On my last day in Kenya, before leaving for the airport, a Maasai warrior led me through the bush to meet a giraffe.
And that there, my friends, is a sentence I never thought I'd ever utter in my lifetime.
Julius is a real, honest-to-goodness Maasai warrior. He works for 2-month stretches at the Lake Naivasha lodge where we stayed, with one month off in between to return to his tribe, wife and children. Also, he has killed two lions by himself, without a gun, and (pardon my crudeness) is quite possibly the most effing badass person I have ever met in my life.
That said, he was also a man of great gentleness, and as I followed him through the bush, I tried very hard to mimic his quiet walk and respect for the nature around us.
I don't know that I was anywhere near as talented as he was; and yet, see how beautiful and good the animals were to me:
Such stunning creatures, and now that I've actually seen them in the wild, I don't think I can ever visit an Africa exhibit in the zoo again. It will make me too sad.
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I'm back home in Houston, and after the 24-hour journey it took to get here, I've had time to process all that I saw and experienced in Kenya. I have to admit, in hindsight, I think I arrived in Kenya feeling a bit smug: having traveled to dozens of countries all around the world, while I expected Kenya to be a unique combination of characteristics I'd experienced before, I didn't really expect to see anything new.
I could not have been more wrong. There were things that were familiar, of course, mostly from my experience as a Trinidadian: some of the flora and fauna reminded me of home, as well as the rural huts and farms. Similarly, some of the towns resembled towns in Trinidad, and Nairobi reminded me of some of the large bustling cities I've visited in South America.
But what was different -- shocking, really -- was the overwhelming warmth with which we were greeted everywhere, without exception. I have never, ever experienced such friendliness and instant comraderie anywhere in the world -- and I'm from the Caribbean, mind, which is sort of famous for friendliness and comraderie. I am not naïve, of course, and am willing to allow for the possibility that my experience as a visitor, and what might occur were I an immigrant to Kenya might be two different things; however, the fact remains that in all of my travels, I have never felt so instantly enveloped in warmth and friendship in my life. It was breathtaking, and it was beautiful.
Would I go back? In. a. heartbeat. I would love to return with my family, to see how Marcus views its vibrant capital. Also, since my fellow travellers and I spent most of our time learning about the programs that help support the advancement of the impoverished, if I do get the opportunity to return, I'd be interested in learning about a different aspect of Kenyan life: maybe more about the lives of young professionals. For example, how do young adults view the country's evolving political/constitutional climate? What is Kenya's art and/or music scene like? Where do Kenya's young leaders see the country in five or ten years? I think it would be fascinating to learn more about Kenya from the perspective of those who are likely to be at the helm, steering the country's near-term future.
In addition, I'd love to show Marcus and Alex the Great Rift Valley. It's beautiful, and I think Alex would be particularly blown away seeing Kenya's amazing animals as they are meant to be seen: running freely and safely in the open, rather than in the confines of cages in zoos. Someone said during our trip that there is something that stirs on quite an elemental level in experiencing Kenya's natural beauty, and it's true: I wish every person were fortunate enough to experience it first-hand.
Which, of course, leads me to express my deep gratitude to ONE. Visiting Kenya (specifically Nairobi) was on my life list, and at some point I know I would've busted my hump to make it happen; however, being able to do it in partnership with an organization created specifically to fight extreme poverty and preventable disease made the experience indescribably rewarding for me, and was beyond anything I could've ever hoped for. And as if that wasn't enough, I was exposed to a beauty of Kenya that very few visitors ever have an opportunity to see.
So for this, I will be forever grateful.
(I'll spend the next day or so processing my favourite images from the trip to share with you, along with a very special giveaway. So please stay tuned!)
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I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way. This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya. If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below. Your information will remain confidential, I promise. And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.
(In addition, for fun, if you'd like to follow along on our trip and help by performing a "daily action" while we're here, be sure to check out the ONE Mom trip page.)
That's all there is to it. Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice.
As always, thanks so much, friends.