They say a picture is worth a thousand words...
I'll try to paint one in less.
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I wake up and take a warm shower. After I dress, it's time for breakfast. So I fill my plate with an array of food, and of course a glass of water. After breakfast, we fill the fridge in our safari vehicle with bottled water to prepare for the days journey. All the while not giving a second thought to where all this water came from. Little do I know, I had always had access to something more valuable than gold.
Todays afternoon adventure is different than the previous two day's.
We are not going to see animals, but a people that have made a living among the animals for hundreds, even thousands of years. We were visiting the Samburu natives.
As we pull up to the village it is immediately apparent that we are not anywhere even similar to American Suburbia. When we get out of the vehicles we are met by a man dressed in colorful clothes and beads who introduces himself as the Chief's son, Simon. He warmly welcomes us, and takes us over to watch some of the village residents perform traditional welcome dances.
After the welcoming dances, we were taken in to see the village. We were immediately humbled as we walked and saw the make shift huts that they lived in. It was amazing to see how they turned a bunch of sticks, and what looked like garbage, into a livable area. It was awesome to see the ingenuity!
Simon asked us to follow him as he took us to a cement structure just on the outskirts of the village. As we got closer I quickly realized that that was more than just a cement structure, but a source of life for the villagers. This was a well.
When Jim and Carol Gee first came to Africa about 20 years ago they immediately fell in love. Not only with the land and it's wildlife, but with the people that have called this place home for thousands of years. Upon returning to Africa year after year, their love only grew, but so did their awareness of the hardship these African natives face on a day to day basis.
One of the greatest challenges, among many others, was finding clean water, not only for themselves, but for their livestock which provide most of their nutrients. Jim and Carol couldn't just sit back and watch, so they started The Maji-Ya-Watoto (Water for the Children) Foundation. Since then, they have been successful in drilling three wells, providing clean water for hundreds of people.
Unfortunately Kenya suffered the biggest drought in 100 years in 2017. So severe, that the Kenyan government appealed to the UN for a grant of $165.7 million to aid in what the UN deemed, a national disaster. These wells literally saved lives.
It was amazing seeing the gratitude these people had for something that I overlook everyday. Ever since I was given this experience, turning on a tap in my kitchen carries a lot more weight.
Even with the blessing of these wells, some travel up to 7 miles a day to use them. Thats 14 miles a day, that they need to walk just so they can have water! Wow, in 2017, really?? Thats why Jim and Carol are continuing their mission of providing clean water, with the goal of providing 9 more wells.
With the average cost of each well being $30,000, raising $270,000 for the 9 wells seems like a daunting task. Despite this, we know that with the help of our travel buddies and others, we can slowly but surely accomplish this. If you would like to help us in accomplishing this, click below.
This experience was life changing, and I will never look at water the same...
As we drive through the zebra striped gate into Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, we are filled with anticipation! Almost immediately we spot a zebra, then an oryx, oh and over there is a giraffe! In an excited frenzy we direct our safari driver Jackson to get up close to all these animals, unaware that these animals are so common that in three days we'll drive by them as if they were simple street signs.
We pull up to the Samburu Simba Lodge to unpack and eat lunch, but we can't do it fast enough, all we want to do is get out there and explore! So we hurriedly eat our lunch and head out to the Jeeps.
During our afternoon game drive we spot many majestic animals. Elephants, Giraffes, Dik Dik's, Impalas, a leopard tortoise, and one of my personal favorites, the warthog. Not to mention the abundance of colorful birds in all shapes and sizes! My first impression is, "How can so much wildlife be in one singular place?". It amazed me how this ecosystem thrived in such bounty in an amazing display of coexistence and codependence. It was like something I never could have imagined.
We end our afternoon game drive satisfied, but not quenched. For we had not yet seen any of the big cats of Africa...
The air is cooler, and the jungle takes on new life. So do we. As we set out on our evening safari we hope to find one of the big cats of Africa which includes the lion, leopard and cheetah. An hour goes by, then two, the sun starts to set and so does our hope of seeing a cat.
As we start our way back towards the lodge we stop at the base of a tree filled with Vervet monkeys. They run and play, pull on each others tail and carelessly jump around the tree. We are laughing and thoroughly entertained by the monkey antics when suddenly the mood changes.
The sounds of playful banter turn into shrill screams as the monkeys scurry up the tree in a nervous craze. What are they doing? I ask myself, but before I can even begin thinking of the answer our guide Jackson says, "There is a cat in the area, thats what the monkeys are telling us." I knew Jackson spoke Swahili, but now he speaks Vervet monkey too??
He watches the monkeys carefully to see where they are looking, and we head off in that direction.
Now our blood is pumping! Jackson expertly maneuvers the vehicle through the rough terrain, at a very high speed I might add. When just as fast as we started the chase, he ends it. Jackson slams on the brakes and points out the right side of the vehicle, saying, "that's what we were looking for".
