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Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

Kings of the Savanna: Warring lions

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 main roaring

Three visits in eight months, surely I must be a great fan of the Maasai Mara. Well, what’s not there to be a fan about? Every time you’re in the Maasai Mara, each experience is as uniquely different as the last.

From watching the dramatic annual Wildebeest Migration to witnessing the first steps of a baby hippo to seeing blood-stained hyenas eagerly ripping off flesh from a carcass to driving through river rapids and even observing the haunting expansive skies literally opening up, just to name a few.

My most recent visit was no different. Uniquely memorable and majestic.

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 mature male in grass

Caught in a Lions’ turf war

The warm and golden afternoon sun is setting and the towering afternoon clouds are rolling out. As we start our short drive back to our lodge in the Greater Mara Region, our smart custom Defender stumbled upon a pride of lions marching through the tall grass, probably heading to find a spot to conserve their energy in preparation for a hunt at night.

Just centimetres away from our vehicle, a muscular lioness marched confidently in the middle of the group, with two of her cubs leading and her younger ones trailing. Not too far ahead were two males striding ahead into the sunset. The pride stopped abruptly just steps away to pause for a much-needed water break. The loud gulping sounds from the lioness and cubs resonated in the still air like music.

Suddenly, a monstrously loud roar broke the silence. The pride of lions and even us, froze in fear. Somewhere out in the plains, close by, camouflaged by the tall swaying grass, was a formidable lion sending out a warning.

There were three fully matured male lions, known to the local community as the ones whom have attacked and feasted on hippos, slowly marched confidently out of the grass into the open, where their presence was clearly visible.

The first one roared, then another, and finally a third, forming a raw chorus of harmonic repetitive bellows. Clearly, the first pride had marched into someone else’s territory, and we were stuck in the middle.

“You’re really lucky. Though bloody and often sad, we might just see a scene of warring prides,” warned Dickson, our seasoned Maasai guide.

The standoff continued between the prides, and we remained parked where we had stopped. The bellows from the large trio of lions continued and the other pride led by two young male lions stood their ground. Who was going to make the move first?

Finally, the largest of the trio of dominant males started to march towards the other pride. One stride after another, full of confidence and sheer muscle – even our hands began to sweat in anticipation.

The younger lions almost instantly turned around, and as a result guided the rest of their pride in the opposite direction. The trio of mature males continued to stand there, watch and eventually lay down to conserve their energy, but their presence and bellows continued to resonate in the air.

I suppose it was a bit of an anticlimax – no paw-on-paw contact. But, this is probably the best scenario for both prides. In the wild, there is often more to lose than to gain. A rare scene, fighting amongst wild animals thankfully only happens when it’s out of necessity for survival.

Moral of the story: Pick your battles wisely.

PHOTOBLOG: Photo Credits Susan Wong 2012 © All rights reserved

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 pride marching

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 pride marching 2

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 mature males backup

lion territory wars photographed by Susan Wong 2012 mature males backup 4

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Filed under: Africa, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , ,

Cheryl’s Children’s Home and Learning Centre: Help them fill their bookshelves!

 

 

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Curbside Cuisine: Popcorn in Nairobi, Kenya

Tasty popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Photo Credits: Susan Wong

I often shop for my groceries at Prestige, not because the vegetables are fresher or that there’s more parking; but because of a man named Larry who coincidently makes the best popcorn I have ever tasted in my life.

Larry making popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Larry Makanzie, 25, is a sharp entrepreneur that has learned to capitalize on hungry shoppers, curious passers-by lured by the aromas of fresh popcorn, and chronic snackers (such as myself).

Formerly known as ‘Fresh Pops’, Makanzie’s popcorn empire is now known as ‘Bando International’.  With no signage or marketing material, I may be one of the first to know what his humble popcorn stand is actually called.  But, at the end of the day, who cares?  Makanzie’s popcorn is the tastiest curbside cuisine I’ve tasted in a long time and makes me look forward to stocking up on my kitchen supplies!

Makanzie has been serving his customers at Prestige for the last 4 years.  A consistent queue of a few hungry snackers makes this popcorn stand one of the most profitable even at 50 ksh per bag.

Partly due to the consistent flow of business and also to his stubborn mission to provide the freshest popcorn to his customers, Makanzie’s popcorn is consistently steaming hot, fluffy and golden.

