Jessica’s Journey across Kenya with SKYIN

By Cuisine, Culture, Kenya, Lifestyle, Travel, Wildlife

Day 1
It’s here. Kenya is here! I have been traveling internationally since I was 14 years of age. Ever since I began to explore the world, I became addicted beyond words. The continent of Africa has always been my ultimate goal, especially given the career choice I have selected.

You see, I’m a zookeeper. I care specifically for (mostly) African hoof stock (i.e. giraffe, rhino, zebra, antelope, camel, etc.). Each travel destination has been selected based on the animal experiences I would garner. I have volunteered in sanctuaries, wildlife hospitals, famous zoos, as well as contributed to field research. However, Africa has always been my number one place to experience not just for its amazing wildlife, but for its rich culture as well. I kept postponing the destination due to college – wanting to rather spend a big chunk of time volunteering or working post-graduation. However, the time arose, and a job opportunity in Arizona was offered; I could not refuse. I am now 27 years of age. It’s been a thirteen year dream to reach, and I have finally set foot here! My entire family, friends, and coworkers kept asking weeks leading up if I was getting excited. I literally couldn’t answer that question. The thought of traveling to Kenya had always seemed a dream, and reality didn’t sink in until the plane touched down. It was in that very moment that I broke down and cried.

I need to begin by stating that I traveled with two close friends of mine. Cricket is an accountant who volunteers on the first weekend of every month with my department at the zoo, and has traveled to about 40% of the world. Joe is a professional photographer who specializes in wildlife photography. Cricket and I are paired up with the Kagia family, and Joe with the Watitwa family. Stepping outside of the airport in Nairobi was like a family reunion. We were amongst a gathering of people whom we have never met in person, yet already knew much about. Elizabeth, our host mom, embraced Cricket and I each with a massive hug. It was as if she was a relative that we have known for many, many years. Joining Elizabeth was Joy Saikati, the go-to wonder woman from SKYIN, as well as Joe’s family – Benedict, Peninah, and Chrysla. Each and every single one of them has a smile that can be felt in the soul. The happiness, acceptance, and purity of their laughter really made us feel like we were home. We are in a strange country but it felt safe and inviting from the first moment.

The first thing Cricket and I did was temporarily say goodbye to Joe and went along our way with our host mother, Elizabeth. We first stopped by some shops to exchange currency, and then to acquire a Kenyan sim card for our phones. This was our first opportunity to experience life in Kenya outside of the airport. Once errands were accomplished, we traveled home to meet the rest of our family – Jean, Elizabeth’s daughter, and her two kids, Jesse (aged 10) and Isabelle (aged 3). Isabelle was shy and closed off. She kept her eyes tightly closed and refused to acknowledge our presence. It is now my goal to make that little girl accept me. I have many nieces and nephews, so I get the shyness. It just makes me want to work harder for her trust! Cricket and I presented the family with some gifts. Lotions, teas, and chocolates for Elizabeth and Jean. A soccer ball for Jesse, and a unicorn stuffed animal with necklaces, and a unicorn shirt for Isabelle in a pink, shiny backpack. Cricket and I freshened up from the long plane ride and traveled with our host families to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. To be honest, this is one of the highlights that I have been most looking forward to for years!

I have followed David and Daphne Sheldrick’s amazing story, and am obsessed with it. They are some of my heroes. David established Tsavo East National Park and brought orphaned and injured animals home to Daphne, where she rehabilitated them for release. She is also the first person to successfully create a sustainable formula for elephant orphans. Cricket and I each adopted an elephant, whereas Joe adopted an elephant, rhino, and giraffe. The adoptions allowed us to participate in a special adopter-only viewing of the orphans running in from the forest for their evening feeding and bedding. We were also allowed to walk around for an hour and interact with the babies if they so chose to let us. The elephant I adopted is Luggard, a spunky three-year-old male who was rescued on March 31, 2016 in Tsalvo East National Park. He was found alone with two bullet wounds in his leg, which has now left permanent damage and disfiguration. I was blown away by the acceptance that this little elephant showed me. I was not only a stranger, but a stranger belonging to a species who not only shot him twice, but took the life of his mother. Animals take my breath away. Their purity, their acceptance, their ability to love, no matter the species. This is why I have chosen a life involved around them. Luggard stole my heart today. He will remain at the Nairobi Nursery until he’s around 4-5 years old, then will be on his way towards reintegration back into the wild!

