"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."

"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ostrich Riding

Did you know there are ostrich saddles?  Well there are.  As comfortable as a horse’s saddle is, they have not yet perfected the same level of comfort for an ostrich saddle, maybe because ostriches are not meant to be ridden. 

Before Mallory left Kenya last year we wanted to do something special together with her that “you can only do in Kenya.”  Besides it was Rachel’s birthday and she’s the creative and fun one in our family so planning a ridiculous and crazy event served a double purpose.

We heard about the Maasai Ostrich Park on the south side of Nairobi that features ostrich riding.  This sounded ridiculous, crazy and special.  I’m not sure if you can only ostrich ride in Kenya, but it fit 3 of our 4 criteria for the day.  We all gathered around the computer to research ostrich riding on the Internet. I curiously noted the advertisement for “Travel Insurance” flashing on the left side of the screen, as the page slowly loaded.  This was my first indication that what we might be heading into was definitely questionable and possibly dangerous. I’m pretty sure Caleb squealed once or twice with delight.

The following advertisement (I’ll call it a disclaimer) came up, further cautioning some of us while thrilling others.   
Masai Ostrich Park Nairobi Ostrich Ride
Ostriches are very strong birds, one ostrich has to be held by two attendants before anyone can mount them. The attendants then control the bird during the ride.

The experience is more frightening than it is enjoyable. Sometimes the ostrich moves so fast making even a confident man terrified in case it throws him off and starts kicking.

Ostriches have the reputation of strong heavy kicks that can kill a Lion. Wild predators have died after falling victim to their infamous kicks.

The mortality rate of ostriches is heightened by the fact they tend to eat anything, including picking on each other’s feathers. When they eat indigestive materials, their stomachs hurt and start rotting, this prevents them from eating again.

Eventually, they die. I guess that is why they are referred to as daft, what with the proverb; ‘don’t sink your head in the sand like an ostrich’.
I’m not sure if the part about ostriches swallowing “indigestive materials” was to be an encouragement to bring something indigestible in case you were thrown off to present as a peace offering in place of being kicked or if it was just informational.  I’m also not sure what mother in their right mind would let their family participate in this activity after reading this, but clearly I was out of my mind that day. 

So we went.  A long hot two-hour drive through the center of Nairobi, where we determined that the plural form of ostrich is ostriches and not ostrii, started the day on an educational note and we emerged on the other side at the Maasai Ostrich resort in good spirits.  

As we drove in, I noted that we were the only ones there, which to me was further indication that this was not a popular or recommended sport. However, adding to our already educationally rich morning, we cleaned our shoes before entering the grounds to prevent the ostriches from getting diseases and began with a wonderful and instructive tour of the ostrich farm with a knowledgeable tour guide.  We saw two types of ostriches from small to large as well as learned about their habits. "They do eat each other’s feathers!" we noted by the fact that some of them had several bald spots. We laughed at their funny countenance and their curiosity at us.  It was nice for this to be mutual.   The kids fed them green grass, which they appreciated so much that they began fighting over it.

Upon finishing the tour, I was relaxed and content thinking this was really worth the long drive. That is, until our guide asked us if we’d like to ride an ostrich.  “I’m good,” I thought.  “I have never seen baby ostrich until today nor fed an ostrich until today, so I’ve done my unusual and crazy duty as a mother. Right?!” 

“YES!!!” everyone else screamed in delight bringing me out of my reverie.  Oh great…we’re going through with it. 

As we approached the ostrich arena I noted the posted warning sign, and, thinking back to the website, wondered how many willing and unwilling victims these birds had destroyed with their powerful kick.  Rick, in a daring and heroic move, stepped to the front of the line and offered to go first.  If someone were to fall victim, he would be the gallant warrior who would sacrifice for his family by being the first to ride an ostrich.  (A sentence I never thought I’d write.)  Also true to what the website indicated, he was flanked by two professional ostrich attendants, so I did take some comfort in that.

Rick survived two trips around the arena much to the delight of everyone in our group, except me.  I mean, I was delighted that he survived, but knew that meant my turn was closer. Then Mallory and Caleb took their turns, and survived.

It was now my turn.  I bravely and carefully climbed the fence, mounting the ostrich, which seemed to be more agitated with each trip around the arena.  This would be his 7th trip.  Was that his limit?  I tried to situate myself on the ostrich saddle having no idea where to put my feet.  It was supremely uncomfortable and I grabbed on for dear life to his wings.  Really?  That’s what you hold onto? The wings? Couldn’t they have thought of a saddle horn or something?  I settled on tightly wrapping my feet around the front of the ostrich’s chest and crossing my feet.  Now that I think of it, it is actually surprising he could still breathe.

“Okay.  I’m ready for this,” I thought, psyching myself up, feet locked tight and hands gripped securely on the wings.  “Only twice around and about fifteen seconds for each trek.  Thirty seconds of my life. I can do this!” And off we went. 

Due to the fact that there is not even the slightest hint of a back on an ostrich saddle as well as to my amateur status, I quickly began sliding right off the back of the ostrich as we lurched forward.  Thankfully, my two professional ostrich attendants anticipated this and simultaneously grabbed on to my backside pushing me back on. Rick and the rest of the family could hardly stand up, they were laughing so hard. 

What ensued was perhaps the most terrifying experience of my life so far.  Ostrich riding is not fun.  The 15 seconds around the arena that followed felt like 15 days and caused every part of my “fight or flight” instinct to kick in and my heart started pounding. And yes, the professional ostrich attendants held on to my backside the entire time.  I’ve never been so thankful for two strange men to be holding on to my rear.  We made it around the arena once and as we galloped in towards the crowd I said as calmly as I could, “I’m good.  I think one time around is enough.” 

Not wanting me to waste any of the 500 shillings I’d paid for the ride, my attendants just looked at me as if not understanding the English the seemed so proficient at when they took my money minutes before, and took me for a second trip around the arena which was equally terrifying.  As I quickly dismounted the ostrich, and leapt out of the arena, I was shaking. Whew!  I did it!  And I survived!  They definitely should have a medal for this. 

We finished our rides and spent the next hour and a half laughing at ourselves and eating ostrich burgers for lunch, which are surprisingly delicious.  This may or may not be due to the fact that you feel slightly inclined to kill an ostrich when you get off of one.

We closed out the day in the gift shop, where I decided in a moment of last minute inspiration, to remember this momentous day by purchasing an ostrich egg.  After all, every decent family needs an ostrich egg.  Rick, Mal and the kids went to get the car while I completed what I thought would be a quick purchase.  It turned out to be a bureaucracy nightmare.  Forty-five minutes later, I emerged from the gift shop with a fully registered and certified ostrich egg along with several sets of papers proving this was my official egg. It could even travel with me outside of the country if, and only if, I myself, brought the papers along.   If you’re lucky, I’ll bring it to the US the next time I come.  

Me proudly holding my certified ostrich egg!