Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kenyan visits - highlighting giants and safari

Kenya Safari
Last Saturday we visited three places - The David Scheldrik's Elephant Orphanage, the Animal Orphanage in NNB (Nairobi National Park), and the Safari Walk in NNB. We did not go to the Game Drive (wild safari).

The elephant orphanage is a place for baby elephants and rhinos which are orphaned in some way and live endangered in the forest. They feel so tender and cute and you will feel the same love that you feel for your own kid. The David Scheldrik's Elephant Orphanage is a private orgainzation. My child loves elephants most among all the wild animals; he found it the cutest and the most harmless among the wild beasts. I think Tarzan cartoon inhibited this feeling into him. So I felt he would be very happy to have a chance to see his favorite animal and touch by hand.

I regret I did not bring my wife's DSLR with me. These are the places where you need to take quick snaps and without SLRs you cannot take quick snaps.

The Nairobi National Park has a wonderful reserve of the wild animals. It has three things of interest inside - the animal orphanage, the safari walk and the game drive. The animal orphanage is just a place like a zoo, the safari walk is a secured walk through the wild forest, the game drive is the wild safari where you drive your car through tracks along the wild wide forest.

The animal orphanage has varieties of animals. From the name it seems that it takes care of the orphaned animals. And really we found some cheetahs, lions and a leopard which were brought up here from very young age. There were many lions and lionesses at different cages.

The safari walk was a thrilling one, but unfortunately the time we went there was a resting time for the animals. It was noon. The best time to go to a safari walk is at evening. In the evening animals come to drink water from nearby creek inside the jungle near the safari walk.

The safari walk is a secured walking path raised high and protected by electric fence. So that's cool, you are safe from the wild predators; but don't touch the fence... ;). There is enclosure for lions, leopards and buffaloes. The enclosure is juxtaposed by observatory which has bullet-proof glass with an added layer of electric fence outside. So don't worry. You can see the lion in front of you, but it can't attack you. Same is true for leopard and buffalo.

We found a different kind of zebra, called Albino Zebra or likewise. It has stripes white and orange. We met an Ostrich, baboons, Mr. Rhino, tortoise, buffalo and oh, I forgot the most interesting thing. We found two cheetahs just having a nap in the afternoon. They were lying some 20 feet ahead of us, we had only the electric fence separating us. It was a wonderful experience. Though the fence was there, it seemed we are on the same ground. When they started moving their faces, I was a little afraid. But anyway, just remember you are always safe, unless there is a really odd reason that turns the electricity off. But trust me, there is no such history. Just enjoy there.

We found hippos. One hippo was lying flat under a stream of water falling from the water tap. Looked like it was hot and it is enjoying the cold stream. When the water went off, it became very annoyed.

We saw some hyenas. There is a myth shown in the movie 'The gods must be crazy' that a hyena if alone does not attack something taller than it. I don't know about it. But I know, if hyenas attack, they do it together. They feed on left-overs of other preys. Sometimes if they find a poor prey, they attack on it and eat it alive. Hyenas can run and chase a very long route and have powerful jaws. However they cannot kill by biting at neck like lions/tigers. So they eat the animal alive and the poor animal dies painfully. Hyenas can finish a big prey in 15 minutes. I call them piranhas of the land.

The ostrich is a very big bird. It's egg is very big, too. One egg is worth of 24 chicken eggs. The egg is sold here for 2300 KSH (about 31 USD). The egg looked marvellous to me. The shell is pretty thick. The liquid portion inside is strawed out by making a small hole at one side and then dried in the sun. Sometimes wonderful drawings are painted on the egg, sometimes it is sold as is. The important thing is, if you buy an egg, the seller gives you a permit which you have to carry with you whenever you pass through customs. If you have the egg and not the permit then you are likely to be charged a good amount of fine as it would apparently mean you are an egg-thief (stole from the ostrich) and did not buy. So in a sense, the egg is more precious than gold. However, stealing ostrich's egg is not an easy job. The ostrich gets furious if it finds any sign of stealing its egg and it can run at a wonderful speed to grab the thief and teach him/her a good lesson to remember ever after.

