A Travellerspoint blog

Back on the Road

Go west young man and young Mar...

sunny 80 °F

Jambo! (A familiar greeting to those of you who launched Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and those of you who have traveled through Africa)

Col and I are officially back on the road and heading through western Kenya. When we last posted we were on our way to the Ozar's house for lunch and didn't get to tell you about visiting the Meru Children's Home for infants and kids under 5. It was adorable. Those kids are certainly cutie-pies. It was hard not to pick them all up and give them a big hug especially after their song and dance greeting. Mr. Ozar warned us that it might be hard to get away - they want you to stay and play and the sister's are warm and welcoming and quick to put the kettle on. He devised an escape plan involving a "very important meeting with the bishop" so we could continue on our mission of collecting pictures throughout Meru for the website Col is putting together. You know us and the bishop - thick as thieves.

After we finished getting all of our photos, we rushed back to our little house, packed it up (silently thanked the Italian missionaries for the sweet accommodations) and headed to the other side of Mt. Kenya for our first real break. The Ozars took us to one of their favorite spots (now one of mine) - a place called Sweetwaters. It's a tented lodge on the edge of a small-ish game park. While the lack of tourists have kept the breakfast buffets away, they certainly have been beneficial to those of us on game drives. Miles of savanna and nary another car to be found. Ranger Bud Ozar was at the top of his game taking us through the parks. And eagle-eye Sue Ozar can spot a Cape Buffalo from miles away. We were extremely fortunate that they took us to this very special spot. And traveling with the Ozars is very akin to traveling with my parents...Mr. Ozar is always willing to "take this little trail over here...are those tracks? Looks like fresh dung. Let's just keep following it..." While Mrs. Ozar is saying "Bud, let's just get back on the real road before we are taken down by lions."

A highlight of the Sweetwater trip (aside from the hot showers) was the chance to really see the wildlife in full-on Discovery Channel action. Although most of the game must be viewed in the comforts of your 4X4, you can take a guided walk to visit the hippos in a van down by the river. Okay - no van, but they lounge around in the water and you view from the ledge above. As we were making our way to the river it was very clear to all of us that we were certainly not alone. A grunt here, a tree branching breaking there, yes, something a little larger than a breadbox was just around the corner. As we reached the spot where the hippos were floating below we discovered the sounds that had us all a little on edge....two white rhinos duking it out on the other side of the river. Full-on, no-holds-barred fighting. I could literally hear my Dad saying "ALRIGHT!" as their big behinds knocked down the brush. The guide then turned to Mrs. Ozar and said "it's a good thing they are on the other side or we would all be in trouble." You think?

The guide had to call in the fight and bring rangers in to break it up. After all, it's a rhino sanctuary and it wouldn't be good for the foundation if they started taking each other out. I guess they fight to the death so it's important to keep the kids apart if they start a tussle. Of course we had to get back in our car and see if we couldn't stalk them from the other side of the river - it's the Bud Ozar (and theoretically Ron Van De Walle) number one rule of game drives "go where the action is"- but we didn't see them again.

I have a feeling that the myriad of game drives we have in front of us will be wonderful but few will compare to that amazing experience. It's just too bad there wasn't any other tourists to brag to when we returned to the lodge for breakfast. Thanks again to Mr. and Mrs. Ozar for our trip to Sweetwater!!! We had a sad goodbye when our driver came to get us and take us back to Nairobi - it was such a wonderful time in Meru - but we have our Masai beaded crosses as a reminder of our experience.

After a looooooong and dusty drive to Nairobi we made it to Karen's Camp and prepped for the next 2 weeks. We'll be traveling by 4X4 to Uganda with our South African driver Skank (yes, Skank) and a British gentleman named Peter. Should be interesting. The first leg is a drive through western Kenya where they had some recent political troubles. The good news is that the peace treaty between tribes was finally signed and the danger has all but disappeared. The Kenyan people have been very appreciative that we've decided to come despite the conflict and they are all positive about their future. Like all conflicts like this, it's not the majority of the people who want to fight - just a small group of angry ones who cause a ripple effect. Continue to send positive vibes to the Kenyan people - they could really use a few right now.

