Saturday, August 25, 2012

ACCT International: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Elephant Nursery

Long before we ever came to Kenya, I promised some of the ACCT International interns that I would try my very best to find them baby elephants. Baby elephants were very important.

When we came to Kenya, I brought with me all the back issues of National Geographic that I hadn't found the time to read during grad school. Coincidentally, one of these NGs contained an article on the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as NG explains, is
"the world's most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. The nursery takes in orphan elephants from all over Kenya, many victims of poaching or human-wildlife conflict, and raises them until they are no longer milk dependent. Once healed and stabilized at the nursery, they are moved more than a hundred miles southeast to two holding centers in Tsavo National Park. There, at their own pace, which can be up to eight to ten years, they gradually make the transition back into the wild. The program is a cutting-edge experiment in cross-species empathy that only the worst extremes of human insensitivity could have necessitated."
It was founded in 1977 in honor of the famous naturalist, David Sheldrick, who was also the founder Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. His wife, Daphne Sheldrick, established the nursery we visited
"back in 1987. Sheldrick is fourth-generation Kenya-born and has spent the better part of her life tending wild animals...She's reared abandoned baby buffalo, dik-diks, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and black rhinos, among others, but no creature has beguiled her more than elephants."
For me, visiting the nursery was an interesting display of the difficulty faced by charities when promoting their cause and raising funds, while also protecting their clients (in this case, baby elephants).  The elephants at the nursery are raised in the most natural manner as possible to help ensure their eventual reintegration into the wild. These are not circus or zoo animals, they are not meant to be trained of put on display. Yet, public awareness and an emotional connection are important to the Trust's advocacy and fundraising efforts. The compromise is they welcome the public into the nursery for one hour each day for feeding time. The entrance fee itself is incredibly reasonable (the equivalent of $6 USD), but visitor are welcome to adopt one of the orphan elephants or make a donation to the Trust. In addition, throughout the viewing period, an employee explained, not only the work of the Trust protecting and rehabilitating elephants, but also the conditions that lead to orphaned and injured elephants. He encouraged the audience to do what they can, such as not buying ivory.

Personally, I found the viewing period too crowded.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Elephant Nursery

It had too much of a zoo-like feel to me. But, you cannot deny that baby elephants are adorable.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Elephant Nursery

— Sara

ACCT International: Lake Baringo

Lake Baringo

For our second day in Nakuru, we headed north of town to another lake, Lake Baringo. We were supposed to make a full day of it and stop at Lake Bogoria on the way home (which apparently is home to lots of flamingoes and is volcanic in some way). However, we could tell the students were pretty exhausted. Instead we promised them a half day, with an early return to Nakuru, maybe for rest, relaxation, and a little shopping. Would you be surprised to learn things did not go quite according to plan?

Though no one had indicated how long the trip to the lake would be, I had Googled mapped it. Google said just less than two hours. I assumed 2.5 hours on the safe side. It took us more than three hours to reach the lake. I knew there was no way we were going to make it back to Nakuru early in the day if we planned to tour the lake for two hours, eat lunch, and then make a three-hour drive back.

To me, the most interesting feature of the lake was the effects of the recent flooding. Since 2006, the waters of the lake have been rising, submerging homes and other structures that were once on the banks.

Lake Baringo

This hasn't stopped some families from continuing to live in their homes, as you can see in the inhabited second story here:

Lake Baringo

People aren't the only ones making use of these submerged structures.

Lake Baringo

This lake was also home to innumerable birds.

Lake Baringo

My favorite was the fish eagle.

Lake Baringo

Our guides brought us close to the shore where the eagles had made their nests. Then they made high-pitched whistling noises and threw fish into the water to attract the eagles.

Eagles weren't the only animals we attracted with fish that day.

Lake Baringo

Sure, this was a rather small crocodile, but I still found our guide's habit of slapping the water near the croc to get its attention an little unnerving.

Lake Baringo

Seems like a great way to lose a hand to me.

Tune in next time when we finally make it back to Nairobi, well a fancy suburb just outside of Nairobi.

— Sara

ACCT International: Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru

 I left Kenya without finishing all my blogging. When I got back to the US, I got all busy not having a job and sort of abandoned all of my dedicated readers (i.e. Mom). I figured it might be best to finish off our adventure in Kenya before we take off for my sister's wedding in the Bahamas next weekend.

Lake Nakuru is a little more than half way to Nairobi from Mumias and most famous for its birds.

Our visit to the the KWS park started out with a little hiccup. We were under the impression that we had arranged for a student admission rate to the park. This is $40 USD, rather than $80 USD. The letter that granted the student rate never made it to me. I was sent an email, but there was no attachment. So I never saw the letter. Our guide to the park had it in his email and was able to pull it up on his laptop to show the park rangers. This is when the fun began.

