Two week update

We have officially been in Kenya for two weeks!

Here are a few miscellaneous stories from our adventures so far.

Yoga

On Wednesday last week we were invited by two U-tena members to do some yoga in the Community Center. At 10am we were greeted by our teacher Kevin who led us through an hour and a half of quick paced power flows with a big smile. Afterwards we sat on the floor stretching and talking to him about his yoga practice. He told us that he had applied and received a scholarship to study yoga with the Africa Yoga Project. This organization teaches yoga as a mental health practice to youth and prisoners in Kenya. Kevin’s focus however was specifically on children who were growing up in the slums. He detailed that many children living in the slum do not have much room for physical activity and the parents are often too busy or tired to engage with them. We are looking forward to hearing more about his project and doing more yoga in the coming weeks!

Shopping in Kenya

Everywhere you go in Kenya there are items for sale – from Nike air maxes on a tarp to Kitenge fabrics stacked upon a woman’s head. Kenya has a massive market for used clothes (see Gikomba Market blog) which we have had the pleasure of experiencing. Ariel snagged a scarf waiting for a matatu for 50Ksh, Sierra purchased a dress for a mere 100 Ksh, and I (Carly) have obtained two treasures for 300Ksh. The first was a hat that caught my eye on a dusty round about – It said “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”. I immediately tossed the woman 50Khs and ran to catch up with everyone crossing the street. Interestingly enough I think it is my only belonging that says Colorado on it. (Late last week I saw a man in a Colorado State University hoodie and thoroughly confused him trying to explain that it was from my hometown.) My other treasure is an “adidas” hoodie that caught Ariel’s eye from across a busy street (I had mentioned wanting one). Upon closer inspection I noticed that the garment was in fact and American Eagle sweatshirt with the Adidas logo painted (unevenly) on the front. When I heard the vendor say 250 I knew I had to have this bizarre piece of true Kenyan clothing. While we have thoroughly enjoyed the cheap shopping we have also indulged ourselves in some higher end shopping. After our overwhelming experience in Gikomba we stumbled upon a store in the CBD called Mr. Price. It and its products have a great resemblance to that of an American H&M and we fell into some comfortable retail therapy.

Boda Boda

We have ridden on two boda bodas (motorcycle taxis). Much to my mothers dismay I love them. We rode one home from work and weaved in and out of cars and matatus. The other was on our way to the rural school on a bouncy dirt road. While boda bodas can be enjoyable they aren’t the cheapest or safest mode of transportation and will be saved for special occasions.

 

Safari Walk and Market

Our first weekend we set out in the morning towards the outskirts of Nairobi to the National Park. We spent the morning in a natural zoo and were fortunate to see many animals up close and active (namely some cheetahs). We will be going on a real safari later in our trip but enjoyed the animals and the quiet immensely. After a few hours of ooh-ing and ahh-ing we headed back into the CBD (central business district) to see the Maasai Market – much to our dismay it was closed due to a UN meeting. However Mokaya (one of our hosts) suggested that he knew an even better place to get crafts and led us to the Market. We found ourselves surrounded by beautifully beaded Maasai sandals and after some haggling, each left with a pair.

 Mareba Hospital

Right next to the U-tena Community Center is a small government hospital that serves much of the population of Viwandani. (Mareba is a factory area located just outside of the slum. The factories produce wigs and employ many of the residents of Viwandani – at very low wages about $3 a day. Yet there is still a high unemployment rate in the area.) The U-tena members have a close relationship with the hospital and volunteer there when they have free time. Cha Cha gave us a tour of the hospital and we got to speak with quite a few employees about the work they do there. A woman working in the family planning office showed us a huge variety of contraceptives that they offer for free (including pills, injections, and even IUD’s). We were interested to see that most women elect the short-term options such as an injection (lasts for 3 months). While IUD’s are becoming a more popular option for young adult women in the United States, women in Kenya rarely use them until after they have given birth. We are planning on volunteering here when we have some extra time.

