Jan 12 2009
I had arrived in Nairobi the night before from a marvelous three-week vacation…two weeks on the beach in Watamu, a wild stretch of 4 miles of white sand and rugged rock formations…and then three days on safari. The beach is a natural marine reserve with pristine coral heads and fish of every size and color. I saw lion fish (absolutely extraordinary), parrotfish, moray eels, enormous puffer fish, manta rays, schools of huge iridescent blue fish and many, many others. For two and a half weeks I found a rhythm of snorkeling for hours, very long walks in the morning and the evening and watching the stars at night. The beach was almost deserted… although it was Christmas, there were very few people. I never wore shoes and only wore bathing suits and kikoys (brightly colored Kenyan sarongs). My favorite was brilliant orange with a yellow border.
On the way back to Nairobi we stopped at the Tsavo Game Reserve for two nights at a tented safari lodge. My friend Wendy and her thirteen- year old daughter, Mara, and I drove through the park during the day on game drives where we saw zebra, elephant, hippos, gazelle, giraffe, magnificent birds and many other animals. At the lodge, we sat by the river in lounge chairs and watched elephant walk along the banks.
One afternoon I was sitting alone outside my tent reading when I noticed three elephant in the distance…it was exciting and I was enjoying myself immensely. One of them started to walk in my direction and I continued to watch, completely enthralled. The elephant came closer…and closer…and closer…walking directly toward me. I was alone. There was no one around; in fact the camp seemed completely deserted. The elephant was looking right at me and continued to approach. I panicked, stood up, unzipped my tent and ran inside looking for a way out the back. I was searching for a back window that I could slip out of…but there was nothing. I could see the elephant outside my tent, about ten feet from the door. My heart was beating very fast and I was shaking. I tried screaming, “Help, help.” But I had laryngitis and my voice was squeaky and weak. “Wendy, Wendy…HELP!!!” I was hiding on the side of the bed and when I peeked out I could see that the elephant had walked away. During that time (a very long time) I was imagining the Marin newspaper headlines…”Marin Fulbright Scholar squished by elephant in Africa.”
Later I told Wendy and Mara what happened. Mara said, “I thought I heard you screaming and said to my mom, “Isn’t that Gloria?” and she said, “Oh no, don’t worry. I’m sure she’s fine.”
That experience was just a preview of my next scary experience of two days later, the day after our arrival back in Nairobi. I spent a marvelous first morning unpacking my shells and driftwood and enjoying my home. I drove to the City Park Market, one of my favorite places…a bustling, very special and colorful place where I buy my vegetables and fruit. I love going there and talking with the street boys who have a car washing business on the premises. They always wash my car and one of them accompanies me to carry my purchases in a huge market basket.
As I drove away from the market, singing along with Bob Marley, I thought to myself, “This is great! I am in AFRICA! I love my life!!!” I came to a round about and I had to decide which direction to take home…either by the museum or the Ngara market, a very unusual place…teeming with hawkers and shoppers. I like to drive by the market because there is so much activity and so much to look at. I decided to drive home by the market…the wrong decision.
I was sitting in a traffic jam looking and looking at the crowds and suddenly there were two men banging on the side and back of my car screaming, “Police, the police are coming!” I became very confused and looked in their direction. When I looked back at the road I saw a man’s arm coming through my passenger side window (it was open about 4 inches), grab my laptop which was on the floor and in a flash he had managed to get it out the window and he was running away. All I could see was his back, the brown and red texture of the pattern on his shirt and my laptop under his arm. I was screaming, “NO, NO, NO!!” And like that, my computer (my entire life) was gone. I was shaking…even worse than the elephant incident…and could not believe what was happening to me. I just could not believe it. I called a friend and hysterically told him what had happened. It was a very bad experience but later it changed into a very interesting experience…because miraculously I understood very quickly that the bottom line was my attitude. I began to think about the aftermath of the elections in Kenya a year ago and how thousands and thousands of people lost everything in the violence. I also thought about the genocide-taking place in Sudan and in the Congo and I thought about the unimaginable deaths of women and children in Gaza, and Iraq and Afghanistan and on and on. Suddenly the loss of my computer was not so important and I was left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the gifts constantly bestowed upon me. So now I want to thank everyone I have ever met in my life, especially my wonderful and amazing sister who managed to set me up with a new computer within a week.