The buffalo is one of the big fives of Kenya. The horns span about 3 and a half meter and the adult might weigh over 800 kg - more than a small car; now guess the giant. I saw a clip in National Geographic channel where 7 lions got over a solitary buffalo. The poor beast fought back fiercely but could not escape death. The lions could not kill it by biting the neck and eventually ate it alive biting here and there and the poor buffalo had a painful death. Buffalos are said to have unpredictable behavior. They stay together help any wounded buffalo in the herd. There was an instance where there was a lame buffalo in the herd. The other buffalos often supported it, helped it to stand, move. The lame buffalo had a baby, too. Another instance shows an orphaned buffalo when brought up by a man, became tame like a dog. It always stayed beside the man, slept with him. But anyway, these are wild and one of the five bigs of Kenya. Stay away from them just as you would stay away from lions. There are very few people who were alive to tell the tale of a buffalo attack after that happened to them.

We saw a leopard in the orphanage. The skin of a leopard is said to be the best camouflage. Leopards are usually shy of human being. The leopard has its extreme feature in its jumps. Across it can leap up to 7 meters and above the ground it can leap 3 meters - that is really a splendid jump. So we can make examples of leopard when we talk about jump or leap like 'leap like a leopard'.

There were some cheetahs in the orphanage. The head of a cheetah is not so big. If you strech fingers of a hand, the head might be like that, but that doesn't mean one's neck is safer to it and it can't break one's neck. The tail of a cheetah is relatively thick. The cheetah uses its tail to balance when it chases at the tremendous 100 km speed. If you see an chasing clip, you will see its tail is raised above swaying this way and that way to balance the tremendous speed.

The rhino is the real giant and too thick and heavy. You might know the horns of a rhino are not horns really, they are kind of very much compressed hair. The lives of rhinos are at stake because of poachers poaching the rhino horns. One little fact I would like to tell you - the eyesight of a rhino is very keen. It depends mostly on its nose and ear to sketch around. So if you ever face a rhino in the wild (which is quite unlikely though), then don't be afraid, but slowly move away without making much noise.

There were many lions in the orphanage. It clearly shows that lions are copious in Kenya. You might know many facts of lions. A lion's roar can be heard 5 miles away. Lions mostly remain inactive for 21 hours of a day. The rest 3 hours are for hunting and eating. The lionesses make the prey and one attempt out of every four is successful. After the lionesses prey, the lion comes and eat first, then the lionesses come and eat and then the cubbies jump on the left-overs. A lion is far stronger than a lioness. Like dogs, lions mark its area of influence by urinating on trees.

In this regard when talking about lions and Kenya, I remember of the hollywood movie 'The Ghost and The Darkness' which was shot in Tsavo national park in Kenya. The movie was based on a true event that also occurred in Tsavo 100 years ago where two man-eater lionesses killed over 135 people when a railway bridge was being constructed over the river there. Patterson and Remington finally killed the lionesses. The movie is an extremely thrilling one. There is also appearance of Kenyan Massai warriors and probably there is use of some local Swahili language also. The lionesses are kept as stuffed animals in Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. The interesting fact about the movie is, it sketched the man-eaters as lions rather than lionesses. The stuffed lionesses in the museum clearly bear the history with them and so there must be lionesses really. But may be the movie wanted to make a devilish appearance of the beast which was perfectly portrayed by using lions and their fiercely ferocious appearance. Tsavo is 200 km away from Nairobi. I could not go to Tsavo this time.

About the prices - the orphanage fee is 15 USD for foreigners, 150 KSH for natives, the safari walk is 20 USD for foreigners, 150 KSH for natives, the game drive (wild safari) is 40 USD for foreigners, 300 KSH for natives. The elephant orphanage is 500 KSH for all irrespective of foreigners and natives. I failed to pretend to be local and hence had to pay international fee.