So far, Kenya has not disappointed! It’s filled with savory aromas, happy smiles, and pure, wildlife warriors. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of weeks bring!

Day 2
Day two in Kenya! I still can’t believe I get to say that! Oh how nice it was to wake up and feel so rested! Cricket and I had an early night. We were exhausted from the travels, and overwhelmed by our amazing first day. We began our day with a delicious breakfast that Elizabeth, and their house attendant, Alyssa, made for us: beans, a pan-seared sandwich, fresh mango and banana, and hot tea. I am now obsessed with their tea! It’s a Kenyan black tea, which really isn’t anything unique, but they boil it in hot milk, which just makes it taste really good! Our first agenda of the day was to sightsee the city a bit. We headed to the Kenyatta International Convention Center, which is downtown, and provided us an aerial view of the entire area from 31 floors up. There we met up with Joe and his host family, and walked over to a local market to view some of the trinkets being sold. Everyone called out to us as either “my sister” or “my brother” as they desperately attempted to gain our attention towards their items. Funny thing. If I inquired about a price, they would state a number about 50-75% higher than what they would for a local. So it was extremely useful to have our families around! I purchased a handful of trinkets for my coworkers, as well as some masks for my mom. The vendor put up a hard fight, but I ended up winning in our bartering match. Have I mentioned how much I love open-air markets?! It’s so fun to bargain!

After some time, we walked down to a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat, then we traveled to the Bomas for a traditional dance show. The Bomas is a park that displays tribes from all over Kenya. There are over 70 distinct ethnic groups in Kenya! The dancer displayed tribal dances, attire, and tradition, as well as some fun acrobatics at the end! Oh, and guess what?! I think I have won Isabelle over today! After waving to her every chance I had, she finally was curious enough to come see herself in the camera of my phone, and climbed into my lap for the entirety of the show. It’s only day 2 and my goal is complete!

The best part of the day, however, was playing with Jesse and some of his friends. After the Bomas, we headed home. Back behind the house is an open field where all of the local neighborhood kids hang out as soon as school lets out. Cricket and I joined Jesse in bringing his brand-new ball to all of his friends. They were a hoot! There were already about ten kids playing with an old, torn up ball. They all came running over to greet us, then headed back out into the field. Cricket and I stood back to just enjoy their excitement. Jesse was by far the best player out there. He scored about seven goals, and every single time was picked up by his teammates as they sung and celebrated in victory! Within about twenty minutes, we had about thirty kids join in on the fun. The kids here don’t have a lot compared to our western children. They were playing in hand-me-downs and off brand crocs. They didn’t have official goals, and up until today, didn’t have a ball that would roll properly. Yet, each and every child is happy. They can find joy in everything that has been provided, and they were excited to share it with us newcomers. Kenya, so far, is everything I expected it to be, and much more. These kids are everything.

P.S. Driving around the city is like a wildlife safari in itself! This country is teeming with animals I have only ever seen in zoos! We have been driving on highways and typical neighborhood streets and so far I have seen duiker, warthogs, Marabou Storks, and Kolb’s monkeys.

Day 3
This morning we set our alarms for 5:45am. We had a train to catch for the beautiful coastal city of Mombasa! Traveling by train is one of the best ways to view the countryside. We rode past many communities which eventually led us straight through Tsalvo with Tsalvo East on the left (the side we sat on) and Tsalvo West on the right. Along the journey, we spotted about thirty elephants, warthogs, baboons, wildebeest, zebras, Thomson’s gazelle, waterbuck, camel, and guinea fowl! Once in Mombasa, we were weeded through the platform and out of the station in a quick manner. A driver was outside waiting for us, and Cricket, Elizabeth, Joe, Peninah and I all piled in. The accommodation we stayed at was a gorgeous resort on the water called Swahili Beachfront Resort. As soon as we arrived, we all through on the swimsuits, and jumped into a tuk-tuk for a quick ride to Diani Beach. Tuk-tuks, by the way, are the best part of Mombasa. It’s like a motorized tricycle that’s partly enclosed and acts as the taxi service for the area.

