Going back to Kenya!

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Day 6: IDP Camp

This morning we started off at the IDP camps that are just outside Maai Mahiu. The camp, mostly makeshift tents provided by UNICEF to shelter the Internally Displaced Persons, while more permanent shelters are being built. These people fled their homes after the incredibly violent 2007 elections, which split the country against itself. The opposing tribes (Kikuyu & Luo), represented by the presidential candidates, turned against each other, with an out-lash of ethnic violence that can still be seen and felt within Kenya. The tribes were burning churches, businesses, houses all with people inside. Citizens were forced overnight to flee their houses, possessions, families, friends, money, everything – to walk with whatever they could carry, to safety. Most of these people have been living here for almost 3 years, in tents, made from binding tarps together, while family by family, structures (w/ no electricity or running water) are slowly being built. We were able to visit a family living in their new home, the patriarch, an amazing guy who fled with his wife, 4 children, and an adopted daughter who was abandoned by her own family during the turmoil. He said he was once a very wealthy and important business owner, with factories, trucks, employees, and nice things. And after the violence broke out he lost everything and was forced to run with his family in search of shelter and safety. The 6 of them lived in a makeshift tent at the camp for 2 years, before they were able to move into their new home. And as we stood in his living room, looking at old photographs of his family, this man wasn’t upset about the experiences he was forced to endure, but instead over the fact that he didn’t have any clean water to prepare tea for us. Which he kept apologizing for over and over again. He felt so rude not serving chai to his guests, because he literally didn’t have enough water to share. All I could think was what if this were my father or husband, wearing 2 mismatched flip flops, having overcome impossible hardships, and his biggest worry at the moment was not being able to make tea for visitors he’d never met and didn’t even know were coming.

This & Above Photos courtesy Natalie Wald

However walking around the IDP camp you never see the sorrows that brought these people here. Everyone is so wonderfully friendly, giving, compassionate, level-minded happy. All the little kids, some born and raised in this camp, were the cutest little things you’ve ever seen. They all held our hands, some 2 and 3 to a hand, and skipped and sang and played with us as they gave us the tour of their home.

Photo courtesy Tammy Owen

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Day 5: In Search of Mzungu Food

Woke up, did breakfast with the ladies… chapati PANCAKES!! So good, I love the red plum jelly served here. Mmmm.

Went to the CTC offices today and got the official tour from Jeremiah. It’s cool that they started out renting two rooms in this building (it’s a one story horse shoe shape, with an open air veranda in the inside center, and rooms surrounding on 3 sides) and now they occupy all the rooms except one. It’s gotta be pretty funny for that family living there, surrounded by CTC staff and kids.

photo courtesy Natalie Wald

The sewing Mums are so cute! We showed them the video from the American Sewing Guild (ASG) Conference Zane was the keynote speaker for. The video featured all the Malaika Mums and told the story of how they started and what they were accomplishing. They loved it! And then that ASG is fund raising to build a sewing school in Maai Mahiu, and they all lost it. We hung out with the Malaika Kids again, and they are so cool. Some of them can’t sit up or walk, others can’t see or speak, they have varying mental and physical disabilities. But to see the change from year to year is really amazing. Some have gone on to attend regular school, others have made transformations from being completely immobile, to being able to walk and give his mommy a kiss.

Next we drove into Nairobi to buy paint for the new HIV Clinic CTC is about to open. Driving here really is crazy, and somehow we all feel safe with Rocky weaving in and out of huge semi’s and speedy mattato’s while we are either on the side of a mountain, or surrounded by pedestrians walking or on bikes. It is such a beautiful and amazing landscape. Rolling hills peppered with colorful signage and aluminum siding houses and shops. (on a side note, they don’t serve pepper on tables here, and it’s near impossible to find, especially finding one that actually tastes like pepper. I miss it almost as much as ice.)

Went to Galido’s for lunch today. It’s Mindy’s favorite mzungu food here, roasted chicken with vegi’s. Then we splurged on ice cream. I think it’s funny that with all this amazing culture and food, we all still crave pizza, cheeseburgers, and chicken. Then to Nakumatt for the paint, and also to look and see what kind of soccer/volleyball nets are available. They boys play with no nets! No wonder the games last forever. We also needed to stock up on spirits for our safari at the end of the trip.

Photos courtesy Natalie Wald

Then to Kajabi to meet with a 73 year old man who was inventing new recycling methods to reduce waste, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for the community his services were introduced to. He was a really cool guy, super smart and so passionate about his cause, and going back to school to get his masters.

Photos courtesy Natalie Wald

Totally inspiring. And we are hoping to implement his practices in Maai Mahiu in the next 3 years which would be so great. It was really interesting listening to his methods, and thinking about the dramatic differences between here and the west, especially when considering waste management and living conditions. It was also pretty funny, little kids kept freaking out we were there, and peaking their heads in the window trying to talk to us. I totally fell in love with the little boy in the front :) and the guy kept trying to pinch them thru the window to get them to go away.

