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.

titanic

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.

How We Travelled With No Money For Two Months

We’ve just done an 8 week trip away from Kenya, travelling through Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In this blog I’ll be telling you how we did it with no money. For us it was a total trip of faith – that’s how we hang. If you’re not a Jesus follower, read the blog anyway with an open mind because it’s not something we can invent.

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

Hannah, our youngest was getting married on December 19th in NZ. Of course it’s something we wouldn’t/couldn’t miss, but we had no idea how we were going to do it. Our budget for living in Nairobi should be $3,500 a month, we get in around $2,000.

Hannah really looked stunning.

Hannah really looked stunning.

Until this year Liz has been getting in just under $800 on the disability pension from Australia. We knew it would be stopping in January. Each month we would use a couple of hundred dollars to put towards the budget. We didn’t like it, but the cost of living in Kenya is sky rocketing.

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

I remember complaining to God (He’s got big shoulders) saying I was over dipping into Lizzies pension money and He could find another way to find $5,000 to fly us home. She didn’t have enough in her account anyway but I wasn’t about to take any more.

In Auckland we stayed at my cousins - Jeff & Jeanettes.

In Auckland we stayed at my cousins – Jeff & Jeanette.

One Saturday we had a youth leaders meeting at our house. These are kids who run the child sponsorship monthly meeting, they also take about 90 minutes to get from the Kibera Slum to our place – many times they walk some of the way. We feed them lunch and then we do a bit of training. This day at the end we asked who had prayer requests. Some needed school fee money, others jobs, others provision – we needed 500,000 shillings. Remember, most of these kids live on 200 shillings a day.

Mathew, the leader prayed for us and for the wedding. This was on the Saturday.

On the Monday I’m in a meeting that is dragging on a bit so I check my emails on my phone and there’s a notification from a small church (The Embassy) in Sydney that supports us a small amount per month, instead it says there’s $2,000 this month. My heart skipped a beat and then I thought ‘maybe it’s meant to be $200 because we’ve been overpaid before, but $200 is awesome’. I send a Facebook message to someone in the know and leave it. The next day I get a reply that yes indeed, they decided to bless us with extra. I remember writing ‘thanks, you’ve just paid my flight home to my daughters’ wedding’.

Liz came with us to every meeting, sometimes 4 a day.

Liz came with us to every meeting, sometimes 4 a day.

On the Wednesday I emailed some friends who gave us $1,200 earlier in the year when we thought Pete’s dad was dying. We kept it aside for ‘the day’, which didn’t happen. They said we could use it for whatever. The same day, someone emailed me and asked how short we were for our flights home, I said $800. They said it would be in our account that day.

Ross & Ros are our faith partners in what we do.

Ross & Ros are our faith partners in what we do.

Within 4 days, God had heard the prayers of others and my whinging and supplied money for flights. Sure, we hop scotched around the globe on super cheap flights, but we did it.

So, we had our return flights sorted but that was it.

We saw the ocean from time to time but didn't play in it much.

We saw the ocean from time to time but didn’t play in it much.

When we got to NZ we had free accommodation at my cousins house and then our future in-laws lent us the ‘windy’ a super little car that kept going and going. However, that was it.

We flew in on the Friday and the next day we started our ‘furlough’. This is when you leave your work back on the field and spend endless days and nights visiting your current and potential supporters. Somewhere in the 2 months you’re meant to take a break – not something we achieved.

Evan and Moira used to pastor the church that supports us. This was before they went to NYC and us back to Kenya.

Evan and Moira used to pastor the church that supports us. This was before they went to NYC and us back to Kenya.

The plan was to be in Auckland with Hannah on the weekends and travel on the weeks. The week leading up to the wedding would be totally spent in Auckland.

That first Saturday we go and see some friends who we got to meet when they hosted us for a youth conference – 21 years ago. They gave us some money for ‘incidentals’ – for us that meant wedding clothes. We had nothing to wear to the wedding of the year. So that was provided for.

On our way around NZ we stopped in Waihi where Pete's family came from. This is the area being mined.

On our way around NZ we stopped in Waihi where Pete’s family came from. This is the area being mined.

Everywhere we went people fed us (a lot) whether that be at a café or in their homes – and they paid for it all. There were very few times we had to pay for anything, which was great because eating out in NZ is really expensive. There were times people gave us envelopes of cash, put money into our bank account or went out and bought us things.

