Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’


Olasiti Village

Linda Lou Burton posting from Olasiti Village, Amboseli National Park, Kenya– I met a Maasai chief today. His name is Benson Meoli. Our visit to his village was one of the perks, or experiences, offered through Serena Amboseli Lodge, for a fee; an opportunity to learn more about Maasai culture. The Village was barely a 15-minute drive across the dusty landscape (once we exited the swampy lushness of the Lodge); Abdi had directed, ahead of time, that a chair awaited me. It was hot, and dusty there, one lone tree offering a bit of shade; after introductions Benson quickly dispatched others to bring more chairs, till everyone was comfortably seated in the meager shade. “You can ask him anything,” Abdi said, as Benson stood, a splendid man, patient and composed, awaiting his turn to speak.

Before our visit ended, he had talked about the Maasai spirit; the belief in community. He gave examples of responsibility, bravery, health. There were demonstrations (how to build a fire, together, each person playing a significant part). There were others who spoke (the village doctor; the purity of their diet; no arthritis, lean physiques). We were shown how the round straw-roofed houses are built (sticks for the frame, plastered with cow dung, no windows); we were invited to go inside.

And we were invited to join the dance. Of course they danced for us; the men the famous Maasai jumping dance, as tourists expect; the women paraded in their colorful garb, singing strong. Lois joined them, I stepped forward too, with cane of course; someone quickly took my hand. Mike and Otis joined the jumping dance; Venita and Judy admired the baby, Benson’s son, we were told, a beautiful boy. Rick was given an honorary Maasai name; Ed and Maureen got photos, all around.


And then, the sell. The women spread their wares across the dust; blankets covered in beads, elaborate decorations for the neck, the arms; bookmarks designed as birds, giraffes; magnets for the fridge. A visit to the school; the children came today, a holiday, especially to sing for us. The pressure push was strong, but underneath, the message clear.

Olasiti Village is in trouble. Their cattle are dying, like the zebras we saw the day before. Their cattle, their livelihood, are dying of thirst. There is no life without water, and the water is disappearing, fast. For four years now, the rains have failed to come. The village well, their one and only water source, connects to the aquifer that connects to the mountain that looms above, and the glaciers on that mountain are disappearing, fast. Behind all the niceties, and smiles, and beaded charms, these people need help.

Benson Meoli, the Maasai chief I met today, asks that we do what we can.

Olasiti Village, Kenya


Painted Birds

Linda Lou Burton posting from Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, Amboseli National Park, Kenya– It was 6 PM when we arrived, walking zombie-like into our stopping place for the next two nights. Fourteen hours gone since we set our luggage out for pickup at Sarova. Years had passed, it seemed, since our breakfast on that Maasai Mara hill; since we laughed our way through two airport stops, two crowded flights from there to here, this different dusty world with contradictions everywhere.

There were familiars; our gang, assembled once again in a greeting room; Abdi busy at the desk checking us in. The welcome by the staff; new keys; new rooms. Brilliant colors, the Maasai red; lush palms and bright green ferns; vines for real and painted vines; and birds, flying, fluttering; painted on the walls.

Dinner at 7:30 in the dining room, Abdi had advised. Safari cookies at the airport was all I’d had since breakfast, but I could not go. Bone weary, but more than that. I didn’t want to hear another word of gloom. “You go ahead,” I said to Rick; as we dumped belongings in our new room; tiny; twin beds in the corner, mosquito-netted; the corner desk, two bottles of glassed-in water; glass doors to the porch. We’d been instructed about those doors. They must be kept closed or the monkeys will come in and steal our stuff. And never leave anything outside.

Rick washed up, readying for dinner. “Can I bring you anything?” he asked, when he got to the door. “Some soup, and a roll,” I replied. “Doesn’t matter what kind.” Our porch looked out over a swampy spot. I sat there in the quiet till it was dark. Doors closed. 


Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge

From their website.

Surrounded by the vast and beautiful landscape of Amboseli National Park, Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge provides a full immersion into life in the untamed bush. Each room is housed in a single-story building opening directly onto the grounds, and each reflects a Maasai Manyatta theme with hand-painted wildlife murals, locally inspired furnishings, and the brilliant primary colors symbolic of these fabled warriors. 92 rooms and one suite feature complimentary wireless Internet, 24-hour room service and private balconies.

