A Kenyan Diary: Of Elephants, Maasai Warriors and Empowered African Women and Children

Hippos in the Maasai Mara Reserve

Day Five: The highlight of our last day at Bogani is a safari into the Maasai Mara, Africa’s richest wildlife reserve. Even before we reach the gates of the park, we enjoy spotting harems of zebras, groups of impalas and the famous Thompson gazelle grazing in plains dotted with desert date acacias. We’re keen to spot all of the Big Five, named not for size but for their endangered status. They include lions (numbering only 5000 compared to 30,000 in the 70s), the Black Rhino, Leopard, Cape Buffalo and Elephant. We first stop by a pond where 3000- pound hippos bob in and out of the algae-topped water. The hippo is the most dangerous in the park and has a deadly bite if one gets between the hippo and his water. We then drive through a herd of Cape Buffalo, the second most dangerous in the park.

Lions mate every 15 minutes and we get up close and personal with a couple in the tall grass. It’s true. They do mate every 15 minutes. We move on to watch the graceful antics of two giraffes pushing each other for dominance, a hyena hiding in the grass stalking a harem of zebras , beautiful cranes and ostriches and baboons who scatter into the trees when we stop along the Mara River for a picnic.

Mating season for lions on safari

Back at Bogani, we join an afternoon hike with the Maasai Warriors to learn about medicinal herbs and try our hand at throwing a Maasai club and shooting a bow and arrow. Most of us agree we would leave the art of protection from wild animals to the warriors. They’ve been our constant companions during our five days and have become our friends.

Wilson and Jackson, both about 24 (without birth certificates they’re not sure of their exact ages), had to kill a lion as part of their induction into the role of Maasai warrior. Some of the Maasai traditions such as slaying a lion and enduring a circumcision at the age of about 12 to mark a rite of passage into manhood are now being revised as these young men, with educated views believe that staying in school and getting an education is a more practical way of entering adulthood. Wilson tells us that because Maasai men are allowed more than one wife, he has 42 brothers and sisters. He thinks he will just stick to one wife. He recalls that his father was worried when he went away to school that he would “lose his way,” but Free The Children (freethechildren.com) makes sure that the traditions and culture of the Kenyan tribes are respected and integrated into their education.

After our final dinner at the Bogani platform, we join the drummers from OHAfrica, who teach us how to play the drums, a fitting end to an unforgettable week.

We pack our bags for an early morning flight to Nairobi and then home. It has been the richest experience of my life. I am shocked at the level of poverty in this country, but awed and humbled by their appreciation of getting help with basics we take for granted such as clean water, health care and an education. I feel remorse at our galloping consumerism and sense of entitlement. Most of all, I am blown away by the strides made to break the chain of poverty around the world by Free The Children. And blown away that it all started with Craig Kielburger at the age of 12, proof that it takes a child to change the world— or at least inspire others to do so.

For more information about booking this meaningful travel adventure, visit www.meritvacations.com or call 1.866.341.1777.

-Bonnie Baker Cowan

Guests of a Me to We Trip to Kenya are treated to a unique African experience of being immersed in the daily life of a fascinating culture. Me to We is an innovative social enterprise that supports the important work of its partner, Free The Children, an educational partner and international charity committed to providing holistic and sustainable infrastructure to developing communities around the world. Me to We donates half of its net profit to Free The Children, while reinvesting the other half to grow the enterprise and its social mission.  In a five-part diary series, Bonnie Baker Cowan recounts the impressions of the Kenyan way of life, particularly in its rural and underserved communities and the work Free The Children is doing to help people break the chain of poverty.