Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Habari gani? It’s been a busy couple of weeks for S and I. Last Saturday, we spent the morning again teaching children at Phase One of Dandora, and this Saturday we taught the children at Phase Four. The children were excited to see all the colourful balls and hula hoops we brought with us, purchased with the money that we raised at our staff quiz. I have babysat a few times also for our neighbours who in return bought some skipping ropes as a thank you which the children enjoyed playing with. This Saturday, we were asked to serve the children their lunch- so we scooped out rice and cabbage to share amongst the hungry kids- nothing was left over. We were invited to eat with them, as an act of Kenyan hospitality, and it was quite delicious.

This week, we donated the five teddy bears that S's grandmother knitted to an orphanage for young babies. We know two people who volunteer there. The children arrive very malnourished at the orphanage, and unfortunately there has been a virus that has swept through and made some of the children very ill. In recent weeks, several little ones have even died. We wanted to let them have something to feel comfort from, and so they seemed the best home for the bears.

We have donated the 30+ little lego sets from S's grandparents to Mogra, an orphanage that works with older children. They are going to be given out as prizes to the children that try hard in class. Our friend who is a nurse there, said that the children say that playing with a toy car is in their top three things to do, and yet almost none of them have any toy cars- so we know they will be appreciated.

Last Sunday, S and I drove back to Naivasha, as we had liked it so much from the week previous, when we visited Crater Lake. This time, we took a trip to Crescent Island, which runs into the lake and is where Out of Africa was filmed. The crescent is the outer rim of a volcanic crater which forms a deep bay. We were able to roam freely by foot amongst herds of zebra, wildebeest, dik dik, impala and waterbuck. There was a warm rain shower and so we sheltered in a little hut, before walking down the waters edge where we saw hippo bathing. I was feeling quite grateful, as the owner of the island told us that she had recently released several pythons- but we luckily did not encounter them!

We have begun to foster a little garden on our balcony, using our old water bottles, we have potted three plants that we bought at Naivasha. Some Aloe, Bougainvillea and a purple flowering shrub, plus I made a little bird bath and bird feeder out of old fizzy drink bottles. We compost all our food waste in a little bin which is used for the school gardens, and we recycle all the cardboard and plastic yoghurt pots via the school Art room. Here, it is quite easy to find another use for something if you are creative!

During the week, S learns Taekwondo on Tuesdays and on Wednesday we have our private dance lesson. We are being taught various steps including salsa and the foxtrot and we get better each week. S is very good at posing and putting on funny faces, egged on by in the instructor! On Thursday, I watched S play football, he is centre mid field. His team, the Railway Wanderers, drew against Parklands Sports Club- 2-2. It was a good score, especially as S’s team are all 30+ and the opponents were all spring chickens in their early 20’s.

I went on a school trip on Friday with the Year 7 and 8 Art class to Kazuri beads. Kazuri means ‘small and beautiful’ in Swahili, and Kazuri was set up in 1975 by Lady Susan Wood on the farm of Karen Blixen. She employed single mothers (and still does) to hand make beads out of clay and then fire them and paint them. It was really interesting to visit the factory and meet the women and see how it all comes together.

Valentines Day, was the BGE Fun Day. S and his class ran a cake stall and lemonade stand and I had a face painting stall. All the money raised goes to the school charities, and luckily the work we do at Dandora will also benefit from a cut in the proceeds. It was a hot day and I have felt the effects the sun which has turned me rosy pink, but I enjoyed painting the faces- everything from love hearts to flowers to spider man! S even let me paint his face!

That’s our news for now! Happy Valentines Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

S&I recently held a staff quiz here in Nairobi and with the proceeds from the entry on the door, we purchased some play equipment for the children we visit at Dandora at the weekends

Monday, February 1, 2010

Children at Dandora

S with the children of Dandora with their new uniforms. Money for the uniforms was fundraised by the children of S's old primary school in England.

S is welcomed into a local home in the Dandora slum

Hakuna Matata!

