linking to outside markets, made a brochure to assist them on their way.
out of the corner of my eye, i saw a monkey scheming. not even 5 seconds later, the lil guy ran up the wood piling and onto my table. he sat for a split second on my plate and tried to swindle my fruit. my quick instincts set in… and without thinking…i punched him in the ribs. i punched a monkey. hahaha
the baby was named matthew mwakazi… he was named after me.
a few months back on a routine home-based care visit to sick patient’s homes, we stopped off in a village called mchanga. mchanga is a few kilometeres from our little town center where all of the hill’s resources lie. a lot of the families out this way have trouble making ends meet. as we made our way to this young girl’s home (23 years old) i found out that she is the daughter of my very good friend and small duka (store) owner josek. we arrived to a very small one bedroom home made of sticks and mud, where 5 small children sleep on the dirt ground without blankets next to the fire. we learned that the family has no means to income and sometimes asks the older daughter (holgla, 10 years old) to stay home and watch the baby twins. as soon as i found this out, i had to educate the mom about how important it is to have your children go to school. i had to think of an idea to help, and fast. a few days later, i met with josek at his store and explained what i had saw and learned about his daughter and grand children. see, the thing is… culture is different in kenya and taita. once a girl is married, the husband is supposed to take responsibility of making money (this is changing as you get to larger cities). her husband left for mombasa to find manual labor work. he hardly ever sends money home to help. i asked josek if he would visit his daughter’s home to see how she is living. maybe once we arrived, he would see the situation and offer a hand. well, that is exactly what happened. josek had never visited his daughter at her home nor seen their living condition. he shed a few tears as we prayed for them.
soon after, josek went down to voi, the larger town, to buy blankets and another mattress for them. he also gave his daughter some kale seeds to plant. she will cultivate and harvest, then bring the produce to his shop to sell. hopefully she will be able to save enough for school fees.
so far, holgla hasn’t missed a day of school other than having a school uniform excuse. it makes me happy to know she is continuing her education.
what was that electricity? yea thats right. i found yet another way to forget about you. to beat boredom and release stress, i built a hoop i can actually dunk on. and yes, i already banked off both walls to swish… 4th try.
a few months before my arrival at site, john mlamba, my supervisor with taita taveta wildlife forum wrote a proposal to the seed initiative. the SEED initiative is a global partnership for action on sustainable development and the green economy.
the proposal was written in hopes of getting funds to help support a bamboo initiative in wongonyi. the project will assist with sustainable land management (erosion), act as an income generating activity (25 artisans trained to hand craft), and divert farmers from cutting down forest timber for firewood. not only that, bamboo is stronger than timber and reaches maturation in only 3-4 years. plus, bamboo emits less carbon and more oxygen than its competitor, timber. i think 5 proposals were awarded funds. and ours was one of them! i also think over 250+ proposals were sent. as the funds were being transferred, john put together a formal way forward.
the first step: 25 artisans to attend a workshop in a larger town to learn about the initiative, learn all about bamboo, and how it can help a village. i led groups through marketing/promotion tips, value addition, and how to save money.
the second step: a 2-week hands-on training in wongonyi. everyday from 8 am – 4 pm.
the third step: graduate from the skill workshop and begin marketing of the program and initiative.
*i was interviewed by citizen tv in kenya.
the fourth step: write another proposal for a grant to assist with the purchase of more seeds. i helped proof read the marketing and business side of the proposal.
*a marketing brochure i made. we will target 10-20 hotels, game reserves, and restaurants in the larger neighboring city Voi in hopes of creating awareness on wongonyi’s bamboo initiative and our products.
[mom and dad sent an email to me about their experience]
When our son, Matt, asked us to come visit him in Kenya while he was in the Peace Corps, his father and I said sure not really believing it would happen. As time went by, we felt obligated to show our support but I was truly scared. Scared of flying many hours, worried about health issues and scared of the unknown. The important thing Matt told us was to be patient which helped us throughout the trip.
Matt surprised us and planned the itinerary taking into account what we could at our age. The fact that he spoke Swahili fluently, a bantu religion spoken in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar, definitely made our journey more enjoyable. He was surprised as well as what we were able to endure vacationing in a developing nation.
Early on we learned how difficult the transportation could be because of poor road conditions and vehicle disrepair. Bathrooms proved to be trying. It was very common for Kenyans to relieve themselves on the side of the road or to use a “choo” (a hole in the ground balancing on two bricks) in remote areas. Thanks to my son he had a carpenter build a wooden stool with an opening in the middle for me to use in his “choo” in Wongonyi, where Matt serves.