Then Steven (our chef at Transit) totally outdid himslef with dinner!! Such a great end to our day :)

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Day 4: Soft Rock & Kung Fu

Geeza Laweeza, I have been waking up so early here. My bed faces a window, and as soon as the sun is up I am up. *chirp*car alarm*cat on the roof*chirp, chirp*people talking*water splashing*doors creaking* Usually, I get up, sketch a bit in this journal, partake in our mzungu boot camp (the hotel staff just laugh at us), eat some delicious breakfast with lots of tea & coffee, and head off to work. Today we are back in the dirt, stuffing more bags for the tree seedlings. It is especially windy today, and I have dirt in my eyes, mouth, nose and everywhere else. (On a TMI side note, it’s so dusty dirty here your buggs are black) The soccer team is back working with us today, and we each have our little groupies that follow us around. People here tend to switch their “R’s” and “L’s”, so I had no idea what Belfas was talking about when he was asking if I knew Schuck Mollis. Until I finally figured out he was saying Chuck Norris, and that Kenyans not only have a special liking for Kenny Rogers and all things soft rock, but they are also really into kung fu. “Oh yea, I know Walker, Texas Ranger,” I replied, “and his friends Jackie Chan & Jean Claude van Damme.” Well this just started a frenzy of movie lines and fake fighting – and the rest of the time I was there, random kids coming up to me and asking me to show them kung fu or tai chi. They also say that I eat too much bread, b/c when you poke my arm it turns white for a second.

As it turns out they were probably right. Considering I’m the one that travels to a 3rd world country and gains weight. There are avocados everywhere, and who can say no to rice/potatoes/noodles/& chipati? In addition we had some wine, cheese and bread from Nairobi to munch on after work today. Mmmm. Sorry Jeremiah, you just can’t leave this spread with these 4 girls for over 2 hours and expect to still have some waiting. “baxter, you ate the whole wheel of cheese?! i’m not even mad i’m impressed”

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Day 3: Tsamina Mina, eh eh; Waka Waka eh eh

Our project while we are here is to begin work planting a tree nursery. The first day of work at Ngeya Primary School is stuffing green plastic bags with soil, which will then acclimate the tree seedling to it’s new environment, and then the plastic will be removed, and the seedling planted in the ground. So the girls and I wake up, endure Natalie’s boot-camp (I’m so sore!! everything hurts and it feels great), eat breakfast (chipati pancakes!!!), and meet Rocky for the walk to Ngeya. We pass the shops in town, with their persistent salesmen. It really is so beautiful here. If you ignore the garbage everywhere, and just look up at the mountains that surround this place, it’s really mesmerizing. We walk the 5, maybe 10 minute walk to the gardens, and when you walk through the gate, everything is so lush and green, and smells so good. So basically Rocky starts digging a hole in the sandy dirt, hands us a bundle of these green plastic sacks (think the size of a really big burrito) and pits us against each other by asking who will be able to stuff more. The boys soccer team showed up to help us, and like the saying goes, “it was on”. We sat there and stuffed those bags all day while chillin with the footballers. They were all so smart, and curious. Here we are talking to these bi-lingual 10-14 year olds, asking us about politics, if we voted for Obama or McCain, who our first President was and what he did that was important. If we knew Arnold in California, and if he was really that big in person. I said my “guns” were bigger, and they said if they were my fist wouldn’t be able to touch my shoulder when I flexed my muscles – they didn’t really understand my jokes. They sang us their national anthem, and I tried to sing ours – btw I’m embarrassed to say I don’t really know it, and they were just as offended at that as you probably are right now.

They asked us to sing songs from the US, and thank God Natalie was there and is a singer, because I shouldn’t be responsible for carrying a tune anywhere, even in Kenya. We sang Bob Marley, and K’Naan, and the Shakira song from world cup, over and over the entire time, it was the boys’ cheer at their soccer games too, “Tsamina mina eh eh; Waka Waka eh eh;  Tsamina mina zangalewa, this stands for CTC!”. Another one I still can’t stop singing is “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” or better yet, “kichwa, mabega, majoti & vidole, majoti & vidole. macho, masikio, mdomo, na pua” which we learned in Swahili.

When we finished for the day, it was off to the CTC offices to have a walk thru of the programs with Jeremiah, the Kenyan Director. It is really amazing seeing change in the community created by CTC, and seeing the programs on the ground first hand. The Malaika kids were all so cute, and when they started singing that song… oh I almost lost it. I don’t have any video uploaded yet, but here is the link from a previous team.

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Day 2: “How Are You!?!”

It is for sure weird walking thru the city, well Village Market to be specific. It is disorienting everyone staring at you, and I just felt unsafe blatantly standing out like that. Like I was wearing a sticker on my forehead that read “sucka”, and a t-shirt that said, “yea, i’m a tourist, but so is my friend.” Although, that initial feeling didn’t last long, and pretty soon I felt so comfortable I probably could have used to put my guard up a bit. And the food is amazing. That 3rd world “fresh” that boarders on too fresh, “Why does this pork taste like pig so much?”. Walking thru the Nakumatt (the grocery) was great because of all the packaging. Weird stuff I’ve never seen, and familiar things but smaller- somewhere between regular and travel size that just makes you feel American.

