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A birthday gift to treasure

  • A leopard in the Maasai Mara, a giant reserve, in Kenya gets some shut eye.

    A leopard in the Maasai Mara, a giant reserve, in Kenya gets some shut eye.

  • Kin Schilling, shown in the background, dances with a group of schoolchildren at Osenetoi.

    Kin Schilling, shown in the background, dances with a group of schoolchildren at Osenetoi.

  • Kin Schilling of Hancock, left, dancing with schoolchildren and elders at Osenetoi.

    Kin Schilling of Hancock, left, dancing with schoolchildren and elders at Osenetoi.

  • A group of Osenetoi women. On the far left, is the elder who made such an impression on Kin Schilling, staring into her eyes.

    A group of Osenetoi women. On the far left, is the elder who made such an impression on Kin Schilling, staring into her eyes.

  • Kin Schilling and David say goodbye.

    Kin Schilling and David say goodbye.

  • A Massai warrior presents a goat -- the ultimate Kenyan gift -- to Kin Schilling, as David, right looks on.

    A Massai warrior presents a goat -- the ultimate Kenyan gift -- to Kin Schilling, as David, right looks on.

  • Lone acacia tree at the end of the day seen in traveling back to Bogani from Osenetoi.

    Lone acacia tree at the end of the day seen in traveling back to Bogani from Osenetoi.

  • A leopard in the Maasai Mara, a giant reserve, in Kenya gets some shut eye.
  • Kin Schilling, shown in the background, dances with a group of schoolchildren at Osenetoi.
  • Kin Schilling of Hancock, left, dancing with schoolchildren and elders at Osenetoi.
  • A group of Osenetoi women. On the far left, is the elder who made such an impression on Kin Schilling, staring into her eyes.
  • Kin Schilling and David say goodbye.
  • A Massai warrior presents a goat -- the ultimate Kenyan gift -- to Kin Schilling, as David, right looks on.
  • Lone acacia tree at the end of the day seen in traveling back to Bogani from Osenetoi.

Africa had always been a distant dream. But, thanks to my children, that dream became a reality. What a gift! I am thankful.

The journey really began to take shape as soon as I knew that I would go. The thoughts of what it would be like rattled about in my head each day. And before I knew it, it was time to leave. I didn’t get to fly with the group. I’d join them in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are endless adventures to write about in the two weeks we were there in October. But, our walk to Osenetoi was for me something I could never have imagined. Osenetoi is a small primary school surrounded by the villages out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. But, it was somewhere.

It was a day to remember. Our jeep took us to the edge of a vast expanse of plain. Fairly flat, with a few small hills. The sky was big and we could see forever. We were each introduced to our own Maasai warrior. My warrior’s name was David. We would walk together for about 11 or 12 kilometers. We were given water, we said “See you soon” to our “rafikis,” or friends, and off we went. We saw no one else for hours.

Our age difference was big. I did wonder what his thoughts were having been paired with a stranger old enough to be his grandmother. We walked in silence for the first 15 minutes or so. I spoke first and asked his age. His quick, warm smile assured me that we would be fine. David is 26, half Maasai and half Kikuyu. He is one of 19 children, and his father has three wives. His uncle has five wives and 48 children. David explained that when he marries, he would take only one wife. I wondered how that would be with his family, but chose not to ask.

David’s father was wealthy. His wealth was determined by the fact that he had over 400 sheep, 150 cows and 50 goats. Wealthy by anyone’s standards, David has 200 cows.

As we walked, we talked of farming and schooling and the difference between the U.S. and Africa, and what it was like for me to come to Kenya. He stopped for a quick minute and asked if I liked Kenya. The question came with a real sense of pride and love for his own country. I told him that the minute I landed in Nairobi I was totally in awe of Kenya and its people. With each new day, the awe turned to love. He smiled his warm smile and we walked on.

After the walk of about 3 1/2 hours, we arrived at Osenetoi Primary School.

From a distance, we saw what looked like a wall of color. As we walked closer, the reception from all the smiling children and elders was beyond anything we might have imagined. The whole group, maybe 200, formed a cone of laughing, dancing and welcoming people. It was infectious. As our group walked into the gathering an older woman — probably younger than I — dressed in her finest Maasai clothes and jewelry came up to me, put her hands on my shoulders and stared into my eyes for at least a minute. Her intense energy went from the tip of my head all the way to my feet. Our eyes never left each other’s gaze. She then took one of her necklaces and put it around my neck, hugged me fiercely, pushed me gently away and walked off. I was entranced as I watched her join her villagers.

Then, we were escorted under a tent, as the sun was blazing hot. Quickly, the dancing began. Dances were performed by the school’s teenage girls. After many songs, we were pulled into the group and we all danced and danced until we were out of breath. The younger school children sang and clapped from the side lines. The dancing continued. Then out of the blue, a young warrior appeared in front of me holding a goat. Take it, he said. It is a gift from our village and our school. He put the goat in my arms. I was in shock. I knew that a gift of any animal was the ultimate gift of kindness and honor. Tears welled and still do as I remember that moment. I thanked the old woman and her people. I couldn’t take the goat home, so I gave him to my warrior David. He would take care of him. David gave me a Maasai name. It is Naramat and it means lover of animals. As we walked to our jeep to go home, I looked over the whole village of extraordinary children and elders. They have very little by Western standards.

I have never been with or seen a more radiant group of people in my life. The sunset that evening was rich, a perfect ending to an extraordinary day. As I fell into bed at Bogani, I thought of each moment of the day and I dreamt of vibrant colors and dancing and beautiful, joyous children. And maybe my goat was in those dreams as well.

The memory of this trip to Kenya will be with me for a long time — Kenya is embedded in my soul.

I am grateful to the Me to We team who helped make this trip so extraordinary. Thank you David Baum, Kathy Karn and Kate Kerrick.

Kin is the founder and Farm to School Coordinator for the Cornucopia Project. She lives in Hancock with six sheep, two donkeys, 23 chickens and one dog.

Lovely article! Great experience! Photography - Haidee Malkin Photography Photos 2,3,4,5,and 6

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