What a Year

It’s been an interesting year in Kenya that’s for sure. It’s never dull and boring here anyway but this was a year we were all dreading in a way. Pretty much business went downhill, people weren’t paying their bills and no roadwork got done. Usually in an election year there’s plenty of roadworks going on to convince people that a party is worth voting for.

 

That meant our roads were in the worse state possible for a whole year. Last year we spent $3,000 on repairs and tyres alone. In one day two new tyres burst just coming back from the airport.

 

Earlier in the year I spent a few weeks in New Zealand with our daughter’s little family. Poor Pete had to stay behind and in the end I only spent 3 days without meetings. Not exactly great family time. It would be nice to actually go somewhere for an actual holiday and not have to mix meetings with it.

 

Before we came to Kenya I thought our travel days were over. What a joke, we’ve traveled more than ever before. In fact, sometimes I wonder if people think all we do is travel. But, if we’re not out there fundraising, then pretty much no money comes in for projects. Hence, we took a 6 week trip to the US. It’s an emerging market but will probably be at least a couple of years before we start making any money there.

 

We stayed in country for the 2017 Elections just in case it all went down the toilet. We ended up with another family staying with us who felt unsafe in the Kibera Slum. While it wasn’t as bad as in previous elections, there were still plenty of people rioting and burning buildings. One of our team told us how her neighbor was killed simply because her kids were hungry so she went to the market and was shot in the crossfire. After all that, they reheld the elections which didn’t change anything. Lots of money spent, lives lost and a low economy.

 

Our beautiful grandson was born in October and this time I was smart. I traveled to Australia for 10 days of fundraising and did nothing but be a grandmother in NZ. This time we all went. Pete worked for a good six weeks painting my cousins house but at least he got to see his family too.

 

Our biggest shock of the year was to find out that our daughter Liz was told she had to return to Australia or New Zealand to keep her Disability Pension. We were all so stunned because for the past 5 years we’ve had no problems and had no indication things were about to change. Thankfully my sister who lives in New Zealand was able to take her in but it’s not really the solution. For most people it’s a chance to ‘grow up’ by being thrown in the deep end. However, for someone with a mental disability they cope but don’t have the ability to grow. Thankfully we will see her in March when we go over.

 

So it’s a terribly quiet Christmas for us. We had all these grand plans to drive down to Tanzania as a family and then go on to Zanzibar. Without Liz though we threw that idea out of the window. Pretty much all of Nairobi empties out and it becomes a ghost town for a few days. Boring would be an understatement to describe Nairobi over this time. Thankfully we’ve been rescued by our friend Lucy who is like our daughter, who invited us to her university graduation celebration on Christmas Day.

 

2017 has been a full on year. While most people when they retire want to travel, I dream of staying at home! 2018 doesn’t look like things are going to slow down but at least I can’t complain that I’m bored!

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Where Have You Been?

We’ve literally spent since February on the road. Pete and Liz travelled to Uganda, back to Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and then South Africa, just to drop off a safari vehicle for someone. They then hitched a flight from Johannesburg back to Nairobi then on to Abu Dhabi, Sydney and then Auckland. All that time Sharon was with their growing family in New Zealand.

Once Pete and Liz arrived, the three of us spent April through to July travelling throughout New Zealand speaking to schools, Rotary Clubs, churches, mens and womens meetings, talking about our work in East Africa.

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Right now we’re in Sydney, but have spent the last few weeks in Canberra, Melbourne and Tasmania. The reason we went to Tasmania was to visit one of the kids from Kenya who we helped get to Australia, his father was a refugee here. So we kept our word and went all the way down. This Thursday we head to Queensland for a week. We’re looking forward to the warmth but won’t have much of a chance to relax as there’s plenty of speaking opportunities and catchups with people that we know.

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A big reason to return to Sydney was to rebuild our team which had depleted over the last few years. Because we work with volunteers, it’s very hard to keep our people. One day, we hope to employ people at this end of the world.

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So this trip has been part fundraiser, part family and friend catchup but pretty much all business. It’s been great but we’re looking forward to returning home to Kenya to our hard working team who have been doing a great job.

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It’s Going To Be An Interesting Year

2016 is in full swing. The schools are back here, Nairobi traffic has returned to its normal snail pace and for those who got away, their holiday is a mere memory.

Our Christmas was a non-event, we just ended up at a restaurant. Pete’s been  helping a mate, which means he was away from 6.30am until 8pm EVERY DAY, with the car. It has meant very long and lonely days when there’s nowhere to go and no car to get there.

Me – my computer and I spent lots of hours together getting ready for the year. Exciting, not.

I know I shouldn’t be complaining because it’s the only time in the whole year that I’ve had down time. But down time by yourself and all of your friends are out of town can be downright boring.

