You Probably Won’t Like This

This week I saw online a video about a well known musician who visited Western Africa and was shocked when he saw young boys sleeping outside in a canoe like boat. He was so shocked his first reaction was to put them up in a hotel that night. The video at the end stated ‘these boys are safe for tonight, millions aren’t.’

The comments that came in after this was posted included words like ‘amazing, wonderful, we should be like him’. However, since I’m working on the ground in such areas I had a totally different reaction and got berated for it, so thought I would write about what actually works and why short term solutions are not the best.

What people don’t understand is that when a famous person appears in a developing country as a spokesperson or ambassador for a large organization, they are getting paid for it. The average person receives between $20 – 50,000 dollars for an appearance fee. That’s on top of their first class ticket, staying in a five star hotel etc. Very few self fund their appearances. They don’t just ‘happen’ to be in Liberia or Sudan in between a gig.

Unless it’s an emergency situation, like a famine, short term is not an answer. Famine or war situations don’t happen overnight. The famine happening in South Sudan for example, has been warned about for years.

Large NGO’s spend A LOT (some up to 90%) of their income on administration, private planes and paying their top managers more than a CEO in Aussie gets. ‘Project Costs’ can easily be hidden, but these include getaway weekends for staff, safaris (team building), conflict resolution meetings (staying at a spa can resolve a lot you know!). Meanwhile on the ground the team are working with limited resources in dangerous places and often don’t have what they need in crisis situations.

I’m not saying these things to point at certain groups but when you’ve been doing it as long as me, you see things as they really are, not how they are portrayed in the media.

So what actually does work?

Long term solutions for people to help themselves out of poverty. You have to look at it holistically. For these boys sleeping outside, putting them up somewhere for a night or two actually puts them in a worse predicament. If the famous musician wanted to do something, he would find an organization he has a trusted relationship with. They in turn would be able to come up with an action plan that would include reconciliation within their home community and find one family member that would be able to take them in. The family would need ongoing support from a community worker to make sure donations are spent where they should be (food, clothing, housing, education, medical) and not at the local bar up the road. That child will need financial support until they are at least 18 years of age. Then they need support in starting a business and going on to tertiary education.

Let’s rethink child sponsorship.

I’ve been to events where there’s a hard push after a pull in the heartstrings video presentation for the thousands in the crowd. Then the presenter talks about how bad the situation is, then they get people to put up their hands if they will sponsor a child for X amount of dollars. You’re instantly given a photo to put on the fridge and ‘wallah’ you have a new child in your family.

We need to become intelligent givers and start asking the hard questions. How much of that money gets through to the project? What child protection policies does the organization implement? Where are the annual reports? What happens when that child finishes secondary school, what is the plan?

Now I’m not discouraging child sponsorship, I do it myself.

 

What I want people to realize is:

  1. It’s not your child – they belong to someone else. You are simply assisting a community.
  2. The money doesn’t go to them – it gets pooled together to cover project costs.
  3. There is no point in sponsoring for a year or two, it’s a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
  4. Don’t send them gifts. Most of the time it won’t get there, and the money you spend on postage and the gift, could be used in a more impacting way within country.
  5. The word ‘sponsor’ in the developing world actually has negative connotations connected to it. It’s like saying someone has a sugar daddy. The money isn’t free, there are strings attached.

 

If we want to get more kids sponsored we need to be telling the success stories not just the sob stories.

My last rant is about the huge waste I see in transporting goods from your home country to a developing country. Often you can buy or get made the chairs, desks, pencils, sport gear, underwear, babies clothes, any clothes and furniture in the needy country. It costs on average $10,000 to get a container shipped over with goodies. Then, you spend up to another $5,000 to get it off the wharf with bribery money. Often when organisations sort through what is in that container, they throw half of it away (especially clothes) as they are unusable. People think giving their junk is an honourable thing. Trust me – you can keep it.

