Various stories from the last two/three weeks!
Jonathan Nzuki, the director of U-tena, got married last Saturday! Jonah married Faith, a wonderful and beautiful woman who took us shopping our first week here. The wedding took place in Nairobi National Park, a beautiful show of nature. The wedding was very far from the traditional American norms for weddings, but we had such a good time nonetheless!
Busloads of people from Faith’s hometown, Eldoret, were escorted to the wedding carrying gifts ranging from stoves, to firewood, to grains and rice, etc. It was a wonderful show of community (and practicality).
The wedding service itself was quite different too. Rather than walking down the aisle, everyone in the wedding party had to dance down to aisle, which was very fun to watch. Also, when it was the bride’s turn to enter, she was escorted by a group of women from her village chanting traditional songs/blessings around her. The service was led by a preacher, who gave a full sermon in the middle of the wedding. There was a huge religious emphasis throughout the whole thing, and much praying and preaching was involved. The couple signed wedding contracts on the stage and received a blessing, and the traditional “I do” was stated as “I will.” Surprisingly, there was no official kiss in front of the public.
After the ceremony, the celebration ensued. There was a buffet style table that had servers working at it. We were first in line for food, and it was delicious. Somehow, we later ended up as servers too, bringing the family food and drinks, and returning used dishes to the kitchen. We weren’t quite sure why we ended up with that role and if it was a tradition or just a funny site to see mzungus serving food, but it was fun nonetheless. There was tons of traditional dancing in a circular train, and then the speeches and cake were delivered.
After the wedding, the celebration continued later at a nearby bar. Overall, the day was filled with joy and love!
Over the past few weeks, we’ve putting together a little choreography to some lively Kenyan music! Kevin started choreographing the dance for us when we asked him “to show us some moves,” and since then, Kevin, Cha Cha, and others have been helping us put together a more complete routine! We even added some traditional African dance costumes to spice it up a bit. We might post a video soon, depending on how willing we are to embarrass ourselves
Yoga Fundraiser for South Sudanese Refugees
Last week we had the privilege of being invited to a fundraiser at the Africa Yoga Project in Nairobi. As some of you may know South Sudan has been plagued by civil war for decades. Tensions re-arose in July 2016 in response to an attack during peace agreement talks. This conflict has left 300,000 Sudanese dead, 1,000,000 displaced within their country and another 400,000 as refugees in neighboring countries. Many children have lost their parents or been seperated from them and sent to neighboring countries. These children are living with South Sudanese Diaspora in Kenya but are largely underserved by the Kenyan government and international aid. A friend of the Africa Yoga Project took 20 children into her small home and hoped to find a way to support them in getting into Kenyan schools. In repsonse Paige Ellison (Founder of the Africa Yoga Project) and her team pulled together a YaYa (dance and yoga) class/fundraiser led by herself and Emmanuel Jal (child soldier turned rapper) in just three days. The goal of the fundraiser was to collect $10,000 in donations to support the children’s livelihood and entrance into Kenyan schools while they remain orphaned refugees.
We arrived a little late to the class and were greeted by 200 adults and children (South Sudanese Orphans) dancing on top of yoga mats to the singing and chanting of a man dancing on a table in leopard print pants. We soon found out that this man was Emmanuel Jal. –> As a young boy Emmanuel was taken from his home in Sudan, trained to be a child soldier, and later rescued and smuggled into Kenya by an aid worker. This woman placed him in school and adopted him, but was killed only one year later in a car accident. Emmanuel then turned to music and has been recording and championing peace ever since. –> He led us through an hour of dancing, positive messages, and laughter. As it wound down Emmanuel asked all adults to find a child and hug them, to express their love and support and to tell them they are safe. He gave a small speech about how we can each change the world by living with the purpose of leaving each person you meet ten times happier than they were when you met them. Paige led us through a series of stretches – one being a wheel pose while simultaneously roaring like a lion to expel all the hate anger and sadness within us and then we took shavasana. The evening ended by chanting peace in English, Sudanese, Swahili, and Arabic.
The fundraiser made $15,903 and is still open to donations.
