Karibu Kenya. Welcome to Kenya. I signed up for an 8 week volunteer program and I ended up extending it to 12 and still didn't want to leave when that was over. I absolutely fell in love with the country and, as it turns out, that happens quite often. The Kenyan people are all so warm and friendly and always anxious to talk to new people. The food is simple, but hearty and all delicious. The staff at the volunteer office are all amazing and fun and offer amazing support and truly are some of the best people in the world. To do what they do, they have to be. This is one of the most popular programs in IVHQ and for them to be able to organize and coordinate with all the volunteers, all the host families, all the volunteer placements, and all the outreach projects all without missing a beat - they are amazing!
So! My typical day would start with a breakfast of toast and chai with my host family in the morning, waving goodbye to my host brother as he trotted off to school, then leaving to walk to the orphanage around 8:30. It was about a 30 minute walk. I could have taken a matatu or a bus for about 25 cents, but and I loved the walk. Always something interesting to see along the way and I met some great people along that route. I would get to my work placement at the orphanage and would usually be greeted by one of the girls who were too young to go to school and then we would hang out with the ladies either chopping vegetables or sorting rice. Most of the girls who lived there were usually off at school when I was there, but there was a primary school on the property so I would get to hang out with the kids during break time. So! I would chat with the ladies, help with the food prep, and listen for the littlest baby to let us know if she needed anything (they don't have baby monitors, they have open windows). As soon as I would hear that baby cry I would race upstairs and get my baby-time. She was 2-weeks old when I got there. The most precious thing you can imagine. Once she was settled, I would go back and help until lunch time. I would have lunch there (with this program, all meals were included if you were at home or work) and then depending on the day I would hang out with the kids for a little while longer or get a head start with the food prep for the next day or sometimes I would just head out from there.
After work my options were endless and I made so many local friends who were so happy to show me around and there were always volunteers either at my house or at other home-stays nearby who would be up for hanging out too. I always tried to stay aware and assess the situation whenever I was being taken somewhere I hadn't been before and I never felt unsafe. Sometimes I would take the bus into Nairobi town centre and meet up with a friend for a drink, or I would wander around the local markets and do some window shopping, or there was a local pub that I would go to with one of my boys to play pool. There were internet cafes all over the place, but for internet I would usually go to the big mall that was about a 10-minute matatu ride away. I ended up becoming friends with a couple of the guys at the Wine Bar and the Nairobi Java House there so it was a combined social visit/wifi stop for me. I would usually make my way home when it started getting dark which was when dinner would be ready. I would eat with my host family and the other volunteers and usually catch up on whatever soap opera series was on tv.
The weekends never allowed for a dull moment either. Between Safari and Outreach (a weekend where we visited 3 slums, doing a feeding program for 2 of them, and rode bicycles through a national park where zebras and water buffalo and gazelles would just stare at you as you rode by) where you will really get to know the volunteer staff and your fellow volunteers. I did Outreach twice, it was so incredible. The whole experience of being in Kenya will change your life, but Outreach is where it's most intense. Driving up to these slums and playing with these kids, you really have to fight back tears sometimes, but it's so eye-opening and really puts things in perspective.
On the flip-side of that, there are endless travel opportunities to any number of the diverse locations in East Africa and all of these trips can be done on your own, but the volunteer staff is always happy to help you make arrangements or even chauffeur, depending on where it is that you want to go. If you find yourself in Nairobi for the weekend, get ready! The Nairobi nightlife is so much fun! It starts late and ends late so make sure you are well rested or just have a red bull or something. If you're going out in a big group it's worth it to arrange for a driver for the night, but! Make sure that all of the volunteers and the driver are on the same page at the beginning of the night about payment. There is always room for negotiation, but that should always be done before you are taken anywhere. Also, keep in mind that yes, things are cheaper in Kenya than in western countries, but they are not free! Gas is expensive, cars are expensive to buy and maintain, not to mention the time that the driver is sacrificing for you. Most of the volunteers were cool when it came to this, but it was SO frustrating for everyone else when at the end of the night one person would throw a drunken fit because he felt like he was being ripped off by 2 dollars! I will step down from my soapbox now.
Anyway, this is an amazing program with tons of support locally and through IVHQ. All of the volunteers I met loved their host families and their placements. On the rare occasion that they didn't love them, they were quickly moved to a place that was better suited to them and then everyone was happy. Endless opportunities to help and do good and every effort that you make is so greatly appreciated. And the people. If you let yourself be open to it, the connections you will make will be with you for life.