Well, I’ve been back from Africa for coming up on a month, and I should probably get around to talking about the rest of the trip…in my defense, it has been a little busy around here between being so sick I couldn’t do anything except be horizontal for three days, and then that whole hurricane thing. Plus, moving and such. But I still want to share the fun of the rest of Africa, so on we shall talk. Mainly because my running is currently as exciting as, “Hey look! I ran three miles! It was slow, hooray!” So fun. Back to Africa.
After I wrapped up in Namibia (elephants!), I flew back through Johannesburg (where I had a hotel room all to myself…complete with a bed!) and then flew to Nairobi, where I met my college friend, Nick, who is living and working there. We spent awhile trying to figure out when the last time we saw each other was and finally determined that it was in 2007, just after I graduated from Maryland, when I drove to Louisville to visit him during a summer internship. We couldn’t believe it, as surely we had crossed paths at a Maryland football or basketball game over the past few years…but no. So five years later, we meet in Africa. Totally normal.
I will first mention (and what Nick will confirm) is that most people do not go to Nairobi to visit…it’s usually just a necessary stopping point on the way to other points in Kenya/East Africa. On the other hand, it’s a big city with plenty of things to do. So here we go.
The first plan for the day was to get some food, and I was very excited about the fact that the restaurant of choice had Tusker beer, a very common beer in Kenya. If you haven’t been following along at all, I love elephants, and Tusker has an elephant on it. Win and win, Gatsby was a happy man:
The first day was a little bit of a hang out evening with a jam-packed two days ahead. Hold onto your seats because here we go!
Nick didn’t have too much of a game plan for the visit, but I expressed interest in visiting the slums, and luckily he has a friend who is working in one of the schools in the Kibera slum. This is why you go to places where you know people…excellent connections. We met up with his friend who walked us through the slum to get to the school, which is definitely an interesting experience. The houses/stores are basically made from sheet metal and crammed one next to the other. Trash is everywhere, “sewer systems” are just trenches are the side of the road where water might run through if people happen to rinse something out. If a trench even exists. It’s muddy.
As a white person in Nairobi, you stick out like a sore thumb…in the slums, that thumb might as well be the size of your head. Some people would call us “mzunga” (Ben, are you reading? I was called this within five minutes of being in Nairobi, I hope you’re proud), meaning white person…I don’t remember anyone asking for money, but if you’re white, it’s assumed that you have money. Which…in comparison to all of these people, I’m as rich as can be.
The school was way back in the slums…Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya, and possibly in the world, as it is difficult to quantify the population since the government doesn’t really have anything to do with the slums. The schools are mostly informal and not run by the government. The school that we visited was the Shining Hope Kibera School for Girls. The girls go through an intense selection process to attend this school free of monetary charge, but with the guarantee that the parents will be involved in the school. Mothers were outside preparing food when we visited.
We were able to visit a few different classrooms, and the girls were all very proper…raising their hand and then standing when asking us a question. Questions ranged from “Where do you to live?” to “What’s your favorite animal?” to “Do you love our teacher?”…kindergarteners are so cute. The school is continuing to expand and add grades as time goes on, and they just moved into a new school building to accommodate the growth. A playground was built on the roof, which we were allowed to play on…and it was a good place to take pictures since it is generally not accepted to take pictures while walking through the slums.
The school decided to be an all girls school because they are trying to promote growth and education within the slum, and it has been shown that girls/women are more likely to give back to their family when they become educated/attain jobs that allow them to provide for their families, while boys/men are more likely to spend in other places. Makes sense.
It was interesting to see the school because education is definitely a privilege in the slums, and to get it for free is an honor. I’m not a teacher, but I do have friends who are, and their reports from how some students act or approach education seems to be far different from how they approach it in the slums. In the US, it is generally expected to receive an education, and this is not the case in the slums, so it appears that they appreciate it much more.
We visited a room where the girls had made little projects saying why they like to be a girl and what they want to be when they grow up. There are a lot of little presidents, pilots, lawyers, and doctors in this school…
Our last visits near the school were to the clinic where they provide community health, seeing 50 to over 200 people per day, and ended with a trip to the lab where we learned about HIV, malaria, and TB in the community. Per the lab tech, HIV carries quite the stigma, so many people don’t come forward, but the compliance with ARVs is very high once people are diagnosed and started on treatment…I’m not 100% sure I believe his numbers since they were very, very impressive, but props to them if they were true.
I left feeling very lucky to have had access to basic things like food, shelter (my own bedroom!), and education throughout my entire life. One of the most interesting things I realized during my time in Africa was how happy people can be with so little…they may live in a house made out of sheet metal, but it might make them happy to come home to a TV show (yes, some people have TVs in their metal sheet houses, ha) and their family and call it a day. In an American world where we seem to always want more, it puts things in perspective a bit and makes you think about what really makes you happy.
the mobius house
Nick is currently working for a company called Mobius, which is a start-up working to bring a better car to Africa. When he first started there, they lived and worked in a big house which was home to the Mobius office, and now it’s just housing for people who work there…although Nick no longer lives there. We did visit the Mobius house, as it has a nice backyard with hammocks and a fire pit which seems like a great place for a relaxing afternoon. We didn’t get visits from any monkeys, although Nick says it’s not uncommon for them to stop by.
I got a lesson in Nairobi security upon visiting the Mobius House…which is surrounded by an electric fence and has a guard on at all times. The rooms all have panic buttons in them in case someone breaks in…Nick told me stories of people being tied up in their rooms (not in the Mobius House…) while people came in with AK47’s. Excellent. Somehow the Upper East Side of Manhattan sounds really good right now…
we blessed the rains down in africa
Moving onto the next day, we had a fun filled animal day…Nick had recently purchased a car, so we were able to drive places instead of using a taxi. By drive, I mean on the left side of the road, those crazy Kenyans. Our first stop was an elephant orphanage, but that deserves its own post. On the way to other destinations, it started to rain, so naturally, this happened:
I hope Baker can rest happy now.
One of the recommended places to go in Nairobi is the Giraffe Center, which I will say is a little bit of a disappointment. Basically, you pay money to be able to feed the giraffes, which you can actually do at the Colorado Springs zoo as well! The Giraffe Center was created to preserve an endangered species of giraffe…but basically it’s a tourist trap. However, you do get priceless pictures of being kissed by a giraffe, so that’s a plus.
Nick feeding Kelly the Giraffe.
Like I said…tourist trap. That’s about all there is to it…
nairobi national park
Last on our list was a trip to Nairobi National Park, a game park right in Nairobi…so strange. We hoped to find a lion, although…spoiler alert…that never happened. It was very strange to be in a game park with giraffes, zebras, and rhinos…while being able to see the Nairobi skyline behind them. We drove Nick’s car throughout the park, trying to guess our way around while keeping an eye out for animals. Nick was better at spotting them initially, but he almost drove right by a rhino…
Animals spotted in Nairobi National Park: Giraffes, zebras, ostrich, rhinos…those were the cool ones. None attacked us, so that was cool. No elephants are in the park, which is sad, but I definitely got my fill of elephants on the trip, so I really can’t complain…
Other highlights of Nairobi included being in a matatu (a 14 passenger van that is a bus service) and eating goat…although the highlight of eating goat was that I could say I tried it because I didn’t really like it that much. Non-highlights included being attacked by (non-malaria) mosquitoes.. So itchy…
I’ll wrap up my Nairobi adventures with another post about baby elephants (BABY ELEPHANTS) before heading onto Ethiopia. I’ll stop talking about Africa soon, I promise!