Muzungu in Kenya: My Trip Comes to a Close

My final week in Kenya was extremely stressful. I wrote quite a bit about it but have decided to move on to happier trails. However, I will leave you with the following excerpt as just one of the days that I experienced:

I’m sitting on a stool in my dimly lit hotel room with my head resting back against the wall. As the evening breeze, passing through the window, cools my sweating forehead and eases the discomfort of my head cold and anxiety, I contemplate why the world is so cruel…. 

I am tired. I haven’t slept well in days. I reported the child abuse, neglect, and financial fraud, walked back to my hotel, and cried, knowing that I’d probably never see many of those children again. But I felt like I had done the right thing. I cleared off a small section on my single bed, curled up, and fell asleep. I had nightmares of someone breaking into my hotel room. My phone startled me out of my sleep, and it was already dark out. On the other end was a voice of panic- a boy from the orphanage called a friend of mine to say that the director was kicking out all of the older children….

If I don’t fight for these children, who will? I’m certainly not the first to discover what is going on and yet no one has reported it. No one thought that a four-year old’s broken leg warranted reason to go to the police. I feel empathy for my friends who simply didn’t want to lose their job and anger at them for not looking after the children. I am conflicted. But mostly I’m just sad. My heart aches. I decide to read. But the only book staring back at me from my bed is Mugabe. I think reading about another dictator will cause a resurgence of tears. And I don’t want to cry anymore. …


Toby and Tobina- Our beach friends

However, there were plenty of exciting moments from my final week in Kenya. John and I had to purchase all of his school uniforms (which included a blazer, sweaters with school emblems embroidered on them, a nice track suit and everything you can imagine that makes him look like a preppy boarding school kid). We also had to buy all of his supplies, like a trunk, supplemental textbooks, laundry detergent, toiletries, etc. I was given a list from the school which was very helpful, but I was so nervous we would forget to buy something. When we went to Tusky’s (a large supermarket that sells everything), I happened to see towels on sale. “Oh my gosh John, you need a towel!” Then I panicked and asked him to wrack his brain for anything else he might need for school. We head to the counter where they have all the pens, pencils, and small school supplies. John has plenty of pencils but we needed pens and erasers (or as they call them in Kenya, rubbers). They have the standard erasers that cost like 15 Kenyan shillings. But then I see Staedtler. And I loooooooove Staedtler. Okay, erasers don’t really tickle my fancy that much, but many of my supplies in design school were Staedtler, and I am all about them. I asked the man at the counter for 3 Staedtler erasers. And while I’m at it, I buy John a Staedtler highlighter (they don’t smudge ink ever!). We get in line to pay, and John points to the erasers and asks, “How much do those cost?” I hesitate and tell him, “70 shillings…. BUT they are the best. And you deserve the best.” He probably doesn’t understand why I’m paying five times as much for an eraser, especially when we’ve been bargaining on everything else and been so budget conscious. But sometimes, you just have to splurge. And even though it’s just an eraser, this is good quality, people! (Staedtler, if you’re reading this and you need a spokesperson, I’m available.)

Shopping for school supplies in Tusky’s. They have such creepy mannequins!

I also might have gone just a wee bit overboard on toiletries as well. It’s no secret that I’m all about dental hygiene so I sent John with plenty of toothbrushes. I doubled the amount of recommended laundry detergent, and well… and then there’s the soap. Somehow we walked out of the store with nine bars of soap. Hmmm. Well at least I know for the first term of school that he will always be clean! (And, in no laughing matter, John’s soap was stolen from his trunk last year at school, and the school director didn’t replace it immediately, so he went two weeks of only bathing with water. So, no need to stress about soap now!) All in all, the shopping experience for supplies was really fun though. We went to the local market to bargain for his trunk, a backpack, gym shorts, and a mathematical set. Oh, and then there was the underwear discussion, because, yes, life really is easier when you don’t have to wash all of your underwear every three days, so we doubled his stock of that. I love the crazy, crowded atmosphere of the large Nairobi markets, so we had fun.

Handmade clay beads from a woman in Kibera

I made a few more trips back to Kibera and met up with the chairwoman of another women’s group who makes jewelry and other handicraft. I made some new friends in Kibera, and I really enjoyed the afternoons I spent there. I ordered handmade beaded sandals and purchased jewelry and other handicraft for a fundraiser to help pay for John and his brother’s boarding school fees.

