Days 10, 11 & 12: Boat Trip and Safari Weekend

It was the weekend so we had no work to do, so we went off on a (very) authentic boat trip on Lake Lolwe (this is the pre-colonial name for Lake Victoria which I’m trying to use). I don’t know what we were expecting but the boat was honestly falling to pieces. I think we would have been more scared if we didn’t find it so hilariously absurd! I really enjoyed the experience of being on the lake, the views were beautiful and there was something quite freeing about being exposed to the elements. Admittedly we did have to turn back early because the boat started taking on water, but we won’t dwell on that!

The next day we set off on a long drive, saying goodbye to The Treat Resort and Rongo, off on our Safari.

The safari was an incredible experience, we saw so many animals in such a stunning landscape. In one of the most surreal experiences of the whole trip, we did encounter a particularly nasty breed of Italian human pigs, but I won’t go into that! There’s not too much else to say about these 2 days which can’t be said in the pictures below, but after another morning of safari we set off on (another) long drive through Nairobi and to our final destination Machakos. We were welcomed by our hosts and went straight to sleep, preparing for our final day.

Day 9: Exhibition Day

So this is the big day we’ve been building towards. It feels like a long time ago that Peter started speaking about this back in a classroom in Brighton, and even longer for him as this was supposed to happen 3 years ago if there hadn’t been a couple of small distractions… I was slightly apprehensive already as somehow we had lost 1 of the 4 camera batteries and were running low on memory card space, so I was worried about problems we might encounter. We left on time with the aim of arriving by 10 but at this point, I don’t think any of us expected everything to go according the plan! We had to pick up most of the performers from all the schools we had visited yesterday, so this took a long time and we didn’t arrive until after lunch! We set up the cameras and the show began.

Some of the performances we had seen in the rehearsal yesterday had been a little rough around the edges, but they all went very well today and it was great to see the passion through which they expressed these issues. It was tough seeing the first hand knowledge these children had with modern day slavery, but I felt grateful that they wanted to share them with us. The conversation on abortion is still clearly very contentious here, as when it was raised some of the community members walked out. I didn’t agree with all the opinions raised today but I can appreciate that breaking the taboo is important to getting a discussion going.

Today really felt like the hottest day and I baked in the mid-afternoon sun, but it was for a cause and I was focused on getting the footage. Once the chief and various other project members had spoken, we had a great filling lunch that we had all become accustomed to by this point and sat in the shade discussing our feelings on the exhibition.

We got the bus back to the university and had one last meal there, this time with the Rongo students. We said our goodbyes and thanked each other for the experiences. I’ve learnt a lot from conversations with them and really enjoyed collaborating.

Last day(s) 14 – 15: January 31st – February 1st

None of us were sure what to expect from our time in Machakos, but for me it was just nice to be with everyone again and find out what adventure was in store for us one last time. It was interesting to compare the University of Machakos to our experience of Rongo, as it seemed much more developed and modern despite being a relatively new Uni. The students seemed really passionate to work with the community, more so, I thought, than those in Rongo.

We headed up to meet with the community, again with no expectations or clue what was going on as usual, and wow, what a welcome we had! The ceremonial-like welcome we arrived to was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I was overwhelmed. The colours, the music, the shouting and dancing, it was such an incredibly vibrant and chaotic atmosphere. I think it felt nice, in a way, but any joy I felt was tainted with confusion, I didn’t understand the reason for such a welcome. It turned out to be how they welcome any visitors, but the whole day evoked a real mixture of emotions. It was fascinating to hear about the community, the environmental issues they’re facing and their passion to do something about it. I felt bad we couldn’t do more, but the enthusiasm of the Machakos students we spoke to gave me hope that a community media project was on the horizon for them.

Traditional Kenyan welcome from the community. (31/01/2023)

Lastly, our meeting with government officials was a nice way to round off the trip. We finally felt able to voice our opinions in a relaxed way, that just felt like an open discussion. I left feeling like in some small way we’d (hopefully) managed to encourage them to go ahead with at least some form of community-university partnership, and that was a nice feeling to end on.

After all the ups and downs (some very down), we all felt ready to return home. Although it didn’t all go to plan, and my experience certainly wasn’t what I’d expected or hoped for, there were some shining moments of fun, joy, and some of peace. It was an epic adventure, with an epic bunch of people who I feel lucky to now call friends.

We’re finished! (31/01/2023)

Thanks for the ride, Kenya, but you can keep your sugar cane!

Sugar cane: definitely NOT my aesthetic. (22/01/2023)

Safari days 12 – 13: January 29th – 30th

It felt so good to get back into the bus with everyone the following morning to head off on our safari. Everyone’s enthusiasm for me to re-join the team and make it on safari really cheered me up, and arriving to immediate wildlife upon entering the Masi Mara national park finally made the past few miserable days feel worth it. The safari was great fun, as expected, although a very different experience to my last time on safari back in 2018, it was interesting to compare, but still so joyous seeing all the animals going about their daily life in the wild. Watching a group of giraffes munching on their dinner of acacia leaves at sunset was an absolute privilege, the calm and serenity of that moment stands out as one of the most peaceful of the whole trip. I loved the safari lodge we stayed in, and even managed to get up at 5am for a morning yoga session on the deck. All too soon our safari day was over, and we began another trek to our final destination of Machakos.

