I’m in Africa! I haven’t slept in two days, but I feel great. My mind is overflowing with impressions. landing in kenya was like nothing i’ve ever done. everything seemed confusing from the moment we got off the plane. there were signs pointing in two directions for the baggage claim and customs, and very dim lighting, which made it feel like we were criminals who had just broken in to a house with no plan. we finally found customs, where we had to fill out a form saying that we definitely did not have swine flu. it was hilarious. then we got our passports stamped by some men that looked like they had lost all desire to live. just as we were heading to the baggage area (or where we thought we might find our bags), an official came up to us and asked us where we were going. he then immediately started telling us how he could get us through immigration really fast and get someone to take us to where we were staying without any trouble. it sounded like a scam. so we shook him off and headed in the direction of the squeaking, which turned out to be a conveyor belt with the luggage. we collected our massive bags and clumsily made our way to the final checkpoint before escape from the airport. when the guy checking my passport saw that i was from the US, he immidiately pulled out his cellphone, proudly showed me his screensaver–a picture of obama–and asked me if i had brought gifts for him from his kenyan brother. luckily, i had the sense to pretend he was funny and we joked around a little and somehow managed to completely avoid unpacking our suitcases in front of him (which is what everyone else was doing). just as we were breathing sighs of relief, our pushy friend came running up from behind us and said, “oh there you are, my friends. i have been looking for you. i have organized a ride for you.” i said “slow down…you don’t even know where we are going to be staying, and we never asked for a ride.” he said, “don’t worry. you see that man staning over there? he is your driver.” we were panicking a little by this point, as he was physically pushing us out of the exit doors. trying to buy some time, we told him we had to change money. we then decided that we might as well just take the chance and trust this guy. i felt like it was not a good idea, but we were both exhausted and couldn’t think of how else we would find a taxi driver at 4am.
luckily, everything went well. the taxi driver taught us some kiswahili words and we got to the youth hostel in good time. our room was so small we had to climb over the suitcases to get into the bunk bed. we decided there was no point trying to sleep, so chose to go for the icy cold shower experience and then went to wake up our third volunteer, Laurence (who had gotten there ahead of us). the three of us went and got coffee and got to know each other a little, which was nice.
the rest of the day was about as unorganized as i had thought it would be. we were supposed to be having an orientation, but the program director thought it was supposed to be the following day. so we decided to explore Nairobi a little…it was insane! the colors, smells, and chaos were indescribable. of course, we were the only white people out, and everyone stared and pointed. i am kind of liking the vibe of being the minority. it’s certainly interesting. crossing the roads in nairobi is basically risking your life, as the traffic is so out of control and pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way. ever. we went to the ATM first to get some money. it was a little surprising to suddenly come face to face with a guard carrying a loaded AK47. but i guess that’s normal here.
we ended up having a short orientation, which was made interesting by an experience one of the volunteers had had that morning. he was out in Nairobi and decided he wanted to smoke a cigarette. just as he was lighting up, a cop grabbed his arm really hard and arrested him for smoking in public. he was then told to pay a huge fine or he would be taken to prison. luckily, someone standing close by helped him out and he ended up only paying about 20 bucks. but apparently if he wouldn’t have paid that fine (or bribe) he would have been taken to jail and locked up for at least five days, as there are so many people waiting to get a hearing in court.
somehow managed to get to Nakuru before 10pm, which was awesome. we took a matatu–a van with about 7 seats that usually ends up carrying about 20 people. luckily, our host payed for a private one, so we all got our own seats for the 3 hour ride to nakuru. on the way we saw unimaginable poverty. right outside of nairobi, we drove past miles and miles of slums. it is hard to describe some of what we saw, but i can say that these images will never leave my head.