Last weekend began early on the Friday as Kenyans celebrated their national holiday to mark independent rule. As I was keen to take in some of the more popular tourist attractions in Nairobi, one of my temporary colleagues at St John, Linda Matata kindly offered to take me round the Nairobi National Park. I think I impressed with my maturity in not making one Hakuna Matata based comment which must be a sign that I have grown up for than I have realised!
It is generally better if you turn up at the National Park with your own transport so that you can drive around yourself to see the animals. It is taking some getting used to that most of these things have to be done in a vehicle, as when I hear National Park I generally think of walking/hiking/cycling, however I have been advised that doing so is a quick way to end my trip early! As the National Park is walking distance from the Langata estate we turned up on foot and saw that there is a bus which can take those who don’t have their own vehicle around.
We decided to go to the animal orphanage close to the main entrance first, which isn’t entirely dissimilar to a fairly small zoo. Nevertheless it did have an array of interesting animals and the usual snoring lions, who seem to purely exist as a fly banquet. The highlight was a monkey (one of many types and I cannot remember the name) who had decided that he was going to make a break for freedom and was trying to use a stick to crowbar away the stones in the trench at the bottom of his fence. His attempts are pictured below, and while he was not successful when we were watching, I like to think that he has escaped to roam free in the park or that his efforts for the cameras have won him a place in monkey hollywood alongside other famous monkeys like Marcel from Friends.
The hyenas pictured below were also happy to entertain for the camera until a foreign predator appeared on the scene and they headed for safety inside their hyena house. This feared species is better known as an American tourist, who obviously didn’t think that bellowing “WOW HYENAS!?!” might send them running for cover.
When we finished from the orphanage and returned to the main gate for the bus ride, we decided that as the bus was packed it didn’t look like the best way of spending the rest of the day. Close to Langata and the National Park is Bomas of Kenya, where we went to watch a show of traditional Kenyan music, dancing and acrobats and see the traditional villages of many different tribes in Kenya.
The show was impressive, particularly the acrobats, and I was glad that the audience participation in the dances wasn’t extended away from the front row. The villages of huts were definitely the highlight for me though. For some of the tribes, the villages are more of a recreation of the past, however a significant number still live in villages similar to those constructed at Bomas of Kenya. It was really interesting to understand the traditions of some of the tribes and how they inform the make up of the village. In reality though, the signs at the front of the huts were the greatest highlight and these are my top five.
“3rd wife’s hut”
“Married son’s 2nd wife’s hut”
You could go inside the huts and I can say that if you value living space you do not want to be the third wife!
On Saturday, I had arranged to meet two friends from the UK who were over for a trip to the Rift Valley and safari in the Masai Mara national park. None of us live conveniently close in the UK but it is odd how you do seek out people you know when you are further afield! Probably the strangest thing was it didn’t really feel much different from than if we had met in Manchester or London. They were heading out for a longer night than I had planned due to morning plans on the Sunday but it was refreshing to see familiar faces and catch up on the time I have had in Kenya so far and their plans for safari and the rift valley. It is unlikely that I will do either of these things on this trip but I intend to come back in the future and will hopefully see them then.
For the first time in a very long time, I attended a church service on Sunday morning. Selinah and her family attend a Catholic church and I felt that it would be respectful to attend, especially given that I would only likely lie in bed otherwise! I can at least say that parts of the service were interesting and it was much more relevant to modern life than when I attended church as part of cubs and scouts. Part of the service was related to the holy trinity, where the priest told a parable in which a man was asked what the holy trinity was and he replied “beer, women and nyama choma and if its not in heaven I won’t be going”. Selinah mentioned that the man must not be Kenyan as he did not mention ugali! As I said, very different to the last service I attended!
After the service, we took a detour on the way home to the Giraffe centre. I was told of the more unorthodox way of feeding the giraffes that some of the visitors prefer and naturally I took up the challenge! I did promise an amusing picture after all! The only positive I can take is that if a giraffe’s tongue hits your face you don’t need to shave that area for a week #sandpaper.
I spent the rest of Sunday in the family home, which might sound a bit boring, however I should stress that Selinah’s informal concept of “African socialism” really kicked in and I think the number of visitors (plus their children in some cases) throughout the day must have hit twenty by late evening. It is really sociable and definitely one of the positive aspects of Kenyan culture that I really enjoy. Nevertheless, I think that in Manchester I would struggle to prepare enough food to feed myself and spontaneous visitors!
After the long weekend we returned to St John’s on the Monday. As mentioned, I am assisting in implementing actions proposed by the previous volunteer, a retired finance director. I have no real experience of the majority of the proposed actions, but have continued with the approach that few things in accountancy or business are rocket science and that the majority of the actions do not require specialist experience. It has been an opportunity to gain exposure and provide assistance to the finance team across a diverse range of issues including improving debt collection and the overall credit policy, developing a standard contract template for first aid training courses and how the organisation should invest the reserves that it currently holds.
I also became a panel member in interviews for a new fundraising position on Tuesday, which was the most unexpected moment of the working week. The candidates were generally strong, with the best four going through to the final interview stage. One of the practical questions was to develop an outline of a funding proposal in the 10 minutes before the interview and then discuss how proposals should be constructed in the interview. If I was being representative, I would probably dwell more on the performance of the strongest candidates, however I feel the honourable mention of the process does go to a man whose proposal was for a project for the disposal of used contraceptives. Knowing my inability to keep a straight face, it was not a good thing that he described the issues in detail with complete sincerity!
On a serious note, being on the panel provided me with an insight into how the organisation recruits its people, with a transparent and professional approach. It is something that Selinah has stressed as crucial for maintaining the modernisation of the organisation and it would likely be an improvement if other public and private organisations in Kenya adopted a similar approach.
As this entry indicates, it appears the rest of my time in St John and in Nairobi is going to be very active both in work and on the weekends, and the weekend that has just finished while I have been writing this up has continued in the same vein! Where I fit in Euro 2012 remains to be seen…