“Observations and Not Just a Few Indelible Memories” by Dalry Payne

Observations and Not Just a Few Indelible Memories by Dalry Payne

I talked with Eric and some others about the “what’s next” for each of us upon returning home. Eric’s mantra is, “Think of the one thing that you can do, then do that thing.”

I can’t personally save the world, but I am blessed to know of an organization with the lifting power to help make it “A Better World” in some significant ways. And I can tell others what I saw—the heartwarming things and the heartbreaking things and, most importantly, the hope-filled things—and we can figure out what we can do, then we will “do that thing.”

October 21 – November 3, 2015
A Better World – Journey of Inspiration Trip

October 21
Arrival at Nairobi in the evening

I was delayed far more than usual in the visa line at the airport and I became concerned that Eric would not know where I was and worse, might assume that I missed a flight. Fortunately, one of the airport employees let me use his phone and I called Eric, who was still just across the street with the vans and other travelers. My suggestion for future trips is to send photos of fellow group members to any travelers not able to attend the orientation meeting. It turned out that several people from our group were on my plane but I had no idea what they looked like. But it all worked out! I met most of my fellow travelers at the hotel while we dined on buffet snacks then we happily collapsed into our beds for our first night in Kenya!

October 22
Travel and rest day

We were up early in the morning to a gourmet breakfast, then we were assigned our vans and proceeded for our first day of travel to our next hotel and recover a bit more fully from jet lag. This was greatly appreciated since the trip to Kenya from North America is quite long and tiring.

October 23

This first community that we visited is 600 nomadic people living in the most Spartan array of conditions that I could ever have imagined. A Better World (ABW) has begun a water project with a system to collect rainwater for drinking that currently is in use. A second system to collect rainwater into dugouts for crop irrigation is being constructed. There was concern that children would drown if they got into the dugouts as nobody in the village knows how to swim.

It was agreed that the best approach is to fence the dugouts and plant ground cover on the berms to prevent erosion. The soil in the area appears to be very fertile so crops should do well with irrigation. I have concerns for overall sanitation and hygiene as well as nutrition for the Jerusalem community. Clean drinking water and growing food for eating and for income will help to alleviate some of these concerns. It was a cold, windy day after a hard rain and while it bothered me immensely that many of the children were in bare feet in the cold mud, and some of them with green mucous runny noses, the children didn’t seem bothered by these things at all. I also believe that getting these children to school is something that needs to be addressed soon. We were also told that some of the girls in this village are having babies as young as age 12 and even younger.

Segera Mission

This Mission was a breath of fresh air compared to Jerusalem! The Mission has been in existence for quite some time, so it was good to see how a place can develop over time. At Segera, there is a school, clinic, and woodworking, mechanic and welding shops.

The manager asked us to see if there would be someone who would be willing to come for a longer period of time to train the young men in the shops so they have marketable skills. I plan to talk to a retired fellow at home to see if it’s something that might interest him. We were also given a tour of the clinic by the nurse on duty. A 19-year-old young woman had given birth there yesterday, and we met her while she and her baby waited to be discharged. Other moms and their babies were also in the reception area awaiting nutrition classes. We were able to see that the clinic has the basic equipment to handle the straightforward cases, but there is a need for more sophisticated lab equipment for cases that are more complicated. The grounds are well-kept with a large garden that is producing well. The children were in school the day we were there, and were visited by other members of our group.

Male Secondary School Kitchen & Dining Hall

We made a quick stop to see this new facility which was officially opened last spring. Funds for its construction were raised to celebrate Eric Rajah’s honorary doctor of laws degree recognition from Andrews University in May 2014. It was particularly exciting to see a project come about as a result of Eric’s recognition by Andrews. As I was the person who nominated Eric, served on the honors and awards committee and coordinated the graduation events surrounding the degree conferral and his commencement address, it was a great honour to see what a simple nomination and subsequent honorary degree inspired in the construction of this new facility.

