Tsavo Conservancy

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to a wildlife park that has elephants in it, and I really wanted to get away this Christmas to see them. Elephants eat a lot of food (100-300kg’s) and drink lots of water (190litres) and not all parks can cater for them. They also have routes that they follow.

sign

So, off we went to a place called the Tsavo Conservancy.

camp-sign

In theory it should take 6 hours to drive there from Nairobi, but with trucks going ridiculously slow (think 40km’s per hour) and traffic thick because of the holidays it took us 7 hours. It’s an easy drive and the road is in pretty good condition until just after Voi, where it’s advisable to fill up on petrol.

cheetah-licking

We stayed at a place called Rukinga, one of 7 ranches that form the Tsavo Conservancy. Cara, my contact there gave very clear directions (which is unusual here). We signed in at the gate and kept following the directions to the camp. I said we’d get there at 3.30pm and we did.

hornbill-staring

What surprised me the most was the quietness. After being in a noisy city the quiet was almost deafening. I was also surprised that there were very few people around. I assumed because it was coming up to Christmas that the place would be overflowing with visitors. There was just the three of us and a group of eleven people from Nairobi. It was ironic that the group actually lived in the same suburb we do. The next day a family of three from Germany were going to join the camp.

ele-eating

Rukinga is split into three areas. There’s the tenting and self catering area. There’s Nduvo House which is a two story building with three huge bedrooms, it’s own kitchen and a couple of open space lounges. That’s where the large group were staying.

And then there was our area.

There are bandas which either have bunk beds in them or like ours, a two room with a bathroom in between. There’s an outdoor eating area as well as a bar and an open area for the lounge. Unfortunately there’s no pool, which, with the sweltering weather would’ve been appreciated. However, we would’ve had to fight the elephants for it had there been one.

camp-grounds

One of the things we quickly discovered is that the wifi that was advertised, did not exist. I was bummed out because we really wanted to Skype the kids on Christmas Day.

nduvo-lounge

Our time there was spent on early morning and late afternoon safaris. The best thing we had done was to pay for a jeep and driver to go on the three drives. There was also a guide who was on the lookout for animals. One the first afternoon we were there we drove ourselves and saw – nothing. The guides know the habits of the animals, their feeding and watering grounds, as well as how to get good photographs.

I hate it when drivers become impatient and want to get on to the next animal ‘fix’. We like to watch, observe and get a million and one photos. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the beauty in front of you through real eyes and not just a lens. Our guides were fantastic.

guides

I do have to say that the meals provided were really basic, but we figured it out before we left. We didn’t go hungry, but the meals weren’t flash. Our Christmas lunch was spaghetti and tomato puree. Not anything to rave about. However, there was always fruit at the end of every meal, and the mangoes were to die for.

While having no wifi at the camp, we managed to find it when on safari. We even managed to call the kids in New Zealand on their Christmas morning, which was great.

But I guess that’s what getting away is really about. Getting away from all the hassles of daily life, getting connected to the world and not a device, take a break to breathe.

If you visit the Tsavo Conservancy I suggest a couple of things:

  1. Take a book, games and cards.
  2. Definitely pay for a safari guide and driver – you can see much more from their vehicles.

evening-hills-3

The staff at the Conservancy were of some of the highest I’ve experienced. They went out of their way to make sure our stay was the best one possible. We liked it so much, that we’ve decided to return in April.

Why not take a weekend out from the city and visit the Tsavo Conservancy, it might just do you some good.

Grandparenting from Afar

When we moved to Kenya we never even had it in our minds that within a few short years we would have a grandchild on the scene. Why you always look forward to it, you’re never quite ready for it. When our daughter Hannah and her husband Luke told us that they were expecting their first baby, we didn’t actually believe them. It’s the type of prank our family would play on each other. So even when we got off the Skype call, we didn’t quite believe it.

But it was true, and in March this year Isabella Rose was born.