The itinerary varied. We went to a resort in the Masai Mara reserve where we went on three safaris. We stayed in a beautiful tent that was outfitted like a decorating magazine in the middle of the bush. Our tent was positioned near one of the fences about as far as you could walk from the restaurant. The first day at the compound we saw wart hogs, at least 200 lbs., walking the grounds impervious to us. We woke up to the sound of a lion roaring, screaming monkeys and elephants bellowing. A security guard walked around with a bow and arrow. This is in case of a wild animal threat. About 1 a.m. all path lights were turned off, and it felt like we were in Jurassic Park with the wild animals close-by. In the morning, hot chocolate was delivered on our unscreened patio. A Columbus Monkey came down from a tree, onto our tent pole, looking at me and our breakfast cookies With one bound he was in front of Mark and stole two cookies; within seconds he came back for the remaining two. Mark grabbed the two before the surprised monkey could. I grabbed a camera and began taking pictures as Mark laid out pieces of the two remaining cookies. Then, another monkey came down to taste the sugar in a topless bowl. Liking the contents, he grabbed the bowl and darted to the nearest tree dropping the sugar all over. We never did see the bowl again.
We saw every possible large mammal in the bush that was offered—the Big Five—elephant, lion, leopard, water buffalo, and rhinoceros, and more. There were giraffes, zebras, cheetah, crocodile, hippopotamus, wildebeest, Thompson gazelles, impalas, and a host of different kinds of birds. We took pictures of most of these. The tram went quite close to most of the animals except for the rhinoceros. With a rhinoceros offspring with its mom, they can be quite dangerous so the tram kept its distance. There were capuchin monkeys, salamanders, babboons half the size of humans, and millipedes on other parts of the trip.
We visited a Masai tribe just outside of the compound, went on a guided tour, and had a close up view of their village and how they lived. A tour led to a buying of some of the villagers products. Matt helped us negotiate really good prices here and throughout the trip, as his flawless Swahili and sharp sales skills shaved money off our purchases.
After being pampered for the three days we were on safari, we headed toward Voi, the town closest to where Matt works. We spent a day at a conference center where Matt stays when he comes to town. Then we headed up the mountain to Wongonyi—nearly a two hour journey from Voi where one hour is going up a steep grade of unpaved road with ruts, ridges, massive rocks, holes, and deep creases caused by heavy rainfall during the rainy season. Wongoni is a village of about 50 families, a clan really where everyone is related. We experienced living high on a mountain (4,000 feet elevation) with no running water (except for water in pipes that drew from the rains in the forest at a higher elevation), no electricity, no plumbing, no gas, in effect, little in the way of infrastructure. What a reality check. Despite the sparse amenities, we found the people to be happy, loving, and generous. They welcomed us with eggs, avocados, bananas, and hand woven baskets and purses. We spent four days here. The first day was Saturday where an 80 year old woman had a funeral. Matt and Mark spent four hours in church watching the tribal women dance and sing, an evangelical preacher yelling in Swahili every so often blurting out in English, “if you are absent today, when will you be present.” This was grating after two hours of this harangue. On Sunday, we went to visit Edward who is a pastor at a church he built in the village next to his home. We spent 45 minutes walking steep mountain passes, climbing down into the forest and then back up, crossing an unmarked soccer field, crossing a stream while jumping from stone to stone. It was quite an excursion. After the services, Mark and I were made honorary elders of the church and asked to spread the word of Jesus Christ. We were invited to dinner on Monday night at Edward’s but the climb at dusk and coming back at night without lights or a moon to help guide us in a forest was too much. We declined even though Edward killed a chicken for us.
Mark and Matt went to lunch a couple of times in Wongonyi’s only restaurant. We had beans and ugali, a white flour concoction that is heated and tastes a lot like potato pancakes. It is filling but has zero nutritional value. The cost was around 30 cents per dish. We ate, while chickens and a rooster walked on the dirt floor and coming by our table for scraps.
On one walk back from “main” street in Wongonyi, a small child in a group yelled out to Matt, “mzungu,” which translates as a “white person.” Matt responded by saying in Swahili, their native tongue, “I don’t see a mzungu, where is he”? They spoke back in English. Matt then said, “don’t speak English, speak in Swahili. I understand only Swahili.” Then, Matt told them that if he saw a white person he would report back to them, again in Swahili.
