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Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Cousins

The cousins have arrived. Our in-house family now consists of four boys all between 6' 2" and 6' 3", Julia, and Luke's Yale research colleague M who is a petite cross-country runner.  Six kids, massive chocolate chip cookie consumption, lots of laughter, long hikes, and constant motion.


Within hours of arrival we headed out to Maasai Mara to catch the annual wildebeest migration.  Two million of these unlikely animals with curving horns, subtle stripes, fringed beards and sloped backs move en masse from TZ to Kenya at this time of year.  So Friday we squeezed all 8 of us, 4 tents, two coolers of food, a kitchen-in-a-trunk, sleeping bags, mats, firewood, segilis (jikos), and many liters of drinking water all into the Landrover and headed south on dusty rutted roads.  Extremely gracious missionaries with homes a stone's throw from the park gate prepared a fenced, private acre of their compound for free camping for colleagues, and there we pitched our tents and cooked our first gourmet chicken tikka and naan-over-charcoal meal.  Saturday morning we were in the park as the sun rose pink through the dust behind us, scouring for wildlife.  First treat, a whole family of hyenas, pink-faced with blood, on a kill in the tall grass, pulling entrails and quarreling.  Next treat, a lioness slinking through the grass, big paw footprints in a bog we barely cleared.  Hippos in the river, the massive crocodiles waiting.  Then a pack of adolescent male giraffes with their classic neck-whapping fights.  A secretary-bird, tall, stalking, serene.  The churning Mara, wildebeest entering then pawing a foam of water, rushing back, jittery.  Carcasses floating, bloated, while vultures perched on their flanks and soared above in climbing circles.  The tiny Tommies, delicate gazelles; the plump zebra.
But I think my favorite park was watching my oldest son, back in his element.  He drove most of the day, deftly navigating the tracks.  He spotted animals.  Stopped to chat with the Kenyan game-guide drivers in Swahili and exchange tips on animal sightings. Found us a pair of large-maned male lions lazing under a bush.  He was finally at home, in the game park, on the trail, fully himself.  Wonderful, but poignant, when one realizes the stretch that he makes to fit in a northeastern, competitive, inner-city university.
Since returning to Kijabe Sunday evening, the week has unfolded well.  All cousins are thriving as they play basketball and enter into service projects together.  Various kids or pairs of them have shadowed on rounds, observed surgery, tagged along with the chaplain playing with sick kids or praying for families.

They saw our incredible case of the week, twin boys joined at the chest sharing a single heart, otherwise perfect and beautiful, who tragically died after being transferred to the national referral hospital.  Work continues, busy, team meetings and new visitors, policies and protocols and admissions and decisions.  I've spent most of the days in the hospital, with Julia in charge of the home front.   In the afternoons they've gone to a local primary school for tutoring reading and math.  One morning the boys accompanied our local brave conservationist on forest patrol, arresting an illegal charcoal-burner.  Today I declared sleep-in and free time, and after lunch we went on a long hike through the eucalyptus scrub, down ravines and up steep pine-shaded paths.  There has been pizza making and a Lord of the Rings marathon.  Book reading and discussions of essays and applications.  In African culture, my sister's children are my own.  I feel that way with them here, and I'm thankful.

In spite of twenty years on different continents, these cousins have slipped seamlessly into our family.  I suppose that is a small comfort for younger missionary families.  The ties that bind do stretch, and pull us back together again.

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