A Few New Friends

Kenya is a friendly place, the people are beautiful and the living seems to be pretty easy on the coast. One of the employees at the hostel (resort) I’ve been spending my time at seems to have taken a liking to me. I compliment his East African music all of the time and I think he likes that. Yesterday evening he sat me down and showed me a bunch of music videos on a projector in the kitchen. He was able to explain to me what all of the artists and singers are singing about, things ranging from love to eating to living with AIDS. He tells me he is going to take me to an African disco one of these nights – he promises there will be no western music. Hamisi is his name, I have no way of knowing whether that is how to spell it or not, but he keeps telling me to go back to American, make a bunch of money and then come back and live like a king in Kenya. I like the way he thinks, but I’m not sure I could live in Kenya for more than a few months, it seems to be a hard life for some of the people. Although, they are, in general, much happier than we are in America. What’s up with that? Since arriving here I’ve noticed that even the little orphans who have no family, get no attention, and eat the same nutrition-less food everyday while wearing torn clothing are SO happy. Why aren’t those of us who live in the developed world happier? I mean, if I wanted to, I could buy myself a nice dinner, new clothes, live in a nice place and surround myself with the people I love and probably still not achieve the level of happiness that the people here seem to just have naturally. It’s something worth looking into. I think at this point I have noticed that it has something to do with the amount of material things that they possess. They put their focus on things that cannot be held. Things like love, God, passion…things that are worth respecting. It is worth noting though, Hamisi, being the good man that he is, lost a relative in a car accident earlier this week, and although he was not happy to have lost someone he loves, he simply shrugged and said to me, “it is in the past, I cannot change that.” When he returned to the hostel he told me he was glad to have seen his family, then he started dancing with me to the African music I was so invested in. A good man.

Scott, the owner of the hostel, is also worth noting here. He has graciously opened up his home to us and is feeding us as well. Visiting the coast would not be possible without him.

These last four days have been nothing like the first 31. I spend my time relaxing by a pool, reading books (Whale Rider, The Trouble With Emily Dickinson, The Iceberg Hermit and Disgrace (written by a South African), walking on the white sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean, and enjoying the company of hostel guests from all around the world. I keep telling myself that this time is important. I need to recollect my thoughts before moving on, although I am quite looking forward to heading to Uganda within the week.

Wildlife on the coast is unique. I have not seen any big animals since arriving but there are a variety of monkeys and baboons here. They have no fear of humans, so they go about their days as usual and it’s easy to spot them in the trees, hanging out of fences, or crossing the road. Oh, the road! Our main modes of transportation here are motorbikes and Kenyan taxis called matatus. These are two very unique ways to travel, motorbikes are able to weave in and out of traffic and get you to where you need to be quickly, while matatus are crowded but dirt cheap. I like both, but I don’t think you’d ever see wither mode of transportation in the states, at least not in the same way they are used here.

A closing thought:

Thank you for all of the messages, comments and e-mails you have been sending me. Although I am not able to respond readily, I want you to know that it means the world to log onto a computer every few days (or weeks) and be able to hear from you all.

We’ll talk soon,

Matthew/Matty

All of a Sudden, the Living is Easy

Is it too much to ask for a computer with a keyboard that works well? Apparently it is.

I’ve found an internet cafe in Diani Beach that only costs one shilling per minute of use as opposed to the last cafe which costs 5 shillings per minute. The only downside is that the computer keys here seem to stick. Bummer.

We’ve been in Diani Beach now for two days. We’re staying with a guy who runs a hostel and all of our meals are free (and cooked by a chef)! It’s so strange to go from ugali, rice and beans to spaghetti and scrambled eggs with toast. I only feel as though I’m not deserving of the food, but I eat it anyway. The area that we are staying in is sadly only safe during the day, so the hostel is surrounded by four walls, an electric fence and has two security guards; all of which I am extremely thankful for.

