Kenya is such an amazing country. It has amazing people and an amazing culture, and I was so privileged to have spent a month with such caring and loving Kenyans who were so happy that 50 teenagers were keen to be a part of their life for the 30 days we were in the beautiful country experiencing their way of life and indulging in their culture.
As you can imagine, a night flight to Kenya isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 9 hours seemed like a lifetime and when we finally arrived at half 6, Kenyan time, we were completely shattered. Most of us too excited to sleep on the plane which had everything from games to films to keep us occupied. Spending two hours waiting to go through the visa department wasn’t my cup of tea, I just wanted to arrive at the place we were setting base at and go to bed, but that wasn’t the case. When we met the Kenyans, Rosie and Osman, or Ozzy for short, the people employed by Adventure Alternative, the charity we went with, they were fantastic to us. They made sure all our questions were answered and made us feel at ease and safe, because I know I felt a bit scared being away from home in a strange country, even though we had been away for a day!
On the first day, instead of going to sleep, we visited the Kibera slums where the fighting in January (2008) had occurred and saw the bullet marks in the metal walls of the slums and also a lot of graffiti on the walls, words and poems about the fighting too. The people did not seem affected after many months, children ran with our bus, laughing and waving to us, while the older generation sat and waved as well. These people did not seem to be affected in any way and just got on with their way of life.
Just outside the slums was a clinic in Ushirika, where Adventure Alternative has been helping to run and actually built in 2003. When we arrived there were people sat in the waiting room, while the 50 of us went into another room to have a talk about HIV/AIDS before a tour of the hospital and delivery room, where one new mother was nursing her baby and several more mothers cradling day’s old babies. The clinic was fascinating and Adventure Alternative had done a brilliant job in running the place and helping all the ill and vulnerable people from the slums.
The next day we spent 12 hours travelling to Ullamba, to the orphanage where we spent the next 10 days setting up a street camp for 80 former street children, who are now scouts, and let them have a bit of fun for a few days with us. We also spent the days helping to build an early development centre for the orphanage. The 50 teenagers were split into 4 groups and so were the scouts, so each group had 20 Kenyans each to look after. My group was called Kamouk and for the next 10 days the 12 people in my group had a schedule for each day and tasks to keep the Kenyans occupied. We taught and played English games like ‘Duck Duck Goose’ and ‘Stuck In The Mud’ which they all loved and insisted on spending hours playing them wearing us ‘mzungus’ out, which is the Swahili word for white people. We also taught the Kenyans Sex Education, and they knew a lot about HIV/AIDS and how you can contract it. We were very pleased that they at least had some information about the disease.
We took a day trip away from the orphanage to Lake Victoria, where we had a boat ride on the lake to see the hippos, which was amazing being so close to them, yet so far away so no damage happened to us. A trip to a ‘zoo’ was in place too and I say ‘zoo’ because there were many snakes behind different glass cages, two crocodiles and about 20 turtles, and that was it. But the scouts seemed to be fascinated by it, seeing as they had never been to a zoo as most of them had come from very poor backgrounds.
When it was Kamouk’s turn to help build the early development centre, we all used team work and helped one another out by lifting huge slabs of rock which was used as the bricks and also painted together to get the job finished faster. Even in the boiling heat, we all made sure one another was fit and drinking the right amount of water each day and also eating, because the sun was so hot, it was easy to become ill from lack of food and drink, so we all had to look out for each other.
When it was time for the scouts to leave us, it was an emotional day, simply because of how close we had become with them and we felt our emotions rise because we knew the life they were going back to after the stories they had told us about their families, so it really was a sad day knowing they were going back to poverty and the life before we met them, which we seemed to forget about since we had bonded so much with them.
After a day of rest and relaxation, having a lie-in for the first time in days, since we had been getting up at 6am, we were split into two groups in preparation for Mount Kenya and safari. Early the next morning, it was time to leave Ullamba and travel to Naromoru, where we would be camping in BlueLine hotel for 5 nights until it was time to visit the beach and have a week of pure bliss. The journey was terrible. The roads in Kenya aren’t roads! They are just uneven stretches of long tarmac and really dusty too. We had to keep all the windows closed so nothing would get on our clothes and in our eyes. But when we finally did reach BlueLine, 15 hours later, it was completely dark, yet we had to unload our luggage and the tents, and then start to put the tents up in the pure blackness, which was hard I can tell you.
The next day, my group went on safari for three days while the other group had a head start up the mountain. We saw lions, cheetahs, zebra, elephant and many more animals’ right up close, which was breath-taking and such a brilliant experience to have.
After the three days we travelled back to BlueLine and started preparing for the mountain part of the ‘holiday.’ Climbing that mountain was extremely hard I can say, because I only managed the first day, and that was an achievement because I walked 10,000FT, but I knew I could not make it any further, so the next day when my group continued the climb, three others and myself made the journey back down, by Land Rover, and back to the Hotel, where some of the Kenyan staff were waiting for us with congratulations for at least making the first base. For the days where both groups were on the mountain, the four of us cooked our food on stoves and spent the days playing cards and talking to the staff.
Finally when both groups were back together and we were reunited again, we had to pack up everything once again to head to Mombasa, where we were spend 5 days out in the sun and relaxing by the sea. It took 12 hours to get to the coast, but when we arrived the sun was setting over the sea and it was perfect, it truly was beautiful to watch while we put our tents back up.
The next morning we woke up to the blistering sunbeams coming through the tents, so when we all had had breakfast, we went our separate ways and spent the day in the sun. Some people sunbathed; others strolled down the beach while some went and played in the sea. Either way everyone had an incredible time at the coast, each having a camel ride, which was not a good experience for me! But we all had fun and bonded even more, so when it was time to leave and head back to Nairobi, everyone moaned that they did not want to leave the sea yet but we had to, we had 2 days left in Kenya then it would be time to travel home. As always it took a whole day to travel back to Nairobi, where we put our tents up and aimed to get ready as quick as we could as the charity treated us to food at Carnivore, the meat palace in Kenya, which let you indulge in meat from Crocodile to Ostrich, which were both delicious. We then spent a few hours in the nightclub next to it, before venturing back to the camping ground for some rest.
The next day we visited an elephant orphanage and we were really up close to them, only separated by a piece of rope. They ranged from babies to 7 and 8 year olds and they were really adorable to look at, making me think I would like to adopt one of them because they are such amazing animals and need support from humans as they are only orphans. After the orphanage, we were allowed a couple of hours in a big shopping centre, to buy presents or to surf the internet and check our emails, even though we would be travelling home the next day, it was nice to just update your facebook status! Haha!
When we got back to the camp site, we packed everything away, apart from the tents, and were treated to pizza by the leaders who ordered at least 100 of them for us to enjoy. After the meal, many of us decided to get some sleep as it would be a very long day travelling home and getting emotional, seeing our families again.
The next day we had to get up at 4am Kenyan time and load the truck of our luggage, which took longer than expected, due to the boys, not the girls can I say! And at 6.30am it was time to take the emotional journey back to the airport where Westlife – Home was the theme tune for the ride, leaving most of us in tears. As much as we wanted to go home and see our family and friends, leaving the Kenyans behind was so hard because we had become so close to them, sharing our troubles with them, (I was homesick and they took care of me) and laughing with them (every single day). Watching them walk away while we checked in was horrible, but we knew that we would stay in touch with them because spending a month in Kenya was a once in a lifetime experience, and sharing it with other people who you become such good friends with is a memory that will never be forgotten, and I know that I would love to travel back one day and spend more time in a country that has stolen my heart.
Written in 2008 for my university interview.