Monday, September 7, 2009

Transition and Growth (my last post)

It has been six days since I returned from Africa but it seems longer because my old life is now foreign to me. I wonder if they have a support group to help people re-enter after spending time in the Third World; if not, maybe I should start one.

I have had long waits in voice mail hell trying to reconnect all my services, shopped to refill the fridge & pantry, gone through endless piles of mail, and fought jet lag for the first few days. I also had time to walk and ride my bike around Capitola and saw it from a fresh perspective…I live in a beautiful and magical place. I was able to visit the monastery to sort out new feelings brought about by the African experiences.

I have more questions than answers right now but I am committed to integrating the “New” with the “Old” (not chronologically) Susan. I realize I need a new framework to analyze my life of abundance and work. Developing this will be the most profound and important part of the journey for me and the most personal.

I want to thank all of you for your support over the past four months and look forward to showing off the” New” Susan in the months to come.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I am home (weary and tired but safe after over 48 hours of travelling) and the next few posts will be from me. The transition from Rwanda to home was made much easier by being with Bets and Luanne on one of our “Trips of a Lifetime”.

David and Gracie met me at the airport and I got goose bumps when Gracie ran up to me as I came out of Customs. I knew I had been gone a long time when I saw her carrying a purse and a magazine with Miley Cyrus on the cover; when I left, she was still into everything “Princess”.

We drove down the Coast Highway so I could see and smell the ocean. When I got home, there was a welcome home sign from my friend Jeff who took care of everything while I was away including paying my bills. He left a bankers box of mail sorted into different categories and only the last two months of magazines (an overwhelming pile).

Some of my superficial observations in no particular order include:

• Seeing family helped ground me because I am still disoriented with a leg in each continent
• The beauty of the CA coast still takes my breath away
• Re-stocking my pantry and fridge at Trader Joe’s, the local produce stand, and Nob Hill was a far cry from Nakumat and “the market”
• My teeth feel clean for the first time in two months because I could buy and use a water pik (both of ones I took with me blew out and I could not find one anywhere in Rwanda)
• Using my credit card made the need for a budget obsolete (not a good thing)
• Cold filtered water from the fridge was a delight
• Not having extension cords everywhere and having to plug and unplug things as I use them is much more convenient but I use more electricity
• Running water every time I turn on a faucet is a luxury
• Not having to ask a friend to make a call so I could be understood saves time and energy
• While unpacking the four bags, I realized how much “stuff” I bought because as I bought presents, I packed them…I have many more presents for people than I thought I did
• How quiet it is when you do not have a roommate or “domestics” around all the time
• My allergies are worse at home than they were in Africa
• The first time I drove the Prius I had trouble remembering how to operate it and my hand instinctively went for a gear shift and foot for clutch pedal that were not there
• Traffic was a breeze due to lights and four-way stops but it was not as much fun driving without the rotaries and having all the craziness of the motos and aggressive drivers

I have started re-reading my journal and have many issues to process. Before I left for Rwanda, I scheduled three days at the Monastery in Big Sur to help discern the “still voice” within me and guide me to make the changes I need to make to incorporate this life-changing experience into my life. With the Wild Fires in Monterey and parts of Highway One closed, I may not have the opportunity.

I am glad to be home and eagerly await how the sabbatical will manifest outward changes because the inner changes are immense.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Countdown to our Safari’s end

Posted by Susan

We had our final afternoon game drive and saw more elephants, zebra’s buffalo’s, lions, giraffes and assorted animals and an incredible sunset. We were late returning because we were so busy watching and filming a beautiful lioness. We hurried to get ready for dinner and decided to dress up for our last day because of the “party”.

Eric joined us and had a warm Tuskers (we found out most Kenyans do not even like cold drinks let alone ice or ice cream). Our pizza (Betsy’s request) was better than we thought it would be and Luanne was thrilled with the banana split; we did not know we would all get one. I asked for a coconut cake and it had a hint of coconut. The singing and dancing of the wait and kitchen staff was wonderful and Luanne filmed most of it. Eric was a delightful dinner companion and fun was had by all.

We asked Eric to see if he could move up our departure time tomorrow so we will leave immediately after the game drive and breakfast with the hippos. Because we will be in Nairobi six hours earlier, we can finally explore the city.

Last full day on Safari

Posted by Susan

Bets and I went on the early morning game drive while Luanne slept. We saw mating lions, hippos in the river, lots of Nile crocodiles who did not get any wildebeest for breakfast during a very brief crossing of about 100 animals. We saw an injured hyena with his left flank bleeding; Eric said he would not last long today. We also saw our regular faves: giraffes, zebras and elephants. I never tire of seeing these magnificent animals and marvel at the rules of the wild.

Luanne finally awoke around 10:00 AM feeling rested and better than she has in days. We got her room service so she could stay in her jammies and continue to heal. The Serena staff is very customer service oriented and very accommodating. We have liked the Serena properties the best and if/when we travel to Tanzania that is where we will stay.

We have one more game drive this afternoon and I have arranged a party for us tonight to celebrate our birthdays and we have invited Eric to join us for the final night of the trip so we can honor him with a poem, his tip and clothes we will not be bringing back to the US. We have enjoyed his company and calming influence on all of us…we adopted him as our brother (although he could be our son!).
It is very difficult for me to comprehend that I will be home in 6 days time and back to work in two weeks. I will need to make some major adjustments to get back in the groove!

