I’ve been back in o-town for just over three weeks now. It feels strange writing this from a high-speed Internet connection without multiple power outages and ants crawling on the monitor. And it feels absurd to write about the wonders of Zanzibar at this point. (Ok, fine, I explored historic stone town and exotic beaches, ate lots of yummy bbq’d seafood, saw tropical fish and coral reefs and hung out with Rastafarians. Apparently there is a whole Rastafarian sub-culture there. Who knew?)

I know I’m supposed to write something insightful and thought-provoking about my experience to inspire closure. But I got nothin’. So here is my top five list of things I miss about Kenya:

  • The Muslim call to prayers five times daily, starting at 5:30 a.m. This familiar routine became strangely comforting and I seriously miss it!
  • Being accosted by throngs of local children on my way home who just wanted to shake my hand.
  • Bartering with merchants or pretty much anyone selling anything, anywhere. I’ve tried it here…turns out the people at Banana Republic don’t just hand out discounts when you threaten to leave.
  • Sitting on matatus, driven by drivers who are high on chat, that roar down bumpy dirt roads at top speed, blaring Céline Dion, and decorated with disco balls, glow in the dark stickers and quotes like: “we like dem hoes.” Seriously.
  • Ugali. That flour and water combination was a real winner. Kidding.
  • Finally (since that last one didn’t count), I don’t have a word for it, but the thing I miss the most about Kenya is the way life seems to unfold in front of you. You can hear, see and smell everyone and everything around you, all the time. I know I’m generalizing, but while we often live in containment and privacy here, they live in openness and candor there—from the way they burn their garbage on the side of the road to the way they play football in their bare feet. And I loved it!

 

I tried to make a list of reasons I’m glad to be back home, but it’s way too lame to post online—some boring stuff about missing family and friends. And I always miss the CBC when I’m away—totally nerdy, I know. And cheese! Cheese rules and they barely have any in Kenya.

 

 

Suffice it to say it’s nice to be home but I have mixed feelings about being back…

 

So there’s my closure. Thanks so much for reading my blog and commenting on my adventures (even though most people just made fun of me, which I usually deserved in most cases).

 

Now you can FINALLY enjoy my photos, a few of which are posted here, thanks to Rob. People in Ottawa can totally come over for a slide show. Bonus: I have a new couch!

So I recently finished a nine day safari in northern Tanzania with GAP adventures – I did the safari with Aimee, Alison and Julia, from project, along with about 10 other travellers from pretty much everywhere. And we camped for six nights in a row, which is definitely a record for me (as is not showering for four days). Moving on…

We started off at a protected park just oustide Nairobi, where we got to play with and feed giraffes – this was almost as tame as our Canada Day celebrations later that night! The next day we crossed the border into Lake Manyara, then spent some time in hot, flat and dry Serengeti National Park. Over the first few days, we saw all of the “big five” animals of Africa (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino – although the rhino was in more of a zoo than the wild). Big highlights for me were coming across a small (very smelly) pond containing approximately 145 hippos – it was hard to count because they were kind of on top of each other. The hippos went crazy when one of the guides (teasingly) started sharpening his machete on the rocks surrounding the pond. We also saw part of the wildebeast migration, which was beyond cool. Turns out they work together with the zebra (good vision I think?), who stay at the front and back of the herd.

Afterwards, we headed to Ngorongoro Crater – a permanent water source so a guaranteed animal viewing spot. The crater was freezing but beautiful. Unbelieveable that such a small area contains so many animals! I honestly think I like the flamingos best – probably because they’re pink. Camping there was pretty surreal. Three elephants walked non-chalantly by our campsite as we were pitching our tents at dusk (ok, I certainly wasn’t doing any “pitching” but you get the picture). And I almost walked into a buffalo when I was getting into my tent in the pitch black later that night…seriously.

After Ngorongo, we did another night at Lake Manyara, where we toured a village, learned about local farming, rice and banana plantations, and drank banana beer (really gross when unfiltered), before heading back to Arusha. All in all, it was a good safari, but I will not sign up for nine days in a car again for a long, long time!

