Camping with hippos

Our campsiteThis past weekend was the annual AIM Kenya Men’s Retreat. It was my first time getting outside of Nairobi, with the exception of a 1 day trip to Mt. Kenya for a graduation ceremony and a picnic/hike with my aunt/uncle/cousin in the Ngong hills. It was certainly my first time sleeping out in the wild in Kenya, and I loved every minute of it. It was also Lesa’s first time being home alone (with the children) in Kenya.

I met up with around 30 other guys, from all ages and all parts of Kenya, at a campsite along a river near the Rift Valley. It was a manly time… eating meat cooked over a fire pit, building fires by rubbing sticks together (I’m not joking!), drinking chai & coffee that had been boiled in a big pot over the fire. We also worshiped together around the campfire and had great fellowship the entire weekend.

The whole weekend we had 5 Dorobo tribesmen guarding us and helping us. They kept the hippos from out of our campsites while we slept, and camped right next to us. I had a great time talking to these guys, practicing my Swahili. One of these guys, who must have been 80 years old, loved to play guitar.Dorobo man, playing my guitar Through the course of conversation with him I discovered he had never been taught how to play guitar, just had figured it out on his own. He was awesome… a really good guitar player (African style, that is). I let him play my guitar one night, and he told me afterwards that his heart was full and happy because he had never heard a guitar like that. He has a small guitar with 5 rusty strings… so I gave him a new set of strings, complements of Mike Rayburn, who hooked me up with a 2 year supply before we came to Kenya.

On Saturday we divided into teams for some manly competition. The first task was to build a raft out of some logs and innertubes and some rope. And we had to float it down the nearby, fast-flowing river with at least 2 people on it, and they needed to be able to stand on it to prove the stability. Our team was the 2nd team to get our raft in the water, but we built the raft so well, we thought we could add a 3rd person (me) to prove its extra stability. Afterwards we had a competition in creating fire by rubbing sticks together… the Dorobo warriors (complete with bows and poison arrows, no joking!) who showed us how to do it could get a spark going in about 30 seconds… it took us about half an hour!

Later that day I decided to go tubing down the river with a couple of other guys. The last thing we heard before jumping into this fast-flowing river was “keep an eye out for hippos, it’s probably too cold to need to worry about crocodile”. Well, the other 2 guys had grown up in Kenya, so I was vigilant, but not scared. It was a beautiful 1.5 hour ride through high canyons and forests of Eucalyptis, with monkeys and eagles startled by us at every twisting turn.

After the 1st 30 minutes, I thought I saw the very thing I was fearing I’d see. We were coming around a fast corner (we were always looking forward, constantly paddling to swerve around rocks or tree limbs) and I saw 2 black circles, about 18 inches apart, swimming to the bank, starting to submerse. I shouted “hippo” to the other guys and we scrambled onto the muddy banks with our tubes. One of the guys walked along the bank cautiously to go check it out. Not seeing anything other than a few black ducks for a few minutes we decided to get back in the water. One of the guys grabbed a large stick, just in case, and we floated, cautiously, past the spot. One the ride back to the camp site, we passed a herd of wild zebra grazing beside the road (my first zebra sighting in Africa!), but that was it as far as wildlife.

The whole weekend got me thinking about something: Danger. Like how cool it is. How it makes you feel like a man. How Africa is full of it. The Swahili word for it is Hatari, which is also a John Wayne movie I think. I realized how I want to take my boys tubing down that river… to help them experience that they aren’t “safe” except for being in God’s plan. Obviously God wants us to use every precaution he has given us the ability to use… but we can never forget that ultimately our safety and security comes from Him. There’s something awesome about that… I can know with 100% certainty that a rabid hippo cannot thwart God’s plan for my life. Sure, maybe God’s plan would be for me to die in the hands of an angry hippo… but even then I can trust that the end result is a net good, somehow. He promises that. Not that we shouldn’t wear seat belts or brush our teeth… but we can never have enough seat belts or helmets to protect us from everything…ultimately He’s in control.

And that’s pretty cool.


  1. Not exactly what your mother wants to read about! Glad you enjoyed your “manly” pursuits and returned safely to your wife and kids. Praying for you all.

  2. rats . . . I guess I gotta go back to brushing my teeth again –


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