Pete’s a country boy at heart. He milked cows a couple of mornings while we were staying with some friends on a farm. He loved it and it was the closest to getting a break. Not because he had helped with milking but because of the generosity of our friends, they gave us a fuel card to use for the next month. That meant all of our petrol costs were covered. Just as well because we ended up doing 3,000 kilometres in that time.

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

One of the things we kept praying for was $5,000 to give towards the wedding costs. It never came through. We felt really bad that we could contribute hardly anything. One thing we wanted to do was give our kids the deposit for a house when they got married. Going to serve in Africa killed that one. Sure, we pulled together some funds for a few homewares, wedding props and something towards the photographers, but it never felt enough. We have short term borders at our home and we managed to save that, but it wasn’t just the same.

So while we were super blessed to have our costs covered, this one thing never came through. I don’t know why but it is what it is.

One thing I did notice is that people who sacrificially give to us each month, went overboard in looking after us. Generosity is not just an action, it’s a part of a persons’ character. It was the same people who give to us, kept giving whether it was cash, cheques, petrol cards or gas vouchers. We especially noticed it in New Zealand because we were there for a month.

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

However, it wasn’t much different in Aussie. We had a friends’ house and car to use – for free. Sometimes we had 4 meetings a day. It was exhausting but good at the same time. Considering we weren’t meant to come back until June this year, we managed to fit in a lot. Again, people would just give us a blessing of cash, which was very cool.

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

I remember being there for a few days and we were in the car, Pete said “Well God, when’s it going to come through again?” The funds had dried up and this time we had to pay for petrol. That very same day someone gave us a few hundred dollars. It paid not only for our fuel but the hire car we needed for a couple of days at the end.

Last but not least, we needed $600 for travel insurance. Insurance isn’t one thing you can do without when you’re abroad, it’s not worth the risk. We hadn’t been insured for a couple of months and it’s not a nice feeling. In our last few days in Aussie, two people gave us cash which covered the whole amount. That will keep us going for 6 months and then we’ll get a 12 month policy in July.

No, we didn't go tenting.

No, we didn’t go tenting.

No, we never stayed in hotels (except a cheapy in Dubai on the way), we slept in lots (11) different beds. We caught 14 different flights. We spent endless hours in airports. We visited the beach 4 times in 2 months, the most spent was an hour.

Our ‘holiday’ was the day and a half with my cousins in Singapore but besides that it was head down and butt up.

There are two things this trip proved to me:

  • Nothing is a surprise for God, He knows what we need/want
  • Generous people are always generous, it’s who they are

Now we’re home and we, like you, have to keep believing God for more. In 5 weeks we move apartments to save money. It’s another opportunity to see what He will do for His kids.

Thank you to everyone who gave us a bed, meals, petrol, cars, flights, clothes, tools, coffees and more. You are not forgotten. You are appreciated and loved.

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.

This Is No Holiday

We’ve been on the road for a month now and the biggest thing people say to us is ‘How’s your holiday going?’

This is no holiday, trust me.

Sure, we’re away from home for 8 weeks, so yes, it counts as an extended period of time. The recreation side of things is another thing all together.

The reason we came to New Zealand - the wedding of Hannah and Luke.

The reason we came to New Zealand – the wedding of Hannah and Luke.

The great thing is to catch up with many of the partners in our work, family and friends. We hadn’t planned to come away this year but our youngest daughter is about to be married, so we were coming.

If you’re spending $6,000 on flights, you certainly wouldn’t come for a couple of weeks.

Each weekend, we are in Auckland with our daughter and during the week we are visiting around the country. December is the worst time of year to fundraise so booking in group meetings is not just going to happen.

Ross & Beryl Shadbolt - Pete lived with them before we got married.

Ross & Beryl Shadbolt – Pete lived with them before we got married.

Weekends are full of shopping for clothes for the wedding, decorations for the wedding, going through the ceremony ideas for the wedding. Now we are getting closer it’s shopping for the household stuff and moving furniture into the apartment.

Since we are living off people’s donations, we have very little that we can financially contribute. However, we can offer practical help and advice.

As soon as Monday comes around we jump into the little Toyata we’ve been generously lent by the in-laws. Thankfully, we’ve been lent a fuel card for the month, so our petrol has been covered.

Pohutakawa trees. NZ is the only place you can see them.

Pohutakawa trees. NZ is the only place you can see them.