Mara at Night

Posted by Susan (no night photos)

We took a nighttime game drive to give us a totally different perspective of the park. The three of us had a staff of three (driver, spotter and guard with rifle) to drive us around for two ½ hours. It was colder than usual and we were wearing as many clothes as possible and I lifted a heavyweight beach towel to help bundle up the ailing Luanne. This was the worst day of her head cold and sore throat and she finally decided to take some antibiotics.

We viewed the nocturnal animals that are usually not out in the daytime for assorted reasons. We saw a pride of lions stalking their dinner but we were happy we did not see the kill itself. We saw the cowardly hyena’s; both spotted and striped Mongooses, hippos, foxes, jackals, hares (everyone’s favorite appetizer), assorted birds with night vision, zebra’s, buffalos in a heard and what is called the retired generals (those older lone males kicked out of the pack by the young bucks), other assorted hoofed animals and giraffes.

Besides the cold, we all thought this was a great adventure and we learned about a whole different group of animals and their habits. I often wonder what the animals are observing us as we watch through binoculars and cameras and what their blog post would say…perhaps someday a chimpanzee will be able to do just that.

My Mara Expereince

Posted by Luanne

Of the BIG FIVE - we have seen the Rhinos (white and black), Lions, Cape Buffalos, and Elephants and were only missing the Leopard. Susan has been searching the tops of trees the last few days on "tail watch" as we know they spend a lot of day time in the trees. The best we could hope for was a sighting by seeing a black tail hanging from a high limb or on our one night game drive where we understand we will primarily see predators in action - I don't think you can get too close when that happens.

Eric saw some vehicles parked a few hundred yards from us - as we approached the driver in another car signaled him to go the other way. He then heard the report that a leopard was sighted and we could see "something" in the field of tall grass - we were hoping to get a glimpse and maybe a photo of it before he disappeared. As you can imagine we were stunned when we saw him, he was coming SLOWLY toward the van. He walked in front of our vehicle and then within 2 feet the length of it before sauntering off into the grass and then deeper brush. WOW - Eric said that was very rare and it was only because he was a juvenile that we saw him so openly; they are usually very shy animals.

You would think that would be enough to call it the best day - BUT no, we knew this area was best known for the migration of the Wildebeest across the Mara River. As we passed over the river yesterday, it was obvious that the river flow was not a fraction of what it had been as the water was so low and were we told the Wildebeest hardly had to swim, mostly walk across the river. But you may recall having seen the National Geographic or other depictions of how they line up in herds waiting for one to take the lead and they follow in lines down a steep cliff where they leap into the water and swim across. After seeing the leopard we drove to the side of the river and saw rows of safari tour vehicles with standing guests intently studying the scene through binoculars and we saw masses of black animals on the other side - but were all a good way back and could not see the river. But thinking of all those animals running down the embankment so quickly would be exciting. The anticipation was building, but there would be no way of knowing if this would all begin in days or hours. After waiting about 40 minutes someone yelled there that one had started and sure enough the dust began to fly and we could see the animals headed down. What we were not expecting was that all the drivers would take off (quickly) at the same time in what appeared to be a race to get a much closer view - what a wild and bumpy ride as we were all trying to balance the cameras and keep our footing while standing up (we usually only stand when we are in one place observing the animals).

When we stopped and grasped what we were seeing, it was exhilarating - they started to come down from different paths and there were some Zebras mixed in with the Wildebeest. Soon we could hear some braying that was coming from our side of the river. Eric said they were offering encouragement to the others. I was able to get video and photos of the event and am glad I won't have to rely on my memory. It was amazing sight of enormous proportions. On the way back Eric spotted some lions (yawn) and eagles for us - we had yet to come down from the clouds with thoughts of the wildebeest herds - thousands and thousands within 20 - 30 minutes.

Bets and Susan opted out of the afternoon ride in favor of relaxing and reading. We went along different promontories overlooking the river to find more crocodiles than I ever imagined - they were huge and very well camouflaged and blended in this the sandy shore and in the water. We also saw the first sighing of Hippos who stay in the water all day where they can regulate their temperature and come out at night to graze. They live peacefully alongside the crocs because they both have such big mouths and teeth! We also saw a lone wildebeest that was limping and left behind during the river crossing. It was very sad to realize that he would be someone’s dinner.

On the way back we stopped to see the lion and lioness we had seen earlier. They were laid out sleeping, oblivious to the fact that two vehicles were parked within five feet of them. It’s a great photographic moment when one lifts its head and yawn, but this developed into several yawns and them slowly waking up. Within a matter of seconds we witnessed the mating ritual which is performed after the male and female stray away from the group for their week spent together, during which they are sexual y active 250 times (yes you heard that right). That was a stunning number until we witnessed the process which did not last more than 20 seconds, immediately after which, both of them promptly lie down and went to right back to sleep.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For the Love of Cats

Posted by Betsy
I can now understand how one could get lulled in to the belief that they are the “Cat Whisperer” or in the case of Grizzly Man, the “Bear Whisperer.” We have now seen several Lions, a leisurely strolling leopard and a Cheetah dining on an Impala. They are so cute and appear so soft and cuddly, as in the case of the sleeping Lion King pictured, that you want to believe they are as harmless as Kasha, my sweet deaf kitty that lived to be 19 years old.

We got very close to the napping male and female lions. Even though we were but a leap away from them, they were no more interested in us than our lazy little Ruby, when she has appropriated the livingroom sofa.

Then this morning, a Leopard ambled right up to and around our van. In the picture you can actually see the shadow of Susan, Betsy and Luanne as we snapped pictures from the car, just a few feet above. Leopards are notoriously shy and elusive so it was amazing to see one so calm, confident and slow moving. I again had to remind myself that my head was one swipe away from being an appetizer for this beautiful cat.

