From Moshi to Samburu

My last couple days in Moshi were busy, hectic and stressful.  The person making my travel arrangements to go to Samburu Kenya was not on the ball, and suddenly I had to leave Moshi a night early and overnight in Nairobi in order to stay on schedule. Wednesday started with another trip with the big boss of Moshi's criminal police department and we met again with the folks trying to help youth on drugs. It was a formal meeting with about 20 people, with formal introductions and speeches. I even had to give a speech in Swahili, though by the end I got tired and used some "Swinglish" and finally english and had someone translate for me. Earlier, when the founder of the group was telling his history of drug use and how he got off drugs, there was a woman there translating for him. But she brought her baby who was fighting for her attention, so she sort of wandered off halfway through his speech and quit translating to instead bounce her baby. Luckily my Swahili is better than her English, so she wasn't really adding much to the situation anyway. At the end of the meeting it was agreed they would focus on ways to reach more children and youth, and to identify ways to make the program more self-sustainable so that it would not always be dependent on donations, and then to make a proposal to GO. I think this could be a great project, especially because it has the support of the police department. The police won't be directly involved, but they will keep an eye on it, and the people in the organization will want to impress them and will work hard to ensure it succeeds.
When that meeting was over, I had to go and help ex-Tunahaki kid Abdul with some problems. He has a chance to go to the Philippines with an NGO that works with prisoners' rights but he is having troubles getting his passport, so my help was enlisted.  He's like a son to me, headaches and all, but he's a great kid and we have a great time together.  He was talking out loud, asking himself why he has so many problems in life, but I suggested he ask himself why he's so lucky to have a chance to go abroad again, and why he's so lucky to have a roof over his head and food on the table. He laughed and agreed, then he actually asked those questions of himself out loud. I wish I could be with him more often to give him these little bits of guidance as he makes his way to adulthood.
I keep running into people I know, one of whom is the eldest son of the wife of the guy who runs TunaHAKI. He's not on speaking terms with his mother (seems to be quite common in this family to not be on speaking terms with various relatives and friends for years at a time), and over a year ago he wrote to me asking for assistance in going to college. I explained that GO doesn't provide individual college scholarships, but that I knew of a Tanzanian man in Orange County who does have such an organization and I tried to connect them by email. I never knew if anything happened with that, but I ran into the boy and he told me indeed they had connected, and once he gets his test results in August and learns of his local college placement, that the Orange County man is expected to help him with a scholarship. This makes me very happy.  Just shows you how if you take the time to write a short email for someone, or take an extra few minutes to go out of your way, it can change someone's life.
The next morning I had to pack, pay my hotel bill, help Abdul some more, meet with Dominic to go over the capacity-building analysis that we had started for Tuseme (2 GO projects in the region), and meet with a woman who was begging me to come see her kindergarten in need of renovations (I told her she had to go through a process of vetting and applying for funds and that I couldn't just say yes. She was persistent, and I finally arranged for Dominic to go visit her project sometime and report back to me, and maybe she can apply for some small funds.) I then had to run an pick up a shirt I had made for me using local bottle-caps as buttons, then race to TunaHAKI to show the kids the shirt (I had promised them I would since I was the first to invent such a thing and they were anxious to see it), then race to the airport, fly to Nairobi where I was met by my favorite taxi driver Jenny, and she took me to a seedy part of town with a safe but cheap hotel where I could crash for 8 hours before my early morning flight to Samburu.
My plane to Samburu was a 20-seater, which I thought would be scary, but turned out to be fine with no turbulence. We landed on an airstrip in the middle of nowhere. To call it an airstrip would be too generous. It was more like a long gravel driveway. I was met by Lucas and his wife and their baby.  Lucas works for The Samburu Project, founded by my friend Kristen in Los Angeles. They drill wells for Samburu communities,and Lucas had agreed to be my guide and driver for the weekend since this was my first trip here.
Immediately I started seeing antelope, ostrich, and elephants. I wasn't in Kansas, or Moshi, anymore. This was wild-animal country. I didn't quite realize just how big the Samburu region is, or how hard it is to traverse. I had hoped to reach my destination, Maralel, by early afternoon, but I quickly realized this would be a full day of road travel. Shortly after passing an area where US marines train (I'm guessing the Black Hawk Down folks have seen this camp), our 4×4 started to overheat so we had to make a pit stop at a "garage".  Not really a garage – just a shack near some tree, but they used a piece of tape or gum or who knows what to repair the water leak, and we were on our way again. En route, I saw many traditional Samburu, both women and warriors. The warriors are mostly young buff guys, shirtless in long "skirts", with ornate beaded jewelry all around their necks and ears and arms. These guys became warriors at age 15 in a ritual that involved their circumcision, and having seen several bathing naked along the side of the road in muddy streams, I can attest to that.  Many also use a red dirt to cover their hair.  They're all quite colorful and stunning.  We also passed lots of camels, cows, goats… some baboons, zebras, and dik-diks (sorta like a cross between miniature deer and a jackrabbit).  Lucas showed me one of the wells he dug and I saw the great impact Samburu Project has on the community, who previously had to walk miles for water every day. We stopped for lunch, picked up some "hitchhikers" who needed a ride to Maralel, and continued on our way. It was boiling hot in the valley, which was most of the day, but we finally reached Maralel which was quite chilly. We met Lucas's cousin, who had arranged for my hotel room. It's never enough to just show up at a hotel in Africa – it seems you always have to go with the person who arranged the room. I used to think there must be some sort of kickback involved, but really I think it is just more a sense of responsibility to visitors, to make sure everything goes smoothly and the visitor gets checked in safely.  And since this hotel room is just $8 a night, I don't think there could be much of a kickback involved.  (Quite a difference from Nairobi, where my cheap hotel cost $70.)  And I will be sleeping alone as there is a sign in my room clearly stating that "No Twilight girls are allowed".  (Are they talking about prostitutes or the rabid female fans of Rob Pattinson? Either way, best to keep them all out of the hotel.)
Some folks here speak Swahili, thought their native tongue is Samburu. I quickly noticed that no matter if they are speaking Swahili or Samburu, there appropriate response to everything is to say "eeeee" or "ayyyyyy" or "iiiiiiiiii" or "ohhhhh"… and to just say those over and over as you listen
to someone talk.  It's a veritable vowel convention.
My hotel room (more like a motel) is perfectly adequate, though cold, but I was so tired and am starting to feel run-down after my travels, that I slept like a baby. Though I miss my luxurious $25 a night accommodations in Moshi with wireless internet.
Tomorrow I go to my intended destination: SHERP – a home for handicapped children – the reason for my trip up here.