Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Back from our Tsavo Adventure

We have safely returned from our four day escapade on safari to Tsavo. The 330km journey took us twelve hours in the end- with the buses arriving late, us hitting morning Nairobi traffic and then the school bus accelerator going on the blink- but we were able to see camels, baboons, zebra and giraffe along the way, as well as some beautiful scenery- plains dotted with acacia and baobab trees with mountains for as far as the eye could see.

We stayed in a private sanctuary which was filled with wildlife and acts as a ‘corridor’ between Tsavo East and Tsavo West- two enormous National parks which are at least 21,000 square km in size, and is home to thousands of elephants and hundreds of lions. We slept in a little round red walled banda huts with a huge thatched roof (which was also home to a friendly bat, which ate the mosquitos!).
With a group of older students, S climbed Mount Kisigau. It was roughly a 1,600m trek- it was an extremely hard climb because of the steep and long gradients, plus the temperature was over 35 degrees. It took four and a half hours to climb and about three hours for the descent. There were three climate zones, arid and rocky at the bottom, bushy vegetation in the middle and tropical rainforest at the top. S saw huge silver backed and red legged spiders the size of his palm and yet still made it to the top! He looked rather bestragled and sweaty on his return!

S and I did game drives on different days with the children and we both saw large herds of red elephants (a deep copper red from the soil that is in Tsavo), plus numerous birds such as the peculiar looking long legged Secretary birds, Golden crested starlings, eagles, hawks, red billed hornbills, Eurasian roller and the Lilac Crested Roller which is Kenya’s national bird. The birds were incredibly beautiful with bright colour combinations and unusual and exotic looking beaks and heads. I was lucky enough to see two cheetah, which were sitting under a tree surveying the plains for prey and S saw a black backed jackal, white striped kudu, and a gerenuk. We both were lucky enough to spot a large lioness just outside the camp where we were staying- reminding us just how close the wildlife we really were!

Whilst in the camp, we saw copper headed lizards and also a beautiful animal called a Genet, which has a black and white tail like a racoon and then a spotted body.
We also got to do activities too- we learnt how to make our own elephant dung paper, weave Sisal grass into ropes and string, make colourful beaded bracelets with local women from the Imani woman’s group, plus S helped to make a life size elephant out of snares that have been found by wardens- laid down by poachers trying to catch the elephants for their precious ivory. The elephant, when complete, is going to be in display in Nairobi to try and discourage Kenyans from supporting the illegal ivory trade. We had a good time at Tsavo and look forward to returning- though the weather was extremely hot- over 35 degrees every day- it was definitely shorts and t-shirt weather!

Today, we returned to Dandora to teach the children in the morning and then in the afternoon we started our new charity project of teacher training. We trained eleven volunteers from Kenya, Burundi and Uganda about how to plan a lesson and some educational games that they can use to make their lessons interactive and fun. It was a two hour session and was well received. We have been invited to Burundi, a former French colony and to Uganda to do the same in December. We have also realised a new need for the students at Dandora- currently they do not have any water bottles and therefore don’t drink and get quite dehydrated. So S and I have spoken to our school and we are starting a mass collection of old soda bottles, which we will clean and then take to Dandora so that the children can carry water to and from school. We have also started to hatch a plan about organising a fun day for the Dandora children- where they can come to our school and use the field to play games and have face painting etc. The head teacher of the college is supportive of the plan, so we hope to do this in the Summer term. I was pleased today to receive a package of books from my friend PA in New York- she sent some picture books to donate to Dandora- so that, with the books that S’s dad is bringing from his grandparent, and the books that my mum and dad have bought, means we have built our first transportable library with at least sixty books!!

So that’s our news for now- its been a good but tiring week and we both need to catch up on our sleep and have a good rest for our last week of school before three weeks of Easter hols and family visits! Kwaheri!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Its March already!!??

S and I are good here in Africa- the weeks have been ticking by, and its not long now until S’s dad comes to visit in the last week of March, and then my mum and dad in the second week of April. We also have R coming from California inbetween. She is coming to Nairobi as part of a delegation to meet Queen Sophia of Spain, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammed Yunis, plus other important key people- who are meeting in Kenya to discuss how to end poverty. We are looking forward to our visits from home- and we will be back in England in July for the wedding before we know it!

School life is going well. Last week I re-visited the volcanic Crater Lake near Naivasha with a school trip. It was a fun day with lots of wildlife spotting along the way. I also attended a theatre trip to see seven short plays written by American playwright Charles Darang at ISK. S has been busy writing all his school reports and is glad that is now over until next time! S has been enjoying his smaller class sizes now that his class has been split- he now teaches only six children which is luxury by any teachers standards!

The last couple of weekends we have remained in Nairobi- we went bowling (I beat S), played pool and table football (S beat me) and we went to the cinema. We went to the ballet yesterday at Bomas- it was part of the international Kijani festival which raises funds for HIV/AIDs projects. It was quite bizarre as there were many famous Kenyan politicians and news presenters sitting amongst us the audience and we were completely oblivious until our Kenyan friend P, who came with us, pointed them out! S was pleased this week when he scored a goal at football, and in Taekwondo he is training for the green striped belt.

Last week at Dandora, we were heartened to see some new volunteers from a local bible college come to help teach the children. S and I will be delivering a teacher training session for them, and existing volunteers next week. We are hoping to make them more autonomous so that we can spend more time with other charities too. This week we got further involved with Mogra- the children’s orphanage and school in the Mathare slum of Nairobi. The orphanage is actually 6km away from the school in a safe area, as during the election violence a few years ago, there was fears that the children would be killed amongst the slum. The sad thing about this is that they have to walk on foot to the school each day- 6km there and 6km back along dusty roads just to receive an education. Children in England don’t know how lucky they are! We helped to deliver a nutritional census of over 1000 children and their mothers, alongside some friends of ours- so that a bid can be submitted to the WFP (World Food Programme) to try and guarantee food for the children as currently the charity is struggling to provide it. It was a strange experience- we asked for the names, date of birth, height, weight, bmi of every child under the age of sixteen, plus took the details of their mothers, including HIV status. We are trying to gain statistical data to prove that the children of Mogra are malnourished. We asked the mothers if they fed their children before and/or after school, and the majority of the mothers admitted that they couldn’t as they didn’t have food. The mothers almost all had at least five children in their care- either because they were their own children, or they were the guardians (sisters or aunts) because the birth mother had died during childbirth or from HIV related illnesses. We encountered many orphans. S and I have agreed to give free teacher training to the teachers at Mogra school as their morale is low- their average salary is less than £35 a month!

That’s all our news for now. We have international cultural day on Thursday- so we are scratching our heads about what we can wear for that- at the moment it looks like we will be sporting our Fulham tops! The week after next we have an exciting four day and three night Camping Trip with the school to Tsavo East National Park which is about six hours drive from Nairobi. It is known to have a large population of predators such as lions and often boasts large numbers of elephants too. We are really looking forward to it!

Wedding plans seem to be going really well- we were pleased to learn this week that we will definitely have S’s old class singing in the church at our wedding- it should be really special. We also have several friends coming from abroad- including a few from New York and California in the USA and from Italy. We can’t wait!