Where can I start! I never thought I would be writing this at 11582 metres above sea level, flying over Khartoum and landing in Paris in 5 hours and 34 minutes. This trip all started with a vision of Mission to help a small community in the Chyulu Hills, South East of Nairobi in Kenya and to help a secondary school near Kajiado which is 75kms south of Nairobi. Over the past 3 years TKA Dioceses have raised funds through copper collections, sponsored cycles/walks and parish collections to help these communities achieve a better standard of living. It is quite a gap between the doing/collecting in the West of Ireland and seeing the projects and meeting/walking with the Masai people in Kenya.
Our hosts Ronnie and Mags who work with CMS Ireland, have spent the last 30 years working on these projects and speak Swahili so we were in good hands for the next 2 weeks.
They picked us up at the airport in a Land Rover and Land Cruiser with our own personal suitcase and a suitcase that each of us brought out with knitted clothes, football gear, colouring pens donated from parishioners throughout the dioceses. All had to be tied down on top of the roof of the jeeps. We landed in Kajiado after 22 hours travelling from Dublin at 1am in the morning. Here we were at the Headquarters of the Anglican Church of Kenya ACK, Kajiado diocese. From TKA to ACK!!! I had my Dioralyte, Deet Tropical Repel, Malarone and injections for Yellow Fever, Rabies, Polio, Hep A, Men A, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Typhoid, I was good to go. We woke at 7am as we were to visit the Oloosuyian girls secondary school with Joyce who is the principal. The roads are a sight to behold, really dirt tracks with some huge ruts and potholes and near the town lots of rubbish thrown all over the place. On our way there we passed an area with small mounds all together, Joyce explained that animals were buried under each one of them. The landscape has trees and bush but little vegetation but in areas where water has been brought and the ground tilled there are vegetables, maize, and other crops growing. There are 141 pupils in the school and 10 teachers, the school term was over and summer holidays were about to start from November to January. We were shown the dorms and class rooms and the new septic tank that we had helped raise funds for. The class rooms were bare walls with blackboard, and dorms had a metal bunkbed and box for clothes, all very basic but when we spoke to the girls they had high ambitions to be doctors, lawyers and teachers!! The kitchen for the school was 2 open fires with a large pot of spuds on one and a pot of cabbage in the other, sounds familiar!! Food was served out in the open on rocks and tree stumps for chairs.
Next morning I was woken by the Adhan which is the Muslim call for prayer at 5am!!! Our next adventure was to take my breath away as 2 jeeps set off to see the water project in Oltiasika and spend 2 days on retreat. Being so remote we had to stock up with food supplies in a busy little town with lots of small holdings trading in mangoes, passion fruit, potatoes, coriander, peppers, red onions, water melons, cabbage and tomatoes. And you could get your knives sharpened by a guy who had turned a bike upside down and managed to turn it into a small trade for himself. Tyres were being made into sandals and you always had to have good eye to eye contact to haggle over the price. We were the only white people (Mzungu means white man in Swahili) in the town, it felt a little strange getting out of the jeeps and walking through the market. With jeep stuffed with all of the above, we set off across the most wonderful countryside. Necks stretched to catch all of the amazing scenes unfolding before us, we started to pass scenes from Out of Africa, giraffes, Grant’s gazelles, Secretary Bird, Zebra, Ostrich, Bustard, Wildebeest and after a few hours pulled up under an Acacia Tree for a picnic, what can I say, I was in the movies!! It had rained only 2 weeks ago so the area was starting to green up. When we arrived in Oltiasika we were met by Nchukut a Maasai man dressed in his traditional red Shuka, a large shawl wrapped around his body. He was carrying a stick to beat the bushes back when herding his goats during the day. Nchukut was here to show us the ropes during our stay here. The Maasai live within a small area encircled with thorny bushes to keep animals out, they are called Manyattas or Bomas and depending on how many people live there, you will find small mud huts built within these enclosures and if there is a spear outside one of the huts it means the man of the house is there.
I forgot to mention a very special man, Naftaly translator, friend, listener and guide who travelled with us throughout our trip and helped us to understand the Maasai people during our 2 week stay in Kenya. Naftaly had spent 9 years working as an evangelist in this area, travelling on his motor bike setting up churches throughout Oltiasika. The Maasai people are very connected to the idea of a god, they have worshipped Enkai for many years and believe that God made them to be herders of goats and cows. Every Maasai man will have a herd of goats, and if the household is in need of anything, the purchase of a goat maybe the main priority for the man!!
