On the 2nd of June I flew into the greater horn of Africa. Flying out to Kenya was a completely new experience for me. I had never been to Kenya before, never mind the continent of Africa.
I had a connecting flight via Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) and to say the views from the sky were amazing would be an understatement. As you can see below there was open land as far as I could see. Not much except life was visible as the land seemed to be mostly sunburned with rare patches of green. As tI was over Ethiopia I couldn’t help think of Bob Geldof and his work through Live Aid. The concert was created from a reaction to the famine in Ethiopia between 1983-1985 where at least 200,000 people starved to death. Others reported thousands more. This image hit home with me. If you were born in Ireland, you have been very privileged.
Arriving in Nairobi
When I arrived in Jomo Kenyatta airport it was warm, sunny and pleasant. I was close to a large group of South African tourists who were also excited to be visiting Kenya. Wondering why I was coming to the country the immigration officer asked if I was “coming to Kenya for a wife” which I found funny and also a little bit worrying considering the context of why I was actually coming to East Africa. Driving from the airport to the apartment as I looked out to my left I could see Nairobi National Park. I must say it looks better in person than it does from Google maps. Then it set in. I had arrived.
I was lucky when I arrived in Kenya. Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) scheduled a retreat to prepare staff and volunteers on how to deal with security issues, organisation policy and team-building. We took a 3 hour bus journey from Nairobi further north to Nanyuki for our training which is about 60km from Mount Kenya.
This retreat was important as there is upcoming elections on the 8th of August. In the 2007 election political violence broke out after the election was disputed. Some claimed that the chaos which proceeded was a “tribal war” with clear rigging involved in the election process. This will be something to follow in the coming months as the election draws closer.
Post retreat staff and volunteers went to Ol Pejeta conservancy which was about 13km east of Nanyuki. The conservancy was recommended to me before I left for Kenya and It didn’t take long to see why. Vast open areas of land which hosted Elephants, Zebra, Gazelle, Buffalo and Black African Rhinos. For me, this was really cool. Usually these images would be accompanied with the voice over of David Attenborough along with the comfort of my sitting room. But this time I reach out and touch the real thing….
Life on the ground
As a Mzungu (person of European descent) in Nairobi I was told I would stand out in the crowd and possibly be a more likely target. I noticed that eyes do stick on me as I walk through the street. This is also something I was told would happen. I got used to it quick. However, it is often accompanied with a smile and a greeting which makes things a little more relaxing. I did a lot of research online to help prepare me for what I should expect and while there has been many stories of attacks and robberies on tourists there is also many reports of people being extremely kind and helpful. So far it has been a positive experience for me.
It’s not uncommon to walk past small fires on the side of street. Many Kenyans cannot afford to pay for bin services. This is their only option. People also sit back looking relaxed at their stall whether its meat, fruit, veg or live chicken. Often open after 9.00pm. Nobody seems to be rushing here which is nice. This is in stark contrast from my experience in Ireland and the US.
I had been warned about showing off my phone and electronics in public places. Only a few weeks back one of the staff at HAART was sitting in a taxi with the window three-quarters of the way down and he got an unfortunate surprise; a burst lip and all of a sudden he was one phone less. So there is that side to Nairobi. The city is starting to live up to the nickname I heard prior to leaving – “Nairobi.”
When I sit at my desk I hear the muezzin at the local mosque calling prayer. Kenya is mainly a christian country but there are a wide range of nationalities and cultures. Somali, Sudanese, Ugandan, Burundian, Indian and Rwandan refugees and migrants have all settled in Kenya for one reason or another bringing with them their way if life. This has had a great effect on culture, politics and religion in the region. Its very diverse here.
When I traveled abroad before people often said to me and were aware that Ireland is a famous as a tiny green island. Green is not something that I associated with Kenya before I left but I will definitely be associating with as I tell people of my experience. Rural Kenya is beautiful. Green everywhere. Mountainous in areas with picturesque views. They can be covered in corn, pineapple or coffee plantations. It’s really cool to see in person.
As you walk through the streets of Nairobi you quickly learn it is very different from back home. Most streets have fruit and vegetable stalls, there is no bus schedule and the drivers are not as patient with other road users (this is a MAJOR understatement). For me my trip to the office is not far. I get a bus (known as Matatu) to the office which cost 10 Kenyan Schillings (€00.10). So getting by is relatively easy coming from Ireland. I was surprised to learn that Guinness is everywhere here. Cans and cans of it. Every supermarket has them. Dairy milk too. Nice to have some options just in case you miss home!
I am only one week in to this placement and I’ve had it relatively easy so far but I expect more difficult challenges to come my way. The post-election period is a worry and may require leaving the country for a period of time. Interesting times ahead.