The campsite run by the Isgargaro Women’s group in Loglogo used to be my favorite place to stay during my visits to the area. Over the years, however, the accommodations in other locations have greatly improved, while Isgargaro’s huts and buildings have slowly been devoured by termites and poor maintenance. The beds, made of sticks and secured with strands of sisal and metal wire, lose an inch or two every year to the termites, and now some of the frames, where the foam mattresses lay, are almost touching the ground. I actually used to find the white noise of munching termites at night a comforting sound as I fell asleep – drowning out the sounds of the barking dogs and whooping hyenas.
We arrive at Isgargaro to a deserted camp. They were expecting us yesterday and it takes some time before the women arrive and the fire gets going for tea and lunch. In the meantime, we visit some of our businesses that sell vegetables in the shade of a market area in the town.
When we return to camp I make sure that Omar has followed our instructions on how the women should make the tea. Because of the outbreak of burcellosis (a livestock based disease) we insist that the tea be boiled with the boxed UHT milk that we provide (as we have with all of our other destinations). Lunch is delicious but I am wary – this is where I got sick on the last trip. David fulfills that prophesy within a few hours, vomiting into the ground next to his bed. Corwin sees this as a great plus, since clean up just requires a shovel. We all worry about David since he is also a diabetic, and review our alternatives for immediate medical care if David should become sicker. With tomorrow being a Saturday, the clinics will be closed, so our options are limited to an evacuation by Flying Doctors, or a run to Nairobi, a drive of over 10 to 12 hours.
For dinner, Corwin and I break into the freeze-dried food that I forgot was in the bottom of my bag. I never thought it would come to this. I have traveled in the region for five years, and until the last trip, had never become seriously sick. Now it seems that at least one of our team gets ill on every trip, and not just the mzungus. We all suspect burcelloisis but Kura, Sarah and I have all been tested and it comes up negative. Compounding the mystery is the fact that we all share the same symptoms. I killed my malady with 6 weeks of anti-biotics and de-worming meds. Sarah recovered after 2 weeks. Kura’s symptoms come and go.
The next morning we make the executive decision that four of us – Kura, David, Corwin and I, will make a run for the hermetic cocoon of the isolated tourist – Samburu Lodge in Samburu National Park. We will drive Gumps, and the rest of the team will return to Nanyuki in the Defender, driven by Maina.
Our drive into Samburu is like entering another world. I’m driving and this garners me a resident pass into the park; Kura pays citizen rates and David and Corwin get hit by the rising tourist fee. Half an hour after leaving the gate, I drive within a few feet of large families of elephants, gravy zebras and reticulated giraffes. Dik-diks are everywhere, safe from the predator birds that cannot see them under the cover of low scrub.
As soon as we sit down for lunch, we order doubles of everything – double gin and tonic, double rum, double margarita. Fruit juice for Kura. Health practitioners may not agree with our decision to self-medicate in this way but this felt as appropriate as the dose of Dr. Cuervo administered by Dr. Chip after driving the bandit run from South Horr to Loiy.
After lunch we make it to rooms that face the river at the far end of the lodge. Laying on a real bed, with my journal and papers and laptop before me, I feel a sense of exhaustion and exhilaration after all we have accomplished in two weeks. Our programs and a couple of very needy projects have the chance of being funded by the Ross Foundation. We have a treasure trove of magnificent photos that will help us tell our story. Best of all, our businesses are thriving. They are now established entities in their communities, role modeling the self-confidence that comes from economic empowerment and self-determination. They have also gained recognition by the wholesalers who now drive out to our businesses to sell stock, saving many of them the long trek to the settled villages.
I decide to forgo the shower and go on a game drive, dragging Kura with me. We are rewarded with magnificent sights of elephants, over 30 lions and a leopard that chooses to walk right in front of our lone vehicle. When we return to the lodge it is dark. I take the longest shower of my life, draining the solar heated water in the drum behind my room in order to wash off the sand and grit of northern Kenya from my body and hair. After a dinner that I can barely remember, I fall asleep to the roars and growls of a pride of lions across the dry river bed. They go on into the night, their mortal and endangered cries breaking my African heart.