Alright - sorry for the lack of photos on this blog but I think you'd be understanding if you know how long it took just to get an internet connection. I'm sure we've given you enough to full the imagination for now! Keep sending the comments - we love to hear from you!

Oh - note to Erin, Coleen and Alison: Little Baby Peanut and Slim Finn are really enjoying the trip. They were all over the game park...that Finn is like a lion magnet!

Posted by vandewme 01:08 Archived in Kenya Comments (3)

Sniffing glue and hugging babies

We break out the marketing skills and polish them off to help the Diocese

80 °F

We have been very fortunate during our week in Meru to have access to Mr. Ozar's internet and laptop. I'm afraid after this entry it might be some time before you hear from us again. Never fear, we will try and get to internet cafes as much as possible. That being said - bear with us.

Onto a recap of the past couple of days here in Meru working for the Diocese. It's been quite a whirlwind time! Yesterday we headed back out to St. Francis (which I can't write without singing the St. Francis school song they sang to us on the first day) and St. Clares. It was our time to speak to the girls class much like we had the boys a couple days back. I was anxious to hear what the girls would ask us comparatively. First let me start by saying that universally girls seem to be a more attentive audience then guys. These girls were from 3d to 8th grade and they were smiling and giggling the whole time. No nappers in the bunch (and listening to me talk about American economics and geography is a little snooze-enducing).

We started off listening to them sing a couple of old camp fire girls songs Mrs. Ozar's sister taught them when she visited. "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" really sounds much better with a Kenyan accent. Then we dug into the Q&A session with "the vis-i-tas" (that would be us). A lot of the same questions about politics and geography but a few tricky ones in there..."like who discovered the solar system" and "do we have any encampments in the US?" Col did a great job fielding all the history ones...like "who was the first, second, third...etc...etc...president" and any sports related. I took the "Do you have polygemist marriage" question like a pro. I wanted to tell them Colin was one of three of my husbands but I didn't think it PC. The highlight, according to Colin, was when the principal asked us to tell the girls about the importance of studying mathematics. Colin, knowing full well that if a girl asked me on the spot to multiply fractions I would buckle and run out of there screaming, had a huge grin on his face as I pontificated about the importance of learning and practicing math. Oh you girls. If only you knew. I did not climb the corporate ladder on the steps of my math genius. But hey - it's for the kids, right?

Part of our job yesterday involved taking Father Riwa, the founder of the school, around for interviews and pictures so we can add them to the website. The guy is marketing gold...and I told him that much. It's now how he refers to himself. He literally pulled all the kids out of exams to stand by the St. Francis sign while he talked about the school. He then said he'd like to do something the Americans do and proceeded to shake Mrs. Ozar's hand the entire time we were filming him talk about St. Francis. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. But we did get mighty fine coverage of the girl's and boy's school so I look forward to sharing it with you all.

As part of the "mar-KETING" (emphasis as it is pronounced here), Father wanted us to see the real deal and go out to meet the streetkids of Meru. That way we'd be able to demonstrate the before and after effect of the schools. We were all for it ...and had no idea what were getting into. I'll pause right here to remind you that these street kids are primarily orphans or runaways who have lived most if not all of their life on the street. They rove in gangs and are easily distinguishable by their dress, lack of cleanliness and small bottles of petrol glue they carry around to sniff. Most people are frightened of them with good reason but we knew we'd be in the company of "the Apostle of Streetboys" Father Riwa. Some of the boys we were to meet had once been taken to St. Francis but either ran away or were kicked out for stealing. They all know him by name.

