There and Back Again, a tale by volun-traveler

January 25, 2011

This, I guess, is going to be my last post on this blog for quite some time, unless I pack up and head off to another adventure.

Looking Back

As I said more than one year ago, at the very start of this blog-post, the weeks have been rolling by. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been 3 weeks and 4 days here. Not at all. It feels like I’ve never left. As if Kenya was all a lovely, remote dream. If life were a straight line, Kenya would be one huge balloon tied to it on the 24th year, and kept tied to it by a thin piece of string.

I guess it’s just the brain’s way of dealing with it.

Here we are back to ‘normality’. Job-seeking, rat-racing, stuff-consuming, master-applying normality. I don’t feel like I’ve just spent one entire year working in one of the world’s greatest slums… and yet, what should I expect? that the world changes around me as I have changed? Or that people look at you in a different curious way? Not really. One is, yet again, a number in a crowd of millions, moving about their daily life.

It is hard to explain what it feels like at times. Imagine yourself walking down the Main Street of Valletta, Malta. Or the busy street just away from Piccadilly Circus in London. Or the road near Hilton, Nairobi, for that matter. See the throngs of people moving in one direction or the other, walking on, and on, with or without purpose, but with an aim or a self-defined determination. And suddenly, you stop and stare around you. Everyone keeps going on to wherever she or he wants to go, but you decide to stop, look around and in your mind, a voice is screaming.

It’s hard to explain. We too are part of the rat-race, oblivious to all else, walking on or walking back or going to wherever we decide to go. Most of the time, I guess, we don’t even know we are alive, that we breathe, and that our hearts are pumping 5 litres of blood all around. We hardly realise that trees look at us pityingly as they gradually soar up towards the sun, sucking in our polluted air. Or, to look at it less poetically… we hardly realise that we are WE and you are YOU and that we all are lovely people to discover, but we are too busy to have time to do so.

Welcome to the 21st century society, I guess. Or to the urbanised world. What does this have to do with my year in Kibera, one might ask? Not much, I guess. But leaving the current and veering off on a tangent to a totally different world, and an alien culture, makes you see things that others don’t. I remember the many times in Kenya when I felt guilt, a senseless guilt based on not what I had done, but what I wasn’t doing. And guess what I wasn’t doing? Living the rat race. I was refusing it. I was an outsider, to it.

One example is Malta, where the mindsets are perhaps more traditional than most other countries. You do well in your A Levels. Of course “Don’t be silly” – with those good grades, choose medicine. You torture yourself through 5 years of intense study and make it. You graduate. You work in hospital for hours on end. In the meantime you find a wife, marry her and have kids. When you reach the age of 61 you retire, find something to do and age gracefully. And then you die.

Period.

And if you decide to veer off that path, even for a little while, most people look at you with hostility, as if you’ve done something terrible. You want to be different? Prepare to be treated differently. Even when you come back, most people tell you “How generous of you to do what you did. Ohh, how nice!” Then you realise, with the words that follow, that what they actually mean is “Now you are back and you have to go back to the way it was before. You played your “crazy-time”… now is the time to be back. Join us. It’s terrible, you know, but we hate different people, so join us”.

How have I experienced this? I’ve experienced this not through my friends, who are quite jealous of me sometimes. No, I say it because society in general and people around me still question why I don’t want to work in hospital. Why I would “abandon a work of prestige, good pay and status” for another wild card. I understand them as much as I disagree with them. Life is not easy, and can never be. However, I have a right and possibility to make it as interesting and exciting as possible – why would you negate me that chance?

It’s hard to express how I feel. I remember on the second day back from Kenya, I went to watch a film in the cinema, all on my own. After that, I was strolling down Bay Street, Paceville, and headed to Mc Donald’s “Coz I hadn’t tasted Mc Donald’s for over a year”. I remember having the most unsatisfactory meal of my life, and feeling extremely nervous. People all around you, consuming for consuming’s sake. Eating, chatting, talking, Gossiping, Noising, Shopping, shopping, shopping. I felt so strange – 1 year in Kibera changes your perspective on things. Suddenly you become and outsider to the world. You are “part of the world, but not OF the world”. This doesn’t mean I’ll turn into a Greek cynic or something. But I have heard it so many times – “I hate my job”, or “I can’t keep living like this”, or “I haven’t been to the countryside in months” and all I can tell them is “Go for it – change your job, dream, wish things. Don’t be overafraid. And yet, most of us are too addicted to not wanting to discover ourselves and each other. That, perhaps, is why so many youths of my generation simply live for the weekend and then drink themselves to a stupor. They don’t realise they CAN enjoy life, and out of fear, they stay where they are, and drink themselves out of their own consciousness. It is no wonder that we, in the west, live very stressful lives. We may have a great life expectancy and tons of comforts, but we may not have the quality of life enjoyed by someone in the middle of Turkana desert, who lives for perhaps 50 years, sleeps with cattle and can see the stars in all their splendour every night.

Enough preaching.

People back in Kenya

I am still in touch with the many people we lived with and went out with in Kenya. Kenyans, Italians, Koreans, Mexicans – once you meet such people, who are sharing the same experiences you are, you realised that a bond is formed that cannot be broken. I call them my family in Kenya – the family I had there, the brothers and sisters who I met in my daily life – be it to give English lessons to, or to watch a film with, or to do a home visit to. In such situations, bonds are formed that go beyond “being acquainted” – they are bonds of a deep understanding, though we do not understand. I remember the many times we had conversations with other volunteers there about one issue or another, and we never really reached a conclusion. But we can understand one another, on a deeper, soulful level, because we are living through the same inner mind-conflicts. Isn’t that, in a way, what makes a family?

