Iraq War – Operation Iraqi Freedom – Part 4 – Kenya

IRAQ WAR - KENYA (23 Apr 04 – 29 Apr 04)

Collective Soul – The World I Know
Has our conscience shown?
Has the sweet breeze blown?
Has all the kindness gone?
Hope still lingers on.
I drink myself of newfound pity
Sitting alone in new york city
And I don’t know why.

So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below.
And I laugh at myself
As the years roll down.
cause its the world I know.
Its the world I know.

I had the greatest opportunity to visit Kenya. Some things about the trip will remain classified for decades.

The traveling conditions sucked,though. The 4 hour plane ride there and back, the 7 hour drive to our destination and back…. Changing locations every other day wasn’t really fun, especially with unforgiving environmental conditions that I was not prepared for. The showers spit out brown water. But we did get to go on a little safari. I saw a Pumba (which apparently means warthog in Swahili), crocodiles, hippos, antelopes, beetles, baboons and even a lion. The highlight must have been when we were in the forest,chasing a group of antelopes. The craziest thing was, they split upright off, and we were chasing 2 or 3 for a short time, but after awhile, if you chase them long enough, the group rejoins itself again at a certain location. It was like watching a perfectly executed rally point run. This is also the third currency I used (Kuwaiti dinar, Djiboutian francs, Kenyan schillings)

I didn’t write very much in Djibouti, and I certainly didn’t write very much (I didn’t have a laptop or the time to) in Kenya. But that country changed my perspective on my life. A lot. Most of the people there were genuinely nice, but the toughest part is trying to distinguish those that are genuine and those that aren’t. So you go in with a healthy dose of skepticism. I suppose knowing that we’re American soldiers, they try to take advantage of the fact that despite our meager wages, we make more in a week than they do in an entire year.

The one single most enlightening experience came one night when we went out on a Safari in our bulletproof SUV’s. We had come to know an indigenous personnel who lived out in the woods. We picked him up and went driving around for a few hours, although I can’t tell you where we went exactly. We went so far off that our GPS was of no use to us, and it was pitch dark. But the Kenyan knew exactly where we were going. My Navy chief told me to turn off the GPS, that it’s no use. The Kenyan didn’t know a lot of English but he knew enough. “Left that tree. Go straight. Straight. No, no turn. Right that tree.” “Well, how far away are we?” “Close. Straight. Right, now straight.” Sure enough,about 30 minutes later, somehow, out of nowhere, we drove up a little ditch, and landed violently back on our trail in our overweight bulletproof SUV’s. We gave him a ride back to his ‘home,’ a mere 5 minute drive away then.

We were invited inside his ‘home.’ This was quite a sight. His wife and his kid waited for him in this place he called home, in the middle of nowhere. Using three strategically planted trees as high as palm trees, they had tied those together and created a first layer of protection from the elements above. Then, a few large leaves high enough to deter anything that fell through that layer. Around this small, circular entity, they had tied twigs, leaves, and barks together high enough for them to be protected from the wind while walking around. And through to the right past a simple improvised door made from the same material, a hut within this home was closely molded together with what looked and felt like mud and possible human and animal dung. Below it, those three beings would sleep through any element, wind, rain, or sun. The entire place couldn’t have been more than 25 ft wide, but they kept everything nice and neat, and had dug several trenches around the place for irrigation. And right in the middle of it would be a lightly lit fire. Fire that they had created, of no knowable material, that burned forever. It burned brighter than a candle, enough to warm up the hut they lived in, which they also used to light up the twigs they kept gathered to heat their food. We were instructed not to leave behind anything for them. They were acclimated to their way of life and we were not to interfere.

I flew back in the C-130, and after 4 hours in the air, we slowly descended back into the black abyss of Djibouti. Although the last 20 minutes of flight was in total darkness for security reasons, I held that image of eternal flame in my mind. Even now days, whenever I am in my darkest moments, I still think about that place, knowing that although I may not understand the intricacies of nature and the meaning of our destinies, a fire out there, somewhere in a place I cannot go back to, is still burning ever so bright, full of hope.

Iraq War Photo. Mobil station in Kenya. This is the most modern facility we ran into the entire stay.

Mobil station in Kenya. This is the most modern facility we ran into the entire stay.

Iraq War Photo. You can tell that we have just barely begun our trip because the road is paved and the village is fairly well kept.

You can tell that we have just barely begun our trip because the road is paved and the village is fairly well kept.

Iraq War Photo. I still have no idea what that huge coke bottle does.

I still have no idea what that huge coke bottle does.

