Friday, October 25, 2013

Birds of Eastern Africa

     I love to watch birds, and Eastern Africa was a wonderful place to do just that. The birds are absolutely beautiful and they are everywhere. Over the years my birdwatching on all of our trips has turned my husband into an excellent bird photographer. I am thinking of sending some of these photos to birding magazines because I think some of the photos could earn a little money.  I have posted a few of my husband's photos here to just wet your appetite. Remember these photos are copyright protected. I have reduced their pixels for this purpose.  It will take more than one post to show all these nice photos. I am also in the process of counting the lifers that I added on this trip. I have to look through my journal from the trip, also identify all the photos my husband took of birds, and I also need to go through my bird book and remind myself if I forgot to note any bird that I did see down in my journal. My memory is pretty good for the birds I have seen, immediately the day of the sightings. But sometimes I need the bird book to jog my memory when some days have passed from the sighting.

African pied crow: A common bird especially in areas of human habitation, as you can tell from its perch.
     The above photo is just to wet your appetite for bird photos. Hit "Read More" and view many more.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween and Pumpkin Carving: A wonderful link!

     Pumpkin carving is of course a large part of the tradition for Halloween festivities whether for children or for adults. Children, of course love the traditional Jack O'Lantern. Apparently the origin of pumpkin carving has its roots in the carving of turnips and gourds which dates back to Celtic times several centuries ago. The practice of carving faces on these small much more difficult to carve garden objects and putting at first glowing coals in them and later candles began in conjunction with All Hallow's Eve, of course, the origin of Halloween. All Hallow's Eve was historically a time to celebrate the former lives of the dead. The positive part of this holiday was to bring back or at least honor the spirits of our dead loved ones. But there was a fear that this practice to bring back dead loved ones' spirits would also bring back the spirits of those who were not so loved or that were actually dangerous and perhaps evil. Therefore the practice of carving somewhat frightening faces on turnips and gourds started to warn off any spirits that might have malicious intent. Such practices as this date back to perhaps the 1500s. When the Irish and Scottish descendants of these Celtic peoples immigrated to the American colonies, they ran across a member of the squash family, the pumpkin and found it much easier to carve. By the late 1800s the practice of carving pumpkins in the United States had reached faddish proportions. As the centuries have advanced, the art of these pumpkin carvings has advanced. Many communities have pumpkin carving contests, and many adult parties include this activity. Adult creativity has now entered the childrens' world of the carved Jack O'Lantern. Every fall household magazines such as Ladies' Home Journal, and even Martha Stewart's magazine include sections on carving. The practice of taking off a portion of the outer skin of the pumpkin allowing degrees of light to shine through has led to very complex faces and even other typical Halloween vignettes and scenery. Also painting faces and scenes on the pumpkins has become popular. These painted pumpkins last longer than the carved variety because bacterial contamination does not prematurely decompose the pumpkin.

     However, I have not seen carving such as seen in the following website.

     Here is a wonderful link to an artist who has excelled in pumpkin carving. Check his work out. It is apparently well known in New York. He shows the objects created by his fall hobby at various sites in the city. I just enjoyed looking at his website and envisioning the layouts he must produce. He now is apparently selling a DVD and a tool set, etc. I am glad he is accomplishing financial gain from his hobby.

     Check him out and enjoy his website:

     Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My mother's 96th birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!

     The celebration of our birth day is an interesting custom and a joy to most of us. For my family, October is the month of birthdays. A long list of relatives including my younger son, my brother in law, my cousin, my first born grandson, and my daughter in law. My son and daughter in law also have an anniversary in this month. A little research shows that currently the most common birthday month is September. But October is close behind. Actually the most common days of birthdays in the US are October 5 and October 6. Of course we all count backwards 9 months. For September we come to a holiday season in the US which may account for this being the month of the most birthdays. But October is no doubt close behind because January is often the coldest month in our northern climate, and people are no doubt cozied up inside together.
     The beloved relative for me with the oldest birthday in this month, is my mother; this year she is celebrating her 96th birthday -- a nonagenarian. She still likes to celebrate. She decided to have a fellowship hour after church in her own honor. Her daughters helped her put together some cheese and crackers, grapes, and sweets to serve along with juices and of course the mandatory coffee machine supplied the java. This is a small church in a little town in northern Illinois, but I would guess that everyone in attendance came down to the fellowship hour. Her youngest daughter, the one who succeeded at piano, a retired music teacher and vocal musician, sat down at the piano and played a sweeping introduction to the Happy Birthday song, and we all sang to her. She was beaming. Among the many other photos taken, a "church family" photo was taken with Mom in the center, she is the oldest member now.
     It was a nice gathering! I enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to go back to the old church and see people that I had not seen for some time. Some of these people were young people in the church when I was going to summer Bible School, or when I was a member of the confirmands class. These people have all had an effect on us during our formative years. An upright church in a small town in the northern part of Illinois, the heartland of our country provides a wonderful influence for growth to the local children.
     I wanted to try to find out how common people of 96 years are. This would be a difficult number to come up with. I did find numbers for centenarians: there are currently a little less than 55,000 centenarians in the United States. 82% of them are women. Then I tried various calculations using the current US population and the estimated US population in 2018 when Mom would be 100, and the death rates now and in 2018 which are not that different. I came up with very odd numbers which probably do not apply to our population because the death rate among nonagenarians is probably significantly higher than the death rate in general (700/100,000 population). I can not find any numbers that would provide the chances of dying when you are in your 90s. Therefore, I am going to have to let these calculations go. Suffice it to say that I think nonagenarians, and nonagenarians who are approaching centenarians are fairly rare. My mother is a rare individual.