We didn’t have a ton of sunlight to enjoy the beach for long, but the water was clear and warm which made our time enjoyable! The most spectacular thing occurred tonight, however. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth entered the ocean. She saw Cricket, Joe and I having so much fun, that she trusted us enough to support her while she came in. We were only about waist-deep, but she was still very unsure of the whole ordeal. Even though you could clearly just sit with your head remaining above water, she still needed us for assurance. She gripped our arms hard but sat down with trusting actions. Once she accomplished this feat, her entire face just lit up! I have never seen a smile so big. She also couldn’t believe what she was actually doing. She LOVED it! It was so therapeutic, for us all, to watch her enjoy the ocean, something I have loved my entire life. We are planning on returning to the beach in the morning to spend a little more time there. After our fun, we enjoyed a huge meal that was cooked at our resort. It was a traditional Kenyan chicken dish with rice, peas, carrots, potatoes, chapati (a Kenyan version of a tortilla) and a corn meal cake. It was delicious!

Day 4
What a jam-packed day! This morning we woke at 7am and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. After we ate, we headed back to Diani Beach for a few more hours in the water. Elizabeth, once more, joined us in the water, and gained more confidence. She was now able to sit and enjoy the water without us right next to her to grip. Today was cloudy, so we still didn’t get to enjoy any sun, but at least we were able to have the Indian Ocean on our skin for more time. The water was probably in the mid 70’s and the waves were about 300 yards from shore so the water was calm. Joe, Cricket and I goofed off a bit with the GoPro to get some cool footage. During our time in the water, we chased many zebra fish, a stingray, and even had a pipefish shoot out of the water at us! On our way back to the tuk-tuks, a couple of guys were saddling up their camels to provide rides along the beach, so we stopped to pet and ride them for a bit.

We freshened up back at the resort, then headed out into town to explore Mombasa! We ran into a produce section of an outdoor market to see all of the fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and grains, then headed to the Pembe Za Ndovu and Fort Jesus via tuk-tuk. Pembe Za Ndovu is Swahili for “ivory horns” and is a landmark made of aluminum to create massive elephant tusks over the street established to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mombasa in 1952. Fort Jesus is a fort created by order of King Phillip II of Spain and I of Portugal between 1593 and 1596 to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. Afterwards, we visited Haller Park. Haller Park is a nature park in the middle of Mombasa and is a transformation of a quarry wasteland into an ecological area. Every single species of plant and animal was carefully selected by Dr. Rene Haller to help build this wasteland into a spectacular ecosystem. Currently, the park has introduced many wild species including giraffe, crocodile, hippo, serval, and more. It was literally like a zoo. In a rainforest. With a nature walk. Surrounded by wild animals. It was magical! Once we returned to the resort, we had another delicious, authentic dinner. We are now settled in for the night, quite early, for a long rest before another train ride back to Nairobi.

Day 5
This next morning started with a train ride back to Nairobi. Once we got back, we were off to the Giraffe Centre! The Giraffe Centre is ran by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife and is home to a herd of Rothschild giraffe who hang out near a feeding station during the day, then head out to a 100 acre sanctuary in the forest during the night. The centre is also home to a herd or warthogs who peacefully share a space with the giraffe.

The world renown Giraffe Manor is also on grounds for the availability of a night’s stay. I so wish I could have planned a visit. It’s one of my bucket list items to do! I guess I’ll just have to come back because I have fallen in love with Kenya already! I met Stanley Kosgey, the director of wildlife, and we exchanged information to further chat about giraffe husbandry. He has been at the centre for five and a half years. We also met Jane, and educator intern from the bush in Central Kenya. She graciously walked us through part of the bird sanctuary (where the giraffe herd sleeps) and pointed out each species of bird as Joe delightfully photographed. My favorites were the Hartlaub’s turacos!

After the sanctuary, Elizabeth took Cricket and I to her son’s house. There was a traffic jam (as there always is in Kenya) so we took a shortcut through Kibera, the largest urban slum in all of Africa. Just, wow. I have seen slums in documentaries, and I have travelled to many impoverished areas; however, visiting one in person was a shock. There was a massive area of just corrugated steel propped up for housing in a dirt field. Hundreds of goats were rummaging through a mountain of trash. Yet, children were still smiling and playing games in the street. Happiness was still present. The funniest part? We saw a local walking the streets wearing an Arizona State University sweatshirt. Small world, right? In any other circumstance, Cricket and I would not have had the opportunity to travel through a slum. It would be an area of avoidance for most tourists. Areas of poverty aren’t always the most inviting areas for someone who is an outsider. But because we were traveling with our host mom, we were able to enter the unknown, and came out on the other side without issue. People stared, yes. We weren’t allowed outside of the vehicle, and doors remained locked. But we weren’t given any hassle due to our chauffer. So it was a special experience, for sure!