St. Phillips Primary

Another one of U-tena’s projects involves teaching physical education and dance to students at a rural school. This past Saturday we joined Vicky (U-tena Member) on a trek to the rural school. We had a long matatu trip that prompted us to buy snacks (peanuts, bananas, and sugar cane) by yelling out the window. The second part of our travels occurred on boda bodas. We rode about five miles on a bumpy dirt road that made for a bouncy fun trip. It was nice to see some wide-open space and breathe fresh air. We arrived at the school and had a lunch of githeri (beans and corn). Then we watched as Vicky set up his drums and about 50 students started filing into the main hall. He began the lesson with a bunch of jumping on two feet – literally 300 times- to the beat of the drums. We then did some planks and squats, which garnered a lot of laughs and tumbling children. We then learned four or five African dance steps and combined them into a dance. The students practiced choreographed dances in small groups and Vicky provided corrections and helped keep the room lively but focused. As the session continued other kids slipped into the hall and danced along the walls while others peaked in through windows. The cook was caught dancing along in the kitchen and gave everyone a good laugh. Vicky explained to us that he learned to dance when he was of primary school age and wanted to share his passion with other children.

Elephant Orphanage

This weekend we decided to head to the elephant orphanage again and made it an hour early this time. The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is home to 24 baby elephants (and some rhinos) all under the age of two years. They were all rescued from the wild for a variety of reasons – getting separated from their herd, falling into wells, and many had lost their mothers to ivory poaching. The elephants are kept in the orphanage for about three years and then monitored for five as they are reintegrated into a herd in the wild. We brought along Cha Cha’s son and nephew who were both extremely excited. At 11 they opened the gate and we along with a bunch of muzungus rushed in to get a good spot. We were giddy when we saw baby elephants – about hip height, 6months old – running down a path towards the roped off area we surrounded. They were each fed two liters of milk (baby formula) and received a mud bath. They then proceeded to play in the mud with each other, eat  leaves and walk around the perimeter where we could touch them. Im not sure who loved it the most Ariel or Cha Cha’s six year old son Mayan.

Maasai Market

Finally we made it to the Maasai Market after three tries. The market takes up a full city block in the CBD and has a wealth of beautiful crafts, art and gifts. We spent about three hours enjoying the works and haggling for our favorites. We made friends with some of the dealers by speaking to them in Swahili – Habari:greeting, pesangapi:how much – and explaining where in Nairobi we live. The variety of crafts includes – rolled paper bead necklaces, woven bead jewelry, maasai sandals, oil paintings, batiks, kitenge fabrics on bags, clothes, and scarves, carvings, stuffed animals and dolls in beautiful fabrics, statues, drums, and much more. The majority of gifts are within a 25 cent – $5 range – if you can charm and or bargain well. We each left with a full bags of gifts, a small dent in our wallet and big smiles.

More updates soon! Thanks for following along!

There are pictures to match many of these experiences on the photo blog aswell!

– Carly Paul

 

Justice

We’ve had an interesting relationship with the justice system here so far. Police are a rarity. Though we live close to a police station, we seldom see them out in the streets. This comes across in the lack of traffic regulation, and the total chaos that sometimes occurs. Despite a large push for reform from the Kenyan police force and from the government, many citizens are still facing a very corrupt system.

A week before arriving in Nairobi, we were a little startled when we saw Kenyan’s police force making national headlines for infamy. A lawyer from the International Justice Mission, Willie Kimani, was investigating a case in which his client, Joseph Mwenda, made a complaint against the police for wrongly shooting him in the arm. Though Mwenda was further targeted by the police with intimidation and harassment for making the claim against them, he persisted in his work with Mr. Kimani. Kimani, Mwenda, and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, disappeared, and then were later found dead at the bottom of the river with their eyes gauged out. This act of suspected police brutality and corruption caused outrage from people across the world, including some ongoing protests that have been occurring while we’ve been here.