Evaluation Weekend

I’ve just come back from a 2 day evaluation weekend which, contrary to my admittedly low expectations, proved quite useful in organising my experience a bit, in my mind. I realised that the goals I had set off with on that cold December day, 2009, had been met, though differently to what I had expected. I also realised that one of my main aims – to find out where I’d like to forge a path for myself – had been met. I now know that my dream, at least, is to go into the world of the Environment. There, to me, is a passion of sorts – I have grown to realise that protecting and enhancing the environment is the one great challenge of the 21st Century – and that if we lose it, we lose our souls, our sanity and our very selves in the process. I want to be part of that world – to do my best to encourage a more harmonious balance in life – be it through promoting solar technology or protecting wildlife, or even using my medical background to discover what diseases or effects pollution may bring about, and ACTING upon it.

Additionally, this weekend, shared with the volunteers from Egypt and Ethiopia, made me realise that I am not alone. That there are many people, just like me, who dared be “crazy” in the eyes of the world and did “crazy” things which most people tend to ridicule, and that we can find comfort in each other in the fact that life is uncertain, that our lives are uncertain and that we are uncertain of ourselves as much as we are certain of our experiences. It was good to know that. It was also good to admit to ourselves that we did not change the world, though the little impact we made DID actually serve for something, and something good. We also, now, will try to share this experience in any way possible, not just because it is part of our EVS contract, but because it would be selfish of us to keep it for ourselves.

Epilogue

This is why I wrote this blog. In these many posts, I wanted to share with you, dear reader, a little taste of what such an experience is about, in all its beauty, adventure and miserable occurrences. I wanted to share with you what it means to be “crazy” in the eyes of a world that is blind except to itself, and, I believe, loses itself along the way in the orderly chaos of everyday life. I wanted to challenge people into thinking about what the world has to offer, and how prejudiced we all are, starting with myself.

And what I can tell you, finally is this. If you hate what you’re doing, and if you have opportunities ahead of you, just go for them. Don’t overthink. Don’t worry too much. Things will turn out well, even if most of the things you imagine don’t turn out to be the way you wish them to. Just go for it, and don’t let anyone tell you what you SHOULD do.

Go for it 🙂 It will be the best thing you will ever do. And when you’re back, you will feel alive 🙂

John

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The Journey Back

January 18, 2011

Once home, an empty shell at that point, I said a hearty farewell to the apartment that had been our home for the past 8 months, and left. I had a very heavy luggage to carry, and was scared of the consequences. We went to Kenya with 30kg, and were expected to come back with 30kg… not exactly an easy feat. I had no idea how much my luggage weighed, but it was way over the mark.. but with what Egyptair website had promised – calculated to around $2.50 an extra kg, I wasn’t too worried.

Except that I should have been. At the airport, they were charging a hefty $12 a kg! Apparently they obviously neglected to include some company whose services make up the rest of the cost! I was furious. I also had luggage weighing at 47kg – I had tons of stuff to leave behind.

At 3am, this isn’t pleasant. It ain’t pleasant at all, I can tell you that. Especially when you have to pay another 10 euros so that someone can make a carton box for you! But I had no choice. I basically dumped all my books and summer clothes in that box, and, mistakingly, some of my gifts-to-give too! I only realised that at home, and was extremely disappointed. Thankfully, I managed to trim down my luggage weight to 35kg.

To cut a long story short (involving waking up a currency exchange lady sleeping on the floor of the booth who complained she couldn’t get a good night’s sleep – well, you took the night shift didn’t you, my dear?) we eventually got onto the flight, and try as I might, I couldn’t get more than half an hour’s sleep.

Cairo with Alan

I had forgotten how beautiful Cairo Terminal 3 was.. it is truly a masterpiece, in a country where otherwise most buildings are shoddy at best. Once outside, we met Alan Pulis, a dear friend of ours who is working with an NGO in Cairo. We were to stay in Cairo for 1 whole day and a half, so we immediately set off to his place in Zamalek to leave our luggage. I couldn’t help but stare out of the window at this Noisy, Chaotic city, where millions upon millions of people hive around their busy lives, shouting and DOING things, or simply lazing about on roundabouts! the traffic, I confirm, is much worse in Cairo than in Nairobi… maybe the worst anywhere. I’d been to Cairo before, and everytime I realise I love and hate everything about it (except it’s history – you can only love that).

After dumping our luggage at Alan’s 4th floor apartment in Zamalek, we spent the day going round Cairo, visiting the places we had never been to before, such as El-Saladin Mosque in the Citadel. However it was, of all days, the only day of RAIN in the whole bloody year, so we didn’t have a nice vista of Cairo from on top of the Citadel’s walls. We of course also did the thing all Mediterranean people love to do – EAT, and we did go out to eat, twice that day, for lunch in a shoddy place, and for dinner in a lovely restaurant on the Nile. 2 extremes… and you get to love both in Cairo 🙂

Malta

The next day Alan set off for work at 9am, and we headed to the airport to catch the 1.30pm flight. At that point I couldn’t wait to get home. It had been a long journey back, and not that I hadn’t enjoyed it, but at that point you just want to reach your destination and stay there.

