Thursday, 12 September 2013

The spirit of Kenya and my incredible GapBreak

PROJECT: Community & Conservation
WRITTEN BY: Aram Geleris

I will be perfectly honest with something. I have not looked forward to writing this blog, and as a result have procrastinated in writing it for several days now, and for that I apologise sincerely. The reason for this, however, is due to the fact that this blog heralds an event that I simply have no desire to write nor think about, and that is the impending end to our incredible journey here and the conclusion of Camp Kenya 2013 for us. I write this final blog with the intention then, of capturing everything that has happened in the past three months, though I feel words cannot truly express the feelings, sights and experiences we have shared on this trip. I will, however, do my best.

To begin with, I shall recount quickly what has happened in just the past two weeks here in Muhaka. After spending so long working in the arid desert conditions of Tsavo, it is almost refreshing to once again be swamped in the cramped, humid air of the south-east coast of Kenya, where 5 minutes of light work is translated into a face mopped with sweat, and one is constantly harassed by the constant bombardment of mosquitoes, bees, and on occasions, monkeys.

Like I said, almost refreshing.

Jokes aside it has been a real treat being able to work so hard on the projects that we started so soon after we arrived in Kenya; with the two groups working hard on the Trust House Youth Group and the Dispensary. The Trust House Group, knowing they had a deadline, worked furiously, often working past the allotted hours in order to finish the very first project we started work on when we arrived here in Kenya.

Because of their commitment and dedication to see a job done both well and fast, the job was completed last Friday, and we were treated to an amazing handing over ceremony, with wonderful speeches from Eustace, as well as the young men and women from the group thanking and explaining the significance of what we’ve done.

We were told how the youth centre is a quintessential element to the Muhaka Community as it provided training to the local young men and women, usually in skills they can use in order to avoid being forced into less reputable professions, such as illicit drugs. Computer skills, carpentry, masonry, sewing and drama are just some of the programs offered at the club, and the added building will allow more classes to be run throughout the day, and for the classes to be run more smoothly as there will be less people crammed into a single room. The official ceremony of us physically handing over the building (as we technically still owned it, according to Eustace) was followed by a wonderful morning of plays, music and dancing.

The drama group at the club first put on two shows for us, the first was a comedy in English about an old man dealing with his cheeky daughter and her several boyfriends whom she disguises as pieces of furniture, and the second was a mixed English/Swahili play about a not so intelligent salesman who’s ability in English is lacking. Naturally, both were hilarious, and we all had a wonderful time. We then were all given soft drinks, as the custom in Kenya when handing over a building is to share a drink with everyone. “That way,” Eustace tells us, “even when you are gone, a part of you will still be here, with us.” After that we put on some music and danced until lunch. A truly marvellous morning that summarises our experience in Muhaka.

At the dispensary, we have been hard at work to get as much done as possible before we leave. This means that we have put of the final layer of bricks, done most of the slappy-slappy, started the pillars out the front, and even begun the roofing. As a result, the building, which was nothing but a foundation when we arrived, is now on its way to being a fully completed Medical Dispensary with separate male and female dorms, an entrance foyer, and toilets. I am again struck by how much work this group can do with such a positive attitude that focuses not just on speed, but on producing work of a high practical and aesthetic quality that continues to impress.

Before I go on, I feel I must briefly touch on something that was, whilst slightly more personal, still worthy of merit. Congratulations to everyone who has braved a mountain in the past couple of weeks; going up Mount Kenya myself I can accord what for an incredibly challenging but rewarding experience it is. Thank you to the group that helped me make it; James, Julia, Rhian and Lucy (and Lucy’s dad, Gav) for making what could have been a horrible experience into something truly incredible. Kudos also to Courtney and Sam for making it up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, and to our friends who did it before they left Kenya: Becca and Pete up Mt Kenya, and Yadu up Kili, it deserves a mention. Also a big welcome back to our friends from the Maasai Mara who had an incredible experience living there for a week experiencing everything the Mara has to offer.

It is hard to sum up the past three months now into the short space I have left. I suppose it can be talked about when one calls to mind the spirit, or perhaps more fittingly, the Spirit, of Kenya. The Spirit of Kenya is this incredible unseen force that lives in anything and everything that exists in this country, and is brought out in so many different forms all across the land:

It is seen in the bright, white grins of the locals as they greet you walking down the street, in the vibrant colours of the clothes and jewellery of a traditional Maasai warrior, and in the endless, flat stretches of the blood red sand that is seen in every direction in Tsavo, only interrupted by a distant mountain, or a proud, resilient baobab tree on the horizon.

It is heard in the distant cackling of hyenas descending on a fresh carcass, in the screaming and bleating of horns in the busy, wild and yet somehow beautiful chaos of Nairobi and Mombasa, and in the gentle fall of the light rains on mud bandas, followed by the dull thud of a mango not a metre away.

It is smelt in the incredible cocktail of meat, sweaty Kenyans and cigarettes that dominates the senses in the markets of Voi, in the tide coming in at Diani Beach, and 4000m above sea level on Mount Kenya, where the air is so clean and fresh it feels like you are the first human being to ever be graced with breathing it.

It is tasted in a bowl of fresh ugali or chapati’s served with a dripping lentil sauce, in the rancid, choking cup of coconut wine that defies all preconceptions as to what one can define as ‘wine’, and in the hot, dusty, desert wind that bites your entire mouth with an intense dryness.

And it is felt in the hospitality and the generosity of the Kenyan people, who really have no room for either for group of invasive mzungus in a country that is already struggling, or in the warm embrace of a giggling, bright eyed child with all the love in the world to give.

These are the things that make Kenya so special, and I can say that without a doubt, I will remember, and cherish, this place for the rest of my life. There are so many people I need to thank that made this experience possible. Firstly, Eustace, who has been a father to us in the time at Muhaka, thank you for your reassuring smiles and hakuna matatas that put us at ease. To Peter, Ken and Kristin, our wonderful Camp Managers from Kaya, Makongeni and Tsavo: you have collectively made this a better time with your energy and care for us and the communities in which you work. To our chefs, Titus, Tom, Abdul, Julius and the guys from Tsavo: without you, there is no work, there is no energy, there is nothing – you are the backbone of everything we do, and your smiles at lunch and dinner make for better, brighter days. Yusra at the office, for organising everything when we couldn’t and making sure we never got stuck in Nairobi, for too long anyways, thanks. To our project managers: Yahya, Sampuli, Robert, Abdul and Ibrahim for making even the most boring jobs fun and exciting.

I can’t even begin to thank everyone from home, but if you’re reading this, then thank you, as you probably directly or indirectly have contributed to this adventure.

There is one last group of people that I must thank however. To my group of exceptionally talented beautiful people, from the bottom of my heart thank you for making the most out of this experience. Thank you for working hard whilst still having a great time and helping me have a great time. Thank you for being the best you can be.

With that, my final blog comes to a finish. I apologise for its seemingly endless stream of information, but there simply was too much to write so little. In closing, Eustace just tonight disclosed to me that upon leaving everything we had done here, it was alike to an animal leaving the remains of their passage in the ground.

What a beautiful Kenyan compliment.

Asante sana and kwaheri,

Aram Geleris.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and sometimes poetic writing Aram. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I am glad to know you and your cohort have felt the common heart beat of the world.