Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting Ready...Almost Set...

Today is Sunday...and I have been spending the weekend with my 4-year-old grandson. Yesterday, we went to the NC Zoo near Asheboro, a quite nice zoological park in which habitats are designed FOR the animals, as much as for the people who come to view them. However- and forgive me for my seeming snobbery- but with my trip to Africa pending, I was acutely aware of just how inadequate any zoo is in conveying the sight and feel of seeing African animals in their natural habitats. Seeing a pair of lions napping in the sun cannot compare with watching a pride eating the night's kill, females and cubs waiting while the males eat their fill. Watching 3 elephants on a grassy knoll seems somehow inadequate after seeing a small herd (20 or so) crossing the grasslands before your eyes.

But for most Americans, visiting a zoo provides the only opportunity to see these magnificent animals. I guess I just wish that more education went with the experience, instead of it being viewed as just another form of entertainment. I heard so much misinformation being given to children yesterday by well-meaning but uninformed parents that it made me feel very sad indeed. Like the mom who told her two young sons that the elephants were rust-colored rather than gray because they were Indian elephants rather than African elephants. (the elephants at the NC Zoo are rust-colored because that is the color of the soil with which they perpetually cool themselves. And they are indeed African elephants.)

Of course, with on-going budgetary struggles, there are fewer and fewer people employed for educational programs at the zoo...though I have to wonder how many people would take advantage of them, if offered, since listening to someone talk ABOUT animals doesn't rank high in entertainment potential, sadly. It just seems sad to me that our children are getting so little sense of the wonder and majesty of the natural world, in all of its nearly-endless variety and jaw-dropping awesomeness.

So I am now additionally grateful to be returning to Kenya and Rwanda in just a few days, to once again be reminded that we, here in the U.S.A., are not the only peoples with a nation and resources of which we can be proud. The glories of the world are so much more than Disney World and Carnival Cruises and the NC Zoo, which is why opening ourselves to others peoples and other experiences is so very important and should somehow be part of the educational experience of every child.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Travel Time...

Only two weeks from today, I will be arriving in Nairobi, Kenya. Two weeks from today! With me will be my dear friend, Mae, both of us carrying our well-stocked shoulder bags and pulling our carry-on luggage. That's right...we are traveling light this year. No checked baggage...just 1 suitcase each for 3 weeks of travel in Kenya, Rwanda, and the Netherlands. Should be a great challenge, especially since we will be encountering such a variety of temperatures and weather changes. I'll let you know how it all works out. I did one suitcase for 2 weeks a number of years ago and was perfectly fine. I've found we usually pack far more than we really need- and no one who sees us cares if we wear the same thing over and over again.

With my hair very short, the only hair "product" I need is shampoo... which simplifies things greatly. No hair gel or mousse... what you see is what you get. And isn't the purpose of travel to BE see and absorb the the people...see old friends and make new ones? As this will be my third trip to East Africa over four years, I am feeling like an old hand at this long, long journey...but the mounting excitement I feel is as fresh as the first time.

I have been in touch with a number of friends in both Kenya and Rwanda and have found they share in our excitement. Kenyan people especially are extremely hospitable and very welcoming to "muzungus" (white people). People like Julius and Beatrice, Elizabeth, Godfrey, Charlie, Simon, Emmanuel, Pelagie and Japeth, Innocent and Emmanuel are eagerly awaiting our arrival, their excitement a gift in and of itself.

So think of us, traveling from Greensboro to Atlanta to Amsterdam to Nairobi...about 26 hours of travel time. Imagine, if you can, our touchdown in Nairobi at 8p.m. Kenya time next Wednesday, as we emerge from the climate-controlled air of the plane into the sights and smells and sounds and feel only Africa can bestow on the traveler. Imagine us, welcomed by our hosts at the Wildebeest Camp, eating the wonderful dinner there, and sharing dinner-table conversation with people from several different countries, strangers who quickly become friends as we spend this time together in a country far from home.

As I sit here writing, I realize I am smiling...and tears are filling my eyes as I think of what lies ahead- the beauty, the wonder, the joy, the hope, the adventure. Back to Africa I go!