I felt very privileged to be there a couple of weeks before she arrived, was there for the birth and for a month afterwards. But then we had to leave to return back to Kenya. We saw Han and Izzy one more time when we were in Australia but after that we weren’t sure when we would see them face to face again.

It could be years.

baby-hand

We are now on a journey of being grandparents from a distance.

It’s a common occurrence in the world we live in for grandparents to be on one side of the world so how do we manage it and still build a relationship with the most precious gifts in the world?

 

  1. Don’t feel guilty

It’s hard not to be there for every moment of their lives. You feel bad for not being there for birthdays or Christmas and if you were there they wouldn’t have to go into daycare because you ‘could have’ helped out.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that even if you moved back to the same country as them, they might up and leave to go somewhere else. So are you just going to jetset around the globe following them? You have chosen to live where you are and they where they are.

 

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

For us, Skype is one of the best inventions ever. We might only get to use it once a week, but the fact that we can, is the fantastic. I’ve asked Han for a photo or video every day of Izzy, and she’s pretty good at sending it on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a report on how she’s been sleeping, other times on how she’s going with feeding. Even the smallest message makes us feel involved with Izzy. At times I just get on my phone and video myself or put some toys in from of the phone and make up stories for her. This morning I got back from a run and put a 30 second video of me filling in Izzy on what was happening today. It’s no big deal, but it helps with me missing her so much.

 

  1. It’s not a competition

It’s hard when your daughter and grand daughter are surrounding by their in-laws who get to enjoy ‘your family’ on a daily basis. When you find out that your grand child has been spoilt with lots and lots of gifts and you can’t do that because you’re a missionary and don’t have money for such luxuries. It’s very easy to get jealous.

But it’s not a competition between them and you. Your grandchildren are not objects. You can’t buy love and the best thing you can do is give them time. Things break, the best investment you can make is time. Let them show you their homework, art, favourite toy and just chatting. Even taking the time for them to sing their favourite song or preparing for a presentation. The fact that you’re making time for them is the most important thing.

october-foot

  1. Make the most of holidays

If you can’t get to your grandkids, invest into them and fly them to you. When Izzy was born, I made the decision that I wanted to be back for her first birthday. I have no idea how I will find the money for the ticket, but it’s important to be there. Izzy won’t remember it, but for Hannah, she needs to know that she matters to us. It’s been a difficult journey for her because she hasn’t had her parents around. I’ve got expat friends whose grandkids come at least twice a year to visit them in Kenya. Others fly to their other home each year or meet up with their kids and grandkids in a mutual country for a few weeks.

One of the dangers of volunteering overseas is that when you return to your home country, you need to spend a lot of time fundraising and you don’t spend time with family. On our last trip we said we would take April off and have a break. But, because of school holidays, we actually had to do many presentations during April. However, we still made time for family, which was a first. For Hannah’s birthday and Mothers Day, we made sure we spent it with the kids.

You can’t get time back. Go and make some good memories.

 

  1. Learn to celebrate

Look at what you do have and not what you don’t. Make the most of birthdays and Christmas, not just with a card or gift, but with the phone calls and messages on social networks. I’m keeping every video and photo that Han is sending through for a project for Izzy’s first birthday. I’ve also got some creative ideas for gifts for Christmas. We’ve sent clothes through but judging sizes is always a hard thing. Sometimes we’ve ordered books online that our kids grew up with and sent them through. Because we live far from them, when I’ve returned, I’ve taken the toys that Han had when she was little. That way if anything untoward happened to us, at least she has memories of us. My grandmother gave me a porcelain love heart when I was small, so when Izzy was born, I gave that to her. It might not seem much right now, but I have nothing left from my mother, so it’s nice to leave something small with Izzy.

 

What have been some of your experiences of grand parenting from a distance?

october-disney

 

Where have you been?

The other day I was chatting online with a friend in Australia who mentioned I hadn’t put out a newsletter for a while (a month) and he wondered what we’d been up to.

