What To Remember When Going to Hells

Last week Pete announced that we were going to have a day off – it was a miracle! We often work on weekends and sometimes the weeks get really long. I’d always wanted to go to Hells Gate so last Wednesday that’s exactly what we did.

closeup of pete

Easy riding when it’s downhill.

Hells Gate is one of the many national parks we have in Kenya. With our handy residents card we can get in to some of them for $5 while tourists pay $40. It’s the only park where you can jump on a bike and ride through the wildlife. There’s a dirt road which is in pretty good condition and you can literally just stop and make your way to the animals any time you like.


Lots of cliffs around, somewhere up there are baboons.

If you’re into rock climbing there’s a point about 5 minutes ride from the gate on which to practise. The deal is you have to hire a professional to assist, and we’re not really into that type of thing anyway.

One of the few zebras that we could see up close.

One of the few zebras that we could see up close.

About 2km’s from the park entry just as you turn the corner there are guys waving you down to hire their bikes, we kept going. First thing to remember – hire your bike from these guys and not at the park. The park ones are crappy as. My gears wouldn’t change, the back tyre was half flat and Pete had to disengage the rear brakes because they were rubbing badly. His chain kept falling off and he couldn’t change the gears either. We didn’t notice these things until we were a few k’s up the road.

It's a pretty big place.

It’s a pretty big place.

You think the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) who manage all the national parks would maintain their bikes – oh, there’s no such thing as maintenance here! We called into the bike hire place outside the park and for the same price there were way better bikes.

Plenty of these at the entrance to the gorge.

Plenty of these at the entrance to the gorge.

Nairobi was wet when we left and we weren’t sure what the weather would be like in Naivasha where the park was. It was 2 hours away so it had to improve. We took raincoats anyway but didn’t need them. However it would’ve been good to take sunscreen – which we didn’t. While we did end up riding through a thunder storm (a bit scary) before that it was rather warm. At least we had a couple of litres of water – a must over here. I knew I was getting burnt but it all came out that night – my nose and forehead were as red as a beetroot. So while we take the antibacterial handwash with us I must remember to throw in one of the many sunscreen bottles we have in our cupboard.

Warthogs. We kept yelling out "You calling me a pig?" Pumba quote.

Warthogs. We kept yelling out “You calling me a pig?” Pumba quote.

Having a decent camera is important. There actually weren’t that many animals and they were all away from the road. Sure, we could get off our bikes and try to get up to them but these are wild animals and they ran as soon as we moved. There were lots of warthogs, a few zebras, gazelles, antelope and a few big birds. I was waiting to see some giraffes but these were a no go. It’s probably one time I’ve taken very few photos. Although I’ve got a zoom lens it’s still not big enough. One day I hope to invest into a big beast to capture better photos of these marvellous creatures.

Only here can you find a geothermal plant in a national park.

Only here can you find a geothermal plant in a national park.

Set aside your whole day to go to Hell’s Gate. I’d seen some amazing photos of The Gorge and really wanted to see it. We didn’t get to the park until 11am and with our detour to the camping ground (Pete wanted to suss it out) and crappy bikes we got to the gorge about 1pm. I could see the storm clouds starting to roll in. You can either take the 20 minute or 90 minute trek each way. While we could buy drinks at the rangers station you couldn’t buy lunch. We said no to the gorge, leaving it for next time (when we could drive in) when Liz would be with us. One of the great things about Kenya is that you can pretty much buy fruit and veges on the side of most roads. Pete had bought these really nice bananas so they kept us going all afternoon.

You can't climb this mesa - which locals call a volcanic plug.

You can’t climb this mesa – which locals call a volcanic plug.

Because I thought we’d be doing a lot more walking I wore my hiking boots from Mt Kilimanjaro. They were a slight overkill, I’m wearing sneakers next time. It’s the short rainy season here so I wasn’t sure how wet the ground was going to be. In fact things were pretty dry. We haven’t been bike riding for years so our butts were a bit sore for a couple of days afterwards. Pete more so than me because I wore my mountain shorts, his were way thicker. We both forgot hats (you don’t wear helmets here) and didn’t need a jacket (which stayed in the car anyway). Basically, go prepared for any type of weather, use toilets at the start of the park and go and have lots of fun.

Our bikes having a rest, they were tired.

Our bikes having a rest, they were tired.

Hell’s Gate is good if you want to get out of the city for the day and just meander along. There’s no rush and there’s certainly plenty of places around to stop for food afterwards.

Don’t Come and Live in Africa

A year ago we made the crazy move from the beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney Australia to go and live in Nairobi, Kenya. Why do I say it was crazy (as some of our friends think)? Why would a couple in the most productive and money making years of their lives leave it all behind to go and work with the most poor young people in this part of the world?

There’s no simple answer for that one. I’ve heard people from here say ‘Why don’t people come here long term to serve on the mission field?’ There seems to be a lot of questions on both sides.

So here are my thoughts on the matter.

