Saturday, May 5, 2012

I do not know how to compose any sort of "goodbye" to this kind of happiness.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Final Farewell to our Elephants

Ndovu, or tembo... elephant.  These well-recognized, lovely creatures wander across their homelands in a slow lumbering gait.  Behind them they carry all of their feelings of family and connectivity, leaving behind only a trail of rather large footprints.  East Africa is a home, their home, and it is here that they'll hopefully continue to reside in peace.  
Today was the day of our final game-drive through Amboseli.  I had the honor and privilege of riding with my friends: Riley, Fumika, Erin, Kristen G., Isabella "Zeb", and Ashley F.  They're a lovely bunch of ladies, and coupled with our driver Martin, we were bound to have an unbelievably fantastic adventure.
   The weather was on and off for rain.  We never begrudge a little wet weather, because here in Kenya it's a precious commodity of which there is often very little.  With the rainy season, animals tend to venture outside of the park in search of other means of food and shelter.  So, today was a day of elephants, hippos, and many interesting birds.
It's bittersweet to know I'm leaving on Sunday.  I'm on my way back home into the loving arms of my family and friends, as well as the sweet mountains of North Carolina that I call home.  However, I'm leaving a place that holds so much majesty and magic within its rangelands.  There are no elephants trodding the grounds in America, and it's with a heavy heart that I'll be leaving behind some amazing sights and scenes.  But I know that, along with the help of my photographs and written words, I'll be able to revisit my life here in East Africa.  Four months of a life here are not enough... and, Lord-willing, I'll return someday again.  

"All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already."  -Ernest Hemingway  (who said it better than I ever could).


Saturday, April 28, 2012


Soon, in a little over a week, I'll be headed back to the U.S.  I've been thinking about how the reconnect with my family will be.  I want to believe I'll be full of swagger in my tire shoes, striding into the baggage claim to see my parents, brother, and best friend, all smiles.  While I do believe I'll be smiling, I'm pretty sure I'll also have some big fat tears settling in my eyes.
To be honest with you - and I do so love to share - my parents are my tear-trigger.  Everyone has one, I'm sure. I know that my Dad's trigger are great movie-moments, such as the ending of The Champ (if you haven't seen it, do be sure to try).  My mom get's teary-eyed when she watches videos of soldiers' surprising their kids when they come home.  My brother when a door smacks him on top of the head, and my best friend when a book character she's particularly attached to has a rough time.  Well, okay, I get emotional over fictional characters too.
When I miss my parents, and they miss me, strange occurrences begin to... well, occur.  For instance, my dad likes to have my mother send me text messages with contents that will get me riled up, only to tell me it's a joke.  My dad and I have a special relationship built on love and little fibs that entertain us greatly.  It's a joke in the family that when we tease someone, it's how we show that we care very much about the individual (just ask my friends, or my brother's friends).
My mom and I keep in touch pretty well, and she's also my gossip go-to for the things happening at home.  She is also my liaison for the rest of the family.  We just figured out, after 13 weeks of being away, how to communicate via video chat through Facebook.  Did you know you could chat through Facebook? I didn't before about a few weeks ago.  She took the time to show me how the pet fishes were doing in the tank, and made sure to angle the computer so I could see my dog.  
In any case, my parents are my tear-trigger, meaning that if I see one of them with that shining, cry-eye then mine instantly well up.  This also includes my brother, but the men in my family rarely cry.  I'm not sure if my family will tear up, but I'm expecting it from at least my mother and my friend, so I was assured that tissues would be provided.
Who knows, I might just cry when I see a bag of M&Ms, or a cheeseburger.  It's the little things I tend to miss the most.  I even miss having my puppy stare at me with big googly eyes when I head for the bread-drawer in the kitchen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

We'll Swim to Kimana!

The road out of camp is completely flooded away.  Which means we cannot leave Kilimanjaro bush camp.
But that's alright, because we're metaphorically quarantined by the necessity of completing our typed research portion of the project.  Want to know the title?

Assessment of the impacts of land tenure and land use changes on local livelihoods in Loitokitok District, Kenya

Isn't it just lovely? Now, I know the title doesn't inspire any movie-contracts, or great works of fiction, but the project itself has given me some great stories to share.  And while I do not have the time today to share them all, I'm happy to give you one that is near and dear to my heart:

Our last day of data collection saw us traveling out into the farthest portion of the Kuku Group Ranch.  This area is catered more towards pastoralists, those who keep livestock as their source of income.  Riley, my partner for the day, our guide Ben, and I found ourselves to be the last group to be dropped off, which meant we were the farthest out.  The territory we traveled to was a full 2 hours in the direction opposite of any road, meaning the ride was slow, rough, and bumpy.  We took in our surroundings, noting the lack of water, the spiky vegetation, and the overall lack of any people.  
   By the time we had reached our destination I had caught sight of one man, clothed in full Maasai regalia of red cloths and colorful bead-work, and no one else.  Sipaya, our driver and a man who had dubbed himself my "Kenyan father," smiled broadly at the look of confusion on my face.  Our project was to seek out and interview several people every day.  Where were the people?
   We spent the whole of the morning in a deserted, dry environment.  Dust-devils were in abundance, and the sun was only too-happily coating every bit of exposed skin that it could.  Trouble started, however, when my partner alerted us of her feelings of sickness.  Protocol insisted we radio in to our driver to come pick us up immediately.  The other problem, of course, was that our radio was out of range, and we had no phone service.  Who would expect to, so far out into the bushlands of Kenya?  
   What were we to do?  Simple, in theory.  We were to find an outcropping, and climb up to the highest point to search for service.  The problem is that the area's hills were littered in plants with razor-sharp points, giant boulders, and, of course, any type of wildlife.  Once we found a good hill, Ben assured us that the area was a good one... and then pointedly directed me up the hill.  Ben had determined it would be best if he remained with Riley, and that I would take the radio, and his cellular phone, and climb up the hill.
   I won't go into detail about the scratches and gouges that I retained from the trip.  Also, I won't take long to mention the various critters I met along the way.  I did manage to get a call to Sipaya, and then made my way back down to our group.
   Ben took a moment to mention - quietly so as not to alarm Riley - that he was glad I had returned so quickly, as he had heard the yipping of a hyena in the direction I had been. Also, a few Maasai men had taken it upon themselves to watch over us as they sat, and I stalked the area for service.
   Fantastic.  I was not only an explorer, but a survivor.  It certainly had been an interesting day, and it's interesting to know that this was not my first, but my third time being in such close proximity to the laughing-dogs.  (Well, they're more closely related to weasels, but dogs are what I associate them with).
   We were picked up an hour later, and made our way back safely.  It was a strange ending to our surveying.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unexpected Treats

I hadn't expected the trips to lodges for a spectacular buffeted-array of food.  I didn't expect to go swimming, to live with so many bugs in my banda, or to sometimes get a warm shower.
I didn't expect to meet so many amazing individuals, including my fellow students, the staff in Tanzania, and the locals everywhere.  I hadn't expected to fall so quickly into a lifestyle that is so unlike what I have at home.  To drink chai with my neighbors, don Maasai jewelry, or discover that the most comfortable shoes in the world are, in my opinion, tire sandals.
I certainly hadn't expected to be so torn between coming home to those I love, and how much heart-ache I'll experience leaving my new family here.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vervet Visits

Vervet monkeys are distinguishable by not only their beige/cream coloring, but by their distinctly bright blue... *ahem*.  I admit, this is a strange way to begin the post, but I promise this fact becomes pertinent as we journey forward.
   Today was our first real day of data analysis.  Basically, we're making a whole lot of graphs, and a whole lot of sense of said graphs.  Charts and figures are important to any research, especially when you need to fill up over 25 pages of typed, single-spaced papers on Microsoft Word.
   My job for today was to collect research paper titles and questions from everyone in the group, edit our draft of the project proposal, and coordinate a basic outline for my personal paper.  The more I type, the more excited I get about the research outcomes.
   In any case, my friend Dana is making her way through the open air pavilion (chumba), a collective seating area where we have our meals/classes/meetings, when she is alerted by a distinct thump noise.  Looking up, what does she spy perched on one of the tables?
   A vervet monkey! With *ahem* the same color as the stunningly blue water bottle to the left.  Our little friend had noted that, yes, there was food left on the tables and, sure, why not take care of the leftovers for us humans?  Dana managed to snap a few good photos before the monkey needed to be chased away.
   According to the askaris (guards), monkeys are a lot like mice/ants.  Once they know where to get food, they'll keep coming back.  And this proved true, as throughout the day we found the little guy strolling in like he owned the place.  Most vervet monkeys are quick to move away from people.  This guy? We try to give him angry looks and yell at him, and he just gives us a look that says "nice try, buddy, but I'm not leaving without some toast."
   On another note, we're also in the process of swapping photographs.  We often focus our attention on the land/locals/animals of East Africa, and forget to take a moment to snap ourselves into the digital memory-bank. So we thought to make a hold of photos of our group to trade with each other.  Needless to say, we're ecstatic about seeing some photos that, not only prove we were here, but perspectives we hadn't seen before.  So, yes, I now have more photos to show my family and friends... I almost pity them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose... Unless It's Me

It was Gertrude Stein who originally recorded, within her written piece "Sacred Emily," the line, "a rose is a rose is a rose."  This statement is often associated with the idea that things are simply what they are, while Mrs. Stein originally wrote these 8 words with intentions to provoke the inclination that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.
     So I have a question to ask you all:  when you hear a name, what sort of imagery and emotions come to mind?  Or, in this case, when someone says your name, what do you believe them to imagine and feel in conjunction to yourself?
      It isn't that I don't know who I am. It's simply that I've been given the chance to see myself through other eyes - or, in this case, other lenses.  Many times I recognize myself through the images projected back to me via a mirrored surface, or my own camera.  I look to present myself as I feel is best suited for me, as well as those around me.  We recently traded photos of each other (as I am a fan of photographing others) and it turns out that people have snapped several photos of myself that I was slow to recognize.

On a more humorous note, our professor/instructor in charge of our group research was quoted as describing our research, through the SFS Blog Site, as well as our work like this:
   "Along with a lot of data collection, hard work, sweaty backs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, students get the chance to meet new people, drink chai, snack on oranges and stop at the Royal Cafe Bistro for their famous ice cream." -George Ekisa, Ph.D. 2012