Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ah, the Good Life

This has been an amazing weekend. I had had a mildly stressful week. Everything just ganged up on me and tried to drag me down; the bicycle breaking repeatedly, the last time hopefully for good so I can have an excuse to get a new one, the desert getting even hotter than normal which is totally not fair, having guests and a new neighbor coming over to my house twice a day all week thereby destroying any semblance of privacy I used to pretend I had, and one of my fellow volunteers ET-ing (going home) making me sad and just a teensy bit jealous. I also talked to my sisters for the first time in almost a month and I realized just how much I miss them. Darn them for being so supportive, funny, sweet, and amazing! So anyway, I was tired of constant attention so I decided to take a tip from a friend and go to town to check myself into a hotel. I wanted to pamper myself with clean sheets, hot showers, no cooking, no dishes, no neighbors, no desert, and no worries. I came to town on Saturday morning as usual and instead of scrambling to get shopping done and checking email so I would have a few minutes to chug a cold beer before having to go home, I leisurely called Curtis, my fellow PCV who lives in town, and made him stop doing laundry and come take me to The Crater. I had heard about the crater, and seen it from the air but had never hiked up there. The road to get there is long, five kilometers long, and awfully annoying; all along it there are kids who yell “HOW ARE YOU!” as loud as they can in a horrible, high-pitched voice designed to poke a hole through every neuron in a mzungu brain. They start yelling a few seconds before they actually can see you, the echo of the previous group of screaming kids having served as an advanced warning system, and do not cease until you are nearly weeping from the effort to restrain yourself from responding with a stream of words that would be full of asterisks. The road leads out of town, past the airstrip, down a dusty road where the green hills start, and finally leaves the kids behind when you come to the bright blue slaughterhouse. You know for sure that it is a slaughter house because of the hundred or so macabre-looking vultures waiting outside and the smell which is like that of a normal farm mixed with what I can only assume is the smell of innards. Then there is more walking down dusty roads until you get out into the desert. The land starts to drop off and become full of ravines and hills where herds of camels are scattered. We passed the rock quarry on the edge of the open desert. The men working there were chipping out large squares of stone using mallets and chisels in the heat of the desert sun. After we passed them, it was only a matter of some minor rock climbing to get to the top of a ridge. But when I stumbled over that last boulder and was hit by that first gust of wind and glanced down with my stomach dropping, the only thought in my head was “wow”. It was a big crater. A really, really big crater. I am terrible at judging distance but this thing must be miles across. I looked down past the sheer cliffs and saw tiny bushes which turned out to be large trees and a herd of cows that were so small I couldn’t tell they were cows. It was like looking out of an airplane window; everything was so tiny and far away that you could have said they were mice or double decker buses and I would have agreed with you. We stood on the edge of this crater, trying to not get blown in, for a few minutes. It was the kind of place you could sit for hours if you had a picnic, a good book, and an ipod. I had none of those things so after ten minutes of staring at the majesty in front of me and throwing some rocks to see how long they took to get to the bottom, I decided it was time for a cold beer. Unfortunately, we had to walk another 5 km through the irritating child gauntlet to get to the bar.
I spent Saturday night in my hotel room watching movies, listening to some drunk guy vomit loudly in the hallway, and eating what passes for junk food here in Mars. I had Digestive Tasty Wheat Biscuits (High in Fibre!), a can of fruit cocktail, and blackcurrant yogurt. The last two items were imports from someplace amazing and provided at a steep price by my friends at the Indian store. I fell asleep on the pillow, that I am pretty sure was made out of wood, slightly nauseous and happy.
