That’s the first question people ask when I tell them about the Gusto & Gecko series. To be honest, I had no idea which country I should write about first because there are just so many incredible places in the world. It caused me so much headache that I eventually decided that I would just write in the order of the countries that I visited. Kenya happened to be the first country I travelled to independently (= without my parents).
It was definitely an adventure. Crowded, dirty, the traffic never-ending and comprising of alarming looking mini-buses crammed cheek-to-jowl and pumping hardcore hip-hop that could be heard from a mile away. The slums sprawl across the landscape, the suburbs are shady looking but filled with the sing-song ‘How are you? How are you?” chants of children and the bleats and moos of ubiquitous livestock. Despite the apparent poverty and grimness of life, there is a core of happiness and joie de vivre in the Kenyan people, especially the children, that made volunteering in Kenya such a joy.
My dear friend Linh and I stayed at the Brydge’s orphanage, surrounded by 20 adorable children ranging from the age of 5 to 12 years old. When time permitted, we attempted to teach the children mathematics, read picture books to them and play outdoor games. We even got to paint a mural for the kindergarten kids at Dandora. The daily diet usually consisted of fried potatoes, stewed potatoes and boiled potatoes. Kidding. Well, kind of. In Kenya, you can expect to eat a fair bit of vegetables and rice, drink a lot of Chai tea and enjoy the nice fruits. If you are a ‘yamatarian’ (meat lover), then you might struggle a bit but before coming back to Australia, you could stuff yourself silly at the celebratory dinner at Carnivores.
In Kenya, we also had the opportunity to conduct interviews with some of the older girls at the Skills Centre in Ngong to learn about what they thought of the Kenyan education system. This was part of our research for KECEP, a program run by Global Aid Partnerships (GAPS) which targets at bringing the benefits of a dedicated early childhood education program to underprivileged villages. It was ran by a Melbourne University student organization.
As well as arranging for volunteers to make a difference in Africa, we also had the opportunity to discover the wonders of Kenya. Some of these experiences are what one could consider ‘typical fare’ for an African adventure. What one quickly comes to realize is that no matter how clichéd something on the itinerary sounds, it will never be without an extraordinary moment.
For example, a Safari in the Masai Mara was something we anticipated would be an average experience (but a compulsory one, because really, who goes to Africa and doesn’t go on safari?)—but even we had to admit that there was something special about watching a lion breakfast on wildebeest that it has picked off from the lines and lines of wildebeest littering the landscape during the annual migration.
Or drifting on the Indian Ocean in a dilapidated dhow off the coast of the ancient island town of Lamu. The quiet, predominately Muslim island, also yielded a surreal experience in a three-domino game played with a half-dozen stoned Rastafarian locals, in a haze of smoke and upbeat music.
My favourite memory is that of wandering the very flat, open and grassy Masai lands with three other female volunteers, desperately trying to find a bit of privacy in which to relieve ourselves. On that note, toilets are an experience in themselves! You start off refusing to go to the toilet anywhere but in the comfort of your residence (or needling your taxi driver to sneak you into the Hilton to use the superior facilities there), then you descend to clean and not-so-clean public toilets, inevitably, standards drop to seedy squat toilets, then pit latrines and once you can do it out in the open, in broad daylight and throw your used toilet paper to the wind, then you have hit rock bottom. And it’s strangely liberating, if not environmentally sound. Trust me when I say this, but some of the experiences beggar belief. You need to be in Kenya to experience it!
Perhaps it was a little annoying initially having to bath using a bucket, or having to walk everywhere, or not having readily access to Facebook. These annoyances will become trifling when you eventually grow to love the kids for their smiles, love Kenya for its amazing culture and ‘love’ your travel mates for the shoulder they will lend you when you get home sick. With the benefit of hindsight, my little adventure in Kenya was nothing short of amazing.
For now, asante sana and karibu!