Sunday, September 25, 2016

Discover Scotland and an Intro to Celildh

This past Saturday, a few friends and I decided to take a bus tour around the highlands of Scotland – we wanted to get our first real look at the beauty this country is known for. To say we were not disappointed would be a massive understatement. The first look at the incredible landscape before us was literally breathtaking and I found myself unable to believe that I was going to be living in such an amazing place for the next five years. I have never seen grass so green in my entire life – they say all the blasted rainy days are to thank for the vibrant hues on rolling hills and mountain tops. Another lesson I have been learning since moving to Scotland is the extent to which the people here love to drink and be merry. On the tour, we learned about something the locals refer to as the “Angels share” during the maturation of whisky. According to our guide, the Angels share of whisky is the 2% of alcohol that naturally evaporates during the maturation process – the locals like to think the angels are taking their share of spirits and will therefore ensure that the whisky tastes the best it possibly can. We learned a little something about the local’s sense of humor on this tour – apparently 7% of Scots voted to make I’m Gonna Be by the Proclaimers the new national anthem. I personally think that anyone would love an excuse to scream “Ba-da-da” at the top of their lungs after a night of drinking at the local pub and claim it was for the love of their great nation.

As we went along on the tour of the highlands, the guide was sure to point out famous shooting sites for movies such as Harry Potter and shows such as Outlander. We got to see the famous steam train that was used in all of the Harry Potter movies! I stood on the platform and watched as it slowly road by, imagining how easy it would be to just get on a train going anywhere and explore the world as it gets smaller every day. We also got to visit the shooting site for the scene where Hagrid skips rocks after Buckbeak's trial. It was really exciting to see the movie kind of come to life before our eyes. Along the way, our guide pointed out the heather and crystals shimmering in the midday sunlight. He explained that ancient lore stated that one should plant these crystals to help ward off against witchcraft and other evils, while heather was known to promote positive energies. Many Celtics and Druids believed in the properties of the plants and stones all around them and would surround themselves in pure energies. This part of the tour was understated but was a really interesting glimpse into the more mystic world of Scottish Lore. At midday we broke for lunch at a fisherman’s wharf where we dined on some of the best fish and chips Scotland has to offer. We explored a secondhand book store and mingled with some locals before walking to the train platform to send off the Jacobite Steam Train.

On our way back down the highlands, we stopped for pictures in a place called Glencoe – former home of the MacDonald Clan. We took many pictures and again were completely blown away by the absolute beauty that is Scotland, especially the highlands. We traveled back through Loch Lomond, singing The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond (aka you take the high road, and I’ll take the low road), a beautifully sad song about two brothers who were given a terrible choice. They were told they must pick one of them to die and one to live. The older brother decided that he would be the one to sacrifice himself because he had known love in his life and “tis better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all”. He “took the low road” and allowed his brother a second chance at life and love. We made one final stop at the Drovers Inn, which was established in 1705 and features a myriad of stuffed creatures that greet you at the front door. The whole trip was really fantastic and well worth the money spent!

My first week of school was filled with information laden lectures and we even got to try practicing our suturing skills. On Tuesday we had the pleasure of attending a talk hosted by Damien Mander – he spoke of rhino conservation efforts currently going on in Africa. He spoke about the uphill battle faced by conservationists, especially in the face of poachers in 3rd world countries. It was truly incredible to hear him speak about the efforts he and his team are making. During the first week of classes we also got the opportunity to attend a Scottish Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee). There is no way to truly describe this to anyone who has not seen it but the closest thing I can think of is line dancing but about ten times more boisterous. Everyone is running into everyone else and slipping over outstretched legs but by the end of it we were all laughing together about the crazy mess of a dance we just pulled off. The end of the night was filled with sweat, bruises, and laughter and now I understand why Ceilidh is such a popular way to celebrate. Everyone gets included, regardless of who you are or who you know – by the end of the dance everyone is holding hands with new friends and laughing about how rowdy everyone got. I went into this experience not knowing anything but came out ready for the next one!

