Jambo Afrika: story-telling a volunteer experience in Kenya


Naaaaaaants ingonyaaaama bagithi Baba – Sithi uhm ingonyama (ingonyama) – Naaaants ingonyaaama – bagithi babaaaa – Sithi uhhmm ingonyamaaa – Ingonyama – Siyo Nqoba – Ingonyama -Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala – Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala …

*cue to my fascination of Africa.

Choosing the Right Program

Dead set on making my childhood dreams come true, I declared I was going to Africa after high school. Feeling like the wealthiest person alive with less than $1,000 to my name, reality set in as I researched volunteer programs.

I had no interest in going with a church group, nor did I have $4,000+ to hang out with lions for a month. But I had a determined mind and so I researched far and wide to find the perfect fit. International Volunteer HQ was my answer; inexpensive, endless options and as it turned out, trustworthy, local and reliable.

From there, convincing my father was half the battle of getting the journey started.  Thankfully, a connection in Nairobi allowed him to sleep at night and made the decision as to which country I would go to simple.

Building First Impressions

Nairobi, known as the most Western-like city in Africa, was nothing like I imagined it would be. It was ridden with poverty as the elite drove by in Mercedes. It was dusty but green. The roads were surrounded by tropical plants, while covered with cars and moppets 4 lanes wide despite there only being 2 lanes.

The colonial impact was undeniable as I continued to see Kenyans in subservient roles to intruders, such as myself. From kitchen maids to security guards to ball boys at country clubs; I felt as though I had been dropped into the South ca. 1950s. It wasn’t a backdrop I was comfortable with or ever wanted to be in, but it was real.

After exploring the city for a few days, I was ecstatic for my volunteer experience to begin. During the informational session in town we were told where we would be heading and who we would be with. As my 18-year old self eyed the cute guy in the front, the names were called out with placements.

Three girls – IDP Camp Gilgil. A blessing I didn’t know at the time.

Experiencing Reality

After a 5 hour drive into mainland Kenya, we arrived at our destination in the late afternoon. I had held my bladder like a champ, but hoped out of the van ready to burst. Our host, a robust 4″11 grandma with the warmest smile on her face, pointed me to a shed compiled of metal sheets a few yards away from the house for relief.

As I made my way to the outhouse, innocently recollecting IVHQ’s website statement about all placements having indoor plumbing, I had my doubts. The door creakingly opened to unleash flies spinning in circles like tornadoes. The toilet paper was on a wire attached to the interior of the metal sheet and a long drop toilet greeted my naive eyes. The website lied.

I walked back to get my two over-sized, unnecessary suitcases out of the van and waited to be shown our room. A shed attached to what I later learned was the goats shed, was to be our home away from home. It closely resembled the toilet’s architecture, but, as promised, had an electricity outlet. A bunk bed and twin bed were stacked in just right to fit both and as the youngest and shortest, the top bunk had my name written on it.

We slid our luggage under the bottom beds as the van disappeared. Dawn set and our adventure was only just beginning.


Stay tuned for part two coming next week!

Jambo Street Child

A child on the city streets taking care of his little sister.

Jambo Kenya 1

The outhouse from afar.

Jambo Toilet

The outhouse from up-close.

Jambo Mary

Mary, our kind-hearted host.


The left side of the house was our room and the right but attached was the goats’. The blue/brown building on the right is Mary’s home and the straw roof/rock construction was the social hangout spot for meals and time spent together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s