So happy to be back in the bus with everyone! (29/01/2023)
Sunset with Giraffes. (29/01/2023)
Mine and Rachael’s safari lodge! (29/01/2023)
So happy to have made it on safari! (30/01/2023)

Days 9 – 11: January 26th – 28th

I spent the next three days pent up in my hotel room in a mixture of upset, panic and loneliness, but thankfully in relative comfort. Of course, I had to get worse before I could get better, and I do feel for my poor parents and boyfriend who had me crying on the phone most days, in sickness and in health, I guess! I did enjoy the more reliable Wi-Fi connection while everyone else was out all day and watched a documentary about the wildlife of the Serengeti practically on repeat. I began to feel more human by Saturday as the effects of the antibiotics finally kicked in. I was gutted to have missed so much of the project at this point, and even more so that I had to miss the adventurous exploit of the boat trip in Homer Bay, but I spent Saturday morning relaxing by the pool, having a swim and doing some light yoga in an effort to make the most of the hotel while I still could. I felt quite left out at this point, as I’d been on my own for so many days, so I was really grateful for how caring and compassionate my fellow students were, and our collective determination that I’d make it on safari.

At least I had a nice view from bed. (25/01/2023)
Restoring yoga session. (28/01/2023)
So nice to be outside again. (28/01/2023)

Days 6 – 8: January 23rd – 25th

Over the next couple of days, at the beginning of our main week working with the Uni I steadily began to go downhill, feeling sicker and sicker each day. It didn’t help that everything continued to run late each day, so we all became a bit frustrated.

Monday and Tuesday were mainly spent at the Uni. We met the Vice Chancellor, which was interesting, and really opened my mind to “a different way of seeing the world” as the way he spoke about the project was from a totally different perspective to what I had in mind. I found it perplexing to consider different frames of reference, as although we had one idea about the project, it was clear that not everyone shared the same ideas. It was a unique learning experience.

On Tuesday we had a lecture on community radio, followed by a practical session practicing with the kit with the Kenyan students. I found that the group of students we practiced with had a similar level of knowledge to us, the only thing I managed to show them that they didn’t already know was how to use a histogram to check the lighting. Afterwards, I had a nice chat with Ami, one of the Kenyan students. We connected over our shared enjoyment of video editing, and it was interesting to compare what we’d done at Uni. I was able to give him some advice on a helpful YouTube channel I often use to learn editing tricks, and he said he’d check it out. Although I don’t feel like we taught them much it was a nice exchange of experiences just merely getting to know them.

Community Radio lecture. (24/01/2023)
Practicing with the cameras, with Rongo students. (24/01/2023)

By Wednesday I was feeling really rough, but we were meant to be meeting the community in Cham Gi Wadu that morning, so I was determined not to miss out on the main reason we came. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up getting there until the afternoon by which time I had started to feel really sick. I managed to help a bit with setting up the cameras, and listened to the three community members speak about their reasons for wanting a community radio station which was very impactful. Two quotes that really stuck with me were “we are the voice of the people” and “we are the media” – I really felt their passion for wanting a better method of communication in the community, and I wished we could have done more with them.

Sadly, it was around this point that I felt so ill I had to leave the room, and I won’t go into all the gory details of how bad it became outside. Sitting by the edge of a field (probably a sugar cane one, urgh!) feeling like death warmed up by the beating Kenyan sun, waiting to finally go back to the hotel and get some rest was most definitely a low point of the trip for me. When at last we left and begun the long, hot, bumpy ride back to Uni it was decided that we’d stop at a clinic to see if I could get some help. Which luckily, I did in the form of two different antibiotics, which would eventually salvage the trip for me.  

1st weekend days 4 – 5: January 21st – 22nd

I loved our first weekend in Kenya, and even now after the trip I remember it being one of the happiest times away for me. Even though our bus journeys were long, hot, and SO bumpy, I just loved watching life out the window, and felt so free to be on the road again, moving from place to place. On Saturday we visited an ancient village which was interesting, but I think our picnic all sitting under a big tree was my favourite part because that’s when, for me at least, we really started feeling like a team. I also loved seeing the bats in one of the homes, they were flitting around our heads, and I’d never seen them so up close before. As a nature lover, seeing and experiencing the wildlife was one of the best parts of the trip for me. So, seeing wild Lesser Flamingos free and happy in their natural habitat on Sunday was a huge highlight for me. I could have sat watching them all day. On our drive back to the hotel on Sunday we also stopped at Homer Bay, which I wish we could have spent more time at. The hustle and bustle of this busy fishing bay was magical, and the Marabou Storks as tall as people were practically other-worldly! I was truly encapsulated, but we didn’t stop for long, and then it was time for the sugar cane…

Views of Kenya. (21/01/2023)
Team picnic. (21/01/2023)
Lesser Flamingos! (22/01/2023)
I could have watched them all day. (22/01/2023)
Homer Bay. (22/01/2023)

I’ll never get over the sheer irony of the sugar cane. Having passed so many fields of it over the last few days, I was so curious to try it, and had seen people do so in documentaries, so surely it was okay right? Jerry thought so, so he happily got us some to try. It was my idea, I was so excited, and worst of all – I loved it! But wow, was that one epic mistake!

