Back “Home”

6 Apr

I’ve made it back to Nairobi safe and sound. Within minutes of my return, I felt welcomed back to the Green City in the Sun – by plenty of Swahili, blinding sun, and infuriating traffic jams. It feels great to be back, as Nairobi is like a second home to me now.

3 months. It hit me just after arrival back in Kenya – I have 3 months left until my return to the states. While there is a good chance I’ll find myself back here, I want to make sure that I make the most out of the time left. Since I haven’t been focusing on doing touristy things in Kenya, there’s a lot I haven’t done – like visit Kenya’s wide variety of national parks. And, the timing couldn’t be better – I picked up my Alien ID the other day, so now I can get in to parks at the resident rate, which is usually 20% of the non-resident rate.

So, over the past two weeks I’ve gone on a couple of weekend excursions. First, I headed out on Langata Road to Nairobi National Park, the only NP that is in such close vicinity to a city of 4 million people. You’ve all seen the famous giraffe picture probably.

These KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) buses go on game drives through the park periodically.

They were not running on this particular day, so I headed to the Safari Walk, basically a boardwalk through a portion of the park. It’s more like a zoo than anything else. I got up close and personal with an ostrich.

And here’s an albino zebra, with orange hair!

The next weekend, I headed to the Rift Valley to visit two national parks.

The first, Hell’s Gate, is located just outside of Naivasha. The park is unique in that it’s one of only two parks in Kenya (the other being Mt Elgon) in which a vehicle is not required to enter the park. You heard me right. You can walk or bike through! I chose the biking option. Let me tell you, there is NO feeling in this world like pedaling through rocky dirt roads to look up and see the likes of zebras, buffalo, gazelle, and baboons (pictured here).

That’s not gel in my hair. It rained about halfway through my 14 km ride, the first time it has rained in this area since November. There was flash flooding throughout the park, including on this road I passed through, not without mud splashing into my eyes and all over my person.

After crossing through this water, two cars appeared to be racing, headed right towards me. One tried to overtake the other on basically a one-lane road. I almost got hit and rode off into the bush, while  the cars rubbed against each other, making a loud ‘Schreech!’ I cursed the drivers as they passed by.

I made it to Hell’s Gate Gorge, but due to the flooding the gorge was temporarily off limits.

I didn’t get good pictures of the gorge or the Hot Springs, due to these restrictions.

Here’s a pic of Fischer’s Tower, the most photographed part of the park for sure. Many people climb up it.

The park has lots of obsidian rock.

Upon leaving the park, I had 1.66 Kenyan Schillings of phone credit left. I wanted to send a txt that would take more credit than that, so I added 5 Schillings to the account – that brought the total to, yes, 6.66! Hell’s Gate lives up to the name!

I recommend the park to anyone – good value for your money and a safari experience like no other.

Next, I traveled further northwest to Lake Nakuru – Kenya’s second-most visited park. They caught on to my Alien ID scheme, since it doesn’t technically count as residency, so I had to pay the non-resident rate, a mind-boggling $80.

It’s visited mostly to see the white rhinos and flamingos, and I saw both – here’s the lake with a hot pink strip in the background.

There are two kinds of flamingos in the park, the other kind has white feathers.

And a white rhino. They were everywhere!

A view of the lake from up top, with yellow-barked acacia trees.

There were pelicans with unimaginably wide wing spans – here’s one on the lookout for fish.

Although it rained a bit at the end of the day, the area was very dry and thirsty.

That’s my friend Kazi gingerly stepping over quicksand-like terrain. She recently launched a non-profit organisation, CEFA (Care Education Foundation Africa) – here’s their blog.

I enjoyed this safari particularly because it was a late evening safari, when the animals behave differently. I didn’t exit the park till nightfall, nearly 7pm. Here’s some baboons trekking back to the forest after a day near the lake.

And some buffalo giving me a firm look saying, ‘Get outta here!’

Just after stopping to see these buffalo, about 100 meters from the exit, we hear a loud THUMP. An acacia tree had fallen, blocking our pathway. Had we been 30 seconds ahead in time, this tree would have crushed both our car and me. Close call.

Quick note on work – I’ve started to do some consulting for a new organisation. I’ll be editing annual reports for Mercy Corps and the Yes Youth Can initiative, a USAID project. In addition, I’ve continued work with AMPK (The Association of Microfinance Professionals of Kenya) and of course, Maono Initiative. In two weeks, I’m headed back to Uganda to finish Durham University research by traveling to microfinance organisations in the countryside.

With only 3 months to go, I’m thinking more and more about my next step from here. One option I’ve looked at is pursuing an MPA (Master’s in Public Administration) from the University of Nairobi. This would allow me to continue working with NGOs, but in higher-level positions. It takes two years, and I could still work part-time doing consulting projects to help fund it. It’s remarkably only $4,800 for the full two years. Compared to the US, that’s 10-20% of the average cost. We’ll see what happens, I’m keeping my options open!

Did you hear about the oil discovery in Kenya? A supply most likely larger than Uganda’s recent discovery was found near Lake Turkana. Unfortunately, this won’t benefit the Turkana people at all and most of the benefit will accrue to multinationals. Well, at least we can look forward to the US starting a ‘War on Terror (For Oil)’ in Kenya! Al-Shabab presence provides a pretty good excuse, eh?

While we’re on the subject of oil, let me say a word on Kony 2012. I’m sure you’ve heard of this video, produced by Invisible Children. It’s received a lot of bad press, and for good reason. This blog post is the best opinion I’ve heard on it so far. The video calls for military intervention to capture the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The video focuses on Uganda even though the LRA has not been in Uganda for 6 years. More importantly, the video really misses the point – it oversimplifies a very complicated issue and advocates military intervention. Do some research yourself and you’ll find creepy ties between Invisible Children, AFRICOM (US military group set up to protect US interests – i.e. oil – abroad), and Uganda’s recent discovery of oil. It’s a battle between the US and China for Africa’s resources, folks!

I’ll leave it at that. Today is Good Friday. Happy Easter everyone! Since I have both today and Monday off of work, I’m going to take advantage of the 4-day weekend and travel to the Coast. Until next time!

Oh….one more thing….Let’s Go Cubs! Theo Epstein + Lovable Losers = Lovable Winners in 2012.


4 Responses to “Back “Home””

  1. wanderingcbear April 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Great photos, Ben! Sounds and looks like you’re keeping busy 🙂

    • Ben April 20, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      Thanks, Claire! Or should I call you the ‘Wandering C-Bear’? 😉

  2. Ahlam April 8, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    That pic with the ostrich reminds me of a pic I have at that exact same spot with the ostrich facing me! I wish I was there long enough to do more national park visits though. That Alien ID will save you A LOT of ‘pesa’!!
    Well enjoy working hard during the week and finishing the rest of your pesa on weekends! 😛

    • Ben April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      You can always come back. Kenya will still be here, waiting for you with its iconic national parks. I hope I don’t finish my pesa, I’d have to get the US Embassy to fly me home!

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