The food isn’t the only thing that I have to grow used to again. There is a certain silence that comes from no longer being around 42 kids. Also, Diani is a vacation hotspot, so the sun always seems to be shining and the palm trees give off the welcomed message that says, “you can relax.” In the last two days I was able to start and finish a book, I cannot tell you the last time I was able to pull that off.

Yesterday I was able to make my way down to the beach where I saw the Indian Ocean for the first time. I have now seen every ocean (unless you count the Southern Ocean, but not everyone does). The white beaches and traditional Swahili boats anchored in the waves gave the ocean a unique feel. The blue water and the white sands are a far cry from the Kenyan Highlands which I have grown so accustomed to. My brain is doing the best it can to process this trip. One thing I need to remind myself is that I no longer have to work, the rest of this can be smooth, relaxing sailing.

I think we’ll hang around Diani Beach for about a week before moving on. My hope is to see more of Kenya before flying home later this month. Our original plan to head south into Tanzania has now been nixed due to the high cost of the visa. So we’ll head west instead, into Uganda. More on that later.

I think I’ll return to this little cafe for another update soon.

 

 

Swahili Coast

I have left the Kenyan Highlands and am now comfortably positioned just south of the fishing town of Mombasa in Diani Beach. Here I will be staying for at least the next few days as I figure out what is to come next in my excursion.

I left the orphanage with a heavy heart; however, I actually skipped out two days early because I was feeling ready to leave. Sadly, being completely deprived of nutritious food for over a month just starts to take a toll on the body. I’m currently sitting at an expensive internet cafe and am being charged by the minute so this update will have to be quick, which seems to be the case each time I have a chance to write. When Sally and I left the orphanage yesterday morning we caught a matatu to the town of Thika where we hopped on a bus that brought us to Nairobi. There, we navigated the busy streets by foot until we found the rail station where we boarded the train and road overnight in the third class section across the country. The train broke down just outside of our destination, so we hailed another matata into Mombasa where we walked to the ferry which brought us across the water to where we are now. Last nights excursion across the vast Kenya landscape produced two elephant sitings and one water buffalo. My very own free safari.

Another update within the next two or three days.

Best,

Matthew/Matty

Here Comes the Rain

Surprisingly, for the second time this week I’ve been given the opportunity to get on the internet.
Kenya has two rainy seasons, one of which started today. Throughout the next two months the area of Africa that I am spending time in will receive anywhere between two and four hours of rain everyday. This is a little daunting, but may also come as a welcomed relief after all of the sunny days we’ve been having. After having spent the last two years living so close to the Arctic Circle, it is quite the change of pace to be living just a few kilometers from the equator.  The sun here goes directly overhead, and it seems to know that it is the boss around these parts. Everything I do during my days here are dictated by the sun – how much sunscreen to put on, what clothing to wear, how much time should be spent in the shade, whether I should go outside at all. I’m being careful, making sure my skin never knows what it is like to get a Kenyan sunburn.

I’ve stepped away from the kids this evening to write this post. Today, a donation was made to the orphanage and it was my job to distribute 42 new toothbrushes to the kids. I had all of the brushes ready to go with the names of each child written on each brush with permanent marker. After getting swarmed by the kids, eager to get their new belongings, they returned their brushes to me, each pointing out that their name had rubbed off in the process of brushing. Dang, I knew it was too easy to be true.
A few interesting facts about what life here is like:

Taking a bath: The only water here comes out of a well, one tiny well, which is used for everything. I’m given a small bucket of water for each bath, which is nothing more than a poor sponge bath once every few days. I’ve never been this dirty in my life, and although I feel gross, it doesn’t really matter because nobody cares what I look like here. The one thing that is worth cleaning everyday is my feet. The roads and paths around here are all made out of red dirt, which looks and feels very gross, especially after it has been collecting on me all day.