Elizabeth’s son’s apartment is right across from the Nairobi Hospital. Alex is a gynecologist, and his wife, Becky is an internalist. They live with their twin daughters (almost a year of age) Njambi and Wangeci, as well as two ladies who help as nannies. The family was incredibly inviting and provided tea and dinner. We stayed and chatted for a few hours with them, feeling right at home, before we headed back home to crash for the night.

Day 6
What a magical day! We headed out to Githunguri, a Kikuyu farming village that Elizabeth grew up in. Our first visit was at her brother’s farm. He’s the second oldest in a family of nine children. His wife, Esther, was so beautiful. She wore more of a traditional dress, and had a smile as pure as gold. She provided a HUGE meal that consisted of chicken, kale, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, chicken soup, maize, chapatis, and corn cake. Their farm was so serene. They have chickens, ducks, bunnies, kittens, goats, dairy cows, and a dog. Plus, many children! Five of the kids followed us towards the river on a hike that brought us through banana, maize, avocado, and passion fruit plants. The dog, named Rebecca, also followed in pursuit. I loved that dog. I have a habit of petting every animal I see in foreign countries. The family thought it was so odd and comical that I gave that dog the attention I did. In their culture, dogs are mostly used just for an alarm system, not as a family member. They’re considered to be dirty, so hands are usually not shared for a scratching post. I didn’t care though. I gave that dog so much attention. Cricket and I taught some of the older boys how to use our DSLR cameras, and gave them an opportunity to walk around and take pictures of their own. They had a blast! We collected some fresh avocado and passion fruit, then headed back to the homestead for refreshments. Various glass bottled sodas were passed out and we all cheered together.

Cricket and I were both given a Stoney’s which is a ginger beer like no other! It literally burns going down, and is so good! It’s hard to explain. We opened up some of the passion fruits as well. YUM! Talk about sweet and sour at the same time. It was an amazing sensation that woke up every single taste bud at once. Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, then headed down the street a bit to greet Elizabeth’s sister. She is the oldest of the siblings at 78 years of age. There, two girls named Myriam and Patience, took Cricket and I down a path to see their banana forest. It literally was a forest of banana trees!

They also had coffee plants, guava, avocado, mango, tomato, cabbage, kale, onion, and more. The girls help harvest all of the produce year round, and were very excited to show off their climbing skills in order to obtain the fruits. Elizabeth’s sister did not speak English, but she was happy to speak Kikuyu, and have Jean translate for us. Besides being at the Giraffe Centre and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the village day today has been my favorite day thus far. Being accepted into an everyday life routine in an area that doesn’t usually see tourists was phenomenal! I definitely wouldn’t be able to experience this opportunity if it weren’t for Elizabeth and SKYIN. I feel blessed to be invited into these families homes.

Day 7
Today we ventured out to a real Maasai community. This was an experience like no other. They were all dressed traditionally with their red Maasai blankets wrapped around them with vibrant colorful beaded jewelry on their necks and arms. As soon as we stopped at the manyattas (their mud huts), the Maasai men and women instantly jumped into chanting and dancing welcoming us into their homes. Immediately, some of the village kids came running out to join. Cricket and I joined in on the dancing and the jumping challenges. The Maasai use this dance in a sense as a mating routine. Traditionally, it is used to mark the transition of morani (junior warriors) becoming senior warriors. The dance is a way for a young Maasai man who has just become a warrior to demonstrate his strength and attract a bride. The more graceful and higher the jump, the more attractive he is to an eligible bachelorette. Even though the boys jumped with such ease, Cricket and I proved that it wasn’t as easy as they made it seem. We all were filled with laughter from our attempts. It was such a heartwarming experience. One I will cherish forever.

Then the chief’s son, named Joseph, met up with us and guided us through their village. The homes of the Maasai are concocted by mud and cow dung by the women of the tribe. The house we went into belonged to the chief and had three rooms. One for the parents to sleep, one for the children, and one for the livestock. Then a communal living space to spark a fire and cook. There were two windows, which mostly were tiny slivers carved out of the walls, to provide just enough space to peak out. I’d imagine it gets incredibly smoky in the homes with the fire! Joseph gave us Maasai names, and I was given Nashipai, which means happiness. We stepped out of the house and was then greeted by a group of young men who wanted to show us their ability of quickly making a fire using just wood. I shook all of their hands in greeting and was then paraded around as having man hands due to my firm grip. Joseph then, jokingly, proposed to me, as he mentioned that American women are cheap to marry since we don’t require a dowry! In order to marry here, a man must afford to pay ten cows, five sheep, and five goats. Joseph also explained a little more about the culture of the Maasai, like how in order for boy to graduate into men, they used to have to kill a lion with a spear. However, those practices have not been put in play over the past century, due to conservation attempts in the National Park. The Maasai are a wonderful people who love and respect not only their livestock, but the wild animals around them. They appreciate their animals for the products they give, such as the blood and meat that they drink and eat from cows every day.

