Hujambo (Hello!) Habari gani (How are you)? You respond Nzuri sana (Very good). Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday. I’m trying to get as many as possible in before we relocate to Magadi, but I was knackered from traveling. Yesterday morning we had our Kiswahili lesson bright and early at 8. I’m beginning to pick up a few words and phrases, numbers are my forte. The class is a lot of fun and it helps to wake me up. After class we packed a bag and made a trip to Nairobi National Park for a safari. The weather was beautiful, as it is everyday- high 70’s. The Nairobi National Park sits at the southern end of the city and encompasses something like 140km and supports an animal orphanage. The park is not fenced and wildlife is still able to migrate along the narrow wildlife corridor to the Rift Valley, therefore you never know what you are going to see. The park is home to over 550 species of birds and also has the highest concentration of black rhinos in the world. I don’t think we saw another vehicle the entire time we were on the trails. We had a great lunch on a lookout that overlooked the savannah. The view was breathtaking… absolutely unbelievable. I’ve never seen such a large tract of land. We could see impala and gazelle grazing below us, watching the shadows move across the savannah was incredibly relaxing. The pictures are fantastic and I can’t wait to share them. After lunch we did some more driving, which felt an awful lot like off roading. The bus got stuck in the mud at one point and 5 of us had to push it out of the mud. That was a lot of fun, seriously, how many people can say they got stuck in the mud in the middle of the African wilderness? The first big animal encounter of the day came when we stumbled upon a family of giraffes a short while later. Sinnary, our guide and the head of the conservation program told us what he could about them. He wrote his dissertation on giraffes. I took some fantastic pictures, they were no more than 10 feet from the bus. We continued to see impala, ostriches, congoni (cousins of the wildebeests), and one black rhino. The rhino was a great surprise; it was massive, built just like a tank. Imagine our surprise when it stomped its foot and began rushing the vehicle. Everyone jumped to the other side, Matt our resident Peter Parker nearly dropped his camera jumping back into the bus. Fortunately, it stopped about 10 feet away and turned back. It probably realized the bus was much bigger, but Sinnary suggested we leave anyway. Altogether we spent about 5 hours in the park, I enjoyed every minute. The driver dropped us at the Karen market on the way back so we could pick up some beer. That night we all sat around playing landmine, my new favorite drinking game, and talking about the day. By 11:00, I was sound asleep.
Today was another exciting day as it was our turn to share our curriculum with the group. For those of you who don’t know, my focus on this trip is African archaeology. The other two programs involve health and conservation in Kenya. Beginning on Saturday we will travel into the Great Rift Valley for three weeks to do excavations and field surveys. Today we got a small sample of the work we’ll be doing and the environment we’ll be living in. The site we visited to day was called Olorgesailie, it’s about a two hour drive from where we live. Our first stop along the way was at the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Yesterday I argued that I’d never seen such an expansive tract of land, well I retract my previous statement. I can’t really describe what its like to see a tear in the earth that is as long as the distance from Boston to San Francisco, but there it was. The Great Rift Valley is a break in the African continent where the tectonic plates have been pulling apart for millions of years. In a few billion years everything east of the valley will become an island, or so geologists predict. This area is ideal for archaeological work because the strata layers are exposed and the many volcanoes in the area have helped to preserve anything that has died. Anyways, I could have taken pictures all day, it was so unbelievably beautiful. Far down in the valley we could see the bright red specks that were the Maasai, herding goats along the more fertile tracts of land. The road through the valley was better than any rollercoaster I’ve ever been on. As we traveled deeper into the Rift, the soil and vegetation quickly began to change. The verdant green grass and dense tree coverage faded away to reveal thorny bushes and bright red clay. Some of the thorns are so thick, Dr. Barthelme said they can easily pierce a tire, or worse a hiking boot. As I mentioned before, Olorgesailie was our major stop for the day. The site is actually a dried up lake bed, evident by the chalk white deposits that stretch for miles. The Smithsonian has set up a small museum at the end of the long dirt road. The museum is literally four brick walls with a wooden roof. There are no doors or windows on the building and only one attendant. We walked around the museum which was quite informative, providing a basic outline of the area and what makes it so important. Dr. Barthelme then led us on a walk through the dig site. The temperature was only 80, but with the sun it felt like 100. Five minutes in this are will get you a nice tan, I can’t imagine what three weeks is going to do to me. The site was very interesting, providing us with a sample of the kinds of things archaeologists search for- human and faunal remains, stone tools, etc. We saw an elephant femur the size of my body. After a quick lunch we talked with the local Maasai women and bought some gifts for the people back home. The ride back to Karen was long and hot, I watched the scenery for an hour then drifted off to sleep until we were at the foot of the compound. Altogether a very successful day.
Tomorrow we are heading to the slums to experience the Health program’s curriculum. As soon as I get a chance I’ll send some pictures along as well as another update. Thanks for reading, more soon.