Friday, July 20, 2012

A Child walks behind me

too shy to say hello.

I slow my pace
I focus on her face
I smile and say "ney-et-ea"

No reply
but still she stalks behind me
quickening her stride with mine

staying at a distance
content to follow for now.

I let her go on
and don't pressure her with words

in the hot midday sun
we two animals

track one another
in different ways.

A child walks behind me
us both eyes forward

will stay at a distance
for now.

*Author's Note:For those of you avid followers of the blog, you'll know that since the start, I have marvelled at children's response to me upon arriving here in Kenya in early May. Honestly, I have never found myself writing so much about children. Their response is either shock (and subsequent run), wonder (but a bit of fear), terror, complete excitement or laughter. This was my experience in the first few visits to farms with children but then slowly, as my visits to the farms began to become frequent, I would catch these rare moments of what seem to me, a mixture of all these initial reactions. They would pose with me for a picture, maybe allow a hug, but for the most part, I would end up with photos were I'm looking at them and smiling and they are looking at me (for sure) but with a variety of reactions. Some were still frightened, some would finally smile, a lot would reach out to touch me but that was enough contact for them. I will admit that some of these feelings were reciprocal on my own part. Even at the end of the project (these last few weeks rather) I was still a bit hesitant to approach some of these children and ask their parents if a photo would be ok.

My confidence grew in this respect when Morgan and I attended the Bombas in Nairobi. A little girl in a beautiful headscarf sat directly across from me and many times throughout the various dance performances I would let my eyes drift to her and find her returning my gaze. Of course we'd both look away, I felt badly for staring and she probably was a bit fearful of me. Finally, during the intermission I got up the courage to go over and shake her hand. No smile, I was concerned, what do I do know? Luckily a man was sitting beside her (most likely a teacher, or as it turned out, guardian) and he began the conversation. He explained to me that she'd be admiring my hair from across the auditorium, I responded that I had actually been admiring her absolutely gorgeous headscarf. He told her this, finally, a smile, be it partial and discrete, more of a smile to herself really than directed towards me. He also explained to me that she was a Somali refugee, parentless, who had arrived in Kenya only six months previously and that she was suffering from tuberculosis. She was experiencing some difficulties acclimatizing to Kenya culturally, religiously and due to her sickness and trauma filled experience in Somalia. This moment of admiration for her, he told me, would be one she cherished. I asked if we could have a photo together. He looked like he was a bit anxious of how this would go. He paused and bit his lip a bit, uh oh, I had overstepped. He turned to her, leaned in and kind of whispered something to her. She turned to me, a true smile, right at me. She leaned forward in her chair and put her arms out to hug me. I smiled. I hadn't overstepped. The man asked if he could take the picture, I took his chair and the result was the photo seen at the top of the page. My favourite of the trip for sure. A moment which truly represented both the anxiety on my part and her's, the thing I had been fearful of from the start. Never had I wanted to feel like anyone was having their picture taken only for it to become a thing mzungus gawked at, or looked at and said "Oh look at these poor little children". For me, these photos were meant to capture something that I had experienced as well as the children in the photos, a first meeting, a second of understanding on both our parts, or a true leap of faith.

As a result of my experience with this beautiful girl, I managed the courage to finally ask some of my favourite farmer's for a photo with their children. I also managed to get a shot with our translator's (and friend, Priscilla) children when we visited their home for lunch. As I looked for photos to accompany this poem, suddenly all I could find was photos of children and I. Everywhere on my computer and Morgan's there was exactly the kind of photos this poem mean to express, so here they stand. Sometimes, we forget or overlook the courage it takes for both parties to embark on these type of encounters, which I hope to haves illustrated through this poem. Please enjoy the photos and take a moment to think about how foreign these seemingly normal photos can be.

Thanks as always,

Pictures from top:
*"Somali girl and I" at the Bombas, Nairobi.
* Farm 26, "The truly terrified" - this girl never got used to our presence regardless of the frequency, this last week I finally decided to give it a shot, Morgan took two photos and this was the result.
* " A group shot" - while visiting a local historical site outside of Nairobi (a place we later realized is primarily meant for Kenyans not outside tourists, although we enjoyed it greatly and were welcomed with great enthusiasm) we were tracked down through shouts of delight by a group of local high school girls. They desperately wanted a picture with these "pretty white girls" to put on Facebook, sure it would be "totally awesome" and get many "likes". We all shared a laugh over it, and how many shots we all took to get the perfect one. The picture above was with the girl who wanted to be the only black girl in the photo (her words not mine) so that her friends would be like "Oh sh**, look at this brownness between two whities" :) She also took a few shots to make sure her gansta lean was correct (hence me trying not to laugh).
* Farm 22 "A reach" this girl was not all together frightened of me, I'd say she fell more under the category of wonder mixed with a bit of fear. She was keen to touch me but not much beyond.
* "Priscilla's boys"
* "Utter excitement", we were often greeted by the school children outside of Farm 34, who always found some excuse to get out of class to come shake our hands. "How are you?" they'd shot with an instant response on their part of "I'm fine". This falls under the category of utter excitement for sure. They never got less excited over seeing us, even over the months of visits, and often followed us down to the farm, to marvel at what the heck we were doing. This resulted in many hilarious moments between us, culminating in a soap battle between myself and about ten 11-12 year old girls. They wanted to touch my skin, so I got them back by chasing them down and covering them with soap while scrubbing down before I left the farm. Later, Priscilla told me they found this funny, but one girl had been very upset that maybe the whiteness I had given her would be permanent (from the soap). Ha.
*"Michelle" the next few shots are of the cutest little girl imaginable, Michelle, at Farm 36. During our farm photo in nearly every picture she's staring at me, so finally I decided a closer encounter was fitting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Storefronts are merely
witnesses of God
each one
more blessed than the next.