Anyways, Cheers to another week at this crazy thing we call Veterinary School.
Thanks for reading,


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Planes, Trains, and Haggis

September 15, 2016

                This past Sunday (September 4th) my mom and I began the long journey to Glasgow, Scotland via the Baltimore Washington International airport. The check in process’ and security lines were uncharacteristically quick, everything going off without a hitch. I took this to be a good indication for how the rest of the day would progress. Almost as if sensing that our day in the airport was going too perfectly our flight suddenly got delayed just enough to squash any chance of making the connection to Glasgow. The woman working at the ticket counter looked at us with eyes half glazed over and casually gestured to a pile of cards with a helpline number on them. American Airlines told us to go back out to the front desk before security to see if they could issue a new ticket for a different flight. We waited in line to speak to a representative and when we finally did the only flight they had was on British Airlines at 22:00 that night (it was 16:00 at the time). So with our bags rechecked into the correct flight and hope renewed for an uneventful travel itinerary, we moved through security for the second time that day. With five hours left before our flight, we settled in at a restaurant to wait out the evening.

                The first day in Scotland was a whirlwind – we got to the hotel around 14:30 and decided the best way to get over jet lag was to try to stay up until at least 21:00 that night (this would mean approximately 24 hours with maybe a 3 hour nap on the plane). As excited as I was to be in a new country, this day dragged by so slowly…I don’t remember the last time I was that sleep deprived. But we met up with Chloe and Gail – friends of a friend, and a future student as well – that night for a drink and late dinner. Glasgow City Centre has some amazing food – especially the Italian! Seriously, there are so many delicious Italian restaurants in Glasgow that it makes me really want to visit Italy, but for now I have my fix of incredible food.

                The next day, we decided to meet up with the other family and tour both of the campuses that we would soon call home. The veterinary school is located about 3 miles from City Centre on an old estate that was taken over by Glasgow University. In order to walk from the dorm halls to campus you need to take a scenic route around a massive sports complex to this little stone bridge that spans the Kelvin River. I can just imagine wandering around the estate walking a foster dog or just walking to enjoy a rare Scottish sunny day. I will say the air is a tad more humid than anticipated – the air seems to stick to your skin like a thin sheen of moisture that never quite leaves. It makes the slight chill to the air seem warmer but I’m growing more and more accustomed to the feeling as the days go on. I love the weather so far, even all the rain – it means the earth almost seems to be teeming with life all around. I can see why people love this country – the grass is truly always greener on the Scottish side. Main campus was beautiful in a completely different way – a 1451 old architecture kind of way. The buildings are gorgeous and look like something straight out of Harry Potter – I can see why people compare the buildings to Hogwarts. As I walked through old stone archways and took pictures of immense cathedral-esk towers, I began to see my future unfold in front of me – suddenly the next 5 years seemed to make perfect sense and I got the feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be in that moment. There was a growing ball of tension and fear in my stomach as I tried to swallow the fact that I was moving to a new country where I did not know more than 3 people in order to pursue my dreams. They say if your dreams don’t scare you they aren’t big enough – well this dream is definitely going to prove to be a big one, full of twists, turns, and unbelievable adventure. And for sure some interesting food - like the Blaggis patty I tried this week (blood pudding mixed with pureed haggis, formed into a patty and pan-fried), which was not bad once you get past the mental block of what you’re eating.

Blaggis Pudding - Rachel :)

Thank you for reading. This blog will serve as a journal for all adventures, interesting foods, and all the new directions this crazy life will take me in the next five years.

- Dani

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Three Cheers for 21 Years

May 6, 2014
Most people turning 21 anxiously awake midnight of the night before, for that magic moment when some bars consider you legal and allow you to enter. This is not how you spend your 21st in East Africa. First of all, a 21st birthday literally only means that you should be married with 2 or 3 kids by now and I have been bombarded with questions as to why I am not. Anyway, my birthday was absolutely one of the most special and memorable that I have ever had. As many of you may have guessed, I am quite taken with hyenas, especially since coming to this wonderful continent. On the 5th of April, we took a trip to the Maasai market in the nearby town of Mto wa Mbu. We were wandering around when my friend Ellen ran up to me excitedly and a bit out of breath. She started saying something about a wood carving hyena and ran to show me. As we were admiring the little figure, all I could think about was how Moses warned me that hyena carvings didn’t exist in Africa because no one likes them. All of a sudden, Ellen was handing the Duka owner money and saying “Happy Birthday!” It was such a thoughtful and amazing gift!