Now that's the end of my wild encounters. Following are some descriptions of Kenyan environment.

Arabic seems to have a deep impact on many of African languages. On of the words might be 'Subhun' (pronounce soobhoon) that means dawn. In Gambia, they say 'Naka subasi' to mean 'good morning' and in reply you say 'Subah sangfi' to mean 'it is a great morning'. In Kenya you say 'Abari Asubui' to mean 'Good morning'. Can you find 'subhun' with its literal meaning in both places? See, these are totally opposite places of Africa - one is in West Africa and the other is in East Africa; with thousands of miles of distance and 10 hours air time. But Arabic seems to be well-scattered all over. You might know Arabic is one of the 6 official languages of UN.

Some more Swahili words/sentences:

Tunane Keshu - See you tomorrow. Tunane means see you. Keshu means tomorrow.
Simba - Lion.
Ndovu - Elephant.
Abari Asubuhi - (Good) morning, how are you?
Abari - how are you?
Mujuri - I am fine.

I found one other word common with Bengali language that is 'baba' to mean 'father'.

Kenyan people are very friendly. When you first go there, they treat you as a guest and they entertain you. From the next day you are supposed to work with them and be one of them.

The weather is mostly pleasant. The unpleasant time here is December, January and February when it is a little hot.

The staple food of Kenya is called 'Ugali'. Kenya produces a lot of maze. They make flour from the maze and then make kind of mashed thing with the maze flour. I thought of tasting it one day but eventually forgot with passage of time. Fish seems to be costly and mostly unavailable at Nairobi. They are found in coastal areas like Mombassa.

Kenya has many high-rise buildings. The roads are neat and clean. The inter-city connecting roads are about 200 ft wide. Nairobi has a lot of traffic and hence traffic jam. But overall, it's a very pleasant experience.

If you like to work in Africa, I would like to give you one advice - please learn French before coming. Countries in Africa have either English or French as national language. And mostly people who speak French, don't speak English. Same is true for people knowing English. So once you go in a French-speaking country, you are very helpless. So learn French. Also it will increase your chance to get a job in UN as French is one of the six official UN languages. Think big. Also, language learning is fun.

Gospel and Reggae are two among the various pouplar kinds of songs here. Traditional African music has a calm dance beat and easy-going move. No heavy instruments are used with the songs, so there is no metal sound. But modern songs are introducing metal instruments as well. Guitars are used by many artists, but with no metal noise. They use their local musical instruments to compose. There is a Nigerian song 'Yori Yori' which is popular in Gambia and also in Kenya. The artist/band (named BRACKET) must be very happy that his/its song is being played across a vast region throughout Africa. I heard the song. It has its easy African beat. People love the beats and flows mainly. The song is sung in English, but with an African accent, hence might sound different.

From among other popular singers of Africa is a Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (pronounce yasun dor). I heard his songs in Emirates; I mean Emirates Airlines keeps some of his songs in playlists. If you travel in Emirates, you can give it a try. Of course Emirates is not the only solution. I think you will find some in mp3raid.

Last day I forgot to mention three things about the Giraffe Centre and giraffes. First, a giraffe can elongate its gestational period up to a few more months if it doesn't find a suitable place for delivery. Second, giraffe's saliva is non-toxic, non-sticky and has anti-biotic effects; that's why you can feed it with no worries at all. The third one relates to the second one - the same fact can be utilized if you want to kiss the giraffe. That is, if you hold a nut in your lips, the giraffe in the Giraffe Centre sticks out its tongue and will get the nut from your lips. Well that should be a totally unique experience of life, but may be I was not adventurous enough to try to have a kiss from the giraffe. But some people loved to do it; I failed to capture the moment in camera.