My words can't describe the feeling I felt as I watched three beautifully spotted cheetahs walk in a single file line into the never ending African horizon. This is it. This is wild Africa. For some reason prior to seeing these incredible cats, I was not able to process the full majesty of the African atmosphere. But as I gaze upon the cheetahs' glowing coats, and watch them lick their paws clean of blood from their recent meal, I know one thing; I have arrived.
That night as I lay my head down to sleep, the words of our guide Jackson run through my mind. "The jungle talks. All we have to do is listen, and we will be lead everywhere we want to go". Thankful for those monkeys deciding to speak to us, I close my eyes, excited for another day of discovery.
It's morning. The combination of anticipation for the day's adventures and the melodic chirping of the countless African fowl cause me to awake. I'm laying in my bed in the beautiful Southern Sun Hotel in the heart of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. As I get ready for the day I'm still amazed by the idea that I am in Africa. What is it going to be like? Is it as incredible as the movies make it out to be? What will I see? Who will I meet? As these questions go through my head I pack my camera bag and head out the door.
I am met in the front Lobby by Jim Gee, the founder and heart of Discovery Expeditions and Adventures. Jim is a soft spoken intelligent man, and looks exactly how you would picture a safari guide. As we walk out the front exit we are greeted by Edwin, Jim's right hand man who handles the business in Kenya, his home country. Edwin is the embodiment of Joy and Respect. His smile makes you feel safe, and his voice is gentle and kind. He leads us to the impressive Toyota Land Cruiser that has been modified for the ultimate safari experience and just screams "adventure"!
I ask where our first stop is for the day, and I'm told that we are heading to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where they take care of orphaned elephants. Orphaned elephants? Why do they need to be taken care of by humans? Won't they just be taken in by other elephants if their mother dies? I ask these questions to Jim, and what I learn is very interesting.
Elephants suckle for an average of 3-4 years, but will not cross suckle, meaning it will not be nursed by any elephant other than its natural birth mother. So if the mother of a nursing calf dies, either by natural causes or poaching, unfortunately, it will not be long before the calf dies as well. So what this organization does is incredible. First, with the help of park rangers, they identify the orphaned elephants. Second, they introduce them into the orphanage where they bottle feed them and teach them other skills to help them survive later. Third, after they have matured past the "nursing" stage the next step is introducing them back into the wild and helping them be accepted into a herd. It is not an easy task introducing a foreign elephant to an established herd, sometimes it takes years before they are fully accepted as one with the herd.
When we pull up to the wildlife trust we are lead to a roped off area, where several men dressed in green wait while holding these massive baby bottles. I am so excited to see these elephants up close and personal. I look to the left and spot another green shirted man followed by a small caravan of adolescent elephants. Soon, the elephants, anxious to feed, stop following the leader and make a B-line to the care takers with the baby bottles.
Now when I say these look like massive baby bottles, I'm not kidding! They are massive! Each bottle held at least a liter of milk! Nonetheless, these baby elephants put that milk down like it was nothing. They energetically drank pushing the guards around, spilling some milk and some of them even held their own bottle with their trunks! All you animal lovers out there would have been in heaven because it was one of the cutest things I have ever seen! When all was said and done I was sad to leave the elephant orphanage and hope to return someday!
From the wildlife trust we head off on a three hour car ride through the craziest traffic I've ever seen. Forget traffic laws?! I mean if they have any, they're either very very lenient or no one cares to keep them! I held on to the interior of that jeep so hard my knuckles went white as we headed for our destination. The place we were going sat on a little dirt road on the outskirts of Nairobi, the name of the place was Kanini children's home.
Let me tell you, our experience at this orphanage was much different than that of the elephant orphanage. The children were even more sweet and cute than the baby elephants, but the reality of their situation made me want to cry. Their cheery disposition astonished me; despite their hard situation they still had the ability to smile and laugh.
I pull out my camera and get some shots of them, and then as I play it back to them, I watch as their eyes become fixed to the screen in wonder. They sing to me, question me and stare at me, all the while I am just falling in love with them all.
As we are taken around the orphanage to see the different parts we stop at the boy's rooms. There we find a skinny boy no older than 9 who is soaking wet, with a towel around his waist, frantically searching for his clothes that he removed so he could wash up. In my naive mind I thought, "just go put on some other clothes in your room, and then go looking for your other pair". Then I realized, he had no other pair. None of these children had more than one pair of clothes. They weren't preoccupied with fashion and how they looked, they were just happy to have clothes in the first place.
After finishing the visit with a roaring game of soccer (mind you it was on a dirt soccer field covered in thorns and sharp objects, all while they were shoeless, plus the ball was as flat as a pancake) we left humbled, grateful for what we had and ready to make a difference in their lives the best we can.
It was an incredible first day in Africa, but little did I know that it was just about to get better.
FINAL THOUGHTS: After leaving the children's orphanage we decided we wanted to help in some way. After counseling about it we decided that providing them with clothes, shoes and underwear would be a great first step. The weeks upon my return from Africa I set out to collect donations of clothes that we could send down to those children. The response was amazing! Because of the contributions of local families we were able to collect and send down a total of 45 shirts, 61 pants, 30 pairs of shoes, 50 pairs of socks, 150 pairs of underwear and 2 new soccer balls!