Tag Archives: kenya

“Even the small leopard is called leopard.” – Kenyan Proverb

I know this is MyKOREAQuest, but I have been thinking a lot lately about my semester abroad in Kenya. This is partly because I was there exactly 4 years ago (& I call myself a ‘recent grad’ – pfff!) and also because I am thinking about what’s to come in 2013. Okay, enough with the small talk, let me tell you about this one time I was almost eaten by a leopard somewhere in Tanzania…

We were in the middle of nowhere. Now when I think of this radical saying – this is all I can conjure up in my mind. We were living with the Hadza tribe in Tanzania. We were sleeping in tents under the stars in a camp that was only a camp because the safari truck drivers thought it would take the least amount of effort to clear the bush there to put up tents. It wasn’t a campground and we weren’t eating dinner or going to the bathroom unless we helped set up the large cook tent and dig the hole for the discreet lavatory stall. We were living the Hadza life – moving from place to place – carrying only what we needed and depending on the landscape for our survival. I loved the sense of disconnectedness from the outside world. This was what it meant to really be away. This was what they should place in glossy magazine advertisements for the over-worked, stressed individual looking to escape all of it for awhile. I had no control over what was going on in the rest of the world. I couldn’t read about it, watch it or talk to anyone about it. All we knew was where we were now and how far away we were from everything else.

One night toward the end of our stay in Tanzania a group of us got brave. “We should sleep up here,” someone laughed as we lay watching the magnificent sunset from atop a smooth giant rock face a short walk from camp. It had taken a few minutes to climb to where we sat now, and the comfortable breeze and cooler temperatures tempted us to stay and forget about dinner waiting below. My tent mates glanced my way with mischief filled eyes and I knew exactly what they envisioned for our night’s sleep.

After a scrumptious meal, that left me wondering how food could remain so tasty after traveling for days in coolers over treacherous and dusty terrain, we lazily transitioned our focus. The sparkling fire just feet away from the dinner tent had magically jumped to monstrous heights since the Hadza men had begun to dance around its flames. We positioned ourselves around the fire and gave the men plenty of space to continue dancing. They never seemed to tire. Their well worn cloth garments loosely swung back and forth as their bodies shook and spun with traditional Hadza dance. Unable to communicate using language, they shared stories and experiences with us through dance. Laughter, from those seated and dancing, twisted up through the fire’s smoke trail into the African sky.

The group diminished as those fighting fatigue drifted off to their respective tents. My tent mates and I finally broke our silence about our plans for the night. Others agreed it was a good idea. Why not get the most “out there” that was possible while we were here? Our English speaking guide, Thad, clapped in excitement. “Go ahead,” he said. “I always have those adventurous ones who just go for it!” He warned that this was his first time at this camp, but that in the past sleeping outside the tents hadn’t been a problem.

We nervously grabbed our sleeping bags that yearned for a night spent in fresh, cool air after a week of residing in a hot, sticky and small tent. The three of us were the first to climb the rock to settle in for the night. Others gave in to one last Tusker (delicious beer) from the well stocked crates in the food truck and continued to socialize around the fire. We snuggled close together in our mummy-like bags on the safest part of the rock. A blanket of honesty fell from the star spattered night sky. We were in a place where we felt we could say anything. It’s what happens when you feel like you’re at the edge of the earth; it’s the appropriate thing to do. I quietly whispered to my fellow junior friends my fears of an impending graduation and my cluelessness pertaining to a professional career. They listened and we talked and it felt right. It felt so freeing to say whatever we wished as we lay watching the stars and a fire in the distant desert set by a neighboring tribe trying to make the soil suitable for planting.

“Ladiessss!” a familiar womanly drawl floated up the rock reaching us before she herself did. Sara was followed by Paul, the two of them proudly making up the semester’s drunken duo. They enjoyed the occasional Tusker, or two or three or four, and mocked the rest of us when we went to bed on “school” nights at the compound. We refused to rage the night away watching the Lion King for the 45th  time on VHS in the living room or sprawling out in someone’s room to begin writing inappropriate letters to Sara’s boyfriend back home. This time they were singing their way up our small mountain to annoyingly disrupt our pre-bedtime intimate talk. “You’ve got to get down… like right now,” Sara slurred her words a little. “There’s a jaguar coming,” Paul excitingly burst into sight as he made his final careful moves to the top and issued his warning accompanied by a sly grin. Sara shot him a disgusted look. “No, they meant something else,” she searched for the word as we registered that we were the victims of a prank. “A leopard…leopards!” She yelled and glanced furtively around. Only rock and sky were to be seen. We laughed as they tried desperately to warn us.