And we got home all right. As we flew over Malta (in about 30 seconds) my heart simply started beating full-throttle. When the plane landed, the first thing I heard was a “Mario ZUR MIN-NOFS!” which was a rude awakening, to my mind, that not only I was “Back in Malta” but also that from this point onwards, I couldn’t speak or gossip in Maltese any more wherever I wanted. As I went down the escalator and saw the crowd of friends who had come to greet me, I wanted to cry…

It’s hard to express how one feels at such moments. On the one hand, the realisation that you’re back feels terrible because you’d have built a life in Kenya, and then suddenly you realise that that life is over. On the other hand, seeing your family and friends again makes it all seem like a dream, an episode on TV that you’ve watched and finished, and that’s it.

In other words, I was stunned.

As I went outside into the arrivals area, it all seemed like a blur. I immediately ran to my family, and then was greeted by inYgo people (our hosting organisation) and then went round my friends in turn, one by one, thanking them heartily for coming, but at the same time telling them and making sure that whatever it was my eyes were showing, it was definitely confusion. And I truly was. I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing and what was happening to me. Suddenly the realisation that a new year was at the door, and that our time in Kenya was over, that I suddenly wasn’t Mzungu anymore, that I was nmo longer the “odd one out” with all its benefits and uncomfortable stares… all was gone now. I was home.

And so, after some time we headed home. I remember, almost robotically, going up the stairs, going into my room, noticed the changes made to it, sitting down on the bed and, just as dear Samwise Gamgee said, at the ending of the best tale ever written, I said to myself with a sigh.. “Well, I’m back.”

Farewells, Packing and an empty house

January 10, 2011

Back in Nairobi

And so I got back home in an altogether sad mood. Our 1 year was finally drawing to a close. All that was left was the dreary process of packing and leaving. Not much to look forward to..

KIDS, 27th December

On the 27th Pauline and I walked, for what was to be our last time, into Kibera. I remember telling myself “Take it all in, John. This is the last time”… and it was. We got to KIDS’, where we had planned a party for the mamas and the children, who, surprise, susprise, turned up terribly late. But we didn’t mind. This was to be our last time there, and Julianah and the workers did their best to make it a party to remember – singing, dancing, speeches (mostly in gratitude of all we did for them) and all in all a good time. It was sad… I remember saying bye to the children one last time and I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. When Sochil came running to me and jumped onto me, I can’t really describe what I felt… hope? Was it pain? Was it “I’ll be back”? I’m not sure what I felt, but it was with a negative yet hopeful feeling that I left our dear little home in Kibera, looking back and seeing Franziska smile whilst washing the plates for one last time.

Will I ever be back? Who knows… not for some time though… but it felt a bit like saying farewell to home.
Looking back, I don’t really miss Kibera. You can’t really miss Kibera… the dirt, the pollution, the whole misery of it. What I miss of it is the people we met there. And that, after all, is what makes a place special. The people you meet, and the family you make out of them.

Packing, Moving, Stuffing, Sobbing

That evening, on the 27th I said farewell to Catherine and Javier at Java near Yaya, and gave my last english lesson to the Korean Fathers. We had been reading ” The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” for over 8 months, and since we had finished it we decided to watch the film without any subtitles, and it was a good ending to a “course” :). I then went with them and met all our other friends – Marlene, Chiara, Sandro, Xochitl and others at Furusato restaurant, which was to be our formal farewell. The meal was lovely, but being with our dear friends, who to me had become family, and saying farewell to them for one last time, was no easy matter. I set off home that night, climbed onto my jittery bed and realised this was to be the last night in Kenya.

And so came the inevitable…the tedious task of moving out all the furniture in the house… in 2 days. It wasn’t exactly fun, I can tell you that. Moving out a cupboard is one thing. Moving out your dining table, your sofa, your bed and everything in the room is quite another thing. It’s funny how we human beings attach ourselves to silly things like a stove, or a fridge, or a bed. But when you move them out and give them out, you feel a part of you, an experience or a memory is going with them.

That morning, on the 28th, Marlene and Xochitl came for one last time to our then empty-apartment to share and exchange photos. It was terrible, seeing family for one last time, and I couldn’t help but cry at sob at the end of it. But so it was… they went down the long flight of steps, and it will be some time before I see them face to face again. I only hope to see them soon.

On the 28th, the workers from KIDS and some students came to bade farewell for one last time, and to take some of the furniture. The workers, Julianah, Lilian, Franziska and Sarah quickly started looking around the apartment for things they could take which we might have missed. Torn clothes, even a broken bed was good for them! I was quite surprised when they took my broken bed, saying that “we can fix it”. Of course they could! But where would they keep it in the meantime? I figured out that these people are more than skilled in the field of keeping things safe, and I left it up to them to make sure all things were to be put to good use.

The only time I had to stop them was when it came to taking the light bulbs! Julianah asked me to take the lightbulbs, and I said “No… we found them here, so they’ll stay here” and she quickly obeyed.

The end result was that at the end of the day all that was left was the bare floor, nothing else. After tearful farewells at the apartment, where we hugged the workers and our dear students for one last time, it was just us 2 and our friend left, Abraham. We spent the rest of the day sitting on the bare floor of the apartment, waiting for time to pass. All had been packed, all prepared and we were set to go. At this point, I couldn’t wait to leave. There wasn’t much left for us to do here, except bade farewell again, this time to Chiara and Sandro at Brew that evening.

Brew Bistro

We went to our favourite hang-out place for one last time, to say farewell to Chiara and Sandro. Brew is one of those places I’ll miss in Nairobi, in what would otherwise be an ugly uninteresting city. It has a great atmos to it, and we always left there in a great mood… it’s one of those places that never get boring or “worse”, but better over time. They had, in fact, just improved the menu, but we vouched for the amazing fries they sell over there, had a good laugh and waited for time to pass. We were to leave at 3am that night, so we couldn’t sleep before 4am at the least.

