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Kenya Trip: Giraffes, Elephants, and Shopping!

After Kilgoris, we had a day in Nairobi before we left for Mt. Kenya. I had fond memories of visiting giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Langata, a suburb of Nairobi, so I decided to arrange another visit there. I hit up Kelvin our driver and he picked me up from the Sarit Centre Mall where the Zawadisha crew was doing work. Langata and Karin are these peaceful, somewhat bucolic areas of Nairobi bordering Nairobi National Park. Walking into the Giraffe Center, I met Ed and fed him some pellets gave him some pets.

The scene at the Giraffe Center


Ed, the giraffe


Ed’s eye. Giraffes have huge heads and eyes… and great eyeliner!


My high school visit to the giraffes

My high school visit to the giraffes


My adulthood visit to the giraffes. I’m not sure I’ve changed, at all!


Since I was one of the only people there, I was able to spend quality time with the giraffes and then leave by 10:30 to head over the Elephant Orphanage. David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage has daily programs from 11 to 12 PM where you can meet all the orphans, ranging from 3 months to 2 years old and hear all their stories. You can even touch them and watch then drink out of bottles and eat. It is cuteness overload the best $6 I spent! Additionally, it is for a great cause. Most of these orphans are so because of poaching. Elephants live to be 70 years old, have 6 sets of teeth in their lifetime, and really do have an amazing memory. After the elephants are released into Tsavo National Park, there are stories of them remembering their caretakers 30 years later!

A group of the orphans coming out to visit.

Just getting some water.


Elephant pile up!


Just some elephants doing a secret handshake.


After an amazing morning visiting animals, Kelvin and I picked up the others and headed over to Amani Ya Juu for lunch and shopping. Amani Ya Juu means “higher peace” in Swahili. It’s a fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Africa and was started by displaced women sewing placemats. They have an incredibly beautiful selection of handmade household items, baby stuff, women’s clothing, and bags. We met with an Amani worker Maggie, who also receives a Zawadisha loan and had lunch and then Judi and I went to town shopping for Christmas gifts. It’s always nice to be able to buy unique gifts that support empowerment. You should shop there now!

Maggie explains Amani Ya Juu’s story to Judi. Judi looks smart.


We finished the evening with some Ethiopian Food at a restaurant popular with Nairobi’s many NGO workers. Nairobi has quite a few gems and I was happy to have the day to see quite a few of them. The hardest part is navigating the “public” transportation and traffic!

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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: Lake Naivasha

The fourth American member of our group rolled in and we headed to the main matatu station in the morning to catch a bus to Lake Naivasha. The matatu had an amazing interior and friendly patrons. I sat in the back with a family of 5 ranging from age 4 to 20. The 4 year old sat on my lap much of the ride and spoke to me in Swahili while I chatted with the college student about her pursuit of a degree in international business. This was my favorite matatu ride of the trip!

Snapped this shot before the matatu was fully loaded!


As we departed Nairobi, we had a great view of the Rift Valley, the birthplace of mankind. Making it to Naivasha, we had a $2 meal of chips masala (French fries with spices) and then were picked up by the son of the owner of the house we rented – a beautiful house with a view of Lake Naivasha from the roof patio.

Sunset from the roof patio over Lake Naivasha.

We made plans to bike in Hell’s Gate National Park the next day and do a boat safari the following day. Since we had Cindy, our plan was to eat traditional Kenyan meals each night. The first night we had Ugali, a favorite of many Kenyans. It is a finer and whiter version of polenta that you form into cups and eat vegetables with your hands. The 2nd night we had a chapati making party which is now my favorite Kenyan food – Ugali, not so much!

Cindy making ugali and Dan doing his best to help

We rented bikes on the road to Hells Gate to have our first National Park experience of the trip. National parks are expensive in Kenya and you pay in US dollars. This one was $25 per day. The bikes were $10 for the day, no deposit required and were a selection of Walmart and Kmart bikes. We were told if we got a flat tire or any other mechanical problem, just find another bike on the side of the road and take that one. HA!

The finest selection!


So, we were off on a 10 km ride past zebras, gazelles, water buffalo, and warthogs. We stayed on the lookout for giraffes, but didn’t see any and end our ride at a short hike into the gorge which was a bit disappointing in that there was trash in multiple places. I’d skip that if I were you!

Biking with Zebras


Beautiful zebras


In the Hell’s Gate Gorge


Biking back, we got to ride “brown pow” as the rain came down and didn’t stop until we were back at the park gate. The rain seemed to make the zebras shine though and in Africa rain is a blessing, so we were off to a great start.

Brown pow is a blessing


The next day we caught a boat out to Lake Naivasha to look for hippos. We spotted some right away and wondered if they’d attack us in our suspect vessel.

Shhhhh…. do not wake this guy up!


Being on the lake was beautiful, trees grew directly out of the water and the Africa sky reflected on the still water. We also spotted water buck which are really cute, wildebeest, water buffalo, and colorful birds.

Pretty scenic out here.


Just some super cute water bucks


The 1 hour boat safari was only about $8 per person and definitely worth it. Naivasha is a quick Nairobi get away that is definitely worthy of a visit.

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