With diverse flavours to choose from: salt & vinegar, celery salt, mixed chilli spices – just to name a few; Makanzie provides the customer with choices and room for customization.  My favourite is the “Special” with an extra dash of celery salt.

This is definitely the friendliest popcorn stand where not only can you buy the fluffiest flavoured popcorn anywhere, it’s also a spot to catch up on the word on the street or take a breather after shopping.

Whether you’re a popcorn connoisseur or just want to support a worthy young entrepreneur, next time you’re at Prestige, make sure you visit Makanzie for some popcorn!

Queue for popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Don’t forget to follow me on TWITTER @SusanLuckyWong (the author)

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Food, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , ,

Mavuno

This past Sunday I joined a couple of friends and checked out Mavuno, a church based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Mavuno”, which means “harvest” in Swahili is located on the grounds of an abandoned drive-in theatre.  How cool is that?!  And, where cars once parked; are now tents that house the growing Mavuno congregation, now in the thousands.

I enjoyed the animated Pastor.  Pastor Linda was just kick-starting April’s series of sermons: Sin City.  She’s absolutely hilarious, yet so on point.  The A/V crew was amazing.  Definitely will be back!

The setup of Mavuno was so inviting and homey.  You can’t visit and not feel welcomed.  I especially enjoyed the set up of tents large and small, which made the Sunday church experience feel more like an open-aired market.  What better way to spend Sunday morning than in God’s house under the expansive aqua blue African sky and comforted by the warm midday sun?

Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya

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The Maasai Mara National Reserve: Unforgettable Memories

The hundreds of clunking cowbells rung harmoniously in the distant pastures and also immediately right next to me, “Clunk….clunk…Clunk…CLUNK”. The fresh manure smell was overwhelming but there was something peaceful and musical about the clunking, somewhat like giant ringing cast iron church bells in Europe. Except I wasn’t in Europe where beautiful cobblestone paths lined the laneways; I was somewhere in the Mara.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a place where tourists realize their legendary Kenyan safari dreams and where great memories are conceived.  And undoubtedly, at this very moment, a great memory was conceived.

Together with our team of visitors, I had been invited on a nature walk with some of the Maasai in the community. Mind you this was not just any “nature walk” like those in Canada where we look at rocks and enjoy the enclave of refreshing pine forests. No, a nature walk with the Maasai in the Mara means you’re roaming where the Lion King animals roam. Yes, Simba…Pumbaa…you name it, they were around.

The afternoon sun comforted my tired body with its warm rays. The gentle valleys and the green plains of the Mara were expansive and absolutely unforgettable. In the distance, I could see herds of zebras and a few giraffes grazing freely. The clunking continued to get louder and soon after, we ran into some cows owned by the Maasai.

That’s when it hit: the animals, Maasai and I were all roaming in the Mara!

Nature walk with Maasai by Susan Wong

Expansive green plains and gentle valleys of the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

A lion in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan WongPumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Maasai on a nature walk in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

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Re-Integrating at Home and Packing Tips for Expats

The Holiday season has officially wrapped up for me! Christmas, New Years and the month-long festivities of Chinese New Year have made my return to Canada from Ethiopia, bearable.

After more than 3 years of calling Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as my home, being back at “home” is definitely bittersweet. With the daily small successes, challenges and bureaucracy of working in Ethiopia in my memories, I’ve been indulging in the small luxuries of life that I had come to live without.

My sister, “Princess Master Packer”, was nice enough to come visit me in Ethiopia just before I left for good. Princess Master Packer, is a gifted packer and is spatial-visualization inclined. I’ll be the first to admit, without her supervision, skill and additional baggage allowance; I don’t know what I would have done! Packing up 3 years worth of memories, essentials and just stuff was intimidating and one of the hardest things I’ve done (made climbing Mt. Kenya 5008m look easy)!!!

Seeing Ethiopia through Princess Master Packer’s eyes was certainly entertaining. Things that I’ve come to embrace seemed completely foreign and outright absurd to her! I wonder if I was like her when I first stepped foot on to African soil 3 years ago…F.O.B. (fresh off the boat)

If you’re an Expat that has accumulated a lot of stuff like me…here are some packing tips:

1. How to embrace outdoor equipment when packing:
– Water bottles, Nalgeens and other hard plastic containers may seem like space wasters in your suitcase, but
they serve as perfect canisters to pack small items such as shavers, tampons, jewellery, medication, sunglasses etc.
– Rug sacks and mountaineering backpacks should be emptied and flattened to line the bottom of your large
suitcases.