Here is a long awaited snippet from our three day Safari in Maasai Mara. Our first week here we met up with a mutual friend Hank who had been living in Nairobi for two months. We questioned him about things we HAD to do and see before leaving and he said flatly “not going to Maasai Mara would be a crime”. During our second week we scoured the internet for good deals and found an affordable three day two night safari and booked it for the weekend. We got up at 5am on Thursday morning and met our guide Charles in the CBD. We then picked up the rest of our group at a nearby Java. Ariel made a prediction that the couple accompanying us would be named Annastasia and Kristopher (with a K) – interestingly they ended up being a couple from Denmark named Anna and Fillip (with an F). We were also joined by another woman named Anna from Switzerland. We started our 6hr journey to Maasai Mara and arrived at our camp – Rhino Camp – around 4pm. We then headed into the park for our first game drive. I – being a muzungu – had taken pictures of a single zebra crossing the road about twenty minutes before we reached camp. When we entered the park I blushed at the site of hundreds of zebras and wildebeest grazing. We were fortunate to be in Maasai Mara during the great wildebeest migration in which 2 million animals migrate from Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) into Maasai Mara from August to October. It is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Day one – Our vehicle was a van with a pop up top that allowed you to stand and look out for the duration of the trip. Outside of wildebeest we saw a two different herds of elephants, a pride of 9 lions napping on a big rock, and a bunch of hippos in a pond – all on a short 2 hr drive. We returned to camp excited for the rest of the trip and had an enlightening discussion with the rest of our group about the educational systems in our various countries.
Day two – We woke up early for our full day game drive. We entered the park around 7 and didn’t see many animals for about an hour. The guides all communicate over a radio about where to find animals and were all asking where they were. Our guides 13 years of experience showed when he led us to the first sighting of the day – 3 cheetahs. We watched them slink through the grass and snuck away before all the other cars arrived. We then continued to find four different groups of lions – one with a baby and a male lion, countless hippos, giraffes, buffalo and a leopard perched in a tree. By the end of the second day we had seen four of the big five – but unfortunately never saw a rhino.
Day three – The final day we woke up early and left before breakfast entering the park before sunrise. We were greeted by a pack of hyenas in the last of their waking hours. We watched the big orange sun rise over the park and soon heard the radio blowing up with conversation. Two cheetahs had been spotted close to us and they were hunting. We watched the cheetahs chase wildebeest around for almost 40 minutes. Charles our guide said he could not imagine they would make a kill as they had blown their cover but to our surprise one began sprinting towards a pack of wildebeest and pounced on a baby that had fallen behind. While I felt l amazed to have witnessed this show of nature I was quickly dismayed to see vans driving off of the roads so that tourists with large expensive cameras could see the fresh kill from 20 feet away. Maasai Mara was a beautiful experience but the way in which the animals reacted (rather didn’t) to the human presence around them gave me a pang of sadness for the lack of wild in one of the world wildest places.
A word about Charles – I (Carly) had the pleasure of talking with Charles, our guide, on the long trip home. I asked him about his childhood and how he came to be a guide. He explained to me that as a kid when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up all kids would answer doctor, pilot, banker. He acknowledged that while these children had lofty goals they often lacked the opportunities to reach them – or even the knowledge of other professions. We have decided to reach out to him to be a speaker at one of our career days at the Lunga Lunga Youth Friendly Center in the hopes that he can lead someone to their passion faster than he found his own.
Charles first learned about the world of guiding when taken to Maasai Mara by his mother. He then began training with other guides and learning the ropes and mentioned how he studies encyclopedias to this day. His knowledge and experience were so apparent in his understanding of animals, humans and value of nature. We have nothing but good things to say about him – and I will be adding his contact information for anyone looking to travel to Kenya in the future.
Overall our experience at Maasai Mara was wholly incredible. I cannot even begin to fairly describe the wild beauty we had the privilege of observing.
For my (Carly) Birthday (august 5th) we chose to go out the night before as we didn’t want to be up late before the wedding. Luckily for me Thursday nights provide some of the best entertainment in Nairobi. Kevin (yoga teacher) suggested that we go to a bar called choices that has live music. We rode in a matatu and then took boda bodas to the bar. The artist of the night was a young woman named Athieno, a Nairobi native who studied music at Berkeley school of music in Boston. Interestingly enough she and I had a mutual connection at Brown. She and her band played what I can only describe as African jazz all night long. Right before midnight the band started singing happy birthday and everyone forced me on stage. Lovely welcoming into my 20th year.