Baby Maddy’s School

The way we were received by the staff, parents and children of this school was nothing less than absolutely overwhelming. They had been waiting a while for us to arrive at the school, but the wait did not quench their thrill at seeing the vans and they welcomed us when we drove through the gate with exuberant song and dance. This was followed by several speeches and performances by the children before the official ribbon cutting.

I was impressed that the Early Childhood Development (ECD) teacher was using every opportunity to teach life skills to all of her young students, using the verses of the songs to teach everything from friendship to toilet hygiene. It was an emotional ceremony as the school was constructed to honor the memory of the granddaughter of Richard and Cindy Wright, ABW veterans who were traveling with us on this trip. During the ceremony, a local official declared that the school would be officially renamed “Baby Maddy’s ECD School” so that her memory would never be forgotten.

The work that ABW has done in this area has left a deep impression upon the people. I think anyone arriving in an ABW van at this school is always simply considered family, and an honoured guest!

October 24
St. Ann’s Orphanage

When we arrived, a local Christian group had just begun outdoor church services for the children.

While the children attended “church,” Irene, the founder of the orphanage took Rick, Warren, Eric, Mark and I around the property to inspect recent projects. First we looked at a well that was encased in concrete. Rick, the project manager for the orphanage, was hoping to get a look at the pump inside the well but the fellow who was hired for the project had the only key to the padlock and he was gone for the day, so I think Rick was fairly disappointed about that, however Irene reassured him that everything was working.

We walked by a large garden plot that had gone to weeds and were getting close to setting seed. Irene said she would like to get the garden planted and producing so that some of the produce could be sold at the market. Clearly she has her hands full with 40 children even though she has a small staff to assist so I think this market garden is a bit of a dream for her. There is a smaller kitchen garden near the house but it was also looking a bit neglected.

Rick also pointed out some broken eaves-troughing around the main house and apparently it’s been broken for a while. We went into Irene’s office building where Eric discussed the need to have certain Kenyan documents in place to satisfy the Canadian government. It was evident from the conversation that Irene has spent a great deal of time trying to get the matter resolved and has asked for assistance from a government representative in the area.

We then toured classrooms and saw the new flooring, terrazzo, which is very hard wearing and done very inexpensively in Kenya. It was beautiful! We toured the main house including the children’s bedrooms, bath facilities, kitchen, laundry and living room. Everything was clean and tidy. The weekly menu, written on lined loose-leaf paper, was taped to the kitchen wall. While any North American student might rebel over such a diet (mainly porridge and maize and beans with fruit, kale or tea put in every now and then), I think this a typical diet for low income Kenyans. The children living at the orphanage seemed happy and healthy.

I noticed some tooth decay and stain on some children’s teeth and I asked Eric about dental care. He said that Kelvin Hill, a dentist from Alberta, had been there earlier in the year so, they are being looked after. In thinking about the maintenance issues and the large garden plot, I wondered if the garden could make enough money to pay the wages for a handyman to manage it and look after the maintenance issues as well. That would be quite an undertaking I think, and would certainly require start-up capital with questionable returns. Perhaps that is a project that could be added at some time down the road as the other more pressing needs are addressed.

The children were assembled in the living room of the main house where they were given special snacks we brought (juice and biscuits) and some fellow travelers gave out small stuffed toys and Hot Wheels™ cars. We noticed that the children played with their toys only for a few minutes and then gave them to other children.

I think the concept of having a toy or a possession of their own is literally foreign to them. We spent some time with the children, took pictures with them, and had a wonderful time visiting.

Irene had told us earlier of one of the girls, Alice, who was rescued from the bottom of a pit latrine as a newborn. She was abandoned there and was found when someone miraculously heard her little cries. They had to dismantle the latrine to get to her and by the time they pulled her up, she had been there long enough that maggots were coming out of her ears and nose, and there were maggots eating on her cheek and neck. She was hospitalized until she was well enough to move to the orphanage. For a month after she was found, there were maggots in her feces.

