Stepping off the plane in Jomo Kenyatta airport, the moment of truth had arrived. 16,000kms from home, I hoped that the volunteer organization I had chosen, World Corps Kenya, was a credible group. After receiving my visa, I prayed that there would be someone on the other side waiting for me. I really was not prepared, after 17 hours flying, to find a hotel in Nairobi at 11pm. I have never been to Africa before, and traveling as a single female, was understandably apprehensive. Luckily, as I walked out onto the concourse, a small sign, written in pencil on a lined piece of paper, was amongst the crowd.
I met Graham and Anne, who took me to Anne’s house, where I met Anne’s children. The next day, I went with Anne as she delivered cakes to people around the city. I learned that I was worth a lot of cows and sheep, as men asked Anne about me. I also learned that it is VERY important to look both ways before crossing the street, narrowly being squashed by a bus. Anne and her family were so welcoming, and helped me to navigate taxis, mutatus (15 passenger minibuses) and introduced me to some local staples, such as sukuma wiki and ugali.
After leaving them, I took a bus to Voi, where I met Patrick, my volunteer coordinator. The next morning, James and a few other rangers came to get me, along with a bed, mattress and other supplies for the small towns near Lumo Sanctuary. Along the way, we picked up women and children, letters, water and food, and shuttled them to their respective destinations. I was overwhelmed immediately with a sense of community. Everyone knows everyone.
That sense of community continued at the Sanctuary, where I learned that this was a community conservation project, employing local rangers to help protect the animals in the grasslands south of Voi. I was able to go on scouting rides, help de-snare areas, and build traditional huts. It was wonderful watching so many people working together, with a common goal. Listening to the women sing as they thatched the roofs of the huts, really made me realize that, despite having very few material things, they still exuded happiness. I felt so privileged to sit in on a community World Vision meeting, and to volunteer at 2 local schools, where the students danced for me, and the adults I was tutoring started to make connections with the material they were learning.
Many people ask me if I felt homesick, or experienced culture shock, but I really don’t think I did. It was very easy to adjust to kerosene lamps and basin showers, listening to hyenas and elephants as I slept, because I knew the people around me were good people, who cared about their companions. Even going to the Pentecostal church, 5km away (walking) brought home the idea of community. Whether you know someone or not, you greet them, and they become your brothers and sisters.
Having this experience, it made me realize, that in our developed nations, are we really truly happy? We may have money to buy everything we need, but without community, a family, is our life complete? Perhaps it is just me, but I think we need to strive to reach out to our neighbours and start caring about them (especially in North America).
About the Author: Julie Soares is a Canadian teacher, who is currently in the UK, teaching Chemistry and Physics at an all girls school. She is an avid traveler, whose goal is to experience the world. With a passion for girls and women’s education, she hopes to move to a developing country to pursue this passion.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.