A Different Kind of Orphanage
Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
24Trip End Aug 17, 2008
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We wound through the streets of Nairobi heading to the area of Nairobi National Park. Event though it was the dry season, I was surprised at how green everything was. Patrick explained that there has been an on-going tree planting campaign to replace all the tress being cut down for fuel. Large areas of Nairobi were quite lovelier than I had imagined. Our first stop was at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, known as the Elephant Orphanage. Every day from 11 to noon the handlers parade out baby and child elephants that have been rescued throughout Africa. Only one hour is allowed with tourists as these elephants will be released back into the wild as adults. Their handlers led them out to an area marked off with one thin rope.
Workers circulated flyers with adoption paperwork, and I saw several people enthusiastically sign up to "adopt" (really sponsor) an elephant. Although the baby elephants were adorable, and it was fairly cool to pet them, I could not help but wonder if I pulled out paperwork for the Hands of Mercy children if the dollars would flow so freely. I admit it would be inappropriate to march the children in front of a bunch of tourists, and I would be offended if anyone suggested the idea. However, how many of these people come to Africa to see the animals and completely avoid interacting with the people? I know I sound callous in saying this but I met many an expat or tourist who I no desire to interact with the human landscape in Africa and there are many tourist companies that operate this way. I walked away thinking how "my children" were much cuter and lovable as well as more in need of that money.
I tried to push aside these thoughts and smile as Patrick drove the short distance to the Giraffe Center. The center was opened to increase the population of the endangered Rothschild giraffe and to educate the public on the importance of preserving biodiversity in general. The main attraction at the center is the giraffe feeding station. We headed up a platform and were given a handful of giraffe food. The tall creatures would extend their neck and head over the railing and using their long tongues lap the food out of my hand.
I could not believe it and actually loudly cursed in surprise as we ran to give each other a hug. I knew Michelle was in Kenya on safari, but she had left Nairobi several days earlier. However, the tour was making its way back from Northern Kenya, and they were spending the day in Nairobi. I was so happily shocked to see Michelle and after she convinced me that getting some action from the giraffe was completely logical as I had not seen my husband for over two months, we relaxed at the snack bar.
I had expressed to Patrick my need to purchase gifts for my friends and family who had helped me get to Tanzania. We first stopped at Kazuri Beads, where severely impoverished women have been given a job making jewelry. The pieces were amazing and it took a lot of decision-making before I made my purchases. Patrick and I drove by a large market and I assumed that was our next destination as we pulled into a parking lot behind the market. Instead we walked down into Nairobi City Park. Patrick purchased a couple small bags of peanuts as I watched curiously. I looked around and noticed several monkeys frolicking with picnickers and children. Patrick explained that if I put the peanuts in my hands the monkeys would gratefully come and eat them. Standing timidly, I poured a few peanuts in my hand and before I knew what was happening, a monkey scaled up my body, perched himself on my shoulder, and hungrily grabbed peanuts from my hand.
I told Patrick I wanted to find a Kenyan soccer jersey for my husband. I figured we would just go to the market. I do not know if he wanted to take me some place nicer or was worried about leaving my luggage in the car for a while, but instead he took me to a shopping mall, an actual shopping mall. I walked in and gazed at the hallways lined with western shops. He steered me into Woolworths not realizing that I was freaking out at the oddity of the experience. It looked much like malls in America complete with fancy check out terminals and credit card machines. I am sure the mall is a great sign of a growing economy in Kenya, but it was quite a shock to me. I was anticipating have some cultural shock when I got home, but was experiencing it in Nairobi. Even though I was ready earlier in the day to return home, I now wanted to savor every last minute in Africa. Unfortunately there was not many more to be had.
After buying a few more gifts and sharing a chicken dinner with Patrick, we began the drive to the airport. It was my favorite time of day--the beginning of night when the light changes from day to night and the color of the surroundings fade into dark shadows against the deep blue sky. A large luminous full moon rose above the tree line just as the reality that I was leaving Africa really began to sink in. As I sat in the car mesmerized staring at the moon, Patrick thanked me for a wonderful day. I looked at him, laughing as I should be the one that thanking him. After telling me he hoped I would return one day, he graciously invited Mike and I to visit his hometown in Northern Kenya and stay with his family. "I hope," I said and maybe just maybe I will find a way back. I repeated this sentiment to myself as the plane took off. I blew kisses at the window, hoping they would creep into the dreams of sleeping children in nearby Tanzania. And as Roxette still played in my head, I said my last good-byes.