Kenyan Diaries – Day 29

I am currently sitting cross-legged at the back of the plane, with a black coffee on the table, my thick shuka wrapped around my shoulders and a beautiful view of what now might be North Carolina to my right. With my initial flight from Nairobi to Frankfurt smooth, I only encountered trouble trying to get on my Frankfurt to Chicago flight. With an apparent glitch in the system and a slight incompetence of the staff regarding Canadian student visas, I was not allowed on board. Sitting for hours in Frankfurt airport, I was finally given a waitlisted ticket on a direct flight to Vancouver (the same flight as Yuki, Leah, and Doris). Unfortunately, their flight was fully booked, so instead, I had to head over to Untied Airways customer service to get a rebooking. My misfortune continued as I was unhappily greeted by a woman by the name of Lourdes, who was just about to finish her shift so my mere presence was already an annoyance. She basically told me I wasn’t her problem, so I politely asked her how I will get to Vancouver if everyone I have spoken to thus far has told me to speak to her. She grumpily made a few phone calls in German, and as she did I considered explaining to her a concept we had taught in class about correct customer service practice named GUEST.

G: Greet the customer

U: Understand the issue

E: Explain

S: Solve

T: Thank/ Tell them to buy

I chose not to, and instead focused on remembering her name for when I formally complain to the airline. Thanks, Lourdes!!!! Eventually, realizing I was, in fact, her problem, she booked me on a super inconvenient flight first to Washington DC that would arrive that evening, then a subsequent flight the next morning to San Fransisco, followed by a short layover and then a final flight to Vancouver. I begrudgingly agreed, seeing no other real option, and with little success asked the next lady if they will pay for my hotel in Washington DC. Sleeping the entire flight there, I arrived feeling a lot better and ready for my hotel stay in the Hyatt (it’s important to treat yourself in times like these right?), with a short delay in getting my bags, I finally arrived, dumped my stuff right by the door, and searched online for food options. By a process of elimination (everything was closed), I settled on Dominoes. Like I said, treat yourself. Eating until I was more than full, I settled down for basically a long nap of about 3 and a half hours until it was time to head back to the airport. Running on two cups of coffee I am finishing off my blog posts for this trip. It has been amazing. I will hold these memories dearly for life. I am almost happy that the delay in my trip home as occurred as I had such a beautiful morning watching the sun rise over the amazingly green Washington D.C. as we took off and I’ve had much more time to reflect on the trip before normal life gets in the way. As we soar above the clouds I count my blessings… what a month.

Special thanks to Kait, Allison, Val, Elaine, Ben, VJ, Hayden, Paul, Leah, Yuki, Doris, Janet, Nicole, Quinn, and Aggie for the memories, laughter, kindness, and love.

Guys, it’s been great.


Kenyan Diaries – Day 26 & 27

Day 1 of presentations went successfully for the most part. Both VJ and Hayden stayed home sick, so it was just the six of us. We split the class up into two groups of 30, and each day had roughly 15 presentations in each room. It was almost nice to see that the students were nervous… to me it meant that they were taking the class and assignment seriously. The presentations went decently well, with some people speaking less than others, but each person putting in effort to ensure they had something to say. The other students asked great questions and pushed their peers to really challenge their ideas and think about what they were saying. Towards the end, however, the students were getting restless and started to tease the presenters. When the Kennedy brothers stood up, it hit a peak. The class kept laughing and jeering until Joseph (or Simon… I honestly still can’t tell them apart) sat down and put his head in his hands from being so embarrassed. Paul told them to be quiet and stop laughing, but as soon as Esther stood up to present the same thing happened. I felt upset with the students, so once Esther concluded, I went up to the front of the class and told them how disappointed I was. As soon as I mentioned how nerve-racking coming and presenting to the class was, they all replied with lots of nods and yes’s, but I continued and told them it is a big sign of disrespect, and it’s not okay, and that I want more from them next time. After class, I felt slightly awkward, but this quickly subsided as chapatti was served and I started chatting with the students again, including Joshua who I asked to make matching shirts for all of us instructors. That night after another successful dinner at Ceders, we sat around as Quinn created the template design and we tried to agree on a common style of shirt that we’d all like.

