It had been over 13 years since my 6 month study abroad experience in Kenya. Returning brought back a flood of memories and experiences. I was curious to see how Nairobi had developed since I was last there, and to introduce Justin to a small piece of my past.
Our first night in Nairobi, we had dinner with the homestay family I lived with in Nairobi 13 years ago. I had stayed in touch with my little 8 year old sister (now 21 and finishing university) and when I reconnected to tell her we were coming to town, the family immediately cleared their schedules to have us over for dinner.
My homestay siblings: 8 year old Marceline, 6 year old Brian and baby Patience; 13 years later with 21 year old Marceline who is about to graduate from University!
Justin and I arrived at their house and were greeted with such a warm welcome and an incredible, traditional Kenyan dinner — all of the foods I remember eating daily when I lived here including ugali (maize flour and water mixed into a playdoh-like consistency), sikuma wiki (braised kale, of sorts) as well as chapati, chicken and fish. It was so special to reconnect with my homestay father and sister, hear about my two other Kenyan siblings who were away at school.
The baby twins were sleeping when we arrived, but after dinner they were carried in and the little girl was placed in my arms. Still very groggy, she opened her eyes to see my face. To describe her state as one of total shock would be an understatement, and we all laughed as the parents told me that I was likely the first “mzungu” (white person) she had ever seen.
The entire evening was lovely and a great reminder that time and distance can quickly be bridged if building from strong connections.
During our time in Nairobi we stayed with our good friend Alicia. She was an incredible host and on Saturday we went together to the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Center.
The Elephant Orphanage rescues baby elephants from the while and rehabilitates them before releasing them back. It was fun to watch how much joy these elephants had playing with each other and rolling around in the mud.
Next stop was the Giraffe Center. I remember visiting the Giraffe Center when I lived in Nairobi and taking my parents when they came to visit me.
Giraffe center 13 years ago and today
As Alicia said, this place never gets old. The opportunity to get up close and personal, feeding giraffes was so fun. They told us that the giraffes would kiss us if we put a pellet of food between our lips. Justin and I couldn’t get enough of that and spent a good portion of our visit feeding and kissing these giraffes (Justin got a lot of kisses)!
Finally, I got jealous of Justin making out with these other females, plus we were hungry for lunch (strange that lunch tasted a bit like giraffe slobber).
Later that night I had a major first — I celebrated my first Oktoberfest … and in Kenya! A local bar threw a party with a German band (flown in from Germany), a big dance floor, tent, food trucks and bars. We danced the night away. The music was a combination of German folk music and all of the overly cheesy American songs that were on our wedding “do not play” list. Everyone was totally into it and so of course we were too — it was fantastic!
The following morning was another highlight for us, and something I was hoping to share with Justin. We were going on a tour of a large slum in Nairobi called Mathare.
Mathare is home to about 800,000 people in a 2 mile by 1 mile area. I had visited Mathare 13 years ago, with a great nonprofit called Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) that uses football (soccer) to facilitate neighborhood clean-ups and community development in the slum. Today over 25,364 youths on 1,731 teams take part in the MYSA sports, slum cleanup, AIDS prevention, leadership training, jailed kids, photography, music and other community development activities.
Seeing Mathare again was a stark reminder of the conditions so many people in the world are living in. Most residents live in mud huts with no clean water, electricity or sanitation and only small subsections have households who earn $1.
For this visit, Alicia arranged for one of her friends, from the nonprofit Mathare Children Fund Panairobi to give us a tour of the slum and tell us about the work they do. This included job training for young mothers and a school integration program for street kids where they provide food, showers and payment for education in an effort to help the children get off the street.
Our tour guide, Augustine, told us his story about growing up on the streets of Mathare and becoming a beneficiary of this organization’s services as a child. After secondary school, he had such a strong desire to give back to his community to he went to university to study social work and is now a social worker at the organization that once supported him.
Overall, the ethree days in Nairobi were packed with diverse and incredible experiences. Thanks to Alicia, Marceline and my homestay family, and all the wonderful friends who gave us such a warm welcome!