While this case happened to make headlines, there is wrongful corruption going on all the time. Our first few days here, one of U-tena’s own members was wrongly arrested as a thief with no basis for finding him guilty, and was not released until the entire U-tena team vouched for him and cleared his name. The officer arresting him had no evidence pinning the U-tena member to the crime they were accusing him of. They just knew they needed to bring back someone.

Because the police are known to be so corrupt, many people often try to create “justice” on their own by taking matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, we had to witness the aftermath of this. While walking to work through the outskirt of the slum, we saw a man lying out on the ground in a pile of trash. Not an uncommon site here. However, the way in which this man was sprawled out gave us an inkling that something was not right. After walking up and joining the few other spectators, we realized that this man was dead. He had been beaten to death (supposedly by a Maasai, who was not a documented citizen) for stealing. Since the Maasai would not be in the system, his murderer would get away with it.

Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot of extremely unjust things happen here. However, it is the work of U-tena and other similar organizations that gives us hope and makes us optimistic for the future of this beautiful country.

–Ariel Silverman

Kenya from a glance

Here is some of the basic Swahili vocab we have learned!

Hey (casual greeting) – Sasa/Jambo

Hello (formal) -Jambo (we’ve basically only heard this when people are greeting us as tourists. Sasa is most common)

How are you?-Habari?

Thank you-Asante

Thank you very much-Asante Sana

Welcome/You’re welcome -Karibu (a little confusing at times since it serves as both)

Please -Tafadhali

Sorry – Polei (most commonly used in the phrase “POLEI CHA CHA”)

General information about Kenya. 

National Languages – Swahili and English

  • Nearly everyone speaks both languages – they learn Swahili at home and study 5 of six subjects in school in English
  • Most people communicate entirely in Swahili, but commonly use an english/swahili slang language called sheng

Population – 45,010,056 (total), 6.5 million in Nairobi metropolitan area

  • Within Nairobi 60% of the population lives in slums – on 6% of the land
  • 73% of the population is under 30
  • The life expectancy for men in the city is under 60 (Cha cha told us this)

Religion – 83% Christian and 11.2% Muslim

  • upon telling a friend we were not religious we received the response “Oh no. You should get religious.”

Climate – Kenya is close to the equator so it does not experience stark summers and winters. The temp ranges from 55-85 degrees F. It has been around 70 the last week.

Economy – Kenya’s services sector contributes 61% of GDP (much through tourism) yet 75% of the work force is employed in agriculture (an underdeveloped and inefficient sector which accounts for 24% of GDP). Their largest export is tea.

Development – Kenya has a fairly low HDI (Human Development Index – composite measurement of life expectancy, income per capita and education) is 0.591 of 1  – ranked 146 of 186 countries in the world.

Independence/Politics – The Kenyan Movement for independence began in 1944 with the formation of the Kenyan African Union led by Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta’s Kanu (Kenyan African National Union) party represented the Kikuyu ethnic group an economically marginalized group which demanded political rights and land reforms in reaction to white settler expansion. Beginning in 1952 a violent Kikuyu guerilla uprising left Kenya in a declared state of emergency, which endured eight years and led to the deaths of thousands of Africans.

In 1963 Kenya achieved its independence (from Britain) led by Kenyatta and the Kanu party, which remained in power for four decades. The Kanu reign was characterized by centralization, corruption and rent seeking, civilian disapproval and ethnic tensions that came to a violent peak surrounding the 2007 presidential elections in which nearly 1,500 people died.The Kenyan people have faced severe ethic preference from their leaders – meaning that Kikuyu areas have received disproportionate amounts of public goods over the years.  Up until this point Kenya had essentially existed as a single party state and was arguably not even a formal democracy until 2010 when its new constitution was ratified. This constitution intended to devolve power regionally and received a two-thirds approval vote from Kenyans. This new era of governance focused on the development of county governments and improved public service delivery, government accountability, and equitable allocation of land and resources has Kenya headed toward the shaping of a participatory democracy.