I had to catch myself from saying anything because I’m continually posting stuff up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and sending text messages to those overseas as much as possible.

mediaI wonder that with all of the technology we have, if our world is becoming too busy and we’re over saturated with information 24/7.

Hey, I’m not knocking what we have, but more of how we use it. My youngest daughter and I touch base every day either via Facebook or we SMS each other for free using our iPhones. No doubt, as her wedding gets closer, it will happen more and more.

I just wonder who is in control of whom.

I admire people who go on a social media fast, I don’t think I could, well for 40 days anyway!

We get the morning world news from a pastor in a town in Aussie that I’ve never been too. It gives me a quick 5 minute overview of what’s happening. It helps me keep connected on a bigger level than just what is happening locally.

Although I hate the new Facebook Messenger, we get no choice but to use it. The power goes out often and sometimes for a very long time. However, because it’s so cheap to have the internet on your phone, it enables me to use it even if the power is off (unless my phone battery dies of course!). $5 of credit gives me access to the internet for a whole month.

signWe’ve been based in Kenya for close to 2 years, and I have to say that out of all my years of travelling here, technology has helped to transform this country in a very short time. Twenty years ago to make an overseas call you would have to let the person know by post on what date and time you would call, go book it in and hope it would work.

Now we simply Facetime or Skype and get grumpy when the internet is slow.

Somehow, I don’t think we can live without all of what we have anymore – unless it’s forced upon us. We had a Canadian couple visit us, who are farmers in a remote part of Ethiopia. They reminded us how lucky we were to have everything at our fingertips.

So where have I actually been lately – writing blogs, videoing kids, editing photos, uploading to Instagram, you know – trying to keep up communicating with the masses.

 

 

New Years, Gunshots and Sparklers

It was only a few days ago we were glad to see the back of 2012 and celebrated the coming in of 2013, hoping it would be more prosperous, peaceful and an improvement on the past.

While we’ve been in Kenya for New Years before, it was different this time because we’re actually living here, not just visiting.

It was the first time I can say I got home sick for Sydney, for the entire day. I thought watching the fireworks online might help, but it made it worse. I missed the beach, the cafes by the beach, and being able to walk down the beach any time I wanted. I missed the conveniences of living in a first world country, like internet all of the time.

By the end of the day we had a large group of people over for a good Aussie barbeque, some fireworks and an outdoor movie (Mission Impossible 4), and the homesickness had gone.

It was interesting to hear from different people at the barbeque, from 5 different countries talking about their usual New Years Eve habits. What interested me most though was what has happened in Kenya over the last few years.

The last elections were held in 2007 and resulted in a lot of deaths, tribal fighting, destruction of homes and businesses and overall civil unrest. It all kicked off on Boxing Day. I remember being in Australia on the phone and internet for the whole day making sure my university students from here were all okay. I remember some saying that there were gunshots everywhere and they weren’t sure if their family members were even alive.

Move a few days ahead and apparently some people were letting off fireworks, the really noisy ones, which when people are already traumatised, is totally wrong. Hence, fireworks are now illegal. But, they are still sold in shops – go figure.

We had a few sparklers and even some loud fireworks which totally freaked out the little kids.

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Kenya seems to be a country of irony. There are armed police everywhere, but their AK47’s are so old they probably wouldn’t even fire properly. In fact forty something police were killed by cattle rustlers not that long ago. If they had working guns, they would’ve had the upper hand.

People are now fined $1,000 if they don’t have a first aid kit, emergency triangle and fire extinguisher in the car. However, you can get away without your brakes, indicators or lights not working.

Guards at the malls check the boot of your car for explosives but in reality if you wanted to blow up a place you could put them under your seat.

Of course, the best one is that there are a few sets of traffic lights, but no one seems to obey them.

I’m sure the shine of a new year is fading for many already but we’ve decided to embrace all the differences of living in a new country until we can really call it ‘home’. I’ll probably watch the fireworks of Sydney online again, but by Dec 2013 I am sure that I’ll simply shrug my shoulders at any new and whacky laws that come out and simply say TIA (This Is Africa).