My exposure to Africa has been limited to mission stories, Wild Animal Kingdom and National Geographic. Moving from those sketches to the real thing is like going from a coloring book to movies. I came with no expectations or pre-conceived ideas and am gaining rich experiences I’ll never forget.
I know I speak for the 37 other people who have come to work on the construction of a surgery center, operate clinics and provide Vacation Bible School for the kids. We’re not here to start a church or school; we’re here to extend a ministry that’s already successful and growing. We’re not here to bring the gospel to new territory, but to extend the capabilities of an effective work within the Maasai people.
Following in Jesus’ steps of meeting people’s immediate needs in order to gain the opportunity to share something far greater, we are here to assist in the work of opening new avenues for meeting the pressing needs of a culture steeped in the ineffective traditions of poverty.
Our grand African adventure started on Wednesday afternoon, the 20th of June, 2012. We left from the San Francisco airport around 4:50 pm for a 14 hour flight to Dubai. This brief stopover included an overnight stay and a two-hour bus tour of the city.
We arrived in Dubai around 3 pm and were now 11 hours ahead of the time it was at home. It took around 3 hours to get out of the airport to our hotel. Getting through customs and checking into the hotel was a lengthy process, but no one had expectations of it being any different. Did it matter? Close friends and acquaintances whose company we greatly enjoyed surrounded us. We hung around and talked, laughed, and recalled previous mission trips.
At around 11 pm, we boarded a bus for a two-hour city tour. Now, I know that under most circumstances, this would be absolutely absurd. But Dubai is hot desert land on the Arabian Sea. At 11 pm, it was still 100 degrees. With 115+ degree daytime temperatures, ‘nightlife’ seemed to take on new meaning. The Dubai Mall, the largest in the world, stays open until 12 pm. At 11:30 pm, it was busy, including families with small children. Dubai is the Las Vegas of the East, but so much more. Funded with oil money, this rich city contains some of the most unique architecture in the world. You can find many pictures of this amazing city by doing a Google search for Dubai and clicking on the Images link.
This late night bus tour was further enabled by the fact that our days and nights were turned upside down. Our body rhythms were telling us that it was day, not night, as we were now 11 hours ahead. Having just slept 6-8 hours on the plane, this tour seemed very doable. After all, the next day would be comprised of another day of travel, which would allow us to sleep, as needed. Tonight, we were in one of the most opulent cities in the world.
We arrived in Nairobi the next day around 3 pm and were loaded into Land Cruiser-type vehicles by around 5 pm. Nairobi may be a 3rd world country, something that was apparent from the moment we landed, but it still has major 5 o-clock traffic. It took us until 7 pm to get to the outskirts of Nairobi. But it was a colorful two hours, as our guide filled us in on the life and culture of the average working person in Nairobi.
Dips and Ruts
Most of us would have traded the next 7 hours for any number of more enjoyable activities; none the least of which could have been a 90-minute plane ride. It was dark by the time we got to the outskirts of Nairobi, so our view was limited to whatever was lit beside the road; … road, yes, that was, and continues to be a problem. The ‘good’ road we were on was being clogged by trucks that had broken down by the side of the road causing traffic to slow to a crawl as everyone went around them. The ‘good’ road included sections of rough pavement, with drivers only slowing for potholes. Thus, it was not hard to see why the life expectancy of a truck on these rough roads was only about 50% of normal.
After stopping for a wonderful, pre-arranged supper at about 10:30 pm, our road was expected to deteriorate significantly within about 30 minutes. And it did. Pavement gave way to graded dirt roads that were subject to washouts. While recent work on the road following the rainy season had made it passable, dips and ruts still forced us to travel at slow speeds. Our well-built 4X4 vehicles and well informed, safari-guide drivers raised the trip to the level of an uncomfortable adventure. The remainder of the drive took until 2 am, with roads deteriorating as we went. Our scenery improved, however, as African wildlife began to appear along the roads. The first animal we spotted was what looked to be a common cottontail rabbit. Our interest grew as we spotted zebra and various deer and elk-like herds.
Bouncing into camp around 2 am, we were first greeted by hyenas, caught in our headlights, that were in the process of changing their minds about entering camp due to our arriving vehicles. Our greeting by Mara West Camp Staff was warm and brief, as we all were anxious to get to bed.
We were pleasantly surprised by the uniqueness and quality of our accommodations. Our 'homes' for this week are African safari tent cabins that rent for up to $500 per night during the tourist season. We are being treated like high-paying hotel guests, which is quite unexpected on a mission trip.
So, This is Africa! Chapter 2
Worship in the African Village
Sabbath morning got a late start due to our arrival just a few hours earlier. We were advised to sleep in, which we did, missing the window of electricity provided by the generator from 5:30 to 7 am. --One more day without a hairstyle! We stayed in cozy, warm beds until just before breakfast, hardly wanting to give them up. Our days and nights were so messed up, with our sleep compromised by numerous catnaps on the rough trip to camp. We knew we needed to tough out one active, nap less day, at least, to get our nights and days adjusted to our current location. Sabbath was a good day to initiate that transition.
Our group of 38 filled the remaining seats of the simple masonry Adventist church we attended that morning. Attendance by local members was probably in the range of 35-45, including about 18 enthusiastic and well-behaved kids. We were treated to a number of African adaptations of familiar hymns sung in the local language. It was colorful and interesting to observe the sincerity and enjoyment with which these people worshipped God. Our group of around 10 youth led the church in a couple songs to round out a joyful time of praise through singing. Pastor Tim provided us with an interesting and challenging sermon, with the aid of a translator, to complete the worship service… or so we thought.
As we exited the church, a greeting line began to form creating a semi-circle beyond the doors of the church. As we went around the half-circle and greeted the local members, the line became longer as kids joined the end of the line, adding their shy handshakes and smiles. Prayer followed this extended greeting by the head elder out on the lawn. THEN, church was complete.
We climbed into our capable 4X4 vehicles, talking as we recalled the recent worship service. Our drivers picked their way around rocks and ruts they called a road. When the road was too bad, the drivers went around the worst parts on bypasses of their own creation. I longed to send them a road grader to repair the roads, then a heavy tractor to maintain them. Due to travel limitations, the difficulty of flying someone out for emergency medical care, I discovered, was more than difficult. It was virtually impossible. There are no medical transport capabilities, thus we discovered the need to be able to treat people locally through the surgery center we were initiating.
The pastor of the church is Pastor Mike, who lives on the church/clinic grounds. Pastor Mike is also a licensed physician, trained in a medical school in Nairobi. He has dedicated his life to meeting the needs of his people, the Maasai. Dressed in the colorful attire of the Maasai, he is well camouflaged, greatly loved and revered by the people. It is the presence of Dr. Mike, who has made possible the surgery center we came to build.
