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Kenya Trip: Kilifi and the Saidia kwa Moyo Orphanage

Just 3 days prior, I had no long term plan for the remaining 4 free days I had in Kenya. Then, just by staying at the hostel and talking to new people the plan became incredibly clear. Traveling with Lina and Lena, two 20 year olds, and Nico, a 25 year old, seemed to just work. Lina and Lena seemed like Kenya veterans and navigated the matatu and restaurant system with ease. We grabbed one matatu to Ukunda, then transferred but grabbed a $1 lunch first, then got off the matatu before Mombasa to board the ferry by foot for free transport across the river. When we landed in Mombasa, there was some confusion as to whether a matatu would connect directly to Kilifi and the 20 Kenyan men yelling in our faces didn’t really help the situation. We decided to just walk away, which is a vital skill in Kenya – sometimes removing yourself from the situation is the only way to find a solution – and sure enough, a Kilifi-bound matatu showed up. Departing Diana around 12:30, we landed in Kilifi via 3 matatus and a ferry at 4pm and Lina and I decided to walk to the orphanage while Lena and Nico hopped in a tuk tuk with our bags. A tuk tuk is a 3 wheel taxi. I’ve only seen them one other time in a town in Peru’s Amazon forest. They speak hot weather to me.

View from inside a Tuk Tuk


As we walked to the orphanage, we saw some of the older children from Saidia kwa Moyo leaving school for the day. They were middle school aged boys and girls and they politely introduced themselves. We settled in to our new temporary home which was really nice as the orphanage has guests on a regular basis. The guests are usually “godparents” that sponsor the children and then visit for a few weeks a year. We met the founders , Petra and Helmut, a lovely, older German couple, and many of the staff including “the mamas,” kind and beautiful Kenya women who cared for the children daily and taught them vital Kenya skills like traditional cooking and hand washing. Many of the children at Saidia kwa Moyo had lost their parents to HIV, Petra explained the “missing generation” to me – where the children had grandparents but no parents. Of the 34 children at Saidia kwa Moyo, many were brothers and sisters. Some were away at boarding high schools and the oldest was at university. Petra and Helmut’s plan was to support the children through young adulthood, until they were successful and self-reliant. Though the orphanage couldn’t replace their parents, the support they provided in access to water and food, clean shelter, showers, clothing, tutoring, sports, games, and mentorship was better than 90 percent of what I’d seen throughout the country. If you’re interested in getting involved and supporting a child, visit their website.

The scene inside Saidia Kwa Moyo. Cuteness OVERLOAD!


We sat down for a dinner of dango and rice. I think dango is red lentils – it was delicious. The children have a rotating menu that consists of dango and rice, small fish and rice, beans and rice, chicken and rice, ugali and greens and some other traditional Kenyan dishes. They rotate in helping to prepare the food. I have to admit, the scene at the dining room was straight out of Annie or Oliver Twist. I do think the food was better though! Nico and I were introduced and the children were told they could ask us any questions they wanted to. Questions flew off their tongues, “Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have any siblings? What are their names? Are you married? Do you have kids? What is your favorite food? Do you have any hobbies?” It was amazing and hilarious. After dinner, the children sang a beautiful song for us and showed us some awesome dances. My “whiteness” showed through in my dance moves, but they accepted me anyway. Everyone was super happy and it was a great welcome. Nico and I looked at each other and proclaimed that we definitely made the right decision to visit Kilifi! We spent the rest of the evening talking to some of the children about Michael Jackson, Rhianna, and movies and then called it a night after a long day of traveling.

Dinner! Beans and rice with James and Elisha


The next day Lina and I headed to the Kilifi beach which was as beautiful as Diani beach, but without all the tourists and beach boys. We were even able to leave our stuff on the beach while swimming. After lunch, we headed into town for a look and some groceries. Kilifi had at least 40 tailors and I regret not having something made. We returned to the orphanage in time to help the children with homework and play some sports before dinner. I hung out with Robin who used an old tire to catapult himself into the air doing a variety of flips. It was super impressive. He tried to get me to give it a go, but I just couldn’t trust the tire or my front flipping ability!

No one’s here!


Might as well do some handstands!


Fun on the beach with Lina!


Robin sending flips off the tire “trampoline”


When more children returned from school, we started up a football (soccer) game. Because we only had about 4 players, the game was keep away, basically every player for himself. The boys stared in disbelief as I was able to take the ball from them and keep it from them. It’s always nice to show Kenyan males that women can play football too. With more players, we were able to shift into another type of game and by the time dinner rolled around, I was covered in sand and sweat! Since the children were eating small fish that night, which none of the volunteers liked, we headed out to the Kilifi club for dinner.

Battling David on the pitch. He was pretty good!


Um, we’ll pass on the small fish.


We decided we’d stay one more full day. I was having fun and Nico wasn’t feeling well, so it was the best option we had. Lina and I were up early to head to the beach. The weather was great and the tide was out, so we walked a few miles all the way down to Kilifi Bay. When we returned, we decided to head to the Distant Relatives Backpackers Hostel to check it out. It was run by Americans and I found out the girl was actually from Maryland, quite near where my husband is from. The eco-hostel had a beautiful common area and bar, composting toilets, outdoor showers, comfortable looking rooms, chickens and a pig, and two friendly dogs. We decided to check out the beach, which was on the very wide Kilifi Creek, not the Indian Ocean and one of the dogs joined us. She swam with us and when she was done, sat guard over our possessions. It was nice to have a pal. On the way back to town, we met a local woman who offered us a ride to town. It was a kind gesture and we accepted. It was probably one of the first times of the trip a Kenyan stranger had helped me without expecting anything in return.

