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Kenya Charity Trip With A Better World Canada

When did we go:

  • Mar 2 – 17, 2019

 

Why did we go:

  • a former business colleague, Stu and his partner Jocelyn, have been a part of the charity for the past 15 years and we were fortunate enough to be invited, along with 25 other volunteers, to witness the great work they are doing in this part of the world
  • an overview of our ABW experience is summarized in a separate blog

 

How did we get there:

  • on the way over we flew KLM from Calgary to Amsterdam (9 hours) where we stayed for two days
  • from there we flew KLM to Nairobi (8 hours)
  • on the way back we flew KLM from Kigali, Rwanda thru Entebbe, Uganda (1 hour) and on to Amsterdam (8 hours), followed by an 8 hour flight to Calgary
  • on a couple of the segments we had some minor upgrades that ultimately ended up being more of a hassle due to oversized neighbors
  • in one case Marilyn had to switch seats with Mr. Tall & Grumpy Swede and on another voyage I had Daddy Tall Legs reclined into my lap while I tried typing my blogs on my laptop which was in my lap

 

How did we get around:

  • ABW has a team of local drivers that they used to tour the group around in their safari type vans
  • our driver (Benson) was great at navigating the often challenging roads
  • we did have one flat tire while in the Maasai but he managed to do a quick change despite having to roll the flat tire up on to a rock and not having a good jack wrench
  • other vehicle incidents for the group included two broken down vehicles, including having to tow one of them 20 km to a nearby town, as well as three broken down/overturned trucks/buses that impeded our progress and caused us delays and diversions to get around them

 

 

General notes:

  • travelling with the ABW charity was an incredibly rewarding experience that provided deep insights into the Kenyan culture
  • the weather ranged between 15C (night) to 30 C (daytime) and the heat from being so close to the equator was quite intense (I was able to get my red Canadian tan going)

 

Accommodations:

  • Nairobi – Fairmont (historic hotel, very nice dining/bar area, nice buffet breakfast, modern rooms, dated but decent fitness and pool area, centrally located)
  • Lake Naivasha – Sopa Naivasha (large grounds with animals strolling around including hippos at night and two types of monkeys flying around the trees and rooftops during the day, spacious rooms with nice balconies, average food, dated facility, worn down fitness facility, non-appealing pool area)
  • Kericho – Exotic Guesthouse (anything but ‘exotic’, very dated facility, subpar food, staff was not overly friendly, nice location in a tea plantation, very African is the best description, but it’s hard to complain when it is better than the conditions most of the locals live in)
  • Kendu Bay – Pikadili (new hotel that allowed for closer proximity to the ABW facilities in that area, exceptional staff, a lot of the rooms were incredibly small, a mosque next door was kind enough to do a 5:30 morning ‘call to prayer’ each day, average food, uneven stairs and steps throughout the building which was a bit dangerous, two nice patio sitting areas outside the hotel, pool area was under construction)
  • Eastern Maasai Mara area – Sarova Mara (tented rooms which were a bit tight but quite nice, beautiful grounds, nice spa facility, excellent food, tremendous service, smoky bar due to a big firepit in the middle that impacted our breathing even on the outdoor patio, nice pool area, other amenities such as ping pong/billiards/darts)
  • Western Maasai Mara area – Mara Serena (Aga Khan facility, perched on a hilltop with tremendous views of the valley bottom including numerous animals, warthogs that came right up on to the terrace in the late afternoon, baboons that paid a visit to one of the volunteers rooms, nice pool area, good workout facility and spa, reasonable food, interesting interior décor that did not resonate with me)
  • Nairobi – Four Points Sheraton at the airport (beautiful new hotel, exceptional rooftop patio/pool area, nice fitness facility and spa, great food, excellent service, nice rooms, few minute drive to the terminal)

 

Nairobi:

  • 5M people in a very crowded city where traffic was often at a standstill and driving was not for the faint of heart
  • considered the commerce center of Eastern Africa so a lot of people are moving from the countryside into the city to take advantage of the growing economy and more plentiful employment opportunities
  • the first day we visited ABW’s water drilling/solar partner, Charles from Solar World, at his facility on the outskirts of town where we sweated thru our meeting with him due to the heat and humidity of the 30C temperatures (60C warmer than we left behind in Calgary)
  • next, we visited the Giraffe rehabilitation center (got to feed the giraffes, education talk on the giraffes where we learned that 9-year-old Edd is the dominant giraffe in their facility, tallest animal in the world, three species of giraffes)
  • that night we had dinner at an authentic African restaurant called Carnivore (numerous types of meat, unique drinks, good service, nice open air/courtyard setting, visits from monkeys putting on a rooftop show)
  • the next day we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts Orphans Project where we saw orphaned elephants and a young rhino being fed by the keepers
  • on the outskirts of Nairobi, we stopped in the Kampeni district for a brief visit with an orphaned girl named Mercy who had been featured in my friends Matt Palmer’s 2004 documentary Letters from Lutein

