Reaching Out To Humanity… I’m sure I have a few stories left in me yet, and I’m still to mention either of the two days I spent in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. Therefore, I hope you’re still with me… Nairobi’s reputation precedes it. It’s one of the largest cities in Africa (population over 3,000,000) and it seems that an awful lot of what happens in East Africa happens, or is coordinated in Nairobi. But it’s also notoriously dangerous in places, and as a first-time traveler to Africa that did play on my mind upon arrival. But it’s also amazing what a few weeks bumbling around Kenya, making contacts and finding your ‘African’ feet can do for your confidence. You can find all sorts of frightening statistics and stories if you read enough stuff online (and I’m not suggesting for a second they aren’t true) but upon arrival in Nairobi on my last day, it seemed a very different place to the city I had left three weeks previously. Or maybe it was me who was different… 🙂
Over the course of these blogs, I’ve tried to mention as many of the different charities, orphanages and NGO’s I’d encountered out there, as possible. Raise the Roof, Start Small, So They Can, Nathan Hall Williams Center, Springs of Hope (or ‘Hopes of Spring’ as I insisted on mistakenly calling it for the entire three weeks!) and The Good Life, are all fantastic causes who do great work out in Nakuru and beyond. I’d urge anyone to have a look, and see the inspiring work they do by clicking the links above. I wish I could spend the next few years raising funds for all of them!
Reaching Out To Humanity
One NGO I was very aware of, but had been unable to arrange any time with, was ROTH – or ‘Reach Out To Humanity.’ Reach Out To Humanity is represented in Nakuru by Haley, a cute Canadian who I became very good friends with while away. Haley takes her work very seriously, is passionate about the people she’s helping, and although I spent lots of time with her and asked her a few questions about the project, I was never actually able to coordinate any meetings or events with her. Then while out on one of my last evenings, Haley announced that I could go into an early morning meeting she had scheduled for the very next day. I readily agreed, as this would allow me to gain an insight into one of Reach Out To Humanity’s many projects, and give me more to write about after I’d returned to the UK…
To cut a long story short, Haley left the next morning without me, and it was only when she arrived at her meeting did she realise she’d forgotten something… Oh dear! But not to worry because fast forward 24 hours, and Haley had arranged a Nairobi lunch meeting with Frederique – the French-Canadian co-founder of Reach Out To Humanity – the very same day I’d arranged to travel to Nairobi ready for my flight the next day! Hurray!
Traffic In Nairobi
That morning, four volunteers squeezed into a taxi, driven by a local guy named Nick. I’d met him a couple of nights before, and he was wearing a Scotland shirt. He’d never been, but really wanted to visit the UK one day. He was a lovely guy, so I sincerely hope he achieves this. The journey into Nairobi was fairly uneventful, but once into the city itself, we hit traffic. And I mean traffic – endless droves of the stuff. And this is coming from someone who has endured London traffic for 11 years – these roads were congested! I must add though, that this has as much do to with the Kenyan penchant for entering a roundabout as soon as you approach it, regardless of what is actually on it – as it did with the sheer volume of vehicles! Eventually Haley and I were dropped off near my hotel so we dropped my bags and guitar off, before heading off to the meeting with Frederique (who appears to be widely known as ‘Fred,’ although I found it very difficult calling her this, and stuck to Frederique!)
We met in a busy cafe in central Nairobi, and sat down for a chat and a bite to eat. After an hour or so chatting about ROTH and their various African experiences (both had been out there considerably longer than me) – and with my delightful bean burrito fully digested, I left the girls to the remainder of their meeting. It was my last day, and I wanted to see a bit of the city and find the last few gifts I wanted to buy.
Like Nakuru, Nairobi is hot, dry and dusty. But in contrast it’s busy and far more westernised. Lots of people rush around in suits, and you can tell you’re in a central business district, rather than a provincial town. Thankfully I didn’t lay eyes on a Mc******s or a S******ks, but there were chain stores around, and no shortage of shopping centres for the less adventurous tourist. I ended up walking a considerable distance in the few hours I spent on my own, as well as stopping in a couple of fine books shops. I’d given one of my books away while in Nakuru, so wanted to purchase something for the flight. I ended up buying a brilliant report on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 called ‘Machete Season’ which I near-finished on the flight – though with all of the countries around that sub-Saharan belt having such rich and tumultuous histories, there were countless other titles I wish I could’ve afforded.