Our central dining area is reached by a timbered bridge spanning a mountain-fed stream and is flanked by water gardens. The walls feature hand-painted wildlife murals and the décor reflects the culture and heritage of the Maasai people. The spacious lounge and bar feature a broad terrace and a blazing fire-pit where evening cocktails can be enjoyed.


The Kill

Linda Lou Burton posting from Amboseli National Park, Kenya–“That’s another one dying of thirst,” Amos said. “They get so weak they can barely move.” Amos was our new driver; we’d assembled in our vehicle the same way as we did before – Rick and me third row back, behind Otis and Venita. Abdi was in the other 4×4 with the rest of the gang. Amos was straightforward in his approach, giving us facts about Amboseli in a quietly scientific way. Maybe that’s what it took, seeing what he saw every day. Stay unemotional, stay sane. Record the facts. Report on what’s happening. And what’s happening is — animals are dying of thirst. We’d fallen into a state of shock since leaving the airport twenty minutes ago. All we were seeing was dust. Flat plains, and dust. None of us expected this; only hours before we’d been on the lush plains of the Maasai Mara, where everything was green and animals grazed peacefully side by side. The zebra before us now didn’t fit the pattern in our minds; something was off. It was about to get worse. Amos drove on. “There’s one that died,” he said, just as I spotted a zebra carcass on the ground. “You can tell it wasn’t a kill because of how it lays. Every day is like Christmas for the lions these days. They don’t even have to hunt.”

There were bushes by the roadside; Amos suspected a lion sheltering there, and he was right. We watched as the lion stretched, sat up, and stared; bored, it seemed. Thinking of something to do next? He stretched again, then stood, and ambled out, heading for the open field.

Amos backed the 4×4, turned to track the lion. Around another curve lay zebra bones picked clean, a death from other days. Another zebra carcass then, more freshly fallen. Past the bushes to an open space; the 4×4 was in position now. We watched the lion.

A zebra standing in the dust. The lion approached, a slow-stroll walk across the field. The zebra did not move. “He can’t,” said Amos. “He is exhausted.” Venita softly crying then, the rest of us sat mesmerized. The lion struck. The zebra fell. The lion turned, and walked away. The zebra kicked two times, and died.


Note: As you can see, I did not get a photo of the kill itself. I was, in truth, paralyzed, and could not think of my camera at that moment. This was the beginning of our three-hour game drive in Amboseli National Park on the afternoon of September 17. The next two posts are as sharply disturbing as this one; it was an afternoon that shook us all.

The story of the elephants is next.

Amboseli National Park


Pass The Windex

Linda Lou Burton posting from Amboseli Airport, Amboseli National Park, Kenya–– It was 11:45 by the time was were looking at the Fasten Seat Belt sign. Did our luggage get on? Sometimes you just have to trust the gods. On safari planes, only one bag of soft-sided luggage weighing no more than 33 pounds allowed, absolute! So everything else we crammed into our one allowable backpack, or wrapped around our neck, or slung over our arm, nothing neat about it. Rick had his water bottle hanging from a finger, his can of Pringles in hand (his Pringles a running joke like my bottle of Coke). See his money belt making a bulge under his shirt? Advertisement for a mugging, my opinion, mine tucked safely underneath the waistband of my pants. My water bottle was tucked in the side pocket of my backpack; my jacket ON. But then, I had CANE in my hand, which didn’t help a bit climbing the fold-down steps to get inside the plane with no Daniel assisting, (pole, pole). Despite the inconveniences, lift-off happened, yea, now to see the Great Rift Valley from above, free and easy as a bird! Wishful thinking, Linda Lou. Shucks, I didn’t count on dirty windows.