We pulled up in our minivan in front of the Petrol Station where the boys all hang out. They came racing over to our car yelling "father, father" - hoping for some bread. Instead Father invited them all over to a nearby restaurant for food and an interview. It started out with 15 boys and by the end of the lunch we had served over 60. The restaurant was only across the street but by the time we drove there it was packed and all the boys were sitting at the table. God Bless the owner of the restaurant. According to Father he's one of the few that will allow them to dine there and not reduce the serving size because they are street kids. The serving of lunch was a strange study in the organized chaos that must be the street gang lifestyle. The older boys, with their whipping sticks, made sure the younger boys didn't push and shove (too much) to get food and that any boy who had eatten, left and came back did not get seconds. It was really, really brutal. However, in this kind of situation, I appreciated the older kids keeping order.

I have seen my younger brother Sean put away 2 Portillos dogs, a beef and chedder, fries, some Funyuns and a liter of Grape Pop in about 15 minutes. This is NOTHING compared to how fast these kids ate their chapati, rice and beans. Wow. Insane. I guess that happens when you haven't eatten in days. Between the smell of the food and the overwhelming smell of petrol glue from their little bottles I thought Col and I might pass out. It was pretty intense. In any other situation I would have been quite scared but given our company with Fr. Riwa we were perfectly safe (as long as we remembered to remove the shillings from our pockets). Most of the boys thanked us and were very polite.

After watching them together and seeing the boys at St. Francis, it gave me even more resolve to continue helping this organization. The boys at St. Francis have even told Mrs. Ozar that they didn't like coming there at first but then fell in love with the school and the realization that Fr. Riwa does what he does out of love for them. The difference from "before" and "after" is hard to put into words.

After that crazy experience we returned to St. Francis to help out. I sat in the library doing some work with Mrs. Ozar and Vincent and another boy named King (maybe a new favorite). We worked and chatted...it was great. The boys wanted to talk about what we knew about tribalism and the election and what we thought. Some deep conversation. They also wanted to know if I ever received a gift from Santa and if it was true he lived in the North Pole. I almost left right then and there to buy them all a gift from Santa for next year. It was a great day.

Well....there is much more to tell but unfortunately (or fortunately) we are headed down to the Ozar's for lunch. We spent today at the orphanage and the hospital and we'll leave tonight for a trip around the mountain. So much more to share but PB&J's await! Keep posted and we'll try and add some more photos if we can!

Posted by vandewme 01:03 Archived in Kenya Comments (3)

Here in Kenya...

How Colin and Mary led 100 street kids astray about America

sunny 80 °F

Well, Mr. Ozar went into town to see if he's contracted malaria and Colin went back to our house with allergies he is convinced is malaria leaving me to write my second blog of the day. Note to readers that I feel great. Anyway - I promised big tales of the Children's Village and that's what you are going to get. Let's begin:

Col and I drove with Mrs. Ozar about 15 minutes outside of the town of Meru to our much anticipated destination: The Diocese of Meru Children's Village. The Village is the home of St. Francis School for Boys and the St. Clare School for Girls. As many of you know, these schools were started by the church to give street children a chance to get out of their situation, get an education and ultimately live a full life. It's not a stretch to say that many of these children would not make it past the age of 10 had they not agreed to go to the Village. In fact, one of the older boys even told Mrs. Ozar that he knows for a fact he would be dead if this opportunity hadn't presented itself to him. After seeing some of the street kids in Meru sitting on the corner and literally huffing petrol I can say with certainty that he's probably right.

The kids themselves come from all over Kenya. What started out as a school for local streetkids soon expanded and with the recent violence has brought children just last week from western Kenya and the slums of Nairobi. I met a boy named Vincent (who I want to pack up in my bag and take home) that arrived just a few weeks ago. He is the nicest, sweetest, cutest kid of all time. Mrs. Ozar floored me when she told me his story. He had been out on the street since he was very young. Not too long ago he took a bus from his village in the west to Nairobi (about an eight hour drive) where he met up with other streetkids. One day he jumped on the back of a minibus and his leg got caught underneath. The driver did not stop for several miles - all the while dragging Vincent's leg under the bus. He was in terrible shape but could not get any medical attention. After a few days, when infection was at it's worse, a couple of the streetkids took him to see Italian nuns who live in the slums and offer up showers to the kids. Authors notes: The Italian nuns have already made several appearances in our journey. Who knew. Back to Vincent...when he went to take a shower the nuns noticed his leg and took him to the hospital. He lived with them in the convent while he healed. This all happend right before violence broke out in the slums of Nairobi. It is likely that Vincent would have been killed in the violence if he had not been at the convent. In a strange way the incident with his leg - once thought a tragedy - is now considered the event that may have saved his life. The nuns fell in love with this kid and eventually brought him to Father Riwa's attention. Now he lives, works and goes to school at the Village.

