Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dubai-JFK Flight on time

Hello parents,
Emirates flight 201 is leaving Dubai on time and is estimated to arrive at JFK on time at 2:15 p.m. EST or even a bit before. We'll update this blog if the flight is delayed for any reason.
Ross Wehner

Student's flight from Nairobi

Hello parents and friends!

The students have left Nairobi on time and are currently on the way to Dubai. They are expected to arrive in Dubai at 5:35am local time and will depart for JFK at 8:30am local time. We will update the blog with any delays as they become available.

Erin Lasky
Program Director
For the past few days we have been in the middle of the Masai Mara with not contact. All is well. The roof is finished on the dining hall, and we have completed and incredible safari...lions..jaguars...elephants..giraffes...zebra...etc etc etc. Stories to be told. At the moment we are in Nairobi taking our last shower before heading to the airport for the long journey home. See you all shortly. Attached is the last blog written which we were unable to post. FB

Hujambo!!! Marianna here. . .hi mom. . .yesterday was our last work day, though there was very little work to be done. The beams are up and all the building needs is a tin roof and a good sweep. In the morning, many of the village women gathered near the worksite so we could have a private sort of flea market place. There were bangles, collars, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, swords (for all the boys’ parents who are reading this. . . your boys are coming back armed. . .), walking sticks, cloth, and so many other trinkets. Everything was hand-decorated in beautiful beads, and it was so much fun to bargain with the beautiful earth-goddess-esque Maasai women. It was also great because a lot of them we knew from our homestays or as the mothers of a lot of our little friends from the school.
Later that afternoon, there was a huge send off ceremony for us, and we were all decked out in the extravagant jewelry we had bought earlier that day. We were presented with some goat meat, a symbol of unity and us being officially welcomed as part of the community (some of the tougher members of our group had seen a couple of the goats being slaughtered and roasted a few hours earlier. . .ooh aah interesting). The chiefs made a few speeches, there was singing and dancing (we sang Aye, a song Julia taught us, and Lion Sleeps Tonight of course), and more of the village wives presented us with gifts as we danced and sang together. Some of the younger boys did a warrior dance which we had seen our first week here, and we were invited to dance with them! I am not entirely sure if the community was laughing with us or at us, but the mood was quite jolly. We went to bed as a pinkish hue settled over the land as clouds covered the sunset, its colors changing and shifting in the endless sky over the plains.
This morning we got an extra 30 minutes of sleep as we woke up to a Lion King sunrise at 7:00. Birds were chirping and everything was calm as the sun climbed higher, people finished packing and zipping up their bags, and plopped over at the mess tent for our last breakfast in Oloika. We all knew that a lot of our little friends from the school would be coming to see us off, and I think a lot of people were a bit uncomfortable knowing that it is entirely possible that they might not be seeing each other ever again. Hopefully, because we all tried to get addresses from the people who worked at the site with us and the children we played with, we’ll be able to maintain some form of contact with Oloika, sending pictures of our own homes and families. Bittersweet, no matter how clichéd, is the perfect way to describe the mood as we loaded onto the van, since we are all sad to be leaving but excited to move into our days at the Maasai Mara and to be coming home soon.
The forty minute flight from Magadi to the Mara was beautiful! It was amazing to see the change in the landscape as we crossed over the mountains, moving from a dry desert to greener ridges then to the flat “pridelands.” At the parking lot, however, it was sort of surreal to see all these other (white) tourists dressed cleanly and fashionably waiting with huge cameras for their safari vehicles while in the distance you could see three Africans carrying water tanks to their homes. The juxtaposition of that and of just coming from our experiences in Oloika provided a bit of food for thought as we scrambled into the safari vans and stood on the seats to peer out of the holes in the roof. It is so BEAUTIFUL HERE!!!!!!! As Shani would say, “omigod.” It is as if I jumped into one of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, in Akeley Hall of African Mammals. Herds of wildebeest and zebras meandered through the tall grass of the savannah with acacia trees dotting the horizon. I always believed that the Africa that Carl Akeley, the expedition leader for the Museum who journeyed to Africa countless times to take photographs and specimens for the African Hall of Mammals, was trying to preserved had vanished as advancing technology and overpopulation intruded into the environment, wildlife, and people of sub-Saharan Africa. I see now that while global climate change, increasing tourism, and deforestation have devastated much of the land surrounding this place, there are still special places that are both ancient and ageless that you can only find here in Africa. All it takes is some perspective and a plane ride. The only things that are missing are Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. And maybe a crazy baboon holding a baby lion up to the sun.