1. Not everyone is called to move to Africa.

Africa is not a picnic. Sure, there’s some things you only get in this part of the world but not everyone has the tenacity to hack it with all of the negatives, and that’s okay. It takes a certain amount of insanity to live here. There’s a big differences between visiting somewhere for a few weeks and dedicating the rest of your life to a cause on foreign soil with being challenged every day, having to rely on friends for your daily needs or hoping you don’t get really sick because the healthcare is limited.

Just today I had some guy yelling out “Mzungu, mzungu” the whole time I was walking up the street. It was so annoying I wanted to give him the royal finger (another reason I don’t call myself a missionary) and yell a few choice words at him. I feel like saying “Oh my goodness, I never knew I was white”.


2. You can be of most excellent use in the West.

You can make money and support a missionary or development worker here by remaining at home. You can pay school fees, earn enough to send kids on a camp, pay travel insurance for someone. You can earn and give, it’s a win win situation. One of the best thing you can do is be an advocate/representative of someone you know who is serving in Africa. Most of the time it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and you could be the key to changing that.


3. Missions aren’t what they used to be.

You need to learn another language, a new culture, a new way of doing EVERYTHING. You need to have computer skills as well as practical ones. It’s not about being behind a pulpit but offering a skill to the local community. The developing world needs doctors, nurses, teacher of teachers, people skilled in media and those who are willing to rough it. You have to be prepared to have less than half of the resources you’re used to. Sometimes the power doesn’t work, you have to boil your water and the internet works when it feels like it.

You’ll end up spending much more time in the office than you thought you would’ve.

People will tell you what a noble thing it is you’re doing. It isn’t and it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re trudging through sewerage or spending 12 hours straight in front of a computer trying to sort out email and website issues.


It ain’t what you think it is.

4. No guarantees of a holiday.

Forget about a 40 hour week and 21 days annual leave. We’ve been here a year and there’s no holidays in sight. We’ve worked on public holidays and most weekends. The average person on the international field will return to their home country every 3 years, but that’s not a holiday at all. It’s full on speaking in churches, schools, clubs and to supporters all that time. We often work on weekends running different programs. The closest beach is a 9 hour drive away and belonging to a club is way too expensive. Every now and then we take a half day off, or like this week the whole of a Wednesday just to get out of the office and out of town, but that means pulling a couple of 15 hour days beforehand. Of course, the paid staff just don’t get it. They clock off at 4.30pm, while I’m often working till 10pm.

5. The loneliness and challenges can be overwhelming.

Everyone is enthusiastic when you first leave but it doesn’t take too long for the contact to dwindle. It’s normal as people have to get on with their lives. There will only be a few dedicated friends who stay in touch. To make new friends takes a long time. For some, the gap on between is too much to bear. Being apart from family is not for everyone. While Skype is great it isn’t the same as day to day interaction. If you move here you may have to pack your kid off to boarding school and only see them every few months. Are you prepared for that. Our youngest daughter will not see Pete for 3 years – that’s 3 years too long.

Do I think that people should forever stay in the country they call home. Most definitely not!

Every person, and I mean everyone should at least once in their lives visit a developing country to get involved short term with a work that is making a difference in a local community.

Short term volunteers make a tremendous difference to an organisation. For us our volunteers have been able to assist kids who can’t read well, encourage local leaders, teach sport and give kids hope. Short term is anyone who stays under 2 years, with the average person staying just over a month. Even a 2 week stint is huge.

Coming for a few months can give you a glimmer of an idea of what it could be like long term. It will also make you grateful for all of the conveniences of life you have at home and what those on the international field have to go without.

suitacaseSo give it a go. Come for a visit and see what happens. And if you move here, don’t say you weren’t warned!!!

Church in Kenya

There seems to be a church one every corner here in Nairobi. They go from a little tin shack to the huge 5,000 seat auditorium. Some are in huge marquees, others in buildings without windows to the tabernacles that you can see from miles away. There’s some that have short names, others like ‘The Church of the Deliverance of the Holy Ghost in XYZ’. I kid you not.

Worship at Frontrunnerz

Labels and titles are so over rated here. If you’re a ‘bishop’ you almost have to treat them like a king. A Deacon is a church leader and not someone who helps physically set up the service. On the other hand you will see people in top jobs who are happy to be in the car park making sure everyone gets in. Only a few have services online but one thing they all have in common is that they like their music loud.

Dance Moves

The thing that Kenyans know how to do is praise and pray. Some church services go for 3 hours, then they have other programs in the afternoon. As far as I know there are no night services in Nairobi. Probably because people have been in church all day, but also it’s a security risk getting home when it is dark (around 6.45pm).

We decided before we came that we would got to the International Christian Centre (ICC) where I visited in 2007. One mistake people make when moving to a new place is to try every church out in town for one that suits them. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and stick with it. It’s and English speaking church with mostly Kenyans in it. Some songs are in Swahili so it’s good practise to figure out what is being sung.

Pete, Liz and I go to the 10.30am service which is aimed at young professionals, it’s called Frontrunnerz and led by Pastor Gibson (meet him below). They have 2 services in the morning, with about 600 going to the second service. They do have a Saturday night service but we work most weekends so it’s not always easy to get there.

