On Safari To The Ends Of The Earth

We have just finished 7 flights in 5 days – and yes we are exhausted.

Here’s the lowdown on what it was like. Safari is the Kiswahili word for a trip, so we had a safari to New Zealand.

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

To get the cheapest flights we had to jump around the globe, travel on night flights and have a few layovers. First stop – Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is only an hours flight away, but unfortunately you still have to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight and you could get to the airport in an hour, or three hours. Because we had to be on there by 3am (yes, that’s in the wee hours of the morning), we had arranged for our taxi to pick us up at 2.15.

Dubai at night.

Dubai at night.

He didn’t come. Pete called Patrick who said it wasn’t Sunday morning, that was tomorrow. No matter what Pete said, Patrick was not getting out of bed. It’s not like you can ring up a taxi company and call one in. Thankfully our boarder, Racquel, had just got home with her friend and she called her taxi guy ‘Tim’. Tim came to the rescue.

JKIA (the airport) is pretty easy to get through, especially at 3am. No one is allowed in unless they have a ticket. Bags are scanned first thing, then through to the ticket pickup, just like at any other place.

Liz inside the mall, not really interested in the dinosaur.

Liz inside the mall, not really interested in the dinosaur.

Anything seems long when it’s early in the morning, especially waiting to get onto the plane.

Once up, it’s down again pretty fast.

Without sounding biased, our airport is way better than the one at Addis. Except for one thing – they have seats like sunbeds which you can stretch out on.

All of our flights were relatively short, we spent more time in airports than anything.

The flight to Dubai is only 5 hours and we went with Jet Airways (India). We were in Dubai for just under 24 hours. Normally we stay at our mates apartment which overlooks the Dubai Marina, but it wasn’t available this time. So we stayed at a super cheap (for Dubai) place called Eureka Hotel in Deira. I’d read the reviews and was expecting a dump, it is not too bad actually. However, I always find that there are hidden costs not shown on websites like booking.com. The good thing is that it was only one train stop from the Deira City Centre (mall).

Some of the light show in Dubai.

Some of the light show in Dubai.

We first went to the Dubai Mall at night to suss out the price of some camera gear and also see the outdoor light show. Last time we watched this Pete dropped his phone into the harbour, no such thing this time!

Before we caught the plane the next afternoon we visited for the first time the Deira City Centre. We use trains as much as possible in Dubai because they are super cheap and run every 3-5 minutes. The coolest thing about Dubai is that you can walk around freely at night, not something we get to do in Nairobi.

The next hop jump flights were through Mumbai (2 hours) with a 2 hour layover, before heading to Singapore. Finally all of the stores at Mumbai have been outfitted but beyond the good coffee at Costa, it’s just a pitstop. I still couldn’t see a Forex so we paid with US dollars so in your mind you have to know how much change you should be getting so you don’t get ripped off.

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

We tried as much as possible to sleep during the 5 hours to Singapore but it just didn’t happen for anyone except Liz. I was shattered by this point and so was Pete. What was meant to be a day of sightseeing didn’t happen for two reasons:

  1. We were stuffed.
  2. It was bucketing down with rain.

Instead we crashed at our cousins house for the afternoon and slept for 3 hours. It’s always nice to have a shower after all those hours and even better to sleep in a bed.

Back at Changi Airport we took Pete to the different sites in it. Of course there’s the mandatory visit to the Butterfly House and various rooftop gardens.

While we had booked with Emirates, they code share with Qantas. I’m not sure why they do it, but Emirates is WAY better than Qantas. Qantas always have the worst food for coeliacs but on the upside, I had two seats to myself.

We stopped in Melbourne long enough to get our bags, go through customs (Ebola free) and then line up for another 45 minutes to get back through security.

Pete showing James from Chicken Run in Dee Why photos on his phone.

Pete showing James from Chicken Run in Dee Why photos on his phone.

Getting on a plane was the last thing on our minds but in 2 days time, we did the last haul – to Auckland. This is what it was all about, getting to see our youngest daughter and be there for her wedding in a few weeks.

Now, the bags are packed away. No more need for the neck thingy that supports you when you sleep. No more lugging around heavy bags. No more declaration forms to complete. No more airport or plane hotels.

It’s over – for 7 weeks anyway!

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Finally Taking A Break

This week we just passed our second year of completion in Kenya. It was a big goal for us and we’re preparing for even bigger and more impacting work in the next few years. We’ve got our visas until August next year but intend to stay as long as our visas get renewed. We’re on a humanitarian visa which is good because it’s much cheaper than a business one. The downside is that we can’t earn the much needed dollars to continue our work here.