The morning of my birthday, everyone was more than a little stressed because we had a paper due that evening and no one really knew how to finish it. We asked Kioko (our professor) for an extension because we had all done one of the sections wrong and needed to do some serious re-writing. We figured he’d push it back until midnight or something, but he pushed it back 20 days! I still can’t really believe it but it was a fantastic way to start the day! Later that day, Megan told me that there was a surprise in the Duka for me. She said I could go pick up a candy bar and a popsicle at some point during the day. It was really sweet surprise, pun intended! Mary and I decided to make some brownies to spice up dinner a little and give everyone a tasty treat to look forward to. We even put a little coffee in the mix to give the chocolate a little kick! It was a lot of fun to bake again; I definitely miss having a kitchen at my disposal. For dinner we had a cook-out! We made burgers and sweet potato fries, among other things. After RAP that night, I got to spend some time with Megan, Paige and Kat watching The Mummy Returns. We lasted about 20 minutes before we all began to fall asleep! We had an early start awaiting us in the morning so we decided to head to bed. 

Asante Sana for reading! 

The next blog will be coming soon, promise!! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A week in motion

April 2, 2014
Things I’ve learned about Tanzania in the week we’ve been living here:
  • ·       The drunken man that wanders outside of our camp at night obviously doesn’t have a 6:30am alarm like the rest of us. Party on my friend.
  • ·         The shower has two settings – ice or scalding, the latter only achieved with the water pressure of a leaky faucet
  • ·         The landscape is incredible! It’s so much more lush and green than Kenya. Although I loved Kenya, there’s definitely a lot more to see on a drive into town here in Tanzania! J
  • ·         The food is amazing. I’ll definitely be switching to organic in the states, I’ve never felt better J
  • ·         The roads are so much muddier… whether that’s the country itself or a byproduct of the wet season, it’s AWESOME. Muddin’ Africa style all day every day!
  • ·         If you have a free hand in town, it WILL be taken by a small child. They love holding our hands as we wander around Rhotia! Their favorite game is singing “moja, mbili, tatu!” (1, 2, 3 in Kiswahili) and then leaping into the air, swinging from our hands.
  • ·         I have so much more respect for Batik painters now that I’ve tried my hand at it. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here are the steps:

o   Draw your design on a piece of cotton fabric
o   Put melted wax everywhere in your design that will be white
o   Dye the cotton the lightest color in your design scheme
o   Place wax over the areas you want to stay that color
o   Repeat until the whole piece is colored the way you want
o   Cover the whole thing in wax, then crumple it
o   Smear paint in the cracks and rub all the wax off
o   Iron and admire!
  • ·         Happy Days has some bangin’ food! They have this dish called Chips Mayai, which is basically thick cut fries inside an omelet…. Heaven on a plate but definitely hard to finish! They give you so much!!
  • ·         The fabric is GORGEOUS. Needless to say, I will be representing my version of the local attire back at Penn State J

Some snap-shot moments from the week:

  • ·         One of the cars actually got stuck. I did not   think that was possible because we drive around in some mixture of a hummer and a jeep with  huge tires. But, the mud won and we had to pull the  car out.
  • ·         Every single time we leave the camp, children   run up to us and immediately grab our hands.   I’m really going to miss that when I leave Africa.
  • ·         After our first field lecture, all the cars pulled off into this market looking place and the teachers said “Explore for about a half hour then come back.” We all got ice-cream and got to explore the Maasai market! Definitely a great way to end a class!!
  • ·         Literally as I’m typing this, my hairbrush has fallen into the toilet… well.
  • ·         A small animal of some sort took a poop in my pants pocket. Didn’t find that little present until I was doing laundry and attempted to clean those pants. They are still soaking in soapy water, perhaps indefinitely! (GROSS)
  • ·         One of the staff walked up to me, asked me my name, and then proceeded to do his best hyena imitation. Needless to say, it made my night!
  • ·         I went birding for the first time. I spent the entire time attempting to identify the giant raptor circling the car instead of watching the tiny colorful birds everyone else was identifying. It was an eagle J  
  • ·         We had a field exercise in which our only assignment was to follow a troop of baboons for two hours and record their behavior every 5 minutes. Definitely better than your standard lecture!!!
  • ·         According to an intoxicated man named Nicholas, Tanzania has no immigration. He welcomed us to the country about 5 times
  • ·         Paolo taught a few of us how to wrap Acacia thorns around baby trees and we taught him how to say “very good!” in five or six different languages! Now every time he sees me he says “molto bene!” or “Muy bien!”
  • ·         Costa calling me Dini (pronounced Die-knee) because he couldn’t remember Dani, but he knows he sees me in the Dining hall for dinner… J I’m now Dan or Dini haha
  • ·         Njao came to visit from Kenya!! He brought us some hellos from the Kenyan staff and it was nice to have a piece of our family here in Tanzania!
  • ·         We started our Swahili lessons with Grace this week and she taught us the Welcome song!

