Monthly Archives: August 2015

From Distant Stars: Charity Update

A Seven Minute Readimage

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician

This week I was given an update on the progress of our work with the schoolhouses in China, India and Kenya. The update (see below) highlights the recent achievements and development in the community of Verdara, India. With the new school underway, the students are now able to realize their full potential and become makers of change. I love their unfailing enthusiasm towards education and personal development. It makes me so happy to wonder at all they are becoming and hope to be.

Seeing this made me well-up and feel a extreme sense of pride with all we are achieving. After a long day in the sun and wind, I usually find myself spending my last moments of the day looking up at the night sky. I’ve looked up from quiet camping spots on many clear nights. From quiet hills of Mozambique to still nights on Kyrgyzstani steppe. When there is nothing but nature, air and sky. I see the stars and the shimmering moon. It is in these moment I contemplate the ever moving wonder that is our world. The beauty that has passed me and all the struggles our people face. I feel how small we are, as I gaze up at those distant galaxies. It is in these moments of extreme peace and solitude, I am transported to old worlds of my lifetime. They seem lifelike. I see it all in clarity. Maybe it is only exhaustion, hunger or a haze of confusion, but in my mind, I am there living the experience once again. On starry nights I think of people and faces long past and wonder if they look up all the same.

It reminds me of the extreme significance of our world and all the people in it. People I have met from worlds over with their own dreams, hopes and ambitions. We are all individuals and all apart of this thing we call humanity. As I trundle along the road through Africa my mind often wanders to far off places months behind. On long endless roads I sometimes wonder if I was really there or it was just some distant dream. When I think of Verdara I see the smiling faces of the children. I see them dancing. I see myself in that moment, completely out of place, dancing all the same. I remember the friendly conversations with the headmasters of the schools and their burly moustaches they were both so proud to showcase. The goats of hope and the shiny new bikes. The smells of the countryside and the mountain roads that wind their way up to the schools.

For me though, it is the resolve of the teachers that can never be forgotten. They continue to press their communities to new levels of development on a daily basis. They are the real change makers. I am only happy to help give them the opportunity to teach in a safe environment. It is here we can give parents, teachers and students alike the assurance that education does matter. For today and tomorrow. To the continued prosperity and hope of the people in Verdara.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller, Author/Political Activist

Pieces of my heart are scattered throughout the world as I ride. They are left on the cracks of the road, on golden sunset hills, quiet flowing rivers, soft camping spots and warm conversations. But, I left one of the biggest pieces in a small community somewhere among the Aravalli mountains in Rajasthani, India. From Botswana on a sunny Thursday, I cannot thank everyone enough for your unwavering support!

*To be apart of the change happening in Esinoni, Kenya. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

**New post on my travels through Tanzania to come soon. Stay tuned. Sign up and share!

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The Red Earth: Kenyan Hopes

A Sixteen Minute Read

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“Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal Greed.” ~ Mwai Kibaki, Third President of Kenya

The sun scorched and the wind whipped across the northern reaches of the Kenyan badlands. A battered and choppy road. Red dust caked to my clothes and coated my lungs. Cogged gears and stretching miles. Stops were few and shelter minimal. I cooked simple foods and relished in the purity of it all. Far off distances had a familiar flare. Almost as if I had been there before. Another life. Another tale. Pushing on and down, ‘The Road from Hell’.

Crossing into Kenya was as if someone had release me from the endless drip torture of ‘You, you, you’. I had escaped Ethiopia. I arrived at the border with zero Ethiopian Bir and a broken bike, as usual. The border town of Moyale extends to both sides. As I moved over that invisible line people became much more friendly and for the most part, left me to my own devices throughout Kenya. When conversations struck, they were once again genuine and enjoyable. The Kenyan people are very peaceful, with great English and vibrant pride. I was happy to have arrived, even in the dusty red of the Northern badlands.