The Masai Mara Wildlife Reserve
Sabbath afternoon around 4 pm, we left for a 45-minute walk across the rolling terrain of the plateau on which the Mara West Camp sets. It was like walking across any other grazed hillside, except that we weren’t alone. Zebra lifted their heads then returned to grazing contentedly, noticing only briefly the walkers as we passed within 20 feet of them. We noticed about 5 giraffe not far away, stopping their eating of treetops to stare at us as we stopped and stared back at them. Baboons were spotted about 200 feet away, turning and moving away from us as our presence became apparent. As we crested a small rise, more giraffe were observed in a thicket of trees. Once again, our walk was paused as we took our fill of pictures. Moving on, a herd of cattle and goats, shepherded by a Maasai child, crossed our path. A couple skilled dogs separated the herd from about 20 zebra that were threatening to mix in with the cattle.
As we walked along, it became apparent that we didn’t know what was at the end of the 45-minute walk. Where were we going? The walking safari was fascinating beyond anything we had expected, but was there something even grander at some pending destination? The rolling terrain was giving way to a hazy view of a plain in the far distance. As we made our way through the ruins of a lodge from the movie set, ‘Out of Africa,’ the purpose of our walk gradually came into view. We were standing on a high bluff overlooking the famed animal reserve, the Masai Mara. Down on that expansive grassy plain were herds and flocks, prides and animal families of some of the finest specimens of God’s lavish and imaginative design. Discovering what it held was to be a future day’s adventure. Today, all we could pick out was a cluster of safari vehicles, stopping to photograph a pride of lions that we could only get a faint glimpse of through powerful binoculars.
We hung out at that breath-taking spot for an hour or so, soaking in the majestic view. When it was time to return to camp, as the day was giving way to dusk, we noticed as we walked along that it was not the same terrain we had crossed on our earlier walk. As we went along, we learned that it was the ‘short-cut’ back to camp. Walking down the hillside, a dammed pond filled the valley at the bottom of the hill. We crossed the dirt dam and began our assent to the camp. The less hearty had been offered a ride back to camp in vehicles that never showed up. So the less hearty were supported, encouraged, pulled and pushed up the hill, breathless as they arrived in camp for the supper that was ready and waiting us.
So, This is Africa! Chapter 3
An Unexpected Safari
At supper Saturday night, it was decided that, because there were no clinics held on Sunday, and the concrete ceiling needed to be poured over the surgery center in preparation for our brick-layers, there was little we could do on Sunday, so it was decided that Sunday would be a good day for our 'extra safari.'
Getting up early Sunday morning after a rainy night, our blurry-eyed crew ate breakfast, was inspired by worship and loaded into the sturdy 4X4 safari-adapted vehicles that made their way down the rutted roads to the animal reserve. We came to see what we could see. The Masai Mara is not a zoo, where animals in small enclosures can’t evade paying guests. These animals live in the natural habitat of their choice, of generations of their kind. ‘Survival of the fittest’ and the ‘food chain’ are fully played out in this theater of the animal reserve. If we fail to obey the rules established for safaris, we risk scaring away the animals we came to see, or worse yet, causing a bull elephant or lion to charge us. If we obey the rules, we get to move in and around this dance of nature, observing close up what we've only read about or watched on Discovery channel.
The safari vehicles, frequent visitors to the reserve, pose no perceived threat to the natural wildlife. In those vehicles, human beings who would otherwise be a threat are hardly noticed. Our talking was to be kept to a minimum to enhance our viewing of the animals in their natural habitat.
What we got that day was a feast. Our arrival was estimated to be about a week before the annual migration of the wildebeest, which move thru the plain, eating the tall grass down to nubs. As the thousands of wildebeest descend upon the plain like a plague of locusts, many of the animals move out of their path and become less visible to safaris. People often feel excited and rewarded by the sighting of 3 or 4 types of animals such as elephants, a pride of lions and the walrus-like hippos who hang out at the watering hole. Not us. We were getting spoiled. We not only saw 15 or more species of large animals, we got to see many of them close up as they flopped nearby in the grass, walked across the road or alongside our vehicles.
Our driver, a knowledgeable if not a bit independent guide, took us on a ‘road less traveled’ to a bluff overlooking the river. We got out of our vehicles to get a better look at the hippos in the water below. They were kind of irritated by our presence and we were quite comfortable with the fact that the riverbank between us and them was steeper than a hippo was likely to climb. Excitement amongst a group down the bluff caused me to direct my attention to what they were looking at. A bull elephant had gone down to the river on the opposite bank. As he rounded the corner of the riverbank, he caught site of us and was visibly irritated. He stomped his front feet, waved his head and trunk, and tried to advance toward us as if to scare us off. As we watched him, our guide noticed that he didn’t have his full trunk. He apparently got it caught in a trap and pulled away, tearing off the last several inches of trunk. He could still eat, but the end of an elephant trunk is very useful in grabbing and selecting food. As he continued up the bank, the hippos caught sight of him. Every hippo turned their head away from us, and toward the elephant. They watched every move he made. They snorted and moved about in the water. When it was apparent that the elephant had no intention of making his way to the water, the hippos began to turn their attention back to us. One large hippo moved across the river trying to advance on us. He didn’t like being caught between humans and an angry elephant.
Our guide returned to the main dirt road and was preparing to take us to the hippo pool, a familiar spot for larger numbers of hippo. As we went along, another safari vehicle coming in the opposite direction slowed and talked to our guide. Our guide asked if they had seen anything. The other driver shared that a cheetah had been seen ahead. Our driver grasped hands and thanked the driver, then pushed his foot into the gas pedal and we sped off, hoping to see a cheetah.
We got to see a bit of playful action, as a female cheetah tested the nerves of her prey. Giving chase to a gazelle, her appetite was not sufficient to culminate this chase with a satisfying meal and she abandoned the pursuit, lying down in the tall grass where she could not be seen. All animals in the area never took their eyes off her location and stood at attention, faces and bodies ready to bolt at any moment. She must have decided that she was thirsty, because she started casually making her way toward the road that she must cross to get to the river. She walked about 50 feet away, alongside our vehicle in the tall grass for a while. Then, to our amazement, she crossed right in front of us, exposing her lean, sleek form to our camera lenses. She was in no hurry as she continued alongside our vehicle, sometimes within about 15 feet of us.
When Diane Chang asked her son, Alex, if he got any pictures of the cheetah, he confirmed that he took about 250. Ya, that ought to do it! Diane’s curiosity turned to concern over whether their hard drive could hold all the pictures that were being taken. What an experience for the 15 or so teenage kids that came on the mission trip with their parents or relatives. They are a great group of fun, respectful youth that added an enjoyable dimension to the group.
