Volunteering in Kenya… Week 1…I AM MZUNGU!

My plane is late and I arrive in Nairobi Kenya around 6:00 AM. Joe from Advance-Africa is there to pick me up and we make our way to the little town of Kikuyu. I am shown my room which accommodates 10 -12 people but it’s all mine with attached bathroom. I find out the only other volunteer is upstairs and has her own bedroom also. I kind of feel like I won the lottery:)…After the posh trappings of the last 3 weeks, it would have been hard to room with 10 other people. I unpack and within an hour I am at the Makimei orphanage where I will spend one of my two weeks volunteering. I planned to just drop in for a short time because I didn’t get much sleep on the plane but instead I stay until the other volunteer leaves at 3:30.

I fall in love with the kids immediately. They are adorable! I come here thinking it will be very sad and that I will feel sorry for these children. I don’t. They are happy, healthy and well adjusted. There are 4 babies, though two of them are not allowed to act like babies:) and 4 preschoolers around 4 years of age. One of these is not an orphan, her mom works there and she plays with the children. All told, Margaret and Rachel have 31 kids in their care full time (some are at school during the day) and 41 total when they are all out of boarding school. Margaret has raised a total of 61 children. Six of her own and the rest orphans, one of which is Rachel. Rachel has a degree in child development. She considers Margaret her mom and has been with her since she was 3 months old. These two women are amazing. Honestly I don’t know how they do it. I am exhausted after a few hours of being there and they do this 24/7.

The other volunteer is there at the orphanage, and boy, again do I feel like I won the lottery. Her name is Selina from Germany. She is tall, blond, smart and sweet with model good looks. She is mature beyond her 18 years and takes me under her wing. She has volunteered here for 3 months and this is her last week. I feel fortunate to be able to share it with her. It is evident almost immediately that she has a huge heart and it will be hard for her to tell these kids good bye.

The next day Selina takes me on a 30 minute bus ride with her into Nairobi. This is another whole new experience. I love their bus system. Old rickety vans and buses that all require two workers. The driver and then the guy that hangs out the door and tries to get you on the bus/van. Once your on, the music is normally blaring. The guy smacks the bus with his hand to let the driver know to go. If he sees other people needing to be picked up, it’s two loud taps with a coin on the window to let the driver know he needs to stop. This same person also collects the money. He somehow keeps straight who he needs to give change to and it can happen 30 minutes later. As Selina said, “it will be hard to go back to the boring bus system in Germany.” She was meeting a friend in Nairobi to go swimming. Of course I forgot my bathing suit..DUH! I decide to make my way back to Kikuyu alone. I do great until I have bought several liters of water and try to find where I’m staying. GEEZ:( This is a really small town. Only I could get lost here:( It’s hot, dusty, I’m hungry and my groceries are heavy…I am almost at melt down mode but I finally find my way…For some reason I have absolutely no sense of direction. If anyone can tell me how to develop this…please let me know.

I AM MZUNGU! The funniest thing here is that Selina and I are the only Mzungu’s around. Mzungu is the word for white people. How do I know this? Because children scream the word and point at us excitedly as we walk by. Some just stare at us. It’s a celebrity status I had never sought, but unlike India the children here are not afraid of us. They will come out of gated yards to wave and stare at us and greet us. It is cute and sometimes overwhelming:) The other feature of this area is red dirt, this becomes red dust, which everyone and everything is covered in. Some days I feel like my feet will be permanently orange:( Later in the week the rain starts and the dust becomes mud…somehow this seems better though.