Sorry for the long writing again. This is a travel diary... :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kenyan Diary - highlighting Giraffe Centre

Kenya Giraffe Centre
Writing from ACK Guesthouse, Nairobi, Kenya. I came to Kenya to provide support to Kenya that works in collaboration with MRC in some medical studies.. I flew a long distance from West Africa to East Africa airborne 11 hours. The journey was long and tiresome but had good and friendly reception here and so had a chance to relax over the tireness.

This is my second visit to the city after one and half years. Not much change I observed, not much expected either. Weather is still nice and wonderful. No need of fan or AC, on the other hand, no need to wear heavy clothes either. Just a cool weather.

We made a plan to visit some places this Saturday and the next Saturday. We were - me, Moses, Kajungu and Boaz - all of us from KAVI (Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative). I am a temporary worker here. We started in the morning. The first thing to visit was the Giraffe Centre, then Uhuru Garden and then some local shops to buy something.

Kenya follows right-hand drive, the same as Britain. That is, the driver drives on the right side of the car and cars drive on the left side of the road. Also this is the same as in Bangladesh. There are some interesting facts about the left-hand drive and right-hand drives. Long ago, when there were no vehicles and most people are right-handed, they preferred to walk or ride on horse and move along the left side of the road. This is because, they wanted to have their right arm free (since right-handed) so that they can get their sword out deftly and use it against an enemy coming from the other side (if any). Well, you can google over it anyway.

We fell in terrible traffic jam on roads. But still better than jam in Dhaka city. Also roads are wider and provision is kept for making wider in future unlike Dhaka. But cars are increasing in number as days go by. The Giraffe Centre was about 24 km far from the city centre. Thanks to Prof. Walter to provide us with a car at my request.

The Giraffe Centre was founded in 1979 by Mr. Melvile with a vision to educate young people and also to rescue endangered Rothschild Giraffe. Entrance fee was 700 KES for me (about 10 USD). I tried to pretend as a local (many continental people live in Kenya), but failed since I don't know the local Swahili language. So I had to pay the foreign fee for entrance. But anyway, seeing the giant quadruped from heart's distance was a fabulous experience, and the ticket price might be worth of it.

There are three types of giraffe - Reticulated Giraffe, Rothschild Giraffe and Maasai Giraffe. The Giraffe Center takes care of the Rothschild Giraffe. The Maasai Giraffe is the biggest one; it's height reaches up to 21 feet.

Giraffe is a friendly animal. With its long neck and very big eyes, it can see it's surrounding well. There are a few predators of giraffe. Lions, leopards and hyenas are some of them. If it faces an attack, it runs. If fails, then it makes a powerful kick with its hind legs. The legs are big and strong enough to kill a lion if the kick is sharp enough. Also it runs as fast as 60 kmph. In videos, its running movement seems to be slow, but really it runs as fast as 60 kmph, not a bad run. It sleeps standing with eyes open.

There is an urban legend in some places that claims a giraffe has two hearts - one near mouth inside throat and one at the end of neck between the front legs. The legend is not true in that it does not have a heart at mouth. But its heart is at the end of the neck where breast is. The heart is 2 ft x 1 ft and weighs 11 kg.

A giraffe in care can survive up to 38 years. The one in wild survives up to 20 years only. This is due to the fact that its visibility reduces after 18 years and then becomes vulnerable to prey.

The gestational period of a giraffe is 15 months, the legs of the baby comes out first and then head. It drops down from 6/7 feet and sometimes dies due to neck break. During labor a giraffe tries to find out a soft place where the baby might get less hurt. But sometimes it fails to find out when predators are around. The baby giraffe is about 2 meters high and 70 to 100 kg in weight. It stays with mother for two years.

There is a free walk inside forest just opposite to the giraffe park. We went down trekking and found a small 'dic dic' and some birds. When one comes back from trekking, s/he needs to sign a book and describe the animals s/he saw. This may be a good thing to keep in knowledge about the habitat of the forest.