I can live without them.
P.S. Turns out goats, being livestock, have to be subjected to traumatic quarantine experiences if brought back to the US. I am not sure Nosim is yet mentally hardy enough to make such a journey . Besides, the other farm animals might make fun of her because of her funny accent. Her English isn’t too good. . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Masai Mara

Hello parents and friends,

The Groton group arrived safely in the Masai Mara and are doing very well. They saw 4 lions and 1 leopard on an early morning game drive. Everyone is very excited.

Erin Lasky
Program Director

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Pictures

Raised the Rafters Today!!!!!!!

The Roof Is Almost Done!!! Today we muscled through intense wood cutting and measuring in order to reach our goal of having the roof up tomorrow. At the rate we are going it looks like we’ll reach our goal. We are so excited to see all of our hard work pay off and see everything come together. Along with finishing the roof tomorrow the women of Oloika are going to be having a little marketplace open for us so that we can get gifts for ourselves and our families. All of the jewelry they make and wear is absolutely beautiful. The most precious jewelry, however, are the gifts we received from our friends in the school. Each one of us has made a special connection with at least one or more of the children in the area. As the end of our trip draws closer we struggle with having to deal with saying our final goodbyes. We all hastily make string bracelets and write thoughtful letters hoping that our friends here in Oloika will remember us and hopefully write back to us in America. Along with the bracelets and letters we are leaving behind a beautiful mural. We finished it yesterday with the help of some local children and it has come together nicely.

Last night we made our donation of the sneakers. The head teacher, the chief, and Shani came to pick them up and we loaded them into the truck. With the sneakers we made other donations as well, cards, toothbrushes, floss, and clothing. I know that what we donated will make a difference in the lives of these kids but I hope that through the mural and dinning hall we are building we will help make an impact in the future as well.
We have all been planning ways to help out in Kenya even after we have returned to Groton. One goal we could be focusing on is sending five girls from the Shampole area to school through high school and university. We would go through Shani’s organization to sponsor twenty girls through school. On the girls dorm it says “Educate a girl Educate a community”. Hopefully we will be able to follow through and reach our goal. I’m having a great time is Kenya, I’ll be very sad to leave.

-Nasieku (coming fast in Maasai) [Denia]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bonus Pictures

….wildebeest! We went on a long walk through the bush, originally looking for giraffes. We didn’t see any, but we did see wildebeests and ostriches. It was incredible seeing those animals in the wild. It was also incredible just to be walking across part of Africa, looking for wild animals, watching the sun set. Our translators told us lots of cool stuff about the animals and plants that we saw. They always knew which direction they were going, and when I asked them they said that they didn’t use the sun to direct themselves, they just knew which way to go to get home. When we got back to the boma we sat and rested in the exact same spot as the night before. However, as Carrie observed and we all agreed, we all felt much more comfortable in the environment than last night. We sat there for a while, and then Shani came and picked up Laurie so Carrie and I were alone for the last night of our stay. It wasn’t bad at all because, as I said, we both felt much more comfortable with the people at the boma. We stayed up late again that night, mostly dancing with the children. It was very tiring because all of the dances were very energetic, involving a lot of hopping and swaying. It was incredibly beautiful and cool, but by the end I was exhausted. We ate a quick dinner and then went to bed.
The next morning we were again woken by goats. We went outside and Nixon took us to see a newborn goat that had only been born a couple of minutes before. It was so cute! It still couldn’t really stand up but it kept trying and was all wobbly. Nixon helped direct it towards its mother and then we went and drank chai again. We got chai about four times during the full day that we were there. It was delicious. Anyways, we sat there drinking chai for a while, and then exchanged gifts. Then Shani came to pick us up. Carrie and I were both sad to leave the family. They had been so kind to us and had really tried to make us comfortable and bring us into their life.
It was an incredible experience. Before I left for my home stay, after hearing other people talking about their experiences, I still had no idea what to expect. I think that each boma experience is unique and each is impossible to imagine if you aren’t experiencing it directly. Its difficult for me to describe because I experienced so many new things and feelings. I apologize for how long this post was, but I was doing my best to describe my experience. I’m not sure if I gave a good sense of the home stay, but know that it was the most incredible experience of my life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Second Round of Pictures

