Episode 2: In the Name of Love: From California and Zambia to Nairobi with David and Ronah Saunders

On this week’s episode, Greg and Bob are joined by David and Ronah Saunders who lead the Red Rhino Outreach Project in Kenya. The two met in Kenya and have been a transformational travel duo ever since. They discuss the role travel plays in their life and how it’s help lead them to where they are.
Published: December 14, 2020
By: Metamo
Category: Podcasts

On this week’s episode, Greg and Bob are joined by David and Ronah Saunders who lead the Red Rhino Outreach Project in Kenya. The two met in Kenya and have been a transformational travel duo ever since. They discuss the role travel plays in their life and how it’s help lead them to where they are.

Learn more about their Outreach Project at rrop.org

Episode Transcript:

Bob Spoerl: Hey, everybody, and welcome to a time when we explore with you and our guests travel topics and push the boundaries in celebration of the human experience. 

This is a really fun episode. 

So we’ve got two guests that’s longtime friends of Greg, David Saunders and his wife, Ronah. So David is from Stockton, the same city that Greg is from, who was an English teacher who taught literature at the University of the Pacific. And he also led Safaris with the Great back in the late 90s to Kenya and some of the first trips, they had some really great adventures that I’m hoping we can dive into as we get into the show. And Ronah was a well-known model in Zambia before she moved to Nairobi. She’s traveled the world. She met David and now they live in Kenya together and since they’ve been married. They continue to travel and also do some other amazing work that we’ll get into later on. So, Ronah, David’s a pleasure to have you with us. I really appreciate your time. 

Ronah Saunders: Thanks for having us. 

Bob Spoerl: We want to talk about the kind of that life-changing nature of travel in your lives. And you both have kind of been to have been to a few places. So would you say that your life would be radically different if you had not traveled? I mean, let’s start there. Kind of talk about the role of travel in your life. 

Dave Saunders: Certainly for me, it would be I can’t imagine that Ronan and I would have met if I had stayed in Stockton, California. 

So there’s that. 

And that being the first and foremost thing when Greg and I used to teach. I also taught at St. Mary’s for a long time. And that’s where I met Greg and I had traveled throughout Europe but hadn’t been to Africa. 

And then when Greg asked me in ninety-eight, he was getting ready to do his first safari with bringing some Americans to Kenya. He asked me to go with them and just help. Not that I had any particular skills because I certainly didn’t. 

But so I joined him and we went to Kenya in ninety-eight and then again in two thousand. In two thousand I brought my daughter Allison on the trip. 

So that was my first experience with Africa and that did wind up changing things for me. And unexpectedly, it wasn’t like I had always dreamed about going to Africa or anything. It just sort of happened. And then yeah, as a result of those trips and a few other dramatic side paths, I wound up going back and living in Africa. And that’s where, in 2011, I met Rona there. 

Bob Spoerl: Rona, how about you, I know you’ve done a fair amount of traveling in your life. Tell me a bit about how traveling played a role in who you are and formed you. 

Ronah Saunders: I think just from a young age, I really wanted to leave the country for some reason just because I knew a few people who have been away. 

From Zambia, and so I figured it would be nice to live someplace else. So in two thousand and eight, I left Zambia and I moved to Kenya and what was I doing in Kenya?

Dave Saunders: You were modeling mostly. 

Ronah Saunders: No, actually, I moved because I just wanted to continue with my days and part of that to supplement that I did modeling because I used to model. 

And so I continued in Kenya, which I had a lot of success with, but in that time, I just used to travel a lot by myself to Europe and just some places around Africa, which I really enjoyed a lot. 

Greg Traverso: Let me ask for the listeners that don’t know where Zambia is. How do you explain to people where Zambia is in Africa? Because Africa’s fifty 50. 

Fifty distinct countries. 

Ronah Saunders: Zambia is in the southern part of Africa. So if you look at the map of Africa, where you see South Africa and North, it’s Zimbabwe and none of that is in those days, a landlocked country, so, yeah. 

Dave Saunders: So what’s what’s to the east of Zambia? Oh, to the coast. 

Ronah Saunders: Well, we have Angola and Namibia, Angola, and then you’re coming to the Congo and which is more central. 

And then we have Mozambique and Tanzania on the other side. 

Bob Spoerl: So you’re modeling days, Greg was telling me a story of was it was David at a restaurant or seeing your picture? Greg, tell me that story. And David can chime in, too, like I love this story. 

Greg Traverso: I remember where they visited Zambia, I believe, for the first time together. And I want to bring Dave back to her homeland. And they were in a restaurant. And correct me if I’m wrong, you guys, but you were sitting there and you were, I think, having a beer or something in that place. 

The placemat was a photo of Ronah, conveniently taken from the restaurant and taken home and walked out with two-plus months. 