 

 

Lake Naivasha:

  • this was a three hour drive from Nairobi thru crazy traffic and down a huge mountain pass into the Rift Valley
  • the roadsides were littered with trash which is unfortunate and something that the country could look to their neighbors in Rwanda to consider solutions to this situation
  • it was interesting to observe the various modes of transportation ranging from people walking, motorbike taxis, cramped taxi vans, some personal vehicles, and numerous large commercial vehicles
  • the side road from the highway into our resort was our first experience with the torn up road conditions that permeate the countryside
  • the next afternoon we had our first school visit which was in the slums of Gilgil
  • it was an eye opening experience of what was to be numerous school visits
  • the young children swarmed us with their big smiles, and we visited their classrooms and met some of the teachers
  • in the afternoon we took a boat ride on Lake Naivasha in an old wooden boat to see the hippos along with other animals and birds along the shoreline
  • in the first of many transportation mishaps our boat broke down (luckily a reasonable distance from the hippos) and we had to be towed back to shore
  • this area is the home to some large flower growing and exporting facilities

 

 

Kericho:

  • we visited three schools and one water station near Kericho
  • once again it was great to interact with the kids and see the progress that ABW is helping them achieve
  • I had fun running alongside some of the young kids at one of the schools where they clearly showed me their superior stride
  • Kericho is a huge tea growing area that sits at 7000 feet
  • Kenya is the fourth largest tea grower in the world and the second largest exporter
  • the rolling hills covered with the tea growing fields is a spectacular site, and they have large housing areas within the fields for all the workers who handpick the tea leaves into huge baskets on their backs
  • Kericho is a fairly robust city due to the tea industry but lacks decent hotels as it is not much of a tourist destination
  • the next day we visited a new financing facility in Londiani where they are supplying loans to people to grow their businesses, and it looks like a financing vehicle that may provide solid stimulus to the local economy
  • next up was a visit to a water station on the top of a rural hill where we had a meet and greet with local MP Joseph Lima who has been a long time supporter of ABW as they work in unison to build projects in his constituency
  • it was interesting to observe the women gathered at the water station and how they attached the water jugs to their backs before heading out on the treks back to their homes while the men in the area sat around on their porches doing nothing
  • I had some fun doing headstands with a couple of the local kids
  • next up, along with Joseph, we visited a partially completed medical clinic where we chatted with them about funding to complete the complex
  • it was interesting that word quickly spread amongst the locals that Joseph was in the area and he gave a brief speech to twenty or so locals followed by an elderly villager coming forward to tell us all what a great man Joseph was and how he had done so much to improve the quality of life the area (I wish I had got a video of this occurrence)
  • we visited two other schools in the area, and it was interesting that the first one had low energy including a broken water system that nobody seemingly wanted to be accountable to fix, to the Ndanai school where there was a great energetic buzz
  • the headmaster at Ndanai (Philip) has done a great job advancing the facility
  • this was our first opportunity to watch the ABW workers in action as they buzzed around the facility (school, handicapped facility, dorms) doing amazing work with the staff, the kids, and their parents
  • this facility was a testament to how things can progress when a partnership works effectively
  • we had some fun (me and a young volunteer named Taylor) racing 75 meters against some grade eight boys and girls (unfortunately there is video evidence of our dismal opening performance against the lightning fast boys and then the girls race where we held our own)
  • one afternoon we stopped at a mall in Kericho to buy some local soapstone products (average quality) and Marilyn and Jocelyn enjoyed the best chow they had in that area at the Java house while I enjoyed my popcorn from a local stand

 

 

Kendu Bay:

  • this was a very interesting part of the trip as this is where it all began for ABW back in 1992 so it provided us with some great history on the organization and how it came to be
  • we toured the medical facility where a team of Finnish doctors had arrived to perform numerous surgeries for a couple of weeks
  • partook in a retirement celebration and ground breaking ceremony for a new medical building
  • we were able to visit with some maternity mothers and a day old baby, which was fun
  • both days that we were at this facility, they had a buffet lunch set up in a tent that was outstanding meals
  • one morning we walked from the disabled facility down to a bridge that ABW had built to connect another part of the community to this area which opened up access to their facilities in this area to a huge number of people
  • along the way, we met people from the village and had kids following us down to the bridge where they sang us their national anthem in English and Swahili, and we reciprocated with our anthem but only in English (many thanks to Joanne for organizing the singing)
  • one afternoon we took a brief trip out onto the pier at Lake Victoria to observe the locals lounging around and fishing
  • the disabled facility put on a wonderful celebration where the kids performed dances and songs, and a couple of the graduates gave speeches
  • it was very moving to see what ABW has done to help these people out
  • I enjoyed playing ball games with a few of the kids inside one of the buildings (it’s fun to engage in sports with kids as that is one of my main passions in life)

