It’s not quite Disney World. It’s a bit better, less expensive, more earthy, natural, less corporate, less branding, more mud, less fairy dust. It’s in a town called Kiambu, which is right outside of Nairobi, but a worlds away. In landscape, and lifestyle, and the name of the place, well you probably guessed, “Paradise Lost”. Sometimes the most precious things are worth fighting for, and the best moments are the ones that come only by struggle.

We promised the guys from our Tuesday Night group that we’d take them on a trip somewhere, and honestly, this past weekend was the only one where I was free to take them. The following weekend I had to work, and the weekend after was Orthodox Easter, and then, off to the USA. Elly and I were planning this trip together, until, well, he kinda went off and became a priest :) So Junae, Elly’s bro, and another friend, Kimani, were the ones who saved the day, and the three of us planned for this trip together.

Friday night, Junae came over to plan some loose ends, when it started to rain, and when I say rain, I mean drops the size of melons, fell from the sky in obscene amounts. And not the kind of obscene that makes many eyes widen in a backdrop of “right on!” and “did you see that?” Think Janet Jackson, Super Bowl half-time show. It’s the kind of rain that will exhibits over-the-top behavior that elicits responses like “are you serious?”

It’s that Howard Stern episode you remember thinking “that just ain’t right.” That’s the kind of rain that was happening that night. And within minutes the entire parking lot was totally flooded, and it hit me, what if it rains tomorrow? I mean, it was the rainy season, yes. But why the possibility of rain didn’t hit me until the night before the trip I didn’t know. I think the idea of rain got lost somewhere in between the 18 hours a day of PHP coding and trying to find a decent orthopedic doctor to help fix my busted shoulder (yes, another injury).

I call Jamaica, and we agree that if it rains, we’ll cancel the trip and plan on a weekday sometime. Ok, back-up plan is set.

It’s Saturday morning, I wake up and I look outside, and the weather is beautiful. There’s evidence of moisture on all the windows, and a nice early morning fog on the ground, but birds are chirping and the sun is beaming down as strong as it ever was! And I tell Junae, “Bro! The weather’s perfect!” and we head outside to meet our friends to head out to Kiambu.

When my alarm clock rings, and I realize, that it was just a dream. One of those cosmic middle-fingers was pointed right at me when I looked out my window, crusty-eyed, to see that the deluge had continued into morning, and it was raining as strong as it was the night before. All I could say at that moment was an honest and brooding “shit!” A strange hatred came over me. A hatred for oxygen, especially when it paired up with two hydrogens… yes, water… WATER… 70% of me, and you, and everyone we know. It wasn’t about anything else, but the fact that, I really wanted to give these guys a day away from life, and the troubles, and the cops. Maybe it wasn’t mine to give but I just wanted to give them something.

So I called Jamaica, to initiate back-up plan “RAIN DAY” when he’s like “Paul, everyone left a while ago, they should be there any minute.” Now didn’t I say to wait till I called to confirm? CRAP! Now you have to understand, it’s not like these guys can just go home… They came on foot, in the rain. We had to do something when they arrived.

And sure enough, there were 4 of the guys at the gate, waiting, excited, and soaked “PABLO!”, they exclaimed. The excitement in their eyes was yet another cosmic kick in the balls. How was I to tell them that their ticket out of Nairobi was cancelled until further notice? “Habari zenu… Mambo!” “Vipi” “Sema” “Poa-poa” “Uko Fresh?” “Freshi-Kabiiiiisa” In moments like these you extend the greetings and try to think of as many ways to say “how are you” as possible.

“It’s raining, guys, dunno if we’re gonna do it today. May need to postpone”

I’m not good with guilt. Seriously, I can’t do it. But it was beyond guilt. I saw “another broken promise”. But it was a serious lesson to be learned, because, Pauly don’t control the weather. Pauly has every intention of following through with this. Pauly had to stand his ground.

I am Pauly’s need correct all wrongs.

The rest of the guys showed up and we got together in the center, we made some tea, and we had a meeting. The topic at hand: “It’s pouring like crazy, what do we do?” Junae and I tried to explain it every way possible. “If we go there in the rain, we’ll be in the bus the whole time, let’s just save it for another time where it’s sunny.”

And the responses stayed consistant: “What rain?” “There’s no rain!” “I love the rain” “Let’s go today!” “Rain is a blessing from God.” (like President Bush, he had to throw the religion card). We went back and forth for like 30 minutes, until Junae and I finally just gave up. “Ok we will go, but I don’t wanna hear ‘we can’t do this or that cuz it’s raining’. You get me? We will do every last thing the park has to offer, no matter what. Sawa??” And in unison they replied with an emphatic “SAWA!