While ambling around later in the afternoon and looking for somewhere to sit and start my book with a bottle of water, I was approached by a middle aged African gent. He wore a suit jacket, and was quite polite. We spoke and he soon established I was English, before telling me he was due to finish his degree at Reading University in September. I told him I lived close to Reading so he wondered if we could sit in a cafe while he asked me questions about England. It was a busy street, he was a lot older than me, and I didn’t feel threatened in any way so I agreed – despite not being 100% sure of his claim!
We walked to a bar across the road, and ordered a couple of drinks before he continued his line of questions, which were mainly based around whether or not schools in the UK are racially segregated. Without boring you with the details, it unfortunately became only too apparent that the bloke was lying, and just wanted money from me. He told me an awful story about being chased out of his home country of Zimbabwe without his family, and he now needed bus money to get to Rwanda. I firmly told him I would happily pay for his coke, but that I wasn’t going to give him any money. He looked annoyed, and after trying a little harder, gulped his drink down before leaving.
I’d not read three pages of my book when suddenly in the chair next to me appeared a guy of similar age and appearance, who quickly flashed what appeared to be a Kenyan passport in front of me, and claimed to be a policeman. He stated in hushed tones that the man I was sat with had just been arrested, and that he was a conman. No surprise there! He went on, and I was a little bit taken aback, but rather than get too carried away with his equally debatable story I asked to see his ‘police ID’ again. And again. However he didn’t want to fulfill this request, so I bid him farewell and started reading my book again.
Two local Kenyans who were sat close by saw what was happening, and the bloke soon made a hasty exit, although I couldn’t quite believe what I’d just seen! I made sure I hadn’t lost anything out of my bag, and the two Kenyans – Alan and Albert -asked me what he’d said. They, like nearly every Kenyan I met while out there seemed honest and decent, and were embarrassed that I’d been harassed while visiting their country. It made me wonder if a Kenyan would receive as much sympathy had he been bothered by English schemers while in London? Maybe. Maybe not.
That was as eventful as my day got, and I soon reconvened with Haley and Frederique. We visited a couple of great markets in the city before Haley departed for Nakuru with Dave, who had also traveled in with us that morning. He’d just collected his wife Mandy from the airport, and I wondered about the contrasting emotions the pair of us were feeling. While he was just welcoming Mandy into his Kenyan adventure, mine was coming to an imminent end, and I felt quite blue as I said my goodbyes to two of the best friends I made while out there.
I had a great last evening in Kenya. Frederique was flying to Dublin at 3am, so had a few hours to kill before her flight. Ideal, as I wanted someone to accompany me around Nairobi and show me the places to drink. We had a few beers on a terrace bar (whose name eludes me now…) and I grilled her about Reach Out To Humanity and her travels. We also realised we had a mutual love of the Dave Matthews Band, so my iPod soon made an appearance.
Music = Humanity
I introduced her to Storey (which she liked) and Guillemots (not so much). As I said, Frederique is from Quebec, but is currently doing her PhD at Trinity College Dublin, with her Irish partner Paul. As well as this, they were running Reach Out To Humanity projects in Kenya, Tanzania (where she’d been the day before) and Peru. It’s fair to say this girl gets around! 😉 But it’s inspiring – so much so that after learning a bit more about ROTH, I’d offered to help out in any way they saw fit. They may not have much use for a guitarist, but I also know my way around a pencil and a lap top, so we’ll see how that goes.
Humanity & Sustainability
Like all of the NGO’s I worked with, Reach Out To Humanity bases its ethos around sustainability through empowering the locals to help themselves. They do this by working exclusively with local groups and government; through education (Haley is heading up an HIV/AIDS awareness programme for local women near Nakuru) and building infrastructure. This ranges from a nursery, a maternity ward or even a borehole so locals can have clean water. They’re currently building a girl’s secondary school in Tanzania, and are still fundraising for this admirable project. You can view their website by clicking HERE – it’s well worth a look.
This Is Kenya!
As the night wore on, our taxi driver Njenga arrived, and after a couple of beers with us (laws are more relaxed out there!) he took us to a club where we had more beers, a few games of pool and some delicious Kenyan food called kuku choma. Highly recommended! And that was, I’m afraid, the final day of my Kenyan adventure. I awoke the next morning at 5:45am and had a quick cold shower ready for my taxi. Kenyans are renowned amongst locals for being a little ‘flexible’ with their time keeping. In fact while out there you arranged your schedule in either ‘Mzungu time’ (on the dot) or ‘Kenyan time’ (give or take a couple of hours) I smiled to myself when Njenga arrived at my hotel 15 minutes early, and immediately text – “let’s move.” The only time in three weeks a Kenyan was on time, and I was stood naked and dripping in water… I heard it from Dave on my first night, and we said it most nights we were there… T.I.K…. THIS IS KENYA!