I woke up Sunday leisurely at six AM. I was going to have banana pancakes with honey for breakfast (I was going to have to make them, but that’s okay) but it was Sunday and all the stores were closed for church. I settled for a cup of strong black coffee and then Curtis and I went off on an adventure to find elephants. We called our usual taxi driver and had him come pick us up and take us to Marsabit Forest. The last time we went we stopped at The Lodge which overlooks a crater. We saw only baboons. So this time we were going all the way to Lake Paradise. We started driving through the park and 2km in we passed the overlook to the crater near the lodge. Lo and Behold! ELEPHANTS! There was a whole herd, 5 dusty brown adults and two beautiful calves. After gazing lovingly at them as they swished their tails and flapped their ears, we went on. We traveled deep into the forest startling large, reddish brown deer-things, and seeing lots of baboons. We traveled up onto a ledge overlooking Lake Paradise, now only a green clearing thanks to the drought. Despite there not being water in the lake, there was a lone zebra grazing. It was too far away to tell if it was actually a zebra, or just an escaped donkey. So we got back in our car and drove down onto the green patch. When we got there, our zebra (or donkey) was gone, but on the other side of the clearing was a whole herd of actual zebras! There were even a few babies, very very adorable babies. We watched them for awhile then continued back up through the forest. We were driving along when all of a sudden we spotted elephants. They were walking along the road not even ten feet from us. By the time our driver reacted and stopped the car, I was halfway out my window trying to remember how to use my camera as I mumbled ‘wow’ over and over. The elephants were as startled to see us and paused in the forest. Then Dad, with huge curving tusks, jumped out to defend his family. He came out of the forest with his ears spread wide. Anyone who watches the Discovery channel knows that is a precursor to charging. Me, being incapable of recognizing danger, climbed further out my window. Fortunately, our driver realized what a full grown, angry bull elephant could do to a taxi. He calmly said, “he’s coming towards us. That’s not good” and he hit the gas. As soon as the elephant saw us retreating, he and the rest of his family thundered across the road back into the forest. It was absolutely amazing.
We arrived at the Lodge and decided to stay there and relax and watch the grazing elephant herd for the afternoon. Curtis and I ate PB & J sandwiches and gazed at the elephants as they wandered in and out of the forest. It was a cool, almost chilly, breezy afternoon. I napped, read a book, listened to the elephants occasionally trumpeting, and stayed wrapped up in a shawl for hours. Eventually, we had to leave and we called the taxi to come pick us up. We drove away feeling extremely satisfied with our day, when all of a sudden ELEPHANT!! This one was the biggest one I have ever seen in my life, and he wasn’t in a zoo, or behind a fence, or far away in a crater. He was gigantic and only three elephant steps away from our car. I was so excited I nearly peed myself. Again, I attempted to climb out the window, at the same time checking with our driver that I wouldn’t be killed. He assured us that the big guy was alone, and therefore had to one to protect. That was good because if this guy wanted to attack, there is no way we could escape, he would be standing on the hood of the car before our driver touched the gas pedal. But he didn’t want to attack. He stayed right where he was and browsed, turning his head to us to make sure we weren’t doing anything dumb, like climbing out car windows. His tusks were unbelievably long and old looking. His wrinkly eye watched us, and his ears gently flapped. He was the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. After a few minutes, he got bored with our staring and moved off, breaking down trees as he ambled away through the forest. It was an amazing end to an amazing day.
After that wonderful weekend, I was ready to go back to school. It was guaranteed to be an extremely exciting time. I heard there were mzungus coming from a school in Minnasota to spend three weeks learning about Marsabit. They were staying at St. Pauls and they were only there for one day before I couldn’t wait anymore and went to visit. My Kenyan friend, Leah, was excited for me; she said, “You are here alone. Seeing an American must be like seeing your own brother,” and she was right. I wanted to run to them and give them a big hug while gushing about how happy I was to see them. I forgot, of course, that they are used to seeing Americans, and they are living with Americans while here, and they just came from America so who cares. And while I have been away for a while, I am pretty sure it is still weird to hug strangers in America. I didn’t care though. I went to their house in the morning and greeted them. They were very nice, though much less enthused to see me, and told me I could come over any time. I warned them that I would take them up on that (I saw a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce on their kitchen counter!). They said they had brought American treats with them and would give me some. The orgasmic look on my face must have shown how much I would love that. I left them, too soon for my tastes, but I could see them losing interest. It was alright though, they are here for three whole weeks and I am going visit them nearly everyday. Maybe I’ll even get to use sarcasm!
Parents day for St. Pauls is this weekend and I am invited. Brother Boniface first said “you are not a guest,” and I was surprised but said okay. He then said , “you are one of us, you have to be there”. Aww! I wouldn’t miss it. Besides the mzungus, Leah, the Brothers (who become more like family every time I see them), I hear there is going to be local tribal dances and entertainment. It sounds like an awesome party. I will certainly tell you all about it next week. Have a good day!

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