Later, we got word that there were lions ahead. So we took off in the direction of the lions. Just as we arrived, adding our vehicle to several other safari vehicles, we saw one of the lions cross the road right near one of the safari trucks. In the grass beside the road, a lion sleepily lay on her back, sunbathing her belly. About all we could see were the hind legs moving, poking above the grass. As we watched, lionesses all over the place seemed to raise their heads above the tall grass exposing their position. It gradually became apparent that we were within close proximity to 7-9 lionesses and cubs. Every now and then a cub would climb on its mom or attack another cub, causing them to be seen above the tall grass. The most amazing part is that, in spite of how close we were to them, they completely ignored us. It wasn’t as if they saw us and weren’t afraid. It was as if they didn’t even see us, and there were probably 4-5 vehicles at the site.
After visiting the hippo pool that we passed in search of the cheetah, it was decided that it was time to head back to the camp to get a late lunch. On the ride back, we saw increasing numbers of wart hogs foraging in the fertile swampy grass. Up ahead, a large bull elephant was standing just beside the road. As we approached, he didn’t seem to care and we all got good pictures. Up a little farther, a group of elephants were standing near a watering hole. One male elephant was kicking mud onto its belly with a front foot and slinging mud onto its back with his trunk. Elephants love mud, our guide said. A couple other elephants were rubbing their necks and heads against trees. Then we noticed a couple of the youngest elephants we had seen yet. Our guide said they were less than a year. They were like mini-elephants. So cute.
As we went thru the gates exiting the animal reserve, we started our climb up the hill toward the camp which sets on a plateau overlooking the reserve. Up ahead on the hillside we could see a couple of our vehicles stopped. On the hill beside the road, 10-11 giraffes were grazing on the treetops. There were a bunch of them. None of us had ever seen so many giraffes in one place. It was like a whole herd of them!
After eating lunch at the camp, everyone except me headed back to the reserve. I needed to start writing. They drove mostly along the river, hoping to see a leopard or a black rhino, but that was not to be. Keith got pictures of a crocodile partially submerged in the river. Other than that, it was more elephants, gazelles, water bucks, toupees, birds, wart hogs, and a lot more hippos. The highlight was an elephant and her younger sister that practically walked up to them.
At supper, people excitedly shared their stories as they ate. Amy Giroux gave an interesting worship talk afterwards, but several of us found it challenging to stay awake. I kept drinking water to give myself something to do. But when we closed our eyes for prayer, two times I about fell off my chair as I dozed off. As the prayer ended, I pulled up to the table to support myself. Similar reports came from others. Our adjustment of days and nights was still challenging our attention span.
So, This is Africa! Chapter 4
The Mara West Camp
Our accommodations, through the Mara West Camp, far exceed anyone’s expectations of a mission trip. We are receiving the full African Safari experience at a mission trip rate. The beauty of our setting, the comfort of our quarters, the quality and variety of our food, the hospitality and attentiveness of the staff, all come together to create more of an exotic vacation than a work-hard, rough-it mission trip.
Andrew Aho, who founded Africa Mission Service (AMS) in 2001, established the permanent tented camp, Mara West, in 2004 just outside the Masai Mara National Reserve on leased Maasai land. It was created to host individuals and volunteer groups. Today, AMS works extensively with the local Maasai leadership to improve educational opportunities for children and offer medical services for rural villages. Financial support for community development is generated by hosting short-term volunteers, who generally participate in a community development project for an average of 10-12 days. AMS’s operating costs are earned through the seasonal safari business Andrew and staff operates at the Mara West Camp, thus donated money goes 100% to the community development projects.
There are a variety of roles mission teams can fill. What’s most important to Andrew is that everyone has the opportunity to interact with the local Maasai, learning about their culture and seeing firsthand the impact of their efforts in the villages.
Andrew believes that ‘missionaries’ are more inclined to come back over and over if they have warm showers, comfortable beds and good food. The Mara West Camp, set atop a plateau, provides all of these in a natural setting with a stunning view of the Masai Mara Reserve on two sides. Many cabins are set right on the bluff with generous wood porches out front to sit and soak up the view after a day’s work with the Maasai people.
Almost daily, zebra graze on the grass between the cabins. We noticed that we didn’t see any zebra when we visited the reserve on Sunday. Down there, lions hunt them and their numbers are not sustainable. Up on the bluff, they can peacefully graze and multiply, although lions do come up the hill to snag a cow from the village or a zebra from time to time. The reserve has no fences, thus animals are free to roam at will. At least one lion has been seen in camp. A staff member said she unzipped her tent one day, and just outside was a lion looking at her. But he turned and walked away. We were told to always zip our tents when we leave, as baboons have been known to raid the tents of unsuspecting guests. Giraffes are good backyard animals, our guide told us. They are peaceful, and can be seen a short distance away where there are more trees to graze on.
We are not to walk away from the main sidewalks of the camp after dusk and before the sun comes up. There is nothing that keeps wild animals from wandering into camp. Maasai guards walk the camp at night, escorting us to and from our cabins after dark. During the night, many wild animal sounds can be heard. Keith and Andrew say they heard lions roaring early one morning. Laughing hyenas are heard nightly. Various other screeches and snorts remind us that there really are animals out there.
The Mara West Camp is 400 kilometers south of the equator, thus temperatures are fairly steady, typically ranging this time of year from low 80s in the day to the 50s at night. There is a rainy season from November thru May and, as we’re experiencing, the rainy season doesn’t always check the calendar. It’s late June, and it’s rained every day, typically in the late afternoon or night. Last night, we had an impressive thunder and lightning storm with big cloudbursts. The amount of rain that came down in a short time softened and filled the already rutted roads, making our drive to the villages this morning a partially-controlled slide.
I would give the Mara West Camp a 5 star, not for being a posh hotel, but for doing an excellent job of offering a unique and productive mission experience wrapped in an exotic African Safari.
So, This is Africa! Chapter 5
The Mobile Clinics
As supper was ending on Monday evening, the clouds ruptured and dumped amazing amounts of rain in two to three impressive bursts. There was a price to pay for this explosion of nature, however. Tuesday morning as we were leaving for the villages, we expected deeper ruts, but what we got were ruts that had been soaking in 6-9 inches of water all night on soft ground that was already moist. Dips were filled with water to slosh through. John Hagele, driving one of the camp 4X4’s, was first over the roads and described it like a Disneyland ride where you drive in tracks that determine your direction. We were in the last vehicle and the tracks had given way to slippery mud in poorly defined tracks that was getting deeper all the time. The back of our truck and the truck in front of us swung to the right and left at times as the tires tried to find something to grab onto. Anyplace he could, the driver would seek untraveled grass to drive on along the side of the road. As we neared the village, the ground was flat and holding water. It became apparent that the road was the last place to drive, as it held close to a foot of water in spots. But, we made it. As the day progressed, two of the trucks got stuck and had to be pulled out.