–Carly Paul

 

 

 

Gikomba Market-A Paradox

A feminist’s nightmare paired with the cheapest shopping we’ve ever seen…

Sierra, Carly and I (Ariel) decided to go to the market. We wanted to get a taste of local color and maybe pick up a few souvenirs or goodies while we were there. We took several matatus there with Shiko (a Kuza mentor) and Faith (Jonathan’s wife). They decided the best place to buy clothes was the Gikomba market—an especially cheap outlet where many of the shops and stands that line the streets all around Nairobi purchase their merchandise. Gikomba is the largest mitumba (second-hand) market and employs 65,000 people. The second-hand industry accounts for all the vigor of the market, but is often criticized as ruining Kenya’s garment industry. As we pulled to the Gikomba market, halfway between our home in Umoja and the Central Business District, we hopped out of the matatu and were instantly overwhelmed with sensory overflow. There were literally hundreds of stands in front of us, all selling very similar goods. There were shoes, all likely knock-off brands or second-hand, some of which were still wet from being washed by the storeowners in bins right alongside the shops. There were piles and piles of clothing, some of which still had Goodwill tags on them, though they were being sold for a tiny fraction of the price that the Goodwill tags dictated. Sierra was able to get a fancy floral dress for the American equivalent of only $1.00. It’s a great place for locals to buy affordable clothing, and their were many prominent brands. Shiko told us about some of the great deals she had gotten on Nike and other brands while there, and we could see her shopping expertise as she navigated through the stands. The shopping was extravagant, and the deals were unrivaled. However, we did not realize that we would barely even have the chance to look at the clothing.

We were harassed so incessantly, and it only worsened as we got deeper and deeper into the market. It started with people jokingly screaming “mzungu” (Swahili for white person/foreigner) at us as we walked through. Then it quickly worsened into a feminist’s nightmare. Men began calling out at us with things like:

“I want one! Give me one!”

…“Those are your bedroom dresses for my bedroom!”

…or disgustingly whisper in our ears “You are sexy”

…or even “I want to have you”

…and other things of the sorts.

I, being Asian, also got “Ching Chong” a few times.

What I found to be far worse than any of the verbal harassment, however, was the physical harassment. Men literally grabbed us and would hold onto us as we tried to walk forward. Getting rather annoyed, we began to shrug or push the men off, though some had stronger grips than others. Faith told us that she frequently faces this type of harassment in places like this, with men frequently slapping her butt. Faith walked behind us to try to protect us from behind, while Shiko walked in front of us.  The men were hardly kinder to Shiko. I’d say the biggest difference is that they yelled at her in Swahili instead.

We suddenly realized, however, that even though we felt entirely uncomfortable with the way the men treated us within the market, we ultimately have homes in the United States where women are treated as HUMANS and get the RESPECT that we deserve. That realization made us even more sympathetic towards Kenyan women, and also made us feel very fortunate for the progress the United States has made. Yes, there are still issues within America concerning income inequality, power balances, and sexism. However, our struggles as women in America are dwarfed in comparison to the daily plights of many of the women in Kenya.

–Ariel Silverman

 

Boda Bodas, Matatus, and Pedestrians

Getting around in Nairobi is a constant adventure. It is anything but boring. For the first few days we were overwhelmed by the constant swirl of activity surrounding us as we toured through the city. Traffic laws are less rules and more of (un-followed) suggestions. Cars, pedestrians, boda-bodas (motorcycles), matatus (buses) and even sometimes cows, goats, and pigs all inhabit a single road. Each one weaves in and out around each other, striving to get to their destinations quickly. Dust prevails, as most of the roads are unpaved. The sometimes-uneven road makes the bus bounce up and down and the sounds of car horns dominate the soundscape as each driver struggle to get ahead.

Our journeys generally begin with a walk, either to our destination or to the next matatu stop. We walk along the dirt pathway next to the road, walking past scores of stands selling tons of different items, including fruits and vegetables, roasting meat, clothes and shoes.

