Friday, May 15, 2015

Adventures in Kenya Series - Day 11 - Kwaheri, Kenya

I'm through secuturity at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport waiting for my flight to Paris that will connect with my flight to New York. I had thought that my last day was going to be relaxing and quiet, but like every other day on this trip, it was filled with pretty special moments.

We started by waking at 5:30, taking tea early, packing the van, and heading out on a game drive at 6:30.  The plan was to see as many animals as we could on the way out of the park while the morning light made for good pictures, and then hit the road for Nairobi.  Since it's only about a 2 1/2 hour drive, I had figured that we'd be in Nairobi by 10 or so.  Silly.  I should have learned by now that everything in Kenya takes at least twice as long as you anticipate. Pole Pole.

The game drive was amazing. We saw a few hyenas with a freshly killed ostrich carcass, and a baby rhino that was literally hours old.  We could still see the afterbirth hanging from the mother. A big gross, but very, very cool.  We saw lots of baboons, buffalo, zebra, and giraffes as well.  We didn't have any luck finding a leapard.

We passed out of the park gates around 8:30 and headed back to Nairobi.  About an hour into the drive, we stopped for a car wash since the van was filthy from driving on the paths in the park. Kenyan car washes are different than American car washes.  The car still ends up clean, but it's done by hand by guys with rags, and it took about 45 minutes.  We grabbed a quick snack and more tea before getting back on the road.

Jackson told me that he needed to stop to pick up potatoes for the Havilla school at a market on the way. When we stopped, we were immediately surrounded by a dozen or more vendors shaking their produce at us and banging on the windows. It took Jackson a while to figure out who had the best potatoes at the best price with everyone surrounding him like vultures. This is how it's done in Kenya. He, Livingstone, and I discussed the differences in the American produce purchasing experience when we got on the road 25 minutes later.

At the Great Rift Valley overlook we stopped for 2 minutes for a picture.  There were also a few souvineer shops there.  20 minutes later I was back on the road a few hundred Shillings lighter and loaded with some wood carvings I'm sure I don't need. The Shillings won't do much much more good than a zebra letter opener back home, so no harm done. Jackson got a free soda out of the deal for being the driver who stopped there while the Mzungu spent some money.

We hit a little traffic, and we finally go to the Cheery school around 1PM. When I walked into the school grounds, I was greeted with shouts of "Teacher Mike!" once again, and a few kids came running up to hug me.  That's a little humbling. I chatted with Director Jairus for a few minutes about ways we can continue our partnership in the future, and how the work I've done here over the past few weeks can be leveraged to help these children have the opportunity to overcome the abject poverty in which they are living.

After our chat, the older classes performed a few songs for me, and made me tear up by presenting me with Kenyan bracelets for my wife, my children, and me. I have mine on right now. It is a special memento of the time I had with these children.  Two students also wrote me letters of thanks that I will hold on to and cherish.

When it was time for me to leave, six or seven students held my hands, arms, shorts, and shirt as I walked down the rubbish, mud, and waste filled path to the van.  They didn't want to let me leave.  When I got in the van, several of them climbed into the back.  They wanted to come with me. It pained me to have to make them get out. With a sad heart, we drove away as I waved and blew them kisses.

From there, we drove to Havilla. I stopped into the classes I had worked with and asked them what they had learned this week.  They were also very happy to see me and to show off thier new knowledge.  The first graders told me about the English weather words they had learned in English class, and the second graders showed me the addition they were working on.  Before leaving, the school also sang me a song, the second grade performed a poem about the importance of education, and Head Teacher Domitilla presented me with a traditional Kenyan shirt.

When I left Havilla at 3PM I figured that I had a few hours to charge my electronics, take a shower, and relax before heading to the airport for my 11PM flight.  I chatted with Tracy and Ross from NGGE to catch up on the happenings of the week, and around 5PM I went on what was supposed to be a short walk with Ross.  He took me to an appartment building a few blocks away that overlooked the Kibera Slum, and then to a garden on the edge of the Slum.

At the garden we met Peter, a Kibera resident who is empowering the youth of the slum by teaching them gardening, catfish raising, and other trades.  With the products they sell, young Kiberans are able to make some money while learning important skills and improving the community. We chatted for as long as I could, and then he walked back with Ross and I to Barnabas's house telling us about his passions. He agreed to connect with our students back home to tell them about his work via Skype, and I told him that I would have Livingstone connect with him to show him how to offer learning sessions through Skype in the Classroom.  He is the kind of passionate do-gooder that is perfect for inspiring youth to get involved in service projects.

At 7, I said my goodbyes and loaded into the van with Jackson to head to the airport.  We picked up Livingstone on the way (he had walked home to shower earlier), and set off.  Of course, we hit a traffic jam, and the ride that should have taken 30 minutes took 90. The traffic lights in town were turned off, at every intersection there was gridlock, and there were a few cars stopped in the road. Kenya.

And so now, with both great sadness at leaving and great anticipation at seeing my family, I wait for my plane.  In typical Kenyan fashion, it took forever to get to my gate.  I had to pass through 4 security checkpoints where I my bags were either checked by hand or scanned though a machine.  I'm very sure this is going to be a safe flight.

I'll try and get some sleep on the plane to Paris.  Over the next few days and weeks, I'll be posting some of the many (60+) videos I took during the trip as they get uploaded.

Kwaheri, Kenya.  I leave a little piece of my heart with you and take much more than souvineers with me as I leave.