2. Additional piece of luggage
If you know ultimately you won’t make the baggage allowance and your only option is to pay for an extra piece of
luggage, then invest in a good cardboard box and cling wrap at the airport. As an oversized cardboard box, you can
place all of your heaviest items in that carton. Airlines are generous with weight with extra pieces and if they’re in cartons since you’ve already paid extra.

3. Anything odd shaped or cardboard MUST be wrapped with cling wrap at the airport! Don’t be a cheapo and opt out
of the wrap thinking it won’t do much and is cheaper to buy wrap from Wal-mart to DIY. You’ll be surprised how well
the cling wrap at the airport is able to distribute stress away from the corners of a bashed up box and not to
mention keep things inside the box.

4. Always have extra USD enough to pay for extra/overweight luggage. USD is the only currency that no matter how
rural and off the map you are, people will accept. Don’t depend on credit cards because as I have experienced, the
only credit card machine at the airport might be broken. Or, you only have Euros but the staff insist on USD only
and the currency changers are all closed!

Remember to expect the unexpected!

Women of the Hamer Village in Omo Valley looking into the African sunset photographed by Susan Wong


The sun sets into a peaceful Hamer Village in Southern Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong


Crossing the Omo River 20km from the Kenyan-Ethiopia border photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Canadian Survived Mount Kenya

After a 3 week hiatus from my life in Ethiopia, I’ve realized how hard it was to get back into the swing of things, “Ethiopian Style”. The morning after I arrived, I took some time to explore Addis, alone, to really quiet myself down. I was a bit apprehensive to take the minibuses because I knew my Ethiopian Flea friends would be waiting for me. More than anything else, I had this weird feeling that I missed a lot in 3 weeks, and the city had changed completely. Would I be ok?

3 weeks hardly seems like a long time, but when a city like Addis Ababa is developing exponentially, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I came back to McDonald’s, stop signs and finally, efficient service at cafes. Anyhow, things have not changed that much. Life here is the same, and work, well work is work.

I just finished exchanging some “Welcome Back formalities” – giving triple and sometimes quadruple cheek kisses to every single coworker of mine. It feels good to reclaim my territory and be back behind my desk (which was absorbed by a coworker of mine without my consent). It feels good to not live out of a backpack. It feels good to catch up with great friends. It feels good to be recharged and ready to go!

As for my vacation, what can I say? Kenya and Mauritius were beautiful blessings…

MOUNT KENYA
Famished. Blistered. Bruised. Exhausted. Spiritually rejuvenated. That pretty much sums up my ambitious 6-day trek up Mt. Kenya, the second highest point in Africa. 6 days of extensive walking in Jurassic Park-like terrain, sleeping in mice-infested huts, dreaming of that illusive shower on day 6, intense bonding with friends and porters, and being in absolute awe of God’s creativity; has confirmed that all things are possible if you draw on God’s strength.

Since young, I have had practically non-existent asthma and heart murmurs. Yes, the sporty Susan who was on pretty much every sports team in High School and a couple in University has some health conditions. Except for the occasional irregular breathing and rare chest cramp, these conditions never bothered me (at sea level). I had forgotten that they even existed! That is, until I started gasping for air up at around 10,000ft.

By the third day, I felt like every breath I inhaled could’ve been my last. I had to take short breaks not because I was tired, but just to keep my breathing under control. My lungs were getting anxious and I gasped for air like I was convulsing. I couldn’t control my irregular breathing patterns and my knee-cartilage problems were slowing me down. I really hated myself because I could see I was dropping off from the main pack and dragging the group down. I’ve never been at the back of the pack for anything, and I guess God was really challenging my will and patience. And, what better way to learn about patience than at the back of the pack, staring at your friends’ backs.

Joseph, our assistant guide, would always say, “Polay polay..”, which meant slowly slowly in Swahili. Jenn would remind me to focus on my breathing patterns when she heard me gasping too quickly. Wow, I never knew how difficult it was to control my own body. I had to train my body to believe that there was plenty of air to fill my lungs, and that innate-survival-anxiety had no place on the mountain. I still can’t believe I made it.