We were heading to the ‘mall,’ Andrew Aho jokingly called it. It was market day at the village of choice. This would draw large numbers of people to our clinic that had come to market. Our drivers found a clump of trees away from the row of crudely build ‘shops.’ There, the doctors and helpers set up a couple plastic tables and 10 or so folding camps stools and were open for business.
John Hagele needed darkness to utilize the RetinoScope he was using. As we traveled to Africa, he had carried a hard protective case containing a portable auto-refractor, but when we got here and it didn’t work. So he was forced to use a RetinoScope that was invented in the 1890s. It still works in the hands of a skilled practitioner, but requires total darkness. The closest they could achieve on Monday was to put a Maasai blanket over both doctor and patient for viewing the eyes. I just missed getting a picture of this rather unconventional examining room on Tuesday morning. They were just removing the blanket as I snapped my picture. My chance was gone because the chief of the village offered his office, which was fairly dark when all the drapes were pulled. So the Ophthalmology Clinic was upgraded from the lawn under a clump of trees, where Andrew and Keith set up clinic, to an enclosed building.
The ‘pharmacy’ was comprised of a plastic table topped with a collection of light meds including decongestants and cough syrups, Motrin, Tylenol, antibiotics, worming pills, multi-vitamins, etc. They were neatly arranged for the doctors to prescribe each time they set up the bush clinics. Margo Reiner and son, Reese, were the pharmacists, counting out pills and putting them in little brown paper envelopes and small zip locks. Lauren Chang, (age 16) dressed in scrubs, was the scribe for both doctors, writing the scripts, learning medical abbreviations and delivering them 2 steps away to the ‘pharmacy’ for filling and giving to patients.
Two young ‘interns’ dressed in pink scrubs, Alex Chang (age 16, planning to follow his father into GI) and Jeren Wong, who just completed college and has applications into Loma Linda Med School, et.al), were taking instructions from doctors, Andrew and Keith, on how to do exams and determine a diagnosis. Village patients were very tolerant of the secondary exams and instruction time that was needed. The young ‘interns’ also spent time with Dr. Hagele in the Ophthalmology clinic.
By noon, the mobile clinic had developed a line of about 20 villagers, with the chief of the village stating that up to 200 people would like to be seen. Would they be able to see that many? Andrew and Keith were willing and optimistic that they could. At the end of the day, Keith told me that they saw everyone that came, probably seeing about 150, accelerating their pace as the day wore on.
On Monday, the previous day, the mobile clinic was at a different village. The doctors were lined up around circular walls, seeing patients in a small round hut when Keith got word that a lady was in labor, about to deliver a baby. ER docs occasionally deliver babies, but not often. However, that was a lot more often than the other doc, Roy Foliente, who is a Gastroenterologist. Keith was accompanied by Francis, the nurse, and Michelle Foliente. They entered the windowless hut with 8-10 women standing around the main room. Keith made his way past them, entering the back room through a small archway. This led into a room so dark he could hardly see. The only light was from a fire that was making it stiflingly hot. Keith bent down to examine the prospective mom lying on the floor with only a cowhide between her and the dirt floor. Sticky flies were everywhere. She indicated that she didn’t want Keith to examine her. So Keith and Francis measured the frequency and consistency of the contractions. Five minutes apart and irregular. This was her 6th child, and she agreed to allow Francis, the nurse, to examine her, feeling the baby’s head and determining that everything was lined up and ready. They stood and waited a while, then realized that they could consume their whole afternoon waiting for the baby to arrive. With the presence of a local midwife and instructions to call, if needed, they went back to the mobile clinic and resumed seeing patients, quite comfortable that nature would produce this baby just fine.
Keith grimaced as he shared that moms and children had flies on their faces, clustered around the infected and weeping eyes of their children, and even bunched on the cheek of the mother’s face. Yet, there was no attempt to brush them off. He could only assume that they had been desensitized to the irritation since birth. Cow manure piles were all over the village, breeding flies, bacteria and odor. People bring their cows into their dirt-floored huts and fenced enclosures around their homes at night where they can protect them from lions. During the day, the children shepherd the cattle and goats on the hills grazing on grassy slopes. The Maasai are cattle people, growing no food of their own. Cattle are their currency and they barter almost everything with the currency of cattle. Being cattle herders is one reason the wild animals have survived and proliferated on Maasai land, our guide told us. The Kisii tribe are farmers and have reduced the population of wild animals significantly on their lands as they try to protect their crops from wild animals who would consume and ruin their crops.
It’s now around 4:30 pm on Tuesday afternoon and thunderclouds have been banging together producing a continuous drum roll overhead for over an hour. It’s looking like the heavy, dark clouds may bypass us this evening. So much for waiting to visit Africa until the rainy season was over!
So, This is Africa! Chapter 6
The Dental Clinic
Wednesday morning, we slid our way down the road, this time, to the stationary clinic, fishtailing through mud, dropping our large tires into 12 inch+ deep ruts and coming out again, amazingly. When the safari vehicles return to Nairobi, they will be examined thoroughly, replacing parts that the exceedingly rough roads have compromised. That’s expected. They are very robust, but must be kept in good condition to continue providing safaris to guests without bent or broken axles, flat tires, broken drive trains, and other problems that can cause breakdowns or discomfort to their patrons.
Upon arrival at the clinic, our staff quickly gets to work preparing to see the patients that will come for dental and medical care. This is their third day working as a team, so they are developing an efficient routine. Our entire dental team is at the clinic where they can make use of a donated dental chair and drill. Tim and Mona Giroux, both dentists, work as a team, with Alex Chang and cousin, Amy Giroux, affectionately nicknamed ‘AmyGamy’(by Alex, who hopes it sticks) assisting the dentists. Greg Vixie, dentist, worked from a high-backed wooden chair in the corner. Our dental team is one of the finest the Mara West Camp has ever provided to the Maasai people, Francis, the resident nurse reports. We owe a big thank-you to Patterson Dental for providing more than $5000 worth of dental supplies for the dentists to use and leave as stock at the clinic.
At first, the people didn’t seem to want to come, but as those who came reported that our dentists were using anesthetic, people began coming steadily. It was reported that previous dental teams did not use anesthetic, thus the reluctance to come. As of Wednesday evening, Greg Vixie estimated that they had seen around 200 people including the dental screenings on some of the school children. Tim and Mona Giroux agreed that all combined, they had done about 150 procedures, mostly extracting and some filling of teeth. Greg reports that he performed some of the toughest extractions he’s ever done having to dig, pull, and wrestle roots out that wouldn’t come willingly. Mona admitted that she has been praying for a number of the patients who have had extractions because as the anesthetic wears off, the ibuprofen they give them will not be adequate for the pain. Considering some of the procedures, they needed a strong pain killer.