On Sunday, Selina and I join the orphanage at their church. OMG! So when I was young I went to Catholic school until 6th grade. During the school year that’s church six days a week….kneel,sit, stand…repeat:) I remember watching TV and when they would depict the African Americans at church they were always singing and dancing and shouting Hallelujah…and I always was envious and wanted to go to their church. It just seemed to me that God would appreciate this kind of enthusiasm and joy. Well I got my wish:) Selina and I arrive, the only Mzungu’s out of about 200 people. We are quickly handed two babies. Tears well up in my eyes. I am dancing with a baby in a Kenyan church of worship…little girls dreams do come true:) Church here is like an Olympic event…it last for hours and hours and it’s an aerobic event! Selina and I last only a couple of hours:)

We go home to Lucy. Lucy is 25 and stays at the house taking care of it and us. She cooks and cleans constantly. She is 25 and has a 2 1/2 year old daughter Joy that her mother takes care of. Her family is poor and lives several hours away. She must leave them to work and send money home. She is beautiful, petite and always laughing. All this and she rarely gets to see her daughter but at least they can talk on the phone. She will go home at Easter for 5 days…the last time she saw her daughter was in November for 2 days. I can’t even imagine:( It’s obvious that Selina and Lucy have bonded. The three of us end up going on a hike that comes close to rivaling my hikes with Kyle in Taiwan…almost 8 miles. I’m exhausted and wonder how I will do twice that a day with a backpack on the Camino in Spain in a month:)

So much happened in Kenya in such a short time…sorry this is so long…but just a bit about the children before I close. Ryan is 3 months old. His mother was one of the orphans and is going to school and will come back for Ryan…he’s a doll. Lucky is 6 months and was found in a plastic bag. His mother at 14, was raped and is now in jail. Maybe they will reunite when she gets out if she can care for him. Phillip and Jimmy are 13 months and one year respectively. They are like twins but it’s obvious Phillip is in charge, in fact, sometimes it seems as if he is in charge of the whole place. They were found on the same day at different sides of the city and brought to Margaret. These two boys are adorable. The funny thing is I think it’s hot in Kikuyu and they dress these babies as if they are going to be out in the snow. With 3 layers of clothes and jackets…Everyone here dresses that way and it seems nuts to me. The other thing is they eat 4 times what our babies do. The diet here is nearly vegetarian and heavy on the starches. Lots of rice, potatoes, corn meal, cabbage and beans. Next is sweet sweet Angel. She has brain damage and is infant like. She cannot speak or walk but enjoys attention and it’s obvious she understands some things. Angel is around 5 years old and when they found her she was in very bad shape and they were not even sure she would survive. She is loved by all and has a near constant smile. The 4 year olds as I call them but I’m not sure what their real ages are…are smart, funny, cute and energetic. Jessica, Samuel and Zappora are fast friends along with Michelle whose mother work there. They act like kids do anywhere…playing, sometimes fighting and always eager for attention. What can I say, I fell in love with them all! I could go on and on but for your sake I will stop here:)
From Kenya….Hallelujah!!!!

3 thoughts on “Volunteering in Kenya… Week 1…I AM MZUNGU!

  1. Selina Haderlein

    Haha, you summed up kenyan llifestyle, culture and spirit in a nutshell! Well done – this is a great input! Just sometimes you’re definetely overacting.. this strange girl named selina feels embarrased by all those nice words! Even the part ‘will be hard for her to say goodbye’ is a lie! It was not just ‘hard’, it is heartbreaking! I’m in germany since 1 week now and still struggeling..i miss them all so so much, i don’t call germany my home, because i have two now…it’s crazy i never thought this would be so hard, but it is. I hope it’s better for you!
    You are still impressing me…just by doing what you are doing right now and being who you are 😉
    I wish you all the best for your year of ‘dreamlife’ and a safe and exspecially interesting journey with many new experiences and friends! Nakupenda sana, god bless you 😉 kwa heri!

  2. Megan

    Leelee~ I can’t read this yet – I had ssome eye surgery, but I can see the pictures! How wonderful! i’LL BE BACK IN TOUCH.

  3. Rex

    Hey LA,

    Happy Easter!

    Selina, having been there, confirms above that your great post sums up the Kenyan experience, allowing those of us who haven’t to experience it vicariously through you. Thank you again for that. God bless you for what you are doing and for who you are.

    Safe and happy travels!


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