Then we proceeded on learning how the Maasai mamas cook and prepare their food, make their incredible jewelry, take care of their livestock, and so much more. We got to throw spears around like a true Maasai warrior hunting for a lion. It was so cool! After spending hours with the Maasai on one of the most enriching and enchanting days of my life, we said our goodbyes leaving a part of me so satisfied that I got to experience something most will never get to. We arrived back home and Cricket and I joined Jesse once more out on the field. This time, we became more involved and began dancing, playing, and laughing with the kids. Some of the boys taught Cricket and I some fancy moves, and the children sang while we all danced. They absolutely loved that we were recording them and taking pictures, and begged to see the results. I also joined the kids in part of their soccer game. Those kids go hard! The kids here fill me with joy. I just love their energy and happiness!

Day 8
SAFARI!!! This morning, our safari driver, Joseph, picked us up in a really cool military green Land Cruiser and drove us to Lake Nakuru National Park.

On our way, we drove through a beautiful, mountainous village. We passed a high view point of the Great Rift Valley and proceeded down into it towards Nakuru. We passed one of the soda lakes that had easily a thousand flamingos in it! We entered the gates of the park and immediately began to spot wildlife! We had about a ten mile drive before we reached our accommodation – Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge. My goodness, it’s beautiful! The whole lodge has an excellent view of the lake. All of the rooms are in brick huts and are so beautiful and fancy on the inside. The food is also spectacular! Each meal was given buffet style with Kenyan dishes, fresh fruit, and desserts. Once lunch was devoured, we headed out on our first game drive. Along the journey, we came across giraffe, cape buffalo, impala, waterbuck, eland, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, Great White Pelican, baboon, colobus monkey, dik dik, zebra, warthog, Hammerkop, Helmeted Guineafowl, Oxpecker, Bleack-Headed Heron, and Superb Starling. The best part? We came across both species of rhino!!! First, a herd of black rhino. There were six in total, including a young calf. We unfortunately did not see the calf due to vegetation, but heard the excited high-pitched wails. After a few mesmerizing moments with them, we journeyed on, and almost immediately came upon a southern white rhino with her calf in an open field. As a rhino keeper myself, this was something extra special. The war against poaching is real. One rhino is killed for their horns every seven hours. So to see real wild rhinos, thriving with their offspring was something spectacular to witness! The sun began to set on us, so we headed back to the lodge for a huge dinner.

Day 9
This morning we left Lake Nakuru and headed to the Masai Mara National Reserve! We arrived at our camp just in time for lunch. We stayed at the Sarova Mara camps, which sat right inside the national reserve. Our accommodation consisted of an amazing glamping experience. The tents were big with beds, furniture, electricity, hot water, and plumbing. I’m use to traditional camping but this was something like no other! After lunch, we headed out to the reserve for an afternoon game drive. We are currently in the beginning stages of the Great Wildebeest Migration where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebras, and other herbivores trek hundreds of miles to follow the rains in search for food. They usually begin in the Serengeti in Tanzania, and head towards the Masai Mara here in Kenya, and back again, creating a large circular route. Due to the movement of herbivores, the carnivores typically follow in pursuit as well. The Masai Mara is very grassy compared to Lake Nakuru, which was more forested. In most areas, the grass was mowed down almost to the dirt due to the increased amount of grazers in the region. In addition to wildebeest and zebra, we spotted buffalo, gazelle, warthog, baboon, and eland. However, the coolest sightings were the lions and elephants! We saw three lions, a female and male napping under a tree, and a lone female resting in the open grass. We also saw three separate herds of elephants including itty, bitty calves! After our drive, we headed back to camp for dinner and then headed back out for some night sky captures. We pulled over and took a few photos with us posing in front of our game vehicle, and then were joined by a few of the local Maasai’s who lived in the area and were filled with curiosity as to what we were up to at night. We showed them the photos and they stared in wonderment at how the camera captured the amount of stars it did. Fun fact, DSLR cameras can capture more stars than our naked eyes can view, so the milky way in the Southern Sky stood out spectacularly! On our drive back to camp, we managed to spot two white-tailed mongoose and zebras! Cricket and I also spotted a female bushbuck! Tomorrow we have a full day in the Mara. Fingers crossed for leopard, cheetah, and hartebeest!