We then came upon two Lions in a mating ritual and in no time, there were seven cars and vans at the site. No privacy for these cats. There is a rule in the Mara that no more than 5 vehicles can gather and for no more than 20-minutes at a time and since our guide is of great integrity and ethics, we split as the cars piled up. Apparently, the two consummated their relationship shortly after we left. No regrets from us, as Eric has shown great skill in creating special experiences for us.

Last night he suggested that we have a morning drive at 8am after breakfast rather than 6am before. That way, if it seemed possible that we would catch the annual migratory river crossing of the Wildebeest, we would have more patience and be able to hang out until lunch time. This is the major attraction in Masai Mara this time or year, yet it is a total gamble when you may have a chance to see the ritual and many wait for days and do not see it at all. Within a half-hour of our arrival, it was show time! And that is all I am going to tell you – Luanne will fill you in on the rest.

I just want to assure Brian that he is not destined to take allergy medicine for the rest of his life – I will not be bringing home a Cheetah!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lake Nakuru and on to Masai Mara

Posted by Susan
After what seemed like a very long drive (only 3 ½ hours), we arrived at lunchtime at the Lake Nakuru Lodge. It is located in the heart of Kenyan wetlands, which is a misnomer due to the drought. The highlight of this area was to be the birds, especially the flamingos. The lake had receded so far that we drove on the lakebed very close to the shore. Dead bird bones were everywhere. They usually have over two million birds migrate to the lake and this year they had about 200,000.
We did see several white Rhinos, lots f Cape Buffalo, and a few Rothschild’s giraffes (endangered species) at the park.

This was the worst accommodations we have had to date. The rooms were dark and you could not open the doors at night so I roasted (no windows in the room!). The lunch we had when we arrived was in a dining hall that was very uninviting and the buffet smelled of sterno. We chose not eat dinner and asked for a plate of cheese and fruit. You would have thought we asked for the moon. If you ever travel to this location, do not stay here.

We could not wait to leave at 8:00AM for our six hour drive to Mara. The lodge provided a box lunch which we gave to some needy people on the drive and we stopped at a nice restaurant. We had a van pit stop to blow all the dust off the engine so the van could maintain the 80KMP: a governor is located on the vehicle. We did 80KMH on one of the worst roads we have encountered on the trip but when we entered into Mara, it was magical because we found lions…several sleeping and one black-maned who was strolling and stopped to roar which elicited a response from far away.

This place is difficult to describe because there is forest, green bushes and long golden grass. The elevation is a mile high and has more rain than most areas of the country. We experienced our first rain around 4:30 PM which was a short burst of heavy rain and then blue sky. It has wide vistas that we tried to capture in our photos but it is impossible.

We saw 1000’s of zebra’s, lots of elephants, buffalos, waterbucks, warthogs, baboons, impala, and giraffes and over a million wildebeest. We met a man from Italy who was here last year at the same time and he said there are half as many animals here now due to the drought and out guide said the same thing.

The Worst of the West

Posting by Betsy
So often I have visited countries and was saddened by how we seem to export to them the worst of the West. We live in such a magnificent country in the US and somehow, it is Brittney Spears and our plastic bag obsession that seem to make it abroad. We have witnessed this all over Africa and wonder what we can do to help change this. Rwanda, to its credit, does not allow plastic bags into the country and the difference this makes in the roadside litter, is stunning.

Many of you know of my anti-bottled water obsession and yet as tourists, it has been necessary to drink bottled water to maintain our health. In an effort to minimize this consumption, I have been pretty dehydrated for the last two weeks! As we drive through the beautiful Kenyan countryside, we see plastic bag and water bottle litter everywhere. Most shocking to me is the litter we see in the game parks, which I expected to be completely protected and pristine. Once the litter hits the ground in the parks, it does not get picked up - leaving your vehicle may make you dinner for a lion.

I am also struck by the poverty in Kenya, where much of the power and money is still resides with European concerns. Just this week, 800 tea-pickers lost their jobs and homes due to mechanization of picking at one of the large European Tea companies. The same is true of the booming flower industry. The build-up to Valentine’s Day is huge in Kenya flower-growing regions, like Lake Naivasha, where the flowers are exported to the US and Europe. It is important to remember that that $80 bouquet of roses we received from our sweetie was cultivated, picked and prepared by a Kenyan making $1/day.

Many Kenyans that do have some economic success work in various aspects of tourism. Many of them leave their family to relocate to one of the parks area, working in the lodges with 3 days off per month. We witnessed this last year in Nicaragua, as well. Because they receive room and board as part of this arrangement, wages are low so hardly an economic boom to these hard-working folks. It is impossible for these employees to bring their family as there is not housing provided and often no schools available to their children.

You read earlier how disheartened Susan and I were to visit the Samburu tribal village. We had to balance our feelings of exploitation of the Samburu people with their need for income. With the current drought and the death of all of their cattle, we realized that our money – for the tour, the school and buying their crafts would go a long way toward food, when a bag of rice costs $30.

