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My Kenya Diary Part One: Nose Bleeds and Nairobi

by Jane McLellan

Welcome to the first instalment of my Kenya diary! I had an unforgettable trip to Kenya last summer, visiting some of the incredible volunteer projects we run through Gap 360. I thought I’d share some of the highlights of my stay…

Sunday 10th July 2011

It all started on a Sunday last summer … I took the 9pm Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow to Nairobi in Kenya. It was a good flight, and it only took nine hours. I was enjoying a nice sleep until the woman sitting two rows behind me started screaming… never a good sign! Thankfully, when I turned to look at her I realised we were safe and sound – she had a nose bleed!

Monday 11th July

I arrived into Nairobi about 8am. The first thing I noticed was that it was cooler than I expected, and as I walked off the plane wearing only a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops I was soon regretting my choice of outfit. Fortunately I had thought to pack my lovely warm hoodie at the last minute so my leisurewear saved the day!

Nairobi has a bit of a bad reputation for being dangerous but I actually have a soft spot for it; I believe that as long as you take some sensible precautions it can be a great place to visit. My first piece of advice is that you should try to arrange your flight so that it arrives during daylight hours; secondly, it’s sensible to prearrange an airport transfer with your accommodation. I was greeted by a friendly guy holding a sign with my name and hotel written on it, and it was nice and easy as I jumped in the back of the car and we sped to my hotel in no time.

I had chosen to stay at Kivi Milimani Hotel, a great spot where I’d stayed the previous year. I’d decided I would stay here again because it is safe, in a good location and has everything I could need. Due to the screaming nose-bleed woman, I’d had very little sleep the night before, so as soon as I checked into my room I collapsed on my bed and fell into a deep sleep. It was a good thing I set my alarm otherwise I would have happily slept through and missed my first meeting with our volunteer coordinators! Our team in Kenya operate loads of exciting volunteer projects and interesting internships in and around Nairobi and I couldn’t wait to find out more about them first hand.

After the meeting, I returned to the hotel and had an early night, heading to bed around 9:30pm. Despite the image we have of sunny Kenya, I was freezing! I had two duvets and was even wearing my trusty hoodie to bed. Eventually I got off to sleep, extremely thankful I’d packed that hoodie at the last minute.

Tuesday 12th July

I didn’t want to believe my alarm clock when it made its irritating noise and rudely disturbed my sleep. After a shower I felt a bit more awake, and I just had time to grab a quick breakfast and meet our staff in the hotel reception. In the car park, I was met by a cheerful and smiley driver. The traffic in Nairobi is crazy busy and it took us a while to drive the short distance to the project. The driver had the radio on, which kept me entertained, as I was listening to 80s tunes including Whitney Houston – ‘I want to dance with somebody’ anyone!?

We arrived at our first project of the day, an orphanage for babies and small children that is funded by a western couple. The building was very clean, had some good facilities and a lovely garden for the kids to play in. Many of the children here are AIDS orphans and others have simply been abandoned by their families. Some of the children are, tragically, HIV positive. Despite their sad start in life, the children here looked very happy and well fed.

The hard-working staff here hope and pray that the children will be adopted or find foster parents. I have to be honest, for a few minutes I seriously thought about doing an Angelina Jolie and adopting some of them – I even found myself asking the manager about the adoption process and how long it takes! It really has that much of an effect on you, and it was a struggle to remember that I was there on a business trip. I know that the sensible and most productive way we can help is to make sure that this project feels the benefit that comes from being sent some really good volunteers. This will be the perfect project for people who perhaps want to stay in the city and have a good standard of accommodation but still make a difference and help these amazing kids have a brighter future.

The day had already made me think deeply and feel really fired up about these amazing projects. Little did I know how much more the day was to bring… but more about that next time…!

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