When we last spoke, I was running my dearest FabBab down for painting such a horrid Pre-Kenya expectation, and while her travel ambassador cred is down the toilet, I can’t be mad. After all, Barb invited me on this journey; therefore I’m eternally grateful to her.
Before we go further in my account of events, I feel an update on my Moms in law, Kitty is due. In order for you to enjoy my misadventures without worry, I’m happy to say that she’s 1000% better than when we landed in Nairobi. She’s breathing on her own, awake, and laughing/ eye-rolling at my gallows humor. Each day she makes marked progress, currently she’s looking at a few week stay at Kindred, an extended care hospital. Crappily, she lost most of the control in her left hand when Sepsis decided to burn her nerves from the inside. Until she gets a better handle on it (pun and it stays), it’s physical therapy and wound care a-go-go. But fret not, the old lady is becoming more and more like herself, right down to chawing some beef jerky (for her really low protein levels) loving on her Valorgirl, and quizzing me on geography. That’s all ya gets rite now, kiddies!
Now, BACK TO MEEEE. ENJOY THE PART THREE OF MY AFRICAN ADVENTURE BELOW!!!!
Your Pal and raving Narcissist,
Out of Africa: Into the Wild
With a belly full of delicious breakfast, it was time for our group to meet in the lobby of the Mayfield Guest House in downtown Nairobi. 16 total of us, L4L and I only knew the 11 Texans, and I was excited to get to know the 5 “Pennsylvania Crew.” Introductions were made and the group instantly gelled while we prayed and prepared for the day’s events. First, we’d slog our entire haul of precious luggage out of the lobby, and back on to our bus, chartered and ready to take us up into the mountains. An interesting thing about Matatus (Kenyan Busses) is that they are independently run by the drivers, and more importantly, the drivers elaborately decorate the outside of their buses to attract business. Each décor personally reflects the driver’s personality or interest. While cruising through the massively populated metropolis, I saw a parade of decorations. Snoop Doggy Dogg, glared at us with his famous stoned stare, Futbol and American baseball teams were reppin’, Kenyan Music Divas, and even Timberland Boots proved to be worthy of a matatu theme!
As a supreme jerk, the first thing I did after we booked our trip, was Google “terror attacks in Kenya.” I glanced at a Headline about a bus filled with missionaries burned by Muslim extremists, and almost passed out from buyer’s remorse. I slapped the laptop down before I could finish. I texted FabBab:
“What if we get ambushed by ISIS on the way to Haven on the Hill?”
“Honey, they’d have to find us first. We’re going to the sticks outside of Gatundu; we’re going to be fine.”
“Yes, but what if we are killed by Terrorists on the way. WHAT IF WE DIE, BARBARA!?!?”
“Then we die, sweetie. It’s in God’s hands.”
If I were some do-gooding goody like my beloved Barb, here’s where I’d be inspired by her absolute faith and devotion to what she believed in, followed by lifting all of my cares and concerns to the Big Dude in the sky. But I’m not, so I didn’t.
I dialed Barb whose simple reply required an actual conversation with her human voice. She picked up before the first ring.
“Hello my worried friend!”
“I’m serious BABSIE, I DON’T WANT TO DIE! VAL IS ABOUT TO START KINDERGARTEN AND I’M NOT READY TO MAKE HER AN ORPHAN!!!”
“Dearest love, I don’t want to make my twins orphans either, I’m not looking to die. WE WON’T, but if all these crazy scenarios you’re worried about happen, then TRUST God’s got our back! PLEASE STOP WORRYING, YOU DIRTY TRAMP!”
FabBab’s honesty and absolute assurances left me comforted. She didn’t have some sort of “Onward Christian Soldier” hero complex; she was making a difference in the world and going about it without worry. I convinced myself that we’d quickly be absconded in a private bus that wouldn’t stop until we were safely nestled in the remote mountains. “Keep a low-profile, and just get to Haven before any unsavory people hijack us,” would be my way of thinking for the 2 hour bus ride to the compound.
