Posts Tagged With: Kenyan Orphanage

A Kenyan Valentine’s Day Adventure

I’ve never been the kind of girl who makes a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, most years, it’s just another day. However, there is one Valentine’s Day that stands out more than most days. Valentine’s Day 2008, while I was living in Kenya volunteering in an orphanage is one crazy day I’ll never forget!


Joseph, the man who ran Manaseh children’s home, is definitely what you would call a character. On this particular morning, he burst into the kitchen saying “Crystal, will you accompany me on a short journey?” By this point I had learned that a ‘short’ outing with Joseph could mean anything from a couple of hours to a full day adventure.

After convincing the two other volunteers not to leave me alone, we set out through the village and made our way to Christine’s home for tea. This sweet, tiny woman became my Kenyan grandma while I was living there and I always enjoyed our lively conversations over tea or a meal.  However, today after greeting us, Christine disappeared outside.  After waiting in the sitting room for over half an hour we began to wonder what the hold up was just as Christine rushed back into the kitchen with a boiling pot of chai. She apologized for the wait, explaining that she was out of milk so before she could make the tea she had to send her son to milk the cow! This was definitely the freshest cup of tea I’ve ever had!  As we drank our chai, Christine asked if I was married. When I told her no, she told me I’d be welcome to get married at her house and she said she would be honoured to slaughter a goat to celebrate, maybe two if I married a Kenyan man!

Already 2 hours in to our ‘short journey’ Joseph decided it was time to move on and we walked another mile or so along a dirt trail to one of the local schools. After greeting the principal, we were then paraded through all the classrooms as the students silently stared at the Mzungus standing in front of them. After being introduced as a dancer, which anyone who was in my ballet class clearly knows I’m not, Joseph would announce that I was now going to perform a song for them.  This happened everywhere we went, so luckily by this point I had my Hippo song armed and ready to go.

‘Hip, Hip, Hip, Hippopotamus, Hip, Hip Hooray God made all of us, ‘Hip, Hip, Hip, Hippopotamus, Hip, Hip Hooray he made us.” By the time we made it through all six classrooms an hour later, we had a parade of kids following us singing the Hippo song and laughing hysterically.

Our next stop was lunch as Joseph steered us into the back of a butchery and ordered us each a big bowl of ugali and cow innards. Luckily lunch also came with an orange Fanta to wash the cornmeal paste and bones down with!

Back on the street, I realized the long red dress I chose to wear for Valentine’s Day might not have been the best choice for someone who already stood out like a sore thumb. However, it did provide entertain for the others as a number of men asked me to be their Valentines using a variety of tactics.

We made our way through the Dagoretti Slum until we came to the open-air slaughterhouse to pick up some meat for dinner.  The sign posted on the door read ‘If you are entering this yard in the morning wear your goggles and apron to avoid blood spatter.’  Great! Lucky for us by this point it was mid afternoon. Now I’ve never been in a slaughterhouse before and even if I had I’m not sure any of us were ready for what we saw as we pushed through that stained white gate.  At least half a dozen cows hung from the ceiling as their decapitated heads stared at us from the side. Each butcher was in charge of selling meat from his own cow, meaning chaos ensued as everyone fought to have us buy from their cow.  Joseph explained that to ‘order’ the meat all you had to do you was point to the part of the cow you wanted and the butcher would hack it off with a machete. Ok.  As we looked for a cow that appeared even slightly appetizing, the blood birds began to dive bomb the slaughterhouse drinking up the blood and making our decision much faster. “I’ll take that section please.”   As the butcher raised his machete to hack off the chunk of cow I’d pointed out, another man appeared beside me. “Excuse me miss, but as you know it is Valentine’s Day and I was wondering if you would be my Valentine?” he asked just as the butcher dropped the chunk of raw cow meat into my bare hands.


Eight hours after our short journey began we made it back to the orphanage to eat a feast of beef and stale pink Valentine cupcakes with the kids. With my hands still reeking of dead cow, this may not have been a very romantic day, but I’m not sure any other Valentine’s day will ever be quite as memorable!

Categories: Africa, Blog, Where in the World | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Maasai Life

I just finished reading My Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty, feeling completely inspired. This book touched me and not only because I had been to the places she was talking about and could talk for hours of the incredible love and generosity of the people I lived with and met during my time volunteering there, but also because her story reminds me of why I went to Kenya in the first place – to experience a culture vastly different from my own, to learn as much as I could from the locals and to inspire change in myself and others. Like Robin, I felt restless and was searching for something new as I finished school, trying to figure out what to do next in my life.

On January 12th, 2008 (my 24th birthday), I boarded a plane to Kenya in search of something new – a change, inspiration, a chance to break free from the busy North American academic life I’d had up until this point. Not everyone was excited about this idea and many thought I was crazy, especially since in December the results of the recent election in Kenya had led to widespread violence in the country I dreamed of going to. That was all everyone at home saw on the news and as the date of my departure grew closer those around me became more anxious about whether or not I should be going. In the end, I caught that plane and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My time in Kenya was spent mainly in an orphanage outside Nairobi where I played “Mzungu mama” to over 30 of the most amazing children I have ever known.


In My Massai Life, Wiszowaty says, “Everybody has a unique role to play in making our world a better place, and there are many places where you can make a difference. My story shows that one can visit as more than just a tourist, observing from the outside.”

Did I make the world a better place by volunteering in a Kenyan orphanage for several months? Maybe not. But spending time with those kids, giving them all the love and hugs I could definitely changed me, and I hope it let them know that they are special and that someone does care.

We all have pictures in our minds of what Africa looks like. I know I did, but what I saw when I got off the plane at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and drove into Nairobi wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I also wasn’t expecting the warmth and generosity I received from everyone I met. People who had so little themselves still invited us into their homes and cooked huge meals to honour us. Back home, most of us wouldn’t dream of inviting a complete stranger into our home, and yet this was a constant occurrence while I was there. By experiencing a culture completely different from my own, I learned a lot about the kind of person I want to be and the one I’m still working towards becoming.

In life, some people seek stability and routine, while others crave change and fight to break away from our everyday lives and experience something new and be inspired along the path of life.

“I hope my story shows that finding the direction your life might take isn’t necessarily about falling in love with any particular place. It’s about seeking those opportunities to find what truly defines, enlightens and inspires you. I invite you to seek your own path, wherever it might take you.” ~ Robin Wiszowaty, My Maasai Life.

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