We are having a fabulous trip yet it is not possible to ignore the ills of this country. I wish a similar experience could be had by all in the USA, thereby expanding our capacity for gratitude for what we have and compassion for others.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


We arrived at the private conservancy around noon after seeing giraffe on the drive in.  They were “sleeping” (10minutes to 2 hours a day) by sitting on the ground and leaning their neck against another giraffe; they will die if they put their head down.  They eat over 16 hours a day and are just the opposite of the lions who sleep approximately 20 hours a day.After one of the best meals we had in Kenya, we were able to get on “bushmail” and post three blog entries.  We were so excited that the wireless worked that I will post two more before we leave!
We went to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and saw six of the 45 that live in the compound.  How they came to the sanctuary are very sad commentaries on people and the logging industry in Africa.  One chimp, Socrates was a pet and he was caged in a garage for over nine years and he could only stand. Another was confiscated in Kigali from a couple from Belgium when they tried to send him as checked luggage to Brussels.  By cutting down the natural habitats, the logging industry has forced them out of their homes.  Most of these companies are owned by Europeans and they provide guns to poachers who either kill or capture these endangered animals. We adopted a chimp and enjoyed our guide, Paul telling us the stories of all the chimps we met.

The next part of the day was a game drive where we saw several new species and met some of the oddest cows we have ever seen.  We were all bent out of shape because they were in a temporary corral that was so small that they could hardly move.  When we met the guide, he explained that the cows are afraid of open spaces and if they had a bigger space would still jam them together for safety.  Also by bunching them together, if a lion, cheetah or leopard attacks they would only get one cow.

Next stop was another sanctuary area for a beautiful, blind, black rhino.  Baraka had another incredible story due to his blindness from catartacts and an absess. He listens to music to know where he is and if people are around.  This compound is a great example of how to preserve wildlife in Kenya.Now for a little self deprecating humor…as many of you know, I am not a great photographer. 

Both Betsy and Luanne improving everyday and continue to give me grief.  I have promised to carry their water and bags and if they  to allow me to  download their photos.It is cold tonight and it has not helped Luanne’s sore throat…we have high hopes that the hot water bottle will warm her up and help he feel better.

Beautiful Women

Post by Susan
I bet you were thinking I was going to talk about us…we are beautiful and it manifested itself through our empathy for these beautiful women at the Samburu village.

Betsy and I went to visit the Samburu village while Luanne nursed her cold in the morning. Overall it was a very depressing experience because these once proud people needed to prostitute themselves to buy food and necessities for their tribe. We felt like voyeurs on their lives but we know the money we paid for admission, contributed to their education foundation and gifts we bought would help keep them alive during this devastating drought. Almost all of their cows have died and they have a few calves they are keeping alive by feeding them porridge. Their goats are alive but emaciated.

We had a guide (Simon) who was educated by the Catholic missionaries through secondary school and he came back to his village to teach and take a wife. Since he is educated, he did not become a warrior like most of the young men. The process of becoming a warrior begins at age 15-19 with a tribal circumcision ceremony. All these young “warriors” tend their herds and keep the tribe safe from predators. After 15 years as a warrior, they return to their clan’s village and begin the process of choosing a wife from another clan (total of 8 in the Saburo tribe). The bride will be 16, the age of womanhood but Simon made a point that they no longer practice female circumcision. All children are now educated through primary school but few leave the village.

We danced with the warriors and women, had a tour of one of their homes (you do not want to hear about that) and finally had to walk the “gauntlet” of each woman selling her weaving and jewelry.

It was a very demeaning experience for all but when you need to feed your children you will resort to almost anything. That is why I showed you the picture of these proud, beautiful women because as we quoted before, they can never retire from motherhood and they had to feed their children.

On to Samburu

Blog by Betsy
I have been trying to send an email to my husband for three days and had no phone or internet service. Even though the lodges say that they have internet, AKA “Bushmail,”, it rarely works. I hope Brian does not think I am dead on the side of one of the treacherous Kenyan roads.

Yesterday (Friday), we have our first game drive and saw 2 types of Zebras, Elephants, Oryx, Baboons, Giraffe-neck Gazelles, Crocodiles, Dic-Dic, Cape Buffalo, Bush backs, monkeys, Impalas and last night a Genat cat came to visit at dinner.

This morning (Saturday) we got to see many Giraffes (my favorite), as well as a Cheetah eating an Impala.

We got a clear picture of the devastation the drought is causing. Our lodge is on a river, which is not flowing. There was not a drop of rain during the rainy season, March-May. The Samburu area, in Northern Kenya, is already one of the driest areas of the country and without the usual rain, it is parched. Animals are emaciated and dying from dehydration and starvation. The local Samburu tribe has lost all of its cattle to the drought, and as a result, its livelihood. Eric says this is the worst he has seen in his nine years of guiding.

We were touched by the animal mothers and babies we saw. Knowing how hard it is to survive individually, one can only imagine the sacrifice and drive to raise a baby in this harsh environment. Yet we had a chance to see many Babies – Elephants, Zebra, Giraffe & Oryx – all in the protection and care of their Mothers. “A Mother Never Retires…”

From Nairobi to Mt. Kenya

Posted by Betsy
Today we were supposed to leave at 8am but due to breakfast with Ingrid from JamiiBora, which was a true honor, we did not get on the road until 11am. We met our wonderful guide, Eric, who patiently waited for us to wrap up our meeting. After a 3-hour drive and only a few miles from the lodge, we had a car breakdown just outside a military depot where we were monitored by a soldier with an AK-47 while we distributed M&Ms to our unofficial chaperone from the local community, a boy of about 10-years old.

The lodge was a beautiful place, simple and elegant with a huge picture window in my room overlooking the watering hole where all the animals come to drink, day and night. We saw elephants, Cape Buffalo, Baboons, two types of monkeys, Bushback (small antelope), Bushbuck (big antelope), Forest hogs and a Genat Cat. We went for a walk with the naturalist and got a rare and stunning glimpse Mt. Kenya, often shrouded in fog, at dusk.

