Friday, May 22, 2009

A Kenyan Field Journal: The Rain

During a recent cleaning session in my house I stumbled upon my photo album from an educational trip to Kenya in 1995. I spent five weeks there with 31 other students studying wildlife management with the School for Field Studies. It changed my life.

Sometime after returning I wrote five essays on my experiences and stashed them in the photo album. I had forgotten about them until this past week. They are entitled The Rain, Bright Sun, Night, Simba, and The Rift in the Heart of Africa. Reading them brought back so many wonderful and thrilling memories. I'm posting them here mainly for the benefit of two friends I met there who have become friends for life: Dave and Agnes. Photos were taken by me during my adventure, clicking on them will enlarge them. Enjoy!

The Rain

What really amazed me was the rain. In Africa the rain comes straight down. And it's never a mean rain, or fierce or blustery. Having grown up in New England I was used to rain that came down in torrents, the wind blowing this way and that. Even on a calm day there is always a hint of wind. And if it's not raining hard in New England then it's a wispy mist. But in East Africa it's gentle and straight. Serene.

Emerging from the recycled air of a DC-10 the aura of Africa didn't hit me right away. I could have just landed in and sunny, bright destination hadn't it been for the zebras grazing at the edge of the runway. Nairobi is not your average sunny destination. You have to be patient with the slow baggage claims and customs officials. I had to wait until I was stuffed in the belly of a refurbished Land Cruiser and on the road before it sunk in. I was in Africa. Wild Africa. Untamed. Yet gentle.

Why gentle? It had to be the rain. I had to wait two weeks before I experienced it. I arrived in July, the middle of the dry season. Being one of thirty-two college students wanting to memorize the Latin names of all the flora and fauna of Kenya. We were there to learn, but we got so much more. The first time it rained it began gently as all rainstorms there did. A drop here, then over there, then suddenly everywhere. I was in an open top Land Cruiser in the middle of the Masai Mara surrounded by over 100,000 zebra and wildebeest.

We were in the middle of the great migration as these massive herds of ungulates followed the rain and the emerging new grass back south into the Serengeti. As the rain came down harder its sound mingled with the braying of the animals until it became a cacophonous symphony of nature. We rolled up the tarp that was the Land Cruiser's roof and drove back to camp.

Things happen in the African rain. Wild creatures that wouldn't normally venture near human creatures lose their reserve. Lying awake in my tent that night listening to the rain I heard sounds that can make your heart thump louder if you let them get to you. Lions called to each other all night over the surrounding Ngama hills. At moments of particular cowardliness, especially when I thought about how thin tent fabric is, the grass brushing off the tent walls sounded to me like lion whiskers.

The next morning the sun showed all her glory over the plains of the Mara and we awakened to the sound not of lions, but of hot air balloons. For $400 a rich tourist could hire one out to bring them on a sunrise ride followed by a white-gloved champagne breakfast. Instead, we ate our stale bread toasted over an open fire while Professor Wayne examined fresh lion prints on the path to the fire pit.

After breakfast I flattened the lion-whisker grass surrounding my tent.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Excellent photos/story!! The rain in Kenya, who would have thought such a wild, fierce land would have such a serene and gentle rain. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have the same kind of rain you have in New England -- dramatic, emotional outbursts punctuated by a steady drizzle with heavy clouds, none of which seems to be a feature of East Africa! I look forward to your next posting! Thanks for visiting Sunflower Ranch and for becoming a follower, too! Have a wonderful holiday weekend! :D


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