We should be encouraging manufacturing in developing countries, buying from within where possible. While we see the nice smiling faces of a kid in Africa or Asia opening a shoe box at Christmas time, it doesn’t have lasting impact. The money spent on the effort could start small businesses who employ parents and give them business training –  who could then feed their families, pay school fees, buy clothes from the market more than once a year and make sure their kids have a future. Yes, they would even buy their kids a toy.

So, did the famous musician waste his time? I hope he got to see some organisations working on the ground being a part of the solution and not cause more problems. I hope he invests into these organisations long term and gets more involved.

I hope the adults in the video don’t beat those boys up or worse because some white foreigner with a camera crew came into their ‘home’ and therefore thought the boys were getting paid for being on camera.

My hope is that we become more intelligent givers who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions.

Organisations in developing country need partnerships that cause them to become self sustainable, they need long term solutions through development and not aid.

Go ahead and sponsor a child, it does change their lives. But also send them a letter a few times a year. Build a friendship with them, not a reliance on you as a Westerner and therefore their funder. Most of all, sacrifice your income and go and visit them at least once in your life. You will find your life will be changed forever.

You are not a donor – you are a partner. Build good partnerships.

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When We Return Home

It feels weird to say I’m going home, because Kenya is home for us and the thought of leaving it for 6 months just breaks my heart. I definitely want to be with our daughter Hannah for the arrival of our first grandbaby but leaving Nairobi, everyone close to us and the familiarity of home weighs heavy on me.

han

Hannah is ready to go!

I thought I would write about how YOU can help others like me who return to their home land, even though it is foreign for us. You see we often don’t understand the language, culture, politics and general day to day procedures in our homeland

To me, home is where my heart is at that time and especially where I am with my husband. While were living in Australia that was definitely home. I’ve returned a few times since being on assignment in Kenya and now I feel uncomfortable there. I’ve had several friends move back permanently to their homelands and I’ve asked them how long it took for them to adjust and they all say at least 8 weeks. I can identify with this as we spent 6 weeks in the States last year and it got quite comfortable by the end of the trip.

 

Sharon’s Tips:

  1. Give us time.

Homecomers (HC) usually travel a long way to get back. For me it was more than 30 hours in transit, that’s a really long time. I have done longer but on my ticket I had to be back in New Zealand by a certain date. It can take up to a week to get over jetlag.

Besides that though there are often things HC have to deal with. Organising bank accounts, health checks, drivers licenses and buying appropriate clothes for the local scene. And of course, you have to figure out how to get from A to B to do those things. We only hold Kenyan drivers licenses but it looks like we have to re-sit everything to get our New Zealand ones. That means I have to spend time studying, making sure I get my crazy driving ways out of my system and get to obey the laws here.

While it’s great to catch up with everyone, we come with a priority. For me, it was our daughter. For others it may be relocating back permanently or sorting out family issues. I had lots of people sending me messages and requests for catch ups and I’d only been in the country for 24 hours. It was all a bit much when what I really wanted to do was to just sit down after more than 3 years and watch a movie with my daughter.

flight

Just after landing

 

  1. Don’t assume.

A really hard things is that people assume that you know people, politics, current affairs and where to go for something. While we get a lot of news online, it’s just one of many things our brains are taking in. Our main focus is on the foreign country where we are based, not our homeland. Yes we attend events at embassies but that is to catch up with people of the same nationality and relax for a night. We know who our ambassador or high commissioner are but we don’t know who the MP is in the suburb we used to live in.

 

I haven’t lived in NZ for 15 years, it’s pretty much ALL foreign to me.

 

  1. Realise we are in two minds/hearts.

While we want to be with our families in times of need, we also have a new family in our foreign country. We have a new set of friends there, a new way of living, a new reality. We adjust.

When we return to our homeland we are torn in two. While we try to adjust here, our thoughts are with what is happening in the country we’ve just left. Today is the 2nd birthday of Alisa, our friends daughter. Tomorrow a group of friends will be going to their house for her party. We gave a gift to be unwrapped then but we will miss out on all of the fun. You can’t help but think about it, yet you wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.

