By Jackie Jennings-Bates
I was well into middle age in 2010 before I took my next trip to Kenya.
We had founded our charity and were invited on a trip with a U.K. charity to see how things were done. Mark was involved with them through the driving adventures he was doing.
Our mission back then was to engage people with his adventures and then tell the story behind the motivation. Most people don’t want to hear about bringing safe water to developing countries. They think it won’t make a difference, there’s too much corruption, they're having enough problems of their own at home, etc. The list is long.
We tried, however, to provide entertainment to armchair adventurers in the hope they would get involved and help. To some extent, many did, but it still isn’t the perfect model as you have to start again once an adventure is complete.
However, back then we were new to this world and eager to learn from some folks in the field. We always paid for our own trips and it would be my choice of vacation anyway as it gave us a chance to interact with the local people in a way that is hard to match as a tourist.
Some people argue that this type of philanthropic tourism can be harmful, and I agree it needs to be sensitively thought through. We were just there as observers, and appreciative of all that was arranged for us.
Our charity hosts were two British Army personnel who were also volunteering. They met us at the Wilson Regional Airport in Nairobi and we took off after something like 36 hours if travel (including fun in London with the Underground being on strike when we decided to explore during a layover).
They were more familiar with the country than we were and we set off through the chaotic city in a rented Landcruiser. We stopped for the evening at the Lewa Conservancy and spent a beautiful evening at the Ranger camp.
Monkeys ran off with our laundry that was hanging to dry on the bushes and while Mark was filming some video of me, I realized he wasn’t looking at me, but at what was behind me. Fortunately, it was just antelope.
The next morning we were so fortunate to have a tour of the Conservancy and saw many majestic animals including the rhino they are trying to save. We also had the task of “checking” the accommodation chosen for the donor who was funding the project we were visiting before he came to “cut the ribbon.”
I have no idea who he was, but he was obviously accustomed to luxury because he wasn’t going to be staying in the Ranger station we enjoyed, but in one of the lodges. We got to peek at the most amazing suites with infinity pools overlooking the game park, beautiful African decor and luxury I have only ever imagined.
Access to one of the lodges was denied us, in a sort of hush-hush way, sorry you can’t disturb our guests. It turns out William proposed to Kate at about that time in that area, I am convinced that is why we were turned away. We almost got to see some very rare species!
The next leg of our journey took us to the Samburu itself and we were camping beside the project at Westgate, literally the West gate to the game park. We were outside the gate, but the animals don’t know that; there are no fences so they are everywhere.
Once again we were at a Ranger post, but this time there was just a covered eating area, an outside toilet and a solar cell phone charger. We were in tents, real old-fashioned boy scout tents with toggles to do them up and bed rolls.
There weren't any fly sheets to keep out insects, or even snakes, so I would always do a check before getting in my bed roll.
We called camp Elephant gully, for it was indeed the route for wandering elephants. We sort of wanted to see them come by, but at the same time, didn’t want them trampling on our tents, so we were undecided on that vote really.
The project involved installing a solar-and-wind powered well on the grounds of the local school. It was new technology to the group, so it was exciting to see how it would work. The local team were still busy digging the well, which was really hard, manual work.
There was a British Army base nearby and our hosts could have called in heavy equipment, but the locals were proud of their accomplishment and had a sense of ownership, which would translate into continued care of the installation once it was complete.
Our local host was called Daniel. He had been a student at the school, which was only a gathering under a tree at his time, but he went on to earn his Master’s degree at Canterbury University in the U.K., so humble beginnings had not held him back.
The school was now a boarding school and had quite a few classrooms, but the children’s daily tasks involved a trek to the river to get water for their day. This was not only time consuming and extremely heavy (the containers you commonly see being carried on their heads weigh 40 pounds) but it was not “safe” water.
It was contaminated with water-borne diseases, it often dried up so they had to walk further and further. However, the most shocking danger that we had never even considered before this trip was the wildlife.
Just weeks before we arrived, a seven-year-old schoolgirl had been taken by a crocodile. The community was devastated. Our host told us that as a child, he had almost been trampled by an elephant in the same area by the river.
Putting a well within the fenced compound of the school would eliminate all these dangers. For all the cynics and naysayers, I don’t know how one can say that is not a good thing. The children were certainly thrilled and excited.
One other thing I saw there that was of interest to me as someone who works in the food industry was lunch. The World Food Programme provides aid, but it consisted of a huge cauldron of some kind of beans being cooked in a little shed at the back over an open fire.
I am not saying that is bad, it was just interesting and eye opening and not what I had imagined.
At another school, we visited on another trip, the WFP provided a sack of oats for porridge. It is probably better than pizza and Coca Cola that we have let infiltrate our schools. But that is a whole other discussion.
Our rations were equally bizarre. When we left in the morning, a goat had been led into camp. When we got back, it was hanging in the tree. It was the only food available, so we had no other option.The potatoes roasted in the fat were delicious, but after chewing the goat skin for many minutes, it was still hard to swallow.
Our surroundings were also bizarre, they had set up a table in the gully under the stars. Apparently the roaring in the distance really was lions, but I don’t think they roar when they are hungry, so I slept like a log in my bed roll.
Obviously, we did survive, so to be continued…
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.