New friend in Kilifi


When we returned to the orphanage, volleyball was the sport of the day and we had 3 large and competitive games before dinner. I announced our departure to the children at dinner. Part of me wanted to stay, but Nico needed to return to Nairobi and it was nice to have someone to make the long bus trip from Mombasa with. So, we reluctantly caught a matatu out of my favorite place of the trip early the next morning for the 8 hour bus ride back to Nairobi.

Hard to say good bye to cuties like this.

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Kenya Trip: South Coast

Diani Beach was recommended to us by some residents of Wildlife Works, so Dan and I hired Mama Mercy’s nephew Dennis to drive us down there the next morning. It was Friday and Dan had to depart for a safari on Sunday, so we wanted to make the most of his time there. The road trip was hilarious in that Dennis had a collection of songs on his MP3 player ranging from hip hop to country with the last set being all Pink songs. Awesome. We passed sisal plantations (the plant used to make roofs) and entered the Mombasa city limits. Americans were to be on alert in Mombasa since the Muslim population is high and it is somewhat close to Somalia. We cruised through the city center and had to catch a ferry across an inlet and then drive another hour south to Diani Beach.

Sisal plantations on the way to the coast – “green” roofing!

By the time we got there and settled into our lodging, we were ready to jump into the ocean. I can count on one had the times I’ve been to a warm coastal ocean – twice, so I was eager to test the Indian Ocean out. As we headed towards the water, we were approached by “Captain Banana” trying to sell us wooden carvings and a boat trip. We explained that we were going for a swim and headed out into the ocean. The waves were minimal since a reef protected the shore about ¼ mile out and the temperature was perfect so we attempted to swim to the reef and stayed out for about an hour. The salt concentration seemed higher too since it was really easy to float. When we returned to the beach, we were sure Captain Banana would be gone, but he was right there asking us to buy stuff again. Dan caved and bought something, but that just seemed to egg on other beach vendors who practically followed us to our hotel and then yelled at us from the beach. We were the new tourists in town and therefore the newest targets.

People selling stuff, including camel rides, on the beach.


Despite the infamous Diani “beach boys,” the beach itself was beautiful. White sand, turquoise water, perfectly compacted sand for running or football, and the hotels were set back quite a way. But there were quite a few hotels and we couldn’t help but walk through some of the more ridiculous looking ones. We entered the Baobob, a known Italian resort, and saw a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean, as well as a poolside step aerobics class, and cheesy euro discotheque music playing somewhat loudly. Just an overall hilarious sight that is hard to describe and I unfortunately did not have my camera.
The next morning we took out SUPs and headed out to the reef to see if we could catch some waves. I surprised myself by catching and surfing the first wave I went for and it was awesome! Dan and I proceeded to catch and surf a bunch of waves and then headed in after about 2 hours. I’ve never had a surf break completely to myself and so it was quite fun for a beginner such as myself.
When we returned, Dan had to leave and I decided to take a kitesurfing lesson – a sport I’ve always admired. The first lesson is a trainer kite, but we moved through that quickly and were able to start with the big kite for the last hour. The wind was a bit sporadic and so we decided to finish the lesson if the wind picked up, which it didn’t for the next few days. So, I still have a lot to learn before I’m kiting on my own, but it was a nice start and a perfect learning beach.

Getting kite surfing instructions (and marriage proposals from my instructor – so weird).


I moved over to the South Coast Backpackers Hostel since Dan was gone. On TripAdvisor, it had quite the party reputation, but it was the least expensive option and close enough to the kiting center, so I gave it a go. Arriving, I selected a bunk and sat down with a friendly looking foursome who seemed to be around my age. I met Laura and Moses, Kenya locals and Masai Mara safari guides and their British friend Debs who was visiting. And also Simon, an eccentric but funny German firefighter, graffiti artist, skater, and retired hip hop DJ. Conversation was easy and an American named Nico joined our group. After dining and drinking together, Nico, Debs, Simon, and I hatched a plan to head out to the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Reserve the next day to look for dolphins, sea turtles, and maybe even whale sharks.
The next morning we had a $1 breakfast of eggs and Kenyan donuts and met up with our boat, a modified Dhow, which is an ancient Swahili sail boat, though unfortunately we never used the sail. As we motored out we spotted a pod of dolphins and were able to follow them most of the way to the marine reserve. We jumped off the boat when we reached the reef to snorkel and saw colorful and large fish, lobster, and an octopus. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any sea turtles or whale sharks, but it was still a lovely time in the ocean. We headed to Wasini Island for lunch, which is a coral island where almost everything has to be imported. Seafood and sea grass were on the menu before we took a quick tour of the island and them headed back to Shimoni. Unfortunately, on the way back to the hostel, Simon had to be dropped at the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well. Rumor is that he recovered a few days later, but unfortunately, I did not get his contact information.

Dolphin spotting from a dhow


Nico and Debs on the way to Wasini Island


Our transportation to the coral island for lunch


That night, Nico and I met Lina and Lena – Swedish and German girls respectably who were living in Kenya for about 6 months and volunteering at an orphanage on the North Coast in Kilifi. They invited us to join them for a few days and we eagerly accepted the opportunity to help out and see a new place. Debs, Moses, and Laura headed out on safari the next morning and we had one last swim in the sea and hostel’s pool before catching a matatu with Lina and Lena towards Mombasa. While Diani Beach was beautiful, the incessant haggling from the “beach boys” was starting to wear on us and we were eager to head to a less touristy locale.

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