First, the lady at the ticket booth said that we had to take the letter to the booth on the other side of the gate where they would do something. So we did. And they did. Wen we came back to the ticket lady, she looked at what they did and let us know something was still missing. So we went back to the other booth. They did something else. The ticket lady was still not satisfied. She insisted some sort of form was missing. The man from the other booth (who had accompanied us back to her booth) had no idea what she was talking about. After some confusion, he walked over to a desk, pulled a weird receipt book out of the desk and started to fill it out. But then, it appears, he was going to need all of the students' passports.

I want out to the group and gathered up all the passports and brought them back to ticket man. He pulled out a calculator and proceeded to do subtraction for each passport. Open passport. Type 2012 into calculator. Minus. Type birth year in calculator. Set passport aside. Repeat. I quickly caught on that we were determining student ages. "What age is he looking for?" I questioned? I could tell him. I knew everyone's ages. Also, you don't have to do math for each student. If we know the age, then we know the birth year they cannot have been born before (or after) so we just have too look at that. Clearly, I was being too sensibile.

I overheard someone say 33. Oh, no problem, I can tell you that none of the students are older than 33. Finally, after going through about half of the passports, the man pointed to our letter (remember, the letter that I had never seen?). It clearly stated that we would be granted student admission for all students 23 years and younger. Hmmm...well, you wouldn't have needed to do all that math if you had just asked me. I can tell you that all the students are older than 23. In fact, the two youngest students turned 24 while we were in Kenya.

So no student rate for us. Ok, fine. But we only brought enough USD to cover the student rate, $600 USD, and now we owe $1,200 USD. Ok, also fine. We can just pay in Ksh right? Wait, your exchange rate is 88 Ksh for $1 USD? That is insanity. We only got 80.1 Ksh when we converted our USD to Ksh at the bank. We were totally getting hosed on this deal. In order to save a couple bucks, I was sent out to the students again to collect all the USD they might have on hand.

Finally, after much confusion, we paid our tickets and were on our way into the park.

Lake Nakuru

If you remember, the Impala Sanctuary in Kisumu was really a terrible zoo. And the Maasai Mara is not an enclosed space at all, you just happen to be where the animals live. Lake Nakuru is somewhere in between. The entire park area is fenced in, but within that that fence, the animals just live their normal lives, mixing about, eating each other and such. This set up meant that we could get a lot closer to the animals than we did in the Maasai Mara, but it also meant that it had more of a staged feel to it.

We got a much better look at some lions.

Lake Nakuru

And we checked off the last animal we had not see on the Big Five, the rhino.

Lake Nakuru

I actually missed a lot of the driving around in the park, as I was asleep. Cale took all our Lake Nakuru photographs (which are some of my favorite pictures from the whole Kenya trip, like this one:)

Lake Nakuru

(Look at those giraffe knees!)

The night before, I got just about zero sleep. Our room faced the street and the traffic noise was constant and LOUD throughout the night. Plus it never got complete dark in the room, what with the light from outside and the hallway light shining through the required glass panel above the door. Why must all Kenyan hotel and guesthouse rooms have glass panels above the door?

After visiting the lake, the students trekked out to see the Menengai Crater and Egerton Castle. I took a nap. Apparently, the crater was pretty awesome, but I am not sad I missed the castle. Reports indicate it is a big, empty house built in the 1940s. There appears to be no reason to actually visit it.

So there you have it, Lake Nakuru. I am only a month behind in blogging now.

— Sara

Sunday, August 5, 2012

ACCT International: The Trouble with Expectations

When Cale and I were in the Peace Corps, we went through two months of pre-service training (PST). During this training we learned about counterparts. When we got to our posts, we would have counterparts. We had entire sessions on what counterparts are, what working with a counterpart means, how to work with a counterpart, etc. All this talk and training about counterparts certainly created the expectations that there would, in fact, be counterparts. This expectation initially caused me no end of frustration when I got to my school and no one was interested in working with me. At our mid-service conference, I discovered I was not alone. We all complained of the lack of counterparts. That was when our program director said something that initially angered me and has since become a matra I live by.

Instead of fixing the problem with the counterpart, we needed to fix the problem with our expectations. If we stopped expecting someone to work with us, we would stop being so pissed off when no one did. It is so much easier to change your own mindset than that of everyone else around you.

During the training before the ACCT interns left for Kenya, I shared this profound life lesson with them, feeling like a wise, old sage. Here, I thought, learn from my mistake, and avoid the pain of expectations. Have no expectations and rejoice!