In some places we have back to back meetings, up to three a day. On Thursday we’ve squashed in 4. Today was the only day we haven’t had meetups with people or travelled.

No wonder we are tired, really tired.

Sleep when/where you can.

Sleep when/where you can.

What most people don’t realise is that this is part of work. Sure, we get to sleep in later but each day you’re telling people about what is happening in your part of the world. There’s still blogs to write, websites to update, fundraising campaigns to get going, emails to answer.

This is what they call ‘furlough’.

Liz with Don McDonell, someone who we've known for 20 years.

Liz with Don McDonell, someone who we’ve known for 20 years.

It’s not a holiday it’s a necessary part of keeping in touch with donors and putting a face to where their money goes. It reminds them that you are more than someone on a social networking site. You are human and you are grateful for their sacrifice.

Pete getting to see his ailing father.

Pete getting to see his ailing father.

It’s quite hard to let them know of the ever growing financial needs and the shrinking budget. You don’t want to seem ungrateful and that you need more. But that is the reality. The cost of living in East Africa is skyrocketing, while the income diminishes. Donors move to other countries, some just stop, others forget.

You also have to buy clothes and tools for the next 2 years. Pretty much everything is twice the price in Kenya so you have to outlay for what you will need. There are some things you just can’t get back home. For example, I bought a wooden clock for teaching time to kids – it cost a whopping $5. I’ve also got counters for using with a bingo game and Pete has picked up some chainsaw files. No point in having a chainsaw if you can’t sharpen it!

Speaking at the Tokoroa Elim Church about our work.

Speaking at the Tokoroa Elim Church about our work.

On the flip side though, catching up with people we haven’t seen, some for 15 years, is fantastic. We’ve eaten way too much food, stayed up too late too often and had time to hear what others have been up to.

Kevin & Jan Ahern shouting us out to a BIG breakfast.

Kevin & Jan Ahern shouting us out to a BIG breakfast.

So although it’s not a holiday – it’s still been lots of fun.

East to West

We’ve been in ‘the West’ for two weeks now. Kenya isn’t ‘the East’ but it is in that direction.

There is A LOT of freedom here than back in Nairobi. We haven’t locked our car doors when we get in. I’ve even put my handbag on my knee when travelling. You don’t get security checked at the shopping malls and can do uturns without worrying about getting pulled up by the police.

Butterfly House in Singapore

Butterfly House in Singapore

Pete is super excited because the roads have overhead lights, white lines on the road AND reflectors down the middle of the road. It makes driving at night really easy. The fact that there are hardly any cars on the road in comparison to Nairobi also makes a difference. Sometimes sitting at traffic lights is a pain but it sure makes everything run smoothly.

I’ve even worn my jandals/thongs/flipflops for 4 days in a row. In Kenya I get hassled because they should either be worn in the shower or around the house. Here in New Zealand it’s just what you do. The weather has been exceptional, much warmer than what we ever thought it would be. There’s nothing like kicking off your jandals and putting your toes in nice warm sand.

Pete with the sunflowers at the airport.

Pete with the sunflowers at the airport.

However, it’s not all wonderful. We knew it was going to be expensive to eat out here, but didn’t realise how much it would really be. In Nairobi we buy a bottle of water or Coke for around 60 cents, as apposed to $3.50 for the same item here. There is way more variety of gluten free food here and it is half the price of what we pay for back home.

We’re really lucky to have the use of our soon-to-be son-in-laws car, which saves us getting around on buses. Petrol is $2.07per litre in Tauranga, in Nairobi it was $1.36 – go figure that one!

Mt Maunganui

Mt Maunganui

The biggest difference so far is how moist it is here. I didn’t realise how dry it was in Kenya until we left. Sure, we are much closer to the ocean but overall it is less dry and very green. It might not seem much to you but you definitely feel the difference.

The fact that the houses have large windows, there’s very few gated communities and we even left the laundry out one night and it didn’t get stolen – all these still shock us.

Native plant of New Zealand

Native plant of New Zealand

Even though it’s been a couple of weeks we still can’t believe how light it is at 8.30 at night. In Nairobi it starts getting dark at 6.50pm and then it’s pitch dark by 7pm. That happens 365 days a year. We had these ideas of going for a walk at night because that’s one thing we miss but we are so busy visiting people it just hasn’t happened yet. We did get to put our toes in the freezing cold ocean once, here’s hoping for more.

