Jamie’s Trip to Kenya

Well, lots of people are wondering about my trip to Kenya so I’m making a very rare (I think this is only my second) contribution to the blog.

We began with a late night bus trip to Bahrain Airport which involved crossing the border with 41 people (5 chaperones and 36 high school students). We had two groups going to Nairobi so we shared bus and plane rides in and out of the country. The trip started out well, no hiccups at immigration and all five chaperones got bumped up to business class! It was great, I can’t wait to be able to fly business and first class on a regular basis. Too bad that’s light years away. We had a brief layover in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and landed in Nairobi mid-day on Thursday.

There are pictures of our first hotel in Nairobi as well as our hotel in the ravine (complete with mosquito nets for all the beds). Both of the hotels we stayed at were really nice, with great outdoor garden areas to relax in during the afternoon. The food was good in both hotel locations. Kenyan food is very heavy on starches and carbohydrates so pretty much every meal had potatoes, rice, and fried bread as well as a meat dish (usually a stew of some sort). We also had some very good fish dishes while we were there and a slaw dish that I didn’t eat (it had mayonnaise of course, I can’t escape that condiment anywhere in the world).

Nairobi was pretty warm during the day but really comfy at night. In the ravine the temperature didn’t get quite as hot during the day. When we were working there was usually a breeze although it got quite cool in the evenings until mid morning the next day. I had exactly one pair of pants for traveling and no long sleeves so I was chilly.

The first evening in Nairobi we had our Habitat for Humanity orientation with Festus who would be our HfH contact for the trip. We learned about some of the traditional Kenyan housing (mud walls that have to be reworked after the rainy season every year) and the fact that boys in the rural areas move out of their families homes when they are 15. They live in a very small house (called a boy’s house) on their parents’ property until they can afford to build a larger home which often doesn’t happen until after they are married with a few children.

During this meeting, we were also reminded of the violence that had broken out during the last presidential election. The race was very close between two popular candidates (who are now the re-elected president and the new prime minister). Because of the tensions, some groups who were considered outsiders in their villages were attacked and fled. The new government has given stipends to the displaced families who are currently living in tents donated by the UN. With this money, families could rebuild their homes that were destroyed. One group decided to buy the land of their refugee camp and set up a permanent settlement so they pooled all of their stipends. This gave them a safe place to live and work but it left them with no money for actual housing. Habitat and the UN are working together to help this community build brick wall homes for everyone in their group. They have completed about half of the homes so far and our group got to stop and visit the settlement on our way to our actual build site.

We stopped a few times along the way to see a couple of look out points, shop for souvenirs, and take a few pictures. Most of our second day was spent on the road although we did get to visit the two families that we would be working with to get their homes started.

We had a total of two and a half building days. During the first day we dug the foundation of one home and began laying the foundation for another. Part of Habitat is that the families do have to pay off the loan of the building materials and contribute to the building through what is called “sweat equity.” We had locals and the family helping us lay bricks. Ultimately, we built both the foundation and most of the walls for one home. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. While we weren’t being tourists, and I can’t wait to go back to visit Kenya and do all the touristy things, we really got a great experience because we were working with a family of people. Most people had rudimentary English and of the places I’ve traveled, more people spoke basic English in Kenya than anywhere else. I’m guessing because of imperialism (and they drive on the left side of the road thanks to the Brits).

We did spend one day out on safari in one of the national reserve parks. It was amazing. We got to see lions, rhinos, giraffes, tons of zebra, antelope and deer, and a couple varieties of buffalo. Plus lots of birds. We didn’t see a leopard or an elephant but overall the day was pretty great. There was also a lodge hotel in the reserve itself which is where we ate lunch that day.

Our last day was a travel day as well and we made it from the ravine back to Nairobi. We thought for a while that the other Kenya group wasn’t going to make the flight but they did and we all headed home together.

