Reflection on my 33 nights with 33 different Kenyan families
My challenge 33 is over!
In order to support our 600 needy kids and our 33 staff members in Kimilili, I packed a camping mat, a sleeping bag and a mosquito net and stayed at 33 different families one night each for 33 days. Every morning I introduced you to my host family by uploading a blog and pictures to share their lifestyle, dreams and challenges with you.
I thought I knew what to expect: No clean water, no toilets, no electricity and a very poor environment. But reality taught me better: I had no clue!
Every night at 5pm a School4Life family member picked me up at school and I had no idea who it was until that person arrived. This was arranged due to security reasons and this email by the Reverend explains this precaution:
“Today you are set to go to a staff member whose economical ability is extremely below line. You may in case you are in position help out for dinner. The family is HIV positive and a lot of necessary care is equally needed. The staff is already informed and happily expecting you. The security environment of the area is regarded highly unsecure hence maximum care is needed. I have arranged so that you are picked by 7 pm. Reasons: you sneak in, I’m sure the staff will not be attacked based on his known economical ability. Practical arrangements are put in place to ensure secure night and what is important is to ensure the environment is not much aware of what is happening and it shall be very safe”.
One night I get picked up only at 8 pm and it is pitch dark. We wander on a tiny dirt track through maize fields crossing little rivers, going right and left. I am completely lost as despite of my little torch you can hardly see a thing. We are the only ones around and after a few minutes I realize alcohol in the air whenever my host starts speaking. Now I understand why he picked me up 3 hours late… I have difficulties controlling myself to not panick. We finally arrive and I feel better the moment I am surrounded by many of his kids and his wife. We talk as much as possible with my basic knowledge of Kiswahili and their little English. Luckily, smiles always work.
I thought I was prepared for whatever I would experience. I had a little mat to sleep on and some thin blankets I had äh… borrowed last minute from the airplane. But I was not prepared for the cold chilly winter nights in Kenya! And I was not prepared for over 100 (!!!) bed bug bites on my whole body and my face…
Most of the times I slept on little sofas that sometimes even missed cushions. Sometimes I slept in a bed with matrasses so thin that I could feel every single bed board. I had up to three kids sharing a bed with me and slept with several adults and crying babies in one little mud hut room. I even found some sleep on a two seater sofa with my legs hanging in the air over the arm chair.
I had chickens under my sofa that stink like hell and always caused me to have red eyes and a running nose in the morning. I have an allergy against dust that had the same effect in the mud huts even if no chickens were around. I had the doodle-doo of cocks at 4 am in the morning making sure my night was over. I woke up due to the noise of rats running on the iron sheet roof and had even one crossing my body while I was trying to fall asleep.
But I had fun rolling down my mat, putting up my mosquito net and sharing incredible magical moments with very special families.
There are two more points I was not prepared to before I started my journey. First: It is rain season in Kenya at the moment and this means it rains cats and dogs! Water pondering on the iron sheet roof is extremely loud and communicating with a person that is sitting just next to you or even trying to fall asleep in the night is nearly impossible. Not talking about the water entering the mud huts and wetting the cow dunk floors or some of the roads that get muddy and impassable.
The second point I was not prepared to: the preparation of Kenyan food. They cook on small coal-burning stoves called Jikos that are either fired with lots of smoke in the bedroom or in a separate kitchen. In both cases I spend hours chatting to the family while sitting in the smoke, fighting my burning eyes. If there was no kitchen and the Jiko was smoking next to the bedroom I spend the whole night in that smoke.
Talking about food. Out of 33 families I had 21 times Ugali. Ugali is the typical local food that is basically maize wheat cooked in water. That’s it. Maize wheat and water. “A day without a smile is not a day” has to be renamed in Kenya to “a day without Ugali is not a day”. It took me a while but I eventually got used to it.
In Kenyan culture you have to slaughter a chicken if a visitor comes to your house. Chickens are extremely expensive and represent a tenth of a salary of our Primary Teachers. They did not care me repeating over and over again that I am not a visitor but part of the family and that I do not want them slaughtering a chicken for me… Just to explain how valuable meat is in Kenya: one host told me it was his fourth time eating meat this year! This is Kenyan hospitality: out of 33 families I got offered chicken or cow meat 26 times! Just to top it: Kenyans do not eat breakfast in the morning as mostly not enough money for food is available. I got offered breakfast made out of bread, potatoes, groundnuts and even meat.
My immediate weeks after Kimilili I fell very ill. I had fever, was shivering, had toss, was throwing up, had a running stomach and went to different doctors and hospitals. I was given antibiotics and medicines for several weeks including one against mums and one against a certain Mosquito fever. Deep inside I ask myself over and over again:
Would I do it again? YES! DEFINITELY!
The deep dive into Kenyan culture was a real eye opener and I do hope I could transmit some of them in my blogs. Their hospitality is beyond limits, their willingness to help each other as one big family has no boundaries and their positive way of living their lives should be a source for inspiration for all of us.
I think about these wonderful 33 nights and start smiling immediately. I did not feel lost one single night but no matter where I went I found 33 new homes.
I am very proud to probably be the only person on earth that next to a superb own family has 33 wonderful mums, 33 wonderful dads, and a “good amount” of amazing brothers and sisters…