Basically what we’re experiencing is reverse culture shock. When people come to Kenya they struggle with the differences, meanwhile we embrace them when we return to our ‘other home’. We know it’s only for a few more weeks but we are enjoying the variety of food, the green grass and the options of freedom. Yes we do miss the familiarity of our new homeland and the special friendships we have made there but also know to make the most of each moment here. flowers

 

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!

A Day With Gary

Every September in Nairobi the International Trade Fair (otherwise known as ‘the show’) is held at the showgrounds. During the rest of the year it looks like an abandoned village but for one week, the place comes alive.

Some of the crowd

Some of the crowd

Nothing spoils you more than living in Australia and going to the East Show, it is fantastic and nothing compares with it. But in reality, the Trade Fair is quite amazing for Kenya standards.

Olwen, Pete, me and Gary

Olwen, Pete, me and Gary

Our routine for the past two times we’ve gone, is to meet up with our Canadian friend Gary. Gary is awesomely funny. He and his beautiful wife Cynthia moved here for a couple of years. She works for IBM, Gary plays golf (and other fun retiree stuff). Cynthia is a wonderful breath of fresh air, hanging around with her revitalises you.

Gary and his new friend

Gary and his new friend

They have a car and driver as part of their package to be here so we’ve got the show down to a good habit. We drive to the local mall and leave our car there. Gary picks us up and his driver takes us to the showground then drops us back off afterwards. Next year we’ll have to park at the show as they would’ve returned to Canada.

This year was different in that we went on a Friday. Wednesdays are out because the President of Kenya comes and you can’t get around the place.

Most of the team

Most of the team

We haven’t had very much rain this year, but it decided to bucket down during the night. Hence, we bought an umbrella, which was used for all of 30 seconds before it dried up in the morning.

Looking at one of the vege patches

Looking at one of the vege patches

The show is always jam packed with school kids, farmers, hoards of animals on display, horse jumping, expo sites and eateries. There’s judging of the best animals and businesses spruiking their wares. It’s never a dull moment and if you want somewhere quiet, you won’t find it here.

It’s quite good value, only $3 to get in and if you really want to splurge, around 20 cents for a ride. Last year we found this food hall where you can get ¼ chicken, chips and a coke for $4.

Pete especially likes the show because he gets to see everything he needs for farming in one place. Nairobi is tricky to get around because of the congested traffic so if you get two things done in one day, you’re winning.

All year Gary has been onto Liz about going on a camel ride. She had psyched herself up for it and she was glad it had been raining because who wants to ride on a wet camel?

What we saw a lot of this year were people dressed up in crazy character outfits. Gary was in his element.

Gary makes friends everywhere he goes

Gary makes friends everywhere he goes

We also had Olwen, one of Pete’s work colleagues join us for a few hours. He’s a great young man who is working his first agricultural job since graduating from uni. There was no way on God’s green earth he was getting onto a camel and was also glad it had been raining.

Olwen

Olwen

One of the weirdest things I saw on our way out was a Witness Protection Agency tent. Not your average expo site and I didn’t go in because I thought they couldn’t say much to protect whoever was in hiding. Hopefully we’ll never need their services!

Witness protection at your service

Witness protection at your service

Overall it was a great day and although we won’t get to do it with Gary again, it has built some memorable moments.

Yep, it was a long day!

Yep, it was a long day!

We Made A Mistake (a few of them actually)

In February this year I went to New Zealand NZ) and Australia on a 7 week speaking tour in schools, Rotary Clubs and churches. While I was there I had the honour of spending time talking to the pastors who oversaw our wedding ceremony nearly 27 years ago.

Mick & Colleen Marshall were my pastors (Pete went to another church) and over the years they have served both internationally and locally. They’ve now got a brood of grandchildren and instead of retirement are looking at refirement.

Here's Mick leading us through our vows.

Here’s Mick leading us through our vows.

It was so special catching up with them and there were a couple of things they said to me which they were dead serious about:

  1. When you return just be aware that people will put up with you ‘Africa stories’ for a few minutes but after that, they really don’t care.
  1. Whatever you do, don’t get so overworked that you burn yourself out.
Colleen and Mick this year.

Colleen and Mick this year.