The Kenya trip has exceeded all expectations. on asOver the next two days we will finally be placing the roof on the dining hall. Sunday we anticipate a large celebration as we plant trees and wrap up our construction before departing on Safari. The students have been absolutly terrific. All happy, smiling and working hard. Time to pour more cement. FB

Hello! Its Nalotuesha (aka Lena). I just got back from my home stay yesterday. Carrie, Laurie, and I left Monday evening and spent two nights and one full day in the boma belonging to Shani’s brother. At first I felt awkward, because I had no idea what to do or what people were saying. But we had two really good translators and Laurie had past experience which helped a lot. We drank tea and listened to the goats as they settled down for the night. We learned that they always sleep in the same place, every night. We also watched the cows come home which was pretty cool. It got dark very fast though, and there was no electricity or anything, only a couple of flashlights. We played games with the older kids and some of the men and one of the wives. By that time we were growing more comfortable. Also, by that time the little children had overcome their shyness and we were able to make friends with them. The children danced for us which was very cool. We were told that they practice the dancing every day. We didn’t eat dinner until right before we went to bed, which was about 10:30 I think. It was hard to know what time it was at the boma. The beds was only sticks tied together and covered in a cowskin, but we slept pretty well because we were so tired. I was woken the next morning by goats which was a little annoying but also kind of cool. That was the start of my first full day of the Masai lifestyle. I’m really not sure how to describe it without using clichés, but I will try. I think the best way to understand it is to think of Africa time, flexible time. The Masai do what they need to do to survive, but they don’t rush to do it. They take time to rest in the middle of the day, to drink tea, to dance. At least that is how I see it from my limited experience, but I admit I would need more time living in a boma to determine if I am right about the Masai lifestyle.
Our day progressed calmly. First we went and fetched water with one of the wives which was very interesting. We walked with the donkeys to the cistern which took about half an hour. Once there the wife filled the canisters we brought and the two little kids who had tagged along with us washed themselves with the water. They were both very cute. One of them held my hand the entire way there and back. The cistern was a social place, the women gathered there to fetch water. There were almost no men.
After walking back to the boma we relaxed in the shade of a large tree. The women and children sat with us and beaded and talked and sang. They sang and danced with us and also let us bead with them. We didn’t do that for long because it was almost lunchtime. After lunch we went to another shade tree not far from the boma. Many women and children from neighboring bomas had gathered to sing and dance with us. They were all very energetic and eager to talk to us. They laughed at us when we tried to dance like them but it was good natured laughter. When we were all tired of dancing we sat under the tree and asked each other questions through our translator. I had brought a kite as a present so I brought it out and showed the kids how to use it. They were all enthralled and all wanted a turn holding the string. Even the littlest toddler, who was still not very good at walking followed the big kids out and wanted a turn. Every time the kite fell, which was often because there wasn’t much wind, all the kids would run and try to be the one to pick it up and toss it back up into the air. It was incredibly cute.
And then we saw a wild…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sopa!!! Marianna here. . .hi mom. . .writing on the thirteenth day of the trip, our twelfth day in Africa. It’s hard to believe that in exactly one week we’ll be boarding a plane to fly halfway across the world back to America. The days in Oloika have definitely begun to blend together, passing quickly from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, and finally to check-in in what seems like only an hour or so. This, however, does not mean that these particular days are not as significant as our first few here, since some of the most important work is about to be completed. After this lunch break, we’re going to be putting the first boards up for the roof of the dining hall. The visible progress is becoming more and more apparent, as bricks pile up to make walls and piles of rubble are diminished to make strong beams of concrete (the making of which, by the way, is an extremely wet, sloppy, and fun-filled process) along the sides and columns of Oloika School’s future cafeteria.
Sitting under the starry sky after check-in, playing games like Mafia, Egyptian Ratscrew, and Bananagrams, sometimes it just hits us that we are sitting in the savannah in Africa. There could be lions lying in wait outside our compound, and giraffes lumbering slowly in the plains surrounding us. Sometimes it’s all so real that it’s fake. I half-expect to see an ambience-speaker next to my tent, playing cricket sounds, goat bleats, and wind murmurs. Something about the land is so familiar and yet wholly different, with mountains stretching up from prairies covered in shrubs and tall, spindly Acacia trees. The sky seems flat and stretches on forever. I don’t know what it is about Africa that is so exciting and exotic. The mere mention of the continent in the states brings about images of jungles and grasslands, lions and zebras, warriors, dancing, and drums. A “Lion King-esque” sunrise (which, not surprisingly, is extremely accurate) picking out the profile of the mighty elephants and wildebeest herds. I don’t know what it is about Africa, but we are all brothers and sisters here under the African sun. It is our homeland after all.