Don’t do it Katy! (22/01/2023)
Noooooo! (22/01/2023)

Days 1 – 3: January 18th – 20th

Before finally deciding to attend University, I spent the majority of my early twenties working, saving and travelling. I’d been bitten by the travel bug, and I was addicted, for me it was a lifestyle, and I absolutely loved it. But when the pandemic hit in my first year of Uni everything stopped. I hadn’t set foot in another country for three years prior to this trip, and I was BUZZING! Just being at the airport with everyone, I was so filled with excitement for the adventure ahead.

Team on route to Gatwick airport – buzzing! (18/01/2023)

However, the journey was gruelling. Much longer than I’d realised, and sadly the long-haul flight was so uncomfortable that barely any of us managed to get to sleep. So, when we finally arrived in Nairobi airport in the early hours of the morning, we were all feeling the sleep deprivation. But a picture-perfect sunrise gave the warm (literally) welcome to Africa that I think we’d all been dreaming of. Meeting up with Peter and heading off to catch our final flight to Kisumu renewed my excitement, but when we finally arrived and crammed into our bus, we then had a final slog to the Treat House hotel that took far longer than any of us had expected. I was exhausted. The hotel was beautiful, and the veg curry – when it finally arrived – was delicious. I slept for 10 hours straight that first night.   

Sunrise upon arrival at Nairobi airport! (19/01/2023)

Our first couple of days at the University of Rongo were interesting, as we finally got a flavour for Kenyan culture, which felt oddly similar to the laid-back Spanish approach of everything ‘manana’ (tomorrow)! Everything ran late, which although frustrating at least meant we got to relax a bit the first few days. Everyone was so welcoming; and I felt so happy to be travelling again and fully immerse myself in another culture. I really enjoyed learning bits of Ki Swahili and started making notes in my phone so I could remember key words and phrases. It was beautifully sunny and just driving along the Kenyan roads watching life chug along made me smile.

Watching life go by in Rongo, Kenya! (20/01/2023)
Happy travel face! (20/01/2023)

Meeting the students at Rongo was a lot of fun, we played some silly games to get to know each other’s names, and they all seemed genuinely pleased to meet us. On Friday afternoon we had a really interesting discussion on community radio, and I was so impressed with their insightful comments. I was so fascinated that we all had such different ideas about what constitutes community, and enjoyed the debates we had on passive community members.

Magic moments like these. (20/01/2023)
Sunset on campus at Rongo Uni. (20/01/2023)
African sunsets. (19/01/2023)

Home time

It’s 4am in Nairobi airport. We’re all shattered but looking forward to the comfort and familiarity of our own beds. It’s been an incredible time here in Kenya. Fun, beautiful, emotionally draining at times but utterly eyeopening and one to remember. We’re boarding soon and will begin what we estimate to be a 18 hour journey home. Wish us luck! Goodbye for now, Kenya. 

Day 13 – Tuesday 31st

Another jam packed day and our last day in Kenya today. We first met the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Machakos who also happened to be Jerry’s wife! She was really lovely and spoke to us and validated a lot of our experiences. She reminded us to leave and be grateful for the lives we lead back in England and to use them well. Next, we met the students and they were all really welcoming and pleasant to speak to. We all felt bad as we were all absolutely exhausted and our social batteries were quite drained but they were all lovely and showed us around campus. 

Soon after we hopped on a bus to a nearby village where we had the warmest welcome I have have ever experienced in my entire life. We were met by cheers, song, dancing and smiling faces. It was overwhelming to say the least and really moving. As special as it was, I couldn’t help but get the feeling I had when I first met the community back in Rongo. Why am I being celebrated when I haven’t done anything or brought anything with me? Amongst all the joy and discomfort, ultimately, we were being educated about the needs and struggles of the community. They needed water for their crops which weren’t doing well in the heat, as a result of the climate crisis. They were experiencing similar modern day slavery issues and they needed an outlet to discuss them and educate the wider community. They needed a community radio station. 

Later in the day we met with members of the county council where they asked us for our opinions and for ideas on what could be done to help the community. Myself and my fellow Brighton students felt this discussion was quite cathartic and we finally felt we were able to articulate how we had been feeling the whole time. We didn’t have answers. We only had been in the area for less than 24 hours but what we could do was make suggestions based on our experience back home, in Rongo and from what we had seen in Machakos. We got to let them know that us being here was to jump start the project, spread the word about it but the real work lay with the community and nothing would happen unless they wanted it and participated. The meeting ended and that was it. That was our last piece of work done and we had officially completed out CM4K trip. What a feeling. Off to bed now. Up at 1am to head to the airport.