Most people go ‘home’, that would be their other ‘home’ every few years. We’ve decided that this routine is not enough and you need to be continually raising the profile of your work and the money to go along with it.

The last time we were all together was 2012.

The last time we were all together was 2012.

Currently we are $1,000 short in our personal budget every month. That’s not including ministry costs. To give you an idea of rising costs, our electricity bill was 3,500 shillings when we arrived, it’s now up to 12,000. That’s the type of rising costs we see all the time in developing countries.

We’ve had an interesting two years. It certainly hasn’t been dull and boring that’s for sure! You’re always learning something new and have to continually grow bigger in your capacity to handle the challenges that come along. You make mistakes, you advance in what you’re doing, you make lots of friends and are constantly building the vision.

Now it’s time to take a break and recharge our batteries.

Looking forward to being in our old stomping grounds.

Looking forward to being in our old stomping grounds.

At the beginning of this year, if you asked me whether we would return to our home countries twice in 2014, I would’ve said no way. Earlier, Liz and I went back on a 7 week speaking tour. It meant at least 3 meetings a day, early mornings, late nights. It was great, but it was work. In those 7 weeks we had 3 days off.

Now, we’re returning to Australia for 2 days, New Zealand for a month and then back to Aussie for 9 days. The main reason is that our youngest daughter Hannah is getting married, so that’s a pretty good reason to go! This visit will be at a slower pace, catching up with our sponsors and just a couple of public speaking appointments. We even get two days at the beach at our friends holiday home.

We look forward to the beach and being able to walk around at night.

We look forward to the beach and being able to walk around at night.

 

But our main focus will be our daughter. It has been quite hard on her organising a wedding pretty much by herself. As her mother, it has been challenging not to be there for her. It will be the same when they start having babies in a couple of years. We won’t be there to share the experience with them, except via Skype. Hannah has already told me that I WILL be there for the birth of her children. I told her I can do any year except 2018, when we are driving around the whole of Africa (so plan it right you guys).

We're going to be in Sydney for NYE which is also Lizzies 25th birthday.

We’re going to be in Sydney for NYE which is also Lizzies 25th birthday.

 

While we would love to catch up with everyone, it is physically impossible. Normally we wouldn’t come back at this time of year because people are in holiday mode and are making the most of their Christmas vacation, which is totally understandable.

 

I will try and blog as much as possible when we’re away but from past experiences, I can tell you that accessing the internet in those countries isn’t as easy or cheap as here. What three of us spend in 3 months on phones in Kenya, will be the same as what one of us will spend in 1 month in NZ.

We intend to enjoy the beach and Summer weather as much as possible – our beach is 9 hours away! We also have a shopping list of things we just can’t get here, simple things like iron on patches. Most of all, we’re looking forward to sharing the stories about the wonderful young people we work with here.

We will be catching up with our Aussie grandparents in the country.

We will be catching up with our Aussie grandparents in the country.

 

Meanwhile, here’s our itinerary to date. If you’re in that city and we haven’t managed to contact you for a meetup, get a hold of me via Facebook, it’s the easiest way.

Nov 19 – 21 Sydney
Nov 21 – 23 Auckland
Nov 24 – 28 Tauranga
Nov 29 – 30 Auckland
Dec 1 – 3 Hamilton
Dec 4 – 5 Tokoroa
Dec 6 – 7 Auckland
Dec 8 – 9 Tauranga
Dec 10 – 11 Tokoroa
Dec 12 – 19 Auckland
Dec 20 – 21 Whangamata
Dec 22 – 23 Rotorua
Dec 24 – 28 Sydney
Dec 29 – 30 Moss Vale
Dec 31 – Jan 3 Sydney
Jan 4 – 6 Central Coast
Jan 7 – 9 Sydney

 

 

 

A Wedding Fundaiser In Kenya

On Sunday we were invited to a wedding fundraiser for our friends John and Joy. Joy and I used to work together and also attend the same church.

MC, Joy, John

MC, Joy, John

This month John and Joy will get married. We won’t be able to attend as we will be in New Zealand preparing for our own daughters’ wedding. However, Liz and I went along to a fundraiser, so I thought I’d share about the process.

It seems to be a normal thing to fundraise for weddings. There’s lots of ways of doing it but since this was my first one I totally had no idea of the process. All I knew is that Liz and I would probably be the only white people there and stick out like a sore thumb.

Me winning the USB.

Me winning the USB.

In usual Kenyan fashion, it started an hour late. I’ve learnt pretty fast not to turn up to an event on time and Sundays are the best day to drive around in Nairobi. The traffic is much lighter than during the week, so what would normally take at least an hour, took 15 minutes.

The big item for sale.

The big item for sale.