Sides of shambas
keep track, reminding
their absent builders
which pieces go where
who was there and when
how much a piece of wood cost
and why we were placed on this planet
in the first place.

Stalls of washrooms
house within them jewels
of education, teaching me
form four geometry
form two spelling
warning me
where smoking
is not allowed.

Small pieces
of communication, scattered
shreds of paper
in the napier grass,
in vacant football fields,
lining the road,
pressed by footprints
deep within the mud.

From a school child's homework

to a monument
for an honourable citizen

to the scratches of a man using the toilet
on a outhouse wall,


has a direct line to heaven
and chooses to access it
through the written word.

new age
a shorthand version
of prayer.

Everywhere I look,
there is graffiti in Kenya.

**Author's Note: This one doesn't really require a whole lot of explanation does it? These are photos I've compiled since arrival, although I will admit I had to run back to the outhouse to catch a snap of the piece of paper on the floor (every time I broke down and had to use the washroom on farms I would see anything from past grading exams marked up, cheat sheets for tests, pieces from the Bible written all over, homework scraps, poems, stories, I finally realized I needed a picture of it one day). The story on the piece of paper I found literally in a vacated football field we were passing through one of the first times we went to one of our farms, I couldn't believe that not only was every square inch of it used (see the calculations in pen on the bottom of the story "Once Beaten Twice Shy" and then realize that the other story is actually just the flip side of the same piece of paper). I found it rather ironic to come to a place with a supposedly low literacy rate, yet everywhere I looked I saw evidence of writing and beyond that, a desire to write. What we view in North American as Graffiti (meaning unlawful writing, pollution, desecration by text or image) here was none of these things. It is evidence of hope for the future, of education, of lessons learned and of reverence. While I do note that often our graffiti at home in Canada is often of a much different nature, subject matter and form, maybe there is something to think about here. Maybe writing is just that, writing, no matter which way it is presented. As a writer myself, I feel everything which someone feels the need to record in writing deserves its own space in time so I will continue to pick up each and every shred of paper I find in my journeys and read it purely for the sake of it being read. Enjoy the pictures!

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Same

A dog
sits by a gate
too weak
but to lift up
its head.

It is a breed
in a breedless place,
a mutt
by lack of
formal care.

A dog
who lives out of doors
canvassing the side of the road
slowly bobbing its head
up and down
looking for something to eat.

A few metres away
a child cries
and is inconsolable
but when it sees the dog

The tiny creature giggles
in delight
at a beast which does
but what some day
this human thing
will strive to do as well.

A dog.
a child,
sit outside a gate

to become

the same.

Author's Note: This was one of those incredibly hard poems to publish here. In many ways, this poem deals with an emotion I have dealt with since arriving here in Kenya, yet in other ways, it seems unfair on a whole. Not everyone here struggles to survive, but a good deal do, and for those who do, words cannot entirely express how difficult it is for them, or how difficult it is in turn for Morgan and I to walk by them, to pass them in the streets without much of a thought or glance. It has become so commonplace for us to see scenes like this but in the first few weeks I was here I had a hard time with these types of scenes for two reasons. The first of course most immediate shock to me and concern was the welfare of the dog. Those of you who know me well know I am not big fan of dogs but to see them in this kind of condition on a daily basis, out-of-doors and homeless, searching constantly for survival, was painful. Secondly, to see children, especially so young, sitting in similar conditions to the dog (only really something I could fully appreciate much later in the trip, even though humans should be able to communicate better than the dog could, for a vet student, or animal lover, the animal's needs are more apparent upon first glance), was even harder to come to terms with. As animals ourselves, we as humans have similar demands as the dog to live well but in this country, few obtain much beyond these basic requirements for life. That is not to say that their lives are worse, or painful in themselves, but it is plain that survival is the goal for many people here, not something we as North Americans would consider "success". When I saw this scene, upon arriving at one of our farms and waiting for them to open the gate, I almost instantly wrote this, without even a thought. I got the camera out quick to catch it, but as is often the case here, I was a second too late and instead caught both subjects in a shocked expression. Maybe this is best, as for me, coming to this realization, that soon the child would have to fend for itself much as the dog does, or make do with scraps and scrapes, have to fight for the rest, was a bit of a shock. Weeks later, looking at the photo, I find it fitting. Sometimes experiences like this are best left with little explaination, so I will keep my text brief.



A Few More Bumps Along The Road

Up until now Jen has done all the writing for this blog but this week I figured it was nigh on time I put in my two senses as well. My blog likely won’t be nearly as detailed or eloquently put given that I hold no English degree but I hope you will enjoy it nonetheless. So here is my perspective of the events of the last week or so:

The project continues to go very well. Jen and I calculated out how many more return visits we have for each farm to reach the 2 month follow up period and were shocked to discover that next week will be the last visit for 5 of our farms and the following week will be the last for at least 15 more. This realisation put us into a bit of a panic because Jen had brought along a small photo printer and we wanted to give each of our farms a picture of us and them on their farms before we leave. This meant that in order to get the pictures to them on the last visit we would have to take the photos this week and next. I never would have imagined this small task would cause so much havoc! We struggled on every farm to get the calf into a manageable position and ensure that everyone was smiling and had their eyes open. We put Priscilla on camera duty and I think part of the problem is that she is not very familiar with photography. As we were holding our positions and smiling we could see the camera wavering back and forth in her hands and tilting every which way. We could only hope that if we got her to take enough of them at least one would turn out. Instead, Jen and I shared many a good laugh examining the resulting photos each night; in many photos the picture was captured just as calf was bolting from our grasp and we are all reaching after it with the most ridiculous facial expressions. Or in many of our photos Jen and I are smiling and the calf is perfectly positioned but the farmer has a very bland or strange look on their face (No one seems to want to smile in photos here!). We had to discard yet more photos as you can only see our mid-drifts because all our heads have been cut off or a huge and obvious board is blocking the entire shot. I included a few of these for your amusement. Enjoy! I can only hope our pictures next week will turn out a little better.