I’m noticing a few differences between Kenya and Tanzania. For instance, small town Tz features sidewalks and sewers…there is a major difference from Kenya where both traffic and sewage are a part of daily life. Also, the language barrier is much more noticeable in Tz. In Kenyan schools, all subjects are taught in English, so everyone has a pretty good grasp of the language. This is definitely not the case in Tanzania – esp for cab drivers. This was particularly obvious when we were trying to get from a downtown bar to our campsite in Arusha around 3:00 a.m. on the last night of the safari. What should have been a five minute ride amounted to about an hour. My broken Swahili is less than effective…

Am in Zanzibar now, which is by far the most utopian place I’ve been in the past two and a half months. More soon!

For obvious safety reasons, my experience in Nairobi has been limited to the Canadian High Commission, a beautiful, state of the art building located in Westlands, right next to the sprawling UN headquarters, set against a green backdrop reminiscent of a rain forest…and the MALL (complete with North American movie theatres and food courts).  Strangely, this leaves me missing my “grassroots” lifestyle outside Mombasa.  So I will take the opportunity to describe one of the things that really defined my experience while on project: coastal food (chakula).

In general, my experience at dinner (eaten around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. every night!) was that the food was tasty, but super heavy and salty as everything is deep fried in lard (no joke), and we often had the same thing over and over again.  Here are some classics:

-ugali (literally flour and water mixed together in a cake shape) – what Kenyans describe as their “chief food”.  Too bad it makes me gag…

-chapati (basically fried dough in pancake form but about 100 times heavier) - often made even heavier with beans (maharaguay)

-pilau (spicy fried rice with beef and other stuff) – really yummy.  Rice is a huge staple here.  Uncooked is mcheli and plain cooked is wali.  Pretty yummy with real coconut milk, but the canned version tastes better to me!

-samaki (fish) – served with all body parts including the head

-kuku (chicken) – goes without saying on our broiler chicken farm!

-ndizi (bananas) - a typical Kenyan probably averages about five a day – they are cut up in small pieces (with peel on) and served after every single meal.  Embe (mangos) are also common.

-sukuma weki (spinach) – along with ugali this is probably the cheapest possible Kenyan meal.  They also eat a lot of cabbage.

-viazi, basi, na maize (potatos, peas and corn mixed together) – surprisingly good! 

-kasava (a root similar to a potato) – sold on the side of the road either in stick or chip form

-miwa (sugar cane!) – also sold on the side of the road

-mandazi and mahambri (types of doughnuts/dumplings) – more roadside food, also served with coconut beans

-bhajia (gram flour fried in a battered ball) – only costs 1 shilling!

So project is over, we already had a week of deorientation back at Diani Beach, and now I’m on my own in Nairobi. (Relax, I’m in the safe part.) I can’t believe how fast the past eight weeks have gone by! I feel like everything really came together in our last two weeks at Kwacha – we were able to do so much once we figured out how stuff worked – only to have to leave! This was definitely an experience where I took more than I gave. I can just hear my smug (younger) brother saying “I told you so…”

All in all, project was a positive experience, and I was totally inspired by the talent, passion and energy of the Kenyans with whom we were partnered. Our last few weeks at Kwacha were full of community outreaches, more workshops, the play (I didn’t forget any lines or fall on my face!), a panel of successful women that we organized for the girls’ forum, a visit to a local orphanage and a few neighborhood schools, and lots of food – both yummy and not so much (a list is coming!).

I also had the chance to go to my friend MJ’s house a few weeks ago. (MJ is short for Mwana Juma, a very common muslim name here.) She lives in a community called Likoni and has to cross over on the ferry to get to Mombasa everyday. It was a very cool Swahili cultural experience for me – and the first time I made a real distinction between Kenyan and Swahili cultures. (All Kenyans speak Swahili, but only Muslims are actually part of the Swahili culture.) So I met MJ’s family, including her two-month-old cousin, Mwana Ruisi (who she insists on calling Bridget junior – fine by me!), and we all ate in the dark, crossed-legged on sitting room floor, while we watched Tanzanian music videos, and I tried to speak broken Swahili. MJ is short and loud like me (and about a million times more talented) – I am really going to miss that girl!