Habari zenu? Jambo once again from S&J,

Our adventures have been continuing since our last email, and it’s been almost a month since I stepped off the plane to begin my life here in Nairobi (meaning ‘place with cool waters’ by the Maasai) with S- being in England feels like a lifetime ago already!

One of the greatest blessings for us this month was to be offered the chance to borrow a champagne coloured five door Rav 4 for three months from a friend of S’s. Thanks to his generosity, S and I have been able to feel the freedom of having our own transport- something that is so necessary here in Nairobi, especially as we live in the North of the city. Asante sana K!

S has been honouring his new work schedule (no work after 6 or at weekends) which has led to relaxing and fun weekends together. We live very close to the Windsor Golf Course, and we spent one glorious afternoon walking amongst the fuchsia coloured Bougainvillea and the verdant trees, coming across the occasional Sykes monkey and constantly being surrounded by colourful butterflies. Last weekend, we explored the incredible Nairobi National Park and were treated to plentiful viewings of zebra grazing on the wide open plains which are dotted with acacia trees, elegant meandering giraffe feeding amongst the taller trees, plus numerous hartebeest, gazelles and impala watching us as they appeared to bathe in the sun on the winding hillsides. Muscular eland strolled past and groups of hefty buffalo eyed us as we slowly drove by. From a waterhole we were mesmerised by a small family of three hippo as they surfaced to catch the air, often just by poking out a hairy snout, but occasionally lifting their heads so we could see their eyes and little ears peeping at us.

We found one place where, with armed guard, we were able to explore a little by foot, and we wandered down a muddy path that ran alongside a chocolate coloured river filled with hippo, crocodiles and turtles. At another quiet spot, we were amused to see little vervet monkeys walking amongst a meadow, and then just minutes later, as we passed by a picnic spot- we saw a group of menacing baboons fighting and playing on top of the picnic benches. One big hairy baboon circled our car to remind us just who was in charge!

Even as we departed from the park as the sun began to set, we saw a little mummy mongoose and her offspring dart across the mud track, and then as we approached the gate we heard the magnificent and unmistakable sounds of lions roaring- awake as the heat of the day had passed; they were getting ready for their evening hunt. I was reading in the paper this week that some villagers outside of Nairobi are being tormented by four lions that keep attacking their animals. Can you imagine that in England? The worst we have to deal with is a fox with our chickens or a cat with our goldfish pond! Luckily the only snake we have seen so far was a dead one- long and silver at the side of the road- that is one creature I am not overwhelmingly looking forward to seeing alive!

One side effect of living in such a place with abundant wildlife is that S and I have mutated into bird watchers- binoculars, bird guide et al! I resisted at first- but haven’t been able to help myself! It’s hard not to be in awe of such vast variety in bright eye catching colours and all kinds of sizes- from the tiny starling to the mighty ostrich! We have seen so many in just a month- cranes, egrets, grebes, cormorants, herons, kites, buzzards, go-away birds, vultures, ibis, marabou, weavers, Egyptian geese, and plovers to name but a few! I expect after a year of living here, S and I will be phenomenal photographers as we will have had so much practice trying to capture them on film.

Yesterday, we ventured to the shores of Green Crater Lake which is 17km beyond Lake Naivasha- about an hours drive from Nairobi. There were breathtaking views of the escarpment- as we drove along the high roads- with the magnificent Rift Valley spreading out for as far as the eye can see. We drove by Longonot, a mighty volcano that Sam recently climbed, before we were greeted by friendly black and white colobus monkeys that scampered about the trees whilst we picnicked. A stroll to the lake side in the scorching sun revealed woodpeckers and then finally a solitary Kingfisher perching upon a boat. At the smelly but pretty crater lake (it is situated inside the crater of an extinct volcano- there is a lot of volcanic thermal activity in this area), we saw pink flamingos. As we returned home, we saw more zebra, giraffe and warthog, plus minature dik-diks hiding in the long grasses.

School life rolls by with the usual routine of lessons, lunchtimes and extra curricular activities. It is such a different pace of life than in London and it allows for a strong sense of community and school identity when you can get to know every child in the school. I have felt the successes of the two students I work with- its amazing how quickly students can progress with support.

