Masai Mara, Kenya
As I got off the plane, I knew I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore…My weary eyes focused on the hoards of people clamoring to get to the front of the group. Each was holding a sign indicating a passenger’s name. I didn’t see my name. Panic began to fill my empty stomach.
As I frantically looked over the crowd searching for my name, I noticed a very large, daunting man standing sternly in the corner. He was dressed in full jungle camouflage holding what appeared to be an AK-47…
“Yup, this is definitely not the states,” I thought to myself.
A gentleman approached me and introduced himself. And so the journey begins. He helped me with my baggage and as we walked to the truck he indicated we were waiting for a few more people. I was exhausted from my 21 hours travel; yet, my heart was racing and my eyes were wide open trying to take in all the scenes being played out in front of me. I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that here I stand on Kenyan soil. It was surreal.
On the drive to Limuro, my mind was racing with thoughts of excitement and anxiousness. I was hoping I would fit in and the people would like me. I wondered if I could actually be of any use; and, of course, was very nervous. Here I was, in a foreign country for the first time in my life - all alone. Was I crazy? Had I lost my mind? What was I thinking? Then, the ‘what if’s’ began… Yikes! I quickly started to talk to the others in the truck to subdue the nervousness. I introduced myself and began to ask where everyone lived and what project they would be working on while in Kenya. Even though we all chatted and laughed together, the sense of nervous energy was palpable. It gave me comfort to feel I wasn’t alone in my hesitation and excitement.
We arrived at our overnight destination. It was very pleasant. We were led to our rooms and given the quick tour. We then met in the common room and were given information for tomorrow’s departures. A group gathered and stated to chat and have coffee and tea. I was well beyond the ability to form complete sentences; so, I headed for a shower and bed.
The next morning we were up early, ate breakfast and given an overview of the volunteer projects and placements available. After the meeting, those of us scheduled for the Masai Mara loaded up and headed out. It was like the journey began all over again. We traveled through the city into the bush. It was a long, hot, dusty, very bumpy trip to reach our final destination. The guiding school and camp appeared primitive to me at first; but quickly became home. All the staff members welcomed us with kindness and sincerity. Each person I encountered was genuine, knowledgeable, friendly and, thank God, spoke English.
The site was quaint and rustic. It was like camping out with a bed and great food. They captured the rain water for use and utilized solar cells to power the equipment. So, some days we didn’t have water and the electric would cut out on occasion; but that never took away from the beauty of this place. They recycled everything. It was, after all, a conservancy. You quickly learned how to conserve - everything.
Each day we went out to monitor Lions, Cheetah, and Elephants. We were up and out at o’ dark thirty. We also completed daily plains and bush wild life count, taught classes at the guiding school and were involved with the local women’s group discussions and the middle school. The first day of the plain count I remember looking over the list of the 30 or so wild animals. I thought, “Yea right, like we are really going to see all these? I doubt it!” Then I thought, “How am I supposed to count something I have never heard of before in my entire life?” Each creature was pointed out and explained in vivid detail to us. I had seen more beautiful creatures on that day than I had ever seen in any zoo anywhere. And I have been to quite a lot of zoos in my life. I was shocked, excited and ready for more.
My life and job in the states is stressful. I hadn’t been on vacation in about 7 years. I am always going, doing, working, moving, and thinking. I constantly tried to balance all the “essentials” and prioritize the rest. I started out not expecting too much and ended up finding a piece of heaven on earth. I felt calm, at peace with a sense of serenity unlike anything I had ever experienced.
I was the only American in the camp. There were two volunteers from Germany; two from the Netherlands, one from Belgium, one from Brazil and the biologists was from Denmark. I was surrounded by Masai in the form of staff, residence and guiding school students. Talk about a fish out of water. I experienced many other cultures live and in person. There I was, surrounded by warm comforting people, breath taking beauty and peace. I thought, “Pinch me, this must be a dream.”
There was a quiet serenity present that resonated within me. It was unlike anything I had ever known. No cell phones, TV’s, radio’s, cars driving by, street lights, people aimlessly walking, talking or banging around. Just pure unadulterated silence, with warm, sweet-smelling breezes and a sky full of bright twinkling stars; plus, every type of gorgeous creature you can imagine. I was there to monitor the animals; but, I found I learned so much more through the daily exchange of ideas and interests. I inadvertently learned the ways of life in various countries. We were able to see through our differences to the core of human compassion and come together for the greater good.
I strongly feel that each person we meet and each place we go adds texture to our lives. I am a better person for having gone there and shared so much with all of those wonderful people. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.