It was also hard to say goodbye to our homestay family. They were so hospitable and they kept asking Kora and I to extend our stay. I think Ben will miss us the most, cause now he’ll have no one but the chickens to tease.

Deorientation week was filled with more goodbye dinners, tanning, swimming, snorkelling, a failed attempt to swim with (or even see!) dolphins and shopping. It was a nice transition between project and travel. Plus, I was embarrassingly white after two months in Kenya, so the beach time was definitely needed. Although I relish my independence, it was tough to say bye to all the Canadian volunteers. I’m so used to being in a group that I’m now talking to myself (even more than usual). Just in case I don’t attract enough attention to myself as it is…

I took the train from Mombasa to Nairobi last night – another cool, cultural experience. The 15-hour trip flies by (seriously), you get a mini safari out the window while the sun’s out, and someone comes and makes your bed for you while you eat dinner in the dining cart, then puts stuff away while you have breakfast. Of course I sat next to a woman at dinner who went to Carleton. Small world stuff always happens to me!

Better go now, but first I need to add a PS to my idiosyncracies list:

A special technique exists to prevent shoplifting at department stores in Mombasa (and I know cause I’ve been to all of them!!!). Store managers post a large, colour photo of people who have been caught shoplifting next to the elevators to embarrass the hell out of thieves and discourage future shoplifting. Nothing like the threat of public humiliation to keep people in line…

I’ll write more from Nairobi later this week!

I thought people might be interested in reading about some of the idiosyncracies I’ve noticed while living here, so I compiled a list.  I knew my list-making skills would come to good use in Kenya!

-Mosques are just as common as churches here and you can hear Imams calling muslims to prayer on mosque loudspeakers five times throughout the day.  Mosques are so prevelant here that you often hear more than one chant at the same time, so it sounds like one Imam is trying to drown out the others.  My personal favourite is the 5:00 a.m. call, which sounds great when combined with the roosters and frequent early morning cat fights.

-None of our windows close, so you always hear what your neighbors are up to.  Sounds I usually here from my bedroom window include fighting, babies crying, Kenyan tv and radio, and Bollywood music, often all night long.  These people love their Indian movies!

-Take out food, like chips (fries), beans and even candy, is either distributed in plastic bags or newspaper.  Yum!

-Garbage cans are few and far between.  I think I’ve seen about one or two in town and none in the communities.  This leads to random dumping grounds in the communities (i.e. fields of garbage), on which cows, goats and chickens feast.  Then we eat them.  Hmmmm…

-Same goes for traffic lights.  In fact, they are so rare that the one matatu stop in town with traffic lights is actually called “lights” to distinguish it from the rest.

-Locals enjoy monkey killing.  Our host family’s living room is sporting a brand new sling shot for that very purpose! Another random fact about Kenyan monkies: they peel their bananas before eating them. Maybe this is true of monkies world-wide…?

-Chickens (kuku) are an important part of life here. Not only does my bedroom back onto a kuku farm, where I can hear and smell chickens 24-7, but they are EVERYWHERE! The other day on the street I saw a woman carrying a chicken in a box, as if it were about to be mailed. The attitude that all parts of the chicken must be eaten definitely prevails. I myself have tried chicken feet! I haven’t gone as far as the head or inards though, which are what greet me when I open the fridge. Even the gender trainer used the famous “when you slaughter a chicken” metaphor to prove a point during the workshop (i.e. when you slaughter a chicken the man always gets the best parts).

-The spirit of enterpreunership is alive and well here. In fact, some random guy tried to charge me 10 shillings to cross a foot bridge that he placed over a massive puddle the other day. I proudly told him “no, thank you” and stomped through the puddle like a local, only to get ripped off by a tuk-tuk driver for about 10 times the amount I refused to pay. The irony!

-Sights on way to work (just for fun): hair salons for men and women (they are everywhere!), coca cola posters, fields of garbage and people burning garbage, safaricom and celtel stands (local cell phone providers) and food stalls, especially ones with bananas!

