Why Kenya

I always get amazed on what draws people to come to Kenya to work or volunteer. Everyone has a story and I try and get them to tell me.

Some come to escape from their former life. Others to get themselves up the ladder of success in business. Some found that this was the only way to get to see this part of the world.

And then there’s me.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

When I was in Standard 4, at about 10 years of age, we did a study – The Manyatta of Kenya.

I’m 46 years old. In ‘my day’ very few people travelled internationally. I remember one friend whose entire family went to Disneyland and they brought back a huge (and I mean huge) Winnie the Pooh. Another friend went to The Netherlands. But that was about it. I remember the same year that a plane full of tourists from New Zealand flew to Antarctica and them all perishing on a mountain there.

And then there was me.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

We didn’t own a car until we inherited money from a grandparent passing. I remember travelling out of town once or twice.

Over my teens I had grown up reading adventures of people who had travelled through China, Africa, South America and India. But I’d never been there.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

The first time I travelled internationally was when Pete went to college in Australia for 3 months, so we packed up and headed for the Sunshine Coast. Our girls were 8 weeks and a year old, I was 22.

A couple of years later we went to India for a few weeks, left the babies behind and had a blast. We would’ve been happy to move there but things didn’t pan out that way.

As the years went by we hosted plenty of international development workers or missionaries, many who worked in Africa. We threw (not literally) our girls out of their beds for our visitors. The girls thought it was cool, they didn’t know any different. I home schooled them for 6 years and integrated a lot of history, country information and cultural teaching.

You can't come to Africa and be in a hurry.

You can’t come to Africa and be in a hurry.

Then life took a turn.

We moved to Sydney, Australia where we’d never been before. Set up a new life, and it was great. That was 2002.

In 2007 I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya to graduate my students. I emailed a Kiwi friend of ours who we hadn’t seen for a few years and met up with them. It was great seeing their work with streetboys. I returned home for only a few weeks and then had to go to Ghana for a seminar. Ghana was so different to Kenya. East and West are like chalk and cheese.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

In 2009 Pete and I decided that we wanted our girls to have a bigger world view. We wanted to show them that not all of the world was white, English speaking and middle class. So, we took them to Africa, specifically Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Our youngest daughter DID NOT want to go. She had just finished her last year at high school and decided she ‘wanted to work’ we told her she had the rest of her life to work, and she was coming.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

For a year we saved, sacrificed and made budget. A couple of other young people came with us some of the way. It was a cheap trip – buses, backpackers and motorbikes. We had a blast (most of the time). After 8 weeks we returned home tired but changed.

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Han & Jules on Lake Victoria

In 2010 Pete and I went to Hawaii to drop Hannah off at school. It was there that we decided to move out Sydney, we were bored. The answer was either Hawaii or Kenya. I LOVE Hawaii, love, love, love it. But we thought ‘what the heck, what have we got to lose by going to Kenya?’

In 2011, Pete, Liz and I returned to Africa with the specific thought of ‘Could we really live here and what could we do?’ This time for another 2 months but it was to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (Climb Mount Kilimanjaro). Pete broke his leg on the mountain, so he stayed back in Nairobi and Liz and I went throughout Uganda checking in on our projects. The change in plans gave us a longer time to see if Kenya would be our new home or not. We’d travelled through lots of countries but there was something pulling us back to Kenya.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi was the most modern city we visited. We had people we knew there. It could give us easy access to other countries. We liked it. We liked it enough that we moved in 2012.

While there is lots of wildlife which is absolutely the coolest, it’s the amazing people that you get to meet. Those who struggle from day to day but keep a positive attitude. Those who are starting out in business and doing well. Expats who come here for some sort of experience.

The scenery is amazing.

The scenery is amazing.

Nairobi is made up mainly of Kenyans but there are representatives from pretty much every nationality on earth.

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And so are the people.

Kenya is never dull and boring. There’s always something to do and people to meet. There is a lot of history here (which I love). It’s diverse and interesting. You’re always learning something new. We’re close to our water projects and the communities we work with.

We could’ve gone anywhere in the world and it we would’ve been fine but we chose Kenya.

Actually, I think Kenya chose us.

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A Trip To Kazuri

Whenever we have visitors to Nairobi I try and take them to a great place called Kazuri Beads.

Where the painting takes place.

Where the painting takes place.

It’s situated in the suburb of Karen, which for all of the wealthy housing out there, has the narrowest roads. It should take about 20 minutes to get there from our place.

Painting the plates before they go into the kilns.

Rolling the beads before they get fired.

We’ve had Marilyn from the US boarding with us for the past month and one place I did want to take her was Kazuri. The story behind this business and the impact it’s making needs to be told and duplicated. While it’s great to have self help groups here, what Kenya really needs is for greater employment to raise the standard of living.

Machinery used to squish out the water.

Machinery used to squish out the water.

At Kazuri there are around 340 women and a few men employed. It was started in 1975 by Regina Newman specifically to help single mothers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. What they have accomplished is quite amazing.

Pete & Marilyn chatting to the ladies.

Pete & Marilyn chatting to the ladies.

They now produce over five million beads a year that are exported to 20 countries around the world. On top of that they also produce pottery. All made from clay which comes from the Mount Kenya area.

This clay comes from the Mount Kenya region.

This clay comes from the Mount Kenya region.

What I did like is that they have embraced Kenyan flavour and are proud of the heritage here. It’s demonstrated in the brightly painted beads and the figurines on the pottery. Everything they do is done at a level of excellence, even through to the packaging.

Showing how the plates are shaped.

Showing how the plates are shaped.

I’ve never seen their free health clinic but it caters for the staff and their families. It’s a big thing here because healthcare is a huge expense. The owners of Kazuri know that if you look after your staff, your business will thrive.

The cups before they are fired.

The cups before they are fired.

When you visit Kazuri you get a free guided tour through the factory and then can freely shop onsite without being hassled. I think the prices are pretty good, better than if you bought overseas anyway. They do take credit cards as well as US Dollars and British Pounds.

The cups being prepared for their second firing to seal the paintwork.

The cups being prepared for their second firing to seal the paintwork.

There’s a whole lot of outlet stalls at the many malls around Nairobi. I like to go to the factory because it gives visitors a bigger picture of why and how the goods are produced. They get to talk to the ladies and see it being made. You feel the heat of the kilns and watch as artists paint the pottery.

One of the many kilns, with Joseph our guide.

One of the many kilns, with Joseph our guide.

Be assured, if you come to visit us in Nairobi, you’ll probably end up going there.

Plates drying, takes 2-3 weeks.

Plates drying, takes 2-3 weeks.

Check out this video on how a plate is shaped.

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