Now that Christmas and New Years is over I thought I would share on why this will be a very interesting year for us.

Our youngest daughter and her husband are expecting their first child (a girl) in March, however because she has gestational diabetes they may induce her early. I’ve been really honoured that she wants me in the delivery room with them. We’ve managed to scrap the funds together by selling off some old items and a friend gave us some money which meant I could get a ticket to New Zealand.

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Liz has to return to Australia to keep getting her disability pension, but that’s not till the end of March. There’s no point in Pete staying behind by himself for months on end. We did that in 2014 for 7 weeks and it’s not much fun.

So we have a plan.

Pete will fly back with Liz and spend a week in Australia to meet up with some donors and help out an elderly couple of friends. If we can’t rent our apartment out we’ll put  our stuff in storage at our friends warehouse.

Because we’ll be gone until September.

What we’re going to do is take an absolute break in April. Usually when we go back we see our family for about one night. It’s shameful really but trying to catch up with everyone is near impossible.

For the next 8 weeks we will then be on the road speaking at schools, churches and Rotary Clubs. It’s also a great opportunity to meet with our personal supporters and try to raise more funds.

After NZ we pretty much do the same throughout Australia. At least New Zealand is small to get around, Australia takes a long time to get from A to B.

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I hope to be able to set up a charity in New Zealand and start a team there. We have lots of Kiwi connections and I believe we can really get something going well there.

We have a great team here in Nairobi. It’s all set up for them to take up the opportunity to show us what they’ve got.

I’m sure after 4 months on the road we’ll be glad to throw away the suitcases and head home to Kenya. I’m certainly not looking forward to our first winter in 4 years. But I am looking forward to raising funds for our projects.

Most of all I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter for the first time in 14 months and of course, cuddling our grand daughter.

I look forward to sharing our weekly updates with you. I hope if you are one of my readers that you’ll want to meet up with us while we’re in Australasia.

It will be weird though. When we went to the US last year everything was so foreign and I have a feeling that it will be the same when we head back home. So much has changed and so have we.

You can find our video announcement HERE

 

 

Why we chose to move to Africa

I’ve heard some real doozies about why people think we moved to Kenya, here are some samples:

  • To be a missionary
  • To go and drill wells
  • To live somewhere hot
  • You like Africa more than Australia
  • To get away from issues
  • To prove something
  • To go on a working holiday

 

These are just some of the weird things people have said to our faces.

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We stated from the start that we felt we had skills that could help people help themselves. We also could keep a closer eye on our projects as all the people we had dealt with in the past we had known, but herein it was new territory. Everyone we had contact with was told why we were moving but I guess some people just don’t get it. And to be honest,

Pete has a long history in the building/farming/construction/business area. If you need something practical done, Pete’s the man to get onto it. He has valuable practical knowledge that most people don’t. He’s able to take a problem and work it through to make sure it works.

Originally he volunteered with an organization that works with streetboys. After a few years though he couldn’t see himself as more than a fixer-upper. In his words, he might as well move back to Australia and make some money and at least have job satisfaction. So, he moved on.

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I was unsure where I would fit volunteering so joined the same organization as Pete. I ended up working in an office. I was looking forward to being part of a team. While it was good for a while I was trying to split myself between them and BeyondWater, which we had started in Australia.

So while we came here for one thing, we’ve ended up doing something quite different. Now, both Pete and I are developing a team here in Kenya. We’re on the ground living life as Kenyans do, learning every day about how we can be more effective and building networks.

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So here’s my short answers to people’s perceptions:

To be a missionary – every person of faith is a missionary (one who is sent out) to make a difference wherever they are. Our intention here is not to ‘convert’ people but to befriend them.

To go and drill wells – I have not, nor probably never will drill a well. That’s why we employ people to do it.

To live somewhere hot – think about that one. It’s much hotter in Australia, here in Nairobi our temperature goes from around 13 and sometimes hits 30. That’s not hot.

You like Africa more than Australia – not sure why people think like this. I don’t love a country, I love my family and we could probably live anywhere. We happen to be in Kenya for a purpose.

To get away from issues – everybody has issues and they follow you wherever you go.

To prove something – people with ego’s don’t last long here. The romantic notion of living in a developing country wears off pretty fast – and we’re not young so there’s not a lot to prove.

To go on a working holiday – Pete’s dad always asks how our holiday is going. I don’t know many people who go on a holiday for 3+ years. This definition would mean you work for a few months then go on holiday. We work and are able to stay because we have friends and family who give us money each month. Our visa allows us to volunteer only – as in you work but don’t get paid.

So now you know. Why did you move to where you are living?