This week we also introduced the topic of blocked teats at each of our farms. We gave each farmer a small factsheet and explained the three major causes of blocked teats- injury, mastitis and genetics. We’ve noticed that many of our farmers use a very vigorous stripping technique to milk their cows so this week we demonstrated to them the proper, more gentle milking technique in which you squeeze rather then pull on the teat. Many of them were curious and promised to try the new method. Overall they seemed very eager to learn and grateful for the information.

On Wednesday of this week we had a pleasant surprise at Grace’s (one of our farmers). When we finished the survey and taking measurement on the cows she told us we must stay for tea since she had already prepared it. Her cows are housed at the bottom of a steep rocky hill with a staircase of rock steps leading up to her house. So she climbed up and then came back with her arms full of mugs, thermos and tray. We formed a small fire-line down the hill, passing items from one person to the next until we all were gathered next to the cow shed with tea mugs in hand. Grace poured us each a cup and then opened up a pot full to the brim with freshly baked (and still warm!) chipati! It was the perfect way to warm up given the cool, wet morning. What a kind and generous soul Grace, our adopted mother, is!

Last Saturday, Jen and I also had the pleasure of been hosted at Priscilla’s (our translator) house for lunch. We called the night before and she told us which matutus to take to get to her house. So around 9:30am on Saturday we took a matatu into karatina and boarded another matatu into Karengo. Once the matatu departed we sent Priscilla a text message to inform her we were on our way and to request that she meet us at the matatu stand in town. She replied that we should ask the driver to let us off at estate n i after karugmo high school. That caused Jen and I some concern. We were at the very back of the 14 passenger matatu bus, which was then carrying at least 18 passengers, and neither of us could speak enough Kikuyu or Swahili to inform the driver were we would like to get off, let alone shout loudly enough for the driver to hear us over the blasting music and roadside noise!! Eventaully, I peaked over the seat and pleaded to the people in front of us for help. They were very pleasant and graciously offered to assist us. When we approached our stop one of them simply knocked on the roof of the bus and the driver pulled over to let us off. We called Priscilla to let her know we thought we had arrived and I think we were both very relieved when we saw her emerge from around the corner. We passed a wonderful afternoon at her house where we enjoyed a delightful African meal and she introduced us to her two little boys, her husband and her neighbours. It seemed far too soon when we had to leave.

Finally, I have yet another installation to add to the car troubles segment of our blog. After the numerous times Jen and I have had to walk to farms because the car could not make it, or push the car up a hill or over a ditch, or watch strangers on the road literally lift the car back onto the road after it became stuck we finally thought that last week we were turning over a new leaf. Fredrick’s demeanour seemed changed; he was tackling the hills and rough roads with a new confidence and no longer spoke of “fearing” this road or that one. In fact last week we had no car troubles at all. And then came this week...
It all began on Monday as we made our way out to the first farm in the bleak and dreary rain. This time were taking Godfrey’s car, which has proven less troublesome than Fredrick’s on the whole. In fact I think we have only ever had two or three incidents in Godfrey’s car one involving replacing brake pads and another involving running over a stump. Anyways, Godfrey himself was unavailable on Monday and sent another driver in his car. We arrived at the farm without incident and managed to get through all our tasks in an efficient manner. However when we climbed back into the car, it would not start! The driver popped the hood and fiddled around with a few things before trying to start the engine again but it was no good. The driver got on the phone and 10 minutes later Godfrey himself shows up on the back of one the popular Chinese motorbikes. Godfrey surveyed the situation and within a minute or to determined that our problem was that the driver had left the fan on and drained the battery. He boosted the car and I think we were all relieved when we heard that characteristic “chick-chick-voom” as the engine started. Luckily the rest of the day ran smoothly.
And that brings us to Tuesday. On Tuesday Jen and I took Fredrick’s car out to all the farms. It was yet again raining all day long and as the radio does not work in Fredricks car we were instead accompanied by the “squeak, squeak” of the windshield wipers which after every two or three sweeps would become momentarily stuck before resuming their course. With the low temperature and the moisture in the air the windshield also became fogged up and every now and again Fredrick would rub the back of his arm against the window to clear a line of vision. This is how we proceeded throughout the day. I believe it was after the second or third farm that a peculiar burning smell filled the car and Jen shouted that she could she could see smoke. I looked over Fredrick’s shoulder and at first I could see nothing but then there was a thin wisp of smoke rising in front of the steering wheel. Fredrick must have seen it as wheel because her pulled over, popped the hood and took a look. Jen and I also clambered out of the car to investigate and document the cause. It appears that with all the bumps on the road the battery had been jostled loose. Not surprising given that it looked to be held in place by a piece of recycled metal bent into shape! Fredrick jiggled the battery back into its “rightful” place and then hammered the metal strip back over top of it with his fist- all fixed!
After that we made it to another three or four farms before the car was again filled with a burning smell and we had to pull over to the side. Fredrick popped the hood and went around to inspect. It seems that this time there was a problem with the coolant system. He fiddled with it for a few moments before slamming the hood closed and getting back behind the wheel. Luckily we had only one or two farms remaining because after that it constantly sounded like the engine was going mad while we were only going maybe 30-40 km/h. Also, when I peered over Fredrick’s shoulder I was rather alarmed to notice that the arrow indicating engine temperature was well over the letter H marker! I’m glad we made it home before anything more could go wrong.
Sadly, it seems that come Wednesday Fredrick’s car did have a major break down. Jen and I had gone out to the farms in Godfrey’s car on Wednesday while Silvia had gone out in Fredrick’s car. When we met up at the end of the day Silvia told us that after her last farm the car had completely broken down and they had had to call another driver to come and bring her home!
While these incidents are amusing to look back upon, at this rate I fear that Fredrick’s car will not make it to the end of the project.