We had one final surprise when Marlene and Francisco managed to make it to Brew at 1am, where we said our very last farewell. We took the boligatory “do not leave” photo, hugged each other one last time, promised to keep in touch and left for the apartment.

Our time in Kenya had come to an end.

Christmas in Turkana

January 10, 2011

Imagine spending Christmas time in a desert in 35 degree heat, in a lovely mission house in the middle of nowhere (which has a name, and it’s Kainuk)… imagine taking 13 hours to get there and realising that this place is going to be just a lovely adventure..

That what it was like on the 20th of December… stepping off the bus in the middle of the desert, being picked up by our Mexican friends and taken to a lovely house not far from the Weiwei river. I felt that this was going to be the best Christmas ever, and I was perfectly right.

How did we pass the time there? Easy. Imagine the Africa you see on television. Goat-herders with bow and arrows, and a kalashnikov by the side. Women singing Turkana songs, jumping with every beat, with neck-beads at least a stretched-hand width thick. Spending the day just relaxing, playing sherades or watching a good film, or even setting up a crib made from chicken bones and local materials.

In other words – Bliss!

I also got down to do some good work, namely finishing my CV and doing the first draft of the personal statement for Oxford. I must say I managed to do work, even though I was sweltering in the heat. Also, we had a great time just being with each other.. Marlene, Chiara, myself, Sandro, Xochitl, Francisco, Raul, Riccardo and Roberto. What better company to have than 6 mexicans, 2 italians and a maltese?

Happy Spicy Christmas

Mexican food is not traditionally associated with, in the minds of Europeans, Christmas. But I must say, a dish doused in chilli on a hot desert night with Mexicans is the best way to spend Christmas. Even if you run out of tears in the process. In other words, I’ve just elevated Mexican food up there with Korean/Japanese Cuisine.

Children Children everywhere

And not a moment of peace!! You try taking a walk out of the fenced compound to the river and suddenly over 60 children come running around you, begging to use the camera! That is what walking to the Weiwei river was like! It was fun being with them, but after a while it gets tiring. You know… children, little bundles of energy that never seems to dissipate!

Lorogon

On Christmas day we set off with Francisco (a Guadalupe priest, by the way) to the nearby village of Lorogon. There is no road to it, so we stopped the car a good half hour walk away from it, crossed the river on a bridge and headed into the shambas surrounding it.

Lorogon is one of those African hut villages, with goats everywhere, palisades and a general feeling of simplicity all around. The church building itself is a small low solid building, with paintings of the “Via Sagra” all around with an african theme – Pontius Pilate, here, is a village elder by his hut! We had a long, Turkana mass with people singing at every opportunity, however it was an enjoyable experience. Turkana people, when speaking, tend to shout out loud, and the fellow who was translating from Swahili to Turkana for the local people seemed so angry you’d think he’s screaming about a fight he had, not joyously proclaiming Christ’s Birth! Something on the lines of “Today Jesus was born” would be translated into “ABARKADIGO APPOLON YAGA YAGMENZA” (invented words btw).

After that stuffy, hot mass we handed out sweets to the kids and left for the car. Francisco kindly decided to stop at a little shop where we bought ice lollies to slake our thirst and cool our heads! I can vouch for the old saying – “nothing in the desert is more precious than water”.

I’m poor but I’m happy

We have a lot to learn from the Turkana people. They have very little of our comforts. A good number of them live in tiny straw huts with no electricity, and basically none of them have running water. However they are HAPPY people. Not just plodding along, as they do in Kibera. They are Happy, and you realise it when suddenly out of nowhere they burst into song, like some musical or something. They truly have an enthusiasm for life that we can’t really understand, we who have cars, television sets and internet. They have so little, but they are happy, and they are happy because they are not attached to material things, but to the spiritual and to their families. We are losing that.

And then us westerners go to these regions, convince them that they need this, and that, and destroy their way of life forever. Sometimes I think that leaving these little communities as they are, with all their defects and all their issues, for themselves, and not lead them into our rat-race world with no purpose. This is not to say that the Turkana live perfect lives. Their generations -long conflict with the Phokot has caused them much pain and grief (as much as they have undoubtedly caused to the Phokot). But western technology in the form of AK-47s has brought them great pain and devastation; whereas bow and arrow technology does not necessary kill a person, a bullet to the head would. Thus it is yet again western intervention that has brought about their greatest sorrow.

Basically the Kenyan government, through China, is giving arms to both the Phokot and Turkana peoples, accelerating the intensity of the conflict. The Kenyan government has nothing to lose, only to gain from this situation… basically, if ever Sudan intends to attack Northern Kenya, it will have a free firece army that trains on itself waiting for them!

All good things come to an end…

And so, on the 26th of December we woke up to pack our bags and plod our way to the 4 wheel drive cars that would take us home. I was not in the mood for packing… and the worst bit about it was that this was just the start of a long series of farewells, packings and going away. Back in Nairobi all that awaited me was farewells and packing, and moving of furniture. Not something to look forward to. At 11am on the 26th of December, I finally realised that this was the beginning of the end, and that in less than a week I’d be back home, for better or for worse. This left me in a sour mood all day, although I tried my best not to think about it.

