Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Groton students are almost home!

As of 8:15AM MST, CO flight # 057 is scheduled to arrive at Newark airport at 12:37PM.

The students worked very hard during their time in Kenya and are excited to see everyone from home. We are very proud of all of the endless hours they put into their service project and getting to know the people of Kenya.

Erin Lasky
Program Director

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Groton students are coming home!

Message to Parents:
The group is returning tomorrow to Newark Airport. Below you will find the return flight information for your convenience.

Aug 18 Kenya Airways #112 Nairobi 9:55pm Paris 5:45am (arrival Aug 19th)
Aug 19 Continental #057 Paris 9:55am Newark 12:30pm

Please call the office at 303-679-3412 or e-mail Erin at with any questions.

~Erin Lasky
Program Director

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Last post from Oloika (Laurie Sales)

We are well into week two at Oloika and everyday new challenges arise. In the last few days we have started a small tutoring operation in the empty school classrooms located on the other side of the work site. Though the school here is on break,(winter break, as it is winter here?) there are several boys studying diligently in small groups, preparing for their grade 8 final examinations. From the looks of it, this exam is quite comprehensive and makes our SATs look a little skimpy. (Yikes!) The boys share books that are barely held together at the spine- clearly they have been used by many students before them. The rooms they study in are dim but the walls are covered with vocabulary lists, science diagrams and geographical maps. Ian and Rob were the first to volunteer to work with the Oloika students and they both did a fantastic job. The test is HARD! Even Ian’s advanced mathematical mind was challenged by a few of the questions. He and Rob commented that the Kenyan boys calculate extremely quickly both in their heads and on paper. The students here are not allowed to use calculators before high school so they get very good and doing the work on their own. Zach had tremendous success with the students as he worked them through several sections of their English lessons. It is clear that everyone here appreciates Zach’s calm energy and his agreeable disposition. He is a huge hit with the children who all seem to love his wacky sense of humor. Paige, Virginia, Casey and Madeline have also been in the classrooms helping with history and science. It has been truly rewarding to work one on one in this way. As Ian put it the other night, “I decided today to make my mind sweat as well as my body.” Well said!

In other news, the last group of students has gone off for their boma stay. Last night, Brandt and I went with Sydney, Casey and Maddi to stay at Shani’s family’s boma. Shani has been an excellent cultural ambassador and host to us all and it was an honor to spend some time with his sisters and their children. We had a lovely dinner of flavorful cabbage and potatoes with rice and then danced and sang into the night with some visiting Morans. This morning we got to play with the baby goats and enjoy more of my new favorite beverage- Kenyan chai tea! It will indeed be hard to leave here tomorrow when we head back to Nairobi. As I write this I already feel a sense of loss, but also a sense of greater personal purpose and extreme pride in our group.

Laurie Sales

Monday, August 10, 2009

There is no animal that makes quite as little sense to me as a zebra. There is literally no reason for it to look like that. Its stripes are useless in terms of surviving in the wild (or at least I can’t figure out why). It is ridiculous. Slightly less unbelievable is the giraffe, which, when running, looks as though it is running underwater. Its legs are so long and spindly, and its neck is so seemingly detached from the rest of its body, and its mohawk is so unbelievably awesome, that I don’t even know what to do. If you ever have the chance, go on safari. It’s worth waking up at five thirty.

Roofing on a land cruiser whilst in motion was totally worth the early wakeup; we got the best view, and the early morning air completely cleared my sinuses. At breakfast, we had bacon. Afterwards, I brushed my teeth with a stick. Great day so far.

It seems to me like with every passing day I appreciate more and more how outrageously comfortable my life really is. When I first came to the dormitory in Shompole I have to admit the lack of electricity and running water shocked my system considerably. Yesterday though, after I returned to the dorms at the conclusion of my three night experience with my Masai family, I felt like I was returning to my own home. The commodities that I took for granted back in America now seemed almost extravagant to me. I learned to find joy in the small things such as the comfort of a soft mattress or the luxury of readily accessible water.

It’s great to be back with the group after a couple days in the Magadi Soda Co. Hospital (Magadi Soda produces half of the worlds baking soda!). I have pretty-much completely recovered from my mysterious sickness, which we assume was just dehydration/heat exhaustion. Being able to talk to family on the phone while in the hospital was a great pick-me-up that helped bounce me back to good health, and now that we’re relaxing at Losijo Lodge I should be able to get back up to full speed. Looking forward to seeing more wildlife on our evening game drive in a few hours! The group is doing really well together as we near the halfway point of our trip.

