Top ↑ | Archive | Ask me anything! | Photography | About Amani | About Alex

Had to say goodbye to the boy who stole my heart in Kenya. I would write a post about it but I just don’t have the words yet. 

YAY internet! Safari/Nakuru update

Hello everybody! Of course, as always, a lot has happened since my last post. So this will be painfully long. Bear with me. We randomly get internet for brief times so I can’t update you as frequently as I’d like!

We left for safari last Friday morning, and returned to Nairobi this Sunday early morning. Our plane seated probably… 15 people, and the cabin was not pressurized… Cool. On the way home, I had to practice controlled breathing because I could feel a panic attack coming as this dinky little plane was tossed around in the wind and dropped several times. I read through the safety manual and discovered that our plane was named the “otter”- I would have felt better if it was called “the tank” or even “the eagle”… Regardless, we made it there and back safely, as I wouldn’t be able to write this otherwise. 

We arrived around 10 am on Friday, and our safari driver, David, told us we would be going on our first drive at 3 pm. We went straight to our tent, #B12-A, and passed out for 2 hours even though there were monkeys screaming all around us. 

I will be posting pictures shortly of our tent… Even though “tent” isn’t really the word I’d use to describe it. Picture the tents from the 5th Harry Potter movie where they’re all at the Quidditch World Cup- the tents where they walk in and they’re magically huge and have vaulted ceilings- that’s what we compared our tent to. We each had our own twin beds (REALLY comfortable beds), and there was a bathroom with a shower and a big sink and cabinets. It. was. awesome. 

I could tell endless stories of all the beautiful landscape and animals we saw, but I’ll just talk about the lions because boy lions are my favorite animals on the Mara of all. We were driving around through the tall grass on Saturday before lunch, keeping a look out for rhinos and lions. We saw another safari car parked over by a random patch of bush, so it was safe to assume that there was something to look at.

We drove up, and there were three lions, lying in the grass in the clearing of the bush. There were two males and one female- the mom lion was lying in the sun, and the two males were lying in the shade of the bushes. It was so crazy being that close… David drove us around the bush and when we started up our engine again, the younger of the two boy lions got up and walked towards us a little bit. And yes, of course it got my heart going a little bit. The only thing between this male lion, staring at us, standing up and ready to jump at any second, and us, was a metal bar and some canvas that made up the side of our safari car. (I can picture my mom freaking out as she’s reading this, hehe). Of course, nothing happened, because he was drowsy and still half asleep. And, he had a really bad wound on the side of his face- it looked like something had bitten a grapefruit-sized chunk out of his forehead just above his left eyebrow. He looked like he was in pain, and a little bit disoriented as he stared at us.

After about two minutes, he turned around and went back into the shade to stretch out and sleep, as if he didn’t care at all that this truck full of girls was staring at him, taking pictures and video taping his life. I kept forgetting that the animals we were seeing were completely 100% in the wild- it’s still hard for me to grasp. 

Words cannot describe, pictures can’t even do justice of how incredibly vast and beautiful the Maasai Mara is. It stretches for miles and miles- there’s nothing but the occasional tree, maybe some bushes here and there, and tall, swaying dead oats for years and years. No buildings, no paved roads, no people, just the land and the animals that call it home- as far as you can see. You really understand how small you are. You really get a picture of what earth is before we came in and developed everything. I want to see more of the earth where it’s been untouched.

It does something to you- knowing that there are places where you can walk around and keep going for miles and find nothing but beautiful things that man hasn’t affected. Seeing a single giraffe moving far away on the horizon, outlined by the sun. Watching an elephant and her baby keep close and wrap her trunk around her mother’s (shoutout to Carie Mastrianni, I have over 200 pictures of elephants for you). Being three feet from a lion that’s looking straight at you with huge golden eyes that catch you off guard because you weren’t expecting them to be so beautifully intense. It does something to you and you want more. 

Unfortunately, as every place we’ve been here, we had to leave. Three days is not enough to experience the Mara in full- someday I promise you, I will be going back.