According to the MAP, we flew over the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site on the floor of the Great Rift Valley; it’s between two extinct volcanoes, Mt Olorgesailie and Oldonyo Esakut. In a lake basin that existed during the latter part of the middle Pleistocene period between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1940s! Those Leakeys were all over the place, remember the Lake Nakuru area? We made it to the Wilson Airport in Nairobi in an hour; they had a wheelchair for me, a shiny waiting room, clean washrooms, the works. Those who managed to bring their Bush Breakfast pastry boxes enjoyed a snack; I bought Safari Cookies. “Don’t tell Rick,” I whispered to Lois, “but there is an entire SHELF of Pringles around the corner, in all flavors!” She giggled, and promised to keep mum. We boarded Plane #2 at 2 PM. Oh luggage, please follow. Oh windows, please be cleaner.

The windows were cleaner! But it didn’t make much difference because, I realized, I didn’t know what I was looking at; oh shucks, again. I spotted a small lake (maybe?); a herd of animals (white dots?); trees, roads, water, dry flats. The flight was smooth, less than an hour to Amboseli Airport. Where I spotted two 4x4s, in Globus colors, just waiting for us.

It was 2:50 PM when we landed; another flurry of excitement; other planes; other people. Dust. I spotted my fancy-schmancy brown-palm-tree suitcase being toted to the pile; tag-sorted to a Globus 4×4; two drivers wearing the familiar Globus orange and green. That suitcase went to Antarctica with me; Gibraltar, Spain; all 50 states. And here I am today, still working on getting a clearer view of things.

Note: Amboseli Airport is in Amboseli National Park in south-central Kenya, close to the international border with Tanzania. Approximately 95 miles south of Jomo Kenyatta International and Wilson Airports in Nairobi, its latitude is 2° 38′ 42.00″S and its altitude 3,757 feet. The single asphalt runway is 3,870 feet. It serves Amboseli National Park.

Amboseli National Park


Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Linda Lou Burton posting from Sarova Mara Game Camp, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya–– Audrey Hepburn eat your heart out. Diamonds may be dazzling but no place in the breakfast-eating world offers a better start to the day than Observation Hill in the Maasai Mara. I mean! Abdi laid out the plan the evening before. “No breakfast in the dining room tomorrow. We’re having Breakfast in the Bush. Then a short game drive afterwards on the way to the airport.” Our plane was to depart at 11 (or so); Amboseli National Park our next destination. I don’t need words to describe our morning; my pictures should do the trick.

It was a Sarova do, set up early and ready as our 4x4s came over the hill. They thought of everything – chafers of hot foods, grills to cook more, pastries and muffins and boxes for take-away, chilled drinks and hot, white-clothed tables, blue-bowed chairs, a tented potty and proper hand-washing station. Scenery clear to yonder and a blue-perfect sky. Who was there? I was, plus Rick, Otis, and Venita from Daniel’s 4×4; Mike, Lois, Ed, Maureen, and Judy from Frank’s 4×4. Guide Abdi, and all the Sarova staff who cooked and served and greeted and guarded. Yes, two guards with guns watching over us, precaution for our “out of vehicle” status. Isaac, left, is a Sarova employee-in-training who looked after me this morning; we talked about his work and family and life in Kenya, and my life in the USA; what a nice young man! The picture of us together turned out blurred, but the one of my “primary care-givers” on this safari is splendid – Abdi and Daniel and Frank with Rick and me, smiling, happy as kids at a birthday party. What a way to start a day!

We spotted two more Bush Breakfasts on our way to the plane. First time ever I was close enough to an elephant to observe exactly how one eats; I watched as she pulled grass from the ground and rolled it into her mouth, slow and easy, taking her time.

We stayed until the elephant families moved on. And then we passed a baboon family, breakfasting in their own front yard, right there in the beautiful Maasai Mara.

Sarova Mara Game Camp


Crossing The Mara

Linda Lou Burton posting from Sarova Mara Game Camp, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya– The Great Migration, ah, that rousing event that sometimes results in more blood and gore than even the Coen Brothers could think up. Or, it could wind up as cozy as a Sunday morning sleep-in, as we witnessed. We did see a crocodile-in-waiting, and a line of wildebeests stretching as far over the horizon as the eye can see. This photo I grabbed off the net shows what could, and often DOES, happen when a wildebeest tries to cross the Mara River, as below.