P.S. Tell Jimmy and Gabby I might see a cousin of theirs in a few days, except that he might be considerably bigger and have a mane. . .and really big teeth.
P.P.S. I have also been constructing my argument for bringing Nosim the Goat home. She can eat all the diet Pepsi and Coke cans we leave for recycling. It’s all organic and all natural. No? Just in Egremont then? No?
P.P.S.S. I apologize to all the other parents out there reading these slightly unnecessary and long P.S.’s.

There are only five days left for us here in Oloika, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that I don’t look forward to leaving. Though the schedule here has been pretty set in stone, every day yields new unique and exciting adventures for us all. My favorite moment every day is, though it sounds vain, is when I hear kids from the school calling out my name. When I hear my own name, I feel as though I have made an impact not just with the work on the dining all, but also with the personal relationships I have been forming. Every day is a new friendship made, and an old one enhanced. The energy from everyone around us in the village, school, and in our own camp has really inspired me, especially considering the challenges that face them every day. It puts things into perspective in a very deep and personal way for me. I hope that when I come back to the U.S.A. I will carry with me not just my piles of dirty laundry (sorry Mummy), but also some of the Oloika energy and happiness.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today marks the half-way point of our time in Kenya. We are beyond half-way through our time in Oloika, so a slightly somber tone enveloped us at breakfast this morning. However, to be honest, it feels as though we’ve been here in Oloika for weeks. We’re completely adjusted to the camp and the daily routine, but we’ll have to let it go in a few days.
“Half-way” does not just arouse these mixed emotions, but it also calls for some reflection and rest. Today we had a rest day away from the work site and school, and we traveled to Ewaso Nyira River, about an hour-long drive from our camp in Oloika. Departing promptly at 8:30 AM, we squeezed everyone into two safari vehicles, the only cars that can brave these uneven roads which exemplify the phrase “off the beaten path.” The ride to the river actually took about two and a half hours, but that was due to frequent slow-downs and detours to view wild animals along the way.
In addition to spotting gazelles, wildebeests, giraffes, baby giraffes, zebras, and guinea fowl (fast, black birds that run along the ground), we saw countless breathtaking landscapes. The skyline full of mountains appeared a shade of blue tinted with periwinkle, and the dirt on the ground, a deep burnt orange. Needless to say, the 2.5 hour drive was not tedious, but fun and exhilarating at times. The exhilarating adrenaline rush emerged because we had to dodge several thorny acacia trees (we all sat on the roof of the safari vehicle!), and the large bumps in the road threatened our balance atop the van.
As we finally neared the river, we could tell we were close, as the landscape was no longer brown and dry, but lush and full of trees. Julia described it as “the most green [she’s] ever seen!” We continued into the forest, and unfortunately, we had to jump off the roof into the vehicle. There were many low branches which crossed our path, so it was lucky that Fred warned us to get in the car.
Soon we reached the river, tucked between the trees, which created a shady canopy over the Ewaso Nyira. We jumped in immediately, realizing the water was cool, due to the shade. It felt great, though some thought it was a little too cold. The current was fairly strong, so we floated downstream and walked back. However, it didn’t take us long to realize the bottom of the river is composed of a dark, muddy sand. Of course, this led to mud fights, which resulted in bodies covered in dirt, teams formed, and lots of laughter and fun. We washed off from the battle, got out of the water, and walked upstream to a picnic.
On our way to the picnic, Shani told us Ewaso Nyira River translates to “The Brown River” in Maa. This name is appropriate, for the river was brown, but that did not hinder this area’s beauty. The sprawling roots of the trees were visible on the banks of the river, and the green leaves appeared never-ending. There were small pockets of light in areas the trees did not cover, and we gathered in one bright place for lunch, sitting on logs in the sun.
After lunch, we had a discussion moderated by Laurie, called “Marketplace of Ideas.” The “Marketplace” consisted of brainstorming ideas of ways to take our trip back to the United States. By this, I mean we sought to find ways to remember, to not move on once we’re home, and mainly, to fundraise with a purpose. We split off into groups and came up with the Who, What, When, Where, and How of our ideas, then each group pitched our idea, as though in a marketplace, to the group. We came up with many great ideas, and hopefully you’ll see the products of our brainstorming when we return.
After our discussion, we returned to the site. This time, the drive took about one hour, for we didn’t take any detours for sightseeing. When we got back, we realized we were dirtier and more tired than we’ve been so far on this trip. It was a “rest day” tinged with irony.
I hope everyone is doing well! We’ll be home soon.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Extra Pictures