The watering hole was an extremely popular gathering spot, as Kenya is experiencing one if it’s worst droughts in history. We had no idea how bad until we reached our next stop, Sambura National Park.


We were fortunate to receive a message from Ingrid Munro, founder of JamiiBora, that she would meet us for breakfast at 7:30 before we left Nairobi. We had heard a bit of her story from many people, several of her were beneficiaries of her thoughtful generosity. She was working with the Pan African Housing Development in Nairobi for several years before her retirement. Once she retired, many of the recipients of the agency’s aid did not understand the concept of “retirement”. Since many of her clients called her “Mama”, they felt she had abandoned them. They told her “a mother does not retire”. While living in Nairobi, Ingrid adopted two street children and through them met the mothers of her children’s friends and came to understand the plight of the most impoverished and least served members of the community.

Ingrid knew these mothers wanted to improve their lives but had neither the means nor the understanding of sound financial practices to advance themselves, as theirs was a hand to mouth existence. She told them if they saved 2 schillings a day (equivalent of 12 cents at that time) for five days for five weeks then she would get them a loan of 500. This made no sense to the mothers because any coins they managed to scrap together was spent immediately. They were skeptical until Ingrid decided to lure them with free maize and beans once a week at the same time they were to give her their “savings”. The group started with 10 women who met in the garden of Ingrid’s home every week. Those women all transformed their lives by taking the small loan to buy a chicken, potatoes, charcoal, or another product to sell. Each time they made a payment on their loan, Ingrid saw that they also set aside savings so they learned it was their savings that they were able to leverage to advance to another level.

Ingrid says it’s always the bravest who go first, then the second bravest until finally the coward’s will come forward and the others help pull them up the ladder.

Ingrid has advanced the concept of traditional micro loans to a holistic approach, providing assistance in multiple areas of a person’s struggle with financial difficulties. They created a training program, a drug and alcohol abuse counseling center and most recently have acquired a bank. Today each member must pay health and loan insurance which JamiiBora has secured for them with health insurance averaging the equivalent of $15.00 per year (yes, you read that right) and the loan insurance depends on the amount of the loan.

We were in awe of the many experiences Ingrid shared with us. When we expressed our admiration for all she accomplished and the number of lives that have been touched by her, Ingrid quickly pointed out that it was the two generations of women that came before her who set the stage for her success by securing women’s right to vote and establishing themselves in the workforce. Susan and Betsy noted that my mother, who will celebrate her 90th birthday next month, took flying lessons in college, went to work in the Panama Canal Zone upon graduation and was one of the first three women hired by Eddie Rickenbacker as President of Eastern Airlines to fill management positions. She also joined the American Red Cross, serving in Paris, after which she attended the Nuremberg trials and went to law school. Ingrid asked questions and was very interested to hear about my mother’s life as it supported her sense of obligation to that generation. I have added this portion of our extended 2 hour meeting as a tribute to my mother and that she knows that Susan shares my pride in her accomplishments.

Meeting Ingrid for an extended conversation made our last hours in Nairobi so meaningful and gave us confirmation of the individual successes we had witnessed in the day before. This large organization did in fact grow from the heart and mind of just one “retired” person who saw a need and was compelled to apply her core values and years of experience.

Late, Late, Late

We would not have given up our breakfast with Ingrid Munro but it set-off a set of circumstances that plagued us all day: I will start from the beginning…
Ingrid arrived around 7:20 and luckily I was just coming down in the elevator to meet her. I decided to take her up to the Hilton Club Room because it was a smaller, more intimate setting for breakfast. Betsy had tried to reach our safari coordinator several times last night and in the morning to ask him to come at 9:00 instead of 8:00 but was not able to reach him. He and the driver showed up at 7:30 and she went down to explain about the unscheduled breakfast meeting and they were understanding once she told them it was the Founder of Jamii Bora. She told them we would be ready to go by 9:30 at the latest. At 9:40 we received a call from our guide asking us if we were on our way and we had no idea of the time due to the wonderful dialogue with Ingrid. (Luanne will post about this aspect of the day).

Since we did not get back to the hotel until late, we could not go to the bank so we needed to get money before the trip and Luanne and I left our jackets at the Gorilla Lodge in Rwanda and the guide said we had to have something warm for today because it would be very cold at Mt. Kenya. Since Luanne saw a little of the city, she had seen some clothing stores but they were super expensive. One sales clerk told her about an outfitter two blocks away that would have just want we needed. We set-off immediately to find it was also expensive but they had some souvenir sweatshirts. We each bought one that made us feel like idiots but boy did we need them later in the day. On the run back to the hotel, one of us went in search of diet soda and the other to get smaller bills because we did not want to tip everyone with 1000 shilling notes (about $7.70) that we had wads of from the ATM.

As we arrived at the front of the Hilton, Betsy was coming out at we finally left at 11:00 AM (three hours late). Those of you who know Betsy and I will know how uncharacteristic this behavior is and we apologized profusely to Eric (our drive and promised it will not happen again). We drove on the same road as we did to Nyeri the day before so we were familiar with the road and scenery. Luanne took some photos she missed because it was dark when we returned last night.

We stopped at a gift shop around 1:00 for a bathroom break and around 1:45, Eric told us we really needed to get going because the Mountain Lodge was waiting lunch for us and we were still an hour away. This was a local cooperative with beautifully made things (can’t tell you what because many are gifts for you) and we bought over $800 worth of items between us!