That’s all for now,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


What does this word mean, content.

Is it an indication of comfort
of quality of life or wealth,
of possession of material goods?

When a farmer tells me they are content,
does it tell me that they are able to maintain
a sufficient supply of food for their family
or that they are generally in good health?

Does it mean they have somewhere covered
to lay their flesh bare elbows and ankles at night
so that their bones don't feel the resistance of concrete?

Does it mean that they have somewhere
to soak clean their clay like hands at the end of the day
or the means to mend the cracks and creases in their feet?

Does it mean that their cattle are out of the reach
of predators during the utter darkness of night,
so that maybe next year they'll have two milking cows,
instead of one?

I have been wrestling with the word since I got here
because for me 'content' has always been a shell of a word
which really communicates nothing besides a bare minimal happiness.

Content is the kind of word I would use
to describe my emotional state to people I don't really know
or people I don't want to go into detail with.

But what kind of life does the word content live
in this land of hard edges and soft vegetation?
For all I see around me are variations of the term,
broken frames of what I came here assuming it meant.

In Kenya I have discovered that this word is far from hollow.

When someone tells me they are content
it is sincere and well thought out
it is deliberate, not concealing or brief
it is insightful and intimate
not distant and meaningless.

For here I find that there are no requirements needed
to fill the word, to make it realized and whole.
No basic guidelines to make it true
but also no way of disqualifying its use.

The more time I spend in Kenya,
the more I am coming to believe that the word content
is not a descriptor of happiness as much as it is a
tangible expression of pride.

Those who have something to be proud of
are content,
those without it are restless.

In light of this new meaning of the word,
I will never again be able to pass off the word in the same way again
not now that I have learned of its all important purpose
in this place of bare necessity and perpetual growth.

Funny a word so simple
can live such a different life
half way across the world.

Funny an adjective
I once thought so vague and indecisive can in reality,
measure something so specific and complete,
as the fulfilment of a life.


This poem, is one born out of frustration on my part at the beginning of my time here in Kenya and one only able to be completed after a lot of reflection and one amazing experience at The Bomas of Kenya. Last weekend Morgan and I decided to make an impulsive trip to Karen, a suburb of Nairobi. Among the many fantastic things we did that weekend, I think one which I will never be able to shake the experience of was a dance performance at the Bomas of Kenya (see pictures above). I have attended a lot of traditional dance recitals, festivals and the like in the past, but there was something all together different about this. The Bomas is a sort of recreated Kenyan tribal village, meaning that each of the original tribes has a section of the grounds in which they have made replicas of traditional houses and tried to make tiny examples of what each village would look like. Along with this, there is a main auditorium of sorts which has a dance performance once a day from 2:30-4:30 pm. Again, each tribe is represented in at least once dance native to their region of origin. Some were power displays dances (see the Masai fighters in all red and beadwork), some were war dances (see the dancers in leather and white feathers), some were all together a mix of things (see the woman singing and men jumping), some were celebration songs (see the blurred woman dancing and circling the stage) and some were more displays of strength and braveness than dance (see the man bending below fire). Morgan and I had impeccable timing as usual (either that or we just have a natural magnet like relationship with children here) for we were almost the only true visitors in the auditorium that day, the rest of the audience was primary school children. It seemed as though there weren't enough seats for them all, so each school would shuffle in, quickly squeeze into seats, fill the floor, watch one or two dances, then shuffle their way out only for another school to move in and take their place. This odd flow of children continued the entire show. We were able to tell all of is apart, of course, because of their brightly coloured and unique uniforms which provided the perfect backdrop for the show (in addition to adding to the commotion). While not all of the performances were in key, in step or even extremely well danced, there was something so genuine about each performance, that it felt like these dances were really acts of unity. That they were something born of a mutual need amongst these groupings of people to display, in a funny sort of way, contentedness. Maybe it is in the sense that these dances reflect the fact that they are content enough with their lives to take the time to perform these intricate dances, or have the means to invest resources in the absolutely beautiful costumes, or that the legacy of these dances has maintained itself through all this time, but above all else I got the sense that these dances are really representative of a burning desire to show this sense of pride to others and to each other. Regardless of the audience, the dance continues, the dancers continue to try to outdo each other, to outdo one another, to jump the highest, sign the loudest, come up with the most over-the-top outfit. There is pride in the performance of the dance and in this pride, a reflection of contentedness.