Months later, on that breezy and majestic morning in late July, I realized my strategy of not drawing any attention to our group was futile and worthless. Why you ask? Because I was greeted by our chartered Matatu, with “GODS POWER” emblazoned across the top in big white letters. Vinyl decals of Jesus crowned in thorns completed the look. Seemed our trusted driver, chose a more divine theme.
“Well, so much for subtlety, guess the Old Man Upstairs has our backs on this one.”
After 20 minutes of goldbricking (for the Lord) while the others did most of the luggage haul, there was a little free-time before we boarded and left the Mayfield’s hospitality. L4L and I utilized this time to sit at a beautiful outdoor nook and soak up the Wi-Fi updates from family. Once we left Mayfield, the only access we’d have was through the Maestro’s “Kenyan Phone,” which made calls to the US and provided data for basic internet needs, at pennies on the American dollar. Unfortunately, it also meant that this was the last stop for emails, and messages until evening.
The Kitty situation was still extremely grim, but my Dad was already in the process of getting Power of Attorney assigned to her other two boys. We conveyed our love and extreme regret that G$ was having to go through all of this without us, and promised to call in 7 hours. After a mini-shopping spree in the 100% for charity craft room at the Mayfield paired with one last COLD Coca-Cola, it was time to get on with GODS POWER.
On the agenda was a quick stop at a local shopping center for a 30 minute trip to the Nakumatt, Kenya’s answer to Wal-Mart, then on to a 90 minute journey into the heights. I really didn’t know what to expect at the Nakumatt, as it was one of the only things FabBab positively prepped me for.
“We’ll get some (fill in the blank) at the Nakumatt, they have everything. Better than Wal-Mart, AND cheaper.” – Barb
Seeing as my experience with the city was limited to deserted night-roads and the cloistered grounds of Mayfield, the Nakumatt would be our first encounter with the locals. As the gates of the Mayfield parted, we were greeted with streets full of as many vehicles as they’d take, flanked by brimming sidewalks packed with vibrant routines.
I’m used to seeing my local city workers in neon green vests riding chariots of lawn cutting efficiency, but now I surveyed Nairobi’s counterpart in action. Instead of cutting grass with lawnmowers, these men worked massive Machetes to hand cut the weeds and bramble mixed with grass effortlessly, it looked like they were cutting butter. The graceful ballet of blades made for a stark contrast with the bustling pedestrian traffic, which consisted mostly of nattily dressed professionals and extremely fashionable College students. Somewhere in the mix, a grin invaded my visage, maybe that know it all brainy smurf husband of mine is right, and I should just “enjoy the adventure.” Kenya was genuinely beginning to delight me; my xenophobic sensibilities were no match for the frenetic Nairobi streets, I was intoxicated by it all, and ready to dive in.
“We’re HERE!” FabBab cheered. Gods Power came to a complete stop and our extremely courteous driver helped us step out onto the sidewalk outside of a shopping center. Unlike familiar strip malls and various other American configurations of retail, the shopping center boasted razor wire walls around it, and multiple security checks from Kenyan Army Guards, complete with big honkin’ rifles. So much for me worrying about any potential Al-Shaabab Mall shootouts. Once past the very friendly guards at the checkpoints, it was time to NAKUMATT!
Imagine a supermarket had a baby with an old-fashioned department store, and it was filled with exotic world foods, furniture, appliances, clothing, and everyday products you’d find in any grocery store, that’s the retail Nirvana we were treated to.
EVERYTHING you could ever need, or impulse buy, resides in the Nakumatt. While a glittering model of efficiency and cool stuff to consume beckoned me, we had to adhere to at 30 minute departure time given by the Maestro. In thirty minutes, we had to find all sorts of things on the group “to buy list,” as well as purchase over 300 muffins to be used as a snack for the village school children. Somewhere in the dizzying micro-trip, we were also to find refreshments for the foreseeable future, as dinner would not likely be ready at Haven on the Hill until 7:30pm. “I’ll spend more time when I return to Nairobi my sweet,” I whispered to the beloved Nakumaat as I left.
Remembering FabBab’s long woeful soliloquies about her motion sickness on the bumpy mountain roads to Haven, I decided to do my bus seat-mate a solid and picked her up a bottle of club soda and peppermint (good for upset stomachs) gum. Hunter, the only teenaged boy in our group and noted adventurous eater, got a meat pie to munch on. “Oh the folly of youth,” I marveled.