The next time I blog, I’ll be legally old enough to drink the devils urine (Daniels loving name for alcohol!). I can’t wait to turn 21 in Africa!!! Once again, I’m struck by how absolutely unreal this whole experience is and how amazing it is that I’m actually here!
Thanks for reading, la la salama!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Last few days in Kenya -- Full Disclosure

March 26, 2014
                This week has been one for the books. I don’t even know where to begin with this entry. I guess going back a few days would be better in terms of clarity. We got back from expedition and jumped right into finals week (mid-semester that is… never had a mid-term that counted for 40% of my grade). Paige and I commandeered Daniels office so that we could study in peace, which worked out perfectly because he was on off-days for most of our study time. Exams were pretty much the same as in America but with one glaring difference. We are in Africa.  I know that seems redundant but let me explain…in Africa there are wild animals much bigger than a squirrel in our backyard, including baboons. Baboons that enjoy bananas even more than students do. Baboons that don’t care if you’re in the middle of taking an exam right near the banana stash. We heard a big thump and a few students looked up in the rafters of the kitchen and saw a baboon the size of a black bear casually strolling along with a banana in its mouth. Never in my life have I had to flag down a teacher or proctor for the purpose of informing them that a baboon has invaded the testing area! The babs were chased away but came back three other times! One was even bold enough to steal the entire bunch of bananas! It was quite the distraction but we all somehow finished our exams on time anyway.
                After exams were finished, some students decided to paint a side room off the chumba, lovingly referred to as the smush room (even though it was never used for that purpose, for all you Jersey Shore fans). They painted a giant map of the united states and we all placed a red dot where we come from, with instructions for future KBC kids to continue the new tradition. We also had a blue wall with a double rainbow, where we all signed our names and what school we attend. It was a really cool way for us to leave our mark on Kenya.
For our last non-program day we all hopped into the land-rovers for a group hike in Chulu Hills! Unfortunately, this day would prove to be a pretty big test for me. I found out the hard way that dehydration is actually a seriously debilitation condition…Hydrate or die as the saying goes. Turns out Mike wasn’t telling us to pump water down our throats for his health! Anyways, I’ll start at the beginning. We started out on the hike and everyone was breathing a bit harder within minutes (apparently no one told us that this hike was pretty difficult). Meanwhile, Daniel and our guards were pretty much sprinting up all the hills and pathways, which were just cattle trails through the bush. After about 20 minutes, my legs started to drag and I noticed it was getting hard to breathe due to a few cramps in my sides. Being stubborn and not wanting to fall behind, I tried to keep going. This lasted for all of 10 seconds until sharp pains were shooting through my ribcage and my heart was racing. I quickly grabbed Zoe, who was walking behind me, and she helped me sit down while Sipaya called for Mike to come back. Turns out my medications had made it difficult for me to retain water that day and I was pretty dehydrated. Luckily for me, Mike had a few rehydration salts handy (imagine drinking salt water … on purpose. Yuck). As my pulse was taken and I drank my salts, all I could think about was how devastated I would be if I got sent back to the car to wait for my friends.  