Our Kenya Experience
By Anne Hodgson
Day 1 (Saturday)
Last November Spencer and I joined Cliff and Jane on their annual trip to Kenya to visit the Kileva Foundation. After an overnight flight from Heathrow we drove the 300kms to Voi arriving late afternoon after a 5 hour drive. Kilele and his family were eagerly waiting to welcome us and were obviously delighted to see Cliff and Jane again.
By 6pm we were back at the lodge to enjoy a welcome drink or two. We knew that the itinerary for the week would be intense, rising each day at 6am for breakfast at 6.30 to be out shortly after 7 to drive into Voi in time to load up with drinks, biscuits, presents and prizes for the children at each of the schools and organisations involved with Kileva So by 9:30 pm we were back in our rooms ready to dream about the adventures yet to come.
Day 2 (Sunday)
Sunday was our longest and most eventful day. We met Margaret (head teacher) and saw the work at Kileva Eastfield School in Mwakoma, including the new toilet block and teacher’s room. From there we went on to the Kileva Dispensary and medical centre in Kirumbi, which will be a huge benefit to the local community. We visited two crop farms and met the farmers and their families who had recently erected Kileva beehive fences to deter the elephants and avoid a recurrence of the crop destruction earlier in the year. We met Patrick’s family and laid flowers on his grave. Patrick had been Eastfield’s Head Boy and had died a few months earlier from an undiagnosed illness – the family couldn’t afford to hold a post-mortem and so will never know why he died, only that he suddenly had pains in his stomach. Meeting this family and standing over the grave only yards from their hut was extremely sad and very moving.
I read somewhere that “it is a very good idea to do an off road driving course prior to departure” when planning to drive in Kenya – extremely good advice as the main roads are largely unsurfaced and the minor roads and tracks are made up a variety of rocks interspersed by huge potholes. That afternoon we drove up the Sagalla Mountain over a very narrow bumpy road with sheer drops, in a Landcruiser with a rapidly failing clutch over boulders leaning at 45degrees to the road. Incredibly, the local mini-bus vehicles run up and down regularly carrying the children to school.
We were late arriving at the Kileva Football Cup final and so the match was well underway when we got there. We watched the second half and Cliff presented the cup and prizes to the teams; we met the Kileva Club Scouts and teachers from the local school then needed help from the scouts to get the Landcruiser turned round (the clutch was almost completely useless by now) before we could head off back down the mountain.
The sun set and a storm broke as we were driving back. In Voi the electricity had gone off and everything was in darkness apart from the odd bit of light from torches and lamps. Stupidly I had worn sandals, not ideal for wading through mud and puddles in the dark in search of reliable transport to get back to the lodge. Luckily we did get back just before the restaurant closed at 9.30pm, so it was beer, food and bed… in that order.
Day 3 (Monday)
The following day we hired a taxi for the day to replace the Landcruiser as we were scheduled to visit 3 schools with the local MP and a representative from World Vision. This was a day of prize giving, speechmaking, and tree planting. Each school had clearly been preparing for the occasion for some time; we were welcomed with traditional dancing, singing and sketches in both English and Swahili and it was obvious that some of the songs had been written especially for ‘Mr Cliff’ and the Foundation. It was wonderful to witness the tradition and culture and to sit amongst the children – to be part of the event. And humbling to be offered food by children who barely have enough to eat for themselves – the basic bowl of maize they have at school may be the only meal they have each day.
Day 4 (Tuesday)
At lunchtime we went to the local high school, to present certificates and medals to the achievers. This school was much larger than any we had visited previously, having about 1200 pupils and again we were made very welcome, especially by the children who crowded round us with such enthusiasm to shake hands and have their photos taken – eager to see the results.
Meeting Mike and his team at TNT in Voi was interesting. They are a local theatre group taking health issues and education into schools and organisations through theatre and play. A small team, they also research, produce and provide alternative basic equipment where possible for children. Spencer helped out by fixing a sewing machine, enabling productivity to increase by 50%!
Day 5 (Wednesday)
Day 6 (Thursday)
Cliff and Jane went even further up Sagalla Mountain on Thursday – right to the top. I chickened out and we spent the day at the lodge watching the waterhole in the hope of spotting a cheetah Jane had seen a few days earlier. However, we were out of luck, the earlier rain meant more water elsewhere and not many animals came down. That evening there was another huge storm which lit up the sky and flooded the restaurant. The fishpond overflowed, all the soft furnishings were piled up out of the way of the water and fish swam through the lounge area. We paddled backwards and forwards to the buffet for food… and the lights went out again.
Day 7 (Friday)
The following morning before leaving for Nairobi, Cliff and I went to Kileva Eastfield School for the last time and while Cliff met with Margaret I watched the children slowly arriving at the school, many in their bare feet through the scrub and thistles, carrying their bits and pieces in plastic bags – with big smiles on their faces. I spent a little time with them on my own, pretending to teach – which they thought was very funny. They do have some basic English, but of course I don’t have any Swahili. For me this was a wonderful albeit short time, but a time when I was completely alone with some of the children getting to know them a little – I was a part of their life and they of mine.
On the drive back to Nairobi we had taken a packed lunch from the lodge to have on the journey and after a couple of hours we drove off the main road and stopped in a clearing to eat. Out of nowhere a man appeared… then a few minutes later another – they had seen us and come to share our food.
Nairobi was a nightmare. We arrived in the evening rush hour and spent almost 2 hours sandwiched between Matatus (local mini buses) and other traffic trying to cross the city. Traffic lights were ignored and traffic police completely ineffective. Sitting in the car we were offered a variety of things for sale – from clothes, food, toys, to knives, machetes and other weapons.
Day 8 (Saturday)
We had arrived in Nairobi a week earlier excited, rather apprehensive and unsure what to expect. We left Nairobi on Saturday morning elated but tired, sad to be leaving and so glad we had made the trip
From the intense hustle and bustle of Nairobi in the rush hour, to the peace and tranquillity of the Sagalla Mountains, the trip was a roller-coaster ride of emotions and experiences that we will never forget. The dancing and singing of children in schools, the prospect of spending the night up the mountain in a storm, or the memory of sitting watching and listening to the animals and birds each evening at the waterhole near the lodge – it was the trip of a lifetime. One day we hope to return and feel truly privileged to have met the people of Sagalla and Voi, the children particularly will always be in our hearts. It reinforced the fact that we are, as in Jeffrey Archer’s novel, ‘A Prisoner of Birth’, that we have no choice in where we are born or into what circumstances, and that personally we are incredibly lucky.
Although Kileva is not a big organisation we saw first hand the huge difference that the Foundation has made and how important it is to the lives of many children and families. It has grown in a few short years from Cliff and Jane helping one man and his family, to the respected Foundation it is today, providing a school and a dispensary, water tanks and farming aid in remote village areas to benefit many people, and is giving practical encouragement and support to other schools and initiatives in the area. It is a tremendous achievement and will always have our support.