Solomon’s Choice

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

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

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

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

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

This is not the boy I saw begging

This is not the boy I saw begging

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

He was four.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to help me achieve that?

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

Being Home

We’ve been back in Nairobi for 5 days after being away for 2 months. Next week I’ll write about how we managed to do that trip, but this week I thought I’d focus on what it’s like being home.

After 2 years of settling in Nairobi, it really is home. When we were away we felt we didn’t fit in anywhere. Here, things are familiar and to some extent comfortable. You don’t have to explain the challenges of living here to people who don’t understand, no matter how you tell them. No words can describe the sights, sound and smell of Nairobi.

In 8 weeks we had 3 days 'holiday'

In 8 weeks we had 3 days ‘holiday’

It’s nice not to have to live out of a suitcase. We went with 2, picked up another one in Sydney (marketing material) and came back with 6. Yes, 6 suitcases. They were filled with clothes and tools for the next 2 years of work. Most of the time we travelled from town to town with just one big suitcase and a small one. Now I am overwhelmed at how much ‘stuff’ we actually have in our apartment. We’ve spent months travelling with the basics. We got into a routine and we loved it. Now all I see is the things at home that need dusting. Some of the belongings I wonder why we have them. Why did I spend money on certain things? I am sure I will adjust but right now I’m kind of craving the simple life.

I haven’t cooked for over 2 months. We were so spoilt when we were away and now I actually have to find food for the family. I had really hoped to buy a BBQ but didn’t have the weight allowance. We love barbecues, there’s nothing like it. When we lived in Sydney we pretty much had them every night. Before we left there was just Liz and I because Pete was in Ethiopia, so we used whatever we had in the house. When we returned our cupboards were literally bare. Thankfully, our friends who had borrowed our car got us some food for a couple of days. We’ve gone through three shopping lists in as many days, as we figure out what we need and don’t have. We are reminded how convenient it was back in Australia where everything you needed was in the supermarket at the same time. Here, it’s pot luck. Pete’s not a happy camper because he can’t get the peanut butter brand he likes. I think he will survive.

Pavlova - the reason we got fat

Pavlova – the reason we got fat

I haven’t driven since coming back. Not that I don’t want to, but I haven’t needed to. Today is our first ‘official’ day back at work, so Pete has been home. The traffic hasn’t changed. The car needs some engine work on it and Pete’s motorbike comes out of the garage after taking 3 months to get it fixed. We are reminded once more to forget going on the roads after 4pm as it’s just gridlocked. I’m saving myself the pain of a 90 minute drive into town tomorrow (9km’s) to pick up a certificate by paying our motorbike driver $6. I’m not silly, I know the best way to get things done here!

This IS NOT a road in Nairobi

This IS NOT a road in Nairobi

My brain is in a fuzz. I thought at first it was the jetlag, but we beat that by going out for a 45 minute walk each day to lose the kilos we’ve put on. It wasn’t until last night that I clicked on what the problem really was. For months we’ve been used to the sun going down and getting dark about 8.45pm. It took us 6 weeks to get used to that, now it’s pitch dark by 7pm. I remember when we first came in 2012 we went through the same thing. I don’t like it and I will miss the option of getting out there after dinner and going out.

You can't get gluten free hamburger buns in Kenya

You can’t get gluten free hamburger buns in Kenya

At the end of it all, we chose to come and live here, so we have to get used to it all again. Trying to figure out Swahili, the locking of the car doors, the security checks and the unproductiveness of certain areas, not being able to get stuff where and when we want to.

But if we look at what we don’t have, we will miss out on some very cool things here. The ultra cheap fruit and veges which we can buy on the side of the road. Great friends we’ve made. Eating out at a reasonable price. Coffees Pete can afford.

No doubt we’ll do what everyone else does and ease back into life here again. Nairobi is where we are meant to be – it is home.

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!

Who are we loyal to?

We’ve had the Olympics and now it’s the Paralympics. In January next year there will be the Special Olympics Winter Games.

Some times we’re a bit schizophrenic about our allegiances. Firstly, we’re Kiwis living in Australia. That in itself can cause all sorts of problems. We’ve a split household. I’m a die hard for the Aussies, except when the haka is on, I’m for the Kiwis. Everyone else goes for the All Blacks.

The Olympics and other world competitions are a whole other story. We’re super proud of the Aussies and we even bought Liz an Australian flag, which she draped over the couch when watching the games. It was cool that the Kiwis did well. There’s so much friendly banter between the Aussies and Kiwis, but underneath things, it’s serious business.

Everyone knows the Kenyans and Ethiopians are the best long distance runners in the world, and we back them. When the athletes came out at the opening of the games I couldn’t help get a bit teary eyed. The sacrifice that everyone (including their families) have made, the stories of hardship and victories are inspiring and especially so for those from countries where every day is a struggle.

I’m biased to the African nations and make no apologies for it.

In a couple of months we move to Nairobi, the place we’ll call home. When it comes to ANZAC Day, we’ll be there with the other Kiwis and Aussies. We have New Zealand passports but have a great relationship with the Australian High Commission.

The fact is, we live in a global society. Home is where the heart is, and for us, Kenya will be it. Yes, we’ll still cheer for the All Blacks, and are proud to wear Aussie colours but we’ll be Kenyan through and through.