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What I’ve learned about the US

We’ve spent 5 weeks in different parts of the US and a few more days in Canada. The main reason for coming was to get into the heads of people to see what they knew about Africa, water projects and how they felt about giving to projects there.

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What we learnt is that the majority of people know very little and only 40% of people there hold a passport. When we watched the news it was all slanted so that everything revolved around America. For example, when a hotel in Western Africa was attacked by terrorists, it was stated that it was an American hotel. It was a hotel owned by an American, that doesn’t make it American. Everything on TV is about the US.

I understand that it’s a huge country but when we were talking with students they know zero about the wider world. At one university a student mentioned that her father was Kenyan, she had been there twice – and that Kenya was an island. Hmm….

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We’ve also learned that most of the people we talked abhorred Muslims. I’m sure this is fed by the biased media but we got the feeling that people fear in a huge way every Muslim. People were so shocked that we have many Muslim neighbours and are happy to live amongst them.

Before we went to the US, we ourselves were slightly biased against Americans. Many of the ones we’ve met in East Africa are loud, bossy and act as if they own the world. They drive around with the flashiest cars, have a lavish lifestyle and never get their hands dirty.

Now we’ve been here for a while, we’ve seen another side. People are more than happy to go out of their way to point you in the right direction. They are very hospitable and are even interested in finding out about Africa. Maybe because we were visitors we were treated extra nicely but we’ve been around long enough to know when someone is sucking up to you. Today we met a lady from Nigeria who was putting her story out there real thickly as soon as she knew we were from East Africa. Within the first minute she wanted to become Facebook buddies and then proceeded to tell us that she was missionary and a whole story to go with that.

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The US is quite an expensive place to travel in. Well, when you’re on a super strict budget anyway. It probably cost us $100 a day to be here, and that’s on top of accommodation. It cost as much to eat out as Kenya, taxis are way more expensive but clothing is a much better price. Tipping is a total rip off. In Kenya we only tip if we get good service and maybe one or two dollars. Here it’s between ten and twenty percent. When you see a price for something, it doesn’t include tax, which is very easy to forget about. As much as possible we’ve tried to catch trains and buses, but it still adds up. To get to our friends house tonight cost us $10 one way. That’s pretty good but when you’ll be doing that trip twice a day for a week, you can see why we’ll be eating rice and beans when we return home.

We kept reminding ourselves that this is an investigative trip and not a holiday. Sure, we’ve fitted in a few fun things but this was all about the future for our organization, BeyondWater and trying to break into the US as a new market. Our next step is to build a team of interested people, then form a legal charity and return in a couple of years. One obvious thing is to build a US website, with American spelling and everything linking BeyondWater to have a US identity.

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This trip has given us a small insight into what life is like here, some of the challenges and ways of life here. We hope we from this that we have a broader mindset of the American culture and will continue to build our friendships there.

To all of our old friends who we’ve reconnected with, it’s been a blast. For all of our new friends, what a pleasure it’s been to get to know you. Let’s do it all over again in a couple of years.

with trung and gloria

Travelling on a Shoestring

We love to travel, any where, any time. When we made the decision to move to Kenya I felt I had to kill the travel bug. You can’t volunteer somewhere, relying on donors to put food on the table, and be jet setting around the globe. It just isn’t right.

I wanted to see the Niagara Falls, the pyramids of Egypt and even visit an Amish farm.

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We’ve just completed 3 years in Kenya and about to start another 3 year stint. However, since we’ve moved there we’ve travelled more than ever before. So I thought I’d put together some tips for travelling on a super tight budget.

tea fieldsPlan well Ahead

You’re not going to get what you want if you leave it till the last minute. I often book a flight 6 months out and then work the itinerary within that time frame. It doesn’t always pan out, but it does give me time to research on what’s available. Only you can weigh on whether it’s better for your schedule if you can catch a bus or fly. On this trip we caught 6 flights, 7 bus trips and plenty of local trains. We could’ve cut down on the flights but riding a bus for 24 hours is pushing the limit for me.

IMG_1900Do your Homework

There is plenty of information on the internet. Use interest groups on Facebook to ask questions. For this latest trip we got told lots of incorrect information (the bus doesn’t stop, this is the best place to see something etc).

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I was so brain dead after travelling 30 hours from Kenya to the US that I got the wrong package for our phone (we only get a local SIM card for one phone). For another $15 I could’ve got a data package instead of just a text and talk package. It meant we had to rely on free wifi to access the internet, which isn’t always when you need it.

Cut down on your Costs

Some of your biggest costs on the ground will be accommodation and food. Why on earth would you spend lots of money on a hotel you are hardly in? I always try and get a place that has free wifi and breakfast provided. Even if there are 3 of us, we always share a room. Preferably we stay close to a train line.