We got back to our apartment in Nairobi at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, and we packed up ALL of our things because our month’s rent on the apartment is up. And by 2:30, we had all of our stuff jammed into the van and we were on our way to Nakuru- for our last trip around Kenya before we return to Nairobi on the 29th, and leave for the US on July 2nd.

We are staying in the Capitol Hill Lodge until Saturday early morning. Our room sits on one of the high points in Nakuru and from our balcony, you can see all of Nakuru, including Lake Nakuru nestled in the valley down the hill from us. Frances, our travel agent, got us anther sick deal so that we could stay here. I wish I could be a student volunteer forever- you reap some awesome benefits. I won’t be able to stay here again unless I make bank someday. Kristel, Lauren and I get to share a big room and we love it- this is the first time this trip that we’ve been able to stay in the same room. Last night we watched Salt and we all feel a little empowered and want to become Russian spies. Not really. I just want to be Angelina Jolie. 

I just realized last night that we would be arriving back in the US in exactly two weeks… It makes me sad that in two weeks from this morning, I’ll be waking up in America. It’s so crazy how quickly time has flown, and how much has happened and everything I’ve seen is slipping by. Kristel, Lauren and I were talking about it yesterday- we’ll go through withdrawals when we return home. It won’t be the same not waking up and spending all day around these little kids. We were tearing up thinking about it. I never thought that I’d become so wrapped up in all of this, or that I’d become so emotionally attached. But, even though it’s inevitable, I will have a really really hard time getting on that plane. 


See you in 3 days :) Lots of pictures to come. Keep you posted!

This is 1/4 of a trunk. Multiply it by 12 and these are the files we scan. *~COOL~*

3 girls, 2 trunks, 1 scanner- OH WAIT

Much to our dismay, there are not just 2 huge trunks of files for us to scan. Alas, there are 3 huge trunks of files for us to scan. Hahahahah.. ha…………ha… no. I truly think that these trunks either:
  1. secretly asexually reproduce in the storage shed out back, or
  2. are buried and dug up whenever a new set of Amani interns comes to Kenya.

Our theory is that the social workers need to amuse themselves every so often so they hide the trunks from themselves and play “let’s remember where we hid the trunks” when we come to town.

I’m only kidding. The social workers are very kind, wonderful people. 

Anyway, it’s really not that big of deal. We’re having a good time watching (or listening to) various Disney movies while we go through the files. So far we’ve watched Jungle Book, The Lion King (1.5 times), and Tarzan. I seriously must admit, I’m falling back in love again with Disney. I’ve forgotten how awesome Disney movies are.

Today, Lauren and I went back to Kwetu and got our usual lunch- a bowl ofdangu with a side of sikuma wiki. Dangu is a stew of lentils and various beans in broth, and sikuma is the ever popular shredded fried kale. Aka heaven. Kenyans make fun of us for how much we love it. The total cost of such meal is 120 Kenyan shillings. This translates to approximately 1 item from the Dollar Menu at McDonalds. 

I’d like to give a shoutout to Jackie and Krishna, we’ll ship you some sikuma soon, if possible. We’ll make it happen somehow. We miss you!

We have only 3 more days in Nairobi until we begin the last part of our adventure- we will go to the Masai on Friday and stay for three days, and then we will finish up with a three-day stay in Nakuru and ten-day stay in Kisumu. I. freaking. love. Nakuru. and. Kisumu. 

More posts to follow!
(See mom? I told you I’d be better about updating my blog….

Kiboko Bay Hotel, situated on Lake Victoria. Kisumu, Kenya.

Sunrise at St. Anna’s hotel, Kisumu, Kenya.

Warning: Very, very long update. Not for the faint of heart.

Sorry I suck at updating my blog. Just putting that out there right now. I promise to be better from here on out. Pinky promise!!


