Thursday, June 23, 2011

At last

Well, you have probably wondered what has happened to us. It is a number of weeks since we have posted. It has been a busy time but a good one. We have had some visitors, friends from Australia visiting and then we were able to go with them to Kenya. We had a most spectacular week away going to two very different parts of Kenya and on safaris. We saw fantastic places, amazing animals and enjoyed a relaxing time with friends. What more could you ask for? In fact, we came back to the children and mothers saying we looked different! They even went as far as saying younger. Well, not sure why but maybe we have lost some colour as it was much cooler.
So, how to catch you up without boring you...
By borrowing a friend's van we were both able to go to Kampala to pick up John, Judy, Roger and Sandra from the airport. We of course had some small shopping to do before going to the airport and chanced upon a bargain television for the new house, it really was a bargain - half price. Since we had the big van we thought there would be room. We picked them up, oh dear, a slight (or big) space problem but we managed it, or so we thought! On leaving the airport the back door suddenly opened and kaboom, a television on the road and a bag. Just so you know the television was obviously packed well, and we weren't travelling fast so they are completely all right. Thank you God. The next stop was to pick up some fruit. Australians seem to be missing bananas. No problem, nice mangoes, bananas bought but...the car wouldn't start! So, it was out the back pushing the van. Five Mzungus pushing a car. We did bring about some laughs but got home safely. I don't think I wanted to see how much pollution the van was producing.
The new guest house, had some rooms ready and we all arrived back and settled in, sort of. Unfortunately, the cement had not completely dried out so there was a bit (ok a lot) of moisture. The plumber was not so good with the leaks so there was a few things leaking into rooms and of course there was a lot of the house that was not complete. However, all these things aside it is a beautiful house and provided a roof over our heads. Ron and I kept commuting between the two and we had meals in all sorts of places often missing one or two items due to location.
The 'visitors' were really helpful in working hard, cleaning things, making cupboards, sorting papers and clothes and making the roof trusses for Houses 5 and 6 here at the village. They also visited the orphanage, their sponsor children in a variety of places and we managed some meals out as well. I was pleased that the holiday away came after this as it was a pretty hectic time. Unfortunately things like teaching and dealing with issues continued despite having guests!
They did bring some very welcome things. In particular cheese, lamb, licorice and white chocolate on the food front. Much appreciated on the personal front. They also brought over 16 quilts that have been made by the Sew Blessed group. What an effort and so quickly. Due to dampness etc, we did not open the vacuum sealed bags until we could do it in a dry and clean spot. On the Sunday John cooked a beautiful meat stew and mashed potato for the children, mothers and a few others. Well, we did help with preparations the night before but he cooked it all on the Sunday. Afterwards we gave out the quilts. It was so special. We decided to give the quilts to the children in the two new houses so that they had something first, we gather the others are coming. It was so good to see the children so happy to receive them and to know that they had something that had been made for them and that they could keep. Some of these children came with nothing and so it is lovely for them to have something so special. I often think how privileged we are to be on the handing out end of the process. Only down side was that Robert now thinks I should teach the students at the school how to quilt! It is so special.
Of course there were many highlights of having friends come and stay. We shared a couple of lamb roasts - John is amazing managing to bring them over. The best lamb roast I have ever tasted I think!
Then, it was off to Kenya. Nice early start with a very reliable driver. 4.00 am to leave and he was there at 3.45 so that we did leave on time. Funny, Robert called at about 6.00 and asked if we had left - he really didn't believe we would make it so early. By 6 we were at the border of Kenya and Uganda. It took a while to get through the border not that there were any problems. It was great to have the opportunity to walk through 'no man's land' and do the process on foot. Then, our driver for the week, Matthew, picked us up. He did warn us about the roads that would make the bus dance, and they surely did. We arrived at Masai Mara at about 3.30 pm and had a wonderful lunch that had been kept for us.
The Masai Mara basecamp is a great resort. It endeavours to be environmental in all it does. It has tents for sleeping in with attached bathroom tent. Both of which are covered by a grass roof. Solar of course, drop type toilet but better with it being disposed of carefully. The setting is fantastic, with each tent having a verandah and a view. We looked out on trees, a dry riverbed (until it rained one night when it became a fast flowing river), monkeys and great variety of colourful birds in the trees. We did not go out the first night since we had been travelling for so long all day. The next day we went on a safari first thing in the morning and back for breakfast. Then, a relaxing day enjoying the surrounding and seeing animals all around. Then, a late afternoon safari. One day Roger and Sandra went on a hot-air balloon ride which was an amazing experience for them and we managed to enjoy ourselves back at basecamp and visit the local school. It was very interesting, for Western eyes probably a little scant but for one who has become quite accustomed to the differences it actually looked like it was doing quite well. A big issue for the school is the retention of girls. Lots of girls will be collected from the school (many are boarders) at the ages of 10 - 14 years so that they can be married. The school has no recourse. Such a sad situation. I found this particular morning very enlightening. We had a great guide in Manfred who was happy to share about his life. He has two wives, his father had six I think but he will only have 2. At this stage he has three children, all of his family live in the village. He will walk home when he has a break, this means leaving at 6 in the morning and arriving there at midnight. He is the only one of his 32 siblings to be educated and despite wanting many of the traditions to continue recognises the value of education. When there is drought, when the cows are not good, education provides opportunities. It was good to hear from someone who was very real. He had a great down to earth attitude and obviously enjoyed his role at basecamp having worked up through the ranks.
