Jambo from Kenya! - My adventures in Nairobi and the Masai Mara with the EvieGrace foundation.

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January 8th 2020
Published: January 8th 2020
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After a wonderful Christmas in the UK, we landed at the small airport in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s been my lifelong dream to visit Africa - a continent so different from mine in so many ways. As we queued for our tourist visa, the sounds of the Kenyan children’s choir (also arriving) filled the airport, and my excitement for our next adventure was overflowing. I couldn’t wait to experience the new culture, music, cuisines, animals and meet the people of Kenya.

Maddi (the founder of the EvieGrace foundation) picked us up from the airport with Mercy who will also stay with us and cook for the house of volunteers. On the way to Ngong (sounding Gong), we stopped to get the boys at Global Shelter, some biscuits and sweets to celebrate the New Year with. We arrived at the volunteer house, had a quick nap, dumped our stuff and drove down the road to the Global Hope shelter, which is one of the many projects supported by the EvieGrace foundation. Joe, the founder, welcomed us with open arms and as soon as we opened the car door flocks of boys surrounded the car to greet us. The first hour was quite overwhelming, with boys running everywhere playing football, dancing, singing, washing clothes, cooking. In every direction, something was going on!

As it was New Year’s Eve, the boys had been out on the streets and collected around 20 used tyres to burn in a huge bonfire. In Kenya, firewood is expensive, and the shelter needs all the money it can to buy food and send the boys to school, so tyres are often used as an alternative. We sat on wooden benches around the roaring flames of the fire, played with the kids, and waited for the clock to strike midnight.

As midnight struck the muddy field turned into chaos with bangers flying in all directions and sparklers swirling in the dark night sky. The sound of laughter and screams of fun from 50 boys filled the air. After a couple of minutes of bangers exploding around us, Maddi and I retreated to the car for refuge and to save our ears! What a start to 2020! Here in Kenya, excited to see what adventures we would have over the next week, the people we would meet and what we would learn. Having
been up from almost 36 hours, we didn’t make it much past midnight before we crashed back at the volunteer house.

The next morning Maddie had organised for us to go to the Merciful Redeemer Orphanage. This is another project supported by the Evie Grace foundation and is based in a rural area outside of Nairobi. We had 10km of muddy gravel track to get down in our hatchback. There had been a lot of rain in the previous month, and as expected, we got bogged and had to get out and built a stone runway to get us out of the mud.

With Maddi’s skilled driving and some Kenyans pushing, we manoeuvred around large boulders and slippery mud pools and made it to the orphanage in time for lunch. Uma runs the Merciful Redeemer orphanage which was started by her mother in law. They look after over 100 kids who receive food, shelter and schooling. We gathered in the dining room, and the children sang the Jambo Bwana Hakunamata welcome song to the rhythmic beat of drums made from plastic bins. You can listen to a rendition here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDaiTMA0TKo

shared some lunch with boiled sheep soup and grilled sheep with rice and chapati bread. This is traditional Kenyan food, but meat is only used on special occasions because it is too expensive to eat every day. During lunch, the older kids helped take care of the younger children by feeding them and keeping them out of mischief. Similarly to Global, we took the juice and biscuits to celebrate the New Year. We handed out bucketfuls of juice which the kids then dipped lollies and biscuits in which was cute.

Coming from a Western country these are foods we have regular access to, but for these children, it was lovely to see the grins on the faces and the enjoyment they got from a treat they would never typically have. After the sugar rush, the kids wanted us to play and show us around the orphanage and the animals they keep, including pigs, chickens, goats and cows. They loved braiding my hair and playing football with Will.

After an exhausting four hours of running around, giving piggybacks I had to resort to getting everyone to lay on the grass and play a game of sleeping lions. After an entertaining, energetic but exhausting afternoon, we drove back passing wild zebra and wilder beasts grazing in the plains alongside the road. That evening we stayed in Kitengela the nearest town at Mary’s house, which is the sister of Mercy and a family that regularly hosts Maddi and other volunteers. They traditionally eat late, so we tucked into some rice, stewed beef and potato soup at 11.30 pm to the backdrop of African music playing.