Losijo Lodge has been the perfect place to relax and unwind for the past two days. We have had three opportunities for game drives and hours to just sit, talk, eat, and play cards. There is no better feeling than steeping out of a safari Land Rover covered in dust knowing there is running water waiting for you to clean off in a cool, outdoor shower. The group has been having a great time and everyone is getting along really well. No one has reached “S Phase” (aka storming phase) yet and I highly doubt anyone will because we have such a positive group dynamic. Today we will conclude our stay here at lunch when we feast on goat which has been slaughtered and cooked this morning. Shawni joked that it is “the most organic meat we will ever eat.” After much rest I am ready to head off to my home stay back at Shompole Ranch for the next three days and am excited to get back to work on the dining hall.

It’s great to see everyone again after having spent 3 nights with my homestay family. Hugo and I sang and danced with the Masai family, ate their food and learned their culture. It was certainly a new experience – one I wouldn’t want to forget. The look on their faces when they received our gifts was especially memorable. We arrived in the Losijo Lodge a couple of days ago, which seems diametrically opposite to the boma, with lushes of green surrounding the place and comfortable mattresses. Yesterday (Saturday) we went on two game drives, one at 0530 and the other at 1600. During both the game drives the animals were kind enough to show themselves, which was very cool. This weekend has been very relaxing, and we all are rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.
- Jungi

The stay at Losijo Lodge has been so relaxing that I’m almost more nervous about being thrown into a boma during my homestay tonight! It’s cool, comfortable, shady, and I had an amazing sleep in our open bungalow. Yesterday was spent playing cards, napping, reading, and venturing out into the dry, vast desert for astounding game drives. The wild animals and the landscape was something right out of The Lion King. I’m so ready for my stay with a Masai family, and I think this excursion at the lodge is the best thing that could have happened for all of us after a week of hard work building the dining hall at Oloika!
- Zach

After staying for a couple days at the Losijo Lodge, I’m excited to head back to Oloika and continue working on the school. The game drives we went on yesterday were a welcome change of pace for the group, and being able to use running water was an unexpected boon for us. All ten boys on the trip slept in a single open-air cabana for two nights, which led to some pretty interesting conversations. Ike led a shadow puppet interpretation of a story Rob told, which was even funnier than it sounds. We spent Sunday mostly relaxing in the main cabana and playing cards, and we head back to Oloika later tonight.
- Eugene

Losijo Lodge has been such a wonderful experience. I went on the 5:30 AM game drive the first day and saw so many animals. Then after hanging out and relaxing for a few hours, I went on another game drive at 4:00. But that wasn’t quite as smooth as the first. After watching people attempt to extract the van from a river for two hours, we continued on to our game drive at 6:00 with just around twelve people in each Land Cruiser. I sat on the roof in the back right corner next to Eugene. We got so covered in dust that it looked like I slept in a tanning bed for a week. It was the dirtiest I have ever been and I hope it is the dirtiest I will ever be!
~ Maddi

Last week, Madeleine, Julia, Laurie, and I spent three nights living in a boma with a Masai family. This was an incredible visit, as it was nothing like I had ever experienced before. The children of the boma could not stop dancing and singing (and even asked us to sing some songs for them…a selection: Yankee Doodle, London Bridge, Jingle Bells)—even when we got tired, they continued to sing into the night. Our sleeping arrangements while there were in a traditional enkaji (hut) on a bed made of sticks. Overall, it was an amazing time.
After spending this time in the boma, our time at Losijo Lodge this weekend was definitely a nice break. Not only did we get to sleep in real beds and utilize running water, but we also got to go on incredible game drives. These drives were surreal; they could have been taken directly out of The Lion King (which explains why we couldn’t stop singing songs from its soundtrack). We saw zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, and one group even saw lions!

Last night, Paige and I spent the night in a Boma. We slept outside in the bed attached to the enkaje. Around three hours after we had gone to bed, Paige alerted me to the fact that there was a huge wildcat at the foot of the bed. When I tried to convince her it was a shadow, she refused to believe me. In the end, I had to get out of bed and the mosquito net, and nudge the “lion” with my foot. It was indeed a shadow. Our host family found the story of Paige’s “lion” very amusing. The people here are all extremely friendly and sweet; one boy asked Zach if I was his wife, but (no worries, Ben) he explained that in our culture, we study too hard at this age to think about marriage yet. We have been having a great time, although it is taking a little while to adjust our backs to sleeping on sticks and animal hides!

