Coming Home

I once asked some friends who were returning to Australia after two years of volunteering in Tanzania “How long do you think it will take you to get used to being there?” Their answer was a couple of months.

After spending 6 weeks in the US, I can verify that answer. We were just getting used to the conveniences of life and how things worked in another world.

But now we’ve returned home.

Home is where the majority of my family is. Hannah is with her husband Luke in New Zealand, awaiting the birth of their first child next year. That leaves Pete, Liz and I.

home

We were all a bit anxious about returning because we knew what we were heading into. It will be home for a few more years. We were looking forward to a more familiar world and definitely not living out of a suitcase.

Home, a 4 letter word that means so much more than that.

Our first morning here was interesting. None of our showerheads were working, so I ended up having a bucket shower. One where you fill a bucket with boiled water and pretty much pour it over yourself a few times. I realized afterwards that I had forgotten to pull out the tap so water came out of the showerhead.

shower

We thought our internet had pretty good speed, until we went overseas. Now it feels painstakingly slow. It’s way better than dialup but also much slower than what we experienced in the US.

Coming home meant unpacking an entire houselot of furniture from a spare room. Because the floors had been sanded and repolished all of the cupboards were full of red dust. You could tell that the workers had thumbed through our clothes hanging up because their fingerprints were all over the place. We also discovered they had stolen our very good iron and used our TV stand as a ladder. We knew because there was paint all over it. To say we weren’t happy campers is an understatement. And this was just Monday.

Of course, you can’t live in their world any more without the internet, but guess what wasn’t working when we returned? This meant trips down to the mall to visit our friendly staff at Zuku who worked it all out for us.

Jetlag, unpacking, buying food, meetings on day 3, all were a bit much. Before Liz headed off to volunteer at her preschool I insisted that she put up the Christmas tree to keep her busy. Liz had absolutely no worries about jetlag. She slept like a baby, while Pete and I got about 2 hours sleep and stayed awake the remainder of the night. We’ve never had such jetlag in our entire lives, and we’ve done a lot of travelling. It took an entire week to get back to normal.

Coming home also meant that we were broke.

We stayed two weeks too long on our trip. While we had a couple of schools in that time, it really put the financial pressure on us. We didn’t realize how expensive the US was going to be for public transport and food. We stretched ourselves way further than ever before. We don’t have a credit card to fall back on, no savings that we could dig into. What we had is what we had and with the fall in the Aussie dollar there wasn’t much bang for your buck.

dollar

Coming home meant coming back to very little freedom. This has been my biggest challenge to date. No more walking around at night. Always having our bags and cars checked at church and shopping malls. Having to take off my jewellery before walking out in public. Locking the metal gate and door every time you step out, even to get rid of the garbage.

The loss of freedom is something I haven’t got used to. A friend who lives here but is in New Zealand over the Christmas break, couldn’t help but send me a post of Facebook post to say she had just walked home at 10pm at night. I miss freedom.

But – this is home.

 

 

mass

 

 

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!

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

Where have you been?

The other day I was chatting online with a friend in Australia who mentioned I hadn’t put out a newsletter for a while (a month) and he wondered what we’d been up to.

I had to catch myself from saying anything because I’m continually posting stuff up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and sending text messages to those overseas as much as possible.

mediaI wonder that with all of the technology we have, if our world is becoming too busy and we’re over saturated with information 24/7.

Hey, I’m not knocking what we have, but more of how we use it. My youngest daughter and I touch base every day either via Facebook or we SMS each other for free using our iPhones. No doubt, as her wedding gets closer, it will happen more and more.

I just wonder who is in control of whom.

I admire people who go on a social media fast, I don’t think I could, well for 40 days anyway!

We get the morning world news from a pastor in a town in Aussie that I’ve never been too. It gives me a quick 5 minute overview of what’s happening. It helps me keep connected on a bigger level than just what is happening locally.

Although I hate the new Facebook Messenger, we get no choice but to use it. The power goes out often and sometimes for a very long time. However, because it’s so cheap to have the internet on your phone, it enables me to use it even if the power is off (unless my phone battery dies of course!). $5 of credit gives me access to the internet for a whole month.

signWe’ve been based in Kenya for close to 2 years, and I have to say that out of all my years of travelling here, technology has helped to transform this country in a very short time. Twenty years ago to make an overseas call you would have to let the person know by post on what date and time you would call, go book it in and hope it would work.

Now we simply Facetime or Skype and get grumpy when the internet is slow.

Somehow, I don’t think we can live without all of what we have anymore – unless it’s forced upon us. We had a Canadian couple visit us, who are farmers in a remote part of Ethiopia. They reminded us how lucky we were to have everything at our fingertips.

So where have I actually been lately – writing blogs, videoing kids, editing photos, uploading to Instagram, you know – trying to keep up communicating with the masses.

