Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Parents' Visit (Part 2)

Being sick in Nairobi is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I wasn't able to walk the streets and discover the city as much as I had planned, but on the other hand we were in a hotel with comfortable beds, nice temperature and staff that weren't shocked at the request for ice bags and tea (This could never happen in Rwanda, unless I was at a 5 star like Mille Collines). My parents were very comforting, although I feel a little like I held my mom back since she opted to stay with me in the hotel room while I rested up. My dad, always the musician, spent most of his time in Nairobi looking for local musical instruments. The best he could find was a kalimba (finger piano) which he bought two of.

After a few nights in Nairobi, we met with the team from Intrepid, the tour company we booked with. Along with 15 other tourists, we listened as our guide Leilei gave us a summary of our Serengeti trip that lay ahead of us. I knew immediately that my parents had picked the right company. Intrepid exists all over the world, and their philosophy emphasizes community and cultural understanding. He told us not to give money or candy to kids because they would get used to a culture of begging and fighting over who gets it (something I've had to repeat to people in Rwanda). Another thing that sets Intrepid apart from other tour companies is that everyone pitches in to clean the bus, wash dishes, and help with chairs and food set up. Other than the very first night, we slept in tents with another member of the tour. The friends and couples who came together shared tents of course, and I shared a tent with this really cool Australian girl named Karla. We spent the second day by Lake Victoria in Tanzania, and some of us rented bikes to discover the town. Along with a local guide, we got to meet students at a school and listen to a very talented church choire practice outside. Although I don't speak Swahili and Kinyarwanda is definitely not helpful in Tanzania, many people spoke English, so it communication wasn't too much of a challenge. Of course, I also took the time to visit the local markets! The markets there were definitely very different from the ones in Rwanda. There was more variety, more space. I showed off my negotiating skills to my parents as I bargained for two fabrics and some art they wanted. I'll say this- bargaining is way more of a challenge there than in Rwanda! Merchants lower their price to meet your asking price at a MUCH slower rate, which frustrated me but I guess that's just tradition there.

Next we camped out two nights in the Serengeti! During the day, our bus drove through the savannah on VERY bumpy roads, stopping when we saw wildebeest, lions, elephants, giraffe, hippo, hyenas, zebras, buffalos... we even got to see a leopard, but they are unfortunately very difficult to see since they spend most of their time in trees. It made me really wish I'd invested in binoculars. The savannah plains were beautiful, and the group dynamic was really positive. Even though we were all from different countries and came with different people, we all got along very well. I was initially (and secretly) worried that my parent's age might negatively affect their experience, but they didn't seem to mind the sometimes painful road and meshed well with the rest of the group. Spending time with my parents amongst people we didn't know but were traveling with was a very unique experience. It was interesting for me to see how they reacted to the unfamiliar, and their interactions with people. We all played games together and enjoyed funny moments, such as when one of the baboons prowling the camp stole Tania's towel and toilet paper!

Next we headed for the Olduvai Gorge. On the way there, we saw many Massai-- some more traditional (actually nomadic, wearing traditional clothing, living off of the land) others who seemed more commercially-minded (jeans and sneakers underneath cloth, aggressively peddling jewelry to tourists). I had never heard of the Olduvai Gorge, but was really impressed to find out that it is an archaeological site where Dr. Louis Leakey (who Diane Fossy worked for) discovered the oldest hominid (human ancestor) yet found, and objects that date from 2,100,000 year ago. It is thought that this is was the site of the earliest hominids. Next we set up camp high above the Ngorongoro Crater, were we froze but got to experience the fear and joy of animals stomping through the campgrounds, including elephants, hyenas, buffalo and a large gathering of zebras who'd come to munch on the grass between our tents. Hearing munching by your ear while drifting off to sleep in your tents is quite an experience! Driving around the Ngorongoro Crater was a nice change-- the landscape was marshy and full of fields, and we got to drive around in individual safari cars with open roofs instead of one large bus! We got to see cheetahs, but not while they were running. Our last night of the Intrepid trip was spent reflecting on our time together and what we'd learned. Our last night in Nai Robi, I begged my parents to go for seafood, where I ordered delicious crab and tried some of my dad's spiny lobster. I can still taste it...

The hardest part of course, was saying goodbye to my parents. This was facilitated by the fact that we had a rather large to-do list to complete on our 8 hour time back. We flew back to Kigali, went to Mille Collines (the "Hotel Rwanda" hotel), negotiated for crafts, and met some more of my neighbors. After we said our goodbyes, I stayed at the airport for as long as I could see my parents go through security. I'm really grateful that my parents got the opportunity to see Africa. My mom mentioned to me that she didn't think she ever would have come if I hadn't been here. It was a unique opportunity to show my parents how I'm living here, since before they could only put together images from phone conversations and e-mails. I feel like we both reached a mutual understanding of each other-- our philosophies, reactions to the unfamiliar, and our relationships with others. This was a very special two weeks in our lives that I know we'll often think about.