After sorting out a bit of border business and a day to myself, I was off riding down an unpaved and very bumpy road. In the past many cyclists have elected to take transport all the way south to Isiolo, due to the insurgence of bandits in the area. Cattle thieves and tribal conflicts you don’t want to be caught between. However, the section between Moyale and Marsabit is said to be safe, or so I was told by the police. Everyone in town said that it was now safe, except for one man trying to sell me a bus ticket. He urged, “Mark! You cannot go, you will be eaten by a lion!” We all laughed at this man as other locals shook their heads.

I rode through a long stretch of insanely terrible road. From time-to-time a slow passing truck would appear covering me in red dust. The new tarmac came and disappeared in a few sections. Soon it should be all complete from Moyale to Marsabit. Even on the paved road high winds made going slow at certain points. Mostly, I was alone on long beautiful stretches of road. It reminded me of being in parts of Sudan and I loved the challenge of the wide open unknown. I saw baboons playing along the road and antelopes staring off in this distance like phantom mirages. Stopping one night for a 3 dollar ‘hotel’ I pitched my tent on the floor due to the abundance of mosquitos and no net. The sheets looked as if they missed a wash or two as well. I learned my lesson once again, as camping is much more rewarding, typically free and cleaner.

By the time I reached Marsabit, I was a little bit wind whipped and tired. I found a nice hotel but they were fully booked. The owner feeling bad for me, in some way I assume, said I could sleep on the floor of the meeting room. I set up shop in a corner, had the largest meal I could find in town and went to bed. Though the section of road from Moyale to Marsabit is now ‘safe’ the section from Masabit to Isiolo is supposedly not. The second section of ‘The Road to Hell’ is set to complete sometime in 2016. I asked around and the consensus was I shouldn’t be stubborn and take a bus. The bandits in this section would not hesitate to rob me of all my things or worse. I boarded a bus the following morning with my bike mounted on the roof and prepared for a very annoying journey. It was a tight squeeze with three people to a row and an off duty police officer beside me that had just begun his holiday who reeked of alcohol. He insisted on chatting in between his fits of passing out on my shoulder. His eyes blood shot and thoughts erratic. I missed the freedom of my bike and remembered how much I hate buses.

The northern section of Kenya is largely undeveloped or forgotten. A road will soon connect that part of the country with the capital and bridge a route for trade with Ethiopia. During my time there I was able to interact and watch the ways of the indigenous tribes that populate the area. It was fascinating. They generally live as simply as they have for hundreds of years, however, watching a bushman walk into the same shop as me to recharge the money on his phone was little funny. The women of the Samburu tribes wearing their brightly colored clothes and decorations was something I will never forget. I watched women chat to one another as they sold flavored sticks for cleaning their teeth. I felt completely out of place, but loved it all the same.

Arriving in Isiolo I escaped the unloading station and found a place to sleep. I began my climb into the Kenyan highlands the following morning. Mount Kenya eventually appeared on the horizon in all of its’ glory. Pedaling out on the clear morning from Nanyuki was a beautiful experience as it loomed for hours on my left. I was content as I flew around corners and bucked my way up steep hills towards Nairobi. I was pushing hard to make it to the capital to meet some Americans that agreed to host me for a few days. The hills into Nairobi seemed to go forever as I sucked back another gulp of black diesel smoke. The road widens into about eight lanes from a dangerous one, where trucks had previously no regard for my existence. Though Kenyans are very kind hearted people their driving is some of the most selfish and impatient I have seen on this trip. Terrible to say the least. Eventually, a cycling lane appeared to my surprise and I crawled into Nairobi very tired and hungry. I snacked on a meal of chips & choma(chicken) before being welcomed in by my hosts Eric and Dara.

I had the best shower of my life and sorted out my creaking bicycle at a proper, though expensive, bike shop for a much needed overhaul. I toured the National Museum of Kenya and spent a few hours looking at their awesome collection of early hominid evolution. The most complete in the world. I am a bit of a geek for this stuff after doing my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology before Teachers’ College. To see these pieces of human history firsthand was like a trip down memory lane. There was also a very cool snake and reptile zoo out back.