Last night was my first night doing a home stay with Thea. I would say we spent the night in a boma, but, in fact, we did not. We arrived pumped up for singing and dancing with our host family, but no one was awake. We met four people who were very kind and had a cup of Chai with them. Then we went to bed on a stick bed outside the boma/mud hut. It was beautiful looking at the entire clear sky above us. The only challenge was that we could not sleep a wink at first. Finally, we slept a little but woke up in the middle of the night when I thought there was a large lion at the foot at the bed. After discovering it was just a shadow we went back to sleep for as long as we could and were up early this morning. We had another cup of Chai and then left back to the dormitories to do some work on the dining hall. Tonight we will arrive earlier to the home stay so that we can participate in the singing and dancing and have dinner with our host family. Thea and I are very excited for our return and cannot wait to meet more people (especially children) and hopefully get a better night’s sleep. We will be smarter this time when we pack and will remember to bring warmer clothes and more blankets for night time. Tonight we also get to give our gifts which should help us bond more with the children! Shawni is the adult that chaperoned us and also interpreted our jokes so we could hold conversation with our host family. He is so awesome and I am so happy that we get to share this great experience with him!

The day before, after the five o’clock safari, there was a second safari at four o’clock. We all got in our vans ready for the game that awaited us, but to our surprise and misfortune, as we attempted to climb the hill after crossing the river, the white van got stuck. We ended up waiting for almost one and a half hour, as many of us pitched in to extract it from the river. To no avail, we all proceeded to pack the land cruisers with people and went on our way. That evening was exhilarating, and although we didn’t see as many animals as the morning group had, the car ride was enough for all of us. Singing and shouting, we drove around into the night, dodging acacia tree branches and then laughing about it afterwards. Our conversations about food on that ride made me miss and appreciate my own home, and how much I actually do have in comparison. The next night did the same. Hannah and I stayed at the boma, and we slept in a half-made enkaji that allowed us to look up at the stars throughout the night. I will never forget that experience.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pictures from Thursday

Thursday blog


Today was our third full day at the worksite. We woke up at 7 and had a breakfast of tea, trail mix, oatmeal, fruit, and eggs. After breakfast, we all headed out to the worksite excited about the work that had to be done. We did not have Hugo, Ian, Jungi, Rob, Madeleine H., Virginia,Julia, and Laurie because all of them were with their homestay families. The rest of us either shoveled gravel or picked up rocks or laid bricks on the perimeter of the dining hall. Ross helped us get involved with the brick-laying and we felt more involved with the project once we started laying the bricks. We made sure we were careful and the masons were still there if we needed any help. We took small breaks here and there to get re-hydrated and take a rest. We had lunch around noon and then took a two hour break to avoid the blazing heat of the sun. Many of us either did laundry or played cards. (by Ud)

After lunch, we made our habitual coke run. That cold, refreshing and classic glass bottles revives everyone’s spirits. We then hung out with our local friends as we practiced spear throwing. This was one of the funniest experiences of the trip so far. Several of us nearly were decapitated by hurled javelins that flipped and spun uncontrollably in the air. To say the least, we weren’t very skilled in this aspect of Kenyan life. Afterward, we headed back to the cafeteria construction to lay bricks, move rocks, and mix cement. In the afternoons here, it is surprisingly hot; we sweat it out and work through the exhaustion. By the end of the day, we are all sore and awaiting a 1 gallon shower. We all agree that these showers are the most rewarding ones of our young lives. Refreshed, we head off to dinner. There, we are greeted with a variety of local food as well as American flavors. We soon head back to the dorm and fall asleep almost immediately. (by Connor)

So far, I love my time in Kenya. The hard work is surprisingly exhilarating. We have made many bonds with locals. Today, while practicing with the spears, my friend, Chris, gave me a throwing club to keep. We exchanged much laughter as I tried to hit a target but instead tossed the club 40 feet further than intended. Chris then threw the club and hit the bucket first try. Just to embarrass me further. Although dirty and tired, these bonds make our trip totally worth it. Even as I write this, I sit here talking with my friend Moses as he reads on over my shoulder. The friendships we make here are amazing.

Next update will be Monday morning U.S. time, as we are headed to Losijo Lodge out of cell phone and internet range. We do have the sat phone with us in the case of emergency. We will be taking a well-deserved break from the work site and also going on game drives in the Shompole Conservancy Area. The group is doing great and the work the kids are doing is very inspiring. This is a fantastic group of students -- Ross Wehner