After a few minutes, Mike said “Okay let’s keep going.” I think it was then that I finally realized that I was holding my breath for that verdict. Payton and Zoe (two friends from camp) were basically my body-guards. Payton was in front in case I stumbled and Zoe was in back for the same reason. Sipaya led the way, taking breaks every 40 feet or so, saying he was an old man and got tired easily (My ego appreciated his attempt). Mike stuck with me like the fantastic SAM that he is, even taking my back-pack for me to make the trip slightly easier. We finally reached the summit of a particularly large hill and I saw the other students waiting in the distance. As we slowly approached the group, a few of them cheered and clapped. It made me feel amazing to reach the top of that dang hill. I had confessed to my small entourage earlier that I sometimes felt like I wasn’t physically cut out for this line of work due to my back issues and days like this one. After we slowly trudged back downhill to the cars, Mike told me “You did it! Don’t worry you are cut out for this”. Sometimes you really need that affirmation, no matter how confident you are in your path. I learned a pretty big lesson that day – that it’s totally okay to lean on people if you need to and to HYDRATE, all day every day. Seriously, it’s kind of a big deal!
Leaving KBC and my Kenyan family was extremely sad and difficult to do. It leaves you with a kind of homesickness that can’t be remedied as easily as the kind you get for America. The only thing you can really do is hope that the story isn’t over yet and life has a funny way of bringing people back together. Maybe someday I’ll make my way back to Kenya and visit my extended family again. Or they will come to visit America. Regardless, I will never forget my Kenyan family. My brothers Martin, Charles, and Harrison will always have to deal with emails from me! Harrison made me promise to stay in contact with him and promise to try to visit again someday because he will miss me so much. It’s amazing the kind of connection you can make with people in 7 short weeks! Martin and Charles are also waiting for my future visit…Martin even told me he would keep me in Kenya forever if he could! I will always be Daniel’s namesake and he has inspired me to continue my Swahili so that I can be fluent one day. I’ll miss Moses hanging out in the Duka and saying hi to Francis every night at dinner. My friend Isaac, who still talked to me even with a huge language barrier; who always yelled “Dan!” every time he saw me, to which I yelled back “Iss!” My pseudo-grandfather, Olioborr, and my amazing professors. Okello, who made everyone’s cup of joy overflow with his positive attitude. The fantastically crazy kitchen staff who always made early morning cook-crew fun. Sipaya and Kioko, who were always ready to give you a good laugh or have a serious conversation about life. And of course, I’ll miss our fantastic SAM, Mike, who handled every curve-ball our group through his way with patience and positivity, and still managed to become a friend to each and every one of us.
This is baadaye to Kenya, I hope to be back one day because she has stolen a bit of my heart and bitten me with one heck of a travel bug.
Asante sana for reading!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Expedition to Lake Nakuru National Park