I hope you have enjoyed this random compilation :) I’m working on the photos…

Sorry for not posting anything for a while…power outages always seem to interfeer with my internet attempts.  And the Kenyans still refuse to teach me how to swear in Swahili!  It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon now, and the monsoon novelty has definitely worn off, let me tell you.  Most days we walk from our house to the matatu stop through raging rivers, and most nights we wash the sewage off our feet.  Unless there is no running water…  It’s usually too rainy to hang wet laundry outside, so Kora and I put up a clothesline in our bedroom.  Who knew that wet cotton underwear could attract to many fruit flies?  Mine were absolutely covered last night.  Sorry to gross people out.  Let’s just say that my cleanliness standards have been somewhat altered during this experience…

Work is still going well when one of the volunteers doesn’t have malaria, food poisoning or similar!  I have been totally fine so far (knock on wood).  We had a bunch of activities for Girls Challenge Violence Day last week, which were really interesting.  Attitudes towards gender are pretty different here.  For instance, while most of the Kenyan guys at Kwacha firmly believe that women are not property, they care more about protecting women rather than protecting women’s rights.  We facilitated a discussion about rape at a polytechnic high school in the community, and the overwhelming group attitude was that women provoke rape by dressing in a tempting manner, and that a woman who wears provocative clothing therefore “deserves” to to be raped.  It left the Canadians kind of speechless.  It’s really hard for me know how to respond to that type of mentality without stamping my foot and telling someone he’s wrong (and stupid!), which, rest assured, I did not do.

On the other hand, the procession we did in Jonvu the following day was a totally effective way of raising awareness about gender equality.  Kwacha partnered with Big Dreams, a similar NGO, and we marched through the community with music, leaflets, dancing and singing.  The procession grew as we walked, throngs of children joined in, and then everyone came back to the starting point for speeches and skits.

What else is new and exciting?  This past Friday was a national holiday and we went to Shimba Hills Elephant Santuary.  The rainforest experience was very cool, and we saw a few animals, though nowhere near as many as on the Tsavo safari.  Of course it rained, which meant it was too slippery for the promised two hour hike to the natural waterfall.  We were not impressed and feeling more than a little stir crazy, so when the safari van got stuck in a combination of mud/elephant dung, getting out to push the vehicle was the highlight of the overpriced trip.  It was kind of like that scene in Little Miss Sunshine only with elephants. 

And we went out with the Kenyans last night, which was super fun.  It was our first night out in over a month, so it was totally welcome.  I can’t stress this point enough!!!  We went to a bar called Turkey Bayse (don’t ask) with live Kenyan bongo music, which is awesome.  Stanley, my host family’s 25-year-old-son who lives in Malindi but was home for the weekend, came out with us as well.  A few weeks ago, I innocently (and stupidly) told 13-year-old Ben, when pressed, that I thought his brother, Stanley, wasn’t a bad looking guy.  Ever since, there has been endless teasing about Bridget and Stanley.  And although absolutely NOTHING happened, last night was no exception.  Good times!

On that note, that’s all for now.  Hope everyone is well :)

Yesterday we went on our first safari!  We drove to Tsavo East national park, about 100 km from Mombasa.  It was absolutely fabulous!  The weather was beautiful, the scenary was stunning and the animals were abundant.  Am I making people jealous yet?  If I tried to attach pictures, I would probably shut down the internet cafe for days, so descriptions are the best I can do for now!

Nine of us, plus our driver/guide, were in a cool safari bus with a top that pops up and allows you to stick out your head to take pictures.  The rainy season made for mostly green scenery, but the dirt road was the reddest I’ve ever seen.  We drove past lots of foothills, watering holes and a huge green canyon.  We saw antelope, gazelles, giraffes, zebras, some warthogs, hippos (half submerged), an ostrich and a bald eagle.  And lots of elephants!  They were by far the most impressive.  At one point, a herd of about 15 dirt red elephants crossed right in front of our vehicle.  We had to stop talking so we wouldn’t scare them – obviously this was hard for me.