      In my research I came across this poem written in my old literature (as an internal medicine doctor) -- the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Summer of Her 96th Year

Did you ask where I am?
I'm in a very comfortable place, a hotel.
No, I don't know where it is
but they are very nice to you here
you can do whatever you like, it's very nice.

What day is it you say? Oh, it's a summer day,
warm. I like it warm, it reminds me of my father,
he would smile when I sang.
It was so long ago, you know,
so many summers ago, you know,
so many summer days.

The year? I always had trouble with numbers.
I remember the year my brother was born,
I was seven and I made believe he was my baby.
I wish my mother was here. Are you here momma?
Are you my mother? Oh, I thought for a moment...

Did you say you are a doctor?
I've always admired the medical profession.
I knew many doctors years ago,
most of them were kind.
Does the light fade early in the summer?

No, I can't eat anything. I'm not hungry.
I'm afraid of this food.
I'm sorry, I can't hear, did you say
I hurt my hip and had an operation?
Well, for heaven's sake. I didn't know that.

Hospital? No, this is a hotel, it's warm here.
God bless you doctor,
I'm glad we met, but don't let me keep you,
you must have patients to take care of,
and I'm all right.

By John Mann Astrachan MD, New York

Published in Arch Intern Med -- Vol 143, Feb 1983.

     I as a doctor recognize this conversation as the doctor trying to assess this 96 year old woman's orientation to place and time. It is part of the assessment such a doctor would do during rounds after a patient awakes from anesthesia. I don't know what my mother's cognition would be like under these circumstances, in a hospital waking up from general anesthesia after a hip replacement from a fall. But I know what my mother's cognition is right now and it is extraordinary. Yes, she is almost blind with so called "wet" macular degeneration and she can't hear very well. I just recently took her at age 95 to get her first hearing aids. Her three daughters were complaining that we always got hoarse and sore throats after we had come to visit for a while, from the shouting and the repetitions of every thing we say. This is what made her decide to get a hearing aid. She was afraid that people would stop coming to see her.
     She still lives independently in her own little home. Granted being in a small town, she receives a lot of help, and checking up on from neighbors, friends, and other church members. There are numerous people that offer to drive her to her hair salon appointments and doctors appointments. The other day, a resident of the town called and asked her to come over for supper. She has an employee of a local Comfort Keepers office who comes now only about once a month. Previously she was coming once a week when Mom was having a lot of back pain due to spinal stenosis We three daughters visit when we can and call as often as we can..  But she has to occupy herself much of the day. She does. She gets up, makes her bed, gets dressed, gets herself something to eat, and plans what she is going to do that day -- maybe a little cleaning, or rake some leaves and put them out for collection, or sort through some accumulation of mail with her magnifying viewer, or make cookies for the church bake sale, or make one of her wonderful potato salads, or macaroni salads to eat for the next few days. She keeps tract of her medications and knows when she needs someone to take her to get refills. She keeps track of church events, the local historical society meetings, the church suppers and all the other fund raising events in this little town and tries to attend as many as she can get a ride to. I have taken her to some of these events, and she is a little social butterfly. She can't see well enough to know who has come over to speak with her, but that doesn't bother her. She tells them she can't see and who is she talking to? They tell her and she remembers them. She has some story to tell about where their lives have interconnected. During the travels of my husband and I, she keeps track of the itinerary and I know she keeps many of the members of the church informed about where we are and what we are seeing. She is steadfastly faithful about sending cards for every one's birthday and anniversary and any other occasion she can think of. My sister just gave her a large attractive folder with pockets for every month of the year, so that Mom can accumulate greeting cards and we and other caregivers can help her address them and keep them ready in a pocket to be mailed at the appropriate time. She always says she doesn't want gifts and we sort of honor that. My other sister brought her some practical things for the sink and the kitchen. I brought her some plants to decorate the church for her occasion, and I know she still loves flowers even though she can't see them very well. Every year she either tries to get some one to help her or she does it herself: plants tulip bulbs in the fall for a spring show, then digs them up when they are done flowering and replaces them with zinnia seed. Everyone comments about that strip of flower gardening along her driveway. She watches the evening news most nights and has an opinion about many of the current events. This give us something to discuss with her when we make our phone calls to her. She participates in the lives of her now 5 great grandchildren by hearing about them from us, by being asked to join in family get togethers when these young ones are going to be present and also by sending them cards, little gifts and coloring books or calendars that she has picked out either from her own collections or when we take her shopping.
     I don't know whether Mom will make it to 100. She says she doesn't think she will. But I do know that she is enjoying life as much as her limitations allow her to. And I know that she is indeed a rare nonagenarian and even a very rare human being. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Largest calving hunk of glacier ever filmed.

