Saturday, April 17, 2010
Indian Ocean Retreat
We have been in Africa for just under a month now. This means we have one more month here. I can think of nothing better to mark our halfway point than a ridiculously amazing trip to the Kenyan coast (courtesy of my awesome parents who are here visiting!) We are staying at a resort that is literally on the white sand beach and only footsteps away from the surprisingly really warm Indian Ocean. It is blissful.
After an hour flight from Nairobi, we drove through the bustling city of Mombasa, a city with an ancient port which was used by the Portugese as a major Indian Ocean trading post (and unfortunately as a former slave-trade hub.) It is strange to drive through a clearly underdeveloped (and oppressively humid area) to a beautiful resort and the white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean. The juxtaposition of the extremes of luxury and poverty were hard for me the first few days, but as we were able to relax I started to realize how helpful this time of rejuvenating in natural beauty would be for our family. The day before we left our noses had burned with the permeating stench of burning trash and we had been a bit beleaguered with the day-to-day, especially since we have been car-less and subsequently nap-less. T had been in pretty fine form due to the said lack of naps, so this escape has been a true blessing.
If you were here you'd be amazed at the sights. It's not surprising to see camels on the beach with men offering rides on their backs or peddlers selling all sorts of colorful African cloth or wooden carvings. You would see B collecting coconut shells and J and T avidly hunting mini-crabs (J has now been dubbed "the crab whisperer." Okay - only by us.) You would see calm crystal waters and storm clouds coming in off the sea to drop huge tropical rain drops on us as we enjoy the pools (B and T pretty much lived in them - so we did, too). You would see B making friends with all of the little girls in the vicinity and venturing into the deep end with floaties and mommy in tow. T can be seen eating himself to sleep at various meals, or dancing on the shore of the pool and then fake falling into the water, much to the delight of the little girls' watching. You would also see the kids giggling with their grandparents (it has been SO good to spend time with them!) and J bartering personal items on the beach (it all started with J trading his hat per the men's request and went from there :)
The only time we ventured from the beach was to visit Haller Park the animal preserve and home of the famous Owen and Mzee (the hippo and tortoise who are best friends - there's a children's book about them.) The animals were fun to see but the time was pretty miserable as it was hot and humid, and our little princess doesn't do well in either. She was "Hot, and 'firsty' and hungry and sweaty!" We promptly ended all of our misery and went back to the pools. The only reality we faced was hearing about the Iceland Volcanic Ash and how all of the European tourists were worried about getting home. (I wasn't too disappointed at the prospect of my parents' departure to Amsterdam being delayed!)
Before we came to Mombasa, my parents got to explore Nairobi a bit with us. My mom, the kids, and I went to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where they care for around 20 abandoned baby elephants. The youngest one was two months old and was one of the most precious things we have ever seen. We watched the elephants drink their bottles of milk right in front of us, as we reached out and pet them.
Meanwhile, J and my dad went to a rural village for the day to see the incredible work LIA has been able to do there. The people of Makueni now have silos to hold their grain in so they do not starve during drought and they have a dam to harvest clean rain water for them to use. The small LIA partner church there has helped provide food and water for this community and it is a true miracle for them.
The following day, we took Grandpa, too, and visited the Animal Orphanage in Nairobi where we were growled at by lions and the kids enjoyed chasing monkeys who were running around freely. We are very thankful for my parents who provided us with some much needed comfort and incredible generosity as always.
While here, my parents have given J and I some much needed time to reconnect. We actually have had a bit of time alone to talk! It has been lovely, and is always nice to have little times where I am reminded why I married him! :) We also took some time to read. I have been reading about the plight of women in Ethiopia in The Hospital By The River, and also read about the two slums of Nairobi in a book called, Dispossessed. The conditions there are abhorrent and have made me very excited for the documentary J and his team of volunteers will be filming next week. Here is a summary of what J saw in his recent visit to Mathare:
"I had only read about Mathare Valley until now. We parked and looked over the ‘valley’ where shacks cascade down to a brown river that runs through the community. We walk down to the river and I’m literally overcome. Babies are screaming in the background and there is human and industrial waste pouring into the ‘river’. Houses and bathrooms line the river but there is so much human waste I can hardly avoid stepping into it. Naked children are everywhere, wandering, sickly looking. There is a small bridge that looks out onto the community and I just sat there and cried. It was the worst condition I have EVER seen anyone live in. Small children, women, etc. all over the place. Very few men. This place is in NAIROBI. One of our LIA staff tells me that few people even know that this level of poverty exists in Nairobi, let alone people outside of the country. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot, but nothing like this before. It was urban squalor to a level I can’t even describe. It didn’t seem right for me to snap some photos, so I didn’t. We discussed the movie and how we could tell a tragic story about what life is like in this community. The problem is that the story doesn’t resolve. These people, he tells me, are hopeless, and that is the worst disposition for people to be in."
It seems strange to write about this after talking about our beach vacation, but that seems to be the way I have found Africa. Quite a lot of juxtapostions. Distressed, yet hopeful. Challenged, yet full of incredible beauty. I have yet to visit Mathare, but feel pretty moved by what I have read while I was here, so I had to reference. Here is the link to the cause. Stay-tuned as the documentary develops.... We'll be back in reality the day after tomorrow.