Some people are forced to come back to their homeland as their visa might have run out, or there are family matters to attend to. Some have HAD to return for their kids. It’s very expensive to fly your whole family back so many have to decide who gets to return every now and then to the foreign country.

 

kids

At the beach for the first time in over a year

  1. Invite us home.

We find that people like to meet up for coffee or take us out for meals. While that’s great try and see it from our viewpoint. It costs at least double to go to a restaurant and we often think in our minds ‘I could take that extra $70 and put a kid through school for a couple of months’. Do that 20 times and you see a number of children’s faces or the local street children who could actually be getting educated rather than begging, or worse.

We come out for a couple of months at a time but hardly ever get invited into peoples homes. When you’re out speaking/fundraising you get tired of seeing the inside of buildings, offices and meeting rooms. You’re presenting non-stop about your cause, which you are passionate about, and you don’t get ‘down time’. Last time I was on tour I just got my feet wet in the ocean and my daughter said “Mum, your next appointment is early”. 30 seconds is all I got – our ocean is a 9 hour drive away.

 

Give us an option of where to meet.

 

  1. Support us.

It’s VERY expensive to travel to our homeland. It’s the number one reason we don’t return more often. Many of us rely on personal donors to keep us in the field. Some people just stop supporting because they think that the money isn’t needed any more. Often it’s the opposite. Many times things like eating out are cheaper overseas but that’s about it. If you’re going to stop financially supporting someone, at least write them an email explaining it.

 

  1. We still have a job to do.

When we are in New Zealand and Australia this year we are travelling to schools and Rotary clubs to try and raise project funds. It’s certainly no holiday when you return, even though people think so. There’s lots of emails, contacting your team back in the foreign country, making sure there’s funds for projects, visiting people here, grant writing, setting up legal entities and more. You are also working across time zones to balance everything out.

Work does not stop just because you’re in a different geographical place. It’s hard because you want to spend time with everyone but need to keep working. My brother asked what I’m up to while here and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to explain that I’m working because he just wouldn’t get it.

To me a holiday is hanging at the beach with the family, everyone off their phones and out playing games. This trip is so not a holiday. We need to quadruple our personal support level to be able to return to the work we do. Money does not automatically come in and it takes a lot of arm twisting to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars.

me

 

 

 

It’s Going To Be An Interesting Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

han

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

So we have a plan.

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

Because we’ll be gone until September.

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

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

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

suitcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find our video announcement HERE

 

 

Raising a Special Needs Child

I thought for something quite different I’d give an insight on what it’s been like for us to raise a child with special needs. We are very blessed because Liz has a mild disability so I don’t know what it’s like to have a child in the severe category but I figure we all go through the same emotions and similar challenges.

When Liz was born on December 31st 1989 we had no idea of the journey ahead of us. She was your typical baby and loved being handled by people. She crawled at 11 months, walked at 12. She got out of day and night nappies when she was just over 3, thanks to her Aunty Celline who had her for that week. But she didn’t speak. As she got older she didn’t like physical touch.

At 3 when the adventures begin.

At 3 when the adventures begin.

I always had this dream of walking with my daughter, holding her hand and enjoying hanging out. I had to wait 16 years for that to happen.

Liz was just over the age of 3 and I noticed there was something ‘different’ about her. Her speech hadn’t developed beyond one word answers. Her younger sister was more advanced than her in many ways and she is 16 months younger. Liz didn’t want to be cuddled and was happy just to go through life at a slower pace. I tried to give Pete hints that I thought something might be not right and he just shook it off. When he was young Pete struggled academically, had some home challenges and is severely dyslexic. No way did his daughter have any issues!

Pete and I went to India for 3 weeks while the girls stayed with my sister. Unfortunately they both got chickenpox so she was very happy to hand them back at the end of it all! It was then that our pastors approached us and said we should get Liz checked out as she wasn’t at the same level as her peers. So off to our GP we went.