Dr. Mona Giroux did a preliminary exam on a 7th grade boy and saw the need for a little filling on the left side, sending him over to Greg to treat. Greg examined the patient and also found a broken off root from an extracted molar that he wanted to remove. He explained to the boy that he could fix it in 5 minutes and it would be painless… it would be no problem. The boy was shaking his head, “No, no…” Greg gently coaxed and finally got him to sit in his chair. He turned to get the syringe for the anesthetic (…and I watched him. He’s pretty subtle about it). When he turned back, the kid had bolted. Greg stepped out into the center aisle, thinking the boy had just stepped out to get something, but he wasn’t there. Greg looked outside and saw him 200 yards up the road, running away as fast as he could… Huh! Lost that one.
Patients sat in the wide center aisle of the clinic on long wooden benches waiting their turn to be seen. Pat Schuhriemen greeted them warmly, lined them up for treatment, and provided dental education, showing patients how to brush their teeth properly. The dentists report that she was an excellent receptionist and her contribution was much appreciated.
As you come into the wide center aisle of the clinic, the right side has a reception window staffed by Mary, a resident employee. Behind her are nice shelves and a semi-stocked pharmacy. The selection is not bad, but far short of what they could really use. Antibiotics were in short supply. Cold meds were flying off the shelf, as there was a bug going around. They were rationing Motrin which the docs were prescribing when people reported chronic joint or old injury pain. With the dentists and physicians seeing around 250-300 patients a day, the common meds were being consumed at a rapid rate. Dr. Fenderson reports that at the end of Wednesday, they had used up all the worming medicine they had taken with them to the mobile clinic, as they had seen some 65 students who had shown up for medical checkups.
Mission groups have donated many of the meds, supplies and equipment, bringing extra luggage full of supplies from the states. We brought about 35 long duffle bags full of equipment and supplies, much of it having been donated by Henry Schein, a supplier of dental and medical supplies. Their contribution was greatly appreciated, especially by the medical doctors, as they provided supplies and equipment that was needed for exams and treatment. Some of what Henry Schein provided will be more fully utilized when the surgery center opens.
The surgery center that our team is currently constructing is on the same site as the clinic. Today, they were pouring the concrete ceiling over the doctor’s office area, leaving the ceiling over the operating room and pre- and post-op areas for another day. About 7 guys and girls formed a line and were handing off stacks of bricks, moving them to where the bricklayers were working. The walls were going up fast. 8-10 men and boys were shoveling and moving sand in wheelbarrows making piles on the concrete floor where several men with shovels were mixing it with concrete and water, preparing the concrete to be lifted, bucket by bucket, to the ceiling where it was dumped and spread. When I was there, there was one person up top working the concrete and one person on the scaffolding handing up the buckets of concrete. There were probably about 10 men working on the concrete and about 10 guys and girls moving and laying bricks. Andrew Aho reports that our crew was very hard working with no one taking long, unproductive breaks. He was very pleased with the crew and the progress.
One thing that interested me was a discussion I had with Dr. Mike. I noticed a couple solar panels on the roof. I followed the wire down the eave and discovered that the panels were powering their freezer and the microscope in the lab. In his medical examining room, I noticed an incubator that a recent mission group had donated. How was that going to be powered with the continuous power it would need? The government will be providing electrical power soon, I was told. Power poles are set with one pole about 15 feet from the back of the clinic. Wire is strung, and the clinic will get retrofitted with post-construction wiring soon.
I had also been thinking that the surgery center that’s under construction doesn’t have a surgery ward for post-op patients. Dr. Mike affirmed that they would need men and women’s surgery wards. He went on to explain that he has been meeting with the government, who has taken notice of the medical care he is providing in the area. The government has provided vaccinations for Dr. Mike to give to the children. They have recently designated the clinic as the primary care facility for an area 20 kilometers in each direction. That’s a population of 25,000 people. “I need roads,” he told government officials. They agreed and will be grading the road in a few weeks, as they, also, realize the need to be able to get people to the clinic. And then Dr. Mike told me, “I need a motorcycle and an ambulance. There is no medical transport in the area and I am unable to get to people in the bush.”
So, This is Africa, Chapter 7
Vacation Bible School Activities
The children stood and squatted, stood and squatted, as they enthusiastically sang a song Pastor Tim had just taught them, “Praise Ye the Lord.” Six rows of kids, kneeling on the floor, were bunched as close as they could to the front row where Pastor Tim McMillan was leading the music accompanied by his guitar. There was hardly room between the children to stand and squat or do hand motions, but they didn’t seem to mind. Our youth were in a semi-circle several feet behind Pastor Tim, doing hand motions and singing with big smiles on their faces. I’m not sure if those were mischievous or joyful smiles, as they had a few minor variations and interpretations of the songs, I noticed.
Today’s kids were the kindergarten and 1st grade classes of a school close to the Mara West Camp. Scott Reiner did a quick count, resulting in about 110 kids. A class of 55 kindergartners might not be manageable except that these kids are very well behaved. The VBS team reported that this excellent behavior ran consistently through all the grades.
The class’s teacher stood beside Tim to interpret as needed, so the children could better understand what Tim wanted them to do. She was pretty, tall, and a warm person who the kids responded well to. She was having a little trouble with her English on the “Praise ye the Lord” phrase, so Tim said to just sing, “Praise-aise the Lord… OK, let’s try it kids,” Tim said. “Praise ye the Lord,” all the kids said plainly. THEY got it!“OK, …I guess we’ll sing ‘praise ye the Lord,’” Tim somewhat awkwardly responded with a crooked smile on his face. The children took great delight in the active songs Pastor Tim provided. Diane Chang said later that she has heard a number of positive comments about Pastor Tim’s interaction with our youth. He seems to connect with kids of all ages, providing them support, instruction and encouragement. We’re pleased to have him as the Youth Pastor of our church and pastor for our mission team.
About 10 of our youth acted out a Bible Story charade for the children to guess. Yesterday’s story was about the anointing of David, when Samuel visited David’s home and sent for young David who was out shepherding the sheep. It required several of the youth to get down on the grass on all fours and be sheep. Goats happened to be grazing nearby. As the youth began with their sheeply ‘baa-aaa-aaas,’ the goats started answering back. They must have had more of a goat ‘baa-aa’ than a sheep ‘baa-aa’ because a young goat became particularly animated, baa-ing loudly and running to the edge of the herd of goats, wanting very much to come check out these new ‘goats.’