We left Kitenjela in the morning with Nancy (Mary’s daughter) and drove to the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage in the Nairobi national park. The park currently looks after sixteen elephants orphaned in the wild mostly due to human poaching and some whose mothers have died in a drought. These elephants are rescued from parks around Kenya and airlifted to the park to receive treatment.

The centre only allows an hour time slot for viewing during the feeding time. One by one, the elephants ran down to receive special milk from their carer, which is a formula created by Daphne Sheldrick and is similar to human milk formula. These majestic creatures are fascinating to watch as they wrap their trunks around the branches and pick off the leaves one by one to put in their mouths. After approximately ten years of care from the David centre, the animals are released back into the wild under a supervised programme.

After the elephant orphanage, we visited a giraffe sanctuary only a short 20-minute drive away. Similarly to the Elephant orphanage, this centre looks after orphaned giraffes. There was a wooden platform which was the height of the head of the giant male giraffe. We were able to see out into the paddock and feed the giraffes pellets by hand onto their rough, slimy tongue. It was incredible to see the pattern so close as it covers the strong elongated necks.

We spent the afternoon back at Global rescue playing card games and sharing magic tricks. Four times a week, the boys have a devotion ceremony where they celebrate God through songs and prayers. Part of the ceremony included testimonials from each boy who stands up in front of the others and says what they are grateful for. These heart-wrenching statement included thanks for being alive, thanks for being able to go to school and thanks for the food and shelter provided at global. Each boy took it in turns to stand up and recite a verse each from the bible on something important to them. The silent whispers of prayers and the thankful statements to God were touching to hear. Each boy listened intently, participated and supported each other. It was inspiring to hear boys who have lived on the streets and been through so much hardship to be so hopeful and positive for their future.

Thanks to Global and the EvieGrace foundation each boy is safe, fed and clothed, and when new boys are found on the street, they are welcomed to join the other boys as brothers. That evening we enjoyed our first ugali which is maise mixed with water into a thick dough which doesn’t taste of anything but is prevalent in Kenya because it’s cheap and only a small amount fills you up. This is mixed with beef, shredded kale and spinach for flavour and customarily eaten with your hands.

We couldn’t come to Kenya without going on a safari, so Friday morning, we joined our group. This comprised three guys from Utah over in Kenya for a Christian conference and a couple from Chezslavaka travelling around Kenya for three weeks. It was a long 6-hour drive from Nairobi through the beautiful panoramic views of the Rift Valley to the Masai Mara National park which borders Tanzania. Our group was great fun and we enjoyed sharing stories of our adventures in Kenya so far and what we hoped to see a on the safari.

On the way to the Masai Mara are hundreds of trees called Candelabra tree which has cactus-like branches attached to a wooden trunk. The aloe vera type gel that comes out is used by the Masai tribe on the women to sooth them after childbirth. Smoke wafted through the windows from people burning rubbish on the roadside and a swarm of bees spattered into the windscreen as we sped along. As we got closer to the National Park, we passed Masai tribesmen herding their cattle with sticks and the basic huts they live in that are made from mud and manure and typically last around nine years. Near to the houses are fenced off areas to prevent the cattle from getting eaten overnight from predators such as Lions and Leopards. The Masai tribespeople traditionally wear distinct red blankets to keep them warm but also to warn off lions as they are wary of approaching the colour red.

The evening we arrived we took a short two-hour safari into the national park and were lucky enough to see a herd of water buffalo, zebras grazing, three hippos bathing and gazelle bounding through the long grasses. The highlight of this trip was the two cheetah brothers we spotted chilling on top of a mound of grass as the sun was setting.

James, our safari guide, has been doing tours in Kenya for over 20 years. He was very enthusiastic, and his knowledge of the Flora and Fauna was incredible. He stopped at various point to get us to taste and smell the plants, including mint and the leaf of the elephant pepper tree which has an incredibly spicy taste! He also showed us a tree which has a pungent smell and is a natural insect repellent that lions use to store their kill to stop flies spoiling it.