I listened to them on Number One. It’s true, the world we live in Kenya is so foreign to even try and understand or explain, it’s just too much for people to hear and understand. When you talk about a traffic jam in Nairobi it is vastly different to that in Sydney. I’ve read where people in NZ complain because they have to get security checked before going into WINZ. Here, we have to avoid shopping centres because of bomb threats. Yep, it’s a bit different here.

Number Two, that’s a really hard one here. It’s not unusual to be chatting with someone overseas at 10pm, doing radio interviews at 2am or working 12 hour days, three weeks in a row. All this leads to burning out.

Here’s a definition of burnout:

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload).

We’re not burnt out, but we did come close to it a little while back. Physically and mentally run down we took stock of where we were at and where we wanted to be.

So here’s where we’ve made some big mistakes:

1. Not taking holidays

In the two years we’ve been here we’ve only taken off a week. How dumb is that!! We bought Liz a camping bed for her birthday in December last year and the only time it’s been used is as a spare bed when we have visitors.

A lot of that was because we didn’t have the money. Our plan for 2015 is to take a week off every 3 months just to renew our batteries. Even if we have to camp in the middle of nowhere, leave our laptops behind and sit with the zebras, we will take a break.

We’ve lived here for 2 years and travelling here since 2007 and in all that time we’ve never been to Mombasa on the coast nor Masai Mara. Next year baby, next year.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

2. Working too many weekends

There’s nothing wrong with working through a weekend if you get a day off some time during the week. However, if you end up working 3 weeks in a row, you’re setting yourself up for an emotional breakdown and big family arguments because of tiredness. We found that we were working three weekends a month. Now, we’ve got it down to two.

At the beginning of the year we thought we could take Wednesday afternoons off. It worked for a while but too many things got in the way.

life3. Lack of sleep

It’s pretty noisy here. Anywhere from 5.30am there are people outside washing their bosses car. Also, no matter what we seem to do, there is at least one mosquito wanting to attack. Someone at the apartment above us seems to like moving furniture late at night. The best day to sleep past 5am is a Sunday – and it is most welcomed!!

Because there’s so much work to be done there’s not so much room for the odd nanny nap. I have to admit though, we’ve both fallen asleep on the sofa, there’s the Facebook photos to prove it.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

While we’ve made some mistakes, at least they’re all fixable. As we head into the start of our third year we expect to be working harder and at times, longer hours, we hope that if we change a few of our behaviours we will have even a better year. We’ve set some goals for where we want to head and have even planned a ’round Africa’ trip in 2018.

What about you, what ‘adjustments’ do you need to make to improve both your mental and physical health?

 

 

Why Birthdays Are Important

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My 40th birthday

On the weekend I read a pathetic article in the local newspaper, so I just had to write about it.

Here’s a couple of short snippets of what it said:

‘Any man who throws a party or even considers some kind of bash after the age of 16 is a disgrace to the institution of masculinity. For women, we can be a bit accommodating and give them up to 25.’

‘Until adults in this country start acting more maturely, we will end up raising self-absorbed children who think the world owes them a living.’

Seriously, singing happy birthday to an adult compromises their masculinity?

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I’m not sure who was more excited.

 

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Lizzies birthday is on Dec 31st, so NYE is always important in our house.

And this is why I don’t buy newspapers very often.

I’m all for birthdays, but I guess that is how we raised our kids. Life itself is a great reason to celebrate. I’ve tried to find out if there is some deep and meaningful reason to why here in Kenya birthdays aren’t a big deal but all I could find is that it’s always been this way.

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Bec and Han at a friends birthday.

In some cultures children aren’t named until they’re weaned simply because they may not survive until then. Totally understandable. Many of the kids we work with don’t know the date or year they were born because it was no big deal, until they need a birth certificate!

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It’s all about the dressups.

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Jo and Min, always smiling.

For the last couple of years I’ve been taking birthday cake along to some of our kids programs. I figure it’s no big deal to spend $5 on cake and get them to sing happy birthday. Who doesn’t like to get a card which tells you how special you are and that you’re not a mistake?

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Liz and Han at Georgie Pie for a birthday.

Birthdays give us a reason to celebrate. I don’t think we celebrate the real things well. Sure, there’s huge sporting events and the Queen’s great grand-babies but nothing matters as much as our own families. With so much tragedy in the world we should celebrate more.

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Me on my 16th birthday.

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A birthday with our extended family – the Renatas.