We were hungry so all the food we had were M&M’s and cashews; so we snacked and assured Eric we would be better in the future. All was well until the car broke down and we waited and watched poor Eric pull most of the Van apart until he was able to fix the diesel pump. We showed up at the lodge at 4:00 and had a very quick lunch and immediately set out for our forest walk. That was when we knew everything happens for a reason because it was only the 3 of us instead f 30 and we were able to see amazing animals and flora with our private naturalists. We stopped for 10 minutes for a “Bush Tea Party” and proceeded to the blind in front of the water hole. We saw elephants, buffalo, bushbucks and other animals from 15 feet away…an amazing experience. We will not be able to post photos from here because we have dial-up of what is referred to as bush mail.

During a light dinner with very lively discussion about the events of the day, we went to a seminar about the land and animals we will see on our trip. A wonderful Naturalist (same guide on the walk, Edwin) we turned in with our hot water bottles at our feet around 11:30 with anticipation for the rest of the adventure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can you say JamiiBoro?

Post by Betsy
Today we spent the day with JamiiBoro, one of Whole Foods Whole Planet partnerships in micro-lending. They are located in Nairobi and serve their members all over Kenya through branch offices. Jamiiboro means “Better Families” and this is how it works:
Since 1999, JamiiBoro has helped 240,000 members bring themselves out of poverty with loans as small as 900 shillings, or just over $10 dollars. The organization started with the initiative of 50 Nairobi street beggars who were promised a way out of poverty if they would save just 10% of the money they hoped to borrow. We spent the day with Joyce, who lived in the slums of Soweto her entire life and was able to start a produce and clothes washing business. She saved 3500sh in one year and then borrowed 7000sh to open a small restaurant. Then she started a 2nd restaurant and rented it, bought a van to deliver food and built a house, which sadly, burned to the ground. With the hope and support that Jamiiboro provided she rebuilt and is about to open another restaurant. She is now the owner of Seven Businesses and employees 62 people. In the process she learned English in addition to her native Swahili. I told her in the US, we would call her a “Rock Star.”

So you can see how this one loan resulted in financial independence for a woman and her five children and jobs for many other people. Now multiply this by their 240,000members and you have a true miracle. We will be posting more of the stories and pictures of the day over the next couple of weeks. We ended up spending a 12-hour, exciting, emotional and exhausting day with Joyce, Susan – the National Outreach Manager, and other Jamiiboro members in Nairobi and a small village two hours from the city. Spending time in any country in Africa will quickly cure what my husband Brian calls “I want disease,” when you see how much we have and others do not. Simply finding water can take walking for the better part of the day for many families.

On another note, we are still trying to understand how people are able to breathe in this city so cloaked in diesel pollution that your eyes sting worse than with Los Angeles smog in the ‘80’s. Also had another opportunity to appreciate our good fortune when using a pit commode in the restaurant at which we ate lunch. Let’s just say, the concept of “good aim,” is important or things can get a little splashy.
Tomorrow we are having breakfast with Mama Ingrid, founder of Jamiiboro and then off on the vacation part of our vacation. Of course, at Seventh Generation we never sleep so Susan and I are wrapping up a project for John before we head off to see the elephants.

Kwa heri (Adios in Swahili)

Post by Susan

I did not think I could have had a more powerful or inspirational experience than I had at the REACH Reconciliation Seminar but JamiiBora was equally moving. Bets gave you an overview and I will talk about the children of JamiiBora…
Because their parents are successful (varying degrees based on the amount of time they have been a member of the “family”), the children grow up with a positive role model and want to emulate and support their parents efforts. This is the epitome of “teaching the person the fish” analogy and it is working for over 240,000 families in Kenya. All three of us were struck by the difference in the welfare system in the US vs. the successful micro financing models in developing countries. I have personally experienced how the Grameen Bank and Whole Planet Foundation have changed the lives of people in Costa Rica and now seeing what their grant has done to open six branches outside Nairobi makes me a believer in the system.

We may not have Internet Access on the Safari but plan to write our posts and send whenever possible; if nothing else, we will send many from Heathrow during our layover.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Street Market Nairobi Style

We finally arrived in Nairobi around 6:00PM and got a cab to the Hilton. Sorry we did not get any photos but try to visualize…cars stopped in traffic with men, women and children selling things to people in stopped cars including: machetes, knives of all kinds, pillows, tools, various food stuffs including peanuts in a white cones, flags, maps, balloons, stuffed animals, safety cones, etch a sketchs, soccer balls and newspapers to name just a few of the items.

The haze was stifling from the diesel exhaust and a five mile trip took 45 minutes. I am sorry to say we will need to go in the same direction tomorrow for the Whole Planet Foundation project meeting so we will be out of here by 7:15 AM. Too bad we do not have time to buy masks so we can breathe.

As we drove into the Hilton, they had a gate with several guards who checked our luggage and the entire car with a long handed mirror to look for bombs. We ran into Luanne as she was coming into the hotel after several hours of exploring and wondering when we were going to arrive. Since we were so late, it was dark and we had no time to check out the city center before our SKYPE meeting with John. So we ate some snacks at the Club lounge and after our meeting started working on a few projects that are due before we leave on Safari. It will be a challenge because we only have my computer.

BTW, it is approximately $31.00 for my internet connection in the room for one day!