“So we are going to be eaten and they sent you two to save us,” I giggled from inside my sleeping bag. It had been a production to get up here and we weren’t leaving our comfy cocoons and lugging everything down to camp for the sake of a few laughs. Sensing our disbelief down below, a few others ventured up to our hideout. “They’re not lying,” Alex stated matter-of-factly as he trudged up to meet us, annoyed at the necessity of his intrusion into the discussion. “We were sitting around the fire and one of the Hadza who understands a bit of English figured out where you three went and got very upset.” Alex then explained the realness of the situation. Apparently, this rock was not ours to claim, it was the location of a nightly ritual for the area’s leopards. They met in the dark of night in the very place where we now lay and marked their territory with pools of urine that remained on the rock to warn others of their presence and power.

***

I retold the story to my mom over the phone a week or so later and she commented as usual with the assistance of her computer that always seemed to be within arm’s reach when we conversed. “Did you know leopards can run up to 60 kilometers an hour and will hunt almost any animal it can?” She whispered this fact as I pictured her imagining the “Sorry your daughter was eaten by a wild animal…” call from the SLU Study Abroad office. “It’s a good story,” I tried to get her to laugh it off. Our phone call was coming to an end; I could tell she had had enough for one conversation. “Please don’t tell me another story like this until you are home.” She was part joking and a larger part serious.

*names changed, just in case*

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I know I am ‘Out of Africa’, but let me go back quickly: Capture the Colour

Sorry to change it up on you, but Lauren over at Lateral Movement (“Get a life, not a job.” – love it) was so kind as to nominate me for Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Colour photo-blog contest. I am by no means a true photographer, but it is a hobby I would like to develop in the future. I planned to share a few Korea pictures with you, but as I sifted through old photos I was struck by the pops of color in my Kenya albums. I spent a semester in Kenya with Saint Lawrence University during my senior year of college. My five months in Kenya left me with the ‘travel-itch’ and I can thank Africa for the confidence and curiosity necessary to embark on a year in Korea. Thanks Travel Supermaket for nudging me to look back and remind me why I fell in love with Kenya.

Here we go…

RED: We spent almost 2 weeks in and around the Amboseli National Park where we lived at the Maasai Study Center at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trip was incredible – we really got to see how the Maasai live – and it wasn’t a tourist experience at all. For our home-stay experience my friend and I stayed with James (38), his wife Grace (22) and their four girls. We followed his wife around for 2 days doing all the things that a ‘real’ Maasai woman does. The men just sit around! We collected wood one afternoon – which involved climbing all over hills and through brush collecting sticks that had thorns all over them. We strapped all the wood into a bunch and hung it over our backs by holding the bundle with a string attached to our head like a head-band. We also cut lots of veggies, washed dishes, helped Grace cook, collected water from a nearby stream, watched the goats and smeared the house with cow dung. Although they work endlessly to provide for their family and have little time to relax, the women seemed happiest sitting in a small patch of grass in the village making brightly colored and intricately designed jewelry.

WHITE: I hardly felt clean while I was living with the Maasai. My friend and I slept in a hut with a family of goats and we were lucky enough to be chosen for the task of smearing the hut with wet cow dung to cover any new cracks or uneven spots. Although I felt less than fresh for the weekend visit, the young girls chasing each other around the village each morning wore clean and bright white dresses. The color was quite a contrast against the backdrop of brown mountains, fields and homes.

BLUE: One morning in Amboseli we walked to school with local children who have to wake up at 4am and walk many miles to school to start at 7:30am. It was rough rising so early, but I learned so much walking with the kids to school and then talking to more of them once we got there. Later that day we played soccer with them – they had their best players play against us – so naturally they won. The sea of blue school uniforms chased us when we left later that day in our trucks.

YELLOW: While in Amboseli we were lucky enough to safari a handful of times. The colors were magnificent and many of the animals blend seamlessly into the yellow, dry landscape.

GREEN: Traveling from the dry savannah to the lush coast of Kenya brought about quite a change in scenery. After our Amboseli trip we ventured to the coastal city of Mombasa. We stayed in a waterfront house surrounded by plant-life on Diani Beach. Each night we were lulled to sleep by the ocean waves and the howls of monkeys swinging from branch to branch outside.

I nominate the following bloggers to share some colorful photos:

Gin in South Korea

The Wanderlust Project

Cunggie.com

Expat Kerri

Destination-Exploration

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from an accident in africa to ankle acupuncture in korea

It seems only fitting that the ankle I broke in Africa would finally find comfort in my next home away from home – Korea. The last time I was abroad I comically fractured my right ankle during my medical orientation (at a hospital!) in Kenya. The break made for quite an experience and a tearful/choked up call home to my mom after a panicked evening in a Nairobi hospital. I was put in a cast and advised by my parents to seek surgical consultation when I returned to the states 5 months later in December.  I was studying abroad with 16 other students in the St. Lawrence University Kenya Semester Program. This injury sidelined me a bit from the Kenya experience, but a few weeks later I managed to haul my walking cast clumsily down a muddy dirt lane to my rural home-stay in Kenya’s Kericho Valley. I abandoned my crutches a few days early and assured the abroad program directors that I would be fine for the week in the middle of nowhere with a few bottles of water, little knowledge of the Swahili language and a farming family that would not stop staring at the plastic portion of my leg.

