Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nairobi, Kenya

Hello everyone,

I am in my first new African country in six years (Zimbabwe being the last in 2000). I'll add Kenya and Tanzania on this trip, making my African total 6 countries (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania). Oh, I love adding countries to my passport!

Nairobi has been good to me so far. I'm staying at the Heron Hotel in Nairobi, quite a splurge, as I'm used to backpackers, but my safari leaves from here. Less carting of bags makes Moe a happy chic. I bought so many books that I had to send one bag to Johannesburg with friends so that I can retrieve it at the end of the trip. Oops :)

Yesterday I walked into the Nairobi city centre to see what was on and about. What a refreshing and humbling experience to know you are the minority and stick out quite easily. Me and my flaming red hair. I think everyone should have this experience because it puts your life into perspective. Many of you experience this daily, and I know it's not easy. It's one of the reasons why I like Africa; I have to step out of my comfort zone. It's good for the soul, and it's darn good for poetry.

There isn't much to see in terms of the usual tourist haunts, as the museum is closed for renovations, but I enjoyed looking into shops and people watching. It was a quick walk about, but an interesting one. Many people were heading to Saturday church services and were dressed quite smartly. I looked shabby in my gym shoes and jeans!

Today was the big tour day to the Sheldrick Orphanage, Giraffe Park, Karen Blixen Museum, and bead centre. What a fabulous day. The Sheldrick Orphanage ( rescues orphaned baby elephants and black rhino, rehabilitates and cares for them, then reintroduces them into the wild. What a fantastic experience. From 11am-noon every day, you can come to the orphanage and see the seven current elephant orphans (the black rhino orphan didn't choose to show up today as he's weaning himself into the wild of the adjoining Nairobi National Park--a rhino protection park). They come in with their caretakers, drink their three bottles of milk, and socialize with each other and people.

The elephants are all younger than two years old (they are released around two years), and they take your breath away. What fun, smart, playful creatures. We were able to touch their rough, hairy skin and watch them play for a good hour. Everyone was reassured that interaction with the elephants does not hurt them when they are released into the wild. This is a fantastic place, and if you want a good gift, you can sponsor an elephant. Daphne Sheldrick has been running this place for 50 years, and it is a unique experience.

Then, we were off to the giraffe park, an entirely different experience. The giraffe park is a breeding ground for giraffes that are endangered and then released into the wild. This had a bit of a zoo feel, as the giraffes that you see are not released into the wild. These female giraffes are the breeders, poor things! They do have many acres to roam, so they lead a pretty good life, I think. I didn't ask them, though. You can feed the giraffes from a balcony, and what fun to have the food pellets swiffed out of your hand by that amazingly long tongue.

Our guide, Ken, who everyone knows, took us on a walk in the nature park to find the macho male, Jock, who is kept apart from the females until it's time and one female is sent to join him. As we walked through thick bush, Ken kept his ears peeled. Then, suddenly, there was the female--Jock's current lady love. She dove right into the food Ken brought, greedy little thing. Standing there, you know you are mortal. She was ten feet away, and I could have fit under her stomach while standing.

Then Jock showed up and the two giraffes started to compete a bit for the food. Nothing dramatic and violent but greedy! Suddenly there's six of us humans in a narrow path with two giraffes starting to move quite quickly towards us. They weren't coming after us, but it certainly didn't feel like it at that point! As I was jumping around in the bush, I couldn't help the nervous laughter. It's not everyday that you vie for space with two adult giraffes. I have the grass and mud stains to prove it! Eventually, the food ran out and the giraffes were no longer interested. Off they went to graze the natural stuff off the tree tops and left us all to laugh at our speeding pulses!

The Karen Blixen Museum may not have been as intense, but I love going on literary/film pilgrimages. I expected the area to be built up, but while her farm was sold into plots, it still maintains a wild feel. Her yard is large and surrounded by woods, the Ngong hills still visible from her back porch. The Museum has most of her original furniture, and the rest of the furniture was used in the movie. Even the clothes Meryl Streep and Robert Redford wore were lazily draped on the furniture. The house is beautiful, and I had my book stamped to prove I was there. I finished Out of Africa last night, so the stories and images were fresh in my mind. Lovely. I only wish I had time to perch on a bench and write.

Then, the last stop was the bead center, where even on a Sunday, a hundred women were in there working on the beads and pottery. Once again, I restrained myself. No room, no chance of it staying intact for three weeks on hectic bumpy roads!

So, what a day! Fantastic. I met a few interesting people and felt envious that they were going places I wasn't going (Uganda, Rwanda). Yet, there's always next time! I leave on my safari tomorrow, and I've already met the head guide who asked me all sorts of "vegan" questions. Our group is small, only six (usually they are 20-25), so it will be quite a personl tour. I expect we will all know each other very well by the time Aug. 26 comes around.

So, I sign off for now. I hope to be able to sign on during my safari for a quick update. At some point I'll put pics on here. It's a slow internet connection here, so I'll be broke before they all download! For now, here are my words. Stay well, healthy, and happy.



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