Matt conducted a 45 minute talk to the elementary students while we were there on Monday. Again, traveling the mountain roads until out of breathe. His topic was decision making. Quite impressive listening to our son deliver a cogent talk in Swahili, writing English words on the blackboard (students are expected to know English as, after all, Kenya was a British colony until the Mau Mau rebellion in the late 1950s helped drive them out). While there, the headmaster asked Matt when he wanted to start a recreational program with the elementary lads and lassies.
On Tuesday, we were invited to Mama Beatrice’s house—another daunting walk. There we met two professors and students from Western Carolina University (sociology and anthropology students) who make a trek each year to spend two weeks in Wongonyi. Beatrice is a mid-wife as well as the nearest thing to a nurse in the village. She assists the sick, disabled, and AIDs patients. We met to discuss the current state of AIDs in the village and what is being done. Beatrice invited some of her AIDs patients, men and women, to discuss the disease and how they are being cared for. We spent several hours at Beatrice’s listening to the students and professors ask questions. It was informative, humanitarian, and quite inspirational, as Beatrice discusses the disease matter-of-fact and having science as a backdrop. Some people in the village, on the other hand, believe in spirits, witchcraft and/or in the church. For many, the people with AIDS are being punished for their actions against religion (God).
Matt’s formal duties with the Peace Corps is to assist with small business development and eco-tourism. We are also proud to say that Matt also works with Mama Beatrice in her rounds with AIDs patients as well as the disabled. He has also branched out to work with the elementary students in recreational games and life skills. In addition, Matt gives lectures on business and life skills to the high school students too.
From Wongonyi, we went by matatu (a sort of a van) to Voi and picked up a bus to Mombasa, a Muslem influenced city on the Indian Ocean. Once in Mombasa, we contracted with a taxi cab for a ride to Diani, a resort town south of Mombasa. Baboons and capuchin monkeys were found here. On the beach, camel rides were available as well as small boat excursions to a sand bar close to shore. We had beautiful weather and delicious buffets. What a way to end a wonderful adventure. At the resort, all of the facilities, save for the condos, are open air. In the restaurant and on the grounds, guards have sling shots to keep the marauding monkeys at bay.
One afternoon, at a seating area a slight distance from the bar, a couple had drinks and then left. A capuchin monkey jumped from a tree and alighted on the table sampling the alcoholic beverage. They seem to like alcohol as much as we do.
Additional Musings from Mark:
We did not know that Matt was held in such a high esteem that Mama Beatrice called him Mwakazi from the time they met. The name stuck. Whenever we met with the townspeople, Matt was called Mwakazi (hard worker). No one referred to him as Matt. When the Wongonyi people met us and found out we were Mwakazi’s momma and baba, they shook our hands, embraced us, and called us their brother and sister. If the townspeople loved him, the kids in town revered him.
We had to take inoculations prior to the trip. Momma was fine with all of the shots. I had them all except for yellow fever, as the doctor thought it would compromise my kidneys. Afterward, I had three days of feeling miserable. I didn’t have a fever or aches and pains—just being tired and having a feeling of malaise. A month later I had a second shot for A and B Hepatitis and went into another few days of funk. The malaria pills were okay—no side effects.
On the first day in Nairobi, Matt asked us early on our expectations on our forthcoming trip: whether we liked to go on a ferris wheel or a real adventure, a high speed roller coaster. I told him that I expected a roller coaster. Kenya is way too exotic and wonderful for anything less.
The air is extremely clean in the forest and refreshing. At night, it is marvelous to be able to look up at the heavens and actually see the Milky Way. America has way too much light pollution in most of the country to see the stars properly. The night sky reminds me of the 1940s and early 1950s in North Minneapolis growing up as a kid.
Having camped quite a bit with the Indian Guides (Matt) and Indian Princess Program, I am used to primitive conditions. Being a bit older, it is a little more trying but doable. Matt asked me at one point in Wongonyi if there is anything I had regretted. I said “yes.” I am feeling rather badly that every time we attacked a mountain pass in Wongonyi I fell behind mom. I know it is 4,000 ft elevation and more difficult to walk uphill but I can out walk and run faster than momma on the flatlands and hills in Irvine. It was disconcerting to me. I am supposed to be the one in shape.