Since the last big update of us returning to Nairobi, a lot has happened. A few days ago, Kristel, Lauren, Jackie, Krishna, Emmy, Moses and I got to go to Riuru to hang out with the children at the New Life Center- an absolutely beautiful Christian private academy for kids. The children there aren’t orphans, so it’s not as sad. It was very fun getting to learn all about the history behind the place and how it started as a one room, tin roofed, plywood walled shack without furniture. We spent a few hours there during the free time period in the afternoon running around and sweating and screaming and laughing with the kids. I love how sweet they are- immediately, five kids are fighting to hold my hand. So technically ten kids. Since I have two hands. They just want to love you and make you smile and play. I am always inspired to just be happy, day in and day out, by all these kids and their ability to love and be happy with anything. Kids are pretty dang special in that way.


Last night, we went to Ethiopian dinner for the first time! The restaurant 5 minutes away called Hibesha. I love Ethiopian food because you get to eat with your fingers and get dirty. It’s kind of hard to describe, but all Ethiopian food is served with injera (Google this). It’s a spongey, lemony tasting flat type of… stuff. I would call it bread but it’s nothing like bread. Trust me, just Google it. I can’t do it justice. The best part about dinner was the small-world connection: We went so that Kristel could have dinner with her friend, Katie, who graduated last year from Carolina. She’s in Africa working for an NGO working in the public health field. After some small talk, we made the connection that Katie ROWED AT UNC! Small world! Rowers all over Africa- running into each other by chance. I love it!


So now that we’re done writing psychosocial reports on the kids, our work is now to go through each child’s file that has ever lived in New Life and scan the important files, organize them and upload them to a universally-used Google doc that can be accessed by New Life employees for administrative purposes. As Amani interns who have privileges for the purpose of our work, since we get access to these files, we see things that even the caretakers aren’t allowed to see. Files like reports on who’s HIV positive, who was born out of rape or incest, who was abused and exactly how, etc. We do this for every child, regardless of if they have died, got adopted, etc. Some files are huge, and some files are really sparse. It all depends.


It also sounds fairly detached, mindless and simple. But, I can now tell you, that it is not easy, it is not fun, and it doesn’t really seem rewarding at times. I swear, it definitely is!- when you read files about children being adopted into loving and beautiful families. But times like today were examples of when I just question why bad things happen sometimes, and why God lets things happen to small children who are so pure and innocent. Here’s the story:


I was going through this one child’s file, let’s call him John to keep his identity anonymous. The top thing on his stack of papers in his folder was a happy 1st birthday card! It was very sweet, and all the caretakers signed it, telling him how wonderful and sweet and fun he was. They all loved him very much.

 Then, underneath the birthday card, there was a small letter in a card, from a college student volunteer, exactly like myself. She explained to John that she was a student in North Carolina from Durham who had come to New Life to volunteer and she immediately fell in love with everything here, exactly like myself.

 She wrote to John, telling him about how he was the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen, and how she felt a connection to him because he had a cleft lip- and so did she. She explained how excited she was for him that he was going to have surgery to repair his lip, and that she wanted to be able to hug him and hold him during his surgery but she could not because she wasn’t allowed. She promised she’d come back after his surgery someday and visit. She wrote, “I have enormous faith that you’ll get adopted by a beautiful family who loves you very much like I love you.”

 I’m crying, again, as I type this.

 The next paper in the stack was a Notification of Deceased form and Release for Burial form from the doctor explaining that the baby died while he was being administered anesthesia right before his cleft lip surgery. Right when my eyes fell on the words, “reason for death”, I just broke down into tears.

That sweetly optimistic and faithful girl was probably not notified that he died and she believes he got his surgery and is happy and living his life, without a cleft lip, just like her. And I am so so so filled with sadness, and anger. For that little baby. For that girl and the love she has for him. And that she was so hopeful for him but he didn’t get a chance, or that family that she wished so much for him to get to experience. It just really hit me hard, and broke my heart. 

So now that everything is sad to me….

I want to end this blog post on a happy note, if in any way possible. I am happy to announce that I go my ice-cream fix tonight when we went to Osteria and got gelatto. I got a mix of coffee and tiramisu. Also, I am even more happy to repeat that Kristel, Lauren and I are going on safari THIS FRIDAY! That’s so soon! Pictures will DEFINITELY follow shortly thereafter :) 

- Alex