Day 2 of present went well, with the presentations starting off really strong and continuing with strong speakers throughout the day. After school, we said our goodbyes and head over to the Masaai market to bargain for some final souvenir shopping. I wasn’t entirely sure what to buy, and hate bargaining, but ended up settling on a thick shuka for the mini reunion party I will being throwing at my place in a few weeks time, and a handcrafted chess set that I saw at the previous market and loved the look of. We grabbed some iced-coffee and a snack, and head back for a quick shower before mystic gardens. Mystic Gardens is a restaurant that SSE Kenya attends every year as a final dinner all together (including the donors and other staff from organizations such as ACCESS), and is supposed to be a highlight of the trip. While it was nice to all be together, the vibes were slightly strange. With two separate round tables, there was a physical divide between us instructors and the organizers/donors, in the centre, a table with complementary whiskey, vodka and wine (yay) and a make-shift stage area for our host to speak on his microphone. Before dinner was served, we mingled and had a chance to stir the food before sitting down to eat. The event cost us 2000KES, yet I think I ate about 500KES worth of food. Anyhow, drinks were paid for and I sat and spoke with Hayden and Dennis (one of the drivers) about relationships and jealousy after Ben had spoken with me about the five languages of love and what they mean. With dinner having been consumed, our host came up to speak a few words. He ended with a thank you to the organization for their hard work and dedication, and asked for others to speak. Of course, VJ was first to come up followed by Ben, and they both said some kind words towards the organization and our team in the inspiring way that they talk. As I sat trying to not make eye contact with anyone to avoid being called up, Doris and Janet were ushered to the stage to sing the Chinese song they had sung just a few days ago in class. With a mix of relief and admiration, I watched as they sang and then spoke about their experience on the trip. It was wonderful to see two girls that had initially been quite shy to come up and have no trouble singing and speaking in front of such a relatively large audience. A few others came up to speak, including Kait and Nicole who spent time individually thanking all of the instructors which was so sweet, but the host started to get restless. As Yuki and Leah tried to hand over the thank you gifts we had bought for Colleen and Frances, he snatched the microphone. Yuki told him they weren’t done, but he was already impatient and as Frances tried to speak a few words of thanks, he came and snatched the microphone again. After this, the vibes of the night changed, and I felt a sense of dislike towards this man who had swung in, charged us large amounts of money, and didn’t even let our organizer speak. Finally wrapping up, we head back to the apartments and sorted out tomorrows events organizing the yearbooks and who would get which gift. I have mixed feelings about tomorrow. I’m excited for everyone to graduate, but upset that this will be our final goodbye, I’m happy that we get to spend such a nice day together, but sad that is has ended so quickly. 

Kenyan Diaries – Day 24 & 25

Day 24 pretty consisted of me talking about my bowel movements way too much and eating, napping, and reading.

Day 25, however, was a lot more eventful. I started the day with a strong coffee and chocolate Weetabix (totally forgot about this product, it’s amazing), and then we head out to Mathare. A number of students that asked how I was feeling was so adorable, and apparently, they all prayed for me in the morning which was the sweetest thing ever. The energy was pretty low, but we managed to get through until about 11:30 when Hayden started to look really sick. Immediately after teaching his section, he slipped out of the classroom followed by VJ to check up on him. Paul pulled me aside and told me he thinks he has malaria, so the next step was to call a driver so he could go to the hospital. I joined him in that, as I felt I would rather not be alone if I were in his position.

The hospital was pretty nice, and five hours later we were back at Woodmere with no malaria and antibiotics for his stomach infection. While the past few days have been pretty uneventful, it’s been nice to relax after such a hectic weekend. Tomorrow and Friday are presentations and I am actually really excited to see what our students have to offer and to see how far they come.

The agenda left for tonight is Paul cooking us Nigerian food and us sorting out the order of our students.

I think I’m getting ready to go home… I’m still excited for the next few days of business presentations, final dinner, and then graduation on Saturday, but I’m also excited to get back to school and gym and my normal routine.