Our group was quite ambitious. Not only did we have our sights set on the 4985m summit, but we also wanted to “Grab the beast by its horns” as Lonely Planet puts it. It seemed like a shame to not attempt the summit circuit. The summit circuit was a brutally intense 9-hour trek around the highest peaks of Mt. Kenya. We had to climb and painfully descend numerous steep and jagged “hills”. At times, the terrain high above the clouds were as sharp as slate, the gravel dunes were traction-less, and the boulders covered in snow were dangerously slippery.

By the last ascent of the summit circuit day, I had totally lost all sense of balance and my entire body felt like jello. I watched my fellow climbers slowly make their way up a sheer gravel wall. Slowly, they zigzagged their way up because it was so steep and traction was at times, absent. I had fallen off the pace again, but luckily God had placed one of His angels by my side, my porter. He literally held my hand and yanked me up that never ending gravel hill like I was his stubborn mule/donkey. He was incredibly supportive like my friends that were waiting for me atop the ledge, looking down at our hut that we had left early in the morning. I was so exhausted that I talked myself into believing that I couldn’t and wouldn’t make it. I just kept on thinking about the moments just before…

… our group started that last ascent, Jason waited on a ledge for me so that we could have a moment in prayer. I struggled to control my breathing, but during our prayers my asthma let up miraculously. Imagine that, praying while sitting on a ledge high above the clouds. We prayed, and then to my surprise, my porter who only spoke Swahili and very little English decided to say a word of prayer too. Talk about having a spiritual connection?!

“God’s strength, His strength, draw on His strength..” that’s all I could think of. Before I knew it, I joined the rest of the group at the top! We started the summit circuit as a group, and finished it as a group! It was a beautiful moment, and a momentous one for me.

Barely able to rest because of the busy mice activity in our bunks, we woke up at 2:30am, just a few hours later from our exhausting summit circuit trek. It was time to conquer the summit in time for the sunrise. It sounds incredibly amazing, but the climb up the walls of the peak in pure darkness was extremely dangerous. We had a couple of headlamps and flashlights, but the dim light hardly illuminated the endless rocky trail. The cold thin air escalated my breathing irregularities. The freezing gusts of wind were bone-chilling. We were all starving because our early breakfast only consisted of tea and biscuits (probably to prevent us from vomiting). In the darkness, I could barely make out the outline of the summit, it seemed so far away and impossible to conquer. What did I get myself into?! Why did I pay for this bootcamp?! Once again, my porter pushed and pulled me up the mountainside. My feet had no traction and with every step I took I could hear gravel slipping and falling into what seemed like an abyss. “Don’t look down…*gasp*…. polay polay……*gasp*….breathe breathe……*gasp*….God’s strength…strength…” was what I chanted to myself. Half way up the mountain, Jason took over from my porter, and yanked me up the mountain. The passages from the bible that he recited to me as I struggled up the cliff were empowering. I knew God was speaking through him. I knew God had placed me with this amazing group of people because He knew with their support, I could do it. Slowly but surely, Team Canada conquered the summit of Mt. Kenya. And, not a moment too soon just in time to witness the golden sun rise from the horizon and cast its warm glow on our numb faces.

It was so beautiful! But, now we had to climb down…all the way…to the bottom…aiya! Seriously, what kept me going was the thought of the warm meal waiting for us down there, somewhere. As we descended further down the mountain, I began to regain my energy and my breathing became normal. I was so relieved!

My toe nails are still black and bruised from the painful decent and my left knee still aches from chronic cartilage problems. But man do I feel rejuvenated! I couldn’t have planned a better Mt. Kenya expedition! God blessed me with good health, amazing weather, great friends, competent and compassionate guides, and the challenges along the way that made this expedition so unique and special. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE! Thank You!

Ok, I think this entry is long enough. So, I will continue with my African Adventures next time!

 

Mt Kenya Photographed By Susan WongMt Kenya Photographed By Susan WongMt Kenya Photographed By Susan WongMt Kenya Photographed By Susan WongMt Kenya Photographed By Susan WongMt Kenya Photographed By Susan Wong

 

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Through My Eyes

TWEETS…

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