 

 

The week was a memorable one and my host family was understanding and very welcoming. I am glad I ditched the crutches and participated the best I could. The remainder of the semester was amazing, my cast eventually came off, although my ankle continued to bother me but I kept that fact to myself. I wanted to be a part of the group again and I carefully maneuvered my ankle through the savanna, in and out of the safari jeeps, down the busy streets of Nairobi and Mombasa and (my favorite) around the tiny Maasai tent that my friend and I shared with a family of goats one night. When I returned home months later my mom was lucky to know someone who helped to set up a consultation with a well-known surgeon. I had surgery and was again exiled to the couch and then weeks later graduated to crutches. I can not begin to tell you how much fun crutches are during the first few weeks of your senior spring semester in the icy North Country that is Canton, NY. But enough about that… My ankle healed somewhat and I returned to my regular routine, although I remained weary of my ankle when I was running or playing sports. From time to time it has bothered me after excessive use, when wearing heals or in the morning before walking around on it for some time. I put off visiting a doctor in the US before coming to Korea – not my smartest decision – but oh well.

A few weeks ago my friend mentioned she is in love with her new acupuncture routine. I immediately was curious and she agreed to take me to her next visit. I wasn’t sure if Korean acupuncture would be a good fit for my ankle pain, but I was willing to try anything. (Acupuncture is an alternative medicine methodology originating in ancient China that treats patients by manipulating thin, solid needles that have been inserted into acupuncture points in the skin. According to Traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians. -Wikipedia) I met my friend later that week in front of the oriental clinic – only a 5 minute bus ride from my apartment. I assumed she had an appointment, but she confessed she just showed up to the clinic when she could fit it into her schedule. What!?? I followed her up the stairs in a baffled state. Countless times I have tried to make appointments with specialists in the US and their receptionists politely suggested a consultation date 3 months into the future and a mandatory referral from my PCP. How could my friend just walk in and be seen by the doctor? We walked into the clinic and my friend was immediately greeted by the woman at the front desk with a warm hello. I told my friend she could go ahead to her appointment and I would wait to see if the doctor could fit me in later, but the front desk attendant simply asked for my ARC (my identification card with my address and information in Korean) and she filled out a new patient form for me and told both of us to take a seat.

Less than a minute later the doctor came out of his office and ushered us both in together. He checked in with my friend regarding her acupuncture care and then talked to me about my ankle. Luckily he spoke good English and my friend, who speaks a little Korean, also helped to facilitate the conversation. A few minutes later we were taken into the treatment room, a large open room full of beds that are sectioned apart by curtains. My friend and I were placed in beds a few feet from each other and the doctor immediately began placing the needles for acupuncture on both of us. Koreans do not like to wait – I do not know how they would survive in any US doctor’s office.

going-to-the-doctor *PLEASE check this out for a laugh*

The acupuncture lasted for 25 minutes or so. I was able to lay back and relax in the quiet room while the needles did their work on my ankle. The doctor explained that acupuncture would help get the blood moving around my ankle ligaments and help rid the area of any scar tissue that causes discomfort. The needles were painlessly placed and removed and the acupuncture was followed by some sort of medical massage. The nurse placed several suction cups to my ankle. These long octopus legs were attached to a large humming machine near my bed. The cups worked to mechanically massage my ankle sending strong pulsating pressure into the ligaments. After another 20 minutes or so of this wonderful massage I was led to another bed and the nurse pointed for me to lie down. She smiled, closed the curtain surrounding the bed, and walked away. I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe the doctor would come examine my ankle now? All of a sudden I was attacked from underneath the bed. It felt like a handful of children were crouched under the bed hitting upwards through the mattress. The punches raced up and down my body and around in a circular pattern. I realized this must be an all-over body massage/exercise. After the initial shock of the treatment, I began to enjoy it. The jolting massage sort of helped to balance out my body in a way – bringing it back to equilibrium after the ankle work. After the massage I saw the doctor again and he told me to come back in a few days. No appointment card, no lecture about faxing a referral from my PCP to his office, no mention of even needing my insurance information, and he didn’t even rush me out of his office – WHAT!? The real shock came at the front desk when the woman pointed to the payment screen. My specialist consultation, the  1+ hour of acupuncture and other treatments cost less than a Starbucks venti latte with an extra shot of espresso.

 

 

I have been back twice since my initial visit, and I know that it will take time for my ankle to fully heal, but I have noticed some improvements. My ankle feels less stiff each morning and I haven’t had any sharp pains in a few weeks. I have yet to start running again, but I hope to run a race in Korea before I leave (bucketlist – 10k or half?). I have also noticed improvements in my hot yoga practice. There are a few poses I was unable to do before, and now I can move into the poses a bit deeper, I am not completely there, but I will be!

I know there are a few things I need to take advantage of in Korea – the authentic Korean BBQ with real burning coals, sleeping in each morning before going to work at 1pm, the fantastic public transportation, and now my acupuncture doctor and his fantastic staff and clinic.

 

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