Monday, November 7, 2011

2011 Rosslyn Academy Sixth Grade Cultural Field Trip

I had the great pleasure of being a chaperone on this year’s 6th grade field trip.  The idea is it is a great opportunity to get these young minds of mush out into the Kenyan environment to experience the world they live in, build character through a challenging adventure, etc.  It is a three day trip to the Mount Kenya area where we donate supplies and spend time with a local school, climb stage one of the mountain, visit a Kikuyu Village and close it out with a visit to Sweetwater Game Preserve. 

Day 1 – Roughly 40 kids, 5 parents (myself, dad with Mission Aviation Fellowship, mom with BlueSky Ministries, mom psychologist, dad with DelMonte) and 2 teachers load out two busses.
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It is obvious that the kids are still sixth grade as they choose to self segregate into a boy’s bus and girl’s bus (and as expected it proves out that by the end of the trip the boy’s bus looks like a “shock and awe” campaign has been waged and the girl’s bus smells like a bouquet of flowers).

We depart for about a three hour drive up to the school we intend to visit.  We have a load of supplies – text books, art items, etc.
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This is the reality for most of the school children throughout Africa
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”We have no time to waste”DSCN0887
”Effective leaRning”DSCN0830
The face of then greeting
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Making friends and playing games
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We spent a great couple of hours communing with these kids, answering questions and opening the eyes for our own kids at how off the chart blessed they are and what the real “99 percenters” opportunities look like. 
From here we head off to the traditional Kikuyu village
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Here we learned about the very interesting Mugumo Fig Tree (posed all the details earlier) but basically it is a magical gift from God that grew from heaven down to earth and if you walk around it seven times it will change your sex – as our two knuckle heads on the left attempted.
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The medicine man then thought the kids how to make different poisons for hunting or enemies and some herbal remedies for various illnesses.  Was a super time for sure. 

Onwards to the Mount Kenya Lodge to get these kids fed and rested for the big hike early the next morning.
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Girls did not think this was the best bathroom ever but recognized it at least had a sit-on toilet
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Good food and cool mountain model
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That night we had a great fireside devotional and song session with all the kids and a neat group of hardcore British climbers joined us for the time. 

Day 2 – 6am we head off to basecamp.  Such a beautiful morning,
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sky is clear and we think “wow, this is going to be a great day”
Basecamp is about an hours drive from the lodge and 9 kilometers up a dirt track which is nice a dry and passable.
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The team is ready to go, I have Lillian’s crutches on my pack (she broke her hip 5 weeks prior to this trip after being thrown from a horse).
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From basecamp to Old Moses stage one camp is nine kilometers through various terrain, traditional forest, bamboo forest then mountain scrub to 3,300 meters.  We have packed lunches and the goal is to hike up then pick nick at Old Moses, hike around for a while longer then make the decent before dark.Knowing these are ten and eleven year olds we have arranged for an overlander truck to be avialable to assist when kids get tired out or injured.  From the beginning the girls think it might be a good idea to truck up a ways to cut some of the 9k down, as Lillian has the hip problem I send her along.  But, we make the boys tough it out and at least start on foot.
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Our first warning of how the rest of the day would go started about half a kilometer in when the overlander lost traction and ran got itself stuck.
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But, hey, we are on an adventure so lets just offload and enjoy the climb.  TOSH0113TOSH0122
Shortly after the clouds roll in, rain, hail, wind, cold, wowza.  (sorry, this is where all cameras get packed away and we have no pictures of the ensuing misery).  Having no choice we complete the hike up to Old Moses, cram all 40 kids into the shack and start to try to fight off hypothermia from setting in.  We feed um, dry them as best we can then tell them the bad news that we need to get moving on down the mountain as we are concerned the weather could go from bad to worse and we can not get caught up there after dark.  The truck did get out of the first spot but got fully stuck another couple of K up as the rains turned the track into hell.  From here we cattle drive the kids, slipping, sliding, falling down the mountain.  My mantra to the kids is counting down to the goal,”9k, 7k, wave to the stuck overlander driver, 3k to go, wow there, we can see the basecamp” The kids are amazing, pulling through great.   Lillian looks like a giraffe – crutches like long front legs, navigating treacherous footing down the mountain in the rain.  My problem is that I can see the base camp below but there is an obvious lack of bus shaped  items parked out front.