Now, Alice is eight years old and has only tiny scars from the maggot bites. Unfortunately she is not able to retain her school lessons from day to day so scholastically she is behind others in her age group.  However, even with these dramatic limitations and an unimaginable beginning to her life, she is very good-natured and willing to help with anything.

It was sobering and inspiring to visit the orphanage and see the children interact. It was probably one of the more emotionally draining visits for me but I am glad and blessed I had the opportunity to see it.

October 25
Tulwap School

On this day, we were scheduled to visit two schools to inspect classrooms and see the overall projects. Since it was a Sunday, we expected it would be quiet day but it consistently appeared to be the case that when these people hear that ABW is coming, students, parents, teachers, board members and politicians are waiting in earnest to greet the visitors. It was amazing to see literally hundreds of people waiting at the Tulwap School gate, all of whom started singing as soon as they saw the first van.

The children were wearing their school uniforms, and some were in traditional dress with yellow paint on their faces. There were songs and dances from all age groups.

Some members of our group: Linda, Julie, Kelsey and Kristin brought a suitcase of craft supplies for the children to make crepe paper sunflowers, which included a Polaroid picture of each child glued in the center. A small group of 30 or 40 children met in a classroom for this project while others played outside or lingered in their own classrooms. Elsewhere, the men inspected the building projects. Julie’s husband, Doug, is a general contractor so his expertise was put to use at every stop on the trip. One example of this at the Tulwap School was defective metal roofing which could result in contamination of water collected from the roof, a problem since this water is intended for drinking by students and others. This was the subject of much discussion on site, and continued in the vans afterward.

Even so, Tulwap School  is a great facility that includes a feeding program for its large enrollment. After the inspections, the people were assembled in the schoolyard with parents crowded onto a porch and our group sheltered in the shade of another porch. We were served snacks while we watched a program , then we were introduced to the staff and board. There were also area politicians in attendance who gave speeches. The area MP, Joseph Limo, was there with his wife Beatrice who has worked on a number of projects with A Better World.

Ringa School

It was a short drive to Ringa School where we were greeted again by singing. Joseph and Beatrice Limo, the area MP and his wife, came to this school as well.

I think it’s particularly noteworthy that people of their position would come out on a Sunday to meet and greet us. It’s a reflection of this MP’s dedication to A Better World and its projects that Joseph announced in his speech that anywhere ABW built a school, he would make sure the roads gave good access. I also overheard ABW project leaders comment on how Beatrice Limo’s involvement and influence has also helped the schools to flourish. It is clear that the community has joined with the MP and his wife in being significantly interested and invested in this school. It was impressively clean, tidy, well-planned and well-landscaped.

October 26
Sogobet School

This school has been built on a fairly steep hillside and since there had been quite a bit of rain before our visit, our last van up the hill did not fare so well on the muddy road! Several older boys helped to push our van out of the muck.

Once again, the reception of students, teachers and parents was overwhelming. Their enthusiastic singing of the welcome song again brings tears to your eyes. Beatrice Limo joined us for these visits as well. This is also a school that has benefitted from her influence. After the welcome reception, students returned to their classrooms and the men went to inspect the new classroom project (and did some additional troubleshooting with respect to drainage and ceiling enclosure), the craft ladies took their suitcase of supplies to a classroom and the rest of us visited classes in session.

Margaret and I asked to observe a Class 3 room. This particular class was in an old, rusty, corrugated metal building with dirt floors and only a small cut-out for a window and larger cut-out for the door. It is one of the classes that eagerly looks forward to moving into the new classroom building currently under construction. When I stepped into the room, I couldn’t see a thing—it was so dark. Once my eyes adjusted, I could make out the students and desks, etc. We stood at the back of the class and watched the children learn phonics from the teacher who had a board hanging around her neck with three letters on it. She pointed to the letters one at a time, and the more than 35 children would loudly recite each sound in unison. There was no fidgeting or daydreaming by these students—the teacher had each student’s full attention. I talked to the teacher afterward and she commented that she cannot send reading assignments home with the children, since they share one reader book between three children so further funding for school supplies is also desperately needed.