The other place we went was Uhuru Garden. This is the place where Kenya earned freedom from British reign somewhere in 1960's decade. It has a giant monument with some sculptures around. The design is nice. There is another place named Uhuru Park where we went last time.

Just had a brief peep into the national park. The ticket price for foreigners is a bit high. There are three things to visit inside - the orphanage where wild animals are kept inside cages. It costs 15 USD for foreigners. The wild safari costs 40 USD for foreigners. The other thing is the safari walk that shows many harbivorous animals on way. That costs 20 USD for foreigners. For natives all prices are not more than 2/3 USD. We are holding the safari for the next week.

From descriptions, it seems the wild safari is a bit discouraging. It is because, most predators are nocturnal and in daytime they mostly sleep inside jungle. People have to have a very good eyesight and need of binoculars are well-appreciated. So I am thinking how much worth it would be to spend 40 USD just to move around a deserted jungle.

Kenya has two national languages - Swahili and English. I found three words in Swahili language (Kenya has two national languages - Swahili and English) common with Bengali language.

'Chabi' is in both languages and means the same - key.
'Paisa' is in both languages and means the same - money.
'Gari' is in both languages and means the same - car.

The most common Swahili words that every foreigner learns here are the swahili of 'Thank You' and 'Welcome'. In swahili they are 'Asante' and 'Karibu' respectively. There are two other common words/sentences in Swahili - 'hakuna matata' to mean 'no problem' and 'jumbo' to mean 'hello'.

Ok that's for this week's visits. Hope to spend some more time in the next week to describe some more of Kenya. Sorry for the long writing - it's a traveller's diary anyway... :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Heights of Agony

Omayra Sanchez, Colombia, Nevado del Ruiz

Nevado del Ruiz is called a sleeping lion. It is a volcano and there seems to be no precise way to predict its eruption. Yet with limited resources and technologies, the Colombian specialists foresaw an eruption in 1985 to which the government paid little attention if at all.

But the forecast became true with a sudden uproar of the lion and devastated the lives of people nearby. About 23,000 out of 28,700 inhabitants of the town Armero died in the flood caused by lahar and mudflow.

Omayra Sanchez was a 13 year old little ordinary girl who was sleeping when the volcano erupted. While they were running for life, her aunt got trapped in a water aqueduct below, and she tried to save her sibling, thereby caught by the grips of time only to get trapped by lahars, debris, and concrete. Metal bars pierced her hips where gangrene later followed.

She was so badly trapped up to her neck that the rescue workers found it impossible to remove her from the trap without amputating her legs or removing all the debris and water with powerful pumps. They could not do anything – nothing was possible really without surgical equipments or powerful pumps.

Sadly, her pictures and videos were being broadcast all over the world, constant requests were being sent to government. But none could help, or none had time to save one little life.

The Colombian government was indifferent to the constant requests of pumps from the rescue workers. Some said, the country was a developing one and did not have right kind of materials to rescue. People all over the world were watching her clips and conversations with a hope that she is going to survive again. But that did not happen really. You can find some of the clips in YouTube.

She suffered for 60 hours. She was morally high and strong by this time, wishing to get back to her school. She succumbed to gangrene and hypothermia (temperature below survival level) in parts of her body emerged under water and suffocated by debris and concrete. She was hallucinating the last few hours of her life. She knew she was dying, but faced it with courage and dignity.