We noticed antelope and zebra hanging out together at one point.  This surprised me, until someone explained to me that both are plant eaters.  This just goes to show that I learned nothing during all those family trips to the Metro Toronto Zoo.  Probably because I was thinking about eating at MacDonalds the whole time.

There was more animal mayhem on our way to work this morning.  We noticed more monkeys than usual around the house and yard this morning.  Then, just as we were closing the front gate on our way out, we were surrounded by about ten.  They stared at us, we stared at them, and they started to dart forward.  Of course, we freaked out and ran back into the house, screaming, with vision of rabies (can you even get rabies from monkeys?) dancing in our heads.  We waited it out for a few minutes (confirming my host family’s suspicions that Canadians are crazy), and then made a mad dash for the main street.  I’m happy to say that we made it to work in one piece without having to use Kora’s rape whistle.

That’s it for now.  If you are reading my blog, remember to send me a comment or an e-mail!

So last week was our first week of work at Kwacha Afrika, a community-based organization for local youth that provides education on HIV/AIDS, gender equality and youth skills building through theatre, workshop, discussion forums etc.  The Kenyan staff and volunteers are fabulous – everyone is super welcoming and uplifting to be around, and I know they appreciate us being here.  Our role at this point is still a little unclear, but there is lots of room for initiative!  Hours are quite long.  We usually start around 9:00 a.m. and theatre rehearsals go until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.

We have a calendar with some structure that allows us to plan ahead during our downtime, and we are slowly getting more direction from Kwacha volunteers.  Of coure, I am the ultimate planner and list-maker, so the lack of structure is challenging for me (more so than the other Canadians!).  But I am trying hard to be flexible!

Successful highlights from last week include co-facilitating and two-day workshop on HIV/AIDS.  We led games, did condom demonstrations and dispelled common myths like HIV is transmitted through saliva – I was shocked at the number of youth who think you can get AIDS from kissing! 

Next week we’re co-facilitating a gender workshop and Girls Challenge Violence Day, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Last weekend we watched a girls’ football tournament.  Man, those girls play tough (mostly in barefeet).  The funniest part was when some cows randomly wondered into the field and started mooing loudly.  Animals roam randomly here, and sometime goats even force us off the walking path into the mud on our way to work!  I’m about ready to stone the rooster outside my bedroom window.

And guess what?  I’m in a Swahili play!  The play is about relationships and I play the Canadian wife of a Kenyan guy, much to the dismay of his racist father, who hates foreigners and thinks all white people look alike.  For the most part, I have one-line responses to the father’s crazy Swahili rants, but it’s still pretty cool.  The Kwacha volunteers said they picked me because I talk so much.  Can’t really argue with that!  The performance will take place at a theatre hall on June 9-10…I’m excited!

Right now it’s monsoon season.  This means it can be sunny one minute, then pooring buckets the next.  We have walked to work in the boiling sun and through raging rivers with torrential rains!  There are only two main streets (with streets names) in town, and the rest are all dirt/mud roads with no drainage systems.  I don’t really want to think about what’s in those rivers!

That’s it for now – once again the white girl has hogged the computer at the internet café!  Until the next time…

Jambo everyone!

After numerous crazy airport delays, one of which included me running down the tarmac at Nairobi airport and almost getting on to the wrong plane, I finally arrived in Mombasa on Tuesday.  The first thing I noticed was the wave of heat that enveloped me.  It’s so hot and humid that my hair has permanently transformed itself into ringlets.

Our first few days here were spent doing group training at Diani Beach, a tropical ressort that looks right out onto the Indian ocean.  We learned more about how to facilitate workshops on HIV/AIDS and gender issues and had more swahili lessons.  Two Kenyan cooks prepared our meals for us, most of which included Ugali, the main staple here made with flour and water.

We would usually have free time in the afternoons, most of which was spent at the turqoise and white beach!  I have never been in warmer (or saltier) sea water in my life. 

On Friday we walked down the beach to Colombus Monkey Trust, where monkeys injured by vehicles (the roads here are insane) are rehabilitated.  Monkeys here are so damn cheeky.  We sometimes left the doors of our cabins open during training, and two times monkies ran in to steal a jar of jam, then peanut butter.  No kidding.