Why cross the Mara River? It begins with the weather. The weather creates rainy seasons and dry seasons. The rainy seasons are when the grasses grow. Over a million wildebeest eat a lot of grass. So do half a million zebras, and half a million eland and gazelles. When the grass is gone in one place, they move to a greener pasture. All this occurs in a regular pattern over a year’s time, as the grazers move in a clockwise direction from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park across the border to the north to Kenya’s Maasai Mara and then back south again. As you can see on this map, they have to cross the Mara River twice to do that! And thousands of Nile crocodiles live in that river, just waiting for lunch to arrive. Which means people line up along the riverbanks to see what might happen. Will the wildebeests cross today while we’re here? What are they waiting for? Is there a leader, giving a signal? What causes the first one to start running, and what causes the others to follow in a spectacular frenzy of rolling and tumbling and jumping and swimming?

All a mystery, but Daniel did his part so we could see everything there was to see; shifting our 4×4 this way and that, around the 30 or so others waiting on our side of the river; all jockeying for position. And which WAS the best position? There were several possible crossing points. The other side of the river was lined with 4x4s too, and school buses, yes, this is a school-trip-worthy event. The zebras graze nervously as we wait; the giraffe stand high, peering, maybe counting the numbers of wildebeests in the line? Otis spotted a crocodile waiting on the riverbank. “It’s THERE!” he said, over and over, “by the zebra’s head!” My camera zoom finally caught it. Yep, zebra head by crocodile head. We waited. And we waited. And we waited. The hippos weren’t afraid, swimming the Mara with little hippo eyes just at the surface; stretching out on the bank in a muddle of hippo fat. And smiling, I swear!

We didn’t pack a lunch, so Abdi finally called TIME. He had an obligation to keep us fed, and it was a long drive back to Sarova’s dining room. “Sorry, we have to leave,” he said. Aww, shucks. Daniel made sure we had our own “crossing” thrill however, bless his heart. “Hold on!” he yelled, as he 4×4’ed us across a Mara mudhole. Then we passed a group of wildebeests that had already made it across, grazing in their greener pastures. A good morning, all told.

Note: During the migration about 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebra die every year as a result of predation by carnivores, drowning, thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. An average of 6,250 animals drown or are trampled crossing the Mara River.

A Brighter Note: As many as 500,000 wildebeest are born between February and March each year as the rainy season begins. Approximately 8,000 young wildebeest are born every single day during the peak of the birthing season.


They Came To Dance

Linda Lou Burton posting from Sarova Mara Game Camp, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya–I said I wouldn’t miss it. They came to dance, and I was there to watch. It wasn’t authentic, as far as the setting, and the glittery stuff that sparkled in the artificial light. A stone and concrete patio around a pool of aquamarine water doesn’t speak of tradition. But we got the SOUND of it, the idea of what it was meant to tell us. Our gang was there, part of the tourist crowd. The show was staged for tourists, a group hired by Sarova, or maybe the park itself, to make the rounds of the fancy-schmancy lodges and camps that pepper the Maasai Mara Reserve. That’s a good thing – tourist dollars helping the locals. As for the tourists, it opened the door for us to learn some Maasai history; appreciate their heritage. And that’s a good thing too.

Did you know there are more than a million Maasai? Most live in Kenya, some in Tanzania. Their spoken language is MAA; the name “Maasai” means “people who speak MAA.” Their cows are their most prized possessions – their security, and wealth. Semi-nomadic, they move their homes and herd their cattle in a seasonal rotation. And they hunt lions – never for fun, only if needed to protect their homes and cattle. The Maasai are known for their physical beauty – both their strong, slender, graceful physiques and their unique clothing and body ornamentation. Maasai dress is distinctive, and often copied by fashion designers.

The SHUKA. Made of animal skins in the beginning; today these wrap-around blankets are woven cotton, purchased, not handmade. The distinctive coloring and fabric design tells of family connection – like the Scottish plaids of the clans. Red is the most-used color; brilliant blues and yellows are used too, in various designs of plaids and stripes and checks. (Online Photo)

The DANCES. Imagine the dances in the wide open spaces, circled round a fire. Start with the ADAMU, known as the jumping dance. It is joyful, and cocky, a show-off dance. Who can jump the highest? Who is strongest, bravest? Who will attract the best wife? Lots of shouting and whoops, laughter or praise, as each takes a turn stepping in front of the group and jumping as high as he can. The music is created on the spot: voices chanting, modulated, call and response; the perfect soundtrack for what they do; it changes, underscores, leads. The hunting dance; encouragement and morale building as they ready to kill a lion. Friendship and family, celebrating a birth, or a wedding. Grief, and mourning a terrible loss.

