Kenya Diaries – Day 3

What a day. It is now almost midnight and all I can hear is the tapping of my keyboard and the bird outside the window chirping as though it is three in the afternoon, yet it feels more like three in the morning. My day started just after 6, and it has been non-stop. Getting to Mathare at 8:15, we awaited the arrival of the students as we set up the chairs. There were no desks or whiteboards, so we had to improvise with booklets and pens.

Initially, very few students arrived. I was the first to speak and my voice was shaky and my words stumbling while they stared at me with big curious eyes whispering “we have no clue what you are talking about.” Our Strathmore student (a local partner university in Nairobi), Paul, helped out a lot. He not only translated the language, but he understood the culture and how to relate to the students. Whilst the students were extremely respectful and eager to learn, the first hour was difficult and draining. As time went on, though, we started to learn about them as they learned about us, making the classroom more enjoyable and entertaining.

In one exercise, we asked them to discuss in small groups what some solutions are to the problems in their community. They outlined these issues as;

  • poor waste management
  • malnutrition
  • lack of clean water
  • insecurity
  • lack of homes

I sat with a group of relatively young people; two women and two men, and they chose to tackle malnutrition. The two men had come in and I immediately identified them as the “cool kids” laughing and joking in the backseat, and assumed they would be an issue, yet they were so so eager to learn and create and got very passionate about their fruit kiosk business idea quickly.  They turned to me for approval of all of their ideas and translated anything from Swahili into English for me to understand. It was that moment that it clicked I think, I suddenly realized how much I was enjoying myself, even if I were so far out of my comfort zone it almost didn’t feel like real life.

This evening, we ordered pizza and all hung out in the boy’s apartment debriefing about the day. We talked about what we define as success, and VJ suggested we all take a few minutes to write down what we consider success to be on this trip.

” Success to me would be achieving some sort of positive impact on at least one student due to knowledge gained through their experience and the course work.” 

I think to me this could mean a lot of things; a boost in confidence, a business idea, an actual start-up, growth in a business, or simply a story to tell their friends about the month they spent with the Mzungu.

Overall, a success, and I am more than excited to go back tomorrow.


Kenya Diaries – Day 2

I sat for 30 minutes trying to think of the right words to describe today, and I’m still not sure quite how, but here is my best attempt.

I shared oatmeal & bananas with my new roommate and we spoke about our expectations, worries, and fears. Having both traveled to relatively many places, we started to build a mental image; shacks, mud, waste and a large crowd.

We arrived in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest in the world, just after 9 am, and man, was it alive! People working, walking, talking, running, bustling, hustling. Everywhere you looked there was a new item to buy or a new car to avoid. There was an energy about the place, a certain atmosphere, and emotion which I spoke at length about with a Professor that accompanied me. Happiness. Everyone was smiling, everyone had a purpose. Of course, as Fred our driver told us, a lot of the people who live there turn to alcohol and drugs due to ‘life frustrations,’ yet the image we were shown was one of hope and opportunity. Everyone dressed impeccably, their clothes spotless and their houses scrubbed clean, despite the rivers of human waste and large mounds of mud and rubbish which stray dogs sniffed around in delight. In the middle of the slum was a train track, which looked old and unused, until we heard the distinct horn and saw the smoke from the chimney as it chugged past us. Incredibly unsafe, but an incredible site.

Next, Mathare. By now, the mood represented the sky… gray and cloudy. The general vibe was solemn, everyone was tired, upset, and unsure of what to say.  We approached the second slum and already it felt less clean, less vibrant, less welcoming. The classrooms were of a lower quality, and I felt envious of the other group’s relatively top-notch facilities.

The day ended with a trip to Yaya market, a walk back in the dark, and a quick omelet with a Tusker beer while we prepped tomorrow’s first day of teaching.


Kenya Diaries – Day 1

A lot has changed since yesterday. I almost can’t believe that I only landed last night, it feels as though I’ve already been here for weeks.

This morning we had a safety briefing, which honestly scared me a lot and as I walked back to my room to grab my belongings, I had doubts about the trip. This was quickly shattered, however, when we headed to the Yaya market in the relatively more affluent part of town. Not only did the city not feel any different than Bangkok or Hua Dong, but I somehow did not feel out of place. There was a diverse array of shapes, sizes, and races, and I felt comfortable laughing and sharing stories with my new friends. The shopping mall was mediocre; the typical shops, restaurants, and cafes, and we ate typical food, noodles, rice, and pizza, but the atmosphere was alive and you could sense the excitement and curiosity in everyone. We were about to share an awesome experience and we could all feel it.

The afternoon was spent relaxing around the house, throwing frisbees and catching up with family to let them know we were safe, and then it was back out to the Fairmont for more food and Tusker beer (one curiosity ticked off, yay!). The ambiance was amazing, the staff lovely, and the company top notch.

Now I await my roommate and hope for continued good vibes.

Tomorrow; the slums.

Kenya Diaries – Day 0

Apprehension? Excitement? Anxiety? Joy? Curiosity?

I sit crouched over my laptop in an economy aisle as we cross Northern Africa when it hits me; I’m about to spend a month living, learning, and teaching in Nairobi with a group of people I have briefly met over pizza and apple juice. I wrack my brain trying to gain some sort of expectation for when I arrive- Will I be dressed appropriately? Will Aggie be there to pick me up? Will I get sick? Will I love it or hate it or something in between? Out of everywhere I have been in this world, this is the country I know the least about. I don’t know the culture, traditions, language. I don’t know how developed or under-developed the city will be, will it compare to Kuala Lumpur? Belgrade? Shanghai? All I have to go off is a picture that Leah sent to our WhatsApp group of the beautiful crystal blue swimming pool and surrounding tropical nature in our accommodation. I am positive, though, that with all of the unknowns will come copious lessons learned, and we will all leave the city with more understanding and appreciation than which we arrived.

My hopes for this journey? I wish to return to Vancouver with a bank of memories that I can look back and learn from of both the businesses I have worked with and the friendships that I have made in the process. I hope to learn the cities culture, food and drink specialties (particularly the coffee and Tusker beer), and basic traditions. How will I do this? Say yes, listen, and ask questions.