At a little after 11 p.m. I finally fall into a fitful sleep, I toss and turn until I am woken up suddenly around midnight by a horrible, awful, pungent stench. A little disoriented, it takes me a minute to realize the smell is coming from the girl in the bunk below me, Rose.
Not a volunteer like me, Rose takes care of the house. She is up at 5:30 every morning and tonight it appears she stayed out and whatever she did tonight offered no favors for her body odor. Although, come to think of it, I’m certain it’s been three days since her last shower as the smell continues to waft up toward my nostrils on the top bunk. It’s 1 a.m. before I decide to climb down the ladder and grab my phone and my flashlight. Quickly messaging everyone I could think of from back home, I thank God for the time difference, switch on my flashlight and immediately grateful for the six books I thought to bring with me to Kenya.
At 4 a.m. I had finished one book and moved onto the second one before dozing off and after what feels like five minutes I awake with a start realizing it’s 8:30 and I’m late to meet Lydia and Virginia to go into Nairobi. It’s an immediate relief to no have to worry about how I look as I get dressed in about three minutes, pulling on a pair of capris, an Orioles three-quartered sleeve t-shirt and my dusty sneakers. With my hair thrown up in a pony-tail I’m ready to go.
I rush out the door to find the girls sitting at the table eating breakfast, waiting on me. It’s not that surprising considering the family I come from; for my mom and I, we’re early if we show up a half hour late.
As we were leaving Kibera, I gaze out the window at the trash lined streets and see people rummaging in the mounds of garbage. The first thought that comes to my mind is “I don’t want to see this,” but I can’t look away. The look on the people’s faces should read feelings of hopelessness or appear forlorn but somehow, they pick through the trash with the expression like someone who just walked into a diner. It is the most normal thing in the world for them, on a Saturday morning to make their way to the local landfill, which seems to be everywhere here, and look for breakfast. After my initial thoughts, I am instantly ashamed. I know where my next meal is coming from, this poor woman with a weather worn face doesn’t.
Continuing into the city I quickly realize how dangerous it is to drive in Kenya. Down here there are no stop lights or stop signs or even lanes that divide the roads as we leave Kibera. It’s a free-for-all, whoever gets there first wins.
Trucks and buses and cars weave in and out of traffic, cutting each other off which includes driving on the wrong side of the road while I’m holding on tight, praying that I survive. The funny part is, that even though they drive like maniacs and have no traffic laws, I haven’t seen a single accident.
It’s while we’re on our way to the elephant orphanage that Jackson, who is driving without a license, asks us if we have cars back at home. We all three nod and say “yes of course we do” and he responds with an audible gasp. He comments that we all must be very rich if we can afford to own a car. In Kenya, he explains, it takes people sometimes their whole lives to save enough money to be able to afford a car, and even once they get one they can’t drive it because they can’t afford the gas to make it run. I sit in the back quietly contemplating that for a moment. I am astounded that owning a car is considered rich, but then have to remind myself where I am and am instantly grateful for everything I am blessed to have at home.
After about a half hour on the road we pull into the elephant orphanage and walk up a path where they charge us 1000 shillings to see the elephants; it’s no wonder Kenya is riddled with poverty, everything costs an arm and a leg for them, whereas for me 1000 shillings translates to roughly 10 dollars.
The four of us make our way up a narrow path to an enclosure where baby elephants under 2 years old are huddled around a man pushing an old rusted cart filled to the brim with 2 liter bottles of milk. It is adorable watching them drink their bottles and roll around in the muddle water for a little reprieve from the hot sun. It was all I could do not to laugh when one elephant mounted another who was lying near a mud puddle, minding her own business. Hey folks, elephants need love too.
Once the presentation with the elephants is over, we continue to the giraffe habitat where we get up close and personal with the animals. We are handed food to go up and feed them; which is all well and fine until a man working with the giraffes tells me to put the food between my lips so the giraffe would give me a kiss. As appealing as that sounds I back away and begin to say no thanks, something about an 18-foot animal putting his mouth on mine freaks me out. That is, until Lydia shouts “You have to do it Nikki! For your blog!” Sufficed to say I begin laughing uncontrollably before giving in and taking a small treat from the hand of a nearby worker. A good journalist has to make some sacrifices after all for her craft, right? I kissed a stingray once, so this should be no problem compared to that.
Slowly I put the treat between my lips and lean over the fence to where the giraffe stands waiting. His lips are hairy and his tongue feels rough, I think we’ll be announcing our engagement any day now.
Our next stop would be the Bomas of Kenya but since we have some time to kill, we decide to stop for a bite to eat. There is a mall located nearby that is so nice you wouldn’t believe we had just been in the slums that morning. I hadn’t realized how much I was craving some good, old fashioned, American food until I spotted a KFC across the parking lot. The smell of grease and fried chicken lured me to the restaurant before quickly stepping inside to take a look at the menu.
My jaw dropped open in surprise when Lydia and Virginia announced they have never had KFC and after their first bite, I can tell they are hooked.
After lunch we quickly make our way to the Bomas, which is basically an outside museum to show what villages in Kenya used to look like.
As we walk through and glance at the small clay huts Jackson explains that his grandparents used to live in huts like these, but the structures died out because there wasn’t enough tall grass to build the roofs.
The Bomas are circular structures made of clay with straw roofs. Inside there is a small fire pit for warmth and a bed made from bamboo tied together. Jackson is narrating for us as we continue from one tribal village to another. The inside of the huts consists of only a small fire pit for warmth and a bed made from bamboo. In each village there are four huts, one for the husband and three for each of his wives. I am shocked to find out the it was the wife’s idea for the husband to have more wives because it meant she would have help maintaining the land, the chores, and it meant the other women could have children.
Jackson continues on to tell us that it is still common in Africa to practice polygamy. “If I got married,” he says, “I would have one wife and maybe three girlfriends.” He asks Virginia, Lydia and myself if we do that back home. Virginia tells him sometimes, but it’s called cheating. He says “Okay, so I could do it then.” I said, “You could, but your wife would leave you.” His response to that made me laugh. “Then I’ll hide it from her so she won’t know about it.” After I finish laughing I say “Jackson, women find out everything. You can’t hide anything from us.”
It becomes a running joke for the rest of the day, and when we enter one village that has the four huts labeled husband, wife 1, wife 2 and wife 3 I know we have to take photos in front of the signs. After taking several photos, we continue touring the villages and joke that Jackson is our husband, and we are his 3 wives.
In the next village I notice there is a husband’s hut here as well and, curious, I step inside the dark cavernous space. I stand still just inside the entrance waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark when I get the feeling that I’m not alone. Suddenly I notice a bright white set of teeth smiling at me and realize there is a person just inches from my face. I immediately run screaming from the hut and the man who was sitting still as a statue follows me out. Lydia and Virginia begin laughing at the look of sheer terror on my face.
It doesn’t take long to finish touring the villages and once done, we make our way back to the car for the hour drive home.
After arriving back at the house, it is blissfully quiet since the Mutua family is away until tomorrow night. So after setting our things down, exhausted and completely worn out from our day, we head to the kitchen to make ourselves dinner. We make pasta for the second night in a row, I’ve never felt so lucky!
And the best part…no roommate tonight, so my room won’t smell, I can keep the lights on as long as I want and maybe I’ll get a good night’s sleep.