Kenyan Diaries – Day 20-23

Masai Mara Day 1

The sun had yet to rise when we stood to wait for the bus, it was 5:30 am and the kind of temperature that I associate with travel because I am never up that early otherwise. Of course, as is the Kenyan way, the bus was over 45 minutes late but it had reached the point where we were not annoyed but rather just happy to see it finally. The bus was massive. On the ride out we noticed a playground directly next to our apartments that we would have never seen had we not been almost 15ft off of the ground in a moving vehicle. We were all set up for our 6-hour road trip, everyone plugged into their headphones or asleep. I always enjoy long car rides listening to music, reflecting, and watching the scenery, so I was the first one to see rift valley emerge to our right as we headed out of the city. I don’t think I have ever seen a valley so large, or an area so flat. The surrounding mountains created a greater sense of awe as we stopped to take pictures and head to the washroom. The service from Me to We (the organization organizing our trip) was excellent, they provided us with lots of snacks, drinks, and then lunch.

We finally arrived at the campsite and were met by around 15 people singing and dancing celebrating our arrival. They introduced themselves to us, including what they “love” doing. Our cook, Martin, loves ‘cooking tasty meals for us.’ Julie, our housekeeper, loves ‘making our rooms clean.’ A bit odd, but none the less, we wondered around to find our rooms. We were supposed to be camping, but this place was straight glamping. With two bunk beds in each tent and some wardrobes, it was actually pretty nice. The grounds were beautiful and green, the common area was clean and grand, and the sun was shining.

After lunch, we jumped back into the massive lorry and bumped along the road to the school. We saw the old classrooms versus and the new classrooms and were told all about Me to We. Fatigued from the trip, we were driven about 5 minutes up the road to the hospital. This was a weird experience, not only was the hospital essentially empty, the branding from the organization reached an all-time high with the “nurse” showing us around clearly reciting a script, and breaking a few protocols every single room we entered. It felt as though it was all for show, and a bunch of us became very skeptical of the whole situation. Coming back from that, though, we had a lovely dinner and sat around the campfire chatting until bed. Midway through the chat, I head to the bathroom, and as I was sat on the toilet, a bat flew in through the window, flapped around a bit and flew back out. I stayed completely still but my heart was beating a million times a minute, and I rushed out refusing to step foot in that place again once it turned dark. I fell asleep to the chirp of crickets, and the light brush of the mosquito net just above my face.


Masai Mara Day 2

With another early start, we were up and ready to go at 7 am. The sun was just rising, the air was fresh, and everyone excited as we head outside of the campgrounds for our hike. Just 10 minutes in, we saw a herd of zebras grazing on the grass just 100 meters away from our group. Imagine… orange-red skies, vibrant green cacti and trees, a group of people you’ve come to adore, a Masai warrior in his bright red shuka, and a herd of zebras, absolutely amazing. We ended up making a human pyramid just for fun on the airstrip near our camp, then walked back quickly ready for breakfast. Settling down with my fried eggs and toast, I sipped my coffee and decided I was glad I ended up going on this trip, already it was so worth it and there was still three days left.

We took the lorry about 45 minutes out from the camp to Mama Julie’s house. Here, we learned about the merry-go-round system (essentially, each person in the group deposits a sum of money every month, and each month one person from the group receives everyone’s deposit). We then took some empty containers and started the trek down to the river. The surroundings were beautiful, lush green rolling hills and the odd donkey, every time I looked up felt like a photo opportunity. Upstream a young woman washed her clothes in the water while downstream a family bathed nude. Once filled, we put the rope tied to the containers around our heads, bent at a 45-degree angle, and trekked back the way we came. I initially took the small one, but with the other smaller girls only having big ones left to carry I switched with them. My container had 20L of water and at first felt pretty fine but towards the end of the 20-minute walk felt really uncomfortable and started to make me angry. It did make me reflect, though, on the lives of these women and how fortunate I am to just twist a nozzle for my water.

The conga, a traditional weapon used by the Masai tribe, was an average activity in our day. Similar to the hospital, it was quite commercialized, and all we really did was use the sand paper leaves to help smooth out the congas. We were all pretty tired, so left pretty quickly and head back for dinner and games around the campfire. Just before dinner, we had an option to watch a goat get slaughtered for Sunday’s dinner. I opted in, and have no words for the experience other than it happened.

As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep, awaiting the safari the next day.