We sat right at the back of a small meeting room. I got to sit next to Shiko who was Joy’s sister. There would’ve been about 30 people max at the event. It all started with buying a handkerchief for 100 shillings, which you then had to pin onto you (don’t have a clue why). As with any good event, there is food involved. So, we started off with tea, bananas, sausages and mandazis. Sundays are a busy time in Nairobi so this would’ve been the equivalence to lunch for most people.

The MC

The MC

The most important person at either a fundraiser or the wedding, is the MC. He’s the one who is meant to be the life of the party and make things happen. At the fundraiser, his primary job is to get as much money out of people possible in a fun way. He sets the rules for ‘fines’ like not taking part or coming late.

Moses, Joy's cousin selling handkerchiefs.

Moses, Joy’s cousin selling handkerchiefs.

I had been warned to bring lots of small notes like 50, 100 and 200 shillings, which of course I did. Pete and I had already decided how much we wanted to give which was a winner because it saved us bringing a present back from our overseas trip next week. I was pretty happy that we didn’t get fined, although it doesn’t really matter because it was all going to the wedding costs.

People made pledges on behalf of those who couldn't be there.

People made pledges on behalf of those who couldn’t be there.

I did however, buy 4 raffle tickets. We don’t actually need any more ‘stuff’ but people weren’t really buying this so I hoped to kick things off. There were lots of prizes including a live chicken, humungous watermelon, USB stick and a number of wrapped secret gifts. At the end of the day people bought up large on the raffle tickets which was great.

room No matter how much I tell people just to treat us normally, it’s often far from it. People used to call me ‘their boss’ when I was just their colleague, simply because I’m white. Hence, I got to be on the VIP list and guess who got called up first to give their donation. Of course, I couldn’t just walk up the front, I had to be danced up the aisle. Normally I hide behind the camera but didn’t have a chance this time.

With Lucy and Joy. We all used to work together.

With Lucy and Joy. We all used to work together.

You get given a basket (mine was yellow) to hold. Then you have to count out the 1,000 shilling notes to give towards the wedding. The MC then gives people the opportunity to add to it. After this, the money goes to the accounts people to add to the funds. While I was dreading the whole thing, it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought.

The same yellow basket I had to hold.

The same yellow basket I had to hold.

Other people got to put in their amounts – family members, singles, marrieds or anyone else who hadn’t been given the opportunity. Within 3 hours the whole things was over.

Joy's sister and cousin pledging money.

Joy’s sister and cousin pledging money.

Towards the end of the evening there was one highlight and that was the raffle draw. Yes, I got to win the USB drive which was great because mine had got lost. However, there was something much more fun to finish the day.

The chicken.

Basically there were two teams vying for the chicken, me and another guy. People were putting money on the chook, it was a bit like an auction. I REALLY didn’t want to take the live chicken home. I live in an apartment block, imagine what the neighbours would think? And I was really worried I would have to hold the thing, which was far from my favourite hobby. I got desperate enough to put 200 shillings on the other team. In the end they won by only fifty cents. I was more than happy for the chicken to go to the other guy, and he was a happy camper.

liz n girls All in all, it was a great afternoon and no doubt we will have many more of these to go to, each with their own flavour.

 

 

 

 

Dispelling the Myths

There are lots of things that people ‘know’ about Africa but it’s actually what think they know. Stuff we’ve read online or more likely, what we’ve heard from others, their opinions or third hand knowledge.

Today I’m going to tell it like it really is so you can see a different side to what life here. Just remember, Africa has 54 countries, that’s a quarter of the number of countries in the entire world. Here’s 6 myths people hold about Africa.

Africa is huge.

Africa is huge.

 1. Mud Huts

Not everyone lives in a mud hut. In Kenya, 32% of people live in cities, Uganda 15%, Algeria 72%. Most of those people live in apartment blocks. In Nairobi where we live there are guards and sometimes guard dogs at the gated entrance of the property. While there are some houses, these tend to be in certain suburbs. Many homes tend to have house help. On the day we moved into our apartment, the caretaker offered his daughter as our househelp, all for $120 per month. We said no thanks.

hut  apartment

 2. Security

We have people staying in our home all of the time. They might be students coming to do research for their studies or perhaps taking a break from working in remote places around Africa. I love having people over. If I had a bigger house I would probably have a whole bunch of teenagers living with us who really need a place they can call ‘home’.

The number one question I get asked is ‘Is it safe there?’ Safety is all-relative. It’s not safe for me as a white person to walk around the streets at night, but it is during the day. We work with young people who live in the Kibera Slum. They are amazing and give me hope for our country. However, I am unwise to walk through Kibera by myself. Therefore, I go with people who live there.