Patrick, our driver, zooms down the winding streets of beautiful mountainous  landscape, peppered with dwellings selling veggi’s, meats, trinkets, jewelry, anything really. There is a beautiful zen between incredible struggle and wonderfully happy here.

Walking thru Maai Mahiu with our tour guide Tony was like moving thru a big-budget Hollywood movie set trying to depict the impoverished region some action star is about to save, single-handedly, while executing perfect marksmanship. Except this was real. These metal shacks w/ no electricity, running water, & sleeping 6+ in an 8×8 room. There is trash everywhere, puddles in front of homes of bathroom/kitchen/laundry waste. But the real shock is the total happiness, joy, & love pouring out of all the many people crammed together here. Everyone cracks a smile when you say hi. The kids come running from every direction, “mzungu’s, mzungu’s!!” letting all their neighbors know there are a bunch of white people around. And they swarm you, jumping, screaming, laughing, some shy, running away, hiding – but all asking, “HOW ARE YOU?!” over and over in their little high-pitched voices (which they are actually mimicing ours). It just doesn’t get old, it makes you feel so good. They are so freaking cute. It’s just the sweetest moment that happens over and over, wherever you go. Walking to work, they’ll scream from their doorsteps, a football field away, “how are you!?!” over and over till they are out of site. It’s heartwarming. One site I will never forget was this little boy, running ans laughing down the street past us, with his little toy trailing behind. When he got closer though, you realize that the toy is a Colgate toothpaste box, with wheels punched thru the sides, and a piece of dental floss to pull it by. It was both heartbreaking and incredibly sweet. Kids barely old enough to walk with their younger baby siblings riding on their backs. This little tiny human, having to fend for 2.

Everyone here shakes your hand, EVERYONE. Walking down the street, waiting in line, standing in the market, just saying hello. I’m shaking hands with dozens upon dozens of people a day. And I’d be lying not to say at first, all I could think was, holy hand sanitizer, you need to wash your hands.

We went to the Orphanage, and saw all the programs at the poly-technique school. All the students were so excited to show is their work. We ended the day at Tony’s house, where his mother and sister served chai for us. It was soo nice of them to do, and so nice to be welcome in their home. We also had bread with butter, oranges and bananas. His whole family was so wonderful and sweet, and trying so hard to make us feel at home. His little brother kept really quiet, watching us, and fidgeting with the tablecloth. His mother and sister were outside preparing our chai (they have to boil it and such for the mzungu’s)  This was just a wonderful show of kindness, the first of many I would experience here.

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Day 1: Airports

Staying up all night wasn’t the best idea when I woke up after 2 hours of sleep, still in my dress from the night before. But after a shower & an Ellen breakfast biscuit sandwich things were looking up. Made it to the airport, with the giant “plant box” for Rocky (later dubbed “Smooshie Rocky” or “Rocky not the Smooshie” – depending on who you’re talking to) and a stack of Jimmy Kimmel t-shirts to pass out for Ubuntu Day. Slid threw security, waited a while at my gate, quick flight to Dallas, passed a frozen yogurt place I still regret not stopping at, then hopped on the almost 9 hour flight to London. The London airport at Heathrow is totally great. Wandered around while waiting for my gate to be announced. Bought some English gum, and got my change in UK pence. I wish all airport bathrooms were as nice as the ones here. All of a sudden, my flight was being called and I rushed to the gate number. The only problem is the plane is boarding and my team I’m meeting in London to travel to Nairobi with aren’t there. Trying to not freak out, I do a lap of the area, check the bathrooms, shops, try to use the internet – but the stations in my terminal are down, my phone is not working here at all, so I try to ask people to if I could borrow there’s. The plane is mostly boarded, and no one is allowing me to use their phone. Damn Brit’s. They all say the are about to board. I’m like, “yea, me too. Except I am by myself, I have no idea who our driver is in Nairobi, where we are staying the night, or how to get in touch with anyone in Maai Mahiu.” There are a handful of people gathering to board and I am officially having a panic attack. Standing there trying to decide if I should get on the plane or not, I’m sure I looked like a crazed lunatic they didn’t want to board anyway. In that moment, I see Natalie, bolt around the corner like the marathon runner she is, with the same face I’m currently wearing. Tammy and Mindy were soon to follow, and the crisis was over. This was hands down the most scary, uncomfortable, terrible moment of my entire journey to Africa and back.

The flight there was fine, watched Sex & the City, The Losers & most of Date Night. Started taking Malaria pills, and waited an enormously long time in the visa line with phantom disappearances and expert cutters. An hour and a half later, we met Patrick our driver, and we were zooming (way too close to the car in front of us) through Nairobi. Jambo Kenya!

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