Besides walking, our main form of transportation is a matatu. (Uber also exists here, but in the word’s of our dear friend Hank, “that’s mzungu shit”.)  Matatus are buses that are the most common form of travel for most people in Nairobi. They range from seating 15 to 40 people (although the number of people in the matatu almost always significantly outnumbers the number of seats). The prices can range from the equivalent to 0.20 to 0.70 dollars depending on the distance and the time of day. The smaller matatus, the ones we usually take to work and around Eastland, are usually fairly plain besides the crazy driving. However, the bigger matatus are incredibly lively both in décor and ambiance. Each one has a different theme and is decorated accordingly. Every available space inside and outside the bus is covered in pictures depicting the theme. So far we have road in matatus with basketball players and teams, rappers, The Dallas Mavericks, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tupac themes. In addition to the décor, they constantly blast loud music that usually consists of rap with English and Swahili words intermingled. Some of them even have large screens in the front of the bus that show music videos.

Riding in a matatu fluctuates from driving around like crazy, swerving to avoid pedestrians and fellow road goers, to sitting in a complete standstill in traffic for minutes at a time. When we are moving, every matatu tries to get ahead using any method possible, no matter if it is driving up on the curb or driving on the wrong side of the street. Yesterday, a different matatu even hit the one we were in! (But on the plus side, since the traffic is so slow, we generally don’t get up to a speed where they can be really dangerous).

However, during those times when traffic is at a standstill, our Kenyan friends like Cha Cha, Mokaya, and Jonathan tell us about the history and future of infrastructure in Nairobi. A few years ago, there were very few cars on the road because only the affluent could afford them. However, now that more people own cars, there’s a huge traffic problem in the city. (Although it’s amazing that anyone owns cars here as they can cost anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 US dollars because there are no manufacturers in Kenya and there is a hefty tax on them that virtually doubles the price. But our friends also told us that there are many roads currently being built and that when we visit Kenya again in a few years, that we wouldn’t even recognize the place because there would be so many more roads. What they told me was apparent in the numerous construction sites all around the city.

Yet despite all the craziness of travelling in Nairobi, we’re starting to get the hang of it. We are finally getting in the habit of looking the correct way before crossing the street (they drive on the opposite side of the road here) and today we for the first time we road the matatu to the gym all by ourselves. We even made sure they didn’t over charge us because we’re tourists; we tell them “bao!” which means twenty Kenyan shillings to let them know that we know the going rate for a short ride in the matatu. Every day of traveling through this city is a new adventure, and every day we’re learning how to navigate our way around more and more.

–Sierra Fisher

Chakula – Food

From the second we arrived we were thrown into the experience of African food. Our first meal consisted of pasta with a fish stew and a dish called umboga.

Umboga – is essentially a varied vegetable dish. The base is steamed cabbage but we have had it with green bell peppers, tomatoes and onions mixed in as well. Many of the stews are tomato based and include fish or beef, the two most common meats.

Vegetables can be purchased at a grocery store or more commonly any number of stands along the street. The stands are made of sheet metal and can be seen every five feet in some places but often are no more than 100 feet apart. We purchased a bag of cabbage for 30 Kenyan shillings (close to 30 cents) and avocados (the big ones) are 20KSh.

Other Kenyan staples we have eaten and learned to cook include ugali, chapatti, sukuma, matoke, mandazi, grilled maize, samosas, smoki, chai, modoro, sour milk and nyama choma. Here are some brief descriptions of them and our experiences! 100KSh is essentially $1

Ugali – This is undeniably the most common food in a Kenyan diet. It is made by adding corn meal to boiling water. It can be compared to grits but it much thicker like a dough. Usually  it is served with vegetables or a saucy stew and eaten with one’s hands. It received a lot of hype from Kenyans and we think it’s good too… a few times a week.