One of my most favourite shots of Liz.

One of my most favourite shots of Liz.

He put us on to Jeanette Van Der Wal, a speech therapist. She was at the same therapy centre that Pete went to when he was a kid.

Liz started speech therapy with Jeanette pretty much straight after visiting our doctor. Her first goal was to put 2 words together.

Two.

Our lives have never been the same since.

For the next few years there were visits to child psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, blood tests, tests for her mental status and surgery. There’s the interdisciplinary report, Fragile X testing, the CELF-3 test, the non-verbal assessment etc. Every time you walk away feeling drained and that it’s your fault. There’s a whole new language you have to learn to be in synch with what the specialists are saying.

This kid has traveled the world.

This kid has traveled the world.

We were always being asked for descriptions of the pregnancy, the birth, her milestones and her sleeping patterns. Liz went through so many tests over the years she knew how to do them by rote. I remember once she said she had already done a particular one and wasn’t prepared to do it again.

She’s one smart cookie.

No one ever labeled Liz, especially Jeanette. She didn’t want Liz to be put into a box because we would lower our expectations. It was the best thing she ever did and we are forever grateful. If we knew of Lizzies label earlier we probably would’ve gone soft on her. Instead we treated her as normal as her sister.

In some ways she got extras like going to Riding For The Disabled. It is a brilliant setup and Lyn who still runs it to this day helped build confidence in Liz. She taught Liz sign language and didn’t let her cut corners. To this day, Liz is great with horses.

She might live in the city but she's a country kid at heart. And has no fashion sense.

She might live in the city but she’s a country kid at heart. And has no fashion sense.

One day a specialist just let it roll off his tongue that Liz was considered mentally disabled but in the mild region. We were devastated as we’d never thought of her in that way. We had a disabled child.

So – we went back to Jeanette. I remember her saying that was the reason why she never labeled Liz, because we would see her differently.

But Liz is different.

She can’t spell for peanuts, her speech gets unclear, her co-ordination leaves a lot to be desired and she just doesn’t get social cues, which are so embarassing. There’s things she had to learn to do – like buttons. Liz was 16 before she could do up her laces.

Don McDonell, one of Lizzies heroes. He always sees the best in her.

Don McDonell, one of Lizzies heroes. He always sees the best in her.

People made huge judgment calls as to why she was the way she was.

That’s a hard one. Super spiritual people tried to cast demons out of her, some said it was because we were ‘too busy serving the Lord’, others were just jerks. In the Church the answer was ‘just pray and God would fix it’. What if God doesn’t see anything wrong with someone having a few extra needs, after all, we’ve all got them?

Being different is okay, that is until you realize you’re different.

It wasn’t until she was in her late teens she understood how different she was. Her sister had lots of friends, was a main vocalist at youth group and held an after school job. Liz felt she was a nobody – invisible. And she was right, because nobody wants to give someone different a chance. They make us feel uncomfortable because they’re not ‘normal’. There was a time that I could see a bit of her dying on the inside day by day. She started emotionally shutting down, actually I saw her getting depressed.

On the day Liz became a deacon at church.

On the day Liz became a deacon at church.

And then there was the change.

Pete talked with Kerry Robertson, one of the youth pastors and explained the situation. Just one person can make a change and it was Kerry who did it for Liz. He asked her to be a photographer at their events. Liz became a new person. She wanted to go to youth group, she became very good at taking photos. Even now she gets unique perspectives when photographing.

Remember, this is a kid who was told of all the things she couldn’t do. Couldn’t play sport – she plays hockey and soccer. She couldn’t do anything with fine motor skills – she loves to play the drums. She shouldn’t be able to hold a camera long enough to get good photos – yet she does. She couldn’t hold a fulltime job – but she does. Okay, she volunteers at a preschool, but it still counts.

She joined the serving team at church and was the youngest deacon ever to be allowed. She found her place of belonging. She inherited a small team of people that treated her as a human being.