Dave Saunders: There’s the national beer in Zambia is mostly like Budweiser here, sort of. So in their ad campaign for a few years, Ronah was the Mosi girl. Right. So all the most billboards and TV spots and all that print would feature Ronah. So that was some a few years before I went to Zambia with her and people of course still recognize her.  We were having a beer at this, at this place. We’re actually staying there. It was a hotel slash lodge and then the placemats were one of those Mosi ads with Ronah. So, yeah, that’s so I swiped a couple of them. 

Greg Traverso: And you’re still wanted in Zambia. 

Ronah Saunders: Yeah, that’s awesome. And that’s what I find funny. 

Bob Spoerl: Yeah, I bet. 

Yeah. So do you think so? You know that, on this trip. Tell me about the personal growth of travel. I know you met each other and started traveling together, but you know how it’s travel kind of led to personal growth. And even recently, as you’ve seen a couple, how has that led to your own kind of growth as a couple? 

Ronah Saunders: I would say I go first and then I would say that we do really, really well traveling together and both in our married life and just being friends and just kind of being on the same. Level and enjoyment of things that we want to do and things that we want to see. So and when David and I travel together, we. It’s kind of we just have our own rhythm, so like just to give you an example, when, for example, when you go on safaris in Africa, it’s like, yeah, you have a morning safari and then you have. 

An evening safari. Oh, game drive you and drive. Yeah, OK. 

And then to show people. 

Yeah but so all you could have a whole day can drive. So with David and I, when we travel together, usually what we love to do is kind of just to go and on a game drive when it’s not so busy like we would, you know. Go for an early morning drive and then go take the whole day off and fall asleep just like the lions, and then around 4:00 then would go on a game drive when usually that’s the time most people would want to come back to the lodge. So then just going on the time, like in the evening, when the night animals, like they’re nocturnal animals are getting up, and then you get to just see that I don’t know if I am saying it correctly. 

Dave Saunders: You can see the light. I mean, if you have the ability to do that at night with some kind of infrared light, then you can see the light. Mostly when you go on safari, you see lions and they’re sleeping because that’s what they do during the day. But at night, you see them active and hunting. We saw two lion kills in two nights in a row, which is very, very rare. But for me, with regard to travel to back up a bit, my kind of original experience with travel was in Europe in seventy-five. I spent the summer in France and then went back to Italy at various times. But in ninety-four I spent the summer in Italy. I was teaching at the time and had a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study St. Francis of Assisi. And so I spent the summer in Assisi and Siena and that was a truly life-changing experience for me and in some really uncomfortable ways and really very good ways that have really shaped my life from them going forward. And then, of course, going to Africa with Greg in ninety-eight and two thousand. Yeah, I’d have to say that those two travel experiences were the primary influencing factors in where my life is now. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about it in that way, but certainly true. 

Bob Spoerl: Ronah, I’m curious, is somebody born and in Zambia traveled the world now, how did that change your perspective of things you think like having traveled? 

Ronah Saunders: Like the way that I think about things and the way that I see things is completely different from the people back in Zambia. You know, we live in Nairobi and Nairobi is a very, very big city. And it’s extremely fast like everything just goes boom, boom, boom. And when you’re in Nairobi, you’re looking for something. You always find what you’re looking for and it’s just the middle of one goes and sometimes like just one example, if you need a plumbing job done, you’ll get that within. Yeah, you just make a phone call and someone will be like, yeah, I’ll be there in 15, 20 minutes, and that is then known that is sorted. But then I go back to Zambia mostly it’s like it just to find that online is a little bit challenging and yeah

Bob Spoerl: There’s that, but then as you travel, you create new kinds of concepts of home and what home is, you know, it’s being with people as opposed to a place potentially. 

Dave Saunders: Yeah. I remember the first I think it was the first trip Greg, and we had driven from Nairobi and we were headed to the Mara. And I think we were in Narok, if I’m not mistaken, which is a city on the, um, on the way between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara. And it was the first year, I’m sure it was. Well, no, I’m not sure, but I think it was. And it’s busy, bustling. It’s Masai or Kipsigis, so there are a lot of Masai guys walking around. And we had stopped and I think a petrol station or something to get some fuel and some wantonness. And I kind of walked away from the group, which was different even for me, because Narok is out in the bush, you know what I mean? It’s not a place you would ever be. And there was just stuff going on, you know, people buying, selling like a little walking. I just walked through there and I remember coming back and telling Greg, you know, Greg, honestly, man, I just felt like I could have just kept on walking and never come back, you know, just to be in that place. And as it turns out, that’s sort of what happened ultimately, you know, in my life. But that feeling I know Greg Gregor’s done that right. I mean, he has taken a left turn and walked and traveled across the entirety of Africa. But that’s in some ways that are kind of the key moment or the key thing, I think for many travelers that you decide, you know what, I could just as easily keep going this way as I go back to that safari vehicle and get in and then finish this trip. You know, I could just be in this place. And for me, that’s kind of a watershed moment in some ways for most people or for people who travel and experience that certain thing. It was kind of a feeling of wanting to cut the cord in some way, you know? 