Iraq War Photo. A huge uprooted tree is not cleared away. Instead, it had become a part of the community.

A huge uprooted tree is not cleared away. Instead, it had become a part of the community.

Iraq War Photo. Remember the rainfall in Djibouti? Well, this is the left over puddle in Kenya from the same rainfall, few weeks later.

Remember the rainfall in Djibouti? Well, this is the left over puddle in Kenya from the same rainfall, few weeks later.

Iraq War Photo. A woman carries her day's work back home.

A woman carries her day’s work back home.

Iraq War Photo. Do you think this road block is primitive? Well, unfortunately, I couldn't take a picture of the more primitive one we would cross later. They would be made entirely out of a thick branch with nails hammered in.

Do you think this road block is primitive? Well, unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture of the more primitive one we would cross later. They would be made entirely out of a thick branch with nails hammered in.

Iraq War Photo. This is, believe it or not, a church.

This is, believe it or not, a church.

Iraq War Photo. Taking a break from the trip.

Taking a break from the trip.

Iraq War Photo. Even still, having pulled left side security the entire trip, my left arm is thoroughly sun burned.

Even still, having pulled left side security the entire trip, my left arm is thoroughly sun burned.

Iraq War Photo. Beginning of our safari. Towards the back of the swamp you see a family of hippos. From this distance, they weren't all too shy.

Beginning of our safari. Towards the back of the swamp you see a family of hippos. From this distance, they weren’t all too shy.

Iraq War Photo. The remains of an animal's vertebrae. You can see here that I had already dipped into a part of a swamp with my right boot. So unprofessionally not uniform? Well don't worry, my left foot would sink into another swamp later that night.

The remains of an animal’s vertebrae. You can see here that I had already dipped into a part of a swamp with my right boot. So unprofessionally not uniform? Well don’t worry, my left foot would sink into another swamp later that night.

Iraq War Photo. The evening is closing in on us, and I took a few steps back to take this picture of the crew silhouetted by Kenyan skyline.

The evening is closing in on us, and I took a few steps back to take this picture of the crew silhouetted by Kenyan skyline.

Iraq War Photo. We took a trip on a native boat across a river.

We took a trip on a native boat across a river.

Iraq War Photo. Some kids playing in the river. The river empties right into the Indian Ocean.

Some kids playing in the river. The river empties right into the Indian Ocean.

Iraq War Photo. This is the island we'd be visiting for the entire day. We are here to make some trades because we were short on some key supplies. The kids were always a delight. Before our boat trip back to mainland, we would take a dive from the ledge you see up the stairs. At least a dozen Kenyan kids would dive in with us, and although I came out bleeding a bit from a pillar that had more algae than you could dream of, it was worth every drop.

This is the island we’d be visiting for the entire day. We are here to make some trades because we were short on some key supplies. The kids were always a delight. Before our boat trip back to mainland, we would take a dive from the ledge you see up the stairs. At least a dozen Kenyan kids would dive in with us, and although I came out bleeding a bit from a pillar that had more algae than you could dream of, it was worth every drop.

Iraq War Photo. People in this island were fairly well dressed, to my surprise. Although a well organized community, it was very congested, and kids would go riding around on tiny asses. Here, try as I might, I couldn't get through the satellite phone to try and wish my brother in Korea Happy Birthday. This would be the one and only time I would miss calling him on his birthday.

People in this island were fairly well dressed, to my surprise. Although a well organized community, it was very congested, and kids would go riding around on tiny asses. Here, try as I might, I couldn’t get through the satellite phone to try and wish my brother in Korea Happy Birthday. This would be the one and only time I would miss calling him on his birthday.

Iraq War Photo. I also drank about $400 worth of alcohol for 14 hours 1PM - 3AM. But that's only because I was covering for Perez as well. Perez and I never got drunk, though. They sure made some awesome drinks. I've never had better ones before or since.

I also drank about $400 worth of alcohol for 14 hours 1PM – 3AM. But that’s only because I was covering for Perez as well. Perez and I never got drunk, though. They sure made some awesome drinks. I’ve never had better ones before or since.

Iraq War Photo. But we never paid a dime of that out of our pocket. All $400 bucks or so would be covered thanks to the American taxpayer. My fondness of Oakley's also grew here, where I was borrowing a pair from a Navy SEAL named Sean.

But we never paid a dime of that out of our pocket. All $400 bucks or so would be covered thanks to the American taxpayer. My fondness of Oakley’s also grew here, where I was borrowing a pair from someone named Sean.

Next >> Iraq War – Operation Iraqi Freedom – Part 5 – Redeployment