Chapatti – Easily the second most common food is like a flatbread. It is originally from India and made with flour, sugar, and water. The other night a woman Diane (cousin of a U-tena employee) taught us how to make Chapati. She began by eye-ing the ingredients and then mixing and folding the dough with her hands. We then rolled the dough flat, cut it into strips, rolled the strips (like a cinnamon roll) and then flattened those into a tortilla shape. We then placed those in a pan with oil and cooked them much like a pancake. I (Carly) personally love chapati; it is warm and doughy and can be eaten with anything (we love having it with avocado). They can be purchased many places along the street as well. 50KSh or less

Sukuma – Kale! It is steamed and eaten with Ugali.

Matoke – Plantain stew. Originally from Uganda is is made with onions tomatoes and garlic. 120KSh

Mandazi – Kenyan Doughnut! Thick and fluffy. 20 KSh

Grilled Maize – This is corn that can be found on every block. The chefs cook it on a grate over hot coals. It is charred and delicious and offered with lime and a mysterious chili salt that will change your life. 20 KSh

SAMOSAS – We love samosas. They are everywhere and they are delicious. They are pocket of dough full of meat and spices… originally from India. 20-50KSh

Smoki – another food that can be found around every corner. It is a small beef sausage. 20 -40KSh

Chai – We were so pleasantly surprised when we found out Kenyans drink chai tea (always with milk) like its water. We have it every morning and some times after work as well.

Modoro – Bean soup. Our third day we went to lunch with some of the U-tena staff at a small slum restaurant (a sheet metal shack about 30 x 15 ft). They served modoro with either chapatis or ugali. It was delicious and cost 280 KSh for the seven of us, about 40KSh per person.

Maziwa Mala – Sour milk… seems scary, tastes delicious. We were nervous at first but with a little sugar sour milk makes a great dessert – much like a plain keifer.

Mutura – goat intestine sausage. This is a Kenyan classic but we haven’t worked up the courage for it yet – we may never. Vigilantly trying not to confuse these sausages with the Smokis.

FINALLY NAMA CHOMA – This is literally burnt meat and its delicious. You can order a Kilo for 500 KSh. Goat and beef are the most common meets. It is served with all the fat and grizzle and dipped in salt.

While we have enjoyed all the food so far we tapped into our bougie side today and are currently sitting at the “Starbucks” of Kenya called Java – eating overpriced food and capitalizing on their amazing wifi.

There is still a mountain of Kenyan cuisine to be discovered from street side to restaurants to shacks. WE ARE SO EXCITED. and so full.

–Carly Paul

 

Meetings for Her

Hello from Ariel!

 

Though the 30 plus hours of traveling was filled with a roller coaster of excitement rooted in suspense as well as a number of encounters and conversations with interesting and inspiring people, nothing could match the excitement I felt when I walked out of the luggage pickup area and saw Carly, Cha Cha, and Jonah standing outside the doors waiting! Cha Cha and Jonah are both part of the U-tena team, and some of the most charismatic individuals I’ve ever met. Their light-hearted but caring nature immediately came across as they helped us with our bags and told us jokes, all the while welcoming us to Kenya. (P.S. We now call Cha Cha our “Mommy-Daddy” or “Momma Duckling” because of the way he looks out for us and leads us )

The drive home was beautiful, filled with green landscapes and colorful buildings. After arriving at Cha Cha’s house, in a neighborhood called Umoja Two, we walked to the local Greenspan mall to pick up a few necessities we had forgotten. When we came home, we cooked dinner together as a family of sorts (including Cha Cha’s son and nephew, Mayan and Isaiah), and Cha Cha began to ease us into the local cuisine! Exhausted as could be, we slept very well that night– we even fell asleep with the lights on. But our full nights sleep prepared us well for the exciting day ahead.

We woke up on Wednesday with a full itinerary. But first, we were greeted with warm chai and pancakes made by Cha Cha. We were instantly swept off our feet by how DELICIOUS the chai was. It is brewed with warm milk and sugar, and is a common Kenyan staple.

