Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The African Safari

-July 14, Tuesday
Kisumu Airport-

I woke up at 4:45 this morning and turned on the shower, shivering in dreaded anticipation of the icy blast that was sure to come. To my great surprise and excitement, steam began to rise from the scalding hot water. I stepped beneath the faucet, smiling from ear to ear. Despite the early hour, this was a wonderful start to my day.

We boarded our matatus and rode off into the darkness, watching young children walk alone to their schools, moving quietly through the early morning darkness.

When we arrived at the airport, they told us that they did not open until 7:00, a slightly frightening thought since our plane takes off at 8:00, and we have fifty tons of baggage to load and check. They presented us with a small, peaceful patio outside surrounded by a garden. We all sat together, listening to Audie's devotion and watching the sun rise in pastel strokes of color that painted the sky like a morning rainbow.

We gave our final farewells to Jared, giving him the customary both-side African hug and shaking his hand for one last time. "Asante-sana," he said over and over again, smiling at each of us. "Tell my American friends hello. I will see you next year."

Checking baggage was a hectic mess. It took us forever, but we finally made it through, weary and ready to relax on the plane to Nairobi. We are still in the waiting room, waiting for the plane to show up. Everyone seems excited to finally be on our way home and yet sad to leave. It is a bittersweet moment, impossible to understand unless you have seen what we have seen and met the people we have met.

How can we simply return to our old lives, taking everything for granted, after we have seen people who are drowning in poverty? How can we waste our money on things that don't matter? How can we complain about our school, however poor it may be? How can we take our families, our health, and our homes for granted? How can we eat a bite of an extensive meal and not feel grateful? How can we complain about the most trivial problems in our lives and not stop to think of the children at Lakeside Orphanage who have lost everything that they have because of AIDS? How can our lives ever be the same again?

I am so blessed, so privileged, to have what I have. It takes me back to the orphanage, to the children proudly showing us what little they had. It takes me back to the children at Ring Road, explaining to me how happy they were because God had blessed them with food and an education. It takes me back to the bush at KipKabus, to the woman giving Barbie and I one of, if not the most, expensive thing she owned. It takes me back to the church in Eldoret, where the church elders stood in the middle of poverty, hands lifted high in adoration for the Lord, singing, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all..."

How can our lives not be changed in every possible aspect?

-Nairobi, Kenya-

At this exact moment, I am sitting on the curb outside of the Nairobi airport, waiting. I have been waiting for forty minutes now, and I have another twenty minutes left to go before the Seattle team arrives and we leave for the safari.


We went ahead and checked our baggage, and we are again out on the curb, waiting for our matatus to show up. Everyone is hungry and passing out what little snacks we have.

This reminds me of when one of the church elders told us gravely that Americans say that they are starving when they are only a little bit hungry. Africans know what it is like to truly be hungry." Together we discussed this memory, and we all lost a little bit of our appetites. Here we are, stuffing our faces with Sour Patch Kids and beef jerky and pistachios because we're a little overdue on lunch, and there are people living a mile away who are literally starving to death.

-Nairobi, Kenya-

We went to the wildlife park to walk around and view the animals in their pens. Our guide was a young man named Alex. He had a great passion for the animals and took us all around the park, off of the paths and up close to view the wild animals. We saw the rhinos, wildebeests, buffalo, leopards, lions...

Alex paid little mind to the park laws and instead took us behind the tourist fences and into the wild, face to face with the animals with only a chain link fence between us. The leopard lunged at the measly fence, snarling ferociously at us. It was a little frightening.

Alex carried this little baby songbird in his hand. At one point, he handed me the bird and walked away, leaving me standing helplessly, holding the trembling songbird. Finally, after a while, I walked up to Alex and said, "Here, take her back now," and he laughed and complied.

"Have you ever touched a cheetah, the fastest of all animals?" Alex asked us in a hushed whisper. "These great cats can be tamed, but shh... this is a secret. Follow me." With a wide grin lighting up his face, Alex led us past the boundaries and out into the actual park, where another park ranger was waiting. A cheetah sat calmly a few yards away, unleashed, watching us intently with golden eyes. "Go on, touch him," Alex murmured, and one by one, we knelt to stroke the large cat, listening to its loud purr and caressing its head and back in awe while we posed for a photo. The experience was both frightening and wonderful at the same time. The fact that a full-grown cheetah was sitting inches away from me, purring, was a surreal feeling.

Alex obviously enjoyed leading us around the park, introducing us to woman-despising monkeys and letting us hold leopard carcasses and put our feet in scale models of elephant feet. He eagerly pointed out birds and herbs and the tree branches in which Africans use to brush their teeth. "This is the biggest secret in Africa. This is why our teeth are so white and beautiful."

At the end, when Alex gave us our ticket stubs so that we could pass the guards and leave the park, he wrote his email address on the back of mine. He motioned towards the written address with his finger so that I would see it, and gave me a wink before ushering me out the door with the others.

After lunch, we went to the safari headquarters. Some people did not want to spend the money to go on the safari, and so they stayed behind. The rest of us were eager to see the wildlife of Africa in their natural habitats.

The first animal we saw was a warthog, trotting through the tall savannah grass, its tail in the air like a flag. After this, we saw gazelle, antelope, buffalo, and a rhino. There were herds upon herds of dramatically-striped zebra, and even a few babies. We saw the zebra up close, watching eagerly as they crossed the road directly in front of our matatus, stopping for a moment to look at us with wary eyes.

We drove around and around looking for giraffes, but we couldn't see any. We were all sorely disappointed and praying silently, "Lord, let us see one giraffe... just one." At the tail end of the safari, literally to the point where we could almost see the entrance from which we came, we all gasped in unison. A single young giraffe was striding calmly down the road in front of us, ambling along without a care, ignoring our very presence. It felt like a blessing straight from God, a small gift that He gave us us to see His children smile with delight. We were all so excited and happy to see that simple giraffe.

We went straight to the airport, which was a good thing, because the traffic was terrible. It took forever for us to merely arrive, check in, exchange our currency back to American dollars, eat dinner, go through security, and sit down. We had perfect timing, really.

I think that we are all feeling concerned about fitting back into our former lives. We have all been changed by this trip, and it will be hard to live out our extravagant lifestyles when the faces of hungry children are swimming hauntingly before our eyes wherever we go. How can we ever again truly adapt to the hectic, apathetic culture that we were all once so used to? How can we simply move on from this journey when there is so much poverty, so much need, so much hunger in the world?

I don't think that any of us will ever again say, "I'm starving."

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