At her farewell. Liz served on this team for 10 years.

At her farewell. Liz served on this team for 10 years.

Yes, Liz has a mild mental disability. She is dyslexic and her speech is not clear. Liz exhibits all the signs of having Apsergers Syndrome, so that’s what we say to people. We never say ‘she has a mental disability’. Considering we only use a small portion of our brains, I figure we all have a way to go to getting to our potential.

But she is a great kid with the best personality.

Both our girls graduated from high school - something their parents didn't do.

Both our girls graduated from high school – something their parents didn’t do.

I’m the first to admit that it hasn’t been an easy journey. Did I do something wrong during pregnancy, is it genetic? The nagging questions don’t go away because sometimes there isn’t any easy answer.

Looking back now I wish I had handled Lizzies schooling better. She wasn’t ready to learn at 5, 6 or 7. Liz was ready at about 8 years of age, but of course I felt pressured by society to ‘make this girl learn’. Liz doesn’t learn from a book, she learns from experience. It takes her a long time to get the information from short term to the long term memory, unless it’s an experience. We call her our human GPS.

Liz is so generous, she paid our flights to the US for our final family holiday.

Liz is so generous, she paid our flights to the US for our final family holiday.

Liz likes having a routine, she struggles when there are changes – big time. Now, she can fly back to Australia but she HAS to have an excel sheet with every detail of her trip. Every day her routine is pretty much the same.

And yet, she’s up for an adventure. Every day she goes to work on a motorbike (as a passenger). When we talked about going to South Sudan or spending a year driving around Africa – she was in for it.

Liz is now 25. I can’t imagine what she would be like if she were ‘normal’ because she is the way we’ve always known her. Liz will always be dependent on someone to help her through life. We don’t think she’ll ever live independently, she will always need support. We’ve had to make backup plans if something happens to us here in Africa. We’ve got friends that will oversee the selling of things and getting her back to my sister in New Zealand. Liz is hopeless with money and doesn’t understand the value of it. That’s why I control her bank account. Although she’s 25 in many ways she behaves like a person in their early teens.

Our children, the best investment we've ever made.

Our children, the best investment we’ve ever made.

Life is not easy for Liz, but her amazing attitude gets her a long way. Most people know ‘there’s something not right’ about her but can’t quite put their finger on it.

Liz is different and I’m glad she is who she is.

I’m also glad she got to grow up in New Zealand with the great services they have there. Unfortunately, here in Kenya there’s not a lot for special needs kids, unless you have a lot of money. I’ve taken what we’ve learned with Liz and will help as many kids as possible over here. Kenya has a long way to go in its services for disabled people and I would say it’s the same across East Africa.

I hope I can help kids and their families in the same way we were helped and with the same compassion and grace we were given.

Here is Lizzies first speech therapy workbook.

Here is Lizzies first speech therapy workbook.

Thank you to the people who have done life with us and Liz – you’re amazing.

And thank you Liz for teaching us patience, forgiveness, grace, long suffering but most of all how to rejoice. I remember the day you first said the three most important words ‘I love you’. I was hanging out the laundry and you were playing in your garden. It’s burned in my memory forever.

Now that’s priceless.

3 creanies

Overcoming Trauma

It’s coming up 6 months since Liz and I were held up in our home, during the day by 3 armed men and their boss – a woman.

It’s not the worst thing that can happen in life because we came out alive. I’ve got friends over here who have lost a child, that would be the ultimate nightmare. A terminal illness, that’s certainly no fun. A messy divorce – that sucks big time.

I thought I’d share how I’ve dealt/am still dealing with this trauma.

When it happened, it was only 2 days after Liz and I had gone on a 10km fun run for the First Lady (of Kenya). I’ve always enjoyed running since I was young and for someone who can spend 12 hours a day on a computer, it keeps me fit (kind of). I tend to call it more of a granny shuffle than a run, but it gets my heart racing. On that run, we had some special purple tee shirts that entrants received. It was a great day and I was proud it be a part of it with Liz.