     Here is an unbelievable video of a glacier the size of the lower 1/4 or so of Manhattan calving into the ocean, filmed from various previously set up cameras. It is an unbelievable event. And you will be witness through film of this fantastic force of nature.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Porini Lion Camp, Olare Orok Conservancy, Kenya.

     Our first destination in Kenya, was Porini Lion Camp in the Narok Region, located in the Olare Orok Conservancy adjacent to Masai Mara National Reserve. Like all the Porini camps, this is permanently tented. It consists of 10 bedroom tents each with its own bathroom with a flushing toilet, a shower cubicle, and sink, some storage shelves, a desk in the bedroom, and two beds. There is electricity of a dim nature because it is provided by solar  energy and generator. Due to its dimness, you often want to use a flashlight or headlight to brighten things and certainly if you wish to read after dark. The running water is not for drinking and is cold. For hot showers the Masai housekeepers bring two large pails of hot water from their burner and fill a plastic bucket which is then hoisted up a pole to provide force for a hot shower. At the end of a dusty long day out looking for game, this shower is mighty welcome. In the morning, the staff comes to the tent with a wake up "Good Morning," and the  hot beverage of your choice, with a pitcher of hot water for washing face and hands in the morning.  There is a large dining tent adjoining a lounge area with a small library. There is a separate tent office for the director and sometimes it is in this office that plugins to charge camera and other types of batteries are located. Many camps have a WiFi hotspot by chance, and occasionally cell phone service can be obtained in that hot spot. At Porini Lion Camp it was under the so-called magic tree. It seems that this was likely the highpoint in camp. However, I could not get my phone to work there. Located away from these tents are a kitchen tent, and then even further away the tents that house the workers.
     We arrived in the early afternoon after driving from Nairobi. We had a late lunch by the small creek that runs along the edge of camp while watching baboons across the creek. At 4 PM we went out on our first game drive in Kenya. Believe me, this first drive set a high standard that would be very hard for other campsites to beat. The name of the Porini camp bore its moniker well -- we saw lots of big cats, and the most fascinating views into the lives of these cats occurred with the lions.

Be sure to open this one up to "Read More." It may take a while to load because there are many photos and a rather extended video.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kenya and Tanzania: Introduction!

     My husband and I just returned from 19 days in Kenya and Tanzania, a somewhat difficult trip which included stays at 6 permanent tented camps and 4 lodges throughout various conservancies, national parks of Kenya and Tanzania and private game reserves. The positives of this trip far outweighed the negatives, but it was still a difficult trip, with long days in safari vehicles on perhaps the most consistently horrible roads that we have encountered on any of our visits to 91 different countries. Yes there were individual roads, for example in Costa Rica, and the one to Sani Pass in Lesotho that were worse, but these were in limited areas. The roads in Kenya and Tanzania's bush are universally and consistently horrible. There is really no consistent attempt to bring in gravel, or to grade them, and many are just dirt tracks which the rainy season turns into absolute quagmires which then dry to be a combination of hillocks and potholes that require even the 4 wheel drive safari vehicles to go very slow and time the acceleration just right to get past each such segment. My bottom became very sore, from the bumping and sliding that you do inside the vehicle hitting each of these potholes. There is a lot of ground to cover inside these large national parks and plots of land, so some degree of speed has to be maintained. One day I even took the tent bed pillow with me to help cushion the shocks.
The Great Rift Valley in the highlands of Kenya.