Birthdays give a reason for families and friends to get together. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard at funerals “We should get together more” and yet we don’t. If you’re like me, you wonder where the weeks and months go, before we know it 2014 will be done and dusted.

Life is fragile and we need to handle with care. Meantime – enjoy and celebrate it!

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Pete’s parents

If I Only Knew

We are fast approaching our second anniversary of serving in Kenya so I thought I’d write down a list of things I wish I’d known before we came. Of course, hindsight is an awesome thing, but if you ever consider moving this way for a short or long period of time, it might be good to know.

 1. Africa Is Not Cheap To Live In

It’s a myth that’s for sure. We did our budget in 2011 but by the time we got here in 2012 prices had skyrocketed. Most things have stabilised in price since the VAT (tax) of 16% was added. Locals have really struggled since then. We spent a lot of 2013 buying furniture for our place as money came in, with most things bought second hand or built at a roadside carpenters.

Of course, income determines if something is expensive or not. Our budget is short by $1,000 a month, which is a lot when you aren’t allowed to earn money within the country. Our rent is half of what we paid in Sydney for something more than twice the size. We wanted a place where we could have people come and stay, relax and then go on their journey. We’ve had people from NZ, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Ethiopia, USA and Norway stay with us. We love it and are grateful for the apartment we have to be able to do it. But our landlord put up the rent by $100 per month after being here for a year, so we’re looking at alternatives for next year.

 

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

 2. White = Rich

If you’re not Kenyan, you’re white, even if you’re not white. That means you must have money to burn. If you go to the markets on the side of the road, you will spend more time bargaining than what you want. This is why people go to the more expensive supermarkets because they just get tired of being hassled all the time. A friend of ours got his suit for his wedding made for $50. If Pete went, it would be 3 times more the price.

If we want furniture made at the roadside market we send a Kenyan there first for a price so we know what we should be paying. No matter how much you tell your colleagues that you don’t have much money, it doesn’t matter, because you will always have more than them. What people don’t see is the amount of money spent on the work you do – petrol, car costs, school equipment, feeding people or running programs.

I need to get me one of these!

I need to get me one of these!

3. You’ll Want To Go Home, Often

Sometimes you wonder if the obstacles are worth it, wasn’t it much less complicated back home? Well, yes it was. Kenya is not impossible to live in it’s just very complicated. As a friend said to us in our early days “Living in Africa will show you what capacity you have on the inside” and I happen to think he’s very right.

It was much easier living in Australia. If we wanted to earn more money, we’d go paint a house. We understood the language. You could walk the streets at night and no problem. There were parks to play in that were free. If you wanted to go to church you had a Saturday night, Sunday morning and a Sunday night to choose from. The ocean was a 4 minute walk from our place.

There’s probably twice in the last couple of years when I’ve thought “Stick this, I don’t need this hassle, I’m heading home”, but for Pete it’s been quite often. He asked me the other day why we were here again. My simple answer is that God knew we were big enough to handle it.

 

 4. Set Work Boundaries

We’ve got plenty of friends who work in the same area as us, but with different organisations. All of us have the same problem – we struggle with work boundaries. I’ve a friend who gets paid for 2 days a week but often works for 5 ‘because they’re in need’. Our phones will often go off at 10pm. We’ve had one weekend off in the last 2 months. I’ve calculated we’ve had 5 days of actual holidays in the last 2 years. When we’ve travelled out of town or overseas, it’s all to do with work. That is really dumb.

This year I decided to work at the office until 1pm, have lunch and then do the rest of my work from home. In essence I can work anywhere in the world but feel obliged to turn up to prove I’m actually working. Between now and when we fly out to Australia in November I’m even taking an hour out in the middle of the day to get some exercise and sunshine.

Next year I’m even thinking of rehashing my working conditions by spending less time in the office and more in the field with people.

Learn to turn it off

Learn to turn it off

 5. Sign A Contract

Too many people come with good intentions which get squished out and changed to be not what they came for. I’ve friends in another country who came to work with orphaned children then after 8 months were dumped because the organisation didn’t want to make necessary changes for improvement. Another family came to build a school but wasn’t allowed any input into the long term planning of it. Others were having to give a certain percentage of their support money for the ‘privilege of volunteering’. Make sure the requirements are written down and everyone understands the small print, who pays what and what is expected. For some reason we do this in the business world, but not in development work. Go figure?