I managed to make it through nine weeks of ACCT International in Kenya confident in my expectation-less wisdom. Issues, problems, weirdness, I was able to let them all just roll off my back because I had no expectations.

And then, in the last week, I lost it.

It all started with our bus ride to Nakuru. On our way back to Nairobi, we were stopping in Nakuru for several days to visit the national park and learn about the local wildlife our partner organization, ANAW, is working to protect. Two weeks before our departure, Cale and I visited most of the coach (read: bus) companies with booking agents in Mumias to find the best bus and prices from Mumias to Nakuru. We eventually went with Tahmeed. Nice bus, reasonable price (though 100 Ksh more than Easy Coach). Best of all, it left at the time we wanted. All the other buses left either at seven or eight in the morning or at seven or eight at night. We wanted to leave in the afternoon (so we still had time in the morning on Monday and so we didn't arrive in Nakuru at an unreasonable hour). The bus left at 4pm. The booking agent told me it arrived in Nakuru at 8pm. This was actually one hour shorter than the time the other agents told me. Either way, I figured we should be in Nakuru in about five hours. And that is when I formed an expectation.

Fast forward two weeks and we are all on the bus heading to Nakuru. Just past Eldoret (a two-hour drive from Mumias), the bus pulled over to the side of the road to let people out to pee....on the side of the road. Obviously, it was mostly guys who took advantage of this pit stop, as it is slightly more difficult for girls to pee in the open. I decided not to go, as I anticipated being at our destination in two or three hours. Not long past Eldoret, Megan pulled out her handy Kenya guide and read that it was a four-hour bus ride from Eldoret to Nakuru. Hmm....but this was supposed to be a four-hour bus ride total and it took us two of those hours just to get to Eldoret. Things did not bode well for an arrival in Nakuru at a reasonable hour...or eating dinner. Usually, I would let this roll off my back, but in this instance I could not. I became increasingly agitated the longer it took us to reach our destination. "Why tell me the bus would arrive at 8pm," I thought to myself as 9pm came and went. It wasn't like I had indicated that I wanted to arrive at a particular time. I just wanted to know how long the trip would be.

When we finally rolled into Nakuru after 10pm, I discovered I had another expectation to cause me consternation. We originally planned to have our partner organization pick us up at the stage (read: bus station....but see: random spot in town where people are dropped off). However, at some point, Dr. W had spoken with the manager of Tahmeed and he had indicated that they could drop us at our hotel. How handy, considering the ridiculous amount of luggage we were moving with us, it would be nice not to have to unload it into a van and then unload it again at the hotel. We even went so far as to put the bus manager on the phone with our partner organization so directions to the hotel could be provided. And, the bus manager was on the bus with us all the way to Nakuru, so surely there wouldn't be any miscommunications with the driver about where we were to be dropped. Dammit....that's an expectations.

When we arrived in Nakuru, they unloaded us at the stage, not our hotel. In a flurry of hectic, unorganized activity, they began to unload all our luggage and jam it (violently) into a matatu. I scrambled to get the interns to put eyes on their bags. "We are not leaving this stage until everyone can confirm they have seen their luggage!" Once all our baggage had been manhandled into the 14-passenger van (which was literally stuffed to the top with all our bags), they crammed the rest of us into another matatu and drove us at top speeds through the damp streets to our hotel. Once again, why insist we can be dropped at our hotel if we cannot? We had other arrangements that would have worked fine if you hadn't insisted we could be dropped at the hotel. I fumed from my cramped seat on the matatu.

The rest of my week would consist of similar instances. Me making plans, me having expectations that these plans would actually work, me getting frustrated and angry when they did not. Days later, sitting on the chartered bus that will take us to Nairobi (and to the elephant orphanage that is only open for one hour each day, so we better not be late), already half an hour late, I wondered out loud what had happened to me. "I knew we weren't going to leave at 7am. There was no way we were really going to leave when I planned. Why am I still so surprised and angry?" I let those expectations get the better of me.

— Sara

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ACCT International: End of Internships

After six weeks on the job, it was time for the ACCT International interns to leave their communities and come together in Mumias again to begin the journey home.

Though Andrew was unofficially the first intern to return to Mumias after we pulled him from the coast in response to the State Department travel warning and bar bombing. However, he continued to work for his partner organization from Mumias, so his internship was not really over at the time of his return.