Self-portrait of John in his Hawaiian shirt

*Sidenote: John’s Hawaiian shirt is one of his absolute favorites. He said he’s trying to preserve it so that when he visits the U.S. he can bring it with him. John showed me this shirt a few years ago when he was trying to decide between two outfits for a wedding. I noticed the Abercrombie + Fitch label in it and told him how expensive of a shirt he had, guessing that it probably cost $50 in the US. He paid about 50 cents for it, so he was thrilled to find out he owned such an expensive shirt.

Margaret, who operates my favorite cafe in the village

I have so much to be grateful for from this trip to Kenya: a fantastic trip to Diani Beach (including the making of funny videos such as this one), visiting old friends, and meeting lots of new people.

Fridah and Agnes, two of my favorite people who I’ve known since 2008

I made two trips to visit Fridah, and on the second trip we reunited with Agnes. These two women worked at the orphanage the first time I came to Kenya in 2008. Agnes and I made a plan to meet at an intersection that is halfway between our villages and then to go on to Fridah’s from there. As I waited for Agnes at that intersection, I had a long conversation in Swahili with a man who is professing his love for me, telling me that he has a very big shamba (garden), asking me to be his wife, and inviting me to see his shamba with a promise to bring me back here. Luckily I understood him for the most part, but of course my end of the conversation is very amateur, and I say things like, “Hapana. Meme hapa, wewe enda.” (No. Me here. You go.) We draw quite a crowd with people murmuring about the muzungu speaking Swahili. Finally he leaves me so he can go dig in his shamba, but not before giving me a mango and asking me if I speak Kikuyu (the local tribal language). I respond with “Asa” (No, in Kikuyu) and the crowd lets out a holler. I literally only know about 7 words in Kikuyu, but when another man on a bike asks, “Wi mwega?” (How are you?), I say the appropriate Kikuyu response. The crowd goes wild (okay slight exaggeration), but now there is lots of murmur and shouts of surprise. Agnes arrives and my fun with the locals is over. We spend a fantastic afternoon in the tea region, visiting with Fridah and laughing like old times.

My favorite motorbike taxi

And then there is the story of the motorbike taxi incidents. Motorbikes are the easiest way to get around locally, as matatus can take a while. I had four motorbikes break down on me in a short amount of time. One ran out of gas  and one got a flat tire, but both of those incidents were within walking distance of home. Then there is Ndung’u (pictured above) who is my favorite motorbike driver. We asked him to take us on a 20 km ride on New Year’s Eve to visit another orphanage, and we had to leave late, so part of the ride would be in the dark. It’s not safe to ride a motorbike at night, and 20 km on dirt roads sucks. But 20 km on on horrible, washed away roads is just asking for trouble. Sure enough, an hour and a half later, Ndung’u, my friend, and I are climbing off the bike because of a flat tire. By some miracle, even though it’s pitch black out, we are very close to the last village we will pass through. We ask around for the motorbike fix-it guy and call someone else to come pick us up. We unstrap our bags, and I watch as they plug the tire tube. Our other driver fails to arrive, so we strapped all of our bags back on the bike and Ndung’u drove us the remaining 5 km. We double the payment for his troubles. It took much longer in the dark, he had to pay to get his tire fixed, and he still had another hour and a half to get back to our village. And it was New Year’s Eve! We told him we’d call him around 9 to make sure he made it home. Distracted by our bonfire where I was teaching the kids about one of the best things on Earth (s’mores!), we didn’t talk to Ndung’u until 10pm. He still was 5 km from home… at a gas station off the main road. His tire went flat again shortly after he dropped us off and he had to drive the rest of the way to the main road on a flat tire until he could buy a new tube. Eek! And, if that wasn’t bad enough, that very same tire went flat when he was taking me to visit a sponsor child a week later. I swore that I thought he would probably never take me on another ride again, but luckily he considered me a valuable customer :)

And the pinnacle moment of the trip is, right before I left the country, I got to take John to school. It was the culmination of hard work and lots of worry, but it happened. He settled in to his new dorm and immediately joined the other boys for lunch. I met with the accountant to give him the deposit slips for the Term 1 fees and finalized some paperwork with the principal. I rejoined John momentarily to give him a hug and give him one last “Work hard” mini-lecture. But I knew he didn’t need it; he’s already so motivated. I have spoken to him twice since I’ve been home and he just sounds so happy. It was really the perfect school choice, and I don’t lose sleep with worry any longer. Asante sana, Kenya. I will see you again!

If you missed some of the previous posts, you can read more about our school search for John here:
The School Search Begins
The Time I Cried in the Principal’s Office
Gaichanjiru: Could This Be It?
Gaichanjiru: Don’t Cry This Time
School Search Success (And it includes hot showers!)


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