I must say, however, that Christmas in Turkana was a splendid ending to what will probably one of the most meaningful years of my life. Whereas Europe and US was enduring a big freeze, I was there, in the middle of the harsh Turkana desert, enjoying a genuine African experience that I will never forget.

Arusha – Drama no. 2

December 31, 2010

We finally got to Arusha at 5pm, where a driver picked us up and stopped us at a supermarket for some shopping.

Arusha is called “The Geneva of Africa”, and I can easily vouch for that! The alpine landscape all around, the greenery and the majestic Mount Meru towering over the town can easily be mistaken for a Swiss postcard picture… except that there are no pale white people around!

Eventually we got to out hotel, where Chiara was waiting for us…

the Annex by Night

It sounds like something from Anne Frank’s diary, but it is actually a “hotel” of sorts (named “Annex by Night”)… except that it is in shambles. Imagine… at one point we realised that the girls’ room lights were being switched on from a room 4 doors away! And we had paid good money for a far better accomodation. But this being Africa, we just tolerated it for one night and hoped for the best. We met David, our driver, at 8.30pm, who told us that he would be coming at 8am the following morning to take us to Lake Manyara.

The Following Morning…

We waited.. and we waited. And still he didn’t turn up. The one who was supposed to be managing our safari was a certain Allen, who was to turn up with the Driver to set us off. He obviously didn’t turn up. I called him constantly for 45 minutes, swearing and cursing and wishing that for once we would have a good contact in Tanzania. He never answered. We called Kenya, asking Moses there why Allen hadn’t turned up, and questioning if this was all a scam. Of course, we never got a straight answer. In addition, the network was a disaster and my phone kept shoing me a “Network Failed” Message. Just what you need to calm you down.

The driver turned up at 10am, and we all jumped on him whilst he started saying “You shitting me? You shitting me? Allan has shitted me”… Only then we realised and started digesting the horrible truth. This Allan person just took our money, which had been transferred the previous night from Kenya, gave $600 of it to the driver, and apparently went off with the rest, around $900, to “Dar Es Salaam”. Of course, we knew this was just a way of saying “He won’t speak to you”.

We were furious. Another hour of haggling, and Chiara (who hadn’t yet paid) was about to leave back to Nairobi. We of course wanted her to stay with us, but in the current circumstances it was very understandable. It was then that the drive blatantly told us that if she doesn’t pay, none of us would be able to go on safari since he didn’t have enough money on him to give us one. In other words, he blackmailed Chiara, and she had to accept, on the one condition that once we were back in Nairobi she would be partly refunded. And so we set off, cooling down internally as we got farther and farther away from Arusha, which turned out to be a nightmare.

Lake Manyara, and the Campsite

Once you get into the Rift Valley and cross over to the other side, you get to Lake Manyara. A true gem of a park. The driver gladly gave us the reins of his jeep and we drove it in turn for an hour each! I was more than happy to drive a vehicle after 11 months of paying for someone to drive me (we had no car in Kenya). The highlight of this visit was when a huge cow-elephant stumbled in front of us on the road back, and crossed over to the other side into the forest, followed by a baby elephant. It was actually a very dangerous moment- if we had driven between her and the baby, we would have undoubtedly been trampled on by a very aggressive matriarch! But, thankfully, we had stopped driving as we admired these beautiful beasts living their placid, vegetarian lives..

We went to a nearby campsite for the night, where we were entertained by the Black Tiger Acrobatic show group and by a Finnish 16-year old tourist who turned out to be an expert juggler! That evening we set off to the tent. We were only provided with a mattress… no covers, no blankets… nothing. And thus, we froze to death over the night. I was already suffering from a bad stomach upset, and this was just what I needed. Again, terrible accomodation for the price we paid.

Ngorongoro Crater

3 million years ago, a volcano over 5000 m high erupted and collapsed into itself, forming what was to become the amazing and stunning Ngorongoro Crater. As we were driven down into the giant caldera, we were all amazed at the breathtaking scenery and the magic of sunlight reflecting off the central lake. Ngorongoro is one of those places where one can easily say “God felt like showing off”. And He made a good job of it, I can tell you that!

The crater itself gives you the illusion that there are few animals, but only because the topography is more on the flat-side as you go deeper into the crater, and also because most of the animals take on the colour of the soil, which is pale-whitish not deep red as in other parks, and so are harder to spot. We saw amazing cranes, Spoonbill birls and the funnily-named “Corey Bastard” bird. We saw lions, but they are annoyingly lazy creatures who, even when a lone zebra was strutting casually in front of them, decided they weren’t hungry after all and decided to spend the day off looking at a nice piece of zebra chop without a care in the world. And there I was, hoping for some action straight out of National Geographic. Another time, John, another time.

The star of the show was a Hippo who decided to move out of a pool surrounded by pelicans. It was a truly glorious sight, seeing this hideous fascinating behemoth calmly move and mud himself out of a swamp; even defecating all over the place and throwing it around with the flick of a tail. I must say, we were more than amused at how silly it all looked, and yet how natural it really was!

At around 3pm, after a relaxed lunch (at this point my digestive system wasn’t exactly working well) we set off out of the crater and headed back to Arusha. Personally it was a painful journey back… I needed a toilet, urgently, and yet there were none around for most of the way. Not a nice experience, I must say.

We yet again had a little drama that evening when we realised our last stay at “Annex by Night” hadn’t been booked OR paid for, and the driver hadn’t even bothered to tell us beforehand. Yet again, we were angry and furious, but after phoning Moses the situation was solved as he assured us that all will be paid that very instant (via the driver). And so, we got to our second and last stay at the Annex. I quickly familiarised myself with the latrine and jumped into bed for a very uncomfortable night of stomach pains, heat and sadness at the realisation that our holiday was at an end.