Once at basecamp it is clear, the buses have left, once the rain started the drivers recognized the impassibility of the road in once it turned to mud and hightailed it for the tarmac to wait for us.  Kids, believing that an 18k round trip in the rain was all that was required of them this day, all burst into tears.  Parents and teachers consult, some of us want to get moving now before muscles seize up and hypothermia sets in.  But, it is clear that some kids are done and cannot continue.  The park rangers offer to build a fire in one of their cabins so the worst off kids pile in and strip off wet clothing.  The MAF dad and I hold the other kids under a different shelter as we await word on the overlander being able to rescue us or if there are any other measures of extraction. 

As I look out the cloudy window of the shelter I fear the sun is already setting but then it is clearly not the sun but a fire on the roof of the warming cabin the other kids are in.  I take off running and yelling for their attention to get the heck out.  The rangers use the fireplace as a kitchen so the chimney is full of grease, they build an extra big fire for all the kids, the grease ignites, the flams pour out of the chimney onto the roof – fun times for all.  Thank God once the fire is doused all is ok.  (how could I miss this opportunity to take pictures?  Shows just how cold and miserable even the parents are).  Just then we hear the rumble of the overlander in the distance.  Rescue is here. 

We can only get half the group on.  So I load the healthy half as it is decided that the cold group still needs time in the (now controlled) fire house. Plan is to deposit half the group at a bus and send it onto the lodge then return for the second half.  Well, kids are crying for joy, we load up and head out.  Half a kilometer in….the road looks like a disaster and the driver decides to get the kids out, attempt the steep decline then reload if successful.  We hike on down and the truck essentially side skids down.  The kids all look a bit concerned at the lack of safety.  We reload and strike out again.  One kilometer later we loose traction, side swipe a cliff and do a terrifying 50 to 60 degree tilted angle scrape/slide with mud and trees coming into the compartment for a good half a kilometer until the truck comes to a rest.  The entire time kids are full on screaming, I am telling them “it is all going to be okay, we are fine, stay calm and hold on tight”, the psychologist mom looks up at me at one point and mouths “but it is not okay” with tears in her eyes, I respond “I know but we have to pretend it is”. It was absolutely terrifying.IMG_0492we climb out the windows.  Realizing we have 7 more kilometers to go but notice the road has flattened out before us.
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We manage to get the overlander out of the ditch where it wound up but some of the girls have decided they are not by any measure getting back in that thing.  We reload the others back onto the rig and 5 young ladies and myself start walking.
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We are quite the show but we have a great time, talk about tons of stuff, relive the fun of the day, watch the sun set and make it back to the big buses just minutes after the overlander as it continued to have issues on the road.  It then turns around for the trip back to the other group.  After the big crash we called up to the other group to advise they are not being retrieved anytime soon and advised walking out sooner rather than later as the daylight is going to pass us by.  Sure enough they make it a good 6k before the truck reaches them. 

Nearly 25 kilometers on foot for my daughter with a broken hip, over rough terrain, in unfriendly weather…..I cannot believe how strong and determined this young lady is, I have never been more proud of her.   All of the adults gave her huge praise.

We all hightail it back to the lodge, shower, treat the wounded and sack out right away. 

Day 3 – Plan is for an easy day, we wake all the kids at 6:30.  Assess blister, rashes, sore muscles, etc. but everyone will live.   Lillian and I survey the damage on the overlander.  Mud everywhere, the inside is completely coated upto the roof from the haircut we gave the cliff side.  IMG_0500She considers this machine a torture device. 

Breakfast at the lodge then we clear the rooms, load the busses and strike out for Sweatwater Game Preserve.  The kids wound up seeing buffalo, Lion, Chimpanzee, Baboon, Black-backed Jackal, Warthog, Elephant, Reticulated Giraffe, Black Rhino, White Rhino, Zebra, Thomson’s Gazelle, Impala, Waterbuck, Eland, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Grant’s Gazelle and tons of birds. 
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Once of the neat things at Sweatwater is they have a learning center and a blind rhino you can feed. 
DSCN1088Lillian learned about poo.
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“At the end of the day” , as they say here, we had an amazing three days.   I am super proud of all the kids.  (I learned that 11 year old boys are complete goobers and 11 year old girls are young ladies – really believe boys should not start kindergarten until like 6 or 7, just let them play in the mud until then, their brains are far behind the girls).  I will cherish this time with my daughter until the end of my days.  She can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, I have no doubt of that.  I cannot wait until Ella Jade and Duncan are ready for this trip – Ashley has already opted out based on my report.