I met Vincent while I was labeling books in the library. Text books. Lots of them. Bought with the money donated from you! That's right - I was actually labeling the books that were bought with the money we raised before coming out here. Isn't that crazy? Father Riwa told Colin and I that it was a miracle to see the money wired to the bank account. He desperately needed new text books with all the new kids coming in and viola! there it was curteousy of the friends and family of Mr. Colin and Madam Mary. So that's what I was labeling in the books..."From the friends and family of Mr. Colin and Madam Mary Chicago, USA". Father wants us to do that so the children remember how the kindness of others helped them along the way and so they can add us to their prayers. I thought it was so cute. I also took a shine to the whole Madam Mary thing. At first it sounded like a prostitute or tarot card reader but after you hear one of those little Kenyan cuties say it you are hooked. So thank you again and again and again to all of our family and friends who donated supplies, books and money. You are the best! It certainly is making a difference.

Earlier in the day Col and I were asked to speak to the boys age 9-20 in two seperate discussion groups. What did you say? You want me to stand in front of an audience and talk? Oh but I couldn't! I just couldn't (cue spot light). It was a total blast. We were there to answer any questions the kids had about America. As you can imagine there were some interesting questions and we had some interesting and creative answers to offer. What just killed me is that each kid would stand up and say "Here in Kenya..." and then give an example of what they do there and follow it up with a question about America. For example "Here in Kenya we have male and female circumcision. Do you have that in America?" I let Colin field that one. Other awesome questions:
"I saw a movie with robots that looked like people. Do you have these in America?"
"What is Thanksgiving?"
"Are the poor really poor in America? Is it like here in Kenya?" (Almost impossible to answer)
"What is the government stance on (insert just about every thing you can imagine here)"
"Will Obama win the election? Do people know he is part of the such and such tribe? Note that the Kenyans are really loyal to their tribes - hence the recent violence. I am in a part of the country that traditionally doesn't like Obamas tribe and they wonder if Americans are concerned that he is a member of this tribe.
"What is the biggest crop in America?" Hmmm...Liz, could you look that one up for me? Thanks.
"We understand that America is a great exporter of many goods and services. What do you import?" Great question, kid. Do any of the Van De Walle's remember that puzzle that had exports and imports in it? I used my knowledge of that puzzle that was updated in 1986 to pull out my answer of "textiles".
"Why do Americans have big noses?" Ouch.
"Why do Americans think they are a superpower?" with follow ups like:
"How could 9-11 happen to such a superpower?"
And then back to less deep questions like..."Does snow hurt?" and "Here in Kenya we have much wildlife like giraffes, elephants (which I saw on the drive up to the school eating by the road), rhinos and lions. What kind of wildlife do you have in America?" Really drives home how much the squirrel sucks as wildlife. I added in deer, bears and wolves to sound cool. Col chimed in with crocodiles. Thanks, Florida.

After our talk we showed pictures that we had brought along of family, friends, Chicago, winter, etc. The kids wanted to hang up the pictures right away and they all kept coming up to ask me questions about them. The particularly liked the snow photos (expected) and a wedding picture I had (unexpected). They also like to see the pictures of my neice Annie...I really don't think they had ever seen a white baby before. They kept asking where her hair was and if it was my baby. Too cute.