When it came to telling stories to these younger kids, Pastor Tim had a language problem, as these kids hadn’t been taught English, yet. Realizing this, he lined the kids up around him in the shape of a fishing boat so he could tell the story of Jesus calming the sea. Some of our youth’s laps were the ‘benches’ inside the boat. They brought a few children onto their laps. They were the fisherman. As the ‘boat’ pitched and rolled in the stormy sea, the youth ‘pitched and rolled’ their laps, causing the kids on their laps to sway back and forth, feeling the roughness of the water during the storm. All the kids squealed with delight.
After the story, everyone gathered around tables for a craft. Today’s craft was a gold crown that they pasted shiny beads on, representing stars in their heavenly crown. Our youth (both guys and girls) assisted them, two to a table, sitting in the middle with kids surrounding them, looking to them for help. It warmed my heart to see our youth enjoying the kids and responding so warmly and gently to their need for direction. As we left, I noticed that the children were proudly wearing their gold crowns as they played at recess. Our departing vehicles had to drive through where they were playing. As we did, they stopped their play, waved and gave us big smiles.
Anna McMillan had purchased quite a lot of supplies prior to coming, expecting groups as large as 300+. Fortunately, the VBS team, which included as assistant leaders, Diane Chang and Hallie Anderson, met with only a grade or two at a time. She had things very well organized, with age-appropriate activities for all 8 grades. Everyone who participated in the VBS team said it was very fun. “The kids are cute, very responsive and catch on so quickly,” Diane Chang had commented.
Prior to leaving, I spent a little time poking my head into classrooms that were empty because children were at recess. Instruction is in English from the 3rd grade onward. Paperback textbooks setting on desks were often dirty with curled pages. The government supplies new textbooks each year, usually for all the children. These days, the only time they run short is if their enrollment exceeds expectations.
Anna just shared an interesting issue relating to school attendance. The government requires that the school close when elephants are in the area as they might kill children playing on the playground. From time to time, the school receives calls from parents (cell phones are apparently pretty common), stating that their children will not be able to come to school today because elephants are in the area. For my younger daughter, that might have been a variation of “my bird chewed up my homework.”
Missionary-minded people like Janet Martin and ‘Angels to Africa’ have built this school. Janet funded the construction of a large Dining Hall and really nice, stainless steel-equipped kitchen, and continues to come regularly from the states to initiate or open additional facilities she has funded. She is expected to arrive on July 2 to initiate the construction of a dormitory for the girls. They find they can’t teach kids who typically only receive a cup of milk in the morning and one in the evening. They need to feed them a much better diet to enhance learning.
Janet Martin seems to have perfected the art of getting things done in Africa. “Some money that has been donated in the past didn’t get used for the intended purpose,” the principal told me. Janet makes sure she is on site when the construction begins, designates someone in the community to oversee the work, and then requires pictures mailed or emailed to her at intervals so she can verify progress. Then she returns to open the new facilities. Africa apparently has a long history of ‘redirecting’ donated money, when people simply give, but aren’t there to initiate, require accountability for progress, then return to celebrate its completion.
So, This is Africa! (Intermediate)Chapter 8
I haven't had a chance to write chapters for Thursday, Friday or today, Sabbath. I may not get a chance until we are flying home.
On Thursday, the team completed the clinics in the villages, seeing about 150 medical and 50 dental patients and about 45 eye exams, glasses and procedures. There are some interesting stories I want to share, but time hasn't allowed me to write them, yet.
Friday, the entire group was together all day. The nearby school had a program for us after the last VBS for the 8th graders. It was great! We did not prove to be very good dancers, when drawn into a couple of their traditional dances. The main event was a soccer game: the Maasai 8th grades vrs. the Missionaries. The score was 5 to 3, - Maasai. That was very fun. We left behind some older Pine Hills basketball and football jerseys. Guys loved them.
We ate a picnic lunch on the bluff overlooking the Masai Mara Animal Reserve. As we headed to a village, we stopped along the road and gave children clothes that Pat had brought. That was fun and the dirty little babies and children looked better as we put Pat's freshly washed and ironed clothes on them. Then we headed to Boma, a traditional Maasai Village that is currently occupied, but they take people through, explaining their culture and allowing people to go inside their huts. That experience is ripe with word pictures waiting to be written.
Today, Sabbath, we just returned from one of the planned Safaris of Masai Mara Animal Reserve. What a day! We were beginning to think we weren't going to see much, but then we started finding animals. We found a pride of female lions and cubs on termite mounds by the road that came off the mounds, walked straight toward us and came within 5-10 feet of our vehicles as 4 adults and 2 youngsters came onto the road and walked down the road for a ways before going back into the weeds. A couple elephants wanting to cross the road got mad at us. That display was interesting. We saw a total of 15 animals and about 25 bird species. We ate lunch under a tree and had a 'sermon' delivered by Greg Vixie. Tonight, we will be treated to Maasai Men Dancers. We saw the female dancers when we were in the village yesterday.
Tomorrow, we go back to the animal reserve on the Tanzania side where wildebeest are approaching. We MAY get to see an early part of their migration, don't know. They're on their own time clock. Between 1 and 3 million wildebeest occupy the reserve taking 3-4 months to make their way through.
I love you guys, but I have to go see all this cool stuff to be able to write about it. We leave for home on Monday. It's been an awesome trip. Looking forward to showing you some of our pictures. Thousands of pictures have been taken.
Signing off, unless there is a break when I can write. See you when we get home.
God has blessed.
So This is Africa, Chapter 8
By Friday, our work with the clinics was complete. The team had seen close to 1000 patients in the medical, dental and eye clinics. The VBS team had provided activities for all the school children except the 8th grade. That was the first order of business on Friday morning. A few of us had a few other tasks to complete early Friday morning, so we missed the VBS at the local school. By the time we arrived, the 8th graders were streaming out of the Dining Hall wearing the gold crowns that Anna had provided as the craft for the children. There had been a question as to whether these ‘big’ kids would enjoy VBS activities which are typically for younger children. That was answered as these tall Maasai boys walked around proudly wearing their gold crowns. All but one of the girls had removed theirs for unknown reasons. I happened to notice that a few of our ‘big’ boys were wearing the crowns, also. Hey, that’s cool!
As we mingled, talking and waiting for the next event, we noticed that chairs were being brought out of the classroom for us, the guests, to sit on in the shade during the school’s program. We had been told that the school had prepared a program for us. The principal explained that they were members of Boy and Girl Scout troops. Some of the older girls demonstrated their formation marching skills. They did a nice job. Three talented 5th- 8th grade students did a great, passionate job of reciting poetry. The principal explained that one of the ways they teach the children English is by having them learn and recite English poetry.
About 30 of the older Maasai students demonstrated Maasai dances for us, surprising us when about 10 of them came and grabbed our hands and drew us into the dance. I never did quite get the rhythm, and that thing they do with their head, neck and shoulders, -that would take some concentrated practice.
