From the plains of the Lion King to the bustling streets of Aladdin, even Walt Disney couldn’t fathom the adventure we had during our last days in Kenya. Ted Grant, our fearless leader, had been teasing the team the entire trip about the surprise at the end, and he drew it out until the very last second. After 9 days of clinics and a previous long travel day to Nairobi, Sunday started with breakfast at 5:30am, so we could greet the animals of Nairobi National Park at sunrise. In the ‘hakkunah hurraka’ (no hurry) fashion of Kenya, we sat outside the park watching the sun rise over the gates, as the computers were not working to check us in. We spent three hours in the park, standing in the combi’s (a vehicle where the roof pops up so you can stand in the vehicle) and saw giraffes, zebra, water buffalo, an ostrich, and even two black rhinos. The people in one of the combi’s glimpsed the back of a lioness, who disappeared before the other two combi’s arrived. We left the park satisfied, with the Lion King soundtrack playing, some of us musing how close the movie replicates the scenery.
From there, one teammember in particular, Nora Fleming, was ecstatic to go to the Elephant Orphanage, a high item on her bucket list. Here the team saw 30 elephants of all ages come out, play with toys, drink from a bottle, and in general, entertain the crowd with their personalities. From there we were off to the real surprise, which still, somehow, was not yet revealed. All we knew was that we had to bring a bathing suit and pack light.
We arrived at Wilson airport, a small private airport in Nairobi and flew out on a puddle jumper similar to the Charlottetown-Halifax leg. Our team occupied half of the seats on the plane! We were headed to Lamu Island, a beautiful spot untouched by the modern world (or as much as that’s possible). The island boasts 18,000 people and 8,000 donkeys. There is only one car on the island, owned by the chief, and the only way to access the island is by boat after flying into Manda Island. We got off the airplanes and were escorted onto two speed boats for the 20 minute journey to our hotel on the back side of Lamu in a town called Kipingani. We were greeted with real coconuts filled with ice-cold coconut water as we lounged in chairs and hammocks waiting for our room assignments. The resort, which only had two other people staying there, was a waterfront property divided into small private huts for two. The floor, walls, and roof of the hut were made from woven palm trees that were constructed in the small town of Kipingani. After marveling at the rustic opulence, we all changed into swim-suits and ran like kids into the warm ocean water. We spent the afternoon by the dhou (sailboat) showing off with entertaining jumps from the cabana into the salty water of the Indian Ocean.
This idyllic scene was a stark contrast to our experience in Mikinduri. We went from scratchy sheets on small beds to king size beds with pristine white sheets. The sounds changed from chickens and church music to the lapping of waves on the ocean. The food became more rich and plentiful, and our duties were now to recover and relax before heading back to Nairobi. It was an overwhelming, somewhat perplexing change, especially during the third course of the candlelight dinner, sitting in awe under the stars. Looking into another teammates eyes, you could see brief moments of guilt, trying to enjoy ourselves, when the people we left in Mikinduri have so little. As nice as it was to relax after we had worked so hard, it was still uncomfortable at times to enjoy it.
Monday was spent in kayaks in the ocean and lazing by the pool, followed by a sunset cruise in a dhou sailboat, ending with a fancy meal on the beach. Our final day in Kenya (Tuesday) started with some of the team going to Lamu to see the historic town that has been untouched by time. Walking through alleys, backdrops from Aladdin, was a surreal experience. Tall buildings with narrow walkways, the only hint of the modern world being the occasional cell phone or power line. There is order and planning that went into the construction of this village during the 18th century, evidenced by the stone irrigation path running the waste down every alley to the ocean. Originally inhabited by people from Zanzibar, then taken over by the Arabs, followed by the Portuguese, German, British, then eventually Kenyans, this town is a mix of cultures, where the majority of people are Muslim, covered from head to toe. We explored a Portuguese fort, learned more about the local tribes, and wandered through the streets trying to avoid the many donkeys, the main form of transport.
Our days in paradise coming to a close, the team took the small plane back Nairobi and enjoyed our last Kenyan meal at a Brazilian steakhouse called Carnivore. They used to serve exotic meats but now just boast the standard chicken, pork, beef, and crocodile on spits. We arrived at the Nairobi airport around 9pm for our midnight flight, so spend the next 24 hours travelling back to Canada.
Though hard to see our team split up and say goodbye, we were grateful to have shared three weeks in the company of so many caring, hardworking individuals. The work that is done in Mikinduri can only be accomplished due to the donors who pay for the drugs, supplies, and salaries of the Kenyan professionals. Those of us on the trip pay our own way, but there would be nowhere to go without the resources Mikinduri Children of Hope (MCOH) makes possible.
The KENCAN 2014 team witnessed many emotions: the joy of the children having received school supplies, the hope of the families at the promise of new classrooms, the smiles and relief of patients at the clinic, the grief and sadness of those whose diseases couldn’t be cured, and the tentative dreaming of the newly sponsored children. On this 10th anniversary of MCOH, it’s remarkable to see what has been accomplished and how many people’s lives have been touched through the feeding programs, water projects, agricultural projects, sewing center, and scholarship program. I dare to dream that this effect will exponentially increase over the next ten years, with the help of the amazing volunteers and supporters of MCOH, to turn the fervent hopes of children across the globe into a tangible reality.