At the safari, at one point we were rounding a corner and a large bull elephant was on the road heading the other way. A tram that was moving in our direction stopped. The bull made a few quick steps as if it were going to attack the tram. The bull was the “pickle in the middle.” It then turned around and saw us and moved in our direction. It unnerved us quite a bit. The driver told us that if an elephant was coming our way to run. Unlike a bear, they will keep on attacking. A rogue elephant is what Matt is afraid of most. Apparently, a tram is different. We just held our ground. The resolution of the standoff is that the bull moved off the road perpendicular to us and walked away looking behind at us as we drove by.
The last day of the safari, on going back to the “Jurassic Park” compound, momma heard noise at the right rear wheel for some time. She finally alerted the driver, Winston, that something was amiss. Winston left the cab, climbed down and noticed that only one lug nut was keeping the wheel on the vehicle. Meanwhile, we were watching giraffes walking up a steep embankment for the night—they seek higher ground to keep away from predators. A beautiful sight with the outlines of the animals against the dim sky. Dusk was quickly arriving. I said to Winston, “what could possibly go wrong on a deserted road in the bush with wild animals all around at night fall.” Winston smiled. Another tram came up behind us, and the driver offered lug nuts off one of his wheels. Mind you, these tram operators/tour guides only carry radios. They do not carry firearms of any kind.
We brought two large duffel bags of donations to Wongonyi. Brooke Anderson was extremely generous with donated clothing and money. Jamie Walton gave us Laker shirts to hand out. Rick at Sunrise Identity, and Kara also gave us goods to bring. Matt had been using a kerosene lamp which can be hazardous in a closed, non-ventilated area. Upon hearing this, momma bought candles for Matt to use instead.
We met with the basket weaving group in Wongonyi. Momma bought a lot of their hand crafted work. To make extra money to send their children to school, the women make baskets and purses. Their work is extremely well crafted.
While in Mombasa, we had shwarma for the first time on Matt’s recommendation. It’s a delicious middle eastern dish.
In Diani, in the late afternoon one day, we saw a large group of capuchin monkeys, maybe thirty or so, working there way from a group of trees to another set of trees along the path where we were walking. We stopped, waited and saw the first group—teenagers travel by, then the adult males and adult females without children. The kicker was that the youngest were visibly bothered by our being on the path. They chattered to their moms. Finally, the moms put the youngsters under their torsos and bounded by. They went up a tree and jumped to the next tree with the children in tow. What a sight.
Another day, a group of baboons, about the half the size of me, went by our cabin. I watched from the window. Being too afraid to go on our porch, we took in the view with delight.
We met a number of male and female Peace Corps volunteers in Nairobi. We found them to be interesting, passionate, caring and selfless people. Many gave up good jobs to experience service with an offshoot of the United States State Department. The Peace Corps affected one of the male participants from North Carolina so much that he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. He began realizing a lot of the programs that the Democrats embrace (helping people in need and a safety net in health coverage and payments to the retired) was one that he believed in wholeheartedly. His family remains Republican. I was very impressed that the Peace Corps will be making a major difference in the outlook of the young people coming here, all for the good.
I met Mwazaki’s boss in Voi, John. He was very impressed with his work and thought very highly of him. It was good to hear that his hard work is being appreciated by villagers and staff alike.
Mwazaki’s house is owned by Momma Judy who is paid by the Peace Corps. It has a beautiful view of the valley. The house’s construction allows lizards to slip in from the roof down the inside wall. It didn’t bother me but Momma kept watching them to make sure they did not come on the floor or next to her.
This was the same thing in Diani where Momma watched where the millipedes were traveling.
This is what we were told prior to embarking on our trip:Only eat fruit if you can peel it Eat vegetables if you can cook themselves Use bottled water. In Wongonyi, Mwakazi had to boil and treat water with a tablet and let it sit Do not use ice Use hand sanitizers as often as you can Don’t eat off of food carts
Kenya is a beautiful country and well worth visiting. If you are patient, let events come to you, and enjoy what the country has to offer—a different experience than in America—I believe it could be your best vacation ever just as it has been for my wife and I.
We are now home and are very humble. It is wonderful to have a car that we can drive on decent roads, have electricity, and decent bathrooms. But I still reflect on what we experienced. Both Mark and I felt the same way. It was by far the best vacation we ever had. I don’t think we could have done it without Matt who made it more interesting (as nearly a native Kenyan) and easier, since he knew the people, knew the language, and had specific information on where to stay and what to do. Thank you so very much for the guided tour of Kenya, Mwakazi
*elephants in the mara
*humans in the mara
*pops reading with a headlamp at the cabin.
*at the coast, diani beach
*the great rift valley is behind us
*lions at the mara
*the mara landscape
*masai mara tour
*big cat, leopard