Since the start of the trip I have had a hard time coming to grips with what people truly mean when they say they are content here (as it is used frequently). You can ask how someone is today and their reply is "I'm content". At first, using my own frame of the word, I found it odd, figured maybe people didn't want to share too much with me as I'm a stranger. Then, as time went on and I became friends with many of the farmers (clearly no longer in the role of stranger), I thought maybe it was the only english the person knew to respond to my question, but this was disproven when I began to ask it in Kikuyu or Swahili. I just couldn't shake it, why were people using this word specifically? A word I think of as impersonal, vague and in many ways, meaningless. Something representing a sense of evenness in emotion but little else. Like saying "I'm fine" instead of "I'm great". But the more and more I came into contact with it, the more I found myself questioning whether this word means something different here than I had assumed it meant, or have assumed it meant my whole life. The more I dug into its meaning, and especially after this experience at The Bomas, the more I began to see things in a different light. Maybe, all this time, the word content has meant, has encompassed more than I had ever imagined it could house. Maybe it is more than a measure of happiness and rather something much more complex. Maybe, in the end, it is truly a measurement of pride. Pride here seems to equate happiness, so in a way it is still descriptive of happiness, but in such a totally different way than I prescribe the term 'happiness' that I can't think of content as being this simple of a word ever again. I will leave you, the reader, to think about this for yourself, as I myself, have no come to a full conclusion about what implications this changing of meaning has on what the word content truly describes. This poem represents one of the many moments of utter reflection I have experienced on this trip and so I have chosen to share it. I have no other means to convey this realization or the fuel which fired it in me, other than through the words above and the blurry pictures (the lighting was near impossible to get good photos) but somehow the quality of the photos doesn't seem to take away much of the dances emotion or purpose. For now I will be content with my understanding of what this word means, at least here in Kenya, and walk away from my experience at The Bomas with a much deeper sense of what a word I hear every day, from farm to farm, may really mean.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

These last few weeks have seen the project take on a life of its own in many ways. All of the paperwork, confusing communication issues, management and day to day planning have more or less fallen into place, which is fantastic, but shifting from 10-12 hour days saw Morgan and I beginning to feel restless here in Icamara. After much puzzlement over where to go in the country (there are so many things to do, but we are now majorly limited in our ability to visit some places due to the recent incidents throughout the country) we decided on Lake Naivasha. Normally, people go to Lake Nakuru, a bigger, better know lake quite close to Lake Navisha, but there was just something about Naivasha that struck Morgan and I as unique. It boasted Mount. Longonot (a once active volcano which is now a national park that you can hike to the top of and then around the perimeter), flamingos, Hell's Gate (the inspiration point for the Lion King illustrations, you know, where Simba is held up for all of the animal kingdom to see), Crater Lake, a religious point of interest to the Masai people, and above all else, hippos. We quickly looked over our travel guides and decided to stay in a place called Fisherman's Camp Lodge. While the books and reviews all said it was a noisy, bizarre hang out place for backpackers and misguided tourists, we felt like we were up for anything, so when we realized the one constant thing in the reviews was that it was renowned for being on the nicest plot on the lake (and after reading one extremely lengthy review online from a girl who had had a religious moment of connection with a hippo on the front lawn of her cabin there) we called up Godfrey, our local taxman, and headed off for a weekend trip.
The car ride was long, but saw us traveling across the Nairobi road (the only really nice road in the country, also affectionately known as Chinese Highway as it was built entirely by Chinese workers/contractors) and though tea land. For a good forty minutes we sat in the car watching endless fields of tea through the car window, I think Morgan really wanted to get out and try to brew some right then and there (she has been fondly nicknamed Tea-girl by Silvia and Pauline) and it was quite breathtaking. If you have never seen tea fields, while they look as through someone has planted tiny hedges in perfectly cut rows for as far as you can see, often climbing and descending sloping hills for miles. Amongst these perfectly cut rows between the tea hedges, there is the occasional worker, bent over, carefully picking branches or leaves and placing them into woven baskets either strung on their hip, head or back. There doesn't seem to be any particular harvest time, it seems to depend on each plant, so workers wander the fields up and down, searching for tea leaves ready to be plucked.
After tea land, we entered part of the extensive national park surrounding Navisha town proper. We were a bit shocked (and confused) to see the sign at the front of the park, listing all of the park's many sponsors, ranging from Verizon, to US Department of Fish and Game, to Safaricom (the local internet/cell phone giant). The park was lovely and it was rather funny to see the signs we normally see warning us of cattle in the road (or moose) replaced with "dangerous animal crossing" signs, depicting big cats, wild dogs, elephants and the like slowly strolling across the road. Finally we were in Navisha town itself, which was in all accounts a rather scummy place. It looked like someone had thought it would be a big tourist attraction, but then given up on it part way through, as almost every building appeared to be only half way completed, often lacking roofs or having second stories sealed up with boards or posters covering unfinished sections of wall. I think so many of the hotels moved out of town to border the lake, that the town itself was an afterthought, or forgotten about all together and now really just serves as a passing through spot. Heading out of Navisha town, we slowly began to see the extent of the tourism the lake supports, watching sign after sign for major hotels and "tented-camps" pass us by as we sped down the outer-city road to Fisherman's Camp. After nearly missing the sign, as our driver Godfrey was once again entirely caught up in a cell phone conversation (Morgan somehow managed to get his attention enough to turn the car around a good few minutes past the sign), we pulled into the camp.

Coming down into the camp itself, we were are at first in awe of the dense tree system encompassing the camp, you barely can even see the few cabins to the left, let alone the house in the middle of it. Upon parking and searching for the head office, we were then struck by the intense beauty of the lake which the trees literally seem to grow into and out of simultaneously. In a manner similar to the everglades, the water seemed to have no real defining edge, and tapered off between trees and low lying shrubs. The other thing which was striking about the lake was the fact that the water was glass calm. Wow, this was going to be a fantastic weekend. After paying our meagre sum for the three night stay, we were given a zebra head key and told to look for a giant banana tree, our cabin was directly behind it.