That was the Sunday.

By Tuesday at 3pm our lives were changed forever.

Gone was the feeling of safety in our own home. What was weird is that I didn’t mind being home afterwards. I just didn’t want to sit in the particular seat I was in when a guy shoved a gun in my face. I certainly didn’t want to watch any cop shows. The blanket that they covered us with when they tied us up – I wanted to throw away. Whatever they touched I wanted to get rid of.

What really compounded it, was having to deal with the police over the next 3 days. I think it was almost as bad. In most countries you go to the police for help, not here.

The biggest help we got was actually from a friend in South Africa who we haven’t seen for years. Rod was really good support for us, especially for Pete as he felt guilty that he wasn’t home, because it wouldn’t have happened. Rod put us in touch with some other Aussies who we only knew through Facebook, and when we were ready, we would spend some time with and talk through how we were going.

What I really hated was for people to be shoving it down our throats the next day “YOU MUST GET COUNSELLING”. Forget counseling, I was just trying to make sure Lizzie was okay and get through dealing with the police.

While I didn’t mind being at home, I couldn’t deal with being at home by myself. Pete had a meeting on about 2 days after the armed holdup and we had workmen coming in to do some repairs. I had an all out panic attack, the first ever in my life. It was awful. It happened a couple of times after that. I immediately jumped online to a pastor friend of ours in Australia who gave me some practical tips. By then I had calmed down, but man was it not good!

The guys in our church and the Australian High Commission were helpful, but at the end of the day you just have to get on with life.

But I stopped running.

I no longer felt safe to go out our compound gate by myself. I made triple sure that all the doors to our apartment and car were locked. I jumped at sudden noises.

Even now, 6 months down the line, while things have improved, I’ve still got some ground to take back. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making sure you’re safe but I don’t like to leave the apartment door unlocked even for one second. I think it drives Pete nutty but I don’t care, I was the one who was held up.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve wanted to go back to running again, but I didn’t want to do it by myself. I started with walking up an area that Pete found. It’s safe (well safer than dodging traffic), just up the road and it’s peaceful. You don’t even feel like you’re in Nairobi when you’re there.

I dragged Pete out of bed a few times to walk the route, but I wasn’t ready to do it by myself. And I certainly didn’t want to wear my purple tee shirt – it was still too fresh.

Well, last week, I’m proud to say I actually went on a granny shuffle run all by myself. Today, I even wore my purple tee shirt.

There’s no sense of victory or getting back what ground was stolen from me. There’s no air punch declaring it’s all gone.

I’m just doing it because I know I have to.

I’m using our speaking tour in the US in October as my motivator. I want to be physically and mentally prepared for 6 weeks on the road as possible.

I’ve heard that it takes a good 12 months to get over a trauma. Personally, I think it’s different for everyone. Both Pete and I have decided that it would only take one more ‘big thing’ to happen and we would probably pack up and return home.

I don’t dwell on the fact that the intruders could’ve shot us instead of the policeman. But it doesn’t take much to go back to that day. I’ve purposely chosen not to even remember what date it was. I know it was the first Tuesday in March at 3pm. That I’ll never forget.

I know God saved us on that day. We weren’t raped, beaten or killed and I am very grateful for that.

Next March we anticipate the arrival of our first grand child. I know that March will be better than this one.

I’ll eventually get to the point where the pain of the event will be wiped away but I hope I don’t ever forget some things that came out of it. The close friends, being better at our personal security, learning not to say some dumb things like others said at the time, the love of family and compassion for others who go through tough times.

I’m not glad that it happened to us, but I’ve come to accept that we live in a broken and hurting world where it happens every day to someone. I hope I can be the symbol of compassion to someone else in a better way, because of it.

And I hope I keep running.

