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Into Kenya. Two Trips, 15 Years Apart – Part 2


Kara Gerson is the Executive Director of Voss Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing clean water access to Sub-Saharan African communities and raising awareness of the ongoing need in that region.  This week we continue with Part Two of her two diaries chronicling her trips to Kenya. (See Part One)




December 31 – New Year’s EveA buffalo almost charged Dad this morning! But then Hegai told him to get behind the fire so it was between him and the buffalo and then the buffalo left. Full-day game drive. Cute baby zebras but still no leopard! Got a little sunburned. Back to Sopa Lodge, fantastic hot shower with pressure, not from the bag in the shower tent (I appreciate things like this now! And flushing toilets, not the latrine tent! So nice!) Dinner, cocktails, New Year’s party. Met the owner and his wife – a very nice British couple with a 2-year-old daughter. I wonder what her life must be like…January 1 – New Year’s Day

Goodbye shower and toilets, I will miss you! Back to boiling water and shower bag and latrine tent… Drove to Olduvai Gorge: cool fossils, saw rock formations of layers, saw museum about the Leakeys. Drove to Serengeti… Learned that baby wildebeests can run 5 minutes after birth! Saw a leopard!! He was in a tree with a kill nearby. So beautiful! Saw vultures and hyenas eat wildebeests. Saw baboons eating a gazelle head. Saw elephants, which are rare in Serengeti. Back to camp for dinner, bed.

January 2

Full-day game drive: very buggy. Saw another leopard! And then we got caught in a wildebeest migration!! It started like an earthquake and then they were all around us from horizon to horizon like we were in an ocean of wildebeests. Just like in The Lion King! It was so loud and dusty I couldn’t breathe! I had to put a handkerchief over my face. It felt like hours!! … Saw Masaai cave paintings. Back to camp. Found out that during the day, baboons had come into camp, zipped open the tents, opened our bags and taken our food! They really like the hot chocolate packets! I have scratch marks on my books and one of [my brother]’s has teeth marks! Scary! Took a shower, which was perfect temperature but was like standing under a dripping faucet. I miss running water…

January 3

Up for an early drive: saw 2 cheetahs, 4 adorable lion cubs, cute baby hyena, hippos out of water (which is dangerous). Back for lunch and rest. So hot! Afternoon game drive: our Jeep almost got charged by an elephant! And mom was trying to get Hegai to stay so she could take pictures! So scary!..

January 4

Drove to air strip and flew from Serengeti to Arusha. Bought jam and tea… Drove to Namanga, mobbed again. I feel so sad for everyone who has to try to sell stuff to us to just to live… Drove to the house of Daddy and Mom’s friend in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi. Met her mother, Lady Sue Wood, who told us to call her Shushu. She and her husband moved here because he started a flying doctors organization to help people in the bush. She started a bead and pottery factory so the people can make money and get a paycheck so they don’t have to just try to sell things to tourists.

She showed us the factory… It seems like a really cool idea… Sorry to leave. Then we went to the airport until they told us our flight was overbooked and we were bumped back a day. Had to go to a hotel in Nairobi. I wish I were back at the camps!
I am so tired.

January 5

Woke up at Hilton, very good breakfast. And at least we got to send our postcards…
Shower and bath: even though I miss the camps, the showers and running water are so nice. I think this was my first really good shower in a long time. Dinner, shuttle to JKA International. Slept on the plane, and then the plane had to be bug-sprayed before we could get off! Shopping day in London. Plane back to NY. First time Mom let us have ice in over 2 weeks! Home.

January 26Same schedule: up before dawn (still not any easier!), walk, breakfast, walk, collapse at campsite, lunch, nap again… Passed many water holes dug into the lugga, where there is a higher water table because of the semi-annual floods. They’re just hand-dug holes in the ground, full of dirty brown water, and people stand in them to fill their buckets – completely unhygienic. First they give the water to their animals, then they refill their buckets and keep walking. The bigger, deeper water holes had long lines. We also passed some dried-up abandoned holes – some of which had the carcasses of animals who had fallen in. Sometimes children even fall in and drown. Really upsetting. I knew the Swahili word for water was “maji” but I learned that the Samburu word is “ngare.” …By now I look like I got a spray-tan – the dust is permanently caked on my skin and the dripping water from the shower bag is no match for it. Oh well, maybe I won’t look so pale in the photos!January 27