We decided that while in Nairobi, it would be a crime not to take the trek to Kitengela to visit the ostrich farm. So, we found a car to take us to the “Maasai Ostrich Resort.” And a resort it was. There was a swimming pool, spa, sauna, and all your upscale hotel amenities. However, just beyond the swimming pool was a ring sheltered by a fence in which customers were allowed to ride ostriches. After enjoying some lounging by the pool and some delicious nyama choma, chips, and ugali, we mounted our ostrich and went for a thrilling ride around the perimeter of the pen. Needless to say it was a strange but memorable experience.
Painting U-tena Community Center
We dedicated a portion of our fundraiser money towards re-vamping the U-tena Community Center. The Center is a government owned building that U-Tena has offered to maintain. It is open to all the public and can be reserved for any number of events. The first day that school was out five boys showed up to play in the center, this happened to be the day we were painting. Two elected to help paint while three others learned how to play drums from a few U-tena members. The center originally had white walls and much of their equipment was becoming run down. We purchased bright blue paint for three walls and a light green for the final wall – which will eventually have a design as well. On Thursday we spent a good portion of the day preparing to paint (scraping posters off of the walls, taping the floors and ceiling) and went to purchase the paint. We woke up early on my birthday (Carly) and met everyone at the community center to finish preparations. We began painting around 11 with everyone dressed in various U-Tena costumes (men in dresses haha) and finished by 2. We then proceeded to eat chapattis with milk and have a drum session.
Monkey Park and beyond
After spending so much time in the city, Kevin recommended we all take a trip to City Park after our Wednesday morning yoga session. We took two matatus and arrived in a little haven completely different from the city. Though the highway was right behind us, you would have never guessed from the beauty of the nature that we were seemingly surrounded by.
We bought a few bags of peanuts and the monkeys readily approached us and picked them out of our hands, or climbed onto our shoulders to be fed from there. The monkeys were particularly fond of Sierra’s shoulders. The monkeys were super friendly, until the food ran out… and then they mostly minded their own business, though some monkeys still did continue to hang around Carly. Carly, parched, purchased a fruit juice bottle and set it down beside her. Before we knew it, the monkey had picked it up, unscrewed the top, and was downing it. See photos on the blog. After some monkey shenanigans, we went and found a lovely tree full of swingy and draping branches to climb and relax on.
We then laid down in a field for some time, soaking up the beauty and the sun, as we talked about how good of a day it had been. Though I did not want to leave, we realized that time had slipped away from us and it was a bit later then we realized, so we reluctantly headed out. As we were walking out, about fifty feet in front of us we saw a girl walking with her mother drop to the ground and begin to seize. She was having a pretty long grand mal seizure, so we ran over to help turn her onto her side and stabilize her. After she regained consciousness, we later learned that she had been off of her epilepsy medication for four days because it was too expensive (($27/month). We helped walk her out of the park and gave her enough money for medication, transport, and more, and Kevin offered to connect her to an epilepsy awareness group in the slum.
We ended up having another opportunity to do a good deed on our way home from the monkey park. When we were riding our matatu home, we noticed a husband and wife riding with three children and an insane amount of cargo (grains, suitcases, vegetables). Carly and Sierra had noticed them earlier on in the ride, and had been eyeing them throughout. When we got off the matatu, we saw the family standing by the side of the road with all their stuff. We couldn’t imagine how they could possibly carry it where they were going, so we asked where they were headed and offered our help. We helped them carry their bags to the next matatu stop, and made sure they all got on safely and without too much trouble. They were so sweet in offering their gratitude. It was really interesting to see how easily and beautifully connections are formed, and I was just so glad we got the chance to help.
Community Yoga Class
After a few weeks of conflict we finally made it to the Africa Yoga Project Community Class. Every Saturday AYP holds a free yoga class in their studio for up to 200 people. We arrived a little early and while stretching I (Carly) was asked by Kevin and his friend if would like to try some acro yoga – why not right? I then spent the next five minutes balancing in the air on a teachers feet as he encouraged me into bow pose, an upside down straddle, and a backbend off of his feet! Sierra gave it a try as well and we are hoping to return and learn more next week. We then were led through almost two hours of fast paced power flows and strengthening exercises and were sweating like never before. Afterwards AYP provides a free vegetarian lunch – yummy.