Yesterday we went crossed the ferry into old Mombasa and visited Fort Jesus, an old prison occupied by the Portugese, Arabs and British (I forget the order!) in past centuries.  Then we split up into our two community groups (north and south coasts) and settled into our homestays. 

Kora, who’s from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and I, are staying with the Kithi family.  They are extremely kind and welcoming.   They have a thirteen-year-old son, Ben (Benedict!), who we spoiled with lots of Canadian trinkets, and several grown children.  (Ben reminds me of my little brother, Tim, who is probably too lazy to read this.)  Anyway, the whole family speaks English and they have what they call a “small” poultry farm in the backyard, which consists of 500 chickens!  None lay eggs; they will all be slaughtered, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to experience a killing day next weekend.  Yikes.

The family was a bit disappointed when they asked me to say grace before dinner and I told them I didn’t pray!  To make up for it, I offered to go to mass in Swahili this morning, which lasted two hours and involved clapping, waving, singing and the occassional yelp.  Kora and I tried to blend in, but the church staff brought us right up to the front as soon as they noticed us, so that plan didn’t work!

The community is loud, welcoming and curious, with tons of little kids running around.  Most people yell out “mzungu” – white girl (like I hadn’t noticed) – but in a mostly friendly way.  There are devastatingly poor and less poor areas.  Goats and cows are everywhere.  We are really lucky because our family has electricity and running water (most of the time), as well as a toilet.

We had a crazy matatu adventure on Sunday.  Matatus are the local method of transportation here and they are basically small buses that conductors pack with people, as they scream out the direction in which they are going.  The limit is 14 people, but the conductors pack in as many as possible to make more money, and the extra passengers go to jail if caught by the police.  Sometimes passengers dangle out doors and windows of matatus as they whip through the streets.  Craziness.

I started working at Kwacha Afrika with the rest of the northcoast volunteers this week, so more on that soon!

This is it!  I can’t believe I’m leaving for Kenya later today. 

I have spent so much time over the last few weeks preparing, packing, attending training, pretending to learn Swahili and worrying, that it doesn’t feel like the day is really here.  

I just spent the past week on pre-departure training in Toronto.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll enjoy squat toilets more than the 7:00 a.m. commute.  Who knew everyone sits in the same seats every day?  Seriously, though, the training was excellent and the group is great.  There are 12 of us between the ages of 18-30 going to Kenya, and when we get there we’ll be split into two smaller groups for the duration of our eight week project.  We’ll be working with partner organizations in two small communities outside Mombasa.  I’m also travelling for a month afterwards, much to my parents’ dismay.  How could I go all the way to Kenya and not do a safari?  This rationale seems to have worked so far!

So two overnight flights (Toronto-London and London-Nairobi), one short flight (Nairobi-Mombasa), not to mention nine hours to spend in London, before we arrive in Diani beach in Mombasa, for more training, this time with a tropical backdrop!

I’ll write more about the project once work actually begins, but essentially, we’re going overseas with an NGO called Youth Challenge International to work on social development-related issues, such as HIV/AIDS awareness, gender equality, youth skills building, literacy etc. 

And now for a little context behind the name of the blog, which means “good news” in Swahili.  Pretty clever, I know.  But I can’t even take credit.  It was Dave’s idea.  He’s my director so it’s his job to be smarter than me.

And many thanks to my awesome colleague Rob, who set up this blog for me.  I am a total luddite (i.e. I don’t even have facebook or MSN), but in the interest of staying in touch with everyone back home (and pretty much all over the world since my friends seem to be everywhere these days), I will try my very best to keep this up-to-date during my three month african adventure.  If nothing else, I’ll make people jealous, and that’s always a good goal.  Photos should also help.

Better go pack now.  I.  Really.  Hate.  Packing.  

The next time I write will be from Africa so check back soon!

VOLUNTEERING IN KENYA WITH YOUTH CHALLENGE INT’L

Read all about my volunteer project and travels in Kenya and Tanzania

Photos from Africa

Zebras at lake Manyara

Wildebeast at Ngorongoro Crater

Ugali

More Photos

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