Remarkably, the young lad was not the one with the tummy troubles this fine day, that dubious honor fell to our glamorous co-leader FabBab, and Lisa, one of two Moms from the “Pennsylvania Crew.” Wonderful and friendly, Lisa filled me in on what to expect the night before during the ride from the airport to Mayfield. Having been to Haven previously, she knew the ins and outs. Lisa also made some pretty magical scores for the children of Kenya. Like a real-life Willy Wonka, she works for Crayola and not only brought crayons and supplies galore to donate, a co-worker of hers handmade 400 beautiful necklaces for the children and village.
Fast forward to the bus ride after Nakumatt, Lisa and Babsie were a faint shade of green. Luckily, I had my peppermint gum and club soda. “Oh Lauren, this is why you’re my favorite friend.”
I’m happy to report, neither of the ladies spewed during our ascension, nor afterwards. I, on the other hand, enjoyed an exhilarating mix of mystery and excitement. Having never been to Africa, I was fascinated by the big, modern city of Nairobi, and quickly fell in love with the scenery. As we transitioned from city life, piles of burning garbage sprinkled the roadside in various stages of our drive. Once in Nairobi’s true outskirts, we had to momentarily stop for a security check from the local police. Our driver flashed his credentials and we were waived through quickly. Later we would learn that the cops stopped people to check for laws being broken; any infraction perceived or real, would result in a fine paid to the police for the freedom to continue driving.
Back on the trails GODS POWER, drove through some of the lushest and beautiful countryside my perfect 20/20 vision blue eyes have ever witnessed. A perma-grin gave way to a perma-smile, “So help me, I think I’m having FUN!” Lover fo’ Life, several rows in front of me, riding seatmate with the Maestro, made eye contact and winked. Without uttering a word, I knew he was just as thrilled.
FabBab continued her valiant effort and somehow managed not to blow chunks all over the bus, though when things got dicey, I handed her a Nakumatt bag to hurl into. Luckily, she didn’t need it, but from where I sat, it could’ve gone either way.
Each passing mile jostled me further into awe, the trees and plants were bursting with life and heavy with produce. Often when people think of Africa, they conjure up visions of desert or sparsely covered plains. Who could forget a weeping Sally Struthers, and that bearded dude bumming us all out in late night commercials with heartbreaking footage of starving children. Famine, while real and devastating, is not in this neck of the woods.
The further into our ascent, the more interested the locals became in our Matatu. In Nairobi, amidst a sea of warm and rich Kenyan skin tones, we were an oddity, but nothing special. This changed as the area became more remote. Locals in small towns on our route greeted us with roadside stares and smiles. We waved and received enthusiastic return waves from many. We saw a field of school children that ran across their play yard to see us passing. Delighted by the sight, they cheered “White man,” in their tribal language of Kikuyu. Their joy was infectious, and I couldn’t help but notice my cheeks were aching from smiling non-stop.
When we reached Gatundu, the “major city” we were based outside of, brightly painted signs on tin and concrete buildings advertised goods, services, and even a cell phone charging station.
I noticed a large number of women had massive baskets on their backs. High in the mountains, Gatundu is home to tea purveyors who grow their wares in the perfect climate. Every morning, on the steepest imaginable incline, strong Kenyan women hand-picked leaves and filled their baskets with over a hundred pounds of tea. Once done picking for the day, their hard work was rewarded with 500 shillings per basket load, which is the equivalent of five dollars USD. I marveled at the beauty and grace these woman exuded while doing what you and I would consider hard labor, on an impossibly steep mountainside.
Gods Power continued to chug up the paved roads towards Haven on the Hill, Kenya had already shown me so many wonderful gifts, and I was a sugarcookie’d kid on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t wait to arrive at our home for the next 8 days. While still a salty hussy with a heart of mold, I was thoroughly enchanted with our adventurous destination, and could not wipe the goofy smile off of my face. My entire being hummed with joy as Haven on the Hill appeared far off on the horizon. ” We’re here, beautiful Bestie!” Barb squeaked.
End of Part Three