I had wanted to go to Africa for many years. I was in the East African country of Kenya, mostly at the Samburu Game Reserve and the Masai Mara. I love elephants, and my dream was to see them in the wild.
It was pure chance that we made a connection between my Edmonds Noon Rotary Club and the Lake Chelan Rotary, which supports a project called Brighter Futures. Edmonds Rotary gave $1,000 to Lake Chelan Rotary to help with their solar lighting in the nearby village. Several of us on the safari took a suitcase of goods for the Nkoilale school. I happened to take 70 lbs. of sewing supplies, and had help from our community, friends and family. Other people brought socks, underwear, t-shirts and soccer balls. Many of the women made “Days for Girls” kits.
We got to experience the corruption of the Kenyan government first hand as soon as we arrived. My traveling companion Linda and I had each brought a 70-lb. suitcase, and we were flagged by the “customs agents” for inspection. They demanded that we pay a 50 percent tax on our goods, even though we explained that they were donations for the school. We were about the fight it, when one of the agents took Linda’s passport, locked it in a drawer and pointed to the pay window. Luckily I had the forethought to lie about the value and told them our two bags only contained about $200 worth of goods. So we got out of there with just a $100 “tax” — and found out later (of course) that there was no such tax.
After being in Africa for one day, members of our group agreed that we would last approximately three minutes. People here live very hard lives — 40 percent unemployment and poverty that many of us have never seen; those of us privileged to be born in the United States were so humbled. And then we started meeting the people: Warm, loving and giving, and proud to show us their beautiful land — and beautiful it is.
There are no words to describe the first time you come upon a herd of elephants quietly eating in the bush, or a giraffe turning to look at you while stripping a high branch, or a pride of lions frolicking on the rock where you enjoyed a cocktail party the night before.
And there are no words to describe coming face to face with a green mamba snake. Yes, that happened. After visiting the chimpanzee reserve, my friend and I headed up to the bathroom. Just as I passed, she spotted something move quickly in the grass, and jumped back, just before stepping on the deadly green snake. The snake was now on the path, leaving me trapped against the wall of the building.
Have you ever had such an adrenaline rush that you cease to hear all noise, even the sound of your own screaming? This brought the workers from the reserve to the path, who saw that the snake was coiling to strike and yelled and waved their arms to distract it — while another worker ran through the tall grass on the side of the building, grabbed the arm of this hysterical and not petite woman, and literally flung me onto his back. Too bad for him he didn’t see the large camera hanging from my neck, which flew up and clocked him, hard, on the side of the head. He staggered, but bless his Masai Warrior heart, he stayed on his feet and delivered me to the safety of the parking lot.
You would think that would be enough for one day, but no. For the first time on the trip, our lovely camp hosts put a nice warm water bottle in our b. We did not know that there would be a warm foreign object in our b (and yes, we know that snakes are not warm). While I was in the shower, I heard my roommate (the one who almost stepped on the snake) let out a blood-curdling scream as she slipped into bed. As I turned to run from the shower to see what snake was in our room (because…of course), I slipped and fell, hard, on the ledge of the shower, leaving me with a 6-inch bruise that felt just splendid for the rest of the trip as we traversed the dirt roads of Kenya is search of the gorgeous animals.
Here’s the strange thing about green mambas: They are tree snakes. They rarely are found on the ground. When they do encounter humans, they slither off. So the natives in our camp considered me “lucky,” and for the rest of the trip, I was known as “Mamba Mama.”
— Story and photos by Maggie Peterson