Second School (the name escapes me)

We visited another school on a hillside with another overwhelming reception. Another classroom project was underway which was inspected, and the craft project and class visits were becoming familiar. A heavy rain began which cut our visit short otherwise, the drive back down the hill would have been unsafe.

Women’s Empowerment Center

Beatrice Limo continued to accompany us on our visits, and was extremely pleased to have us visit the Women Empowerment Center where 6,000 women are registered in a table banking program to which ABW has contributed the start-up funds. Each of these women are entrepreneurs who have borrowed money, as part of a group of 20 borrowers, to begin a small business of their own so they can provide food and education for their children.

The rules are strict for repayment, with any needed pressure coming from 19 other women in the group of 20. If one doesn’t pay back her loan, it’s up to the other 19 and they don’t want to do that. Otherwise, the group of 20 supports one another.

The center was recently refurbished, still smelling of fresh paint. There was a nice reception area, three teller windows and in the back, some committee rooms and a vault.

We were introduced to and heard speeches from each of the employees who told us the nature of their job, including three field officers who go out to meet the women in their homes as the distance for them to walk or take a motorcycle taxi into town can be challenging for expensive. Beatrice concluded the presentations with an impassioned speech of her own, then we were each presented with fabric wraps with the center logo, a necklace made by one of the women entrepreneurs, and served tea and chapatti. All this of course was done amid boisterous song, dance and smiles.

October 27
Ndanai Center for Disabled Children

Following the visit to the Women’s Empowerment Center, our group split up into three smaller groups as there were more projects to visit than we had time.

My group went to Ndanai to buy groceries, make lunch for the residents of the Ndanai Center for Disabled Children, tour the facility and school and break ground for new classrooms. Purchasing food and supplies in the little village of Ndanai was an experience in itself. I was glad to have ABW veterans Richard and Cindy Wright along as they knew what to get and how to get it. We walked from the village to the Center. I was grateful to be outdoors and moving a bit more. As we walked we could see some children playing what looked like a version of football in a field where a few cows gave them the right of way.

We helped Lillian, the “denmother,” put the groceries and paper goods away and got started making spaghetti with vegetable-rich tomato sauce. Lillian thought our food was going to be too strange for the children and insisted on making a pot of rice to be safe. She was obviously concerned that the children were happy with what they were eating and that they would get enough. Justus, the “denfather” was at the market with us and had asked that we buy some meat to go into it so he picked out a big bag of chopped beef. It was rather crude looking so we made two pots of sauce: veggie and beef. The chimneys for the wood stoves were plugged up so it was pretty smoky, but the windows were open and we managed!

Fortunately the sauce and pasta was ready just in time and the disabled children began to make their way to the community room. I have never been in a place where nearly every person was disabled and felt ashamed at how obviously sheltered my life has been for the last 55 years. I was thrown off a little by the unfamiliarity and I struggled to make conversation with them so I focused on serving the food and keeping a smile. They seemed to like the food, for which I was grateful.

After lunch, Justus got up and spoke about the success stories of the surgeries the children have had, and brought a few of the children forward to explain what their initial problem had been and how they had been addressed. I was very moved by the stories and the children who were willing show their disabilities. The power of the human spirit, in the face of such adversity, at work in such young lives was a lot to be reckoned with in my mind. The stories I heard that day included one of a young  boy who was a double amputee of only about 14-15 years old who had been run over by a train. He was wearing (and using successfully) second-hand prosthetic legs. He likely had had them for a while as the overall length of his leg and prosthetics seemed short and out of proportion for his body.

Justus told us how he mastered his wheelchair very quickly in the early part of his healing—he had natural athletic ability. I couldn’t help but think of how he would be able to run if he had properly fitted, new athletic-style prosthetic legs but, I had to remind myself it is not practical at this point to make comparisons based on my North American context.