To walk down to the water project and see everyone working on the concrete slab (like a silage slab) with a slope to run the rain water into 3 large tanks, was exciting and uplifting. To see the monies that have been raised put to great use. The slab measured 60 by 35 metres and each tank could hold 220,000 litres of water. Everyone when you meet them wants to shake hands and greet you with Hijambo which means Hello, share a story and then Goodbye is Kwaheri. I walked with Nchukut up to a tropical forest, yes a tropical forest on top of the hill, and on the way we met a lad bringing tomato seed to the next village a few hours away and then another group of lads who were keen to speak English and share a few stories on the way back. I had binoculars with me and we sat under a tree and Nchukut could not believe what they could do!! We had a thought for the day in the evening, we shared and prayed for the people we met and the places we had been to. Highly recommended this sharing and praying together. The views of Kibo and Mawenzi which make up Kilimanjaro at 19,340 feet will take your breath away. On our retreat days each of the crew had a topic to open up, discuss, pray about. I spoke on Evangelism which had me on my toes (for weeks!!!), but thanks to gentle ears and gentle hearts, went ok!! I certainly am grateful for this time together. If you ever drive out into the plains and stop by a tree with a large crown and listen to the Maasai women and men dance and sing and a fine Clergyman with translator give the sermon, you know times they are a changin’
We all mucked in to set up a church in the bush close to the water project. That day people came from all around to celebrate the water tanks and Bishop Gaddiel spoke at the service out in the sunshine with everyone sitting in the shade under the trees. Watched 3 goats being killed for the celebrations afterwards. That evening we sat around an open fire and eat roasted goat which was a bit chewy. Our time here was near and goodbyes hard to do, Nchukut , David and the girls who had cooked, sang a song and we thanked them for looking after us all so well.
Today we are off to Amboseli National Park which is in area 152 sq. miles. Along the way neck still stretched to catch a glimpse of water buffalo, Hippos, Elephants, Giraffe’s, yes, it’s Out of Africa again!!! But this time we stop in one of the tourist oasis, I say oasis because of the difference between where we had just been, to here, the food was delicious and real coffee!! I may have forgotten to mention that there was no electricity and no flushing loos for a week in Oltiasika, the loos have the grand title of the Long Drop!!
And no phone signal, bliss. These roads are bumpy and I mean bumpy, we have to drive over them at speed as the bumps are like corrugated iron, if we don’t get up speed we might end up losing some teeth!! We exit Amboseli near the Tanzanian border having to stop to fix a battery lead that had popped up when we hit a big bump. We head back to Kajiado where we have a meeting to discuss our role in the leadership conference that is been held in the Cathedral tomorrow. Bishop Patrick spoke on different styles of leadership, an example of leading from the bottom with consultation throughout the process. Jen spoke on self care, Paul on sustainability, Alistair on leadership and I spoke on the role of CIYD in our Dioceses. Later we went into Kajiado to buy Bishop Gaddiel and his wife a present to bring to the celebrations that are to be held in 2 days time. Ronnie and Mags bring us to see their home at the MRTC, (Maasai Rural Training Centre). There are plans to develop part of the land into a shopping centre, this is in the early stages and looks like a very exciting project.
November 26th what a day. Bishop Gaddiel is celebrating 6 years as a Bishop and also his graduating with a degree, at his home village, which just happens to be 2 hours journey into the countryside. 10 of us in the Land Cruiser bumped and jostled along the track until we all had to get out to help a van that had got stuck in a rut near a river. Out of bushes there appeared what looked like tents from a medieval jousting scene. Passing buses, cars and vans abandoned in the mud, we pulled up to a gathering of over 2000 Maasai people. As we were the guests we got to sit up on the podium. To explain the wonder of a meeting like this, way out in the countryside, with men sitting on one side and the women on the other, with the heat of the sun beating down and everyone nestling for the shade, for the choirs, dancers, speakers, chiefs, clergy, Bishop’s, for the 40 goat and 4 cattle killed, who wouldn’t sit for 5 hours and take it all in. We finally sat to eat at 4.30 having last eaten at 7.30am!! I sat with some Masai men who had a large piece of goat and as is tradition took a foot long knife out and proceeded to cut a piece off for each of us around the table. As we were leaving, muggins here bought 2 blank CD’s from 2 girls who promised they had made a recording. Maggie sorted me out!! It took us 4 hours to get home, Ronnie knew the drill, we had a jeep, so those travelling in cars and vans got stuck near the river and Ronnie helped to pull each of them out, about 8 in total, we all clambered out to look up at the stars and share a few more stories. When we got back on track, the journey was shortened by a sing song all the way home. Wilson our driver had to go back that same night.
With only a day left and plans to go into Nairobi thwarted by the Inauguration of the President the next day, it was decided the safest thing to do was to go to Karen on the outskirts of Nairobi, made famous by Karen Blixen who is known for her novels Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast. We see our first white people here, which feels again strange, I want to go up and ask them what they are doing here. On our last day we planted some trees around the secondary school with Joyce and had a meeting with Gillian, Ronnie and Maggie, this was a chance to speak about the ups and downs while we were in Kenya.
What a trip. Thank you for the support both financial and personal. Many thanks to Ronnie and Mags for making a dream come through, for bringing me to a place I would not go and for their care throughout the trip.
Thanks to the crew. Thanks to Jen for having an amazing iron, kept things smooth!!