Back to Nairobi – 17th December

at 8am we set off to Nairobi via a shuttle bus. The road was a nightmare, and I was still suffering greatly from indigestion. Towards the end of the journey, we got stuck in traffic, a nice “welcome back” from Kenya, no doubt. That day, we were all a bit more quiet than usual. We realised our holiday was at an end. Pauline and I were realising that our time in Kenya was coming to a close…

We had a quick lunch at Java, where Moses came by offering his apologies and partly refunded Chiara as promised. We told him to NEVER again suggest Kassidi or Allan to anyone, Kenyan or foreignor, and he apologised for all the stressful things that happened to us. At least, he kept his word and repaid Chiara from his own money!

Carnivore

That evening we dined at Carnivore with Marlene and Oliver… or, to be accurate, at Simba Saloon. I decided to eat meat, as it was probably the best thing to eat after 2 days of biscuit and toast, and was grateful to taste Ostrich for one last time. We then stayed there until 2am, dancing, partying and having a generally good time. Marlene left at 1am as she had to pick her friend, Sandro, from the airport early that following morning. We then went back home and, speaking for myself, had a bloody good night’s sleep!

Zanzibar Stone Town

December 31, 2010

And so we set off on the morning of the 14th to Zanzibar town. We got the lift with Coral Rock, which was great, and we got there on time at 11am, which ws even better – we had a half day in Zanzibar town all for ourselves!

And so we set off, touring Zanzibar. I won’t go into the details of it, but I’ll suffice to say that it is like a touristic version of Lamu with nicer doors, more flashy restaurants and more people trying to sell you things. Places we visited were the famous “House of Columns”, but only from the outside, Freddy Mercury’s birthplace ( yes, he was born in Zanzibar and his real name was Farrokh Bulsara) and the lovely gardens by the seafront, where we spent the evening gorging ourselves on seafood at the food market, eating mussel kebabs and octopus legs! Definitely an experience not to miss!

We were, as always, entertained by Francesca, who at one point insisted on painting her own thing at a local painter’s streetside shop. And so she did, and the result wasn’t too bad! It’s good to have a blonde around with you, she’d find her way through anything I can tell you that!

We spent the night at a good hotel, and the following morning we set off by taxi to Zanzibar Airport.

The delay

Zanzibar airport looks like a sort of joke, except that it isn’t. There is no air-conditioning, in terrible humid heat. And when you have a delay, people don’t notify you.

And so it was, that we had a 5 hour flight delay. We were, as usual, all up in arms about it. Here again, Fran proved very useful (we love you Fran!). She quietly persuaded the female manager at the airport that we should be compensated.

A few minutes later, we were sitting in an upstairs air-conditioned lounge, feasting on a free lunch and playing poker with peanuts! X’ma nhobbuhiex!! 🙂

Leaving Jambiani – Drama ahead!

December 31, 2010

Once the dream that is Zanzibar was coming to a close, we decided to cut short our stay at Jambiani and spend a night in Zanzibar “Stone” Town itself since we wanted to taste a bit of local culture. We thus phoned Kassidi, our apartment owner, telling him we are spending a day less there ( we had never promised a 5 day stay, but a 3 night stay). Additionally, the nearby coral rock hotel offered us a lift for free to Zanzibar town, so we agreed to scrap the $50 offer by Kassidi to take us back as he had tried to convince us to accept…

The trouble begins

Here, unfortunately, comes a nasty part of our adventure. No sooner had we agreed on the lift thing, a few hours before our last night of staying at Jambiani, Kassidi turns up, unexpectedly and not asked for. He came up to me, asking in a very demanding tone what we had done the last few days. I lied and told him that we just relaxed on the beach (so that he wouldn’t compete with Coral Rock, who had treated us very well whilst he couldn’t give a shit).

That’s when the trouble started – when I told him that we are taking a free lift to zanzibar town and that he would have done the same. He started stamping his feet like a child in a tantrum screaming “NONO, NOT GOOD BUSINESS, NOT GOOD BUSINESS”!! I was shocked…a s we all were in fact. He demanded that since he came all the way here the night before to take us back, we should pay him the $50 we had “promised” (which we never did). He wouldn’t listen to us. NOT GOOD BUSINESS, NJOT GOOD BUSINESS… FIRST 3 DAYS, THEN 5, THEN 4. THEN NO LIFT. NOT GOOD BUSINESS.

He then went on to enter the girls’ room, take some of the bags and throw them out. That is when we became furious.. YOU WILL NOT SLEEP HERE TONIGHT. I COME ALL THE WAY HERE, AND YOU NOT GOOD BUSINESS. SO YOU SLEEP OUTSIDE. We had already paid him for 4 nights, so this was more than unacceptable, this was an OUTRAGE. We were beyond furious! I simply turned redder in the face (in addition to a sunburn) and went into my room and stayed there, fuming over why we found a crackpot to rent out his bungalow whilst Paul and Fran kept screaming at him outside. Pauline too joined in the fury-fest. Kassidi then took the key to the girls’ room, went into the village and returned saying “You can sleep here, but it’s not safe”.