5 Reasons why you SHOULD visit Africa

I often see these posts on Facebook of which country ranks as the best to visit and why, even in Kenya. Many of them are fabricated and one-sided, so I thought I’d give a more realistic list of reasons you should give it a go:

No Regrets

The reason we decided to relocate here was because we didn’t want to get to 70 years of age and go “If only”. We all have some regrets throughout our lives so why add more to it.

kids with raq 1

Bigger World View

The world is not all white, middle-class and English speaking. When our girls finished high school we all went off to East Africa for 2 months. We caught public transport, stayed at $2 backpackers, ate what the locals ate and had a blast. It helped them to see that the world is an adventure playground and there’s some really nice people in it.

hann

Crap Happens Everywhere

I often hear people say ‘don’t go to Africa, it’s too dangerous’. Here’s some news ‘bad stuff happens all over the world, every hour, every minute’. You have no guarantees that if you stay in your home country that you’re going to be safe. I often get people asking me if it’s okay when there’s an Ebola outbreak (wrong side of the continent), a bombing (if we’re alive it’s a good) or a fellow Kiwi or Aussie is injured (did we know them). Remember, bombs go off in Indonesia, London, Middle East and the US. A café was held up by a crazy dude in Sydney and the whole country went on alert. Schools in the US are often reported to have gunmen going through them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were up in arms about 2 Aussies executed in Bali – but people still go there.

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There’s Things You’ll Only Experience Here

We live about 30 minutes from the Nairobi National Park where there is pretty much every wild animal except elephants (need a bigger place than that). We drove around for 8 hours last week and saw some exceptional groups of animals. Kenya has 25 national parks, 14 national reserves and 7 marine parks. And that’s just in Kenya alone. Imagine with 53 other countries what your experience could be. There’s also the adventure sports, culture and unique food to this part of the world. Not many can say they went white water rafting on the Nile.

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Travel On The Ground Is Cheap

Getting here would probably be the most expensive part of your trip. Once you’re here though, local travel, food and entertainment is pretty cheap compared to other places in the world. I can catch a bus to Uganda from Kenya for around $25, a private shuttle to Tanzania for around the same. You can get beef stew and rice for $2.50. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can pay through the nose for services and entertainment, it all depends on your budget.

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Sure, I could go on about the wonderful friendships you’ll make, the unique encounters you’ve had or the different cultural practices you’ve discovered but it’s much more than that. It’s something you can’t explain in proper words to your friends when you return home. There are wonderful memories and experiences that only people who’ve been to this part of the world will understand.

The question is – what is really stopping you from visiting?

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Just Get Lost!

We’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of travel as individuals, a family and in a group. Every trip has its challenges and triumphs. Living in Kenya enables us to see amazing wildlife and scenery within a few hours.

Travelling with a large group complicates things and I thought I’d share a few pointers on it.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting

Group dynamics become evident in a very short time. There’s the loud person who is sure they know the way (but not really) and enforces their viewpoint. There’s the quiet one who goes with the flow. In between you’ll have a whole range of people who try to be heard, get frustrated when they feel no one listens to them, and those that verbally let everyone what they think. The more people you have, the more variables in behavior.

I remember when the four of us and one extra went to Hawaii for a conference. The plan afterwards was to go to the volcano national park. It was the one thing I insisted on as I’ve a weird fascination with volcanoes, natural disasters such as tsunamis and the like. This trip was doable because we had sold our house in New Zealand and I thought we might not get this opportunity ever again. What I hadn’t counted on was 5 sleepless nights because one of the crew snored loudly, and I mean earth shaking snoring. I even threw pillows at her and told her to shut up. She didn’t notice a thing.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we're still married.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we’re still married

By the time the conference had finished we were really tired. It had been a full on week and the five of us were ready for a break. First, we missed our connecting flight to one of the islands. Then, I lost the plot and nearly divorced my husband because I wanted things done my way to get going on our ‘holiday’. I got so cranky that I walked out of the pancake place and was heading for my passport at the hotel. It all came down to tiredness. Three teenage girls and tired adults don’t always mix either.