Unfortunately, you can never take security for granted. We live in a relatively safe area but I still lock the car doors when I get in. We are always aware of things like our bags, phones and wallets. When we go to a slum, I take off my jewellery and leave anything I value, at home. If you wear it, you have to be prepared to lose it.

Kenya has been rocked by a number of security issues. In the last two years we’ve been involved in a rock throwing/riot situation while working, bus blow-ups (we don’t catch them if at all possible), attacks at the Coast and of course, the Westgate attack a year ago. It sounds bad but it doesn’t affect you too much unless you are involved. Even when we were running the kids program and we all had to huddle inside because the hall was being pelted with rocks, we didn’t feel afraid. We were just concerned how the little kids were going to get home safely.

The thing about acts of terrorism though is that you don’t know when and where it’s going to happen. You have to be alert and use the brain you’ve been given.

We are thankful that over the past two years we haven’t been carjacked or anything on our persons stolen. We’ve heard of it happening to lots of others but not us. May it so continue.

riot3. Money

There is money to be made in Africa. Get it out of your mind that the streets are lined with people begging with a bowl saying ‘please sir can I have some more’. Yes, there are beggars and homeless people (just like the rest of the world) and yes, a lot of people live in poverty. But – there are also people with money.

The top African countries with millionaires include South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and even Algeria. Throughout the continent there are more than 130,100 millionaires. There are 27 billionaires.

I’ve been travelling to East Africa for 7 years. In that time there’s been an obvious sign that there is a developing bigger middle class – the number of locals at the coffee shop at the shopping mall and those shopping there. There’s also been a huge increase of cars on the roads. I am forever seeing Mercedes on the road!

Ashish Thakkar - Africa's youngest billionaire

Ashish Thakkar – Africa’s youngest billionaire

4. Modern Facilities

There is a huge difference between life in the city and that in the village. We have running water, electricity (most of the time), more footpaths and lots of shopping malls. In the village there might be one small shop to buy something from or, you jump on a bus to go to the nearest town. It’s basically opposite to a city. You have to buy water in a jerry can, you probably don’t have electricity.

In Nairobi, we have a number of slums that don’t have running water or sanitation facilities. We also have a large portion of locals who have never even stepped into a slum. On the other end of the spectrum, you have young people from well off families that don’t even speak Swahili (official language) because they go to private international schools.

We are quite spoilt in Nairobi, we can pretty much buy any food that we want. It’s not always available but when it is, it’s great. There are lots and lots of places to eat out and plenty to do. Nairobi is not a place you can get bored in. We’ve friends in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia who, when they visit are ecstatic at what food and items we regularly buy. My husband Pete went to Ethiopia last week and half of his bag was full of sugar, meat and chocolate for an associate, because they couldn’t even get things like sausages.

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

5. Technology

East Africa has ridiculously cheap Internet. In Australia I was spending $100 just on my phone plan and then about that much more on a telephone/TV/internet package. $45 gives us unlimited wireless internet, TV package and a landline phone (which we never use). I use $5 for phone/SMS and another $5 for internet on my phone. And that’s on a busy month.

What I really like is that you can buy a scratchie card and put credit on your phone for as little as 50 cents. MPesa is a very cool monetary system established by Safaricom. Let’s say I need $5, anyone can send me that through the phone and I get it in an instant. I can then go and withdraw it or use it to buy goods or pay a bill. I often send Pete airtime on his phone via mine. I remember when Pete broke his leg when we were in Tanzania, on Mt Kilimanjaro and I called back to our friends in Nairobi to tell them and also, could they send me some credit on my phone – and they did. Got to love this system.

mpesa

In 9 days we fly out to Australia and New Zealand for our daughters’ wedding and we all know that we will have a heart attack on how expensive our phones will cost us. One phone package in New Zealand will cost me 4 months of what we would spend here.

6. It’s Hot

As I write this blog I’m sitting in jeans, wearing a jumper and have my ugg boots on. Okay, it’s not that cold but wearing uggies is comfortable around the house. Google tells me it’s 19 degrees and will hit 24 later. Very rarely does Nairobi get to 30 degrees.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

You don’t have to travel far and there’s a huge temperature difference. In Garissa (4 hours away) it’s often 35 degrees. The Lake Turkana area often gets to 50 degrees. So yes, it does get hot here but not like what people think. During the middle of the year the temperature drops to around 13 in the morning, rainy seasons are in June/July and November/December. Things have been much drier this year and the rains in June just didn’t come. I’m seeing signs of the coming rains so it actually makes me happy. Outside of the city it’s dry and brown, here’s hoping it greens up fast.

tempDon’t believe everything you hear on the news about Africa. It’s a place of adventure, challenges and amazing people. You should come on over!

boy