 

 

Maasai Mara area:

  • the drive to this area was quite long and thru some barren landscape at times, but it is always interesting to see the diverse landscapes in a country
  • the road from Narok into the Maasai was only partially completed due to a dispute between the government and the Chinese company building the road so our driver Benson had some challenging conditions that probably took years off his vehicles life
  • Eric organized a fabulous lunch at a hillside resort called Olarro which was built by Paul Allen (since been sold and while they have their own game reserve it is apparently not the best place to see the animals on safari, the rooms and property were spectacular and only $4k per night for the executive suite…ouch)
  • we visited two medical facilities and three schools in the area
  • the medical facility is encouraging mothers to come to the clinic to have their babies as opposed to having them in their homes (in some cases they are being brought by motorbike from up to 50 km away)
  • one school had two girls (11 and 13) who had recently run away from another village as they had caught wind that their parents were going to sell them off for a dowry (likely a cow) for marriage
  • they had never been to school so they were starting in grade one but the school hoped to progress them thru the other grades to get them caught up to their peers over a few years
  • we have since read that this is a very common occurrence whereby kids try to escape these sorts of circumstances
  • at the Irbaan Boarding School there was a massive celebration for our contributions to a new water well (we were dressed up in local outfits and sweated thru some wonderful dances, song, poems and speeches including a brief one by yours truly)
  • one evening we had a sundowner outing above our Sarova Mara resort with yummy appetizers, some libations, a large firepit, guitar player, park wardens to watch for animals, our drivers doing a fun dance, and all topped off with a beautiful sunset
  • we also visited a Maasai village which was interesting to learn a few things about their culture (the men herd cows and sheep in the open lands during the day, live in mud/grass huts, often have multiple wives who do all the work within the village, sell their wares very aggressively to tourists)
  • we did numerous games drives, typically early morning and late afternoon, where we saw an incredible diversity of animals
  • we were fortunate enough to have same great close up views of cheetahs and lions, a glimpse of an leopard high in a bushy tree but no rhino sighting
  • on the final evening there was a celebration for our drivers that was a lot of fun as each van did a performance for their drivers and they were bag piped into the room by Don who had brought his instrument all the way from Canada (what an amazing touch)
  • a few people flew from the Maasai Mara to the island of Lamu to visit the Lamu Special School for the mentally challenged which is a project the charity has been involved in for ten years
  • the rest of us headed out on an eight hour journey back to Nairobi

 

 

Nairobi:

  • we gathered at the Four Points where some people used the shower facilities and we all enjoyed some rooftop cocktails and a nice buffet dinner before most of the folks headed to the airport for the long journey home
  • we overnighted before an early wake up call for our 7:30 flight on to Rwanda and the next part of our journey

 

Interesting stories:

  • there are speed bumps in every little village and in some cases it seemed that local people made their own out of rocks wherever they desired
  • we encountered numerous police security stops as the country seemed to be on heightened alert due to the recent terrorist incident in Nairobi
  • young kids were constantly waving and smiling at us along the roadsides which was fun to experience
  • it always amazes me how colorfully a lot of the women dress and how neat their clothes are especially since they are so busy doing most of the work for the family (cooking, cleaning, carrying water, farming, going to the market)
  • we stopped in at a general store in Kericho where Marilyn observed some schoolgirls giddily spraying hygiene items on themselves while I perused the book section and shockingly came across my favorite business book of all time (Maverick by Ricardo Semler)
  • the Chinese are partnering in numerous massive infrastructure projects with the Kenyan government but I would be curious to know the real economics behind these deals as it makes me think of John Perkins book Confessions of an Economic Hitman
  • the raised railroad in the Rift Valley was very impressive although I had trouble figuring out the rationale for such a huge expense vs. just building it at ground level
  • power lines were installed in parts of the Maasai four years ago but they have not been hooked up yet so I am curious what it will take to switch on the lights and improve the quality of life in those areas
  • our adult beverage consumption was mostly beer (local beer called Tusker and Guinness) as well as vino (generally not great) and a few liqueurs
  • the internet seemed to be out of commission more often than not so they still have a long ways to go on their telecommunications

 

 

What did we not do that is on the agenda for next time:

  • trek Mt. Kenya which is 17k feet and more scenic than Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • relax on Lamu Island at the end of the trip
  • tie the trip into a visit to other African countries (Namibia and South Africa are high on my list)
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