On our first day in Nairobi, we visited a center for young elephant orphans, many of them left orphaned when their mothers were slaughtered for their ivory. I 'adopted' a young bull elephant named Bomani. We also visited the Nairobi giraffe center, home to several endangered Rothschild giraffes.
We also visited the Nairobi giraffe center, home to several endangered Rothschild giraffes. A couple of the giraffes would 'kiss' people holding a food pellet in their lips, gently using their long tongues to grab the pellets.
Every day was filled with exciting new experiences. Even days when we didn't spot any new species of mammal were filled with new things. One day we watched wildebeest gathering for their annual migration. Another day we watched zebra line up for their migration. We saw mother zebras with their youngsters, whose stripes are brown until later in life.
The diversity of wildlife, both mammals and birds, was astounding.
Like many Americans, I suspect, I never paid too much attention to stories coming out of Africa. This trip has opened my eyes to a whole new, very large continent with a wide diversity of peoples, cultures, languages and customs. I was struck by the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Kenya and Tanzania. Children along the roads as we passed by would smile and wave at us. Other children we encountered while stopped at a gas station or while visiting a Kenyan elementary school seemed very curious about people with white skin. I greatly enjoyed learning about, and from, some of the local people from a variety of tribes and backgrounds. During a nature walk with one local man, I learned that he lacked formal education because his family moved around with their herds of animals, but his knowledge of the world around him was most impressive.
|Maasai man in lion skin headdress.|
|Member of Kikuyu tribe in Kenya.|
|Maasai medicine man (left).|
We visited a rural school in Sweetwaters, Kenya. Despite the poverty of the area and the complete lack of typical school supplies and equipment, the children all seemed happy and eager to learn. Some of the classrooms had dirt floors. There was no electricity in the room, no running water and no computers, microscopes, whiteboards or any of the other things typically found in American schools. Due to a severe shortage of textbooks, as many as five students shared a single book. This meant that the children were unable to take books home with them to study or practice their lessons. Many of the children walked up to 3 miles to school each morning and another 3 miles home after school. They had to be at school by 7 AM to do various chores at school. They brought their lunch from home -- typically a container of rice -- and that was the only food they got during the day. There is no lunch room or cafeteria, so they found a spot outside in the dirt to eat lunch.
Teachers in the US are always complaining about having to teach large classes. Imagine being an eighth grade teacher at the Sweetwaters School and having 52 eighth-graders in your class. Imagine trying to teach these eager learners with nothing but an old blackboard and a couple of small pieces of chalk.
Despite the obvious poverty, this was an amazing school. The teachers were enthusiastic, the children were happy, involved and wanted to learn. I didn't see any of the boredom and blank stares so prevalent in American public schools.
On many levels, this truly was an amazing trip. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend even a couple of weeks in Africa, and I dream of returning to experience even more of this fascinating part of the world.