When my time in Beirut was over I headed back to Nairobi for a 5-week stay. Since I’d already been to Masai Mara, I thought I’d take it a bit easier and spent time hanging out around town. The visit to the baby elephant center in Nairobi with Isaac, one of his sisters and her daughter is definitely worth mentioning though. This post is as much about elephants as it is for an extraordinary little girl that stole my heart.
NOTE: Out of respect for the family’s privacy I will not be posting any photos of them. Even though I really want to ’cause she is adorable!
Isaac and I had agreed to meet his sister and her daughter (Ivy, 3yo) for breakfast at my hotel before heading out to the baby elephant center. It really is called The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust but baby elephant center sounds a lot more personal.
We drove through a gate just off the main road and headed towards the center. We were on a narrow paved road surrounded by what looked like endless expanses of nature reserve dotted with giraffes and buffaloes in the distances. We stopped, so Ivy could see them perched on her uncle’s shoulders. We got to the center with a bit of time to spare (miraculously there had been no traffic!) and we thought it’d be a good time to give Ivy her gift (a little scooter) and teach her to ride it. In our ignorance we hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that a stable front handle (rather than one moving to the left and right) would have been a lot more suitable for her and much easier to handle. Still she is a brave little one and rose too the challenge. I was told that soon after that, she had gotten used to the movement and was completely stable in whizzing around the house to her mother’s delight I am sure!
When we got to the center there was somewhat of a crowd waiting for the doors to open. Ivy being Ivy and the adorable, irresistible, loving and fearless creature that she is decided to formally introduce herself to everyone there. We started with a small group of foreigners sat on a couple of low benches under a make shift shelter. ‘Hello! My name is Ivy!’ she would say while extending her little hand to shake theirs. We slowly made our way through the crowd towards the gate while stopping every few steps so that Ivy could introduce herself. ‘Hello! My name is Ivy!’ she kept saying while extending her little hand. Most people were foreigners and were rather shocked at such an introduction but most also recovered quickly and enthusiastically reciprocated it, others did it out of politeness while yet others didn’t shake her hand out of fear (clearly showing on their faces!). Don’t ask me what were they afraid of! An adorable 3 year old is hardly a threat to anyone. But hey-ho that’s just me!
By the time we reached the gate everyone knew who Ivy was. All along I stood beside her bursting with pride that I was with her and with a heart so full that it was going to burst. I fell in love with her the first time I heard her voice – Isaac was visiting family, she was running around, Isaac gave her the phone and between her Hellos! And Swahili phrases she screamed ‘I miss you!’ and then she sent me kisses. She had never met me at that point. I was so moved, and shocked and was only able to mumble ‘I miss you too!’ while fighting tears back. That’s when I fell in love with her, well before I met her. She was so real, so loving and fearless that I didn’t stand a chance. In an instant she turned into my favourite little girl in the whole wide world.
Once the gates opened we walked in the direction of the open grounds through a number of elephant shelters and keepers’ buildings. Ivy decided she wanted to be carried and wouldn’t have anyone but me do it. I was all to glad to do it 🙂 We got to the space marked for the elephants – a roped, red-dirt area dotted with water holes and toys for the babies. Ivy busied herself with playing with my camera – the kid is a genius! It took her seconds to figure it out and the photos she took were pretty good. She plucked at little flowers growing around her and either gifted them to her mum or me or stuck them in her hair. She was an absolute hit everywhere we went! People would come over and ask to take a photo with her. And of course she would befriend them in no time. One woman walked past saying ‘What a wonderful daughter you have!’. I could only wish she was my daughter though. ‘She is not my daughter that’s her mum over there’ I said pointing at Isaac’s sister.
When the elephants came out we made sure Ivy’s was at the front where she could see everything. I am not quite sure who was more excited to be honest – Ivy or us grown ups. I had certainly never seen anything like it before and neither had Isaac and his sister despite having lived in Nairobi and Kenya all their lives. There were at least 15 elephants of various ages. Some were tiny and barely stood on their feet others were grown up, while yet others were somewhere in the middle in terms of size. The babies were so sorry looking, tiny, fragile, cold, many were covered in blankets to keep them warm. Apparently pneumonia is a big things among the little ones. So much so that their keepers sleep with them as they require 24/7 cares. The work these people do is absolutely amazing! First they safe the babies from the wildlife after some horrible human being has killed their mothers and potentially hurt them as well, then they look after them non-stop for years until they are ready to be released back into the wild. All of that supported mainly by donations (hint, hint!).
The keepers fed some of them with giant milk bottles, others were playing around – we really had to be careful because they may look fragile but they are still huge and extremely powerful animals and a gentle push from them will knock you flat on the ground. Some of the little ones got close to us and we were all able to touch them. Their skin is really hard and rough even without the protective layer of red mud covering it. This must have been one of the coolest thing I have ever done and being able to share it awesome people on a day that felt like a family outing was phenomenal.
It was late morning, it was hot and Ivy was getting tired and hungry. Her mum had brought a litt le yoghurt for her and I fed her that. When I asked her to throw the empty pot in the bin she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders in an impossibly cute way and said ‘Hakuna dustbin!’ (No dustbin). And she was right. Indeed there wasn’t a bin and I was talking on auto-pilot.
The elephants were being rounded off (the center is only open on Sundays between 11 am and 12pm) and Ivy was wandering off. I left Isaac and his sister to enjoy the elephants and went after the little one. And of course before I could get to her she had made friends with an Indian family. The response she got from these people was shockingly different compared to the response she got from the Westerners. They were extremely friendly and relaxed and that fact that they were being approached by her didn’t seem unusual at all. They actively engaged in conversation so much so that she wanted to go with them. I really wish more people were like that – open, friendly, unafraid.
I carried Ivy on the way out and we had nearly left the souvenir toys behind when she spotted them. In all fairness they were extremely cute, hand-made toys of elephants. I am glad she wanted to see them as I could use her as an excuse to see them for myself! Ha! Her mum wouldn’t buy her anything cause it was quite overpriced but nobody said anything about me not buying her anything so I did. She hugged her little elephant and we walked out of the center.
She wanted to sit with me on the way back so I took her in my lap, wrapped both of us with a seat belt and we were off. She smelled so good! Absolutely adorable. They dropped me of at the hotel, we showed Ivy the fish, took a few photos to eternalise a fantastic day and it was time to say a rather bitter sweet goodbye…her mum was worried that she’d be quite upset to leave but luckily that wasn’t the case and she waved back cheerfully!
It was my last weekend in Nairobi and Kenya and I couldn’t have spent it any better! Very happy.