For the last two days, we have been staying in a boma belonging to one of the chiefs of Oloika. The boma was big compared to other bomas, containing over 5 enkaji (small houses) and many goats, sheep, donkeys, and cows. We started off the day by herding the sheep to the watering hole, then walking for a couple of hours to the hot springs. Although the water was surprisingly hot, our translator dove right in. Later in the day we played card games with the children and multiple wives. They taught us many Masai songs and dances which were very physically draining, leaving us exhausted. We milked the goats which turned to be very challenging. The family then gave us Masai names: Bridget received the name- Namonyak, meaning blessed; Suzanna received the name- Naserian, meaning peaceful; and Marianna received the name- Nosim, meaning friendly. We exchanged gifts and received some necklaces. Marianna was specially honored and received a goat. (HI Marianna signing on here. . .hi mom. . .I had my Flip camera with me and the children really enjoyed watching videos of themselves singing and dancing. A lovely black and white goat is now named Nosim after me. I will be receiving email updates on Nosim the Goat’s health and happiness from Rose, one of the older children in the boma. If I ever return to Oloika, I have the option of bringing Nosim the Goat back to the states with me! So. . .whaddya think mom? A goat in the house might not be too bad of an idea. . .). The overall experience was interesting but we are happy to be back at the camp with everyone. We miss you all and can’t wait to get home soon and eat cold things.

Suzanna Rosemary Jane Hamer
Bridget Fennessy Bousa

Featuring: Marianna Cydni Gailus

P.S. Carbolo says hi.

Happy Sunday!
Today we worked for a bit in the morning and then left the site to go to church. Our group split in half, and half of us went to a Catholic church and the other half went to a Protestant church. I went to the Protestant church, which was a pretty intense experience for us. The building itself had tin walls and a tin roof held together with wooden beams. There was no “altar” in the conventional sense; the pastor sat in the front with a sort of podium and a piece of golden Christmas-Tree garland was wrapped around a beam in the front. There were no crosses and only two bibles – one for the pastor and one for the 8th grade boy who was translating the service into English for us. The service started with a few songs in a call-and-response-type manner. The congregation was small but their voices were surprisingly strong. They jumped up and down in a circle and clapped to the music. There was no instrument except a single drum. The word for “song” in Maa is the same as the word “dance,” so the two are naturally connected – to separate the two is somehow unthinkable. The pastor and the 8th grade boy gave a “sermon,” which was oddly emotional for a lot of us. They held an offering and ended with a few more songs, and then we went outside to the receiving line and we shook hands with every member of the congregation. In part of the sermon, they talked about giving freely of what you have. They said that doing so will show your blessing on the people to whom you are giving. So in the receiving line, the women gave us jewelry off of their bodies – necklaces, earrings, bracelets, all beautiful pieces of beaded jewelry.
We left the church with one of those “whoa” feelings. Each of us went through something on a personal level, and to group those ideas together is unfair – I won’t even try. As the days go by, we are peeling away layers of misconception and adding information and opinions about this Maasai culture. Sometimes we’re shocked, sometimes we’re touched, and sometimes we just smile and dance. We are trying to process this as a group, but it will be a long process. When we add in the “service” part, the “leadership” part, the part where in less than two weeks we have to leave, the gray area grows and grows. Going to church here, an act so familiar to so many of us at home, sort of tied together a few different things for us. But right now, it’s mostly just, “whoa.”