The car makes its way slowly as it turns onto an old dirt road. Trodden so many times it’s hard to believe vehicles can drive through the area at all as I bump up and down in the back seat. The car swerves to the left and right avoiding holes in the road and the bigger mounds of dirt. It’s 11 p.m. and it is hard to make out the area through the darkness but I vaguely see houses and shops built haphazardly along the side of the road. Graffiti covers the aluminum walls and it’s hard to determine where one shop ends and another begins. We take a swift left before stopping in a tight enclosure. The path leads on to what I can only assume are homes as Jackson gets out of the car and runs up to a blue metal gate; after slowly pulling it open he runs back to the car and parks in the driveway.
A clothesline hangs above the vehicle with a few white shirts hanging off of it and I glance up to see a small modest home. After stepping out of the car the overwhelming smell of body odor and rotting garbage fills my nostrils, making me nauseous as Jackson walks to the trunk and pulls out my over-sized London Fog suitcase. I am immediately ashamed that I brought a $200 bag with me to a third-world country. My only hope is there is somewhere I can put it so it remains out of sight during my stay here.
We wheel my suitcase to the front door where Barnabas extracts a key from the inside of his jacket and opens the door. I am instantly amazed at how quiet and chilly the night is, “this is Africa” I think to myself, “shouldn’t it be sweltering hot?”
It’s been a long trip to get here, a 16-hour flight and finally I am in Kenya, but all I can think is how much I want to be in bed. Barnabas shows me to my room and tells me that there are three other volunteers here that I will meet in the morning. I walk in my room and meet Rose, she works for Barnabas and will be my roommate for the next three months. She comes up quickly to me and gives me a hug, her English is better than I expected, I don’t know what I thought, but I expected there to be a language barrier of some sort.
She directs me to the top bunk. I have to climb up the end of the bed to reach my cot where there is a blue mesh net hanging from the ceiling. Rose shows me how to drape the netting around the bed to keep out the mosquitos while we are sleeping. It seems to me to be more of an annoying unnecessary process than anything, but I think, “better safe than sorry” as I lay down on my hard mattress and let the crickets lull me to sleep.
The next morning, I wake up a little disoriented and a little earlier than I had hoped to. A rooster with the biggest set of vocal pipes I’ve ever heard cries out at about 6 a.m., (or 10 p.m. east standard time). I yawn and sit up, looking around I see the room is tiny, a small wooden dresser stands at the foot of the bed with Rose’s perfumes and clothing covering it, while a rack stands in the opposite corner where her towels and jacket hang in a disheveled row. I climb down the ladder of the bed and nearly fall backwards into a table that I would have seen at a backyard party set for party snacks.
I shove my suitcase haphazardly below it and meander out of the room and down a small hallway. Entering through a door I see Barnabas sitting at the table sipping on a cup of tea and a young man who looks about my age sits across from him with a laptop open in front of him. Rose can be seen cleaning dishes through an opening in the wall next to the table and I sit down while Barnabas offers some bread and butter for me.
It is at that point that I decide I should keep a daily blog and begin to take note of everything I am seeing, eating, smelling, living.
I am finally in Nairobi, I really thought this day would never come. The flight was what I was most frightened of, but I had no idea what I would be in for.
I am staying in a modest home. A small television set sits near a window next to a stereo. Two armchairs and a couch sit in the middle of the room and seem to be more for display than anything else.
The room I live in is small and quaint with a table pushed up against the wall and a bunk bed for myself and my roommate, Rose, pushed up against the opposite wall. The bathroom consists of a toilet and nothing else. A small rust covered sink is in the hallway for us to brush our teeth.
Taking a shower becomes an experience. A nozzle comes out of the wall and water falls on the laminate floor. A switch needs to be turned on for the hot water, which is separate from the cold. It gets too hot so a small green basin has to be filled before being poured over myself to wash off the grime for the day.
At this point I interrupt your daily blog material to say that I did not explain the bathroom situation clearly enough. The bathroom has flies covering the walls and crawling on the floor. Small flies that are more of a nuisance than anything else. The shower is one of the most difficult things to get used to. As I shower I think of the glorious shower back home, falling in a steady stream on top of my head. The shower in Kenya forces me to wear flip flops to take my shower, strongly reminding me of my days back in college, fear of contracting any sickness followed me to Kenya. The thought crosses my mind that I should thank my mother for instilling the sense of fear of becoming ill while I’m here.
The water falls in one single stream and is either scalding hot when the electricity it working, or freezing ice cold when it’s out. There aren’t any nozzles to adjust it to just the right temperature, which becomes an issue when it’s time to shave. Because as my mother would put it, unless I want to look like Magilla Gorilla, I needed to shave.
The process in turn became taking a wash cloth and dowsing it under the hot water, waiting for it to cool down before wringing it out over my body. Imagine the method of washing my hair; if my scalp gets hit by the water, it’s a pain I’ve never known.
As far as the sink goes, for brushing my teeth or washing my hands, well, washing my hands wasn’t an option. The bar of soap looks like it has been sitting there since the family bought the house and might make my hands dirtier and be a tad counterproductive; so hand sanitizer becomes the course of action. I risk brushing my teeth with the water, I have read that as long as I don’t swallow the water, I will be fine, so fingers crossed.
I have become most nervous about eating while I am here. For lunch we had liver and rice with cabbage and potatoes. It was incredibly difficult to choke down and a couple of thoughts crossed my mind. For one, I hope I don’t insult them by throwing this up, two, I miss American food, three, I guess I’m going to be a vegetarian while I’m here.
It is the rainy season here in Nairobi and the sun shines briefly in the middle of the day, but not long enough to dry up the puddles that cover the sidewalks and the dirt road. Piles of trash line the street and I can’t help but wonder why they don’t have an organization to clean it up. I know money is an issue down here, things cost almost nothing for me, but it could even be a job for the volunteers. Send people in to clean up the streets.
Yet somehow, despite being surrounded by so much filth, the people seem to be happy. I hear Rose in the kitchen humming to herself while she cooks. I hear children outside laughing while they play. At the Havilla Children’s Centre, kids are separated into groups and are learning in classrooms so small you can barely open the door. Yet despite all that they are so happy. They laugh and smile and sing; I was told to wait in a classroom for a few minutes and the children ran to me shouting “Teacher Nikki! Teacher nikki!” And held my hand and gave me many hugs.
These children come from the Kibera slums, the worst slums in Kenya, and a place I will be visiting tomorrow. No, I am not prepared.
The power is out right now, which happens from time to time, so I have to write next to the window on the couch that no one sits on. I am sore already from the stiffness of the furniture and have already begun dreaming of home. “Am I crazy?” Is a thought that continuously crosses my mind. “Three months? What was I thinking?” I’m sure it will get easier; it is only the first day.
The people here seem to be incredibly friendly. They smile and wave and ask me about home. One boy who lives with us, Jackson, suggested multiple times that maybe he should come back to the U.S with me. He asked about where I work and said he could work there too. It was very sweet to hear him talk about it.
There are so many people living in this house with me. There is Barnabas and his wife Mila and their 4-year-old son Joseph. Rose (their maid) and Jackson, Tim (a volunteer from Indiana), and Virginia and Lydia (volunteers from Germany) and then myself of course. People are always stopping in and I’m surprised I’ve remembered as many names as I have.
This is certainly going to become quite the adventure.