welcome to Kenya)!”

Check out the following 3 links for some pictures (in video form) from Kenya:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRvB0VcQ6SE&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh-fYSWXMU8

Kwaheri (Good-bye)…for now!

Bruce

Ps. I finally realized that I was an accepted member of the local community here when some children—instead of shouting the usual, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”—yelled out, “Brrruce!  Brrruce!” The Kenyans have a way of rolling their “r’s”…I was no longer just some anonymous “white person” in the village; but, I was now known by my first name, and not simply by the color of my skin…As you might guess, it brought a nice big smile to my face…

Pss. Been in Nairobi for the past two weeks…only one day with a power outage; and, one day when we lost water in the apartment, which actually was a good thing, as initially the water had a kerosene-bordering-on-moth-balls-type odor to it.  After a tanker truck refill of the water storage tanks, the odor was markedly reduced, I’m happy to report…As I mentioned in the above update, bottled water in Nairobi is the norm for me; and, we are looking into a carbon-filter unit for the tap…

Psss. Speaking of being in Nairobi…Our office/apartment complex is quite close to Nairobi NP (about a mile or so away) and adjacent to a small airport, where we have planes coming and going (mostly during the day, so the noise does not impair sleeping at night, and I have not smelled any jet fuel wafting into our apartment). I actually really like our location, as I enjoy the 3rd floor view from our back balcony of the planes taking off, as well as the open space (and it is relatively quiet in the area, which I appreciate in a city of 3.5 million people).  It’s nice to daydream a bit about future guests flying in to Nairobi right next to our office!  On the down side, about a half mile down the road, a “slum” encampment was razed in November by the government due to security and health concerns, which has left thousands homeless (see picture below with two yellow pin markers denoting our office and the razed encampment), with a few dozen or so homeless families setting up makeshift shelters along the roadway near the airport and our office complex.  Perhaps the Almighty works in mysterious ways, and we have ended up here in this particular place—temporary home to our future America-Kenya Connections’ operations as well—so that we might offer needed help to as many of the recently homeless as possible once we get things going shortly…I am excited about the prospect of doing some good for these obviously struggling people, and I hope many of you reading this will be able to offer some modest help, too…

Pssss. As some of you may know, during the last election cycle in Kenya in 2007, the election was marred by credible reports of election rigging and violence between various tribal groups.  Recently, six prominent members of Kenya’s government (the “Ocampo Six,” named after the Spanish gentleman from the ICC who was the lead investigator in the case when it was first launched) were called before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, to answer questions about their reputed roles in instigating the violence between tribal factions.  Four of the figures were referred to trial based on preliminary evidence gathered, and two were excused.  People in Kenya were a bit on edge about the rulings taking place and worried that the decisions might trigger more angst and violence in Nairobi and elsewhere; but, fortunately, this did not happen…While at a bar/restaurant, the “Carnivore Café,” last night—a very nice place for eating, drinking and listening to music, as well as doing some African-style dancing—one of the accused four made an appearance and I was introduced to him by my friend, Alex, who claims that the man is innocent (so I tend to believe this).  It was just interesting to me to be following such an important issue in the papers and on the news here about this serious on-going trial and public debate concerning the election violence in 2007 and the roles played by these prominent figures; and, then to see one of these figures standing right in front of me was a bit surreal.  Was he guilty?  Innocent?  I didn’t know; but, his fate is now in the hands of the ICC.  I am witnessing, first-hand, the history of the 2007 election violence as it is unfolding, literally, right before me; and, now, with the 2012 December elections on tap, these trials take on even more significance as Kenyans try to heal the divisive tribal wounds—over 40 separate tribes in Kenya, by the way—opened up in the 2007 elections before they hold another around Christmas of this year.

All of this shows me, too, that tribalist/racist tendencies seem to be universal, popping up in all parts of the globe, no matter skin color, tribal affiliation, nationalistic origins, etc.—a wanting for our own family, friends, communities, countries, etc., to have greater access to food, land and other resources, as well as political and economic power, rather than “outsiders”—and it is up to each individual to recognize and control such impulses, and overcome their xenophobia, so the human race will not self-destruct through such selfish attempts of some to dominate (and kill) others for their own gain…I hope you can help us here in Kenya create a more harmonious world by being examples of selfless Americans building bridges with the Kenyan people through your donations of money and time, and perhaps even travel, by way of America-Kenya Connections (and Tembokanga Tours, as we will also be donating 10% of profits to this cause)…Asante Sana!

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