I travel for the Good

Kenya Diaries, Part 2: From the Ground Up

by Stephanie March

The following is a slice of life on the road with OneKid OneWorld, a charitable organization that provides sustainable academic and athletic programs for children in impoverished communities. A small group from OKOW travels to Africa about once every 18 months to check-in on current projects and seek out new ones. 

LAKE VICTORIA, Kenya – Day 503
It feels like I’ve been here for months.

Update on last night’s bat chase: He never actually left my room, despite my leaving the door open for 30 minutes. I met him when I made a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and it sent me flying back to bed. I opened the balcony door again (mosquitoes!) for two hours. Around 7 a.m. I very cautiously went back into the bathroom only to find him passed out in the tub. I marched downstairs and told housekeeping to get him. 

That wasn't as exciting as our visit to Nyamasare, One Kid One World's flagship school. They are doing a bang-up job! Two hundred sixteen orphans enrolled with a computer lab, chemistry lab, and solar power technology, with a dorm on the way. We broke the students up into small groups and conducted Q&As on goals, jobs, health, dreams, and lifestyle. We fielded all kinds of questions ranging from "How do you not get nervous when you take a test?" to "Why do your pets go to the doctor?"

After six hours of non-stop interaction and a nice lunch (perch, ugali, chapattis, tomato salad), we headed back to our quarters. Quick turnaround, since The Dallas Ladies (as we affectionately refer to them) invited us for appetizers and drinks at the Rusinga Island Lodge. They are a party of eighteen who have raised an incredibly generous $100,000 for our programs this year. God bless them, they do it all: safari and cocktails, clinic and school visits. We were dog tired but it was nice to have a fancy treat. Now I am contemplating an Ambien-induced night of blackout slumber, as tomorrow is a free morning. What a great, full, zig-zagging day. 

I can see dozens of lanterns on the fishing boats in Lake Victoria right now. A floating nocturnal city — so pretty.

Day 6
In the morning, I spent an hour downing mandazee (fried whole wheat doughnuts) and tea while staring at the lake. It was a welcome break from five days of sensory overload. I checked emails, read, sent out laundry — it was like a hot shower for the brain.

We spent the afternoon at a nursery school on Rusinga Island and attended the opening of a five-classroom primary school sponsored by The Dallas Ladies. Kenyan ceremonies are looooong and every local politician wants to speak, but because Peter (our country director and a local expert) told them we were pressed for time, they kept it to a mere three hours. Lots of speeches, a warm Fanta, and several songs later, we had us a brand new school, with gleaming desks, fresh books, and a library in the works. The old school, by the way, is literally a crumbling pile of cinder block, wood, and garbage. 

One of The Dallas Ladies' moms — Mimi, an 82-year-old wonder goddess — gave us the money for the school, and let me tell you, the dedication ceremony was tear-choked. Everyone was deeply moved by the incredible accomplishments of the contractor and the community. The students sat in the most wretched, dangerous classrooms for weeks, not wanting to use the new ones until they properly thanked Mimi and gave her the biggest round of applause I've ever heard. It was wildly moving. 

After the endless, ENDLESS ceremony, we socialized, played soccer, answered questions about our lives in the States, handed out silly bands and Starbursts, and hazarded the bathrooms. The boys made quite a show on the pitch and the girls fielded the usual, "What crops do you grow?" kinds of questions. So great. We concluded the evening with sundowners at a local dive and photos with Rusinga Island in the background.

I am so blessed.

I told the girls that my husband does all the cooking at home. I thought they would never stop laughing.

Day 7
Another mammoth day. We started at the Kamayogi School. It is so poor you can’t even call it a school: broken dirt floors, leaky tin roof, pencils worn down to the nubs. We are really hoping The Dallas Ladies will sponsor a few classrooms. It's important to spread the wealth or else the new schools become bloated with students (not to mention teachers, faculty, and parents).

We passed out backpacks and school supplies (crayons are a big hit) and helped the children write to their Los Angeles pen pals. A touching note: At the end of the letters they all wanted to draw a "funny" — a picture of their pets, their houses, the tilapia they eat.

Afterwards, we attended a science lab dedication ceremony, got a goat, heard two hours of speeches, and headed back to Nyamasare (our flagship) for a final goodbye. We spent a great afternoon taking Polaroids of all the girls as yearbook photos and conducted a crazily vivid health class. That last one — wow. There aren't enough things to say about how important and shocking and scary the topic is. I have 1,000 percent respect for even the most basic health class in the U.S.

We concluded our night at Safari Village, a gated, ten-room lodge on Lake Victoria that has, well, a bar. We took a lot of photos, drank a Tusker or two, and dissected the day. Safari Village is the kind of place that is run by an expat Brit who grows weed — kind of saggy and totally fun for an hour. 

We can't believe this is coming to an end. Most of the group has changed/delayed their return to safari for a day or two in the Mara. That's the thing: You get here and suddenly 400 other good travel ideas materialize. I am moving on to Northwestern University-Qatar for 36 hours of supervised student exchange. I am sad to leave, but know I have all day tomorrow to reflect (on the ferry, the flight from Kisumu to Nairobi, and so on).

Lala salama. Sleep in peace. 

Read more Kenya Diaries: Part 1

Stephanie March

Stephanie is an actor, activist, and chronic wanderer. You can follow her at @marchstephanie on Twitter and Instagram. She travels for the sheer animal pleasure of seeing something new.

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