As for the rest of the day, we decided to divide and conquer, so we split up with separate U-tena executives to attend their respective meetings. Carly and I attended a meeting going on at the U-tena Youth Center led by a representative named Everlyne from the Kenya Medical Research Institute. It was a meeting being led to help educate single mothers about how they can safely avoid HIV/AIDs, STIs, and unplanned pregnancies. Shiko, a Kuza mentor, helped lead the presentation. The speakers were extremely inspiring and skilled– they spoke not only factually, but also had a great air of empowerment in the way they spoke to the women. They spoke of consent and  and the value of one’s self over preserving a relationship with a pushy or disrespectful man. She introduced topics that we’ve never had to face before in the US, like the stigmas attached to birth control, or worrying that a man can’t know that a woman is using contraceptives or HIV-prevention drugs. These concepts of distrust and lack of power were foreign to us, and it was amazing to hear Everylne and Shiko speak about these topics with such strength and certainty.

At the conclusion of the meeting, all the women in attendance were offered 500 shillings (around $5, which can get you pretty far in Kenya) as a sort of incentive for attending/compensation for their time. We were told that this funding was coming from an organization in California, and was an extremely effective tool for keeping the women in high attendance and engaged in the discussions. I was shocked by how receptive the women were to the information and how willing they were to make themselves vulnerable with questions about the material. However, I can understand why, as Everlyne and Shiko handled all these inquiries with poise and grace. All in all, I was very impressed and optimistic about the entire meeting. After it was over, we walked back to the U-tena office to meet Cha Cha, Sierra, and the rest of the squad.

 

–Ariel

30 hrs

Hi all, Carly writing 🙂

We have all arrived safely in Kenya and it’s safe to say I have never been so thankful to have my feet on flat ground. However, traveling provided us with some great coffee, memories, and friends. We took two different routes both amassing to 30 hours – Sierra and Ariel together from California and Carly from Colorado. Here are some tidbits from my travel.

Colorado –> Washington DC. –> Addis Ababa, Ethiopia –> Nairobi, Kenya

I left on the 10th from Denver International Airport and took, what I would now deem, a short flight to Dulles arriving at 1am. I spent the next ten hours there snuggling my backpack underneath an airport bench, wandering and drinking chai to stay awake. At 11am I boarded my plane to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As soon as I sat down in my bright green seat my heart started to race with excitement – and possibly adrenaline from the airplane music, which I can only describe as some sort of Ethiopian trap music. I was soon greeted by Aldo an american man with a three foot long dreaded beard with whom I shared my row. During the 13 hour flight I ate 3 meals, filled 6 pages in my journal/sketchbook, watched 3 movies, and paced the aisle 20+ times.

For the first five hours everyone is quiet yet restless, but as the time passes there is a growing feeling of community – as if everyone is thinking “we are all (stuck) in this together”. After two movies people began to chat with those around them and sleep on the shoulders of their loved ones. I saw offers of snacks, towelettes and extra pillows. The baby a row in front of me grabbed my toes and played with Aldo’s beard. The flight attendant washed her arms, put on a fresh coat of lipstick and offered me some lotion when I paced by. The sense of mutual understanding grew throughout the hours and fell over me like a thick warm blanket – or maybe that was the melatonin.

When dinner came the plane fell into a blissful silence with only the crackling of wrappers to be heard. I had not eaten on a plane since I was too young to remember and proceeded to take pictures of all my meals like a true newb.

 

When I arrived in Ethiopia I had to run – yes actually run – to my Nairobi flight. I was on board just a short 15 minutes later and in an hour and a half had landed in Kenya. I sat next to a young woman from Somalia who was going to school in Sweden. By the end of the flight we were laughing so hard people were staring. She and I then tackled customs together and said our goodbyes. When I left the airport I was greeted by Chacha (Utena’s Deputy Director) and Jonathan (Utena’s Director) and a sign with my name and two hours later we waited in the same place to be reunited with Ariel and Sierra!

 

–Carly Paul