It is hard to express how annoying the situation was.. here we are in paradise, dealing with a grown-up with the mental capability of a 3 year old. We were beyond disappointed. We were furious, angry and turning ballistic. That is when we snapped… when he threatened the girls. We gave him $50 dollars and told him to f*** off, and he did so. We told him we didn’t want a lift with him, and that he was a terrible person… he couldn’t give a damn, he only wanted the money. Paul and fran went to Coral Rock, who were furious with Kassidi but couldn’t do anything much about it… however here is where South African generosity shows its lovely face. THey offered that we sleep over at one of their unused houses… a fully airconditioned gem with a lovely balcony, FOR FREE. How amazing is that?

We packed our bags as night set in and moved to that house. One might ask… why bother moving if you paid for one last night at Red Monkey Bungalow? the reason is that he had threatened us, and we weren’t feeling especially safe. Also we wanted to get as far away from Kassidi as possible…. and also, the house was WAY better than out 2 bungalows, which had run out of water and toilet paper!

Kassidi turned up the following morning blasting his horn like crazy at the bungalows. Of course we weren’t there, but we heard him down the beach. Paul went, and gave him the keys to the bungalows in a hostile manner and told him to politely f*** off. Kassidi obliged, and I’m sure he got very good reviews for his behaviour from all of us!

In short… DO NOT GO TO RED MONKEY BUNGALOWS OWNED BY KASSIDI

Zanzibar – The Dream within a Dream

December 11, 2010

On the 8th we left Lamu for Malindi. Chiara, who has some studying to do, stayed there to catch up on work… I must say its an enivable place to do some studying in! We got to Malindi in the early afternoon where after settling at Ozi’s Guesthouse we went out for a stroll.

Malindi

I was a bit let down by Malindi – we all expected it to be nicer and more genuine, but there is a whoel shabby feel to it that can be a let down, especially after so many people descibed it as being a “Little Italy”. Vasco da Gama, the famour Portugese explorer stopped here on his way to India in 1498, and set up a pillar at the very site to mark the spot. I bargained my way in for 1 euro (as opposed to 5 euros which is what residents pay) and took a couple of photos, enjoying the breeze over the Indian Ocean whilst taking a photo with a cross-topped whitewashed column by the sea. We then went for a walk along the seafront, guided by a local boy to a divine italian Gelateria.

That evening we went for restaurant and had a good time over all, and went back in. The next morning we hopped onto a shuttle to Mombasa, where we boarded the plane to Zanzibar, only to get there 30 minutes later.

Zanzibar

No words can do justice to this place. It is beyond amazing. Zanzibar town at first glance doesn’t look too impressive, but we’ll be touring it properly in a few days time. On our hour -long taxi drive to Jamboni beach on the Eastern coast of Zanzibar, once journeys through green lush forests, palm trees, spice plantations and simply breathtaking green scenery.

Nothing, however, compares to the surprise that was Jamboni beach. Imagine all those stunning photographs of turqoise-blue-green waters and white chalky beaches under a hot tropical sun. That is what we feasted our eyes upon. At this very moment I am typing this from a seafront bar 5 minutes walk from our bungalow, hearing the seabirds’ occasional cooing under a soft mellow breeze coming over from the sea, which is literally metres away. The stars are bright, the Zanzibar colada cocktail tastes great and life seems perfect. The epithamy of relaxation, and the nadir of all that onee wishes life to be. Zanibar is simply the definition of “joie de vivre”, the joy of simply BEING, and enjoying something one imagines the rich and famous only can afford to enjoy. Only for $20 a night, in an air-conditioned double bungalow with bed and breakfast!

I can’t beleive how amazingly luck I am to have found this place. Our accomodation isn’t the best, and if we’d known beter we’d have booked a bungalow for $5 more a night nearby at Coral Beach Resort. The owners of the place are lovely people – they have even given us a 10% discount from any food we buy from their bar, which is one of the few around. We also have free internet we can use at our leisure at their place. Additionally, there are parties every night at nearby Paje Beach, and they have offered to take us there. We went to such a party last night, and it was great, even though people there were mostly in their early 30’s or older.

This night, however, Paul, Fran and Pauline have gone off on their own. I have been wanting to update my blog for ages anyway. I also am not too keen on an all-night-every-night party life – I’d rather savour the quiet and calm night of a Zanzibar beach, relaxing reading a book into the night and having a good time, even on my own. Life, as I’ve been realising, can be good, and at an affordable price. And one doesn’t need a party every night to make it so!

Flipper Mania

One last thing I’d like to add before I head off to some quiet reading… if you ever come to Zanzibar, do NOT miss the unique dolphin swimming excursion. We set off this morning at 6am to the southern part of the island, and by 7am I was jumping in the water with my underwater camera, flippers and masks, pursuing a beautiful family of dolphins. They weren’t the tame, over-friendly type. No.. these dolphins were the real thing. Wild. Fascinating. It is such an amazing experience swimming next to them. They won’t let you touch them, as I realised after a whole hour of tearing my leg muscles to shreds. You swim hard, harder and harder until you are soooo close, and then, with simple playful ease they just move a little bit farther from you and dive into the depths.

Friendly, Curious and dignified creatures. That’s what they are. But they know that you can never be a part of their world, as much as you can wish it. That is why, ultimately, they never let you touch them. They are the untouchable masters of the sea, our intelligent marine cousins who we can never understand. One can only swim in awe and listen to their underwater chatter, echoing all around you. And all you can do is wish to hold one in your arms and hug it with all your might, telling them “I love you, and I want you to be my friend”.