S has been playing football with the Railway Wanderers and I have gone to cheer at a few matches. His team is made up of a variety of internationals and Kenyans- whose careers range from being world class lawyers, to cutting edge architects to working for the U.N. We enjoyed a match this week, where afterwards we went to celebrate their defeat by the University of Nairobi team (young whippersnappers!) by having a BBQ at N’s house. As we ate our vegetarian sausages looking out on the leafy garden with a full moon in the sky and stars twinkling in the night, it was easy to see how expats can come to love a life in Kenya. Warm weather and the great outdoors has its appeal!

We’ve been swimming in our outdoor pool several evenings after school- refreshing after the heat of the afternoon and S has been pursuing his Taekwondo. This week we added a new activity to our afternoons- dancing! We have hired a private dance teacher to show us how to salsa, waltz and cha cha cha our way around a dance floor. Shockingly its only £2.50 each per lesson- something we can definitely afford! So fingers crossed we will be ready to wow and amaze by the time of our first dance at our wedding on the 17th July! Our dance teacher said, ‘there is hope!’

A few Fridays ago, I created a staff quiz in the school club house to help get to know the teachers that work here and to fundraise some money for our charity work at Dandora. It was a great success with 30 staff attending and I hope to make it a regular event. S was excellent as co-quiz master!

Our weekend work at Dandora is developing- we have introduced the idea of having an assembly and set lesson times which means the children can get used to a routine for learning. S was hilarious as he got a puppet and did a puppet dance to entertain the children as I read them a story- he is a natural entertainer! The children are eager to learn and they love to be read to. You have never seen so much excitement as when we bring out the balls and skipping ropes for them to play with. Every time we go to Dandora, we are reminded of how much we take for granted. Coming home to a warm and cleansing shower, electricity at the touch of a button, a fridge full of food and knowing that we are safe as we sleep at night- its something that we all forget that we are lucky to have. Knowing if Sor I get sick, we can get well again. Knowing that we have been immunised against diseases that are a regular occurrence on the slums like Typhoid. If only everyone in the world were so lucky…

On that note, we wish you good health and the peace to enjoy all that we have. We always look forward to hearing news from home!

Tutaonana & Hakuna Matata!
J&S x
February 2010

PS- Some friends have emailed me to ask if they can help out with Dandora. If you would like to fundraise, please let me know and I will let you know how. Or if you would like to send a picture book that we can read to the children- contact me and I will send you our address.

January News- Jambo from Nairobi

Jambo! Habari gani? Greetings from Nairobi from J&S…

2010 began peacefully for us as we spent the last week of December in Perugia and Rocca D’Orcia, Tuscany, Italy- visiting ‘il nostro amico gentile’ G and his friends and family. On New Year’s Day, we helped to celebrate his grandfather’s 81st birthday with champagne and a delicious home cooked meal by his grandmother, before flying back to London briefly for a pit-stop and bag change, then returning to an airport to fly ‘home’ to Nairobi.

We have a new two-floor, two bedroom apartment on the school grounds with a lovely balcony which overlooks some green gardens and flowers in vibrant pinks and burnt orange. Each day our flat is refreshed by Jackie, our maid, who we are eternally grateful for, as she does all our washing and ironing! In the evenings, we can hear the rhythmic sounds of crickets and the croaking of frogs which play in the river that flows alongside our building (more about that later). The school compound is a lovely place to live with tennis courts, an expansive outdoor pool and lots and lots of blue sky! Nature surrounds us, even here, with plentiful beautiful birds- ibises, marabou, Egyptian geese, cranes, kites, weavers and sunbirds- and the odd gecko scaling the school walls.

S’s Year 5/6 class is growing with four new students this week, and he has been sticking to his new, improved and more organised work schedule (no work after 6pm or at weekends!) which has left us free to enjoy our free time together. Until September, I am working as Learning Support for two students with special educational needs.