Still struggling to get up and get the sunscreen on me (and not my sheets and bags) before sunrise. Had a good talk with Pete about the next project he wants to do, but he drew the plan out in the dirt with his walking stick, so I had to take a picture of it! Passed many abandoned manyattas – the stick huts where people live. People leave their homes for many reasons – drought, tribal unrest (sometimes about water!), etc… Lots of walking… the donors are such good sports! I am truly impressed. When we start to tire out, the Helen and Pete try to stay optimistic and tell us “don’t worry, it’s just around the corner!” The guides just say “Mabe, mabe, muzungu,” which means “Move it, white people!” …We have run out of the water we had brought with us and now we are all drinking water from the same water holes the locals use, but our guides filter and boil it. It might taste funny, but we are all so thirsty that no one cares. I’m hoping no one gets sick… After our second nap, this afternoon Cecilie, Anette, and I got to film some interviews with Helen and Pete to use for this year’s video. Point-and-shoot cameras and lighting from the setting sun – we’re so high-tech! And tomorrow we finally get to Ndonyo Nasipa!

January 28

Got to sleep a little later because we’re not too far from NN. Met the village elders at the edge of the lugga, where our well is! It’s covered up with a pipe coming out that goes up the hill. The elders blessed the well, praising their deity and sprinkling the covering with goat’s milk. After that, we walked over to the solar panels and I got to flip the switch to turn them on! Was so scared that it wouldn’t work, though we could start to hear some pumping action! Next, we followed the pipeline up the riverbank and into the mountains – the same walk that everyone has to make to bring water from the lugga to their villages. I can’t believe everyone in NN had to do this multiple times a day – and with buckets of water – it’s so steep! At the top, we arrived at the big water tank. It holds 10,000 liters. We took a lot of pictures. A crowd started to gather and all of a sudden we heard this singing and chanting and tons and tons of women from NN and neighboring communities came to thank us and walk us down the other side of the mountains into the village! It was unbelievable to be a part of such a procession. Got to “town,” which is two buildings: the school and the administrative building which serves as city hall, health center, etc.
They asked me to turn on the tap in the village kiosk – I was so nervous! Everyone crowded around me, waiting to see the water flow from the tap. I was just hoping that when I’d flipped the switch earlier in the morning on the solar panels, that they had turned on properly and water had pumped up into the tank and down into NN! What would we do if it didn’t work?? But it worked! Clean and clear water came flowing out! Everyone was so emotional. I had been so anxious that I think I was as surprised as the Samburu to actually see water flowing from a little spigot. The women rushed to fill their water containers, and all the animals came to drink. We even got to taste the water ourselves! A couple of speeches and performances from school children, but it was just the beginning. Then we went to sit on the porch of the school for the real ceremony. Hours and hours of singing and dancing and speeches from men, women, children, the local scouts and government officials. Sometimes they pulled us up to dance and sing with them. Everyone had so many gifts for us – including camels and goats, which we will let

Helen and Pete give to people who need them. It took so long because it wasn’t just the NN community – people had walked for hours to come see for themselves and to celebrate the miracle of clean water from a tap – and to ask us to build a water system in their community! One woman said she’d heard that women funded this project and it’s women who do everything in Kenya too, so why do we even need the men? …When we finally got back to camp, we were as exhausted as the days when we’d walked 10K – sitting in the heat and all the emotions really wiped us out. Some of Milgis Trusts’ scouts came to visit before dinner – the scouts are hired to go around to all the communities and report back on what’s going on – including monitoring on our water projects. After dinner, we had a big bonfire and we all danced around with our guides, with the new dances we learned today. I can’t believe we’re leaving already.

January 29 – Kwaheri, Kenya!

I don’t want to go! Went to see the Milgis School that Helen and Pete built near their basecamp, Elkanto.
Stopped by a nearby manyatta to pick up some more walking sticks for Cecilie and Anette to use as the symbol for the art auction this May… Arranged payment with Helen for all the Samburu crafts we bought…. Then we flew back to Nairobi. Everyone was crying on the plane, we were so sad to leave. It has been so meditative and restorative walking the Milgis lugga and being reminded how little we really need to survive… Had a few hours before our flight, so checked into Ole Sereni for some hot showers, a real teeth-brushing, and a quick dinner. Bye-bye dust spray-tan. It’s so nice to be back to running water. I love camping but that’s the thing I miss the most – guess I picked the right career…


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