It is more helpful to look to see what can be done to make life better for many in need in this Kenyan context rather than focus on the ultimate solution for one. Justus then introduced three able-bodied children who voluntarily chose to live with these disabled children because they knew that their friends needed someone to assist them. Two of them were tall, strong boys and one was a girl. What powerful examples they provided of selfless service. Just before the rains started up again, we had a tour of the squeaky-clean dormitories and bathrooms in these facilities (the children also do their own laundry in the bathrooms), the physical therapy area and staff living quarters.

Following this was a groundbreaking ceremony for three new classrooms. The three young girls/women in our ABW group put their hands on the shovel and turned the first mound of soil for this new building project.

October 28
Kericho home visits

On this day, we descended a steep slope by foot to a location that overlooked the most pastoral mountain setting I’ve ever laid eyes on. It seemed that every square inch was being farmed, mostly with tea. We took with us six bags of groceries, each containing a sack of flour, a sack of sugar, a bottle of oil and a loaf of bread, as a gift for each of the women we were visiting that day, to thank them for their hospitality in welcoming us to their tiny homes and sharing their success story with the table banking program at the Women’s Empowerment Center we had visited earlier (which A Better World had contributed the start-up funds to help begin).

The first few women we visited bought seeds with their borrowed money and grew vegetables for market. The first woman had also made enough to buy some chickens to have eggs to eat and sell. All of these women live in either a round stick and mud hut with a thatched roof or a simple wood structure with a metal roof. We went inside one home—one of the the stick and mud homes—that had barely enough room to fit in the members of our group, and she kindly answered our questions in Swahili which Beatrice translated into English, and proudly brought out her bank passbook, showing how much she had saved after paying back her loan.

The “richest” of the women we visited had 30,000 Kenyan shillings (USD$300). Another woman confided that her children were not in school as she had to decide between buying food or paying the school bill, which was 20 cents in US funds. Some cash was discreetly volunteered by some members of our group and placed into Beatrice’s hand who would make sure that the school bills were paid for four children unable to continue, a grand total of $4.00 US.

Our last stop on this hillside community was to visit several women who pooled their funds to start up an apiary. A few of us at a time were permitted to view the many beehives, which were very active. Bee-friendly flowers were planted nearby as well. Today was one of my favorites as it celebrated successes and brought smiles from women who are pleased with what they’ve accomplished. The fresh air, a good hike, breathtaking scenery and sunshine were a glorious bonus for those of us visiting these successful women.

October 29
Travel day to the Mara

It was a long day in the vans, but the scenery was wonderful and the company in the van was always fun. We were in the land of the colorful Maasai people and the abundant wildlife of Africa. At our destination, we met up with a few members of a medical team who had completed their work on a visit to Kenya at the same time. It was interesting to hear of the work they had just completed. I was awed by their dedication to and stories of responding to and meeting medical need in this country.

October 30
Loigero School

Loigero School is in the Maasai region and was founded by a man named Jacob. He taught the initial13 students under a tree, using a stick to draw the lessons into the dust. Jacob now manages the school with 613 students occupying several buildings provided by A Better World. It was wonderful to hear the story, and see the children in their uniforms, studying at desks in nice classrooms.

As in the other schools we visited, Margaret and I found the teachers to be in full command of their classes and diligent in their teaching. There was no question that the children knew their lessons. Margaret and I visited the four remaining girls in class 8. Jacob told us earlier that the dormitory currently under construction is to house the girls so they will stay in school. Since the Masai are traditionally polygamous, most of the girls get married very young so many of them do not complete class 8.* I found this to be troubling on a number of levels and I was glad that measures were being taken to keep young women in school, away from their local village where many of the men would take them for wives at a young age. Margaret and I encouraged these four girls to remain diligent in their studies, finish school and think about how they can be leaders in their communities. When I told them I was a “secretary” for a university president, they gasped as though this was quite an achievement. I concluded that they don’t think big when thinking about their futures. I really wish I could have stayed longer to interact with them more rather than just making a speech.