Greg Traverso: For me, that’s what inspires me the most, is the human and the human experience is that depth because we all want depth, we all want to mean. And I think when we like many of the things David and Rona have said, you know, all pertain to the way we perceive our home. And when you’ve been far away, you come back, you just see your home and you appreciate it even more. Most often I know I do when I come home. It’s always just such a great feeling. And there’s appreciation. There are those memories that you can rely on. And oftentimes, you know, some of the struggles of travel or can be translated to the growth of character and points of view and be able to extend that to your friends and family. And I think it all adds up to quite a package, you know, for life and all on the internal journey, which I believe were on an internal journey and not an external one. External it’ comes, but it’s that internal that really matters. 

Bob Spoerl: So it’s almost like there’s a spirituality of travel. 

Dave Saunders: You know, I think there can be you know, I don’t think that happens to everybody. You know, we certainly see lots of people traveling coming through. And it sort of depends on, you know, your own way of looking at things, your own constitution, the timing in your life, you know, all that sort of thing. Or maybe the degree to which your effect is set up by those things, you know. 

Bob Spoerl: This has been great you guys, I really appreciate it. 

I think, you know anything else about the transformation that we haven’t kind of discussed or that you want to leave people with in terms of kind of you know, we’ve talked about your story, how it’s changed your life and brought you together. But any kind of parting words of wisdom for folks who are looking to make a kind of trip that really transforms their life? 

Dave Saunders: I’d say that travel is sort of like it’s not that different from the rest of life. That’s how open you are to things, how open you are to some people coming to Africa. 

Oh, my God, these people are dirty and the place is dirty in this and that. And OK, fine. But there’s a certain lack of openness to, you know, to take in the place because it isn’t about dirty people and dirty places. It’s a vibrant, you know, unbelievably happening sort of place continent. And it really depends. Greg, you know this better than anybody. You bring 12 people on safari, nine of them go out. And this is unbelievable. And the other three say my hamburgers overcooked. You know, it sort of runs the gamut, but it’s open just, you know, I think of being willing to experience and not to just draw judgmental lines about everything. It’s how different it is from your norm. You know, that’s either a good thing for you or a bad thing for you. 

Greg Traverso: And it’s like life, you know, in your own backyard. 

It’s all how you look at things and and what you’re open to it, he said. 

So well, then I would love to have you guys back on too. I think we haven’t even talked about it. 

Bob Spoerl: But I think what I’d love to talk with the guys more on a future episode is, is some of the work you’re doing in Kenya, the transformation that you have been making in the lives of so many children there 

Dave Saunders: As a result of being on the trips with Greg, we had thought at some point that maybe we would like to try to do something to help in Africa that sort of went by the wayside and then sort of brought it back to the forefront in my own life anyway. In two thousand and five. So the short version is that Greg and I started talking, and then in 2006, I went to Africa with the support of people here with the idea of building a children’s home, which we did. And we still have it up and running and operating. We’re in the midst of raising our twenty-seven or so kids there. 

Now we’ve had them for 10 years or so, and we’ve been operating that. It’s the children’s home about 30 miles outside of Nairobi. And during that time, we’ve also branched out into some outreach efforts to try to do the best that we could with what? With the resources that we had. And so that effort and work have been ongoing and grown. And I still live most of the time in Africa and oversee that project and in its growth and development. So our mission statement is to try to give some of the poorest of the poor, some of the most disadvantaged kids in Africa, a chance to be educated and to grow and have a reasonably good shot at productive life in Kenya as adults. 

Bob Spoerl: Yeah, we’re excited to get in and we’ll have you guys back on and talk a bit more deeply about that outreach project. I think I think people are going to love to hear about that. But thanks again for joining us. Rona, Dave, a pleasure to have you. And thank you so much. It has been great. Thank you, guys. It was wonderful. 

Dave Saunders: Thank you. 

Bob Spoerl: I look forward to talking to you again and again for everybody listening or watching or wherever you’re seeing us. Feel free to go to metamo.travel. That’s where you can find information about trips to take with us. You can use a chatbot there. It’s not a bot. It’s actually a real person. It’s a representative. So you can talk anytime you want. Go to metamo.travel. Send us an e-mail. We’d love to hear from you. 

And I’d also feel free to give us a nice five-star review of the show. Right. Unless you don’t like us. In that case,  maybe don’t read the review, but know you guys. 

Thanks so much for listening. And we’ll talk to you soon. 

Odds are with us some of the time. 

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