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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mt. Suswa: There and Back Again

The monsoon force rains parted for a brief 48 hours, and we did not camp in the rain as we dreaded. Thanks for many prayers. In fact, you prayed so well, that we're sunburned. (Yes, at this elevation on the equator we're finding that our laissez-faire sunscreen habits are not so adaptive, even in the newly-begun rainy season.) Mt. Suswa rises out of the floor of the Rift Valley south of us, a dormant volcano a couple of hours away, mostly on barely discernible tire treks through the acacia-dotted savannah. One giraffe, several Thompson gazelle, a herd or two of cattle, and thousands of sheep and goats watched our motorcade of five cars and a huge school bus. And quite a sight we were, as the bus got stuck in deep mud and had to be heaved out by Scott's shovel skill and the combined efforts of 46 8th graders and a rope. I learned that Mr. D's definition of "drivable" would not be my definition. We rocked over uneven volcanic boulders and slithered through waves of standing water, the whole thing taking twice as long as predicted, but we did all make it to the crater rim.
After a brief packed lunch the kids tore off behind our Maasai guide, complete with his red blankets and beads and smooth walking stick, to climb around the edge of the crater rim to the highest peak. We were advised the hike would be 3 hours up and 2 hours down, but our intrepid kids pushed the limit, reaching the summit in 1 hour 20 minutes. At least half the group did, and about four of us parents gasping in their trail. The other half decided the view from the path was just fine, and turned back at various points.
We camped in a settlement of about 15 tents, big ones to fit groups of boys and groups of girls, and small ones to accommodate the parents, teachers, and Maasai guide who accompanied them. Scott led worship with his guitar, another dad gave a short devotional talk, then there were the requisite campfires, smores, stories, shivering, and as curfew approached, wildness, yelling, chasing. And then quiet, the moon shrouded by clouds but the rain mercifully minimal.
Up on Monday to have breakfast and break camp, and just as the last tent was being packed into the cars, the Maasai brought a woman with a "stick in her hand" to see the doctor. She had a terrible abscess that Scott ended up incising with a leatherman (note to self, pack scalpel next campout) and we bandaged her up and put her on antibiotics with strong recommendations to get to a health center. Then we were off to the caves.
Mt. Suswa is famous for a huge network of "lava tubes", massive caves that drill into the depths of the volcano roots, where lava once flowed and cooled and left arches and entries. We broke up into groups again and clambered down a rocky wall to enter cave 17. At first there is ambient light, but then one has to stoop and pass through a narrow neck. When the passage expands again it is completely, utterly pitch black. (Another note to self, what kind of veteran missionary forgets sunscreen, scalpels, AND a flashlight??). I tried to stay right on the heels of any kid with a light, stumbling over unseen rocks, knocking my head pretty hard once. Hot, humid air surrounded us from the sulphurous depths. Jack's group elected to proceed to the deepest parts . . . another hour into the earth . . but I was feeling a bit claustrophobic half way in, imagining the mines of Moria, or viral-laden bats, and decided to turn back to daylight with a different group. On the way in and out we passed a passageway where a man on a spiritual retreat sat praying on the stony floor, his torch holding back the darkness. I am guessing that for focus and lack of distraction you can't beat a cave, and God did reveal himself to Moses and Elijah in similar circumstances. But I was glad to get back to the sunny surface with a breeze through the leaves and bleating goats.
Our adventure concluded with a stop at the home of the lead RVA guard, Given, who invited the entire class to stop and greet his family and drink gallons of hot smoky sweet chai and eat chapatis. I don't know how they came up with at least 60-some mugs out of their corrugated tin home or mud-walled kitchen, but they did. I would have been a little stressed by the undertaking but they showed nothing but delight.
And thankfully as we headed home we were giving a ride to two local men who led us on a maze of paths back to the main road, avoiding mud-holes which evidently snared the other vehicles. I was on call and it was our turn to host the weekly dessert for new Kijabe volunteers, so though we felt slightly guilty over our easy return when we heard about more stuck-in-the-mud travails, we were grateful to clean up and cook some food before the first calls from the hospital came, or the first guests arrived.
It was a weekend of adventure and beauty, a taste of the wildness of this Kenyan land and the community of RVA, time to chat with remarkable kids whose families work all over Africa, and with faithful staff. It was also pretty tiring (the hike, the sun, the rough travel, the hard ground, the onslaught of new names and faces, the minor medical issues, the rush home to more duties).
And we came home to both good news and bad. Good: Julia enjoyed staying in a dorm with friends, and she was voted MOST VALUABLE PLAYER and MOST INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER by her team and coach! They had an end-of-season party Sunday night where she received those awards. We are very proud of her effort and faithfulness and teamwork. Bad: ah, the news from Bundibugyo is ever heart-wrenching. This time it is the passing of Aligonilla, a little boy whom we've blogged about before, the 7th child of his father's to die. Aligonilla lived an improbable number of years (?ten at least, probably 12 or more) on sickly stick legs, a swollen belly, yellow eyes, all from severe sickle cell anemia. Since he was born I can't count how many times we've begged and borrowed to get him blood transfusions, how many times we've pulled him through a brush with death, even as often healthier-appearhign siblings died of the same disease. He had the spunkiest smile. I was so sad to hear of his death. I will miss him when we go back to visit in April. A flurry of deaths and a dearth of helpers and the usual weary sad news of Bundibugyo, a reality-check after wilderness and awards. The world is still broken, deeply so.


Heidi said...

no! tell me it's not true...not aligonila!...his sweet smirky smile is so vivid in my mind's eye...and I bet the poster Scott had neighbor kids make for him when he was on death's doorstep more than a year ago is still hanging in the Peds ward...tears...come quickly Lord Jesus!

Nathan said...

No, no! That breaks my heart.

Karen said...

Darling, darling boy.