*Finishing class 8 and passing the government exam is critical for being considered for any decent job.

Maasai village

We visited a nearby Maasai village where many of the children in the school come from. Some of the men in our group jumped in the dance with the Maasai men and the women were invited to join the Maasai women in their dance (much less movement than the men). Then each of the young men took us in groups of three to four to visit their mud/dung homes with thatched roofs. We were encouraged to take photos and ask all the questions we wished. I took pictures with the flash which, without, I never would have seen what was actually in the house as it was so dark. The calves are brought into a special room to sleep at night, presumably to keep them safe from predators. Another area had a cubby hole with a stick platform which was the bed. The cooking and heating fire was on a small mound in the center of the room. A small child learning to walk could easily fall into the fire so the families probably do not spend much time inside.

I asked our host if he liked his life and he replied quickly that he did. I thought it would have been interesting to ask that question of one of the women! We didn’t have an opportunity to talk to the women and I wondered if that is reflective of a male dominated communit or if it it might be that perhaps they don’t know English (something they learn in school).

Oloolaimutia Clinic

This was our final stop this day for the official opening of a new clinic, funded by the Trenchard family in memory of Marilyn Trenchard, RN. She was the mother of Mark and David Trenchard, both traveling with our group. Before the ribbon was cut, we heard several songs by the children with some impressive choreography, as well as singing and dancing from some mothers. The program also included speeches, including one by Juma who runs the clinic and is obviously passionate about serving the people who use the clinic. I sensed that he felt personally responsible for the health of the entire community. Mark Trenchard gave a beautiful speech about his mother, how she loved babies and the mothers who gave birth to them, and how if she were alive today, she would kiss each baby and hug each mother, delighted with their roles as mothers. David also gave a speech, then the ribbon was cut and we went inside the new clinic. It was smaller than the other clinics we had visited but Juma was excited to have it and had actually already moved supplies in. The old clinic building will be torn down as the termites have gotten into the wood supports and beams. The new clinic is built with cement block walls so it should serve them for many years.

Life on the Mara for the Maasai people is not easy.

Before the clinic opening ceremonies, we saw a young girl who was treated earlier for anthrax (resulting from eating meat from a cow that had been dead for a while), and an older man who had been bitten that morning by a black mamba snake. He was fortunate to get to the clinic within 60 minutes or his family would have been arranging for his burial. Up until that point I was, for the most part, oblivious to the dangers in Kenya that were just beyond our vans, as we had been very well cared for at every step of the journey. I remember thinking, ‘this is the real deal, every day is a profound life or death crap shoot for these people.’

After the ceremony, four Maasai women quietly brought their babies closer to us and sat down in the dust. Each child had a disability of some kind. Cathy, who has served on medical teams, approached them and talked to them about their little ones. Cathy told me after talking with the mothers that two children have clubfoot and need surgery. There is a surgical team that comes from Finland regularly to do these surgeries for free, but there are costs for pre- and post-op. In these cases, that cost would be USD $400 each—a fortune for the Maasai, but not necessarily for North Americans. I understand that A Better World raises funds for projects like these and I immediately wanted to be involved in a project of this sort.

As we started to make our way back to the vans, I heard women singing loudly. Once again I was overwhelmed as one of the Maasai women approached me while singing and grinning broadly, and clasped a handmade beaded necklace around my neck and hugged me tightly. I looked around and the members of our group were also receiving gifts from the women in the same manner. They were more numerous than our group so each of us received several gifts. In my case, I received two bracelets in addition to the necklace.  Their display of gratitude would have suggested to an onlooker that each of us had personally funded or constructed the clinic! I will always treasure these beaded pieces that I received that afternoon.

That evening back at the hotel, Eric surprised a few of us at dinner with robust song from the restaurant staff and a cake to recognize that tomorrow the group would be losing three people: Rick was leaving for another project, Cathy was headed home, and I was being “lost to old age” (my birthday was the next day)! Eric doesn’t miss an opportunity to recognize a person or  something significant in that person’s life. He is the quintessential host!

