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First impressions of Kenya

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Kenya
  • First impressions of Kenya

First impressions of Kenya

I have written thousands of words of journals since I have been on this, my first journey to Kenya. Between Will and I, we have taken thousands of pictures and videos too. So it is a challenge to try to distill down my experiences these last three weeks into some ‘first impressions’. However, though I know I will end up posting a lot of my more detailed stories on my blog over time, most people won’t ever read that much. And Brooks requested a ‘first impressions’ post for their travel blog, so I am making my best effort!

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving in Kenya, first at the airport, then at the first place we stayed and the following morning as we walked into town for coffee and breakfast was that there are an overwhelming number of beautiful people here. I used to think that Brooks only took pictures of beautiful Kenyans to show us back at home. Actually, for whatever reason there is a much larger percentage of beautiful people here than in America. Their skin is smooth and clear, their teeth are straight and white, their features are very attractive.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

Ok, so with that superficial observation out of the way, the next thing I noticed is that all of the people that we met were very warm, inviting, generous with even what little they had to offer, and welcoming. Now, the shopkeepers were very persistent, sometimes even overwhelming; random people we passed on the street sometimes gave us glares or dirty looks; one mama that was begging whom we didn’t give money to actually yelled curses at us. However, the people we actually met and got to know were just overwhelmingly sweet, polite, and well-spoken.
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[photo by Brooks Thoman]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

Another thing about the Kenyan people in general (obviously this is a broad generalization but very true in what I experienced) is that they work very hard; at least the women and children do, and many but not all of the men. There is so much to be done, that not much leisure time is available. Kids as young as 4 or 5 are often watching the sheep, goats or cows, trapping termites (flying termites are a favorite snack for many), getting water, etc.

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

Kids in the villages were fascinated by us mzungus (white people).

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

There are so many people out and about here. From Nairobi, a very large city with many western type homes and businesses (at least superficially western) to Bikeke the very small village where Liberty School is located – there are dozens and dozens of people in the streets walking, carrying heavy loads on their heads (if they’re women), wearing dresses, skirts, suits, ties, shoes, barefoot, torn up rags, and everything in between. In Nairobi there are many cars, buses, and motorcycles; they have terrible traffic during rush hour, just like you might find in LA. In the villages there are very few cars, but still motorcycle taxis, bicycles and some cars. But everywhere there are tons of people walking around doing their business.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

A word about that superficial western-ness, and what I mean by that. Many things in Nairobi appear the way they do in America from the outside. A large international airport, a modern coffee shop, an outdoor street market (like a swap meet). But things are not as they seem. A drug store that was supposed to be open a couple hours ago is inexplicably closed. The guy that is supposed to be working is standing outside the shop just waiting around being angry that the shop is locked up. The car that picks you up from the airport gets a flat tire within 5 or 10 minutes. There miraculously is a spare tire, but it is almost completely flat. The beautiful lodge you are staying in has electricity and hot water only a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night. At one hotel, when our key broke we took it to the front desk and they gave us a master key to use to get into our room. They told us it was a master key, meaning it would open any room in the hotel. I tried it on my dad and Brooks’ room, and sure enough it worked. They took it back after about an hour after they had repaired our key. A meeting you set for 9:00 am is almost guaranteed to actually start at 10:00 am, because nobody will be there at 9. A location in the city with real toilets will often have no toilet seat, or no toilet paper, or no soap, or none of the above. The international airport at Nairobi has the electricity go out 3 times within an hour as we sat waiting for the people to arrive that we needed to fix our problem. Roads that were getting bad (such as the entire highway from Kakamega to Kitale) were torn out back in 2013 and still have not been rebuilt due to corruption in the companies chosen to do it.

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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(not our picture: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3705/10460034564_15a0b8fab1_b.jpg)

Anybody that has any money at all has a lot of security. Hotels and homes are within walled compounds with guards at the gate allowing in only certain people. Walls include razor wire, barbed wire, or even jagged broken glass along the tops to keep criminals out. Most nice malls or shopping centers in Nairobi have metal detectors and guards who check your bags before you are allowed to enter.

The poverty in Kenya is overwhelming, almost unimaginable. In the villages, people live in huts the size of my living room or smaller (and my living room is fairly small by American standards!) Mud or plaster make up the walls, often the roof is corrugated metal siding. You can see the sky between the ceiling and the walls, between the doors and the doorframes (when there are doors). Floors are either dirt, concrete, or linoleum laid over dirt or concrete. Furniture is wood chairs or benches, sometimes with a thin cushion on top, sometimes not. There is no electricity, no running water, no gas for cooking or heat. If there is a bed, everybody shares it or sleeps on the floor. If there are blankets, everybody shares them. If there is a medical issue, it is ignored or if it is not possible to ignore it someone may be able to get treated at the village clinic, but it will cost more than they can afford. The most basic services are often all that can be done – including removal of teeth, amputation of limbs, and living with suffering or dying from things that are easily treatable but not affordable (as of course happens in the U.S. but not nearly to the extent that it happens here). The people whose homes we visited are from the poorest in Kenya. They either have land (passed down from their parents) or in the case of the childrens’ families we visited, they are being helped by their neighbors, churches, or friends.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

(note the bed behind them – that’s where they all sleep, as well last heir mom)

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[photo by Will Bruce]

The lady above had to have surgery on her hip after a car accident. She is a widow, and has a small stand in front of her house where she sells tomatoes and candy, whatever items she can to try to make ends meet.

My first impressions of Kenya are a mixture of admiration, appreciation and sadness for the people; awe and wonder at the animals and scenery; and disgust at the systems and leaders who keep so many in the country impoverished despite the many resources that are available.

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