March 18th
At seven am sharp we all piled into our land cruisers and began the long journey to Lake Nakuru national park. Everyone was so sleepy that the car was basically silent for a couple hours as people attempted to catch up on much needed hours of sleep. Daniel Kaaka was our driver and he did a wonderful job of keeping those of us who couldn’t sleep entertained. I, of course, took advantage of the quiet for a quick cat nap. We stopped at several places on the way to Nakuru but the most memorable was a little strip of stores. It was there that we all grabbed our roll of toilet paper from the car and headed hesitantly into the local bathroom. Sure enough, it was a hole in the floor surrounded by unidentified liquid, most likely from patrons that used the stalls before us. I rolled up my pant legs and popped a squat (When in Africa right?). Afterwards I got the opportunity to purchase a hot dog (kind of) and a mocha milkshake! That thing was so delicious; the hot dog was a little weird and I found out later that it was actually a chicken hot dog. Regardless it was a nice dose of American food (or dessert, whatever).
                After the full ten hour drive (yes ten), we finally got to our home for the next week!! On the drive into the park we actually witnessed a leopard slinking away into the brush! Apparently it is extremely rare to see them in the wild so we all took that as a good sign for the week to come. At the camp we were given two bandas for all the girls so I had twelve roommates for the week; it was kind of like summer camp. There was a lot of snoring happening so not a lot of us were able to sleep well but it didn’t slow anyone down in the least. Anna and I smushed our beds together and somehow arranged our mosquito nets so that we could kind of snuggle each night. It was a nice change from the solo twin beds back at KBC. Of course, I had to get used to her hand reaching out in the dark in an attempt to find my hand! Not ready to sleep yet, I was wandering the compound with a few other students when our flashlight caught something in its yellow glow. Staring back at us, no more than twenty feet from the fence, was a pair of glowing feline eyes. A female lioness was barely visible in the black shroud of nightfall but we could make out her sleek form as she slowly paced away from us. It was then that it finally sunk in that we were living in the middle of a national park for a week!
                On the first day we had a field lecture on invasive plant species in Lake Nakuru National Park. Of course, it’s difficult to get thirty college kids who love wildlife to think about plants in a national park…Somehow we made it through with decent notes in hand. After that we had the privilege of listening to a guest lecture by one of the senior researchers in the park, who was a woman (which made all us girls feel pretty empowered). It was interesting to finally have a tangible park to compare with the Amboseli Ecosystem. Especially because Nakuru is a fenced park, whereas Amboseli is not; this makes for some drastic differences in the local ecosystem. Later that night we finally got to go on a game drive! We basically got to just drive around looking for any animals we could find. The next morning we had a field exercise with Kiringe where we got to drive around and count animals again. We were lucky enough to witness a troop of baboons scatter due to some unseen predator stalking them.
                Every single night we got to have a game drive simply for the purpose of trying to see new wildlife. It was nice to sort of be a tourist and not have to worry about counting all the animals we saw for academics or anything. It was on one of these game drives that we actually saw our first group of lions!! We were driving along and I noticed a bloody carcass on the ground. When I mentioned it to the group they all turned their attention in that direction. It was then that someone saw the lions, lying lazily right behind their kill. The group instantly hushed and we each took about a hundred pictures. The views got even better over the next few days! We witnessed a lone lioness attempting to hunt a small herd of Grant’s gazelle. Unfortunately for her, the large male in charge figured out her game and quickly spurred his herd into movement, all the while guarding his females. It was like Animal Planet in real life, only better! The best lion moment, however, was when we witnessed a breeding pair of lions interacting. We watched the male court the lioness, flirt a little, and then mount her. We got to see their mating process and even saw their behavior after the fact! It was an incredibly fantastic thing to actually see in the wild.  On the last game drive, we saw four lionesses alongside two giant males interacting on a giant hill. The lionesses seemed to be lounging lazily but their eyes and ears were alert to any new noises. We realized that they must be searching for a new hunt and we got really excited to see one take place again. Three of the females got up and trotted across the front of our trucks with a warthog in sight. Unfortunately they missed their target, but the hunt was still exciting to watch. I spent the entire week looking for the elusive striped hyena to no avail. One day I’ll see those beautiful creatures.
                The nightly activities were almost as much fun as the game drives! On one of the nights, Lucy’s rap was a game inspired by the show “Whose line is it anyway?” It was hilarious watching everyone act out their assigned celebrity. There was Oprah, Britney Spears, Shrek, Eeyore, and the SAM Mike was even tasked with impersonating Ms. Frizzle! That last one was scarily accurate, but a real person acting like her just looks inebriated! It was hilarious. Another night, we all met by the campfire to hear some of Shem’s stories from when he was completing research in Nakuru, many years ago. He said we were a lucky group because he doesn’t often share his stories with groups of students. It was nice to just sit around a campfire and listen to the man that had become something of a pseudo-father figure to us over the past six weeks. He was certainly a typical crazy college student back then, just like all of us!
                On the day before we headed back to KBC we got to visit another lodge! It was nice to relax, order some food and get a drink or two. I attempted the pool but I thought my limbs would fall off from the frigid temperature so I quickly abandoned the water for the hot sun. The next morning we woke up bright and early to pack up the white rhino again and head back to camp. This time, the ten hour drive seemed to fly by just a smidge faster than five days before. Maybe that’s because we were driving back to two assignments and three finals, or we just slept most of the way. Either way, we made our stops along the way, only staying for a few minutes at each one to save some time. It was a fantastic week that I hope to never forget and hope that there are 7 or 8 more like it in the near future!
Asante sana for reading!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Get your menthol'd self over here!"

