A Beginning

Kenya Pt 1.
As I write this, my time in Kenya has been done for a bit. The three weeks I spent volunteering were not exactly what I might have hoped for, but I had tempered my expectations. But maybe I should talk about my first impressions, since I had a couple of days after I arrived before my volunteer project started.
The biggest thing coming into the airport in Nairobi was getting through the health inspection. You have to show a yellow fever vaccination card before you can get your visa. Well, mine was in my checked-in luggage which was on the other side of the check point. After finally being able to get through all of the procedures (it took forever because only one sport was open for non-East Africans and a group of school children from the India were in front of me) I was able to sort it all out. Then came the nearly two hour drive, complete with off-roading and accidents, from the airport to the volunteer house not far from downtown Nairobi. When I arrived some other volunteers were already there, along with the two women who work at the house. Two of the volunteers, one from the U.S. and one from Canada, were part of my group but had arrived a few days earlier. The third volunteer at the house was from the previous group and was working at an elementary school in Kibera, the slums of Nairobi. He was a former rugby player and the only other male volunteer, so we managed to get along well. Which was great since we had to share a room and meals together for the next two weeks. The talk between all four of us volunteers was like most at a hostel with “Where you from?” and “What do you do?” Good first day so far, but the majority of volunteers from our group were yet to arrive. The others were there in time for the orientation the next day for a total of eight of us, four from the U.S., two from Canada, one from France, and one from Singapore. We were about half and half between late-20’s professionals taking time off from work and people fresh out of high school. Nobody stuck out like a sore thumb, so we all managed to get along. During the orientation we learned more about our placements and what to expect of our time in Kenya. I was assigned to a school in Kibera called New Beginnings as part of the special needs program. Unfortunately, before my time was scheduled to finish, the school would be on holiday for the end of the term, so after a couple of weeks I would have to be placed somewhere else. The idea did not bother me too much and I was okay with the chance to experience more than one location during my time. The others were being placed further away in programs for women’s education, orphans, and childcare. After a few more speeches from the NVS staff and an amazing lunch, we all signed up for safaris or Outreach (a program to take volunteers to groups not usually supported by the NVS programs but still in need). Then everyone but the two who had to travel a bit further went off to start their new life as a volunteer. The four of us left behind went to watching some movies and playing cards. We combined all of our different versions of Rummy to create a brand new, faster paced version (contact me for rules). The game was pretty intense with cards thrown and smack talk dealt. Someone did win eventually and we called it a day.
The next day was a Saturday, so no school, and the day the other two volunteers left. One of the volunteers who had left the day before was back at the house early in the morning though because she got sick. The other guy and I were planning on attending a match for a local soccer team from the slums that other volunteers had supported previously, so the returnee joined us and we visited the mall nearby to get wifi and eat lunch at the cafe before going to the match. The cafe, called Javahouse, would end up being a regular hang-out for the volunteers. The match was frustratingly exciting as the team we cheered played against a local club from more affluential families. The Kibera team was getting chance after chance but not finishing in the first period, which ended 1-1. The second period turned that dominance into results and by the end of the match the score was 12-2. We walked back with the players for a bit on the way home and congratulated them a lot. I really thought that under the right circumstances some of the players might develop well, but I am no pro scout.
Anyways, we headed back to the volunteer house, ate, played cards, and relaxed for the rest of the day. Sunday was pretty much the same but without the soccer match. Just trying to adjust to sleeping in a new place with so little access to the outside world and being locked in once it got dark outside made relaxing difficult for me. Maybe it was a bit of cabin fever or simply fear of the unknown that awaited me at my placement, but I did not sleep well those first nights in Nairobi. Eventually, I was able to calm myself and see through the mist of uncertainty and make the most of my time.


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