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Brooke Collison
Oct 23, 2012

A Counselor Educator in Kenya, Blog # 13: On Safari

You’ll have to forgive me for a moment while I stray from the serious academic topic of counselor education and focus, instead, on one of Kenya’s most famous activities—the Safari!

My wife and I decided that our one luxury while we were in Kenya would be to go on Safari. We completed that activity just yesterday, and I cannot find superlatives explicit enough to describe the four days we spent soaking up some of Kenya’s most beautiful places, people, and animals. It was beyond words. I’ll have to think hard to select one picture to send along with this blog entry. I’ll try to choose one which is representative of our journey—it’s tough.

My image of a safari, like many, had been shaped by movies. I could see Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr in the “Snows of Kilimanjaro” (which, incidentally is officially in Tanzania, but the Kenyans say, “but we have the view”). I hoped I wouldn’t be in the category of John Wayne in “Hatari” (Swahili for “danger”). I was hoping more for the Elsa images in “Born Free” (an actual site which we had visited two months ago). I did have a childhood collection of memories soaked up from our annual subscriptions to “National Geographic,” but never dreamed I would experience those conditions nor see real life images so up-close and personal. We did.

Arrangements had been made by our friends who live not far away in Maua where they work with AIDS children, communities without water, school children infested with worms, and a hospital stretched beyond its limits. We love spending time with them and for the four of us to be together on this kind of trip was something to look forward to. They had to cancel, however, when a new grandchild decided to arrive early in the states, so Joan and I trekked out alone.

We stepped off a small plane in the middle of a huge plain which had landed on a gravel strip and pulled up to a small stone open shelter—welcome to Mara International, I guess. A fabulous driver and guide grabbed our one bag, shook our hands in the Kenyan way (with gestures, vigor, and sincerity—first the hand shake, then the hand clasp, then a final hand shake)—and immediately loaded us into an open topped Toyota land cruiser. We stood for most of three days.

A short drive from the air strip and we stopped to photograph elephants, then thousands of wildebeests and hundreds of zebras. The wildebeest, famous for making an annual migration from Kenya to Tanzania, had crossed the river and gone to the other side, only to have returned (completely unheard of) when they discovered that the Tanzanian policy of burning a huge strip of grassland had successfully discouraged the animals who then returned to the lush grasses they had just left. Great for us—and great for the lions who grow fat on a weekly snack of wildebeest (I know—spellings vary and pronunciations do also: a long “I” in wildebeest spelled with a double “e” which came back from “Tanzania” with the accent on the second syllable and the second “a” is long).

We do not have expensive cameras—they are adequate, but nothing like the thousands of dollars of camera which we saw other safarians carrying into the lodge. So, since we couldn’t shoot close-up images from a half mile away, our driver put us so close that we sometimes had to shoot completely wide angle to get the whole thing in the frame. We count 34 varieties of beast—all our favorites—in wonderful images. We had an informed guide who knew the kind of interesting pieces of information that continued to make us say, “Wow, that’s amazing.” I added to my Swahili vocabulary—like “mamba kumba”—which means if one is close, you’d better be in the van (an enormous crocodile).

We visited a Masai village with a very informed guide—a Masai man—who explained the basis of the polygamous nomadic culture, we went inside one of the houses made of cow dung and dirt by a woman who is ready to be married (but doesn’t choose her spouse) and could be wife number two, three, four, or more. We bought Masai hand-made items to help finance the primary school close to the village. We watched the men sing and jump and the women sing and work (Masai women, like most Kenyan women, do a lot of work).

We enjoyed the luxury of a top-flight lodge with elegant food, wonderful service, and magnificent views among the most internationally mixed group of people we have been with for a while. We talked about suddenly finding ourselves among the majority again (white) when, as best we can count, we are the only two white persons on the KeMU campus. And we talked about our good fortune, to be celebrating a 58th wedding anniversary in Kenya—completely beyond imagination 58 years ago.

As we enjoyed gourmet meals, we would think about the young people that Joan works with at the children’s home who have something dipped out of a bucket for their evening meal. And we talked about what it means that I grumble or complain about the sameness of food in the campus student cafeteria when that same food was identified by the kids from the children’s home as one of the highlights of their recent campus visit. Our guess is that none of them will ever get to go on safari the way the two of us did.

The students in my Intro to Psych class knew that we were headed to Masai Mara. I’m curious about what they will ask and what they will think about the experience from our point of view. I’ll find out tonight. I think they were happy that they got to skip one class for our trip.

I was flattered at one point when I used my very limited Swahili vocabulary to say thank you (asante) for service and to say “it’s good” (sowa sowa) in response to a question. I gave a “karibu” (“you’re welcome”) in response to a thanks from someone else. Overhearing those few words made a person think that I was from Kenya. And I thought about my friend back in Oregon who gets disgusted with folks who won’t go to the trouble to learn a couple of social greeting words when he takes them on medical mission trips to Guatamala. I hope we were not the ugly Americans.

I saw persons connected with Doctors Without Borders but didn’t get to talk with them. And I visited with a woman connected with Academics Without Borders who is teaching in Nairobi. (I intend to follow up with that organization.) And, we both had our eyes, ears, and thoughts opened even more as a piece of the world which we only could have imagined came in to our reality.

And every Kenyan we saw as we were leaving said, “You will come back.” In response to the question, “How was it?” We can only say, “Nzuri sana” (very good). Now, back to class and the topic of this blog—A Counselor Educator in Kenya. Well, maybe next time.

Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.

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