We will be going back on Thursday to speak to the girls school and I can't wait to hear their questions and to see if they will be different from the boys. The Children't Village truly is a wonderful place. Our pictures simply can't do it justice. I will thank Mr. Bud and Madam Sue (the Ozars) for introducing us to this place whenever I think of it in years to come. And I will always remember how happy the kids were who stopped by the library to see their new text books curteousy of our family and friends. Asanti sana, asanti sana, asanti sana.

Posted by vandewme 06:00 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Hot times on the Equator

Mr. Colin and Madam Mary in Meru, Kenya



Greetings from Meru, Kenya on the east side of beautiful Mt. Kenya. Col and I arrived on Sunday after a night's stay in Nairobi. Contrary to popular belief, we were not greeted with machetes and burning tires - although that might make for a more exciting blog read. All is peaceful here where they boast "the best climate in the world."

We were greeted at the airport by our friends Bud and Sue Ozar. They are the parents of my college friend Kevin and have been living here for about 1.5 years doing mission work. It's so nice to land in an unfamiliar, recently war-torn city and be greeted by the always fun Ozars. I might make it a mandatory on any out-of-country trip we take. They wisked us away to our guest house and from there we had a Nairobi-style progression dinner. The guesthouse we stayed at was run by the cutest little Italian nuns and they sure made us feel at home with the Girardelli chocolates on the pillows. So far Africa was everything we thought it would be. Bon giorno!

We made our way to a local bar for some pre-dinner drinks and it was swell to be able to sit outside again. It was our first real taste of Kenya and our first taste of Tusker beer as well. I'm sold. Good-bye Smithwicks, hello Tusker. We had dinner at the guesthouse and moved next door for a sizzling chocolate dessert. Good thing Col and I beefed up before our trip in preparation of food deprivation... Erin, I should have packed that resist-a-band!

The following morning we headed north to Meru to begin our week as faux-missionaries. The drive was absolutely gorgeous. For some reason I had it in my head that we'd be going through arid flatlands. Instead I was reminded constantly of the trip Buhrf and I took to Hawaii... although instead of Hyatts and ABC stores on the side of the road there are banana salesmen and kids rolling tires. The hills are green and lush and the scenery changes from rice paddies to pineapple fields to tea plantations. We stopped half way for lunch at an old British country club, complete with pool and monkey.

Meru is a rather large town and it rarely sees any tourists. We were greeted with a few stares and curious glances but mostly friendly waves and big smiles. I have to hand it to the Kenyans - they win for best smiles of all time. Especially the little kids walking to school in their uniforms and wool hats who wave at the car. Mind you it's only 60 degrees but the wool hats are out in abundance. Oddly they still have them on when it heats up to 80 in the mid-afternoon. I guess temperature is all relative.

We settled into our Meru accommodations - a fabulous little house in the bishop's compound. The house was built by Italians as they send a lot of their volunteers here sporadically thoughout the year. We've got electricity, running water and posh mosquito netting over our twin beds. Living like royalty here in Meru. The Ozars started us out right with a fridge full of Coke Light and Tusker. Good people these missionaries. The house is also the safest place in the country. It takes Colin a good 15 minutes to get through all five of the locks and we are surrounded by an electric fence. The bishops compound also has its own security guards... with bow and arrows. Awesome. The bow and arrow tutorials that we've been getting are a real bonus to the experience.

The Ozars live right next door and we have been going over there every night to eat dinner. Col and I are incredibly lucky to have connected with them. Fabulous hosts and really great conversationalists. It's not a shocker why I am friends with their son.

The following day we made our way with Mrs. Ozar to the Children's Village - home of the school for boys and girls who have been affected by war, HIV/AIDS or other problems that have caused them to live on the streets. This was an overwhelming experience that is best saved for our next entry. It's 3:00 PM now and we are working at Mr. Ozar's office and need to get back on task. Far be it from us to slack off on our limited missionary time. Stay tuned for an update on the Children's Village!

Posted by vandewme 03:44 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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