Monday, February 10, 2014

Blog 1: Arrival into Mikinduri

Monday February 10, 2014: 

I landed alone in Nairobi late on Sunday night after 24 long hours of travelling and waited in the line to declare a lost bag, an expected step after 5 years of travel to Kenya. The only difference was that I entered a new airport after the last one burned down in a massive fire last year. My thoughts immediately went to the team-members who would be following my route in a few days, and realized the plans I had made to help them through the unfamiliar airport would have to be altered. I had only been in Kenya for minutes and my optimistic initial plan was already foiled. Here, we just sigh with a smile and say ‘This is Africa’. It’s a common chant when a simple task takes twice as long as it should, or a noon meeting starts around 1:30. To come on a KENCAN mission, you must be flexible as Kenya teaches me on a daily basis here.

I was driven by our reliable tour company to a different hotel then the team typically stays in, closer to the airport, less expensive, and a little less nice. Standing in the lobby to get a room, I was struck by the three clocks on the wall with plaques overhead. Somehow, it was 2:05am in Nairobi, 11:12 pm in London, and 6:00 at an unlabeled location. Ahh, I am happy to be back in Africa. As someone who notices details for a living (teaching engineering), I have learned to smile at these inconsistencies rather than be perturbed by them, as I probably would in Canada.

Four hours later, I got back in the combi, a combination van and safari vehicle, where the roof lifts up so you can stand and take pictures of the animals. For the first time, I was going to go to Nairobi National Park. Something the team would do as well when they arrived a few days later. Normally our safari is at the end of the trip, but we’re told a special surprise awaits us, so we should do the safari first. It was incredible! I saw more animals than I had seen in 4 years of safaris, and very different varieties. There were baboon, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, and many types and sizes of the deer/antelope family. These were common to see on most safaris. But, then we turned down this one path and within 5 minutes, saw two hippos, a crocodile nose, a black rhino, then a lioness about to hunt the nearby zebra! What an unexpected and lucky find! Apparently black rhinos are the least common animals to spot. On previous safaris, I saw cheetahs, lions, and the rest of the big five, but the only animal I have left to see is the leopard, which are even more rare than the rhino (again, Kenyan logic applies here as to how both black rhinos and leopards are the most rare).   Additionally, I saw big birds, smaller than ostriches but larger than turkeys, with wings that actually fly. They looked like something Jim Henson would dream up with the bright colors and awkwardly long legs with fat bodies.

After 4 hours of fun, I left for Mikinduri, a drive that in Canada would take only a few hours but in Kenya is 4-7 hours. (Yes it varies that much). Every few miles on the two-lane Kenyan highway is a speedbump so large you have to stop to go over it. This is mostly due to the large number of towns all along the highway, with children and animals running alongside the cars.

Kenyan traffic is a cacophony of honking, radios, and the hum of people talking. A roundabout in Kenya can have as many as 40 cars in the one-lane loop, most not moving very quickly. Drivers in Kenya must be simultaneously aggressive and very defensive, and have a great awareness of the size of their vehicle. More than once, we drove through a gap between two cars that couldn’t have left a centimeter on either side. Many of the Kenyan buildings are painted brightly with advertisements, choosing to use the whole face rather than just a sign. However the ad rarely has anything to do with the shop. A butcher might have ‘Huggies’ diapers in white over a bright red background.

Over the last three weeks, Ted Grant, Founder of Mikinduri Children of Hope (MCOH) and Dr Ed Harrison, chair of the MCOH Medical Board, had great success in setting up opportunities to further the cause for disabled people in Kenya. There is a Rehabilitation Center that MCOH paid for that is now going to be the center for the entire county, where casts and rehabilitation equipment can be manufactured. Considering Mikinduri is a very small town, this is a very exciting resource to have. Ted and Ed are also furthering a Community Based Health Care initiative to bring the health system into the small remote communities far from the bigger towns like Mikinduri. They had a busy three weeks but were quite pleased with what had been accomplished.

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