 

 

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”.

Why you SHOULD visit Kenya

I just want to come out and say it. The job of the media is not to tell the truth, their job is to sell newspapers. They capture a moment in time and then move on to the next big headline.

lensI’m not against telling what’s going on in the world, I just think there is an oversaturation of events that are available on our phones, laptops, over the radio, on TV and in newspapers. Social network sites are so rife with news that in places like Iraq Facebook is banned because ISIS were using it to spread their horror.

The only time Kenya seems to get into the global news is when there is a terrorist attack or governments put out travel alerts for this part of the world. As soon as something goes wrong, we end up getting messages from the West asking if we’re okay, even though the event happened 9 hours drive away.

So here, I’m going to give you some good reasons to actually come here.

1.Variety

There’s something for everyone. Surf, sand, cities, farms, restaurants from every nation, markets, malls and cultural shows. There’s swimming pools, ice rinks, IMAX and horse racing. Of course, Kenya is known for it’s wildlife with over 65 national parks, reserves, sanctuaries and marine parks to visit. Each has it’s own focus on particular animals. There’s even one animal park you can bike through without being eaten!

beach2. Opportunities

This is the volunteer capital in the world. Whatever skill you’ve got can be used to grow the skills of locals. You might not see playing soccer with kids as a big deal, but to them it is. There is great joy when a child you’ve been teaching actually able to read because you’ve spent a couple of weeks with them. Giving back to communities is the best thing you can do for a week of your life, but so is receiving. While most volunteers come with the intention of bringing about change, they come away feeling like the luckiest people in the world, and see that they are the ones who are changed.

coach3. Cost

If you’re flying from Australia or New Zealand air tickets can be pretty pricey, unless you take a slightly longer route. However, once you’re here it is relatively cheap to get around and as long as you stay in a nice guesthouse, your accommodation costs are low. Food is much cheaper than back at home and there is always a good variety of fruit. To eat out is a good option and there’s no lack of variety from budget to extreme. For example, you can have an all you can eat buffet, including dessert for $26. Or, you can have beef stew and rice for $2.60. Tourist pay a lot more than locals for entry into animal game parks. One national park costs tourists $90 while we as residents pay $10.

fruit4. Something different

Why go somewhere that is just like home? Not many people can say they went white water rafting or bungee jumping in Kenya, or flying in a balloon while thousands of wildebeests are below. How many people can say they went to a Masai village and met the cutest kids in the world? I bet your friends have never kissed a giraffe!

raft5. En-route

I always try to encourage people that if they are coming this far, to travel to other countries in this part of the world. Dubai is only 5 hours away, South Africa 6, London 8, Amsterdam 8, Egypt just under 5. Flying in between African countries is not that expensive either. To fly to Uganda return is $350 (USD). If time allows it why not explore as much as possible.

caseThe world is an amazing place, and Kenya is an exciting place to explore. It’s far more than you will ever see on the Discovery Channel. Why not come and see if for yourself!

 

 

Living Without Technology

The last month has been one of the most frustrating all year – for technology anyway. Technology is great, when it works. When it doesn’t I feel powerless and want to throw my laptop out the window – which of course I don’t do even though I feel like it.

techI’ve spent endless hours and Skype calls between Nairobi, Auckland and Sydney trying to sort out our new website and emails. I built this new website but couldn’t get it launched because of name servers, login details and email systems that wouldn’t work. Then of course, there’s the electricity which decides to go off for hours. In fact we had almost 2 days without power. Just to top it off the battery in my laptop decided to crap out so it decided all by itself when and where it would go.

Can you imagine being without power, the internet, your phone or computer – for a whole day? How do you work, talk to people overseas, find out addresses, look for businesses, design material, contact people or prepare school lessons?

masai

Masai warrior

I see people on Facebook who say they are going to do a fast for a week or month from it. While that’s nice, I see other people complaining that the power went out for two whole hours and their life was miserable. The thing is, we are so reliant on technology that I don’t think any of us can really do without it. I see Masai men herding their cattle in the middle of nowhere who access apps to see what the price of meat and veges are going for at the market.

lap

The only way to make my charger work.

One of the things we miss is the convenience of life, including access to technology. Living without it is a pain in the butt however it’s the reality of life for millions of people. So we learn to celebrate when we do have it, and survive when we don’t.

Here’s how we manage our challenging situation in Kenya:

  • Keep electronics charged 24/7
  • Put on surge protectors
  • Make sure you have enough credit on your phone for both airtime and the internet
  • Carry a plug in internet flash drive (with credit loaded)
  • Put at least 1,000KES (about $10) on your Mpesa system
  • Remember the cafes that have free wireless internet
  • Have a solar lamp powered up and ready to go
  • Have spare lights around the house
  • Buy a washing machine that automatically goes on when the power returns

What is your plan of action for living without technology?