Meet Gibson

Some people might say it’s a happy clappy church. I figure it’s much better than attending a service that is like a funeral. Sure, there’s time for reflection and quietness, I’m all into that but sometimes it’s just great to enjoy the good things that God has done. Here in Kenya things like getting a job, being able to study, making safely through the week or having food on the table is something to get super happy about.

Not a funeral service

We’ve been to some African churches where they get so excited they lift up the plastic chairs and do a dance with it. There’s been some where all the women get up and do a special dance (a good opportunity to hide behind a camera). I’ve been in ones where Pete gets to sit up the front and me way back (being just a woman of course!).

Dancing up the aisle

What I love about Frontrunnerz and ICC is that they present a relevant message in a relevant way. Sure, it’s not perfect but neither are we!!

It wasn’t our goal to come to Kenya to start a church but it is part of our DNA to be a part of a local church. We’ve all heard how no person is an island but it’s so easy to do. It’s easy to look at ‘The Church’ and point the finger, look at all the deficiencies and things that are done wrong and decide not to be a part of it. That’s the thing though, no one nor any organisation is perfect. We’re a work in progress.

Everyone getting into it

I remember Pastor Simon McIntyre who was with us when we were at C3 Oxford Falls (Sydney) saying ‘This church might not suit you, but there is a church for you, a church for everyone’.

If we stopped complaining about ‘The Church’ and decided to be a part of it, we would see some of the great things that are happening. We would meet some different people, some who would drive us up the wall. We would be challenged to get out of our comfort zones. We might even find a place we can call home and a family that accepts us, warts and all.

Worship at Frontrunnerz

On Safari to Tanzania

 Last week we took the journey (safari) to Tanzania, one of Kenya’s neighbouring countries. The plan was to look at one of our completed projects and then have a look at some potential new ones. It was also a good chance to see our Aussie mates the Pocknall’s. Last year we bumped into them at our local mall and have kept in contact ever since. The Pocknall family are amazing (Andrew, Jenny, Maddie, Lauren and Oliver).

Arusha has about the same population as Christchurch but no where near the facilities as Nairobi. It’s a bit like a big country town. On the upside there is a whole lot less traffic than Nairobi. It’s also about 3 degrees warmer in Arusha.

Apparently you’re meant to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Traveling by road from one country to another in Africa is not as easy as it sounds. A few months ago when we got our car we were meant to get our transfer papers done but ‘someone’ in the office didn’t get it done. Hence, the papers were still in the name of the car dealership.

Because of this the insurance company would not insure us for Tanzania. It’s only about $50 for a couple of months insurance but we were forced to get it at the border and hope we got it with a legitimate company. Africa is one place you don’t want to end up insurance-less.

We were to leave on Thursday but everything fell apart on Wednesday. Pete was out at the farm and everything was left to me (just the way the cookie crumbled) to organise and Monday was a public holiday so it was a super short week anyway. For the whole morning we got conflicting reports ‘yes you can get through the border’, 30 minutes later ‘no, it’s impossible’. What an emotional rollercoaster. By 11am I was ready to throw in the towel but my brave husband jumped on his motorbike and came to my rescue.

Image           Shuttles waiting at the border.

First to hit AA who said it was no problem. Go to the car dealership to see the boss – he’s out of town. Insurance guy says we’re too much of a risk.

Thursday morning we head out. I had thrown my hands up in the air and decided that if we drove the 2 hours to the border and they turned us back we would come home, pick up our tent and get out of Dodge for the weekend.

The road to the border is 176km’s and it’s been built really well. Most of the time getting out of Nairobi is a real drag and can take an hour. It took us 20 minutes. The road we took is the same one that trucks use to get to the port in Mombasa and it has endless trucks.

ImageNot sure how long the trucks were parked at the border but it would’ve been ages.

Just before the border is a place called Paradise Gallery. It has flush toilets (always a bonus) and a large shop with allsorts of Kenyan artwork. There, Pete asked the owner if she knew of someone who could help us at the border (a 2 minute drive). Of course she did! So, we ended up with Sitoki, a Masai man who for $30 got our car through the border. We waited while he found some friends who he could negotiate with. Normally if the car isn’t in your name you can’t get insurance or through the border.

We wanted to take the Pocknall’s some food goodies from Nairobi but every blog I read said how things are stolen at the border or confiscated. We had neither and kicked ourselves for not taking more through. Who knows where the Kenyan Police were. We just drove through.

Of course you have to go through all the rigmarole of completing departure and arrival forms, paying $50 each for visas and then an American $20 for a car which wasn’t in our name.

ImageSigning in and out of immigration

After about an hour at the border we simply kept driving. The hardest thing was dodging all of the trucks lined up that were waiting. Then there were the multiple ‘diversion’ signs which were a waste of time. Before we knew it we were on our way for the 2 hour drive on the Tanzanian side.

ImageSo many trucks it was hard to find a parking spot.

The hilarious thing about the Tanzanian road is that it was only completed a couple of years ago. Now some intelligent person has decided to build in new culverts AFTER the new road was built. So every few kilometres we were diverted onto a dirt patch where they were building.


TIA – this is Africa