Best Laid Plans

Jamie “passed by” to say goodbye and brought me a farewell gift (he wrapped it himself) with enough tape to keep anyone form opening it. It was a beautiful piece of native artwork. We loaded the car with my four bags and Betsy and Luanne’s hand luggage. We arrived at the airport to find out Luanne’s flight was on time but ours was delayed until 3:00PM. Luanne went off by herself and we are on the final hour (will be a total of 4 ½) at Kigali International Airport (size of San Luis Obispo). We have chatted, read and culled out are photos during the wait. We only had one brief power outage!

We finally were able to get on the internet and received a revised schedule for our trip to visit Jamii Bora in Nairobi tomorrow (part of the Whole Foods Foundation project). It will go from 8-5:30; which limits our chance to see Nairobi but Luanne will have five hours to tour without us.

I became weepy a few times this morning while packing and saying goodbye to Claire, Francois and Jamie. We had a quick dinner last night with Eddie and Brigitte and that also brought tears to my eyes. I have made a few good friends on this trip and met many memorable characters who I will miss. I am journaling about my feeling on what this trip has meant to me and sometime soon I will share some of them.

We need to head through security so more after our visit with the largest micro financing program in Kenya tomorrow.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Day Craziness

It has been a whirlwind trying to complete all my tasks before leaving and it did not help to have car trouble on the way home from the Mountain to see the Gorillas and Golden Monkeys. All of us will post more on that incredible experience while we are in Nairobi.

I needed to go to the bank to deposit the $2800 in checks for the Hope Center and it took me over 90 minutes plus it will end up costing about $90 in fees and the funds will not be available for 30-45 days. I have all the wire transfer information so it will be easier in the future. While I was doing this and running to the Embassy to sign the $4000 grant for textbooks before I left, Betsy and Luanne went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Since I was not able to take them, they had another unique experience in a local cab…and they thought my driving was bad!

I will miss all the wonderful people I met here and facilitating relationships between NGOs. It is amazing that it takes an outsider to help point out synergies and opportunities for collaboration.

Betsy's Insights

Susan has done amazing things in Rwanda. I am sure that it comes as no surprise that she moved beyond her original plan and has helped many others with their dreams. The Center of Hope is but one, and it was a moving experience to go to the school and meet Maria, the founder and director. This amazing woman created a school with no idea how it would be funded but knew she had to help the children of Rwanda, many who are orphaned. I was struck by how she understands the emotional component of helping these kids succeed. With the loss of so much family and so many friends in the genocide, they lack the confidence and positive outlook on life that usually exists in young folks their age. My big worry is about the school’s continued funding. Maria needs to align with partners in Rwanda that can support her mission, and also file for the charity status she needs, for US citizens to comfortably contribute to the school (we all want our charitable giving tax deduction).

On another note, we are now on our African travel adventure. Yesterday we left Kigali for the mountains to go on our Mountain Gorilla trek. On the way, we stopped at the farm and store of Gerard, who established a program to help the local villages learn to farm and then have a vehicle for selling their produce to him, which he sells at this store. This seems to be a meeting place for the community and we were fortunate enough to arrive just in time for a traditional Rwanda dance performance by a group of young Rwanda men and women. We were the only Muzungo (white folks) present among the crowd of 100+ people. A few minutes into the performance, one of the male dancers came over to us and tried to pull us in to dance. Susan and Luanne begged off but I love to dance so had another very special experience. All the little children were giggling – not sure if it was because they had never seen a Muzungo dance or if perhaps my dance resembled Elaine’s, from Seinfeld. We were happy to arrive at the guest house after a bit of a stressful drive on bad country roads. I have driven with Susan many times over the years, but I must tell you she has now developed her skills to a new level. She can now come within an inch of clipping another car, bike or pedestrian with confidence. She really fits right in with fellow Rwandan drivers.

Visiting the Gorillas - what an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. There are several Gorilla families residing in different areas of the Virunga range and the park strictly manages all human contact. With only a limited number of visitors allowed each day, we had to get our passes in March to be able to visit today. Once we hiked in, we got to spend one hour with the Gorillas. I think this now must be part of their daily routine and just like people, may or may not be in the mood for visitors. My Gorilla family was acting a bit illusive today, while the family Susan and Luanne met practically invited them into their living room. Viewing them near or far, is an awe inspiring experience. It makes me incredibly grateful to the guides, Gorilla trackers who follow the Gorilla families all day as their protectors, and the park rangers with the AK-47s, for preserving this natural gift.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hope Center

We met Maria and travelled down the terrible road to the school. They have completed some major improvements since my last visit and were doing the finishing touches on the masonry work. Much to our surprise, we walked into a decorated hall with three place settings to honor us. We visited the culinary and salon classes and reviewed the strategic plan with Maria while the students completed preparations for our special meal (since we were not expecting a meal at 3:00 PM, we had a big lunch at Happy Rwanda).

We presented Maria with the checks totaling $2800 and she said that would provide the needed funds for four months. She also had more good news from her meeting with REACH; she will have an intern that will be paid by that organization and one of her first responsibilities will be local fundraising. She will also help Maria to upgrade her Board to include a banker, a hotel and restaurant owner and someone form the Ministry of Education.

The time I have spent working with Maria and Philbert has been very rewarding and I hope to continue my support through email and fundraising efforts in the US. It was hard to say goodbye to both of them because I will miss them as people and working so closely with them.

There will be much more about the day’s activities from Luanne and Betsy when they post their impression of visiting the school, meeting Maria and the staff and enjoying a meal with the students.

Road Improvements too late for me

Over the past week they have been digging ditches for street lights on the major road leading to my house…if only this had been done four months ago. Luckily I never hit any pedestrians, bicycles, motos, or other cars but I had some very close calls!