And we were off!! Except, we couldn’t leave.

Apparently someone who worked at the mission took it upon themselves to go over my head and tell some of the administrators that our trip was rained out, and therefore we didn’t need lunch, or our driver.

We were stranded in the rain, no food, no driver. With 16 youth and young adults who had just been so stoked to go on a trip.

“Amira, where is the driver”. “Someone told me you didn’t need the driver anymore, so I sent him to do a few errands.”
“Olga, where’s the food?” “Yea, the food is gonna be used for something else, since someone told us you guys didn’t need it anymore.”

Are you kidding me?

“Paul, is our trip cancelled?”
“No, guys… it is not”
“Where’s the driver”
“Well, there’s been a miscommunication…”

“Amira, when’s Peter coming back?”
“Oh 10 minutes, he’ll be back so soon, he’s on his way”

45 minutes later

“When’s Peter coming back?”
“In half an hour – he’s on his way. Twenty minutes.”

45 minutes later

You can only do so much to kill time: play some guitar, get out a soccer ball, tell a few jokes.

“Paul, the guys are losing hope.”

So I went to each guy, and put my arm around each one and asked “Are you losing hope?” “Do you still believe, we’ll make it to Kiambu” It’s amazing how these kinds of questions easily restore any hope that’s lost. Frowns turned to smiles. I felt like an Emcee at one of those talk show studio audiences.

I am Pauly’s sense of corporate responsibility.

As the morning dragged on, the rain started to taper off, and then a slight drizzle, became a cool mist, and then, dry, followed by, the sun? What the heck? Forecast called for rain straight until Sunday.

And then the car arrived? Has the cosmic middle finger been retracted and exchanged for some cosmic spooning? I think so!

In a few minutes we were loading up the bus! Until one of the guys tugs my sleeve “Paul, I will not go, if we use this bus, it is too small.” I pretty much told him he could stay behind. Sorry we couldn’t provide the stretch hummer. A minute later he was on the bus with the rest, and we were off to Kiambu!!

Within the hour, we were there, climbing up a bumpy dirt road through the farmlands of central province. “Paradise Lost (arrow) 2KM – VERY CLOSE!” We payed the admission fee, parked the car, did a group huddle, and we were off on our first adventure,

The Hike

It barely hit me that we were actually there, after the events of that morning. But nonetheless, we’d arrived, and it was as if nothing happened, as if there was no struggle, because we’d made it, but the struggle it took to get here, made it that much more sweeter. Carefree is a natural result of such a morning followed by achieved goals. We hiked up this tiny mountain, through forest, leaves, twigs, branches, mud, bends, crawl-spaces to emerge in back of a waterfall!! We stopped here for a moment just to soak it in. We definitely had arrived, and this was definitely our paradise lost. “PARADISE LOST” was a phrase you heard around you. Junae lead us in a prayer in back of this waterfall, and after it was done, we decided, we would go into the caves.

Behind this waterfall were a few caves, which didn’t seem like anything important to me at the time, but after some web-research today on Google, I found out something very different. It turns out that these caves were discovered in 1996 by the owner of Paradise Lost and some of his workers. He lead them in a mini archaeological dig, and discovered obsidian artifacts dating back to the Late Stone Age, over 2.5 million years ago. It has since been discovered to be part of a larger network of caves, among those where the some of oldest human remains have been found. In this particular cave, human remains dating back to 12,000 years ago have been found. Yet on Saturday, it was just a means to get a thrill going among the guys. Check out these articles I found:

A briefing on the caves

Daily Nation on the Web

It was dark, wet, and it seemed to be goin forever. Whenever we hit a dead end, I lit a match to show me where to turn, and we continued on hands and knees, in about 6 inches of cold water.

We felt like the Goonies, except I was the only one who knew who the Goonies were.

After hitting an obvious dead end, everyone seemed a bit uneasy, so we turned around and came out the other end. There was something really slimy about that cave. Probably was the 12,000 year old human remains, come to think of it. Out the other end, we took a few photos and continued on our hike. The rains made the hike significantly more dangerous than it had been if it was dry. Rocks, mud, slippery, gooey, jagged, thorns. Yet we kept going and going, and going.

It was awesome seeing the guys help each other, wait for each other. There was that perfect balance of anxiousness and patience! When one slipped, the other lent a hand, and so on, and so forth.

But of course, where there’s a bench, everyone’s gotta stop for a few snaps….

To be cotinued

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