If you can, bunk down at someone’s house. We always bring a small gift from Kenya for those who host us and it goes a long way to be appreciated.

If you’re in a place for a few days, check out whether it’s cheaper to get a weekly transport pass or just daily. A few weeks ago we stayed at someones place but found out it was $15 each way on the train, per person!

Food can be a big investment when travelling. Try to find a side walk diner rather than a restaurant. Shout yourself once a week to a good, solid meal. Buy fruit and bottles of water at the supermarket.

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Travel Lightly

Sometimes airlines charge for domestic flight baggage. We came to the US with 3 bags for a 6 week trip. We managed to store one at a friends house and just repacked everything. After a month, we returned to their house to pick up the other bag. Airlines were charging $25 per checked in bag, so it was better to pay for 2 rather than 3. How many trips have you taken and worn hardly anything you packed? Organise your smaller items like toiletries into zip lock bags in case they spill.

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Ask for Help

People are usually pretty good in helping out if you get lost or don’t know something. While it’s convenient to catch a cab, a train or bus can save you lots of dollars. We were in Buffalo, New York for a few hours and because we went to the info desk at the bus station, it saved us $60 not hiring a car, instead catching a $2 bus to Niagara Falls. Locals have the best information, just ask them.

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Use a Conversion App

Sometimes it gets confusing with trying to convert prices. Use a simple app like Xe to help you when it all gets too much. Some countries like the US don’t include taxes for many items to buy and it differs from state to state. Think about tipping charges as well. Find apps that help you before you go. Understand the difference in exchange rates and what your bank charges for withdrawals at ATM machines. Most banks have a relationship with a certain one in a foreign country which reduces your fees.

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Travel Maps

To a local, it’s very easy to get around. Not so much if you’re a tourist. Before you leave home, download maps, metro timetables and apps for Uber and Yelp. It will save you both time and money.

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Solomon’s Choice

When people think of labels like ‘Third World’ or ‘Developing Country’ there’s this automatic picture we get in our mind of streets lined with beggars.

I can only speak on what I’ve seen here in Kenya – there aren’t that many beggars. Pete tells me that he was shocked when he went to Ethiopia and saw so many people begging on the streets. We see some regulars at their normal spot. A mother with a child, a legless man, an elderly bearded man and a bunch of kids (on the weekend). They’re all situated by shopping malls where traffic slows down or there’s an intersection. During the holidays there’s a whole stack of primary school boys who have a ‘pimp’ telling them how to get more money.

We’ve made it a general rule not to give out money to kids begging on the street. It’s a hard one because you know that these kids are from families that live on $2 a day. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t have to. Most people here will find a way to make money, usually by selling some goods, clothing or services.

The reason we generally don’t give out money is that we don’t want to encourage the practice. There’s a huge assumption that because you’re a foreigner you have lots of money. It’s true, foreigners generally do have more money than a local. However, if you look at whose driving the BMW’s, Mercedes and Prados, many of them are driven by Kenyans.

Last Sunday our stance was challenged. Liz had stayed to hang with her mates at an after church event so Pete and I snuck out to a great Chinese restaurant by our house. The food there is ridiculously cheap and tastes fantastic. Sundays are the only time you can drive around the city and not get stuck in a traffic jam.

This is not the boy I saw begging

This is not the boy I saw begging

As we’re driving into the restaurant I notice a boy aged around 4 dressed in rags and looking like he hadn’t bathed in days. He was by himself which is unusual because they normally work in groups. He wasn’t actively begging, running up to cars and tapping on the window. He was simply standing as close as possible to the road with a vacant look in his eyes.

He was four.

Two hours later we drove out of the restaurant and he was still there, in the same spot.

As we refueled the car I just kept staring at this boy. Here, we had just spent hours eating, having a Coke and planning out the next few months. This boy had no future, he didn’t even have today. I had to make a choice – stick with the plan or give this kid a chance.

As we drove past I told Pete to slow down, wound down the window and handed the boy fifty shillings (around 50 cents). I said to him “Go buy yourself some food”. He probably hadn’t started school so didn’t know what I was saying but I’m sure he got the gist.

The reason I only gave him that amount is that he was by himself and if I gave him more someone would’ve snatched it out of his hand. If I had something like some fruit in the car I would’ve given him that. At least then there would be food in his stomach.

This is why I hate poverty. It makes people do things they normally wouldn’t. It stops them from having a life where they can go to school, find employment and have a future.

All I did was help for one minute. Imagine how many more we can help long term.

Would I do it again? Maybe. I’m not planning on making a habit out it but I am planning on helping a whole bunch more who can help themselves.

Want to help me achieve that?

http://makingadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/TheGirlsProject