      Sometimes I kidded our guides: "You are familiar with the beautiful Great Rift Valley. Well, there is a Lesser Rift Valley opening up right in the middle of this road." They would always politely laugh.
A typical road across the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

    Just when I would think that I wanted to go back to camp, there would be an animal vignette which touched my heart and I would forget about my sore bottom and just enjoy. I plan to present some of these vignettes in words and photos over the next few postings on this blog, so stay tuned to Renaissance Woman Retired blogsite for more information.
A heard of impala grazing near our tent in Porini Lion Camp.

Grant's gazelle near our camp. Very attractive ungulates.

Giraffes were absolutely everywhere.

Hippos near the Mara River.

     Perhaps I should comment on some recent world happenings that centered in Nairobi, Kenya and how they affected us. Though we spent almost no time in the city of Nairobi itself, we did fly into Nairobi and spend a night at what used to be a Holiday Inn in the city. Actually it was only about 5 hours because our plane arrived at about midnight and by the time we got our baggage and proceeded through the entry procedures, and got to our hotel it was about 1:30 AM and we were being picked up at 7 AM the next morning to begin our travels. We had a lot of miles to make that first day, heading for the Olare Orok Conservancy adjacent to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in northwestern Kenya for a two night stay in a tented camp with game drives in the Conservancy and into the Masai Mara. We also flew out of Nairobi about 2 1/2 weeks later, and 1 day after the end of the siege and destruction of the modern mall by Somali terrorists in downtown Nairobi. We were in Tanzania while much of this tragedy occurred but we were concerned about how procedures at the airport might have changed due to the tragedy and we also had a vague sense of unease just because again terrorism had struck down innocent people just going about their normal day to day business, having harmed no one to so deserve death and injury.

     First of all, the Nairobi International Airport had a major fire occur in August, 2013. It was not thought to be any kind of terrorism, but foul play has not been ruled out. It started in the immigration department in the very early morning hours when the airport was inactive. There is some contention that it was an attempt to burn records that might show all the illegal immigration that has been occurring there, perhaps people and items that are coming or going with knowledge of local authorities but without the proper documents and approval. At any rate, whatever the cause, with some questioned delays in fire department response, almost the entire airport building was gutted. One small wing of gates survived and that is now used for some departures and waiting areas. Many departures wait in a small room in the basement of that surviving wing and then are bused to tents as their airplanes pull up to the tents. Arrivals, immigration and customs are in another tent. I think the airport would be a relatively easy target the way it is now set up, but I don't know what the security around the perimeter is like. I did notice a lot of people, who didn't seem to have a particular job, but wearing the yellow jackets of airport personnel around those tents and airplanes, so perhaps there was an increase in security. The President of Kenya had announced after the mall incident that security at the airport had been increased.

      Of course, all this takes place in Nairobi, a crime ridden city where some statistics say a car is hijacked 10 times a day, just to obtain the car. Our US State Department has a long list of cautions and does not recommend taking any public transportation in the city. The mustatas ( small mini vans that serve as public buses) are often subjected to robberies. Muggings and purse snatching, even walking into hotels and forcing the staff at gunpoint to open the safes in the lobby for robbery are not uncommon. Many crimes are not even reported because people do not trust the police force. In fact, sometimes scams are run by people masquerading as police, and yet it is difficult to prevent this because police regularly run check points and all vehicles must stop at the checkpoint. How is one to know which are criminals and which are the legal police? I think we were safe all the time because we were patrons of Gamewatchers' Safaris, a reputable tourist firm. We were picked up at the airport as we exited by two young men holding our name and with papers describing our trip and with particulars that only Gamewatchers' people could know. We had to drive to our hotel at about 1 AM in the morning, but again there were two young men with us. Our hotel had a gated parking lot and security personnel at that gate. We felt safe there. The warnings also say that there is banditry also in the national parks and reserves, including the Masai Mara, but it does state that mostly people who are traveling on their own are at risk. Our guides always had a short wave radio and are in contact with the other tourist vehicles. And we had two Masai warriors as guide and driver. We always felt safe. At the tourist entrances and rest areas that we stopped, there were lots of people, but clearly most were tourists and their guides. I must admit that I had not read the extent of crime on the Internet until I prepared for this article. But I always felt safe in Kenya because we were with reputable guides, and also in Tanzania.
Our tent at Porini Mara Camp.

Inside the tent. The bathroom and shower are behind the central curtain.