The cabin was nothing spectacular, but roomy and clean (minus a giant spider that sat watch under the bucket sink without moving the entire stay) and we eagerly dumped out luggage, locked the door and set out to survey the grounds. We crossed the road and headed up towards what is referred to as "top camp" which turned out to be more of a ruin site, clearly the camp had slowed down over the years, or maybe the demand to be directly on the lake outweighed the benefits of keeping the top half open. The "pool" the website had spoke of, was more of a empty roman bath style tub, overlooking the lake from a high. I of course had to climb down into it for a photo op. After assessing the state of top camp, and wandering through the never ending gardens of cactus and overgrown roses, we headed back down to bottom camp for some food and to make our plans for the following day. While we haven't done a lot of off the cuff travel in Kenya yet, we know the country well enough by now to know one thing, don't bother planning too much in advance. Websites, are unreliable, if they've been updated since 2007 or are even close to accurate with price details, consider yourself lucky. Calling places is a bit like talking to an answering machine and expecting a reply. People often say things like "Oh yes, yes" when they have absolutely no idea what you're talking about and often a phone call to one of the numbers listed online, leads to an awkward conservation, when you realize you've somehow dialled someone's home telephone line, have interrupted their dinner, and they only clean at the hotel/camp so have no idea about reservations etc. Needles to say, Morgan and I had simply made a list of possible options for the trip and hoped we'd manage to do half of it upon arrival. We managed to determine at least what we'd do the following day over the course of dinner (a wonderful full-fresh talapia for around 6 dollars US) and settled on Crater Lake and Crescent Island. On the way back to our cabin, we treaded along the electric fence (that comes on full force at 6 pm) with flashlight in hand, carefully hunting for lurking hippos, but were unsuccessful and called it a night.
We awoke at dawn, scrambled to get ourselves together in the dark and made our way over for breakfast, which was in itself yet another example of why not to plan ahead in Kenya. We had been warned to place our orders for food the night before but when we arrived, the people had no clue what we wanted, why we were there, or even what was on their menu. I ended up with some form of pancakes, which after a long conversation managed to come with some form of what they called "maple syrup", a rather honey textured vanilla flavoured oddity, but we ate quickly and soon met up with our guide. We piled into a teeny-tiny jeep, which was covered in stickers as it had just been part of the yearly wheel-barrow race in town and were covered in dust before we had even made it a mile down the road.

One thing about Naivasha town that is unforgettable is the dust, which somehow manages to creep into everything you own, even clothes you didn't wear while there. Every day we were gone we came home so absolutely filthy that regardless of how tired we were, I found myself trying to at least clean my feet in our sink, even though the dust just turned into mud and then dried again, turning back into dust about an hour later. We continued on a road that snakes its way through the entire park/area somehow, even though it is essentially just a strip of sand with other car's tread marks in it. Another side note about Kenya, things you assume on maps are roads, may be just as this road in Naivasha were, dirt heaps, without even an attempt at being levelled out, in other words, what we end up driving on and wondering if we're even on a city road are often the major road for the area. The rule seems to be, if you see other foot prints or car tracks, its the road. We followed this would-be road until we came to the place where we would go on a boat cruise, hunting for hippos and scaring of flocks of flamingos.

We saw a good deal of the flamingos right from the shore while waiting for our boatman and I will admit, it was odd seeing them in a non-domesticated fashion. They were not entirely pink, more pink-tinted. Our boatman finally came out to greet us, saying very little, besides attempting to force us to put on bizarrely shaped life jackets, which we spent a good deal of time lacing up etc. only to get on the boat and then him come over and tell us we could take them off now. I guess the life jackets were more for the dock than the boat ride, as the dock consisted of a few pieces of rotted wood strung together which sunk and wobbled with every step. We set off at a slow place along the side of the lake, making the flamingos run. I should say fly off but I cannot, for it wasn't the case. If you have ever seen a flamingo try to get away from you in water, you will understand what I mean when I say this. They literally flap their wings enough to gain some clearance over the water, then literally run, one foot in front of the other, over the water, slapping their feet on the surface like a marathon runner in slow motion until eventually calling it a day, deciding they've run far enough way from you to make a point, then nose dive back into the water. It got no less strange looking the more we saw it, but this rather interesting and hilarious to view method of running on water we would later realize was a common thing among birds of the lake. A few moments in the ride (we have begun to live on Kenyan time, in reality it had been twenty minutes or so), Morgan and I got worried we'd be out of luck in spotting hippos at all. Everywhere we looked was silent. Dead silent, once we had cleared the flamingos, and we exchanged looks of concern. Where the heck were the hippos? Then all at once, the boat came to a stand still and a few meters in front of us to our right, was a giant bloat(pack) of hippos.

Tustling about in the water, grunting and huffing and splashing, jarring their mouths open to 180 degree angles, there they were. Finally, the all allusive member of the big five we had yet to see was right in front of us and then all at once gone, dipping down and disappearing beneath the water's surface. Luckily, they are easy to track, as they leave giant air bubble trails above where they're running under water but our boatman knew better than to follow them so we jetted off, spending only a few moments in travel before coming to our next family, and then another family, and another. The lake was literally chalk full of hippos and we were in heaven. Just to add to it, on the shorelines giraffes began to emerge along with their babies, warthogs, gazelle, impala and all sorts of other wildlife that is becoming almost normal to us at this point. Becoming normal however does not make it any less amazing to see these creatures I've yearned for so long to be amongst , it just makes you realize that living in this country has spoiled you forever to conventional safari. Especially on this trip, Morgan and I had so many close encounters with these magnificent animals, that Sweet Waters almost seems like a distant memory, kind of a prelude of what was to come for us.

After the boat trip, we headed deeper into Crater Lake Nature Sanctuary, where we were able to get out of the car at the gate and walk through it, coming within metres at times of giraffes, zebra, gazelle, impala, warthogs, different sorts of monkeys, baboons and even buffalo (although when we saw the buffalo we kind of had to high-tail it to the other side of the field, they can be aggressive and the front gate warns "enter at your own risk" with accompanying skulls for a reason).