With her big black eyes, she might mean to live on a dream for a better world. Photo-journalist Frank Fournier took this photo a few hours before her death. It won the World Press Photo award in 1986. It is a symbol of agony where you have wonderful technologies around – sending rockets to moon, wasting billions on war and conquers, making intelligent missiles, lavishing luxurious cars and planes but you cannot save a little innocent life – just watch that die slowly which had a fervent hope that someday somebody will come to rescue her. So it seems we do not have right technology at the right time, or we fail to measure the value of a life. Just some surgical equipments, or powerful pumps were all that was needed. But nothing came, nobody came, only allowing the passage of death to creep in slowly. It is the agony that rises high when you cannot do anything but stare at somebody’s death:

“Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die” (- Dire Straits)

There are hundreds of Omayras dying on earth each day on various occasions. We only see the news on papers or in broadcast TV shows. Let’s make a mind to do something. Let’s not be stoic only to stare and hear, otherwise someday there might be a metamorphosis of human being leading to birth of a new stoic species – we do not want to be like that. We should be proud to be human beings who care about others’ pains and who can shout and rise high with love and affection – radiating to every corner of the world tearing up the veils of pain and agony. Let's try to stop deaths of Omayras in whatever way we can. There will be the true being inside us…

(Google or Wiki with “Omayra Sanchez” to find more details.)

Fearless of Heights

Cingino Dam, Italy, Buffalo Bill, Wyoming, USA, Bighorn Sheep, Alpine Ibex

Following are the snaps of Cingino Dam of Italy. If you look carefully, there are some blobs on the dam. Now if you zoom in, then you will see these are some plucky goats on the dam - denying any fear of fall. They climb up to steep 160 ft fearless of fall.

What they are doing is licking the salty wall of the dam. It might seem nonsense to climb like this just for licking salts. But may be for this species, this is not a matter at all.

These are mountain goats named Alpine Ibex, which are by born fear-free of heights as they live on mountains and possibly everyday climbs up and down. They are habituated climbing up and down up to 4 km and this 160 ft dam might just be a cakewalk. I wonder how nicely they master the art of climbing without help of any strings or anything - they just use the edges of the dam to climb up and down. Physically, they are strong and big (100 kg) and have beautiful curved horns.

Some claim that the dam is the Buffalo Bill of Wyoming, USA and the animals are Bighorn Sheep. But that is not true. Buffalo Bill dam does not look like that and also Bighorn sheep does not look like this. Following is a side by side image of Cingino Dam (left) and Buffalo Bill Dam (right).

You can google with "Chingino Dam" and you will find these pictures. Along with it, don't forget to try to be fearless. If there is no risk, then there is no gain...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mark Twain and Halley's Comet

Mark Twain, Halley's Comet
Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Most of his childhood was spent with fishermen and boatmen in Mississippi. He adopted the pen name from the boatsmen who used to measure the depth of the water by rods or ropes and shouted "Mark One" to mean 1 fathom (= 6ft), or "Mark Twain" to mean 2 fathoms (= 12 ft).

Mark was born in 1835. Interestingly, this was the year when Halley's comet was travelling across the planet earth. Later Mark used to make fun of it to his friends like, "Look, I came to the earth riding on Halley's comet, and I should leave the earth again riding on it".

He died in 1910 - exactly 75 years later. You might know Halley's comet comes to the earth every 75 or 76 years according to precise calculation by Edmond Halley. He died exactly the same year when Halley's comet appeared again in the sky.

When I was a child, I used to incarnate the figure of Huck Fin in my dreams when I first read the novel. But again when I read Tom Sawyer, I was in a dilemma whether I should adopt Huck Fin or Tom Sawyer. But anyway, I did not find any Becky to get infatuated with - so sad - my entire life was spent in boys' school, boys' college, boys' university... :(.

The two novels are related - Tom Sawyer comes first and then Huck Fin. But I read in the reverse as I did not know. There are two more novels named after Tom. Buy your kids these books. These will be treasures to them if you can help them measure the preciousness. Let the adventure begin for them.

We don't really know where we are coming from and where we go apart from our religious beliefs. So, although a coincidence, it is still nice to think that Mr. Clemens came to this earth riding on Halley's comet and also left the earth the same way. It is good that Halley's comet came to earth, and brought Mark Twain along with it - otherwise we would not have wonderful novels like Huck or Tom... :)