Our school newly opened in the North of Nairobi in September and educates from primary right through to college. Every day at lunch time, we get a free meal- and we sit on tables with students from different year groups- it is a real family atmosphere and often doesn’t feel like a school.

The lunches we are served range from Western dishes like pizza to traditional Kenyan fare such as ugali and sikomawiki (spinach and kale- its delicious!)

S has restarted playing football. He is part of a football team called the Railway Wanderers. The team was founded when the railway was built between Mombassa and Nairobi. On Friday night, he returned home covered in deep red mud from playing in the wet field!

S and I heard heavy rains throughout the night, accompanied with an impressive thunder and lightening storm. Kenya has been without a good rain for about two years and the water is welcomed. However, ‘El Nino’ a warm current bringing the rain from the oceans has been quite unusual and this morning, S and I woke up to see a fast flowing reddish brown river where our road and path normally is- so deep it came midway up my calves! The river has burst and the campus turned into one great big watery playground for the ibis! January is ordinarily the hottest month of the year! However, we have had plenty of warm sunshine with temperatures every day of over 20 degrees.

Despite the river road, we were able to wade out with our driver to explore Ngara market- a haven for fresh fruit and veg of many varieties so that we can try to shop locally rather than support the richer and richer supermarket chain Nakumatt. We then went to Bomas, a Swahili word mean ‘enclosed homestead’. It’s a cultural centre which features representational villages of traditional homes of Kenya’s major ethnic groups, including Mijkenda, Taita, Kuria, Luo, Kisii, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, Maasai and Embu. The tribes come from varying parts of Kenya ranging from the coast to the mountains, to the lakes, from the North, East and Central Kenya as well as the Rift Valley. We also got to watch some traditional dances and see the ‘Jambo Mambo’ an acrobatic troupe who wowed us with somersaults, and limbo-ing underneath a fire blazing pole! Whilst at Bomas, we witnessed four Sykes monkeys playing in the trees and as we explored the site we were surrounded by many varieties of colourful butterflies. We were excited to see buffalo as we drove along the peripheries of the National Park- wildlife is abundant in Kenya!

Yesterday, we went to Dandora. Dandora is an area of Nairobi where a large and toxic rubbish dump is situated. It is seen as one of the most polluted places on the planet. Sadly, many poor Kenyans end up working and even living on the dump and in its surrounding slums, as they can earn a few pennies in collecting bits of rubbish with value. S has been volunteering at Dandora since September- teaching some of the children games on a Saturday. Generously, S’s old primary school in England, recently fundraised over £410 for his work there- and the money has been used to purchase uniforms for some of the children. Even though there is ‘free education’ there are many barriers to their schooling. Many families cannot afford the shoes and uniforms needed to send their children to school, there is also a lot of hidden costs like enforced lessons on a Saturday- it means that many children miss out on school at all. Even if they do get to go, there are often up to 100 in a classroom – which has no furniture- they have to sit on mats on the floor. Needless to say, they don’t learn much! S and I were invited into the home of two women who are mothers of a girl who was one of the girls to receive a uniform. They spoke candidly about their experiences and it was very humbling. S and I are going to continue to work at Dandora- offering some teacher training to some volunteers who help the children there. We are also considering building/equipping a safe play area for the local kids.

In the afternoon, we went to buy essentials such as mosquito nets and our groceries- and visited the cinema to see Avatar. It was a far cry from the life of the people at Dandora- but S and I realise how lucky we are.

We have many plans for the next few weeks and months- we are currently trying to find a second hand vehicle so that we can be more mobile, and we are starting Swahili lessons together from next Friday. We are helping to deliver the Presidents Award at school which is the local equivalent to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and I am organising a staff and parents quiz- with proceeds for entry hopefully going towards our work at Dandora. S is restarting Taekwondo- following his successfully obtaining a yellow belt before Christmas.

So that’s all our news so far and only one week has passed us by! We are looking forward to hearing from you and hopefully we may even get a visit!

Habari ya Mwaka Mpya! (Happy New Year!)

January 2010