We couldn’t follow the words, but the tone and movement told each story well. We asked questions at the end; posed for photos too. I bought a shuka from their table by the pool; the red and black checks my choice. So much to learn about the Maasai, in the days ahead.

Sarova Mara Game Camp


Let’s Build Together

Linda Lou Burton posting from The Great Rift Valley, Narok County, Kenya–And then we got to Narok. An explosion of school buses, school kids in uniform, people, people everywhere. Stores, hospitals, hotels. Cars, buses, helmets on motorbikes. And SIGNS. A giant billboard loomed ahead as Daniel made a right to C12 south; ASANTE plastered all across. P K Ole Ntutu, Governor of Narok County. A new president for the country, new governors as well? Kenya’s 54 million people and 225 million square miles were divided into 47 counties by that 2010 Constitution (replacing the Provincial designations). Over a million of those people live in Narok County, and most of them are Maasai. I knew that “ASANTE” is Thank You in Swahili, but “Pamoja Tujenge”? Let’s Build Together is the translation.

The landscape changed dramatically as we traveled those last 55 miles south to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, part of Narok County too. All the farm-green hills and deep dark soil turned dry; replaced by dust, and scattered rocks. A field of red – Maasai men; a cattle auction going on; red shukas everywhere; cloth cloaks. The design of stripes or plaids is the family trademark, we tried to spot the different families in the crowd. The Loita Plains stretched wide out to our right; the Loita Hills ridged left. Finally, the Sekenani Gate, and just outside, a row of souvenirs, beads and bowls, lined up for the tourist trade. Follow me.


An Observation

The city of Narok is home for our Guide, Abdi Latif, when he’s not away showing people like us around his country. He lives in Narok with his wife and seven children; his mother lives with them too. There are many fine schools in Narok; Daniel stopped to show us one of the ones Abdi had attended. One of the most serious problems in all of Kenya is lack of clean water. Many people have to walk to a water supply; have you noticed the photos of mule-drawn wagons hauling cans of water, or small black tanks installed on the roof of houses and businesses? Abdi is working to install pipelines from a well he has on his property in Narok to serve a school his children attend, as well as others who live in the neighborhood. Let’s hope Narok County’s new governor puts “water needs” high on his agenda. 

Narok County Government


Grandma Hopes

Linda Lou Burton posting from Sweetwaters Serena Camp, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Nanyuki, Kenya – I was thinking of Elisha as I rested on my tent porch Tuesday afternoon. The gang had set off on another Game Drive after lunch, so I had some quiet time. I was also thinking of events transpiring in Nairobi at that very moment. William Ruto was being inaugurated as the 5th President of Kenya. It was happening in that big stadium we’d passed on our Sunday tours, the Moi International Sports Center, where 60,000 people could gather. Today had been declared a national holiday. The election had been hard fought, I wondered how things were going.

Do you know anything of Kenyan history? Are you aware that Kenya was colonized by the British in 1895? It was 1902 when those fertile highlands I’ve been riding through the last few days were opened to white settlers (hence Karen Blixen’s 6,000-acre coffee plantation in 1913). Fast forward to 1963, when the volatility of “whose land is it, anyhow?’(call it a revolution) brought about independence, of a sort, for the folks who lived there first.

Today, Kenya, a small and beautiful multi-ethnic country on the east coast of Africa with 42 tribes and about 60 languages (English and Swahili most prolific) is a “presidential representative democratic republic.” Over the last 59 years it has altered its constitution many times; political parties have come and gone; and corruption has left its mark.

Will William Ruto make a difference?

Wait, you may be thinking. He is only the 5th president in 59 years? Well yes, here’s the list; fascinating to read about who did the most good, and the most harm, during their long terms. Worth looking them up if you want to dig deeper. From 1963-1964 British rule was winding down with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch; Jomo Kenyatta was Prime Minister.