Our kids had a great time. They were mostly juniors and seniors who were trying to beef up their college applications but I think by the end of our trip that wasn’t their focus anymore. We got to visit two schools and an orphanage which made a huge impact on all of us. We all brought items to donate (clothes, books, and toys) which were gratefully accepted. We also donated some food to the families that we worked with since they had fed all 19 of us everyday. We learned a few Kiswahili words (fundi means expert, and one of our kids got nicknamed junior fundi because he mastered the building process so well) and got to hang out with the family members during morning and afternoon tea. A baby goat was born while we were there (I’ve got some fuzzy pictures as I chased him around the living room) and a few of the young children saw white people for the first time (and were scared to death of us the first couple of days). We also got the chance to go up against a local school in a soccer game (well I took pictures from the sidelines).

Overall it was a trip that I will never forget. The people were great, the scenery was great, and I felt like I really contributed to the effort to give these people a good, sturdy home. Our students were wonderful, hardworking and cheerful, and so generous of themselves the whole week. I can’t wait to take kids on another WOW week trip. There is a lot to be said for the learning experiences that happen through giving beyond the confines of your small school community.

Random Life in Khobar

Life catches up to everyone.  We all get into the same monotonous pattern day after day.  It seems that life here in Saudi can become even more monotonous than even in the U.S.

I have been driving now for over a month.  Driving is not as bad as what people make it out to be. Sure, the drivers here are more careless than in the rule filled US, but as long as you balance your defensive/offensive driving, you’ll be fine.

There are roundabouts here, which I though I would hate.  Actually, I am not sure why more US cities do not have roundabouts.  They keep the flow of traffic moving rather nicely.  I guess it is our rebellion from England despite the fact that we had been an independent nation for over 100 years after cars were invented.

I have been playing in a basketball league at Aramco.  Aramco is the company that controls the oil here in Saudi Arabia.  Way back when the first dug here, they brought in US and other western engineers to run their oil business.  They built this enormous compound (about 12,000 people) that is heavily guarded.  They have actual grass, even a very nice grass golf course on their compound.  There are schools, grocery stores, government building, office building, parks, softball fields, gymnasiums, and plenty of swimming pools there.

You have to know someone to get onto Aramco.  You drive to the gate, tell them why you are there, then go to another parking lot and gate and check in with your drivers license, Iqama (green card), and car registration card.  People riding with you only have to present their Iqama or passport.  The guard then calls the number of the person who you know at Aramco.  This person has to be at their home number (no cell phones).  The guy lets then prints up all names of people wanting in ALWAYS misspelling the names.  It is actually quite funny.

You pass through the gate and drive where you need to go.  I have been going for a basketball league and once per week for Ultimate Frisbee.  I will also go in the Spring for softball.  It keeps my week pretty busy.

Jamie is in Kenya for the week.  I am hoping that she will blog about it when she returns.

We are still playing Settlers of Catan every Friday and sometimes through the week.  A new game introduced by a friend was Dominion, a strategy card game which has caught on.  Darts has also been a hot game to play.

This week, I was finally able to put up some picture frames around the house.  What is funny about that is that there are not any actual pictures in them.  We’ll get to that later when I have time to go print some.  We have a color printer, but I worry about the quality when I print them.

I have been pulling some long days by going in early and then tutoring right after school.  Tutoring is something that many people do here.  It is usually for just 1 hour for how many ever days you want.  I do 4 days per week, which is quite a bit, but the money is outstanding. Jamie and live off my tutoring money alone.  It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to do that.

Finally received a bank account and my ATM card.  I now have my check direct deposited so I do not have to go sit at that evil Saudi Hollandi bank any more.  I now sit at a probably just as evil Sabb bank for any banking needs. Banks usually on have about 2 tellers and only one of them will actually do any work.  You have to get a number and wait for the 1 teller to go through all of the people.  I have not been in a bank for less than 45 minutes. This is just to cash a check.  Crazy.

School here is as busy as anywhere.  The school offers a ton of things for the kids to do.  This week, it was Book Fair.  Nice selection as the student order the books, then they bring them in from Bahrain.  Only takes about 2 weeks from what they tell me.  I ordered a Dr. Seuss book I had never heard of called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?  I also ordered those Brain Quest trivia questions and an Italian cookbook.

All for now.  I’ll try and talk Jamie into posting sometime about her Habitat for Humanity Kenya trip.  Interestingly, she is sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere and working in the Northern Hemisphere.  I think yesterday she went on a Safari – cool!

I’ll try and take pictures in the next couple of weeks.  It won’t be much to look at, but it might give you an idea of where we live.