Back in 2008 during my first visit to Kenya, I went on safari to Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru. It was one of my favorite trips. I saw the Big Five, experienced the annual wildebeest migration, and captured special moments on camera.
Now that I have returned to Kenya, my wildlife experience has been a bit different, to say the least. I arrived in the middle of the rainy season, a much damper and warmer time of year than my visit in the dry, winter season last time. First and foremost, that means there are now mosquitoes. And I have bites up and down my legs to prove it! But those little guys are lots of places so you can disregard my whining about that. When I got to the orphanage in mid-April, I was placed in the old volunteer quarters (where I stayed last time). Although a bit like a dungeon, it was familiar. I set down my stuff and noticed that the nearby tree had these beautiful yellow birds that I didn’t recall seeing before. ‘How nice,’ I thought. But that idea quickly changed. That evening, with headlamp in tow, I went to the squat toilets. I opened the door, and that’s where my jaded view of Kenyan wildlife was jolted. There were roaches. Back in the U.S. I lived relatively close to the coast; and the closer you get to the coast, the more roaches you see. I thought I had left those creepy things behind, but apparently the rainy season in Kenya brings out the cockroaches. Luckily, they scattered with the light, but I was a bit paranoid when it came time to actually enter.
When I told some other volunteers how creeped out I was by the cockroaches in the squat toilets I was told, “There are tarantulas too.” Oh great. And a volunteer spotted one the next day on the side of the girls’ dorm.
A few days later a volunteer staying in the newer dorms offered to let me bunk in with her and leave my former prison behind. Replacing my dingy dark brown walls and dirt floors with baby blue walls, a concrete floor, and even a mosquito net sounded like a great trade-off. I went to my room and began to strip my bedding and gather it in a pile. As I moved my pillow, a cricket jumped at me. Yes I know, it’s just a cricket! But have one unexpectedly jump at you from a hiding spot in your bed, and you too will have a small heart attack.
I moved rooms but my new roommate had left for a temporary volunteer project in Nairobi. My first night in my new spiffy room, I walked past the pig pen to get to the squat toilet. Not paying attention I saw something jump in front of me and jumped myself. I was preoccupied thinking about the possible run-in with roaches and this toad in my path had scared me. I darted for the toilet and decided to get in and get out! I opened the door, walked in, turned around, and from my right eye, something streaked across the tin wall. I thrust open the door and jumped out of the squat toilet. It was wildlife overload. I wasn’t sure what it was at first- snake, roach? I peeked in again with my torch and saw that it was a lizard. It was stunned by the light and refusing to move. Having had enough, I ran back towards my room. I got to the door and realized I would not make it through the night unless I was okay with being a bed-wetter. Since no volunteers were staying in the rooms on my side at the moment and the electricity was out, I decided my best idea was to squat right there. Out in the open. The only thing differentiating the squat toilet and the place I decided to pop a squat was tin walls and a deeper hole. I scoped out the area to make sure nothing would jump on me, turned off my headlamp, turned it back on to double-check the ground again, then turned it off again and hoped the night guard wouldn’t make his rounds right then.
Relieved (no pun intended) that I could now go to bed, I hopped into bed and pulled down my mosquito net. It’s then that I noticed that I had lizard friends on the wall beside my bed, and I would soon find out that they were nightly visitors. I quickly realized my being ridiculous about the lizard in the bathroom (after all, what’s it going to do, bite me?) and decided to get over it. When I made my visit the following night to the squat toilet I opened the door and inspected every inch inside with my lamp before entering. I saw the lizard’s eyes peeping out from behind a pole on the back wall. I did enter and brave the squat toilet, but I never turned around inside. I faced the back wall so that I could keep my eye on him. It sounds a bit princess of me when I write this, but I swear at the time they just freaked me out. By the end of my stay at Watoto Wa Baraka, I had a certain affection for the lizards in my room and looked for them before I went to bed at night. Once, I lay in bed for an hour watching them attempt to catch mosquitoes. I even decided I should name them but found out my roommate had beat me to it (thank you though to all of my facebook fans who suggested names).
Luckily, I never saw a tarantula while I was at the orphanage, just a photo of the one seen in the bathroom. I grew accustomed to the lizards in my room and the pigs out in front. No, I never did and never will get accustomed to roaches, but I started to use a different toilet and avoided them for the most part. Now that I’m on the coast I’m getting used to a new species: the bats in the large communal banda at night and the monkeys in the trees near my treehouse. If I could just get the monkeys to stop stealing food and pooing in the bed, we too could become friends!