October 31
Rest day

Today was the first day off during this trip to Kenya, and we enjoyed a game drive at a relaxed pace and even a game “walk” along the Mara River to see hippos, crocodiles and a lot of dead wildebeests in the river (we were accompanied by two armed guides).  Eric surprised us with a white linen lunch in the bush alongside the Mara River with fully uniformed catering staff and amazing food. As we took a break for that wonderful meal, we felt like royalty. The staff began to sing and danced in a line around the tables.

Then it became a bit awkward when I saw one of the staff people carrying a cake, and my fellow travelers got up and formed a big circle with the staff while singing happy birthday. I’m not a “crier” but the enormity and complexity of this moment seized me. I was on the trip of a lifetime—seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling all things Kenya, and encountering amazing stories and understanding profound need and people who are seeking to understand and meet that need.

There are not words to adequately describe it, really, but this was my attempt in a Facebook post: “Spending a birthday in a safari van on the Mara seeking out the Big Five with a couple of amazing new friends and a zoom camera is mind blowing. Add 14 additional new friends, a white linen banquet lunch set in the shade trees alongside the Mara River where hippos and crocodiles hang out, fine cuisine cooked and served by Maasai gentlemen/chefs, serenaded by the same including a Maasai warrior and aforementioned amazing new friends bearing a fine quality chocolate cake, and you have one grateful, overwhelmed, shocked, speechless and teary-eyed birthday lady with inadequate words to express this whole African experience of a birthday amidst beauty, unbelievable poverty, human spirit, mud, smoke, tireless relief efforts, clinics, schools, orphanages, incomprehensible stories and beginnings, inspiring volunteers, dented cups on sagging shelves in a shack of a school ‘kitchen,’ calloused bare feet, missing teeth, dignity, tattered school uniforms worn with pride, maize and beans, welcome parties of hundreds of school children singing in Swahili, grateful, shy parents, dozens of small, sticky African hands clamoring to feel your white skin and straight hair (and you let them), the arresting guttural sounds of young Maasai men singing during a traditional dance, rain dripping on desks on dirt floors where three children squeeze to share one textbook in the dark, the wonder, diversity, and amazement that exists in the abundant and cruel animal kingdom. And in the middle of it all, these friends pause to stop and wish me, another face in the planetary crowd, a very happy birthday. Words are not adequate. God bless you all!!”

November 1-2

In these last two days, we enjoyed some rest and relaxation. The rest was more needed than we realized, I think, and Eric chose beautiful surroundings in which to rejuvenate and meditate upon all we had experienced. I also saw some of the most magnificent animals on our game drives there—many in large groups—living their unpredictable lives on the Mara. It’s amazing to think that such a harsh environment is, at the same time, a fragile ecosystem.

Eric honored Joe and Linda Skwarchuk’s 50th wedding anniversary in Maasai fashion with song, dance, a speech and a cake in a beautiful bush dinner setting. What a place for milestone memories!

And then: riverbeds and rock piles that pass for roads! The drive from the Mara back towards Nairobi was quite the experience. The roads were so rough and rocky in some places that we drove in the ditch—which was not much smoother. The comments in our van included the vow to never complain about a pot-hole in a North American road again!

November 3

This was the last day in Africa with most of us flying out from the Nairobi airport that evening.

We drove the rest of the way into Nairobi and stopped along the way near the summit of mountain overlooking the Rift Valley. Breathtaking!  We also stopped at a souvenir shop and restaurant and lingered there for quite a while.

I talked with Eric and some others about the “what’s next” for each of us upon returning home. Eric’s mantra is, “Think of the one thing that you can do, then do that thing.”

I can’t personally save the world, but I am blessed to know of an organization with the lifting power to help make it “A Better World” in some significant ways. And I can tell others what I saw—the heartwarming things and the heartbreaking things and, most importantly, the hope-filled things—and we can figure out what we can do, then we will “do that thing.”