March 4, 2014
                Today was a bit of a difficult one for me. It was extremely hot and I don’t remember ever feeling so utterly exhausted before – most likely I was dehydrated so I quickly chugged a bottle of water. As I was sitting outside, stressing about an assignment that was due soon, I noticed something in the reflection of my laptop. The thatched roof of our kitchen, bathed in a backdrop consisting of the clearest blue sky I’ve ever seen. Once again, I’m struck by the majesty of this place, of Africa in general. I’m in Africa. Even after almost 4 weeks it still seems surreal. Even on the most stressful of days here, I’m still one of the luckiest people in the world and I know I’ll come to remember even these days fondly because it means that this impossible dream was real.
                The past week has mostly been filled with classes and homework but on Wednesday we had another non program day! For this day we decided to go on an early game drive. Seeing the wildlife was probably the only way to get us out of bed before 6am. We all piled into the land cruisers around 7:30am and drove to Amboseli National Park. As we reached the parking lot, the mamas swarmed our cars, shoving bundles of hand crafted bracelets into our vision, yelling out various prices. It was a custom we had all been forced to get used to over the last month and yet we all got sucked in at the sight of that one bowl or one bracelet nestled in the midst of 40 more. A lot of us left that parking lot with more items and fewer shillings in our pocket. As we drove through the park, we saw many elephants, including an entire bond herd that crossed in front of our cars. We even got so close to one bull elephant that I was able to get a picture of his eyelashes. It was absolutely incredible. After a few hours, we were getting ready to eat lunch when the car in front of us started waving frantically at us and pointing off to the right. They mouthed “hyena” and waved again. It was then that we spotted a hyena basking in the sun near a small body of water. It sat up and regarded us for a few moments before relaxing back down into the grass. It was then that we realized there was another hyena taking shelter in a pipe directly underneath our car! Its nose peaked out from the shadows, followed slowly by the rest of its head as it surveyed the surrounding area. We finished up the day at another lodge, which has come to be the favorite among students as a form of relaxation. I ordered a mocha latte and French fries…I know it sounds incredibly stupid to order from a lodge but you have no idea how delicious their coffee was and I haven’t had Heinz ketchup in over two months. Let me tell you, after 5 weeks of African style cooking (which is fantastic by the way), it was amazing to partake in some American goodies. Everyone swam and lounged out in the sun for a few hours, some of us enjoying the alcoholic side of the lodge as well. There was a drink called the Ostrich Kick that was really good! Especially for those of us that don’t really like the taste of liquor. The drink was made from a double shot of Kenya Cane (rum), mashed squash, orange juice, and pineapple juice. It was a little strong for my blood but it was definitely a popular choice! To wrap up our fabulous day off, we did a short game drive on our way out of the park. Alas, we have yet to see any lions yet but I have high hopes for Lake Nakuru National Park next week!
                On Thursday we had an environmental policy field exercise in which we got to interview local farmers about the prevalence of human-wildlife conflict in their area. Groups of three students were each given a guide and tasked with interviewing at least five or six families. We were given a list of predetermined questions to use and a specific area in which to conduct our interviews. The most memorable part of the day was when the animals attempted to interact with us. At one of the households, a tiny pup took issue with one of the students in our group. His tiny yet ferocious attempts to scare her off his property were nothing short of adorable and hilarious. Once the mama quieted him so that we could proceed to ask questions, he promptly took up residence in the dirt directly in front of the student. He glared at her for the duration of the interview and immediately began barking at her every movement. It’s safe to say there was no love lost between the two, even if he was adorable. We stayed away from him regardless due to the prevalence of rabies in many of the animals that reside in East Africa! We had another instance of adorable animal behavior towards the end of our exercise. We were heading back in the direction of our car when the littlest goat kid I’ve ever seen began to follow us. He started bleating loudly and prancing along after us, most likely trying to find his mother. We tried to shoo him back into the boma he came from but he kept after us like a baby duckling. Finally our guide had to pick him up and actually carry him back, to which he responded by screaming bloody murder for a few seconds after. We’re pretty sure he attempted to follow us again but by then our car was pulling away from the site.
                For the rest of the week/weekend we helped prepare to go on expedition in Nakuru! We packed up all our bags and helped the kitchen load adequate supplies into the “white rhino” truck for transport to our camp. We also filled three 100 liter jerry cans along with about twenty 22 liter jerry cans with clean water for the week. Tomorrow we wake up bright and early for our 10 hour journey north to Lake Nakuru National Park! My alarm at 6am is going to feel like hell but maybe it means everyone will sleep in the car!
Until next time,