After touring the sanctuary for a good few hours, we made the quick track up to the viewing point for the lake, an iridescent green water body cut perfectly in a circle from the surrounding hills. From the view point you could also see both parts of Lake Naivasha, so i the crater lake appeared like a dot of water in the middle of a larger circle of water. Crater Lake is extremely alkaline, so the Masai tribes people have used it for centuries to cure bloat and other ailments of cattle. They do so by literally nearly drowning the cattle in the lake, forcing the air bubbles trapped in the rumen etc. of the cow to be brought up in belches.

A pretty neat spot, but we were all to aware of time, and quickly headed back down the crater to our Jeep to make it back to the camp for our boat ride to Crescent Island.

Crescent Island is a rather bizarre place to visit. Being the outer rim of a once massive volcano, it sits just meagrely connected to land, long and thin, steep and narrow, and houses an extensive and dense population of wildlife. Getting to the island is itself a journey, about an hour on a narrow gondola like boat which weaves its way along the edge of the lake, hoping to find hippos and other wildlife housed in the swamps around the lake perimeter. Our boatsman was intent on showing us how the Fish Eagle hunts (the local celebrity of birds) and stopped in one of these grotto style swamps to pick up some fish from local fishermen who were using walking-nets to fish (meaning they both hold a side of the net spread out in the water up to their chests and then walk towards each other, drawing in the net and trapping everything within the bounds of the net. They quickly brought up a dozen or so fish, of which we took four or five, thanked them and took off.

We passed endless colonies of birds, some of which we spotted as seagulls, only to be corrected in the fact that they were "yellow billed ducks". We think the gulls of Canada would like this kind consideration in their naming but had to laugh at how our boatsman seemed to be boasting of their beauty and gracefulness on the water, all we saw was squawking, screaming seagulls, who like the flamingos, preferred running on the water to flying away as the boat approached them. After awhile we stopped the boat in some weeds and our boatsman learned over and some of them pulled out and into the boat, taking the straw like weeds and literally shoving them down the throats of our fish. He explained this made them float on the surface of the water, which we didn't understand the need for, until we saw what he was planning for his demonstration of the Fish Eagle hunting.

He took a stuffed fish in one hand and in the other, began to make a whistling noise with his hand over his mouth, waving the fish in the air. He did this for some time, then like clock-work a Fish Eagle appeared and began to circle our boat. He then tossed the fish into the water, which the eagle was supposed to gracefully swoop down and scoop up, but this took quite a few tries and a different eagle (the first one we attracted didn't seem to want to take the bait). Sure enough, the second eagle that came to check out what we were offering took our meal and like a movie scene circled us, descended with amazing speed, swept up the fish and just as quickly as it had come, left. We continued on with greater speed across the lake, nearing Crescent Island.

We made an abrupt landing, in a dense meshwork of weeds and water irises and were greeted by one of the park's four rangers, who had to help haul our boat closer to the dock, or at least close enough so we could disembark. When I put my feet on solid ground it felt like we were entering Jurassic Park. The island seemed totally barren and yet here were wilder beast, zebra, giraffe and all sorts of other variable wildlife calmly transversing right in front of us, as though we weren't even there. I literally got so close to a zebra that I almost got kicked.

Part of the epic Out of Africa was filmed on Crescent Island, which seems fitting, given the bizarre oasis it is. As the sun began to set on us, the animals we were amongst became even more beautiful and strange, as everywhere you looked someone was watching you, be it a giraffe from behind a tree, a hartebeest from the ridge, or one of the many oddly interspersed sheep with black-faced white as snow babies in tow, you really got the feeling this was their place and we were visitors who were welcome, but still a source of some curiosity.

It was totally new to us to be both seeing and being seen, usually we're the ones looking at these animals, not the other way around. This unique experience was one not easily forgotten and we left the island as the sun began to fade wishing we had more time. We rushed straight across the middle of the lake back to camp as it began to spit down rain and made it back just in time for dark. The next day was one we had already settled plans for, climbing Mount. Longonot, so we called it an early night, made ourselves cozy in the very quite cabin and quickly fell asleep.
Dawn comes quicker when you're on the equator and less hard to sleep through when you're surrounded by birdlife. All sorts of never before heard sounds awoke us and soon we were packed and ready for the hike. We got a taxi (that is one truly and still confusing aspect of Kenya, the utter lack of public transportation, even to tourist driven areas and national parks) to the base of the park and after once again attempting to get a student rate (always a very confusing and rather frustrating adventure, which has never yet ended with success) we began to head up the steep, dusty and slippery hill to the rim of Longonot, and within an hour of truly difficult and strenuous climbing (we were both winded more than once at the sheer continuous incline) we made it to the rim.

From here, we followed what looked like water carved trails along the perimeter of the volcano, a three to four hour trek. I say trek, because to say it was simply walking, would be foolish. To say it was climbing would also be unjust. Even to say it was hiking would be untrue of the situation, for really the journey around the rim is a mixture of all of these methods of movement, in addition to sliding, crab-walking, side-winding and at times, closing your eyes and praying to God you are strong enough to boost yourself up or down a drop off with purely your arms pushing against walls of rock on both sides of you.

It was a completely unique type of exercise and each leg of the journey was in some way different from the last, but the one thing which was constant was the sense that if you veered off the path, you'd be screwed either side you feel on. On one side, was the volcano. Steeply dropping off straight into buffalo ridden forest. On the other side, was prickly and thorny looking shrubbery, which deceived you from the steepness of its drop-off by covering it for as far as you could see. All around us we would see depressions from other craters or erupted volcanos, which now were only visible as darker coloured sections of forest in somewhat circles.

