Day 1: I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, flying Paris to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Nairobi, all via Turkish Airlines. I filled out the visa application at the immigration area. I paid 40€ for it, later finding out that the scam visa that I already had from http://www.kenya-evisa-online.com probably would have worked to let me in the country, but I had decided to not risk illegal entry. I wasn't very excited about the prospect of being detained in the middle of an African airport, even if I had already paid above the price of the real visa for the scam document. P.S. it wasn't my fault I got scammed - Dad sent me the link, having previously been to Kenya!
I waited 14 hours in the arrival lounge for my parents to arrive from Auckland via Dubai on another (delayed) flight. Staff at the airport were friendly. Toilet facilities are reasonable. Sleeping facilities are non-existent (plenty of chairs are available, however). Mosquitos exist - take your tablets, spray the sprays, and cover up. Food facilities are limited to a single vending machine. There are other facilities in the departures area (which I did not know how to get to) and a café not far from the arrivals lounge (which I wasn't aware of, so I know nothing about it). I ate a Bounty bar (which I had thankfully bought in Istanbul during my stopover). That was all my sustenance until dinner that night.
Parents arrived. I cried. We were picked up in a ute by ChildFund Kenya's Ben and Festus, who were to be our main guides for most of our stay in Kenya. We drove a couple of hours to Kitui County, checked in at our accommodation (Talents Guest House), and went to get dinner (I, of course, was pretty keen for food!). Our hotel was supposedly the best one in the town centre. The beds were comfortable enough and there were mosquito nets. The bathroom was not so great - the shower on the left, the toilet on the right, and the shower drain on the right hand side of the toilet, resulting in a wet floor for several hours after a shower. Dinner was at an outdoor place very near the hotel. Here I experienced my first chipati (similar to naan bread), and I can't remember what else as I apparently didn't take photos and was too tired! We also experienced the Kenyan method of hand washing, where someone comes around with a bucket and jug and pours water over your hands for you.
After dinner it was sleep time - early, as we were all exhausted.
Day 2: Breakfast at the hotel. Breakfasts were simple, but did the job, and were included in the cost. We discovered that the hotel and adjoining restaurant had free WiFi, so we connected with the Western world until our guides came to get us. The deluge of photos began! We also met some Norwegian ladies who are part of a family who go and volunteer and work privately on projects (i. e. not within an organisation). It was interesting to hear their experiences.
We went to the ChildFund Ngwatanio project offices, where we were introduced to staff and to the families of our sponsored children. My parents have sponsored three children - Kilului, Michael, and now Kithome. I sponsor little Kayla - the daughter of Kilului. We ate a big lunch with the families at the offices, and headed to the home of Kilului, Ruth, and Kayla, in rural Kitui.
Their property is huge, but the housing is very simple. Kilului's mother has her own little house there, and Jimmy the cat keeps her company, as Kilului and family currently do not reside at the little house they have built there. Their house consists of two rooms - a bedroom and a front room. It is made of simple mudbrick, and there is no glass in the windows (this has now been funded, so they will soon have this sorted). The family brought in plastic chairs for us all to sit on in the tiny front room. We saw the garden/farm area where they grow maize, but as there was a drought, it was not growing well. We saw the dried up river bed, which is a great resource during the wet season. They are planning to build a sand dam to retain water during the dry season, but it is an expensive project and will require the efforts of the community. My dad is currently heading up a fundraising project for that; if anyone is interested in investing, contact either myself or him. The family have a water tank for drinking water - that and their guttering system were funded by Dad and others. Water is a precious resource, and helps the whole community.
Meeting little Kayla was a highlight. At first, she was quite shy. Her mother had told me that before we met she had been asking many questions, so it was funny that she was so shy upon actually meeting me! However, after those big, dark eyes had figured me out, she took my hand and barely let go until I left the house. Even though my Swahili is limited to the basics and likewise with her English, language was not needed to form a connection. She is a very quiet, intelligent little girl, and likes to observe people. She does very well at school and is quite creative.
We ate dinner with the family - ugali (maize flour and water - similar texture to taro) and a stew with tough old chicken drumsticks. This is a meal we would experience several times. Ugali in particular is a staple of the diet, as it is filling and cheap (though maize is expensive at the moment). Chickens are a popular pet, as they provide eggs and meat. After the meal, the family gave us gifts - mine was a blue, beaded jewellery box and a Kenya key ring.