Instead, Andrew joined Dr. W and myself for the first official pick up. Nolan. When Dr. W said he would come to get us at 6 am to head to Nolan's, I did not really believe it was possible. Yet there he was, bright and early. The drive to Ugenja is much longer than need be. It took us two hours to reach Nolan, who by distance probably only lived an hour away, max. The road to Nolan's is one of the worst we traveled. The problem with Nolan's road is that it is paved and the pavement is riddled with road-sized, meters-deep pot holes that force you to crawl along. More often than not, we were driving off the road on the shoulder than on the road itself. Had it been a dirt road, it likely would have been a quicker drive than this paved disaster.

Picking up Nolan was an emotional experience. There was hugging and speeches, of course, and Nolan's mentor spoke about his gratitude for Nolan through his tears.

While doing the Nolan pickup, Dr. W and I started looking at the schedule for the next two days and realized that it made more sense to pick up the ladies in Mbakalo today, rather than tomorrow. I gave Dani a call, " inconvenient would it be for you if we picked you up today?" And so Dani and Jasmine rushed to pack up their lives and tie off their loose ends so we could get them by 3pm. Dr. W. went to Mbakalo without me, while I dealt with a small housing crisis.

A miscommunication had resulted in the guesthouse not having any rooms for us Friday night, though I had requested two rooms and was now hoping we could get three (since we were bringing Dani and Jasmine back early). Some quick leg work reserved us rooms at Guesthouse 70 (not far from the Mumias compound), which is owned by a friend of Dr. W's.

After Dr. W was back from Mbakalo, we took a short jaunt out of Mumias town to Shanda to pick up Megan at work.

And then, just like that, nine of the 13 interns were all in Mumias. I would say all under one roof, except I am not 100 percent sure they were all at Pam's house at one time that day.

Saturday, Dr. W was up even earlier for the drive to Kisii to retrieve Lauren and Stephanie. Though I offered to go, at the time we made the arrangements, we thought Dr. W would be picking up Leslie and Rob in Kisumu as well. With all those people and their luggage in the car, there would not be room for extras. To be honest, I wasn't too sad that I didn't have to get up at 5 am. However, Rob and Leslie ended up getting a ride from their partner organization to Mumias. So Dr. W was able to just retrieve Lauren and Stephanie.

Despite leaving so early, the Kisii folks didn't make it back to Mumias until close to 2pm. That was a long day of driving for Dr. W. This was also cutting it close, as the AFC Leopard's game began at 3pm. Cale and I were a little late for the game ourselves (along with Rob), as I was dealing with another small housing crisis. One of the rooms they had given us at the guesthouse did not have a key. So the occupants were unable to lock up their belongings or lock the door at night while they were asleep. This was unacceptable. After a little negotiating, we were given another room.

And then, all 13 interns were back in Mumias, ready to begin the journey to the airport in Nairobi, which we would begin on Monday with a bus ride to Nakuru.

— Sara

Saving the Safari

As I mentioned earlier, the tour vehicles in the Maasai Mara have CB radios installed. This lets the drivers report what animals are being spotted where and what roads are in good condition or not. I am sure it lets the drivers talk about other things as well, but since my KiSwahili is limited to habari, I couldn't say what else is being said.

Our CB had two main wires plugging into it. One had red wires and an end that reminds me of an ethernet cable. I think that this connected the CB to the car battery...or to a power source in some way. I could be wrong. Clearly Cale knows better than I do.

The other had a thick black wire that once ended it something that looked like a large mic jack. I assume this is what connected the huge antennae on the back of the van to the CB. I say once ended because it no longer did. Instead it now ended in a jumble of exposed copper wires that were twisted together and jammed into the hole. This seemed to be sufficient for making the connection. However, it was insufficient for keeping the connection. As we bounced over giant potholes, the wire would work its way out, and we would lose the CB.

After repeated retwisting and rejamming into the hole, Cale sat down to find a more sturdy solution with the materials at hand (remembering that we are out in the Mara and not allowed out of the car). Luckily, many, many years ago (possibly more than a decade ago), Conor bought Cale a duct tape wallet. This wallet came with a small square of duct tape to be used to repair any damage done to the wallet itself. This wallet has long since disappeared. However, Cale has been carrying around that square of duct tape ever since, knowing that some day it would come in handy. This was that day.

With the square of duct tape, his leatherman, and a rubber band, Cale connected the twist of exposed wires to its jack again, which could then be securely screwed into the hole on the CB. Hooray! For Cale, this MacGyver fix was only temporary. When we got back to our camp, Cale went at the CB again. This time, he had the materials to fix it up right...a piece of tin foil from our lunch leftovers. The tin foil eliminated the need for the rubber band and likely secured the wires to the jack for the near, if not distant, future.

Yay Cale! Thanks for saving the safari.

— Sara