Tag Archives: africa

Sunset on the Mara

Mara PicMy great privilege occurred to me as we raced along the bumpy roads of the Maasai Mara. The tans, browns, and yellows of the passing landscape waved our direction and the unspoiled breeze blasted our faces as we stood and braced for the ride of a lifetime. There are many in the world whose primary dream is an African safari, and in a moment it occurred to me that I have now been twice. What a humbling thought.

The hunt for rare sightings was exhilarating, and the sensation of racing through the Kenyan wonderland defies description, but the animals themselves are the superstars. Of course I snapped pictures. The lioness and her cubs. The curious giraffe. The lumbering elephant. The lazy leopard. The stalking cheetah. The ridiculous ostrich. The enormous hippopotamus. But every so often I remembered to put the camera away and simply be present in the wild with the magnificent creatures. It was in those moments that I discovered an unforced smile and a childlike sense of joy and wonder.

The sun set on the Mara at the end of our first game drive, and our driver stopped so we could behold the glory. From our vantage point the flaming ball of fire descended through an iconic acacia tree as we furiously snapped pictures as if we could ever forget. Yes, the animals are the stars of the safari, but the sunset stole the show.

Nature. That’s the word we use to describe the indescribable reality of that which is beyond human production. We create platforms to simply to stand as humble spectators and observe the magnificent world that we did nothing to create. Such primal beauty is difficult to see and even more difficult to comprehend immersed in what we call civilization. But I was privileged to catch a glimpse as the sun set on the Mara.

Reflections from a Matatu

In Kenya

[Photo credit: Lee Morgan]

Hip hop music blasted from the Kenwood and Pioneer speakers aimed at the passengers’ faces on the matatu (bus) ride from tiny Kamulu to the big city of Nairobi.  Including the three members of my family, there were exactly three mzungus (white people) on the bus, and if we weren’t conspicuous enough, I fell into a lady’s lap as I boarded when the matatu unexpectedly (to me) lurched forward.  It turns out that my ability to make an impression transcends national borders.

Jackton, our friend and guide, warned us that it would be noisy, but I was still unprepared.  As DJ Simple Simon dropped the beats featuring the best in East African hip hop, an even louder horn consistently announced our presence to potential passengers.  Either that, or there was a Kenyan soccer fan on the roof with a turbo-powered vuvuzela, which would not have surprised me.

I learned that the young man dangling off the side of the matatu was the “conductor” who was responsible for picking up and dropping off passengers by yelling and banging on the side of the bus with his free hand.  Our conductor wore black Nike flights, a navy blue trench coat, and a brown flat-billed cap with a bright yellow sticker on the bill.  In California, I would have guessed he was from South Central, but we were most definitely in Kenya.

The matatu was named “The Inspector,” and as the kids like to say, it was dope.  The interior walls surrounding the aforementioned speakers were decorated with PR shots of the popular artists, and the ceiling was royal blue with white stars and had colorful Converse sneakers glued to the ceiling upside down.  The best feature, however, was the countless numbers of passengers that came and went all along the route.  After my graceful entrance, we had seats for the hour or so journey, but at times there were so many people on board that I made it to second base with multiple Kenyans without having to move a muscle.

It was quite a ride.

At one point my wife noticed that DJ Simple Simon offered a remix of a Taylor Swift song, a jarringly strange occurrence, and when we heard that Mr. Simon would appear in a Labor Day showdown at a club in Pomona, California, I no longer knew which planet I was on.  While my first matatu ride powerfully engaged every one of my senses, I particularly sensed that the world is a fascinating place, at times vast beyond imagination, and at times so tiny that our connections are undeniable.

Two of the three mzungus on The Inspector that day are now back in California, but the third, our youngest daughter, remains in Kenya for a summer internship.  Tomorrow is her birthday, and she seems so far away right now.  But I know that in certain and important ways she isn’t far away at all— and that she is with Kenyan friends she considers members of her family.  I hope she has the best birthday ever.

Crazy Dreams

I almost did something insane. My wife and I are on a team headed to Kenya this summer (note: this is not the insane part) to live for a couple of weeks alongside an inspiring organization called Made in the Streets (“MITS”) that rescues street children from the Nairobi slums. Our youngest daughter is going, too, but she will spend her entire summer there as a photojournalism intern. Both my wife and daughter are in love with MITS from past trips, and I must go see for myself what has grabbed their hearts.

Still not the crazy part.

I’m a runner. Well, I’m a runner who is struggling to find motivation to keep being a runner, so I emailed Dusty, our fearless leader to Kenya, to ask what opportunities there might be to run with the Kenyans while there. Dusty had an idea or two and then suggested looking for a race in Nairobi. Well, I didn’t find a race in Nairobi, but I discovered that one of the toughest marathons in the world will occur about four hours north of Nairobi while we are there.

Now to the crazy:
1. The race is held a hundred miles from the equator, so 90+ degrees.
2. Add high humidity.
3. Add the dust from running on a dirt road.
4. Add the thin air of a 5500’ average elevation.
5. Add that I don’t have enough time to train for a normal marathon (and this would be my first).
6. Add actual lions.

Yep, actual lions. The race is held in a game preserve, and in addition to 140 armed rangers it is stated nicely under the “safety” tab on the marathon’s website, and I quote, “A helicopter and Supercub light aircraft monitor the movements of the large species during the race.”

In. Sane. Cray. Zee.

I actually came to terms with going for it—until I learned how much it would cost (and by cost, I mean financial; for some reason, the potential human cost did not deter me). Registration is $250 (steep, but okay) along with a $1,500 fundraising requirement (steep, but I would have bugged all of you for it anyway); however, it would cost $2,000+ more just to travel there and back and sleep in a tent. I’m crazy but not crazy rich.

Here’s the deal. Somewhere in the insanity I found motivation to run again. Okay, sure, the nightmares featuring lion attacks helped, but for the most part, I’m back at it again even though I am not going to run this amazing race.

I haven’t exactly identified the lesson here, but if you are in need of some motivation in some aspect of your life, you might ask someone for suggestions and be open to considering possibilities beyond your wildest dreams. It somehow got me out of bed this morning.