The camp has showers that are reasonably in the open air. I went at one stage back to the tent to have a shower thinking that Ron was coming soon after me. I was having a great shower, washing my hair, enjoying hot water etc. I heard a noise at a couple of stages and called out "Is that you Ron?" No answer, so obviously not. Then, hop out of the shower and there in the bedroom is a monkey who had grabbed my face wipes. I endeavour to chase it out, realising I had left the zip slightly open. Then, go back to the shower area to dry etc and find the monkey at the top of the wall and so have to chase it down to get the face wipes. It would have made a great comical clip. I discovered that the bag of lollies in the room had been taken. Then, saw the empty bag outside and the monkey picked it up, looked in it and looked at me as if to say - they are all gone, where are some more. I did catch them on a number of occasions trying to get in but I think I learnt my lesson - never trust Ron to come straight back, do up the tent.
I want to write more about the safaris but do not want to bore you or me. Let me share with you some of the special moments. On the first day we say a lion and two lionesses. They were under some trees. Matthew assured us they were on the honeymoon and that was why one was to the side. It was so amazing to be so close to a lion. They are truly impressive creatures and so beautiful. Then, of course there were elephants to be seen. The first one we saw was all by itself. We went quite close but Matthew was a little apprehensive, apparently one by itself is dangerous, this one must have been ostrasized. Another driver had been chased by this elephant earlier in the week. We saw lots of zebras. Quite comical in retrospect as we had wanted Matthew to stop the first time we saw a zebra in the distance coming into the area. Throughout the time zebras were almost the most common animal we saw apart from gazelles I suspect. We saw a cheetah and cubs but they were not doing very much. Apparently there is a problem as many of them are starving themselves as they do not like being watched so there is a limit on the time and number of cars that can be watching. We observed that being broken! Fortunately, at another time at this place we saw a cheetah poised on a rock. It was great. We also managed to get stuck. The rain that I spoke of made the tracks very wet, in fact we were surprised that we could go out. There were lots of little rivers on the roads. So, we had to stick to the main track but in a two wheel drive bus and thick, thick black mud at one point we did not make it through. We had to wait for a four-wheel drive which towed us backwards out. So, the only alternative if we wanted to get to the Mara river was to take the long way, something that most of us were not looking forward to. However, along the way we met the boss from the basecamp and he said he would get us through that mud. He needed to and even then there were times that all four wheels were not on the ground apparently as seen by a passenger in the other vehicle. We did make it to the river and enjoyed seeing lots of hippopotamuses and a few crocodiles as well as a school group, some of whom thought having a photo with me would be good! Monkeys made our lunch not so pleasant that day as they were taking any food left around. We did get the chance to walk into Tanzania as the Serengetti National Park is there and there is no border control at that point. In fact the Masai do not need to do anything to move between the two countries. Probably fortunate as food for cows does not necessarily know to grow on the correct side of the border. It is hard to describe all the great animals, and experiences had on the trips out. Two lions in the grasslands with only their heads showing above the grass and looking into the wind. As soon as they dropped their heads you could not see them.
We travelled to Sweetwater tented camp from the Mara. It was a long day's travel but again we saw lots of different landscapes. Seeing tea growing areas, mountainous areas with sheep skins for sale, and lots of travel that did crazy things. At Sweetwater our accomodation again was a tent but of a different type. There was a watering hole within 100 metres(I think) of our tent. During the time one of the really big highlights was watching animals and birds at the watering hole. We got to see gazelles, giraffes, zebras, warthogs and many varieties of birds come. The birds included the crested crane, the emblem of Uganda. They often put on a bit of a performance with their golden crest, or the beautiful blue bird that when it moved changed colour. The dining room also looked out on the waterhole so that made for fun at the meal time. Especially with this bird that was a bit like an emu, quite ugly and it always tried to get in but was definitely scared of the waiters but not the patrons. On our trips from here we saw White and Black Rhinoceros. We saw a cheetah go for a gazelle and fail and then its two cubs come up to it. Then, next morning saw the same cheetah eating a gazelle with the cubs. We got to get up close and personal to chimpanzees. That was really fun, one of them played a bit of a game with me. They are territorial and there are two parts to the chimpanzee sanctuary divided by a river. The chimpanzees thundered around on both sides, making sure the others knew about them. I discovered that there is a different type of zebra called the Gravee Zebra which has a white belly and thinner stripes and is a slightly different size.
All in all, the whole experience at the two places was amazing and will remain that way. It was so good to go on a number of drives, to see lots of animals in different places and how they reacted. It was also good to be able to relax and to enjoy time sitting reading, talking and I even pulled out some cross-stitch. The weather was a lot cooler than here which was nice for us too. Though we do get cooler nights at the moment which means we are not noticing the heat so much. Might also help that I only walk in the heat, I am not building a new house in the hot sun. We reluctantly left Sweetwater last Monday and travelled to Nairobi. We dropped John, Judy, Roger and Sandra at the airport to go to Lamoo Island and we travelled to an apartment in Nairobi. We decided that if there was an overnight bus we would catch it. So, we dropped their stuff at the apartment and travelled into town. We stayed at the bus depot for the afternoon and then in good African style the bus left an hour and a half late. It was also a wet night and so the bus took longer. It was an interesting (?) drive as the bus lifted off at one stage and the Kenyan road there is not very good with lots of very large potholes and with the rain... However, we did sleep and arrived back safely on Tuesday morning at about 9.30. This meant that unfortunately I did not make it back in time to teach. So, the holiday finished. Now, I will try to get some photos in so that this does not look like pages and pages of writing, which of course it is!