Eating: Meals here are provided; however, it seems to be a variety of the same thing at each meal. I hope that that makes sense. A typical breakfast is a few pieces of white bread (untoasted) and a cup of tea.  Lunch is a mixture of beans. Dinner is rice and beans or beans and ugali (a corn mixture which if you never try it in your lifetime will be too soon).  When it comes to what I miss from home, food is the thing that comes to mind first. Sally and I are the only volunteers here at this time and we spend a good portion of each day discussing what we are going to eat first once we are out of here.

Laundry: Dirty clothes comes with the territory of being dirty in general. Here, all laundry is done by hand, which means scraping the dirt out of clothing with a brush. It’s very therapeutic, but I have sympathy for the woman who does laundry here as a full time job – her hands must be so raw.

It is about 8pm here in Kenya and this will conclude Day 11 for me here. Yesterday, which I am referring to as “DAY 10” was a bad day, I was physically depleted and ready for a break. But today I feel right back in it. Each day I fall in love with a new child and I feel a great need of responsibility to make sure that they are taken care of. Anyone have a problem with me bringing four or five Kenyan first graders home?

The adventure continues, life here is simple, but beautiful. I look forward to sharing photos and stories upon my return to North America. Each time I get on the internet here I feel overwhelmed to the point where I don’t feel like I’m doing this place justice.

I will write again soon.

Love,

Matthew

“You Belong Here”

Last night, I was told in the Kikuya language by a young girl named Margaret that I belong here.

Thank you for taking the time to check up on me and to read this blog. I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get on the internet and update you on what my life has been like over the past ten days. I have become an honorary resident of Kenya and of this little orphanage located in the Kenyan Highlands, it’s called Watoto Wa Baraka, or Children of Blessing.

I think it’s safe to say that since arriving here my life has been altered rather drastically. It is a beautiful thing when you are given the opportunity to join a community of children and a few staff members and realize how happy they are living with so little. There are 42 kids living here (far more than I could have ever imagined), and there are only four staff members taking care of the kids. I wouldn’t have thought so initially, but my being here is actually helping keep this place going.

I don’t have much time to continue writing, but since my arrival I have formed a bond with many of these kids to the point where I know it will be hard to say goodbye to them in the coming weeks. One boy, a seven year old named Julius has sprung back to life since I arrived. I have been monitoring his vitamin intake for the last week and he has gone from a shy, silent little boy to a peppy, loving little guy over night. My hope is that someone will be able to take watch over him once I leave, but sadly with things being as understaffed as they are, I wonder if that is even possible.

Sally, my companion on this trip has become a medic of sorts. She has wrapped hurt arms, bandaged sliced open heads, and continually assists one of the kids with a back injury. My main concern so far is that the ratio of staff to kids is so small that when a child gets injured it goes unnoticed. Since this is the case, I feel that my being here is truly important. Scraping kids up off the ground and holding them while they cry has become a daily part of being here, as has making sure that the kids are taking their vitamins and remaining healthy. It’s nice to know that what we are doing is actually helping, but it’s hard to think about what will happen once we leave.

39 of the kids go to school during the day. Sometimes, I get to walk the 4 kindergardeners to school (pictures to follow), it’s really cute. The other three kids, John, Mary and Soloman are too young for school and stay behind with Sally and I all day. We’ve been repainting many of the structures here at the orphanage  to fill the hours during the day.

I wish I could say that I’ll have the opportunity to update more frequently, but getting the chance to use the internet is rare. I have been journal-ing each day I’ve been here though, so I hope to transcribe some thoughts at a later date.

Hopefully more to come soon, thank you for listening. And if it’s your fancy, say a few prayers for these kids, especially Julius.

Jambo!

Jambo! That’s Swahili for hello, currently the only word I know how to say in Swahili, but I’m told English is spoken by many of the people of East Africa.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I have all sorts of reservations when it comes to sharing my thoughts on the internet, but my hope is that by attempting to keep this blog while I explore Africa, it will keep you all a little closer to me as I wander.

My interest in Africa began when I was in third grade, and now, 15 years later, I am finally going to set my feet on the continent.

I cannot make any promises as to how often I will update this blog, but I hope to do it frequently.

See you soon.