  • 1964-1978: Jomo Kenyatta, President (14 years)
  • 1978-2002: Daniel Moi, President (24 years)
  • 2002-2013: Mwai Kibaki, President (11 years)
  • 2013-2022: Uhuru Kenyatta, President (son of Jomo, 9 years)

The Constitution of 2010 set term limits at 5 years, allowing two consecutive terms.

Rick arrived back at our tent a little after 5. “Guess what!” he said. “After the Game Drive we got to watch a video of the inauguration on TV!” He showed me a picture he’d taken of the screen, and told me that the proceedings went smoothly.

“Speaking of pictures,” I said, “you took a picture of Elisha and me this morning. Can I see that?” Elisha’s story, and Ruto’s inauguration seemed somehow connected in my mind.

Here’s the picture of Elisha and me. I met him today,  just before we stopped at the Equator. I was sitting in a white chair this time, in the shade outside the Chimpanzee Sanctuary’s Visitor Center. Once again, I’d requested a place to sit while everyone else stood, and walked, and followed the guide along the pathways to the enclosures. And once again, someone had been asked to “look after” the gray-headed lady who moved slowly, slowly, “pole, pole.” After we’d exchanged names, I asked how long he’d worked there. “Two years,” he answered, and then Elisha told me his story.

“I first got a job building fences,” he said. “I was the oldest of seven children and since my father had died, it was my responsibility to look after the family. My mother determined that I get the best education possible, so I did. I graduated with honors! But the only job I could find right away was as a fence builder, digging post holes, and stringing wire. I was able to bring a little money in with that, but knew I had to do better. So I kept applying for jobs, every time I learned of an opening. It took me five years to get this job,” he said, looking around the grounds of the Sanctuary. “I put in four applications and had four interviews. I actually cried when I got the letter telling me I was hired. There are simply more college graduates than jobs available.” We continued talking for a long while; about life, about responsibility, about how important our family is.

And then the group finished the tour and came to find me.  Someone asked Elisha if they could get his picture in his handsome uniform, and he replied “Only if you get her picture with me. She’s my Grandma.” I stood up and gave Elisha a very proud grandmotherly hug.

William Ruto’s inaugural address included these words.

It is time for us to stem the tide of youth unemployment. Every year, 800,000 young people join the workforce and over 600,000 of them do not find opportunities for productive work. Moreover, our young people in cities and towns face very hostile environments, many times treated as a nuisance….Our immediate agenda is to create a favorable business and enterprise environment…and support people in the informal sector to organize themselves into stable, viable and creditworthy business entities. This is the essence of the bottom-up economic model, which creates a path for traders and entrepreneurs to build linkages, experience safety, and enjoy security.

I so hope that works out.


Smack Dab in the Middle

Linda Lou Burton posting from Sweetwaters Serena Camp, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Nanyuki, Kenya – Here’s the second reason I went to Africa. First Karen Blixen’s house. Now, the EQUATOR. I’ve been to the Arctic and the Antarctic, now I was smack dab in the middle, the fattest part of EARTH. Hot dog!

I wasn’t the only person there who was acting like a nut. We’d been sitting in the 4x4s since early morning and this was our last stop before lunch. We were running around like fools. “Get it on record! We’re at the Equator!”

I mean, this is serious stuff. That big tall sign was bragging too, with a bunch of “get this” facts about THE EQUATOR.

  • It has the fastest sunrises and sunsets.
  • It crosses through 13 different countries.
  • It always has exactly 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.
  • It has just two equinoxes when the sun is directly above – March and September.
  • It holds the world’s greatest concentration of biodiversity.
  • It passes through 50% of the world’s rainforest in three countries – Brazil, Congo, and Indonesia.
  • Only 20% of the world’s population live below the Equator.

See Lois and Mike back there clowning, Guide Abdi giving them directions, Rick and Judy watching. Everybody was lining up for their turn to be ON the Equator, right there near our tent camp at Sweetwaters; right there in Ol Pejeta; right there in Kenya; right there in Africa.

Here’s a record of our cuteness.

Rick Pointing * Rick South & Me North * Me South & Rick North * Venita South & Otis North * Ed & Maureen North  * Driver Frank & The Way to Sydney * Driver Daniel & Rick & Our 4×4