Masai Mara Day 3

Safari Day! This day was the reason for me coming on this trip, and although the past few days were great, this was the day I was excited about the most. We left bright and early, the sun had not risen yet, and we set off in our shukas from our beds to the conservation area. As we drove, we saw the sunrise over the distant mountains which was the perfect way to start the day. It was cold, but we opened up the plastic windows in our lorry because animals had already started to emerge. Almost immediately, we saw a hyena, some antelopes, and zebras. Rolling up next to a farm and house, a man stood and watched our lorry as we drove past. He was up early tending to his cows, which I found to be a really nice sight. Gazing just past his house though, I saw our first herd of giraffes of the day. The stopped, watched us all take photos of them, and then went back to grazing on the trees. Imagine, waking up in the morning to start your day and seeing some giraffes just outside your front door, how crazy is that. Not far into the trip, we spotted two lions; one male and one female. They were so so close to our car, and so so majestic. The guide told us they were on their ‘honeymoon’ and would proceed to mate four times an hour for 2 weeks… with little to no hunting in between for food. We tried to wait and watch them mate (hah), but we were ushered off due to the land being privately owned. A little way across the plane, we stopped for a bathroom break which was actually so great. Peeing while looking across the planes of Africa next to the zebras? If it’s not on your bucket list yet, it should be.

Throughout the morning we saw more giraffes and zebras, along with wildebeest, jackals, and warthogs. My favorite image of the day was VJ, Nicole, and Kait all wrapped up in their individual shukas, leaning out of the window of the lorry to look at the wildebeest, zebras, and giraffes grazing in the sun. Next stop, lunch. We ate our burger bagels and mendazes on the river bank overlooking a gray moving island of hippos. They were massive animals, and apparently are the largest animal cause of death in Africa, which kept me a bit on edge the whole stop. Later on that day, however, I’d learn the real meaning of being close to wild dangerous animals when we jumped out of the van and walked up to two massive rhinos; a mother, and son. With every movement, I imagined them charging at us for being on their land. We did have a ranger there with us, who had a big gun, but the gun didn’t look big enough for a rhino that size. It was an amazing experience, watching them roll around in the mud and sniff around at the grass.

With full hearts and some relaxing tunes on, we head back to camp. There we had a quick stop, some coffee, and then walked to weapons training just outside of where we were staying. We threw congas, shot arrows, and drank wine and Tusker in a circle listening to traditional Masai culture stories. It was a really fun afternoon and my favorite time of day with the sun starting to set and the vibes cheerful after such an incredible day. As we finished up the weapons training, they presented us with shukas as presents, which was really sweet, and helped as the temperature got cooler. One of the stories was about circumcision. Essentially the men (and women) were circumcised as their right of passage to adulthood at around 15 years of age. Not only was this procedure done without any medicine to reduce the pain, but it was socially crucifying if they were to flinch from the pain. This meant little boys were practicing hurting themselves so that they could get used to the pain and thus not flinch. It was crazy, and we had a lot of questions for the guides like, why? what benefit does this have for girls? does this still go on? and most of all… ouch?

Walking home I spoke to Richard about tribalism and traditions, and his personal thoughts. He seemed very tribolic, saying he would choose someone for president just because of their tribe even if they did not agree with anything he said, and that he wouldn’t marry outside of his tribe. I still had a lot of questions when we got back, but dinner was served and the conversation had changed. I couldn’t handle more than a few mouthfuls of the goat, but the other food was delicious and filled me with just enough space for another Tusker as we watched the Kenyan boys choir. It was a nice end to an amazing day, and just as I was about to fall asleep they called us all up on stage to dance and sing with them which was hilarious and a lot of fun. They finally left, we roasted marshmallows around the campfire, and then I head to bed as I was already falling asleep on Hayden’s shoulder.