In Kenya, it is the birthing season in January, so we saw many babies of different species including elephants, giraffes, water buffalo and hippos being protected and fed by their mothers. We saw meerkats scurrying in the grass and bat-eared foxes which are rare to see. The Masai Mara is home to approximately 800 lions, so it is a great place to spot them in the wild. Thanks to James, we were able to get up close to a few lions, and one, in particular, was guarding a dead water buffalo whom he had killed. The insides of the animal were gutted, leaving the frame of the carcass on display. We watched this lion as his muscular body strolled confidently through the grass and right past the van, so I quickly closed my window! Later on that morning, we saw two lionesses at the side of the road, resting and panting in the heat of the midday sun.

We stopped at the border to Tanzania on the Mara River. This river flows down into the Nile and is home to the Nile Crocodile and is where the famous migration occurs between Kenya and Tanzania. The river is also home to bulging hippos that bathe in the muddy waters
and make distinct loud grumbling sounds. Deep tracks are leading from the sides of the river used by hippos at night. Here they use their big tongues to lick the salt minerals from the banks. We took a short walk along the riverfront with an armed guard for protection and saw a baby hippo playing with his mother. The guard told us that earlier that day, crocodiles had tried to drag the baby under, so the mother was being extra cautious!

We ate lunch by the river surrounded by baboons who were cheekily trying to steal our food. One was quick enough to grab a banana and another a yoghurt from another group! It was time to head back through the national park in search of more wildlife. The highlights of the afternoon were two mother and baby elephants grazing, two male Lions sleeping in a bush and a leopard in the distance sitting on a high up branch in a tree.

James was a bit of a maverick driver, and as a result, we managed to see up close an array of animals in the wild. However, his off-road style took us through foot deep mud and over huge mounds which got us bogged at one point and unable to move! Not phased at all by the situation, James calmly contacted another driver who came to rescue us and toe us out of the mud! It’s safe to say, everyone on the bus was very relieved to be back in the van and not on the lookout for lions waiting to pounce on us from the long grass.

My last day in Kenya was spent with the Bul Bul Queen girls football team. These girls live in the bulbul slums outside of Ngong. Chacha (the coach) formed the group a year ago to give the girls a hobby and purpose to keep them off the streets. The long term goal of the project is for some of the girls to get spotted to play for bigger teams where they have the opportunity to have their schooling paid for.

Chacha has given up his job to be able to help the girls train six evenings a week and be there as a mentor and someone to push and motivate the girls to work hard and create a better future for themselves. We had a great evening at the volunteer house, playing Jenga, singing, dancing, telling stories and eating amazing chapati and soup made by Mercy.

It’s a Kenyan tradition when you eat cake you have to feed it to each other, which quickly escalated to cake being smeared over everyone’s faces! The evening was a LOT of fun, and I was grateful to be able to see and learn about the Kenyan culture firsthand. At the end of the evening, we drove each of the girls back to their homes inside the slums. Driving down the small alleyways of tin shacks, with rubbish strewn across the floor highlighted the shocking reality of the girl’s lives and why the football team is so important to give them hope for a better future.

In only a short week I have been privileged to meet Joe, and the street boys at Global, Uma and the kids at the Merciful Redeemer orphanage and Chacha and the Bulbul queens football team. Each of these individuals has an incredible story and achieving great things with Maddi and the EvieGrace foundation to improve the lives of Kenyan girls and boys.

As I left Nairobi to head to the airport, we stopped to buy some handmade Masai tribe souvenirs and in the process managed to get our car clamped! It wouldn’t be the real Kenya if we didn’t get scammed at least once and bribe our way out with 1000 shillings ($15) to unlock the wheel so we could be on our way!

I want to share my gratitude to Maddi, who organised an awesome trip and I can’t wait to come back next time (for longer) and see all the fantastic people I have met.

If you wish to volunteer or donate to EvieGrace and support the projects I have spoken about, then please visit: https://eviegrace.org/

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