What a welcome!
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by Africa. I remember watching nature documentaries from this continent and being enchanted by the variety of animals. I visited South Africa a few years ago on a tourist package together with my husband and just loved it, but this time around I wanted to experience real life as a local person and on my own. Choosing Kenya was easy. As a teacher I’ve taught my students Karen Blixen and her life in Kenya; so to me it was the epitome of the African experience. I only went there for four weeks if I should stay longer I would miss my husband and our two adorable French Bulldogs too much.
I was to spend the weeks as conservation volunteer at Kigio Wildlife Conservancy near Naivasha. A staff member from Projects Abroad met me at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Before we found the right matatu (a local form of taxi that is basically a large van) to take us further we went to the guesthouse in Nairobi to pick up two other volunteers who were going to work in Nakuru. After being picked up on the side of the highway in a Land Rover Defender by Tonny Kipkurui and Sam Irungu we headed out to base camp. Driving down the bumpy path, (this was a little different than the roads I was used to – I definitely had to hang on), I was greeted by the sight of Rothschild’s giraffes, impalas, zebras and my absolute favourite animal –warthogs (pumbas) – what a welcome!
I managed surprisingly quickly to adjust to the limited electricity, limited hot clean water and bunk bed sleeping and I embraced the absolute beauty and quietness at Kigio Wildlife Conservancy.
Living and working at KWC is one of the most special experiences of my lifetime. Waking up each morning to the sight of the many animals around was something I never grew tired of. Watching the shooting stars by the fire and listening to the hyenas’ laugh at night was a surreal experience, and allowed me to feel like I was really in the wild.
In my short time there I was able to help with a variety of tasks including watering and weeding the tree nursery (trees for a community project), giraffe survey (there are 26 Rothschild’s giraffes (endangered subspecies) at the conservancy. We took a camera, a notebook listing photos of each giraffe and their name and drove out to see how many we could identify. After you get a good photo you are able to identify most of them. Giraffes’ spots are like human fingerprints they are all different), bird watching (as soon as I was able to spot a bird, it would fly away, luckily one of the other volunteers was almost professional with his camera; being able to identify the birds was a great way to see how many different species of birds there actually are at KWC), invasive plant removal (there is one plant in particular that is from South America, it not only has over 700 seeds, but none of the animals eat it), walking the boundaries to identify poaching activities, setting up and checking camera traps. Days were split into morning tasks and afternoon tasks.
All in all, my entire trip was everything I expected it to be. Working outdoors in the middle of Africa was a great experience, and I also had many opportunities to see the country on the weekends by visiting other landmarks like Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate, Maasai Mara National Park, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (rehabilitation centre of orphaned elephants), Langata Giraffe Centre (orphaned giraffes), Karen Blixen Museum and much more.
Living in the middle of nowhere meant I had to quickly get to know the other volunteers at the placement including chef Kariuki Kiwinya and security captain Muchiri Muciri. The volunteers and staff were all very friendly and I miss them all.
Part of living in Kenya involves adopting a “hakuna matata” (no worries) attitude to whatever situation you find yourself in. For example, I expected to be together with other volunteers from Nakuru or Naivasha, but no. I was looking very much forward to trying a night safari, but no, it was cancelled 3 times during my stay. Furthermore I expected outreach programmes in schools and villages where I could use my teaching skills, but no. In spite of my disappointment in the above-mentioned matters I have adopted “hakuna matata” into my daily vocabulary.
If you are undecided about volunteering abroad, I say go for it, you will be surprised at how amazing an experience you will have and the memories you will take from it. It is never too late I am 64 years old and will go again! Kenya is a beautiful and colourful country. Despite living at a much more relaxed pace of life - “African time”, you cannot fail to fall in love with its friendly people and catch that contagious happy feeling. Go for it - you won’t regret it. I will continuously encourage people to be a part of something like Projects Abroad.
FACTS I LEARNED DURING MY STAY IN KENYA
- Everything takes three times longer than it does here in Denmark.
- In order to keep your sanity, you have to learn to go with the flow and be patient. You have no control over when a matatu will arrive, or if the electricity will go off, or if the meeting you set up with someone will suddenly be cancelled for no good reason or if the police decide to randomly stop traffic.
- When you’re a thousand miles away, a phone call from the man you love makes all the difference in the world.
- It doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you’re white – mzungu -and are in Kenya, most of the locals will think you are the richest person in the world and have “ATM” written on your forehead.
- When you travel to a place unknown and truly step out of your comfort zone, that’s when you grow the most and learn the most about yourself.
Annalise Rixen, Natur & Miljø i Kenya