The digging was done with picks and shovels (just like the fiber optic cable) because manual labor is less expensive than bringing in machinery. It will be interesting to hear how long it takes for them to be turned on considering the problems with their power grid.

Some things that still boggle my mind are entering a 20 digit code for “Cash Power” and a 22 number code to add extra minutes to your cell phone. They are experimenting with paying for your cell phone minutes at the end of the month through an automatic deduction from your bank account but a very small % of people have one.

Luanne and Betsy asked me what I will not miss about Rwanda and I immediately said driving!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Impressions

It was so interesting to experience Kigali for the first time again through someone else’s eyes. When we drove up to the market we were surrounded by at least 20 screaming young men with their faces pressed against the windows wanting to help us shop or watch the car. They saw three white women and dollar signs; Luanne said she felt like Paris Hilton. We were there to help Hillary buy presents to take back to Boston tomorrow. We spent time browsing those aisles and of course we bought things as well. She had lots of presents to buy so I took Luanne for a tour of some of the other parts of the market; Luanne’s amazement made me smile.

We met for lunch across the street for one of the African buffets that include at least 5 starches some vegetables and either meat or fish. This one had soup a well but I was not interested in eating hot soup after spending over an hour in the stifling market. We were all impressed when we were presented our own box of dessert that included one small banana!

After a nap, we got dressed for dinner at the Deputy Chief of Station's (2nd in command of the US Embassy) home. Ann and Karl were great hosts and the dinner was one of the best I have had in Kigali but it was the conversation that was most enjoyable. Ed, the Political Officer also joined us so there was lively discussion about many African issues including: AIDS, corruption, US policies, the drought, healthcare and the list goes on.

Luanne saw more rural sights on her way to visit schools in the Nyamata district while I completed work on two projects.

We had dinner at Republika and she met the wonderful Solange and a few of her sisters who were also there for dinner. I made one last visit at the gift shop and bought myself another necklace (I have really gotten into jewelry here) and a t-shirt I know David (my brother in law) will like.

My volunteer work is completed. We will pick Betsy up late tonight and the last remaining thing to do before our adventures will be to deliver the very generous donation from Seventh Generation and the Community to the HOPE CENTER Friday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Luanne's first experiences

Luckily she made all connections and arrived on time last night. After six hours of sleep, she walked the neighborhood with me and got a feel for the community I have lived in for three months. I took her to the FOREX in downtown Kigali to change money and most of what she brought was old series bills so I am hopeful it will not be a problem in Kenya.

She was impressed with my driving skills and was amazed when I drove her through downtown streets to see the hustling crowds and small business. We almost had to make a stop at the hospital because my friend Erin had found a worm that borrowed into her foot that caused swelling and an infection. She was able to find the medicine she needed at a Pharmacia and did not need a prescription. Luanne was disappointed she would not expereince the emergency room in Kigali...

The rest of the day is busy with the Market and dinner with friends. I hope she can stay awake!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Beautiful bougainvillea surrounded us as we entered Paradise (hotel on the shore of Lake Kivu) this weekend. It had the best customer service of anyplace I have visited in Rwanda and the Mucho, the owner/manager set the perfect tone for his staff.

It was a very peaceful spot a short distance from Goma. The contrasts between the two are immense. One is a small sleepy town and the other is a center of commerce; one is beautiful and the other is still recovering from the volcanic eruption and everything is covered in black lava dust; one has a few policemen and the other has armed troops from the UN and the DR of Congo to fight rebels. You get the picture and why the State Department warns against going to Goma but Hillary Clinton will be there on Tuesday to meet with the President of the DR of Congo.

I spent time reading in my little hut on the beach, and watched native dancers around the fire pit on Saturday evening. It was a very relaxing spot and I am glad I had a chance to visit before I left Rwanda.

Getting there and back was another story; I rode the bus because my car had problems and the owner had them fixed over the weekend. Yes, you heard correctly that I took a bus willingly! After taking my motion sickness meds, I met my friend at the bus terminal and sat in a single seat by the window, all was well until we made the second stop in Kigali when all seats were needed so they had these pull down seats for the aisle. We lucked out and had one of the 10 overweight people in Rwanda sit between Hillary and I. Needless to say we were very uncomfortable because she was double the size of the space which meant the three hours seemed like an eternity. That is why the peaceful open space of Paradise was so welcomed.

The trip home was not as bad but as I was getting ready for the fashion show I received a frantic call for the young women hosting the event and 45 minutes before it started she said she would have to postpone it because they did not have the proper permits…only in Africa!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Speed Bumps

It is very quiet without Chad and I was able to bang out a marketing brochure for REACH’s multi-purpose facility but missed the instant feedback on how to upgrade and improve the copy.

To celebrate the completion of another project, I went on a city hike and found an interesting sign; I passed by it daily in the car but never noticed it. It symbolizes the two largest speed bumps I have encountered in Rwanda (or anywhere).

I have asked people why Rwanda has speed bumps on main roads and all I get is to deter speeding. I would think all the police on the roads would be a deterrent and that there are better ways to reduce speeding. These bumps take a serious toll on cars and buses resulting in costly repair jobs. The bad news is they are adding two more to the road leading to my house. The speed bumps and diesel pollution issues will need to be addressed very soon because Kigali is getting very congested.

I am off to Gisenyi, the northern most city on Lake Kivu and the sister city to Goma in the DR of the Congo. I return Sunday night to attend a fashion show and will have much to blog about on Monday. I will miss Hillary Clinton’s visit by one day!