Stranded in Samburu with a flat tire and no cell phone reception!

After the visit with SHERP, Lucas (my guide and driver from the Samburu Project) decided we should start heading back and spend the night in Womba.  Womba was closer to the air strip and my plane back to Nairobi was at 11AM the next morning.  His cousin and another friend needed a ride back to Womba, and the cousin brought along his younger brother – a young Samburu Warrior.  I had been dying to take some photos of the Samburu during this trip, but it’s rude to just snap pictures of someone (imagine if someone did that to you in America) and I refused to be a rude tourist.  An hour into the ride, we got a flat tire.  I took the opportunity to snap some pictures of the scenery, and I asked the warrior if I could take a photo of his colorful wrist bracelets.  He agreed, then asked me to take a photo of his face, then I started snapping away at every angle. He loved seeing the photos and was happy that they would find their way to America. He said it was like part of him going to America, and he liked that idea.  We couldn’t communicate (he only speaks his local language, and has yet to learn Swahili or English), but we got along just fine.

After the tire was repaired, we hit the road again, only to get another flat a half hour later. This time, as Lucas put it, “we are screwed”.  There was no cell phone reception, no one else was traveling the road except some kids with goats, and it would be getting dark in a couple hours. Some cousins of Lucas happened by on foot – they live in huts not far away – so they kept us company, but couldn’t do much to help. After a while, a covered truck drove by and Lucas flagged it down. They agreed to take Lucas’ friend and our tire to Womba for repair, then the friend would get someone to drive the tire back to us. Lucas tried to get me a space in the car so I could go too, and after some debate back and forth, I was finally told to jump in.  I asked “Where am I going?”, but Lucas told me not to worry, someone would get me to his house where his wife would be waiting with dinner. I jumped in the front with the driver and another man – turns out they are 2 Kenyan Franciscans – one a priest, the other a brother. I used to work at a Franciscan centre during summers in high school in New England, and my parents were big fans of the work of the Franciscans, so I felt quite at home. The priest was the fastest driver you can imagine – I held on for dear life over the bumpy dirt roads with hairpin turns as day turned to night – It was quite an adventure. Indeed I arrived safely at Lucas’ home in Womba (I gave my business card to the priest and I have a feeling there will be a GO project in his region of Kenya before too long).

I didn’t realize there is no electricity in Womba, so that was unexpected, but fine. Lucas’s wife fed me a home cooked meal by kerosene lamp, then took me next door some conveniently located guest cottages ($6 per night).  Though no electricity, I was amazed to find hot water. In the morning, the manager showed me how this was done – the water pipes pass over a wood-burning oven he had rigged up in the back. He also pointed to some dogs in the street who he says can tell the difference between good people and bad people. They act as guard dogs for the neighborhood, and he said they have a 6th sense about people.  This morning they were rolling in the road, playing with each other and warming up their bodies from the cold morning air.

Lucas came over at 6:30AM and we hit the road.  He didn’t get back till 2AM, but he said things went fine. The warrior guarded our car while he and his cousin went to nearby huts for chai and chapatis.  The road is known for bandits.  The priest told me that last December, a car from the church was stopped at gunpoint.  The priests were forced to strip naked, and the driver was shot.  Lucas said our car luckily died in a safe part of the road, and there was no threat of that.  (Though it if had stopped at the site of our first flat tire, he said that would not have been safe.)  There’s also the threat of wild animals, but again, we were stranded in an area with few animals, plus we had a warrior with a knife.  Not sure how effective that would be against a charging elephant or lion, but luckily we didn’t have to find out.

Upon leaving Womba, we were stopped by military guards.  They asked Lucas: Do you want to help Kenya? Are you a person who will help Kenya? Lucas said “yes” (a good answer when men with guns are posing the question).  They wanted a ride to the next big city.  Lucas negotiated – tried to take one instead of more, but ultimately 2 of the soldiers hopped in the back with their bags.

We made it to the next city, then to the airstrip in plenty of time. En route I saw some beautiful zebra – a slightly different kind that are an endangered species – and we saw some giraffe, and the biggest ostrich I have ever seen.  I still can’t believe he was real and was not a Jim Henson creation. I didn’t see elephants as I did when I arrived. Lucas’s cousin said there’s been a lot of elephant poaching ever since the Chinese paved the maid road around here. Many suspect there is a connection and that ivory is making its way to China.  Lucas cousin is also concerned about lion preservation, and has tried to discourage Samburu from killing lions for their skins which are used in the ritual when the boys become young warriors.  Lucas tries to get them to use skins of lions who died naturally, and although he’s been successful with one group, he’s not too optimistic.

I flew back to Nairobi, where I was met by Nambyura – She was the former Kenyan consular general in Los Angeles and has recently moved back to LA.  She and her son picked me up then whisked me to lunch. I must remember to come back to Nairobi on a Sunday. It was so quiet and peaceful, with people walking in the park, and little road traffic. It was like a beautiful summer day in New York City. I don’t think I’d ever seen it on a Sunday before and I liked it.

After lunch we drove an hour outside of Nairobi to visit an orphanage in Gatanga. There are 17 kids there, and they all wanted to know about Arnold Schwarzenegger. They really want him to come visit. I said I see him at the Starbucks a lot in Brentwood, but getting him to Africa was probably outside my ability. Still they were happy to hear anything about him. They sang me songs, we did a little dance (they found my dancing hysterical, which I will not hold against them), and they all told me their names and grades and what they wanted to be when they grew up (Several presidents, a few teachers, one surgeon, and a lot of airplane pilots).

After visiting Gatanga, we drove through the land of coffee and pineapples, and Nyambura took me to her family tea farm where we had chai and roasted corn and whole wheat chapatis.  The 20 minute visit turned into 3 hours of political talk with her many family members (there is a vote on a new constitution coming up in a few weeks and all of Kenya is abuzz over it).  They were speaking Kikuyu mostly – their native tongue.  I’ve heard so many new languages this trip – hard to keep track of them all.
We got back to Nairobi at night where my taxi driver Jenny was waiting for me with anti-histimines for my cold.  Now I relax for a few hours until heading back to Los Angeles via Zurich.  It’s been quite an adventure – a jam-packed 3 and a half weeks – lots of good stuff – lots of kids we’ve helped – lots more to help.  Looking forward to getting GOing…