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson, Writer

I thanked my hosts for their hospitality and made my way towards Narok and the Great Rift Valley. After a climb out of Nairobi the road decends down a steep slope with a breathtaking view overlooking the valley. I took my time and enjoyed a nice break on the valley ridge with leftover pasta in a bag and some peanut butter sandwiches. It was Canada Day and low and behold a bus load of young Canadians pulled up for a break and a view. It was nice to have some conversation from home on that day. Their purpose in Kenya I’ve been sworn to secrecy until a later date. I love my ride and all that it offers, but on certain days it can be a touch lonely. The road to Narok was in great condition with a few large climbs and one mountain pass. Riding along I couldn’t help but feel small by the grandeur and importance of this part of the world.

“I have come to realize that money, power and fancy titles mean little in this world, that true power lies in the hands of those who can help improve the lives of others. The world around me has taken on an entirely different light, a clearer one.” ~ Craig Kielburger, Free the Children

The following morning I was to meet my hosts from Free the Children. I have been supporting their charity work, along with my wonderful supporters, since I began my ride over a year ago. I was very excited about seeing the great work being done to improve the lives of the local population of the Maasai Mara region. I was also anticipating meetings with the community members and seeing where the third schoolhouse, I am currently fundraising for, would be. I had been thinking about this part of my trip for hundreds of kilometers, as I peddled down Africa.

Free the Children does an excellent job at bringing the experience of fundraising for communities to life in the ever comfortable Bogani camp. Bringing Me to We. I got to help out with constructing the foundation of the new surgical wing of the Baraka Hospital, not to mention touring this great institution set up by Free the Children. It gives care to hundreds of people in the region with many aspects of essential health education free of cost. I did a water walk up a hill, the same as the mamas do with a big jug of water strapped to my head. I was greeted by countless children with a wonderfully friendly “Jambo!” (Hello!) It is one of the friendliest places I have ever had the privlege to visit.

I felt the warm nature and the power of change in the community. The pride in the people’s eyes as they talk about their flourishing communities is something truly inspirational. The students at the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School talk with amazing enthusiasm about their surroundings and their futures. They have beautiful dreams, an unprecedented dedication to their studies and simply love having the opportunity of a true education. They are role models in their communities and beyond. I witnessed once again how a bit of help can change, impact and empower so many people in a positive way.

We are currently almost halfway towards the goal of $10,000 for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya, thanks to some surprise donors and the dedication of young learners throughout Eastern Ontario. Thank you all for being apart of the change in these kids lives. To read more about the history of the work being done by Free the Children in Kenya CLICK HERE.

To donate to the construction of the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya CLICK HERE. I always write a personal thank you to everyone. 🙂

Before I left the Maasai Mara area I had weapons training with a traditional bow and arrow as well as rungu throwing practice. (See info on Rungus HERE) Discovering I would would be riding through some National Parks in Tanzania my Maasai friend and guide Jonathon, gave me my own rungu to defend myself. An honorary and memorable gift that I still carry with me. Thankfully I haven’t needed to fend off any attacking lions yet.

There was a van heading back to Nairobi after my stay in Bogani and I was offered a lift. Having already rode the road towards Narok, I saw no need to do it again back the same way. A very nice gesture and saved me two days of riding. After arriving in Nairobi I took the rest of the day off and reflected on my wonderful experiences with Free the Children and Me to We. Over the next two days those great memories and carried me through all the way to the Tanzanian border town of Namanga. After a few months of hard riding through tough countries it was exactly what I needed. I truly loved Kenya. It was one of my favorite places to travel through for many reasons. My resolve and mind were rejuvenated. I was ready to continue my journey, while bracing myself for whatever lay ahead. Tanzania and Kilimanjaro within stride.

**At the moment I am in Malawi on route to Mozambique. Posts will continue to be slow to come due to internet connections and my interest in living in the moment. Africa has been nothing short of inspiring and challenging. Thank you for continuing to share in my adventures.

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