Building memories

Building memories

Mixed ages can cause other problems too. If you have a group that might have pre-schoolers, teenagers and adults from different families, it can bring conflict. Teenagers are likely to want to just shop, adults hang by the pool and pre-schoolers just want to play on the outside equipment. Phones don’t always work in other countries, people don’t listen when it comes to meetup points and little kids can’t handle the long hours often required.

We went to Disneyland in LA one year. One of the family (who will remain nameless) was prepared to stand in line for 3 hours just to go on the Cars ride. The rest of us weren’t and wanted to go on other rides. It was his turn to lose the plot. Again, a mixture of jetlag, tiredness and disappointment.

Liz building a car at Disneyland

Liz building a car at Disneyland

To go in a large group, you really have to be selfless.

I guess we’re not there yet.

We wanted to spend a year travelling around Australia just for the heck of it. Our youngest daughter gets car sick and she was prepared to divorce us for even considering it. She’s married now, so we’re going to drive around Africa instead.

I’m a Type A person. I like to cross my T’s and dot my I’s, but living in Kenya I’ve had to learn to be much more flexible. I’ve learnt that when you’re on the road you may just have to give up trying to do everything and enjoy what you can see/do. Too many times we also try and fit too many things into a schedule and when we don’t get to do them, we get disappointed.

Sometimes, it’s also good just to get lost. That way you end up having adventures you would never had encountered.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It's 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made thing interesting.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It’s 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made things interesting.

In 2009 I did my first trip to New York City. I was by myself and for the most part it was for work. However, I always try and fit in some fun things to do. The people I was with weren’t very hospitable and pretty much left me to my own devices. One night I caught a train from Queens into Manhattan to meet a board member and his son for dinner. It was quite late when we finished and they insisted I get a taxi back to Queens. I was just thinking of the few dollars in my pocket and was very vocal about catching the train back. They were insistent and so was I. Remember, I was jetlagged and in a new city. I went to the train station to find the gate locked. I couldn’t find another entrance and then had to walk lots of blocks to find the right line. I jumped on a train but it became obvious I was heading in the wrong direction. Meantime I’m getting text messages from our board member wondering if I was in Queens yet. I get off the Harlem bound train and a nice old lady pointed me to the right one. I get off at Queens but then can’t remember how to get to the house. I start praying madly (it’s amazing how spiritual we get during a crisis) and looking for a familiar building. Thankfully, I eventually found it and of course never told anyone about by short visit to Harlem in the middle of the night.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway. We did!

With all the crappola that goes on in our world, I’ve found people are pretty good at helping out in a time of need. The problem when you’re lost is that they’re not and they know how to get there but don’t always have the ability to communicate it. By the time you’ve got to the 5th turn, you’ll be lost all over again. Getting lost is okay until that goes on for hours on end.

When we first moved to Sydney, Australia, we had to meet up on the other side of the city with some friends to pick up a suitcase. Evan insisted on coming to our place, but we really wanted to see what their part of the world looked like. This was pre-GPS days. I don’t know how many hours later we got there, because Ev came and got us, but 13 years later he still gives us stick about it.

Golden Rules of Travel:

  1. Don’t book anything on the day you arrive – we’ve missed lots of appointments by breaking this rule
  2. Do one thing in a day – it should be fun not a marathon to get around
  3. Mix things up in your schedule – one day sight seeing, one day shopping, something in the morning, another day something at night
  4. Before you go, ask the group what one thing they want to do/see and make it happen (I’ve never got to the Statue of Liberty because of the weather, but one day…)
  5. Remember the world is big place – it takes more than 5 minutes to get from A to B
  6. Know where the toilets are
  7. Know and obey the local laws
  8. Make happy memories not disastrous ones.

So go ahead, travel and get lost. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out like you thought – isn’t that life? You will meet incredible people, see amazing things and experience life changing events. You’re not going to get that while at home

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn't have known how good he was if Pete didn't have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn’t have known how good he was if Pete didn’t have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Augustine of Hippo

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Go see the world, your adventures await you!