Vic Anderson brought some basketball and football jerseys for the Maasai boys soccer team. They were Pine Hills jerseys they don’t use anymore because they have changed their team colors. Several of our boys helped Mr. Anderson choose jerseys that would fit the Massai team. They looked great in them! Maasai’s are typically very tall and lean and these boys were no exception. They looked like they would have made a formidable basketball team, but they don’t have a court or hoops.
Everyone moved to the soccer field. No one expected our team to win, but our team didn’t do too bad. There was possibly a little corruption on the missionaries team, as Andrew Aho (Mara West owner), an experienced soccer player standing on the sidelines, put at least one of the goals through the goal posts for the missionaries. To reduce any ethics issues, Andy ‘joined’ the team, posting himself near the goal, waiting for our team to get the ball to him. Our team found the uneven terrain and mid-calf grass to be a bit of a problem. I mean, after all, they have to have some excuse. Both teams played hard, but our team looked a lot more exhausted than the Maasai boys. They walk and run everywhere. Its no problem for them to run several miles at a time just to get somewhere. Maasai’s have produced several Olympic long distance runners.
We ate a picnic lunch about 20 minutes away, on a bluff overlooking the Masai Mara Animal Reserve. We had about a 10-minute climb up to the chosen spot. Shade trees: √ rocks to sit on: √ and a view to die for. The only thing that would have been better would have been something besides the peanut butter and jam sandwiches everyone had been eating for lunch all week. They were prepared by Lori Hagele and Michele Foliente and served on delicious fresh ground wheat bread they make daily at camp. It’s just that peanut butter is hard to spread on soft, homemade bread.
Everyone ate their fill, enjoyed the wonderful pasta salad, watered down the orange ‘drink’ (more like concentrate) about 8:1, and thanked God for all of it.
Descending the hill, we climbed into the Toyota LandCruisers we’d been riding in all week, and headed for Boma, a traditional Maasai village. Along the way, there were children herding cattle and goats, so we stopped and dressed them in the clean, freshly ironed clothes Pat Schuhriemen had brought. The clothes they wore looked like they had been worn almost continuously since the last missionaries came through. Diane Chang and Margo Reiner had purchased quite a number of thongs, so they finished off the clean, colorful outfits with new thongs for each. This made the kids pretty happy, waving and lingering as we drove away.
We went up the road to another couple villages where there were more children with parents. At the second village, there was one tall 8th grade-ish boy who was just walking home from school. One of our boys gave him a soccer ball and told him he could keep it. He could hardly believe it. Jeren, a college-level soccer player, noticed that he had some skill with the soccer ball and joined him in some one-on-one play.
Out of one of the duffle bags appeared a long jump rope. Andrew Aho and one of the villagers got one of the village girls to jump rope while they turned it. Pastor Tim took his turn at it, then the village girl tried it again. Michele Foliente jumped in, along with another girl. There were 3 jumping at once. It was great fun. When it came time to leave, the rope was wound up and given to the village girl.
And we were off to the Boma village.
So This is Africa, Chapter 9
As we drove along the dirt, rutted roads of the long plateau above the plains of the Masai Mara Animal Reserve, we would always pass homes and villages of Maasai. They were ‘mud’huts with high peaked thatched roofs. But that was not the traditional village housing of the Maasai. The Boma village that we were about to visit was more traditional, and still in use in many villages, verified by our medical team. Once we arrived and were introduced to the village and culture, our Maasai tour guide encouraged us to enter the hut.
The hut was about 5-6 feet tall (on the outside) with a 4 ½ foot high door crudely made out of sticks. Maasai people are probably 5ft-7in to over 6 feet tall. It was hard for us to understand why they build such short houses for such tall people. Between ½ and ¾ of the small hut is for calves, sheep and goats at night, which are the most vulnerable to lion attacks. Their homes and villages seem to revolve around protecting their livestock from lions. In about ¼ of the round hut is a bed (raised or on the ground) covered with a thin ‘mattress’ and cowhide on which dad, mom and a child up to 4 years of age sleep. About 2 feet away large rocks define the fire pit which keeps the hut quite warm. Light, ventilation and the ‘chimney’ are from two 3-inch holes in exterior walls, one over the bed, one over the fire pit. It was so dark in there we could hardly see to move around the tight quarters. The entire amount of living space was probably around 6ft X 12ft.
Stepping outside the hut, you see that the village is approximately round. The outer ‘fence’ is a crudely built stick and thorn tree enclosure with huts 1 to 2 deep around the perimeter. In front of the huts, as you move toward the center, is a dirt pathway about 12-15 feet wide that circles the entire community. The four ‘gates’ that allow you to enter the community from all four sides lead to this wide pathway that gives access to the huts and the cattle enclosure. In the center is a large fenced enclosure for cattle during the night.
Let me revisit a word I used to describe what the huts are made of- ‘mud.’ Actually, the roof and walls of the hut are covered with fresh cow manure- the fresher the better, we were told. With an interior framework of sticks, the ‘mud’ huts are reported to last up to 15 years. Then they abandon them and build new ones. As you might expect, the smell and the flies are serious problems for us westerners. But they don’t seem to be a problem for the local people.
Their diet, which seems to vary by different reports, is traditionally milk and blood from their cows. They believe their diet gets it’s nutrition from the drinking of raw blood. They have developed a special arrow which, when inserted into the jugular vein at an angle, enables them to bleed the steer without severing it’s jugular vein and killing it. To the milk/blood beverage they add wild fruit. Only for special occasions will they slaughter livestock for meat. Corn meal and vegetables are being added, as the children who go to school have learned to include these to their diets. Many of the children are being taught to grow gardens while at school. So growing gardens in the villages is just beginning to occur. The traditional cup of milk in the morning and evening is inadequate to support mental function for learning. Thus, many school children live in dorms at the school so they can get a good diet. The people in the villages are stick skinny. The children at school look much better, with some of the older school girls a bit overweight.
What was amazing to us is that children who go to school, typically through 8th grade, will come back and join the Maasai village, living as their ancestors have lived for generations. The imprinting of the Maasai culture is so strong during their childhood and the school years that school benefits many of them little more than enabling them to read, write and speak English. Traditions are slow to change, as we know. They are intertwined with deep values and beliefs that drive their behavior. The Maasai are apparently very good at building these traditional values into their children.
After being treated to a Maasai dance by the women of the village and a few of our young girls, we were led through one of the gates to a grassy plain outside the village. Seated in a circle were the women of the village offering their wares. We bought several things, but when I got back to my tent, I noticed that all of them smelled pretty much the same as the village. One wood mask smelled so bad, I set it outside my tent.