Masai Mara Day 4

This morning, I was supposed to go to yoga but instead chose to sleep in after the full day we had yesterday. I had a leisurely breakfast, and a walk around the grounds with my coffee and chai (interesting combination, do not really recommend). We spoke about travel destinations and our thoughts on the charity in general. Getting back just in time for bead making, we sat on the floor outside of the dhuka and made ourselves some jewelry. As expected, my pattern didn’t really go as planned but it still turned out pretty okay and matched the other bracelet we had received last night. With our new items draped around our wrists, necks, and shoulders, we made our way to the bus to start our journey home. On the bus home, we spoke about our takeaways of the trip. It was interesting to see everyone’s unique perspective, and as the bus rocked us back and forth along the brick ridden road, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the team I had come on this trip with. Just after seeing a whole group of baboons eagerly awaiting a broken down car, we stopped for some iced coffee and snacks and then drove the final two hours back to Nairobi.

Nairobi seemed so busy and dirty as we arrived, almost a completely different country to that of the Masai Mara. Ordering Italian food in, we ate and chat until it was time for some alone time, and while everyone else watched a scary movie, and read my book and wrote my blog.

It’s going to be hard to top that weekend.

Kenyan Diaries – Day 19

Thursday felt a lot like a Friday, we knew we had the day off the next day, and the teaching was minimal with activities taking up most of the day. Henry didn’t come to class, but Moore still sat near the back and participated a lot more than usual, even coming up to the front of the class to explain some numbers (to be fair, I did almost force him into it, but he loved it). We conducted some class feedback, which included the fact that this course was for them, and they got out of it what they put into it. It was received with copious nods and a few “mhmm’s,” and there was the sense that people were really trying to learn, we even had to force them to go on their first break.

Later on that day, a man named Justice came to speak about an organization that provides loans and grants to start-ups that directly target the slums in one of three areas; health, education, environment. All the students were clearly really interested, and it sparked an idea in Erick’s head which he discussed with me over lunch. Essentially, he had created an energy device in high school for a science fair. Once the judges saw the blueprint, he said he could see that they wanted to copy it, so he snatched it away and never showed anyone after that… until me. I didn’t 100% understand the physics behind it, but it seemed pretty legitimate, so I got him to speak to Paul about making it a reality which Paul gladly agreed to do. During this conversation, the Mandazis were given out, which were awful. Erick agreed they weren’t great and came back after lunch with two chapati’s; one for me and one for himself. I tried to give him money, but he refused. It was an adorable gesture, but I felt very uncomfortable about the fact that he had paid for my lunch when he is from the slums of Kenya.

VJ had brought his laptop to share some photographs we had uploaded of Canada, and while the students went through those, I spoke with Joshua outside about the importance of doing extracurricular activities throughout your life, and challenges of the Kenyan slums. Our conversation was cut short by multiple selfies before the girls left, and then a hurried usher away from the classroom and into the slums of Mathare.

This was our first time actually delving into Mathare and… wow. I’m not sure I have visited an area in the world so objectively bad. The smell was nauseating, with rubbish scattered around on the floors, river banks, and houses mixed in with mud and sand. We crossed a semi-decent bridge and saw two large pigs covered in mud eating some plastic bottles, and the proceeded up a hill past all of the insanely drunk residents lolling by the side of the road. Paul explained that alcohol abuse was a huge issue in the slums, which was evident with every corner we turned on our Mathare tour. Arriving back to the car we drove home quietly, with the smell and sights still sharp in our memories and our hearts heavy as we left our students behind in their home.

How can two worlds be so different? How did I deserve such a life, when others were born into this? How can I even begin to comprehend the hardships they must face? How are they so happy and so clean?

Kenyan Diaries – Day 18

Deep meaningful conversations were the background music to my morning today. Looking out onto the rolling hills of tin houses and burning rubbish, Hayden and I questioned what makes people happy. The children looked up to the balcony we were on and waved with big shining smiles as adults rushed by starting their day of work. We discussed the hardships of their lives but thought about the fact that we also find “hardships” in our lives, that seem just as big at the time we are experiencing it. Yet, in the developed world we lead a much lonelier life, with introversion the new hipster, we have lost our sense of community and family. Taking the first step into class, we agreed that the essence of happiness is human connection.