 

6. Do Your Homework Before Coming

We had been to Kenya 3 times before moving here. Most times we came for 2 months and travelled to neighbouring countries as well. However, there is a BIG difference between visiting and living somewhere. How basic everyday things are run is a huge task to learn. It took us 6 weeks to even begin to figure out directions and where things were. Unfortunately, people who have lived somewhere for a long time take everything they’ve learnt for granted. I remember getting pulled across the coals because we didn’t visit a person in hospital enough. Apparently here you drop everything and race off to visit someone, you also take fruit or juice. No one told us about that, and we didn’t even know how to get to the hospital.

An important thing to look into is getting a visa, owning land and traffic laws. Everything here takes a l-o-n-g time and it’s never straight forward. Join expat blogs before you come so you get an idea of how things work. Get Swahili apps on your phone. Use Google maps to see how far things are in distance. Learn some history of the place.

 

 7. Clothes Are Expensive Here

Of course, if you want to, you can buy cheap clothes at the local market. The one closest to us to called the Toi Market. There you can buy second hand clothes, sometimes new ones, which come from overseas. Pete gets a pair of new jeans for $10, guys are lucky, they know their sizes and can get it off the rack. Ladies, not so much.

The clothes at the mall are way overpriced. These are either imported (and thus have large tax) or top of the line. I envy Kenyans, they don’t have to worry about skin tones, they’ve all just got brown skin. They can wear really bright clothes and look awesome!

When we return to Australia we’re buying up big time, especially in the sock and undies department. I think we might even go with empty suitcases.

toi  8. People Won’t Listen To You

The number of people who won’t listen to you if frustrating to the max. I mean, what do we know, we actually live here and know how the system works. Visitors have wasted so much money because they JUST WON’T LISTEN. One friend was told by his travel agent that he would have to pay $50 more for an English speaking taxi driver. What a load of rubbish, English is one of the national languages here. Of course, he decided to ignore all of our advice and ended up paying thousands of dollars more than he needed to. We’ve had others who didn’t want our help (thank you very much), decided to do things their way and paid way too much for a vehicle hire and didn’t get to see the areas they really needed to.

And that’s just the visitors.

When you’re trying to bring in different ways of doing things, people will predominantly resort back to their ways. The proof of the success of your teaching is if they put it into practise when you’re not around. If 50% of it is done, that is pretty impressive. We’ll be gone for 8 weeks and it will be interesting to see what the state of things will be on our return.

 

 9. You’ll Spend A Lot More Time On A Computer Than You Ever Thought

There were 2 things I didn’t want to do when we came to Kenya – fundraising and sit in front of a computer a lot. Guess what, I’ve ended up doing both. It’s a necessary evil. Today someone said to me that they haven’t seen a newsletter for a while (it’s been a month). Flip my lid, I’m on Facebook every day, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and weekly blogs but it still doesn’t cover everyone. There’s marketing material to be designed, videos to create (and they take ages), grants to write and complicated emails to answer. It’s not unusual for me to be on a computer 8 – 12 hours a day.

man 10. It Just Might Be One Of The Best Moves You’ve Ever Made

When Africa gets under your skin, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sure, not everyone should be here long term, in fact, most shouldn’t. Whether you come for a short or long time, all that matters is that you’re doing what you should be doing. If you come with a flexible attitude, don’t always compare it to your home country and be in an attitude of learning, then you should be fine. I called the first year ‘Going back to school’. Every day and even parts of a day were a lesson.

What you will be surprised at is the number of things happening across the country and especially in Nairobi. There’s music festivals, fun runs, street performers, fashion shows, expos, conferences and more. You will meet some amazing people, fruit abounds year round and you’ll never get bored. You’ll notice there are lots and lots of nationalities, wildlife you’ll only read of in books and have experiences your friends will envy.

Africa, Kenya are places that will change you for the better. You’ll get a bigger world view. You’ll miss it when you leave.

sunIf you plan on coming for at least 2 years can I highly suggest that you don’t do anything for at least a month or two. Get to know the place, the people, directions and get your home set up. We get so passionate about helping people, we can hinder things by rushing in too fast. When we got here some of our team members were leaving and we were expected to take up the slack. I’ve heard of it happening lots in many projects and the newbies either sink or swim. Most of the time we didn’t have a clue that was going on and I remember every few days we were saying to each other “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, I hope we’re doing okay”.

