There is nowhere quite like Kenya, and there is certainly nowhere quite like the Good Life Orphanage. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, I knew I was most definitely not in Kansas anymore. Nairobi airport lets you off the plane right into the middle of the departure lounge, so immediately you are in a tiny space with hundreds of people swarming around in every possible direction, and relatively little signage to get you where you need to be. Undeterred, I managed to find the immigration desk, where they took my photo, fingerprints and £30 of my hard earned cash in exchange for a half filled in visa sticker in my passport. This is Kenya.
To get to Mombasa, you have to collect your checked luggage, carry it across the road to the domestic departures building, re-check it in, then sit in a tiny waiting room to be walked across the tarmac to your next plane. I flew with Kenya Airways who shower you with bags of mixed nuts regardless of the time of day. Note to catering: mixed nuts are not an acceptable breakfast food, especially not at 5.30am. On arrival in Mombasa I was met by the ever smiling Abbas, holding a sign with my name on it, which made me feel a bit like a celebrity. I imagine few celebs would then find themselves clambering into the GLO van though, but I was excited, and probably slightly delirious through lack of sleep, and the journey passed quickly, as I got my first view of Kenya at ground level. For someone who has never been to this part of the world, it’s very difficult to describe. I remember my Dad telling me before I set off that in Kenya they drive on the left. Well, yes, they do. Or the right. Or down the middle. Just whichever bit of road will get you to your destination really. Add into this mix the hazards of barefoot and understandably slow moving men dragging unbelievably heavily loaded carts and a few randomly pottering goats, and the odd totally unannounced speed bump and you have yourself a road trip not dissimilar to a jaunt on the Big One in Blackpool. And these are the main roads. Once off the highway, you begin to play dodge the pothole, or guess which way to drive through the pothole without getting stuck. Extra fun when it’s been raining and there’s no telling just how deep that pothole will be. Luckily Abbas knows these roads like no other and I quickly realised I was in safe hands.
On arrival at the GLO I was given a very warm welcome and after a chance to rest and unpack, it was time for a tour round the orphanage grounds. I was introduced to my Kenyan Mama, Mama Lucy, who welcomed me like a daughter (literally) and made me ginger tea. The youngest members of Keogh House were having their lunch and seemed very excited to meet a new mzungu! As the older children returned from school they introduced themselves and I was presented as their new big sister. I knew from that moment that I was going to be happy during my time here. In the afternoon I was taken to the school and introduced to Mr Pius the headteacher who told me that Friday afternoon is sports for the whole school, and that I could walk with some of the female teachers. He also told me that the sports field is 15 minutes away from the school. This was my first example of what I now know to be “Kenyan time”.
All the kids and staff walk (the more competitive run!) to the grounds of another local school and a lot of the children are barefoot. This is pretty standard – they aren’t used to wearing shoes so it tends to slow them down. It’s the same for the walk to and from school, where you see them walking along, shoes in hand. My first night in Kenya taught me that it gets dark very early and very quickly, but luckily I had been provided by Mercy with a torch to find my way across to the volunteer accommodation. The stars are incredible – there is so little light pollution and it’s unbelievably beautiful. I went to bed happy, shattered, and slightly fearful of the cold shower I would be washing my hair in the following morning.