After leaving the house, we drove back to the hotel. One of the strange things about Kenya is seeing people everywhere, in places you would not expect. Many just wander. Many go from town to town to buy and sell products. Many are out collecting water or looking after their cows and donkeys. You also see many stalls selling all kinds of produce, clothing, furniture, and anything you can imagine. People are often sleeping under a tree or in a little shack they've built wherever they decided would make a good spot. The roads are mostly dry, red, dusty, and bumpy. We saw our first sunset out in rural Kenya, so, of course, we stopped to take photos.
When we got back, photos were uploaded before another early night!
Day 3: We had first breakfast at the hotel and second breakfast at the project offices. There is a little school on the premises, and the children are not shy! Mum went to take a photo, and they posed like true professionals - high-fives and hands on hips galore. As we left, choruses of "bye-ee, bye-ee, bye-ee!" followed us down the road.
Next, we headed to teenage Michael's village in another part of Kitui. We were greeted with singing and dancing by the village ladies. They led us to a meeting area under the trees, where we sat on opposite sides and went through greeting formalities. We each stood up and introduced ourselves and spoke a little. Michael was asked to translate for us, as his English is quite good and he is a confident young man. I was able to throw in a little bit of Swahili, which was greeted with smiles by the village folk. It's amazing how language can break down barriers. We heard how the work of ChildFund has affected the village and the difference in their lives after the sponsorship of Michael and also from the help the whole village has received from ChildFund initiatives.
We again received gifts from the villagers - mine were a necklace (which I wear quite a lot and get many comments on!) and a scarf/shawl. It's incredible that even though these folk live such simple lives, they can create such beautiful things and are so generous with what they do have.
We spoke with Michael and his grandmother, Agnes. We spoke with them about their particular situation and they showed us their chicken shed. Michael has been raised largely by Agnes, as his mother works in Nairobi as a beautician. He is in his last year of school, where he does very well. He dreams of becoming an accountant. He is a very smart, confident, and ambitious young man, and my parents were very impressed with him. He will certainly go on to great things, made possible through the help he has received from the sponsorship programme and community projects.
We went back to the project office for lunch, and went to visit the home of the final family - Kithome, his mother and grandmother, siblings, and some nieces/nephews. They all live together in a single room - 7 of the family members, I think. Kithome's cousin Calvin was there, and he was the main spokesperson for the family, as his English level was the highest. Kithome is very shy and is used to the simple lifestyle he has been raised in. He is not particularly academic and his English level is not good, so he struggles a bit. English is one of the main languages in Kenya, after Swahili and the local languages and dialects. We encouraged him to keep working hard and to challenge himself. He is good at electronics, so perhaps someday he will pursue that. His cousin has taken it upon himself to help him with his English and to encourage him with his pursuits.
After another home-killed-and-cooked ugali and chicken meal, we headed back to the hotel.
Day 4: After another morning of two breakfasts, we headed to the Mulundi Well, which was funded by the church my parents run, and a few other donors. We were again greeted by a group of ladies, who led us to where the well was. Mum and I were lucky to not have to dance; we figured that they had seen Dad and my sister Bethany last time and decided not to inflict that embarrassment on us!
When we spoke to the ladies, we discovered that they were all HIV positive. They have formed their own little community and are fighting against the stigmas that come with having HIV. The well helps them a lot, as it enables them to grow crops; they have to take tablets several times a day on a full stomach, and if they don't have food, it makes them very sick. The tablets really do help when taken properly; the women do not look sick at all! One of the ladies in the group does not have HIV. She is simply a supporter of them. She once nursed one of them back to health when she was on death's door. All the stories we heard were incredible. The women welcomed us as family - Mum and Dad as parents, and me as a sister ("dada"). I had learned a few more Swahili words the previous night, which went down very well when I used them in my introduction!
After talking for a couple of hours (we were only meant to chat for a short time, but it extended out!), the women gave us gifts (mine was another necklace), and then showed us how they purify the water. It comes out of the well in an undrinkable state - full of mud and microorganisms. They use P&G "purifier of water" to make it drinkable. The process is: put the product in, stir the water for 5 minutes, filter out the impurities, leave it to stand for 20 minutes, and voila! Clear, fresh water! It was quite impressive to see!
