Thursday, August 26, 2010

But I Need You to Know

That for every sad or heartbreaking memory I have of Africa, there are about a bizillion happy, beautiful, humorous, awe-inspiring memories....memories of "the first elephant," memories of happy little kids playing games with us at the school, field research, getting drunk in back of beyond little towns and stumbling home or to the cars, finding the most beautiful place on earth and having the "perfect day, standing over the "cradle of civilization," our safari vehicles breaking down, endless references to "The Lion King" and "Jurassic Park," inside jokes like "Science Camp," and of course, the wonderful wonderful staff that was like a second family to all of us:

There's No Man I Love Annoying as much as Otieno

The Bar on our Final Night

Mboya and Me

Salaash Sportng Melu's Sunglasses

Featured last is Salaash. He is one of the most special people I know. He loves nature and all animals. He loves animals so much that he fought off a leopard that was taking down his livestock, one animal at a time. Yeah, I said leopard. Did I mention that he did this with a stick and his bare hands? Believe it. He has the scars and the detailed story to prove it. He took us to his homestead once to meet his family and to show us his bird-feeding station. He took us hiking in the Ngong Hills and snuck us into Kitengela so we could buy bootleg CD's (E-Sir's album. He had just died in a traffic accident, his talented life cut tragically short, so his albums were hot stuff). He loved birds and sometimes reminded me of one - especially when he was spinning around in the pool at Ngulia Lodge singing to himself. He was so proud that by the time I got back to Kenya in '06, he had learned how to swim. Salaash was in charge of getting us "home" in one piece when we had food poisoning, an agonizing 5 or 6 hour drive. He patiently pulled over whenever we had to hurl, while pointing out random herds of bovines. I remember my friend Rachel throwing up on the side of the road while Salaash yelled "Oryx!! ORYX!" When I was sick, Salaash drove, Kioko brought me juice, and Otieno brought me tea. They were my second family.

The funny thing is, when I went back in '06, they were all stunned I remembered them. Our lives were so intimately intertwined when we lived at the camps. The staff were our link to the outside world and we needed them for just about everything, from killing poisonous snakes in the middle of the night to hospital runs when we got sick or hurt to translating to getting us goods from Nairobi when we ran out of something. How could we ever forget them? I guess people must though...I remember Damaris, the secretary at one of the camps, kissed me when I said her name. "You remember me?!" she asked, incredulous. "You let me use the internet to email home so my friend could register me for college classes!" I exclaimed. I do not forget the smallest of small things....which in turn means that even the smallest victories or joys or happinesses or celebrations or humorous moments will never, ever, be overshadowed by the struggle, the sadness, or strife.

Oh, did I mention that I can't wait to go back??! Someday.

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