The weather was also hard to pinpoint for description. One second you'd be sweating and panting in the intense heat and humidity and then the next you'd be shivering from the strong hard wind hitting you from all sides. Finally we made it to the absolute peak of Longonot, stopping long enough to converse with some fellow travellers (I swear everyone we meet is on some sort of foreign aid mission/project) and continued the perimeter trek, finding ourselves back to our starting point within an hour or so and then quickly descended to the base, at times running out of necessity (it is impossible sometimes to stop or slow down when you're near tumbling down a crumbing dirt hill at a 60-75 degree incline). Coming down we once again made notice of the strange way people view exercise or any form of physical activity here. Locals were hiking in full on three piece suits, others were carrying babies on their backs, all things which made no sense to us, but do make sense with what we've seen of how people here view what we'd consider a good workout. While we look at the chance to hike as a good way to get out and do some work, expect to sweat a bit, get dirty and maybe even require something to drink, people here seem unwilling to admit to these kind of inherent risks are present when attempting something like hiking, and instead act as thought they're going for a stroll, stopping to take a break every few minutes. Footwear choices for these kind of activities, and well any type of activity at all, range from flip flops, men's dress shoes or high heel pumps straight from the 90's (chunky and uncomfortable looking), so no one really intends on running anywhere, or even getting anywhere at a fast pace. People simply take each step as it comes and think us insane for wanting to challenge ourselves or get our hearts racing. So as we saw people heading up the mountain in these outfits, we had to laugh at ourselves in shorts and tank tops, hiking shoes on foot. They probably got a kick out of us as much we did of them, another thing which seems to be a given in almost any situation here in Kenya. Passing by people and having them laugh out load at you is oddly something you slowly become used to, yet I am even now in awe of the man carrying a baby on his back up a mountain/volcano. Especially given how many times Morgan and I flat out fell on our rear-ends, all I can imagine is losing your footing and crushing the child, but I've seen stranger things since being here, so I have to assume it is commonplace.
We finally made it to the bottom and attempted (barely) to de-mud before getting in the taxi and heading back to camp. I still don't think I got even half the dust off me after showering but it was of no consequence, for we were heading to Hell's Gate the next morning and already knew it would be dusty as, well, hell. Our last night in the camp really gave truth to the reviews that had declared Fisherman's Camp a noisy venue. Locals arrived from Nairobi at around 5 pm and set up about a dozen tents on the other side of the banana tree from us, parked a beat up looking car in the middle of the tents, and began to blast any type of music you can imagine. At 2:45 am, when I was still awake listening to this great party, I finally began to see the need for the camp's literally dozens of signs posting about noise restrictions and the local by-law regarding noise violations. Obviously these signs mean little regardless of their wide presence in the camp and the party continued until somewhere around 5 am, at which point it stopped only long enough for who knows what to occur, and promptly began again at 7 am.

At dawn we entered Hell's Gate park and immediately decided our plans of biking the 8 km trail to the legendary gorge were a bust. Again we saw ourselves on a sand road and after seeing bike wheels sink into the thick dust, with their ridders struggling to push forward, and cars pushing bikes off the road into the even dustier ditches, leaving riders enraged and in the end with no other option but to walk with their bikes, we figured we'd be better off to walk it.

As the sun came up behind us, it filled the park bouncing off the red-wall cliffs surrounding us and began to illuminate the wildlife emerging from the cliffs into the plains to graze. The usuals surrounded us within minutes and we quietly and contentedly walked the 8km to the gorge where we got our mandatory guide and set out, or rather down, into the once-filled, sometimes even now filled, waterway. Throughout the gorge there were oddly hung ropes leading to the top, which we later found out were emergency exits, for when the gorge notoriously floods. Not only is this a common occurrence, but several North Americans and Kenyans recently lost their lives in this manner, so we tried to remember where had seen the last exit ropes as we climbed through the riverbed.

Hell's Gate is actually named so for these floods and the toll they take on human and animal life, dating back to Masai times, when the gorge flooded so frequently with water, boiling water from the many hot springs which run into the gorge, or even in some cases lava (you can use lava plugs as landmarks to negotiate your way through the gorge). On one end of the park is The Devil's Bedroom, a place where cannibals were thought to have lived, being the only individuals brave or insane enough to take up permanent residence in the gorge. Snaking our way through the gorge we saw hot springs of various forms. Some sulphur filled and boiling hot (there was a spot you could actually boil eggs in and shells lay strewn all over the rock face) while others were merely warm. Morgan contemplated whether it'd be a better shower experience than our one at the camp for at least the water would be warm the whole way through.

Traveling through the gorge involved a lot of fancy footwork, getting totally soaked more than once and a good deal of faith in our guide, but we managed to do it in a little over and hour before heading back the way we'd headed in, only with much less animal life around us. Out of the park we headed back to camp, packed our things and as usual, found ourselves waiting for Godfrey, who called us at the time he was supposed to be there to tell us "I am thinking that maybe I am coming here now," one of the many phrases which were at first a source of confusion to us but are now so commonplace we don't even answer it with a question, only an "Ok Godfrey, see you when you get here".
The weekend was a fantastic one and held many unexpected pleasantries, chiefly our interactions with wildlife. Being so close to these animals has really prepped us for Masai Mara at the end of July and we only have a few more animals to cross off our must see list, primarily big cats. We certainly cannot expect to find any better way of viewing wildlife than exactly how we did it this weekend, one on one, so everything from here on in must be considered one of the many life altering perks of living abroad and add to the love we are developing for Kenya itself and its inhabitants. Lake Naivasha was all and more than we had hoped for, now we have only to hope our other trips will be equally as awesome.
That's all for now, enjoy the pictures and look for another posting soon!