After lunch back at the ChildFund offices, we headed to Nzambini Rock. This rock has a few legends surrounding it - one being that if you walk around it seven times, you will change gender. We climbed the rock, which apparently is much safer to do now, as there are new stairs. It was still a little terrifying for those with a fear of heights (me), though! The views were incredible; seeing the African landscapes like that was a great experience. We saw several cows on the way up, one of whom gave me a huge fright when it mooed loudly without me having seen it. We were given some oranges down at the tourist office at the rock; these oranges were apparently the original, not-cross-bred variety. They tasted like a combination of limes and mandarins to me.
It was during this excursion that I was given the Swahili name of "Kainda" - not entirely sure about the spelling, but that's what I could find! Apparently, it means someone who says little but does much. I like that! After Stephen chose that name for me the other ChildFund staff members agreed, so I guess it has stuck! Mum and Dad are Mwende and Mwendo - "dear one" for females/males.
We headed back to the hotel for an early night after taking some photos of some lizards!
Day 5: This was the day we headed back to Nairobi, so in the morning we took photos with the staff who had fed us and taken care of us so well.
We stopped in at another ChildFund office on our way back, and met a few other staff members. These offices had good toilets, so it was a good place for a toilet stop! After leaving, we headed to a farm that was on the way to Nairobi. It is quite a large, flourishing farm! The farmer's son is a sponsor child, though not one of ours. Through this sponsorship, the father has been able to develop his farm and even hire some workers! He has trouble transporting his produce to the markets, as he only has his motorbike. He is hoping to be able to get a better vehicle in the next couple of years. On our way to the farm we saw our second colony of gigantic ants; they were around ten times the size of New Zealand ants!
We arrived in the outskirts of Nairobi in good time. Nairobi traffic is insane, and we got there before rush hour! People drive across ditches, form new lanes (5 in a 3-lane road), and are generally crazy drivers!
We saw some of the bad areas as we arrived - huge piles of rubbish (including one with puppies playing in it), many obviously poor people, and many places where people should not be living, but are. Nairobi's population is mostly made up of people in the slums, especially the huge Kibera slum, which we didn't have the opportunity to see.
After arriving at our backpackers, we had dinner at their little cafeteria, and had an early night.
Day 6: Safari!
We spent the morning on safari. It is important to get there early in order to see the animals. Dad was pulled in to dance by the Maasai tribe guys at the entrance, who entertain the foreigners (for a fee, of course!). During the trip, we saw a good number of animals - no elephants, but pretty much everything else! We also saw an important site where elephant tusks were burned to prevent them being sold. The ashes are left as a reminder to never exploit elephants for ivory again.
In the afternoon, we explored Nairobi. There are not many white tourists there, so we were instantly targeted by beggars, scammers, and street sellers. Even visiting the central park meant being offered items for sale several times. The park was interesting; it would have been a beautiful place if it weren't for all the rubbish littering the ground.
There are a surprising number of technology stores in Nairobi, and actually, on that point, cellphones and data coverage are everywhere in Kenya! Kenya has one of the highest rates of internet access in Africa. It is quite a sight to see very poor people with tiny houses and few material possessions holding a cellphone! Of course, not all of Kenya is poor, but many Kenyans are, and certainly many of the people we met were. They are a very community-focused nation, and the internet/cellphone coverage helps them to connect with family and friends more easily, where they would otherwise have to walk or drive long distances to go and see them.
We went to a little café for afternoon tea, and then a chicken takeaway place for dinner. It is quite difficult to find good eateries in Nairobi, especially ones with seats. The café had a good atmosphere and decent seating, and seemed to be fairly popular. A family with young children were sitting near us, and we were quite the curiosity for them! They waved to us but were too shy to say hello! The dinner place was VERY popular, and it was almost impossible to find a spare table! It is also difficult to find tourist souvenir shops - we couldn't find a single one in the city, so we had to wait until we got back to the airport to find anything!
Day 7/8: On the Sunday we went to church in the morning, where we were welcomed warmly, especially by the leadership, as Mum and Dad are pastors. The church was big and quite Western in service style, as it was an international/English church (though there were only maybe 5 of us in the church who were white westerners). The music was definitely African, though - very much gospel, Kenyan style. Most of the songs were in English, but they sang one song in Swahili, which was fun!
We relaxed that afternoon/evening, as the next day was a big travel day. We went for a walk in the morning around the area where we were staying and headed to the airport afterwards. Dad left first, heading to Uganda. Mum and I waited at the airport for a while, at last heading to Barcelona via Dubai in the evening.