First and foremost: Sara and I are safe (but bored out of our minds).
Three weeks ago Sara and I posted that we’d be taking a small holiday to the Kenyan coast (maybe ten days or so). Now, nearly twenty days later, we are still not sure if the holiday is over and where we’ll end up. Unless you’ve been living on a small island in the Republic of Kiribati you know that Kenya had an attempt at democracy on December 27, 2007. For months candidates campaigned and talked tough and proud Kenyans marched in the streets in support of their candidates. Well that was fun… but nobody was surprised when domestic and international observers decided that the elections didn’t quite meet democratic standards. For nearly a week following the announcement of the “winner” Kenya was gripped with ethnic clashes in which over 500 people have been killed and 200,000 people have been displaced. I’m sure the real numbers will never be known. The situation is peaceful now, but there is a looming humanitarian crisis as supplies of food and water start running low in refugee centers. The politicians are in talks about having talks (haha), so think good thoughts.
Our vacation started around December 20th when we hopped on a bus to the coast with plans to stop along the way to visit a fellow volunteer in the hills of Taita near Voi, which is about three quarters of the way from Nairobi to Mombasa. The Taita hills have got to be of the most beautiful terrain in Kenya: lush, green, big, rocky, vast… enumerating its qualities doesn’t even seem to get the right adjectives across. Just think “Himalayas” and “Nepal”. Sara said it reminded her of China. That’s more like it. We hiked around the hills for a few days and saw some monkeys, baboons, and birds and even went to a wedding. Strangely enough the wedding was eerily Western, which means long and boring. But seriously, the bride wore a white dress, the groom wore a tuxedo, the bridesmaids and groomsmen wore matching outfits (respectively), and there was a throng of small children from each party to throw flowers, hold rings, and look ridiculously dressed up. Anyways, it was a great experience and we got some good pictures, but you’ll just have to wait until things are back to normal around here for us to put the pictures up.
After a few days in Taita we were off to the coast again, barreling down the crappy mountain roads in an overstuffed minivan (dirt roads, Piper and Nanci!). We arrived in Watamu, about two hours north of Mombasa and checked into our over-priced accommodations. Overpriced, but almost worth it in retrospect, we had three units, including two bathrooms/showers, two kitchens, and plenty of sitting, sleeping, and lounging space for the eight of us. Two minutes walk from our place was a natural bay with a white sandy beach not so unlike confectioner’s sugar. To my surprise the beaches around here have a strange relationship with the moon (in that the tides are wacko), and some nights a stroll on the beach turns into a stroll where the ocean used to be! Just wait for the pictures! After six days in Watamu Sara and I decided we wanted to go and hang out in Lamu, the predominantly Arab/Muslim island off the coast of Kenya, so we booked a bus up the coast to Makowe where the ferry leaves for Lamu.
Don’t take the bus to Lamu if you have a back, because the road to Lamu was the worst bus ride I’ve ever had. Four hours on a bumpy dirt road, on a bus that probably should have slowed down, is not good for anyone’s back. Lamu’s nice, though, so you should totally fly there. They really like donkeys there, and they are the main mode of transport on the island. There are no roads or cars, only small alleyways somewhat reminiscent of Venice, where donkeys and people shuttle goods back and forth. It’s a small, peaceful island with cheap food and accommodations, and we especially enjoyed the nightlife. As the sun starts setting the city center becomes alive and people come out to eat dinner and socialize in the streets. The alleys are lined with coal-powered grills roasting kabobs, chapati, cassava, and corn on the cob, and enterprising young Kenyans sell ginger tea for five shillings. New Year’s was quiet but we met an ex-VSO volunteer who introduced us to some locals and we had a nice evening sitting around discussing politics. By this time the shit had already hit the fan, and the country was descending into the violent throes it’s only now recovering from. VSO phoned and told us to join the other volunteers back in Watamu at a swanky Italian resort where physical security and the availability of food and water was more definite.
After another bus ride from hell during which I offered, and was obliged, to hold a small baby whose mother didn’t have a seat, we arrived in Watamu. We were to spend five more days in this small village living it up like European business elite (seriously), the price of which one night’s lodging is 120 Euros PER PERSON! All-you-can-eat buffets for every meal, complete with bottomless free wine at lunch and dinner, access to a ridiculously tropical and beautiful beach, pools, sea kayaks, etc… Wow, Kenya is burning and starving and we are living it up—life as a refugee isn’t all that bad. Thanks, VSO!
So now we’re back in Nairobi, bored and with explicit instructions from VSO to stay within the compound of our hotel. The deal is that we’ll stay at the guest house for another week or so to see if things get back to normal, and then if things get better we’ll go back to our placements. If things get worse they’ll send all of us to Tanzania for a few weeks to weather the storm, and if things don’t get any better they’ll send us back to America. Yikes! Stay tuned… and call us if you want to talk to us.
Hey Alan, good to hear everything is alright. I’ve heard a lot about the turmoil in Kenya, but its hard to know how wide spread it is from the news. I hope they don’t have to cut your trip short, that would not be cool. Hope to hear from you soon.
I enjoyed your thorough recap. Well written my brother. <3
Hi Alan, Thanks for posting this update! Sara’s been keeping us informed re the unfolding political situation (just now (Tuesday 1/8, midday, PST) more news which does not bode well) and VSO’s evolving plans for you all, but it was good to hear more about the good times of the last few weeks as well (Sara did share some of those w/ us). If nothing else you two are getting quite an education in the challenges faced by post-colonial developing countries! Yipes!
Amazing news! As Peggy says, you certainly are getting an insight into a very different way of life. It was SUCH bad luck that all this kicked off at this time. Have you been able to do any work yet? Keep taking lots of photos! Love Claire
Hi Alan and Sara, I am relieved to hear that all is fine, albeit the boredom of being cooped up in a hotel in Nairobi… We are getting regular security updates about the situation in Kenya and relieved to hear that VSO volunteers are safe but it is also reassuring to read your blog and hear it from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Hang in there you two! Best wishes, Andrea and the VSOC staff
I am glad to hear you two are okay. My brother’s girlfriend is in Ethiopia, so I have been paying closer attention to the situations in Africa. When I heard about Kenya I kept checking your blog for an update. It sounds like you are having an amazing cultural experience, outside of the political turmoil. I hope everything calms down for the people there and you get to stay. Keep up the great blogs!
It sounds like you are getting more than you panned for……… you should write more stuff as you experience it. Keep a written diary so you can give a talk about it to our college group when you get back.
love, Gramma JO
We keep checking for your news and hoping things will settle enough that you will be able to stay there. It looks like VSO is taking good care of you, but we still worry. Take care please. Claudia and Andy
This is so very cool to read your first hand account of history being made and once again the persistence of the human spirit to be free. Sara, an image of you dances in my mind as I read: you are about 3 cartwheeling across the living room in front of the Carmel house fireplace with Sally and Fred watching in proud amazement, the rest of us were amazed too. You had complete assurance, a very distinct knowing of what you were doing, where you were going, and you always landed on your feet.
Please put me on your list as you continue your adventure, Rachel