    Again it should be strongly stated that once out of Nairobi, we had no reason to feel fear. In Kenya, we traveled with Gamewatchers' Safaris between camps. They took great care of us. All transfers were there waiting for us and got us exactly to where we were to meet someone from a Conservancy camp, or a driver to take us to the next site. The vehicles were well marked and identifiable.  We stayed in three Porini camps: Porini Lion Camp, Porini Mara Camp, and Porini Amboselli Camp. These permanent tented camps are located in several private Game Conservancies scattered along the edge of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve, and along Amboselli National park near Mt. Kilimanjaro.

     I need to explain the origin of these Conservancies, which has come about just in the last 10 to 15 years. The Kenyan National game and tourism authorities, various international foundations, and some internationally known biologists joined forces and persuaded the local Masai tribes who own the land to give up grazing their large herds of cattle and goats on the land, and to give the land over to wildness for the wildlife. Previously the land had been terribly overgrazed and there were few if any wild animals. Agreements and contracts were drawn up that pay rent to the Masai elders for their tribes for the use of the land by wildlife and small private tourist camps which are very limited in scope. Restrictions are placed on the density of these camps, both in the total acreage that each camp must have, and a limit of 10 tents per camp. This limits the number of tourist vehicles that are thus driving through the conservancies. Also there were agreements to employ the Masai in the camps. Indeed, each of the Porini camps employ almost entirely Masai men as housekeepers for the tents, cooks and servers, guards, drivers and guides. Only the camp director, head of security and chef may be non Masai, and in Lion Camp Mara everyone is Masai including the director and the chef. These young Masai men, wearing their traditional shuka robes, took extremely good care of us. They all spoke some English. They cooked us delicious food and presented and served it with poise. It didn't take them long to learn what we liked in our coffee and how we liked our eggs prepared in the morning. They gently awoke us with a soft Good Morning, outside our tent in the morning, carrying a tray of our selected hot morning beverage. The security detail patrolled the camp grounds during the night making sure that we were not endangered by wild animals that were not monitored and observed to make sure they were not marauding. These tall Masai young men drove our tour vehicles skillfully on those terrible roads, and guided us with amazing knowledge of nature and everything in these wild places. The guides go to the equivalent of 2 years of college and then require a 3 year internship in the field. They continue to educate themselves moving through three levels of guiding, the Bronze, the Silver, and the Gold. One of our guides was working toward his gold Level. In addition to the exam to pass into the next level, for the Gold level, the applicant must have an individual research project. Our guide's project was working with rhinos. He had spent 2 years at Porini Camp Rhino, where he had worked with animals brought from the San Diego Wildlife Reserve, where they had not succeeded with encouraging the breeding of a threatened subspecies of white rhinoceros, the Northern White Rhino.

     While in Tanzania, we were in the capable hands of a single guide/driver working with one of the larger touring companies in Tanzania, the Leopard Tours. Our guide, Innocent M. was charming, funny, and very knowledgeable. He worked hard to ensure that we could observe every animal possible in the various Tanzanian National Parks: Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire National Park. We also spent two nights at a Singita Camp in the Grumeti Game Reserve, privately owned by Singita. We were at one of their 5 lodgings in the private game reserve, Faru Faru. I will do a separate description of that place. It was fabulous. There we had the Singita guides. They do not allow outside guides to drive their private roads. And those roads are graded and maintained. Of course, this was a very expensive place to stay, but no limits on money, I would send all tourists to Faru Faru. It was a phenomenal place.
     Our trip included a visit to an authentic Masai village and I will outline that visit with photos in a separate posting coming up.
Our safari vehicle of Porini Mara Camp. We joined up with another Porini
 vehicle to have a bush breakfast. It will become obvious in the next photo.

We parked in this yellow barked acacia grove for breakfast.

Our Masai guides setting out the breakfast for us that Porini cooks sent along.
You can see we did not miss anything at this breakfast.

Our Masai taking their turn at breakfast. It was delicious.

     This was a phenomenal trip and it will keep us busy on this site for several postings. My husband is just about done sorting out all his photos and I will be able to access them to punctuate my narrative with actual views of some of what we saw. Certainly if anyone has any questions, email me or enter a comment on these posts and I will answer to the best of my ability.

There is another tradition in the Masai Mara. During the late afternoon game drive, the guides have some favorite high
places where we stop and have what is traditionally known as "Sundowners". That is we watch the sun go down while
snacking and sipping on cocktails. Just like the bush breakfast, the camp kitchen sends along the snacks and each of
our individual requests for a sundowner beverage. When the sun is down we drive back to camp, but often are able to see
some nocturnal animals with the red spotlight.  Wow!