Day 10
What an eventful day! We began by spending nine hours on a game drive in the Masai Mara and added to our species list! Our new ones for the day consist of two cheetah sisters (one is very, very pregnant!), Masai Ostrich, Nile crocodile, Nile hippo, slender mongoose, Coke’s hartebeest, topi, multiple vulture species, spotted hyena, African Sacred Ibis, and Nile monitor. We also spotted two brand new giraffe calves with their mothers, and a three-week-old leopard kill (a wildebeest carcass that was drug up into a tree!). We drove to the Kenya/Tanzania border where the Masai Mara meets the Serengeti, stepped foot across the border, then had lunch before a park ranger took us for a walk along the Mara River. The Mara River is world famous for being the river that hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and other grazers cross each year during the Great Migration. The cross is a very daunting task due to the high population of crocodiles and hippos. We were super bummed out because the ranger informed us that we missed a massive week-long crossing by just six days!

Day 11
Today we left the Masai Mara to head back to Nairobi. Once we arrived, we headed to The Carnivore, a Brazilian style steakhouse, with Kenyan styled food. The restaurant is famous for its once served bushmeat. Weird and unusual meats offered from famous animals found in Kenya. However, in 2010, Kenya illegalized the sell of bushmeat, so the weirdest the restaurant had to offer was ostrich, crocodile, and ox ball. We were given a three course meal: soup and bread, followed by an all-you-can-eat helping of meats, followed by dessert. Once we had our fill, we met up with Peninah and Joy, and headed to the Kazuri Bead Market. Kazuri means small and beautiful in Swahili, which is very fitting for its products. The market was established by a British woman in 1975 and provided an outlet for single Kenyan mothers to work and support their families. The women have various jobs from extracting the clay, shaping it into beads, painting them, kilning them, and then sorting them. The women have an opportunity to marry and stay in the workforce, but they must be single at the time of employment.

We were informed that tonight, our last night, was not going to be spent with our family, but rather Skyler’s (the SKYIN founder) host family that sparked the creation of this entire company. Joy took us back to Elizabeth’s house as we packed up all of our luggage and said our goodbyes. We were hoping to get one last night with them, especially since we have been absent for the past three due to our safari. Saying goodbye was so tough. Although we have had such a short time with them, they have become family. Each and every single one of them has aided in shaping my life. The family gave us each a gift to show us the gratitude they have towards us, we took our final pictures with them, and hugged and hugged many times. I cried while saying goodbye to Isabelle. It took so much energy to win the affections from that little girl. Now that I finally earned that trust, I feel horrible for disappearing on her. She’s only three years old. She doesn’t understand why I’m leaving or where I’m going. Hopefully I can continue video chatting with the family, especially so Isabelle doesn’t forget who I am.

After the final goodbyes, we packed up the car, and headed over to Joy’s house. Yes, she’s Skyler’s host sister! Her mom, affectionately known as Mama Joy, embraced us the moment she saw us! Somehow, she already knew how to tell Cricket and I apart. She had dinner already cooking as she showed us the way to our rooms. Their house is actually quite large, as Mama Joy runs a children’s school on premise. We waited for Joe and Peninah to arrive to share dinner, as they only live a couple blocks away. Mama Joy is something else. Our meal was huge! We had chicken, rice, carrots, peas, maize, kale, cabbage, chapati, and watermelon. I have never been so loved and so welcomed by people who have never met me than I have in Kenya. No one is a stranger in this country.

This is our final night on program with SKYIN. Just like that, my thirteen-year dream of coming to Kenya has began and ended in a blink of an eye. I have a new family that consists of three moms, two sisters, a niece and a nephew. Everyone here has taken us in without a second thought. They have fed us until we were ready to pop. Invited us into their homes and shared their customs with us. I have so many stories and memories from this country, and it now owns part of my heart. One more night in this beautiful land. I’m already counting down the days until we can come back! Thank you so much SKYIN for this wonderful experience. Without you, I wouldn’t have experienced the side of Kenya that I did. The villages, the children, the culture, the depths of Nairobi and local markets, the beaches, the wildlife–everything. It was all equally beautiful and will stay with me forever!

Last modified: February 22, 2022

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