Last week I traveled to Nairobi by myself for the first time. I had two items on my agenda: the first was to volunteer for UN International Volunteers’ Day (December 5th) and the second was to visit a Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Clinic and shadow a dietitian. My trip from Tala to Nairobi was quite interesting. I didn’t end up leaving Tala until 4:30pm, by which it was prime evening traffic in Nairobi. The trip usually takes an hour, but two hours later we were still stuck in the suburbs of Nairobi not moving more than a foot every 5 minutes. As it was getting darker and darker voices of VSO Jitolee popped into my head, “You shouldn’t be out in Nairobi after dark, especially by yourself…” Dammit. Then, of course, the matatu gets a flat tire and pulls over to the side of the road. With the sky getting darker and traffic getting worse, options started running through my head. Contrary to my normal emergency plan, my instinct was telling me to get out of the matatu and get in another one heading downtown.
As I boarded my second matatu I envisioned roaming around downtown Nairobi alone at night with no sense of direction as to where the matatu to Westlands (where I was staying the night) was. Sitting next to me was a nice Kenyan woman, probably my age, who could tell I was worried about getting to my destination on time. She asked where I was going and offered to help me get there. By this time it was pitch black and there were hoards of people outside. It seems as though three times as many people come out after dark, which makes Nairobi seem even crazier than it usually is.
When we got into the bus to Westlands I thought I was home free, but that was not the case. As we were approaching Westlands I noticed the bus driver was not slowing down. I signaled the caller (the guy who lets people on and off) to pull over, but he didn’t seem to care. He just kept pointing up to the ceiling, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what that meant. Then I noticed a small red button on the ceiling that apparently you have to push so the driver knows to stop. This is unlike a matatu where you just tap the caller and he signals to driver to pull over. As I went to reach for the tiny red button it became apparent that I was about 2 feet too short. So here I am, hopping up and down in the bus trying to push that damn red button. When the bus finally stopped I was well past my destination and wasn’t too excited about walking the distance to my friend’s house. Then I remembered one of the last purchases I had made in California before coming here. Pepper spray! I flashed back to standing in line at Big 5 Sporting Goods with Alan, thinking, “I probably won’t ever need this, but it’s just good to have.” I quickly pulled it out of my purse and held it firmly in my hand, ready to spray anything so little as an insect that should happen to come within 10 feet of me. Thankfully I made it to Westlands with no problems, save having to cross two major roads with racing matatus on either side.
After a good nights rest we woke early to go to Nairobi River and pick up trash for IVD. When we arrived we were given trash bags and gloves. For the next two hours we walked along the river, picking up trash and avoiding the feces. I know it’s a little graphic, but the problem with the river is it’s the dumpster and bathroom for the neighboring slums. On the other side of the river is an even bigger pile of trash, which may make you feel like, “What’s the point?” but the side of the river we were cleaning up used to look like the other side. It’s still sad, any way you look at it, but at least we felt like we were making some sort of impact.
The most fun part of the clean-up was when three boys from the slums came over with a football (“soccer ball,” for those reading this from America) and we kicked the ball around for about an hour. One of them wasn’t wearing shoes and inevitably cut his foot. Una, a VSO volunteer from Ireland, performed first aid on him and eventually on the other two boys. Eventually all was good and a little while later we said goodbye to our football friends.
The next day I went with Jean, a VSO volunteer from England, to Lea Toto Clinic. It’s a HIV clinic for children ages 0-18 years old. Although all the children at the clinic already have HIV, the clinic serves to help them in compounding problems such as TB, malnutrition and secure livelihoods. Lea Toto is funded almost completely by USAID and WFP (World Food Programme) and serves alongside 5 other clinics located throughout Nairobi. Kezia, the dietitian I shadowed explained to me the criteria for which children must fall under to qualify for the program and what services they offer. They deal with mild, moderate and severe malnutrition an offer food programs that correspond accordingly. In my education in California I didn’t deal with childhood malnutrition and I only counseled two people with HIV, so this was a huge learning experience for me. As part of an intensive therapy program for the severely malnourished they give children Plumpy Nut, a peanut butter based food with added sugars and milk protein. This offers children supplement nutrition support for parents who can’t afford to provide adequate nutrition on their own. I got to witness a completely new side of dietetics and the experiences I had were priceless.
I’m back in Tala for the next two weeks until Alan and I leave for Watamu, up the coast from Mombasa, for a two-week holiday! We’ve rented a two bedroom house near the beach with 5 other volunteers. I can’t wait. I’ve also started a (temporary) job working at the college Cyber Cafe. So far it’s been smooth sailing, as you can probably imagine, that is when the power is on. I’m helping out here because the lady who usually works here, Gertrude, is on maternity leave and won’t be back until February. My hope is by then I will have contacted a hospital up the road and can start working/volunteering there.
On a side note, I wanted to put a picture of Sarit Center, the biggest mall in Nairobi. It’s located in Westlands, just a five minute walk from where my friend’s place is. For those who were worried about not being to get certain things here, don’t worry, this place has EVERYTHING! The only thing I haven’t been able to find is Parmesan cheese. It’s not the end of the world, but I’m the kind of girl that likes her parmesan with a little pasta.