One big reason their culture has not advanced is that they have few more than the same resources that they’ve had for centuries. Water is limited, carried from a local dam or river, and of poor quality. Sanitation is taken care of by nature. Electricity is coming, but who knows how many people will take advantage of it. Medical care and immunizations are improving, enabling a somewhat better survival rate. Average lifespan is 47 years, however that takes into account the large number of children that die before the age of 5. One friendly feature they have in their favor is their mild climate. It can get as warm as 90 degrees, but the average temperature is in the 70’s to 80’s. Nights cool down into the 50’s. Added to a mild climate is the beauty and peacefulness of their land unless someone’s trying to take it from them.
So This is Africa, Chapter 10
Our Sabbath Safari
Sabbath morning breakfast was at 7, with worship delayed until lunch. It was ‘get up and get going’ so we could get out to the Masai Mara Reserve as early as possible. Our mission? -To find a leopard, a crocodile and a black rhino. We didn’t get much benefit from our early start. In fact, we were beginning to wonder if we were going to have a dry run. We saw giraffes and a few zebra, tobies and gazelle. But we see the giraffes and zebras everyday around the camp and gazelle and tobies run in herds easily visible on the plain. We saw pretty birds. There are some 975 species on the plains of the reserve. Throughout the day, we saw about 25 species.
Our luck began to turn when we got a limited sighting of a lioness. But it was so limited it wasn’t hardly worth photographing. And then, no one knows how, Vic Anderson spotted a black rhino. It was a little ways from the lion, lying down in tall grass and bushes that had a lot of black on them, thus was virtually invisible. Our drivers took us closer to the rhino so we could photograph it. We think there was a young rhino in the bushes beside it. Rhinos are almost extinct, so finding this one was a rare treat.
We continued farther into the reserve. It was getting close to noon when we saw a Cape buffalo on the hillside that goes to the top of the plateau. We were nearing our lunch destination, and it turned out to be not far from the location of the buffalo. They can be aggressive, so as we were setting up lunch, our drivers kept a watch on the buffalo. He was coming toward us, grazing as he went. As our lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and potato salad was served, he moved past us, giving us little notice.
The afternoon was much more productive. On our way to a crocodile pool, several lions were spotted proudly sitting on 3 termite mounds. There appeared to be one mother, 2-3 young adults and 2 babies. As our vehicles pulled up to watch and photograph them, the lions decided that the termite mound on the other side of the road would be considerably better. Starting with the big mother lion, they descended the mounds, one at a time, and were lost in the tall grass. We could see that they were coming directly toward us, coming out of the grass onto the dirt road right beside our vehicle. They acted as if we weren’t there. We were a few feet from them as they came onto the road, one at a time. The babies came as a pair, stumbling over their big paws and running into each other. They were definitely straggling behind the rest and had to sniff the road to figure out where the others had left the road for the new and improved termite mound.
That was exhilarating. Great photographs! We turned around and went back the direction we had intended before being diverted the lion sighting. A herd of elephants were ahead on either side of the road. A young mother and month-old baby were on the right side of the road, crossing over. The baby was obediently staying close to mom so she could shield it. Once they settled into grazing on the left side of the road, we were laughing at how hard the new baby elephant was trying to eat the long grass. Every now and then it would unwind its trunk, sticking it up in the air to try to get untangled from the grass. I’m not thinking it was able to actually maneuver that long grass into its mouth. But that didn’t stop it from trying.
We got word that the river up ahead didn’t have a crocodiles, so we turned around and went to the hippo pool, also a place where crocodiles hang out. We were in luck. A big crocodile was sunning itself on the opposite shore where we had seen about 12 hippos laid out last Sunday. A stork was about 5 feet from the croc, seemingly tantalizing it. Keith’s story was that the croc had eaten its mate and it was standing there demanding that the croc give it back. Whatever…
We turned around and had to pass along the road where the elephant herd was. By this time, the young mother and baby had grazed across the field and wanted to cross THIS road. There were about 4 vehicles stopped, looking at the elephants close up. The mom and baby were right beside our vehicle. She got mad. She wanted to cross the road. She started flapping her ears, tossing her head, giving us a fierce look and was acting like she was going to charge us. She lifted her trunk and trumpeted a loud demand for us to move. Whoa! That was something we hadn’t bargained for, -a trumpet! We moved ahead and let her cross.
That wasn’t our only angry elephant. As we were heading out of the reserve, we saw a large bull elephant standing on the side of the road. But he was backlit, so our driver drove around him so we could get a better picture. The elephant backed away from us putting him onto the road. A driver from another safari company came along the road and stopped, playing dare with this huge bull elephant. The old elephant turned to face him and was flapping his big ears and tossing his head to indicate he wasn’t happy. The safari driver disobeyed rules and revved his engine loudly, antagonizing the elephant. The elephant backed a few steps, and then started to charge him. About then, someone noticed the driver was in reverse, prepared to retreat if it became necessary. The only problem was, we would in the path of this angry elephant if he got serious. The driver revved his engine again and advanced toward the elephant. The elephant was very angry, but backed away from the advancing vehicle. Finally he backed several steps, turned and moved off into the field at a fast pace.
Farther up, we saw a big Cape buffalo wallowing in a puddle of muddy water. He seemed quite content, even lying all the way over on his side. Just beyond was a whole herd of Cape buffalo numbering close to 100, we estimated. This is the first time we had seen more than 1-2 Cape buffalo. Lots of pictures were taken and we moved on.
In a dry waterway, we caught sight of 4 mongooses. These are the guys that eat snakes, even deadly poisonous ones. As we watched, they would run a little ways in a line, then stop and all four would stand up in a line on their haunches at once. Then they’d run some more, stop and stand up.
By the end of our safari, we felt we had had a good day. We decided that God has a big imagination and a great sense of humor, having created a wide variety of creatures to live in many different habitats with lots of variations of their family structure. Andrew Chang and I decided we had probably been here long enough. We agreed that the plentiful supply of wart hogs was actually so ugly they’re cute.
Readers, this is my last chapter for this trip. I didn’t go on today’s safari so that I could finish my writing, and because I caught a cold last night and wanted to flood my body with water before heading to Nairobi and home tomorrow. You’ll have to ask the group if they found a leopard today. That was their remaining quest.
Offering medical and dental care, an eye clinic, a kids’ activity program, along with the construction team that made considerable progress on the surgery center is our gift to the Maasai people. We came here to give and each time we do a mission project like this, we are sure that we leave with the greater blessing. It’s like we were created to serve others and aren’t nearly as satisfied and fulfilled until we are fully engaged in service that is benefitting people who need our help. There is deep satisfaction that comes from freely giving our time, skill and money in ways that bring lifelong improvements, especially to the lives of needy people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories. See you when we get home on July 3.