But no amount of want can ever bring you that. It is their world, and they are their own masters. And I accept and honour that. That is why, perhaps, when one dolphine decided to shower me in dolphine diarrhoea as it sped ahead of me, I didn’t feel bad about it. I hope it wasn’t a statement on their part, and anyway… I couldn’t care less… I was swimming after all! Perhaps that’s where we humans deserve to be – in their own latrine. We’ve devastated enough of their home and environment to deserve much worse.

It was only after an hour-long struggle of jumping, swimming, taking unerwater films and photos, and climbing back into the boat and doing that all over again that I gave up on touching one of them, even though at one point one dolphin nearly hit my hand with its tail. We were that close. Also, Jellyfish stings were getting to me (at one point, I was swimming in a sea of bioluminescent barely-visible jellyfish).

This was an experience I’ll never forget… the moment when, more than ever, I wish I wasn’t human, with all our misery, troubles, worries and pollution. This was one moment I wished I was one of our marine cousins, whose life is like an underwater dream, with a touch of the above-world every now and then. They have all the luck, don’t you think?

Lullin’ in Lamu

December 11, 2010

After getting back to Nairobi on the 2nd of December, we stayed up till 3am to pick up our newcomer – Paul Difesa, from the airport on the 3rd of December. We then spent that day touring Kibera, having lunch at Java and packing up for our next part of the trip – Lamu and Tanzania.

At 10pm we set off on our next long trip – 8 hrs bus ride to Lamu. This time we were joined by Marlene, our dear friend volunteering in Kibera. We hopped off the bus at Mombasa only to take a shuttle from Malindi, and then took the 11am flight to Lamu, only 25 mins away by air.

Our next 4 days were spent relaxing, enjoying the unique cultural experience that is Lamu. The chalk-white beach of Shela, the amazing swahili seafood, watching sunset on the floating bar near Manda island, spending the night under the stars, swimming at night with the phosphorescing green sea all around. You get the picture – a simply breathtaking relaxing time with friends. Our accomodation was great value for money – for 11 euros a night we had a great place 2 minutes walk from Lamu fort, a good filling breakfast and great service. The place was Wildebeest, a place recommended on Lonely Planet, and rightly so. Although the place has a slightly shabby look, to our eyes it just added to the whole charm of it.

Lamu in Twilight

One sad touch to this experience was that we visited Lamu at its peak. Next year, the Kenyan government is building a major port on Manda island. Undoubedtly, this major development will ruin the corals, clean beaches and the whole isolation of the place, which is why it is a tourist attraction. To add an extra nail in an already sealed coffing, oil has been discovered to the north of Lamu. Drilling will begin in a few years. And as anyone who isn’t naive knows, oil brings death, destruction and environmental devastation to pristine areas. Lamu will be no more. The culture will die. All in the name of progress and the almighty dollar.

In other worse, I count myself to be extremely lucky to have experienced Lamu prior to its decline and death, which are inevitable. And the worst part is that the people of Lamu are protesting, but no one is listening to any of their calls. People are too busy listening to the clinking sound of money in pockets in the high places of Nairobi.

Another example of greed over humanity. Lamu, you will be sorely missed. My photos of you will hopefully be the last testament of your beauty. A static memory of a soon-to-be devastated cesspool of oil refuse and dead coral, and struggling mangrove.

Uganda – rafting on the Nile

December 11, 2010

It’s been a blur of relaxation, cultural intrigue and blinding sunlight reflecting off white sand beaches this past week and a half. It’s hard to know where to start… and eeven harder where to stop. So I’ll just briedly describe where I am, what we’ve done so far, and promise you that photos are on their way.

25th November – Jinja

The holiday started off on the 25th of November when Fran, Pauline’s friend, arrived from Malta. A couple of days later we caught the long bus ride to Kampala with Chiara, our italian friend doing a disseratation here, and got there 13 hours later. It was an exhausting ride, with a pleasant surprise:

At the border we first paid $50 visa entry, but then we were given the money back after we were told that Maltese citizens eenter Uganda for free! Seems like a Commonwealth agreement – perhaps the British colonial period had its benefits after all!

We spent our day at Kampala staying at Tim’s place – remember that American friend of ours, Mia Sparkman? Well, they moved to Uganda in september, and we stayed at teir place to sleep over in Kampala, over on Tank Hill. Kampala is far far better than Nairobi – it is nicer, hotter and in my eyes orders of magnitude more beautiful than Nairobi, even though it is still the capital city of a very poor country. But give me Kampala any day over stinking, polluted and chaotic Nairobi. Though then traffic is bad there too!

The next day (after a bad sleep on a small sofa) we headed to Jinja, an adventure “capital”. We were to do white water rafting on the Nile. The weather didn’t seem too promising, it was overcast and cold. But after a whole day out on a raft, it was better than being lobstered in the sun.

This adventure was simply… WOW. Grade 5 rafting isn’t as bad as I thought, and I definitely will do a Grade 6 rafting experience some day, as I need more of an adrenaline kick out of this thing. But it is great… rafting on the rapids at the source of the Nile, splashing into the cool (and, unfortunately, dirty water) and swimming in that river, keeping in mind that a few minutes before you saw a baby crocodile on the shore.

Great stuff!

After an amazing trip 30km down the Nile we went to sleep at an amazing campsite overlooking the Nile rapids. I could keep writing WOW, WOW WOW here but you get the point. It was well worth every dollar we spent. Crammed inside a tent, the four of us slept relatively comfortably, and left the next morning back to Nairobi. 13 hours later, we were back home, exhausted and sore.

Anyone going to East Africa? Do NOT skip the rafting on the Nile.