Class went well, with a lot of activities and little lecturing, the energy was quite high. Again, the quieter students started to speak up more and again, the guys in the back seemed to be putting in real effort which was lovely to see. Henry arrived 5 minutes late and was definitely drunk, it seemed obvious today as he was mumbling to himself, jumped up in the middle of class to volunteer for the talent show, and tried to answer all of the questions with life stories. After the second break, Lilian sang a church song which was really good vibes as people started singing along and clapping and dancing. I sat with Erick and Lucky, and VJ told me about 30 minutes in to move as they were speaking to me and it was distracting the class and the teachers lecturing, which I felt quite guilty about after as I told myself I wouldn’t do that.

After class, we had some one-on-one time, where Ayub asked me what “1/2” and “1/4” means, which was the cutest. Dianna then came to speak to me and told me her life story, which was one of the saddest stories I have heard. She explained her inspiration for creating a rehabilitation center which was essentially; her dad was alcoholic, who would come home in the middle of the night and aggressively kicked out her and her mom so they would have to sleep on the streets. This started when she was 6 years old.

Proceeding that solemn afternoon, my mood was lifted over coffee with Paul (the Strathmore University student) where we spoke about my business idea and came up with a great starting business model. I left really excited and came home to relax and submit my courses while everyone went to visit a start up.

We have now just finished lesson planning, so now it’s time for lala.

Buenos Noches.


Kenyan Diaries – Day 17

Class today was pretty normal. We’ve started to see the quieter students start to shine, gain confidence, and get really enthusiastic about their ideas. People were volunteering to come up left right and center, and it was great to see them understand the more difficult concepts. About half way through the class, I noticed Moore, who usually sits with Erick and Lucky in the second row, move to the back, and take Henrys (our eldest student) chair. I decided to pull Erick aside at the break and ask what was going on if they were bullying Henry, and if so if they could stop. What he said next, however, was a huge surprise. He told me Moore had moved to the back because he couldn’t stand the smell of alcohol excreting from Henry and encouraged him to move to the back because he was distracting other students. It was surprising how wrong we had all read the situation, and I felt very proud of Moore for taking initiative and actually caring enough to try and do something about it.

After class, we took a bunch of photos as usual, and Josinta came up to me and asked me how much it costs for her to get to Canada. I told her it would cost around KES120,000 (USD$1200), and she immediately said Mzungo, you’re colour of your skin tells me you’re rich, buy me and my friend a ticket to Canada to make it fair. I laughed it off, but she got more aggressive, saying these things about my appearance and money that just made me feel uncomfortable. Rueben stepped in and said some things in Swahili that made her leave, and then told me about when he went to Italy, and he was the only black guy so felt like all of the eyes were on him. He told me that he understands how I must feel, but he will help translate for me whenever needed and told me not to worry, they are just envious and mostly joking around. I found that really sweet and it definitely made me feel more at ease having him around.

We gave feedback to each other once all of the students had left, which included suggestions for me to engage the students more, but mostly that I was doing okay and explained difficult concepts well. Then, we head home and lesson planned and ate yesterday’s leftovers before heading to church.

The church was… wow. Firstly, it was a large room with a stage and rock band type vibe. Electric guitars, big amplifiers, and a full set of drums, the preachers and choir sang song after song about the Lord and Jesus. The people were all in their own world, there was absolutely zero judgment, and you could see the energy radiating through everybody. To my left, a mom, crouched over her smallest child rocking back and forth murmuring under her breath prayers to the Lord, the father of her child next to her taking small steps back and forth while speaking his prayers. In front, an older woman in tears with both hands towards the sky, begging through her sobs to God. Another woman, sitting quietly with her head on the chair in front of her, just behind a man singing loudly with his hands thrown up palms towards the sky. I stood in the center, trying to absorb all the views without drawing attention to myself. The preacher told us to sit, collect our thoughts, and pray for something from God in any way that we sit fit. I bowed my head and intertwined my palms getting ready to try to pray. As I did so, I noticed my chapati bracelet bought for me by VJ, and smiled. I didn’t have anything to pray for, I was damn blessed and very content. Instead, I prayed for the students in my class. I don’t believe, but I know they do, so my thoughts were with them. I prayed for Diana’s financial burden and stress at home to be lifted, for Lucky’s illness to pass, for Moore’s well-being, for Erick’s business to prosper, for Audrey’s home situation to improve, for food on everyone’s tables and for general good luck in their lives.

What an amazing evening. Now we are relaxing because tomorrow is a busy day… again!