The Road To Eldoret

On Monday we needed to go to Eldoret to take a dog to a new home, one of our students to his placement and also to look at one of our projects we did a couple of years ago.

While it seems straight forward, nothing here in Kenya is simple. Before we could go on our trip we had a meeting, which meant a pickup at the airport at 6.30am. Of course, the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. The only way to tell was because I could find it online. At the airport the only flights up on the screen were those from Kenya Airways and our guy was coming in on Jet Airways.

Us with Chege at Java

Us with Chege at Java

The plan was to go and have breakfast with a businessman to discuss whether a project we’re working on will be possible. But when we got there, plans had changed and we had a meeting and THEN the breakfast, at around 10am. We ended up going to a lovely hotel called Ole Sereni. Apparently this is where the US set up their embassy when theirs was bombed in 1998. It also backs onto the Nairobi National Park, although we didn’t see any animals!

We then had very little time to get our Aussie mate back to the airport for his ongoing flight. At JKIA security checks can take up to 30 minutes. You wait in your car, then you have to get out (except the driver), go line up (ladies with a female security guard), show your ID and then they pat you down to make sure you’re not carrying a bomb. Of course, they never check under the seats where you could easily hide a bomb.

Kiwi

Kiwi

The next part of our trip was to travel out to Kiserian where the training farm is that Pete assists with. It was the total opposite direction from where we wanted to end up but we had to go and pick up ‘Kiwi’ a dog who was travelling the 6 hours with us to Eldoret. We spent a whopping 15 minutes there before we started on our real trip.

It was just over an hour to Nairobi and by then I was snoozing and the dog was throwing up. I can do dislocations, broken bones and blood, but I don’t do vomit. When my kids chucked up Pete was on cleanup duty. Thankfully we always have baby wipes in the car.

Ninety minutes later we arrived in Naivasha to pick up the student. We then spent 45 minutes looking for him. There are no big meetup points in Naivasha. He told us to ‘meet him at the bridge’. Well, there are two bridges outside of Naivasha and he wasn’t at either. Eventually I sent him a text message to say if he wasn’t there in 10 minutes we were going without him. Surprise, surprise he turned up.

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

By then we were starving so only an hour later we stopped at Java House in Nakuru. Java is a place we go to in Nairobi for a small meal, it’s relatively cheap and the food tastes good. The student we were taking had never been there before in his life. For him, to spend $6 on a meal was not even thinkable. It was really nice to be able to take him out somewhere he’d never been before in a town only an hour from him, but he’d never had the money to travel there.

Our Golden Rule is that we don’t drive long distance at night – we broke it. The roads are too dangerous, the truck drivers crazy and it is just not a good idea. Thankfully Pete was driving but it was pretty stressful.

We left home at 6am and got to Eldoret at 9.15pm. Of course, we then went to a hotel for a cup of tea and our student got to order sausages and chips for the second time in the day. I think he thought he was in food heaven. It was midnight by the time we got to bed because we had to introduce Kiwi to the other dogs. He wasn’t going to have a bar of it and kept trying to jump back into the car. It was pretty sad really but after 30 minutes he was okay and locked into the garage.

 

Lizzie in filming mode

Lizzie in filming mode

The next morning Kiwi was best mates with the other two dogs. We headed into town to do some shopping for our student. I quite like country towns, they’re more intimate than Nairobi and a lot cheaper. Prices in Nairobi are sky rocketing but prices in Eldoret were awesome. We bought a few things for our student to help him set up his room. He won’t get paid for another month so needed some bits and pieces and food.

We really wanted to head out of Eldoret by 12. It wasn’t going to happen. Firstly we had to go to the farm to make sure everything was okay for our student. Next, we headed to the place we had done a toilet block project in. Sadly the kids were on holidays but we got lots of filming done for future videos. We were pretty pleased that 2 years later they were still in good condition. Just as well one was unlocked as we needed to use it.

Pete waiting for us to film

Pete waiting for us to film

The drive home was long, really long. We stopped off in Nakuru again, at Java again and headed back to Nairobi, again. By the time we got home we were all sick and tired of sitting down and over dodging in between trucks.

On the flip side we managed to pick up super cheap veges and fruit on the side of the road. I made sure we got lots of rhubarb to go into the freezer.

We were glad we got to go even though it was a really long trip. We got to see what our students need to start in a job. We could tell that our projects are still working. We got to give a dog a home.