I am asked that question every time Africa is mentioned. Was it a mission trip? No, it was not a mission trip. But, I figured in the past few months I have gotten enough questions about Africa, that I thought I might as well go ahead and tell the story. Not that I'm putting off a massive Shakespeare paper, or anything... (P.S. All of the photos/collages are clickable, and they go to a nice blowup version of them so you can actually see the pictures)
So, first things first, Africa was not a mission trip. It was, however, a service trip. It's what the British call a "Gap Year" trip, which is the year between high school and university that British kids spend traveling. I am not British, and I didn't go until several years later than a typical Gap Year-er would, but that's what it was intended for. I went with a group called Camps International that is based out of England, and I went with 11 other British kids that I had never met. I was in Kenya for one month, but was gone for upwards of six weeks because I hung out in England for awhile before hand. And I went during the tribal war that occurred last year over the Elections in Kenya, but we were far from the main violence areas.
For most of the trip, we were in a little village called Muhaka. It's about an hour and a half from Mombasa, and is nearly in Tanzania.
We didn't stay in a hotel. We had a mud hut with open holes for windows that is pictured in this little collage below with other scenes from our camp area like our tree swing (which really became the "cellphone swing") and our beds covered with mosquito nets:
We had electricity at this camp, but it was only for lighting and charging phones/MP3 players. We also had water here--it came from a well, and while we were there the well collapsed so when we had water (which was about 70% of the time) it was 50/50 on whether it would be clean or muddy.
Muhaka Primary School Project
The first week, we worked on building another school room for the primary school in the area. We made the foundation out of broken up rocks, dust, and dirt before the cement was mixed and poured. This school had 400+ students, 8 grades, 6 teachers and 6 classrooms.
We finished the foundation, and the next month the wall frames went up.
Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary Project
Mwaluganje has the largest concentration of elephants in all of Africa. Here, we stayed in tents and had 3 hours of electricity a day. We learned quickly to go to bed at sundown and get up at sunrise. We brought our own water. Here, we planted trees around the perimeter of the sanctuary to try to keep the elephants in (it was during this that I was stung by a gigantic ant), as people who live in the communities surrounding it are constantly being killed by the elephants. We also made elephant dung paper and notebooks to sell at the gift hut, ran an elephant census, and got our butts handed too us in volleyball by the local primary school kids.
Chanukeni Orphanage Project
This was the newest project that had just started the month I got there, so it was very underdeveloped. We worked on mixing concrete and pouring a foundation. We also played with the kids. A lot. The orphanage had one room, and it served as a school room mostly. I was very confused on where these kids stayed at night...nothing was very clear here. But, they loved bubbles and iPods!
Tsavo Wildlife National Park
This is like Yellowstone, only HUGE and with cooler animals...and dirt roads. Ok, it's not at all like Yellowstone but let's pretend it was a good reference. This was our safari. We did nothing by way of service for this, but it was 2 days of safari. We didn't stay in Tsavo, as that's illegal if not at the lounge, but we stayed at a different camp (whose name escapes me...I'll have to figure that out. I think it was called TES but I can't remember what it stood for) 3 hours away, so each morning we left around 5am to get to Tsavo. In this camp we had electricity until late night, and then it went off until 430am when the lights flew on and woke us up like it was a UFO landing on our faces. And, not only did we have water here, but it was luke warm in the shower, we had Coke to drink with dinner, and real food--it was like a dream! This is where we stayed, and views around that area (and the specifics for Tsavo):
And this is a ridiculously small sample of the animals we saw at Tsavo (if I don't limit myself on pictures, you'd see my entire album):
The families in Muhaka set this up for us and it was amazing. The best experience of the entire trip. We spent the entire day living the lives of Africans. We farmed, cooked, took care of the babies and kids, wore the proper clothing, fetched water (and carried it on our heads), the men hunted (and brought back a turtle...), and it was just the most amazing experience I've ever had in my life. Afterwards, although I didn't do a collage with pictures of it, we visited the local witch doctor and then climbed coconut trees to get the sap/wine from the tap at the top. And by climbed, I definitely mean we went 6 feet up and then chickened out and let the natives get the Palm Wine for us (which, I must say, is thoroughly disgusting wine).
Marine Conservation Project
This was our last project, and was the last week of my trip. We did research in the mangroves, which is what all the pictures in this next little collage are from (even the guy walking through the ocean) except the picture of the house. Marine required that we stay in a new camp on Diani Beach called Chale, and that was what our house looked like. It was actually very nice, and I loved it. Unfortunately I didn't get to do anything more than the mangroves with this project and missed the big Mombasa trip that weekend because on my second day at Chale, after being sick for 4 days, the camp staff finally decided I had to go to the hospital no matter how many times I told them no and I was there for a few days. I wish now that I had documented that experience, too, because when else are you going to be able to say "I had third world medical treatment" (I mean, besides every time there is ever a blood drive or hoxworth calls you asking for your blood and you have to turn them down because of it, of course)? I took a couple pictures (and I mean I have two pictures from the hospital) but I was just so sick I couldn't have cared less about taking pictures.
Of course, we had time when we just got to hang around and be leisurely, as well. We hung out mostly in a place called Forty Thieves Beach Bar on Diani Beach (they had pizza!) and at a place called Tiwi River with a group of South Africans we had met (and their friend, the European face of Nivea). And we rode camels.
All-in-all I loved it! I would love to go back, and still keep in contact with many of the Kenyans I met. However, since I'm still trying to pay for the first trip, if I go back it won't be for a looong time. I tried to keep things short yet explanatory, because I really don't shut up once I get on this subject, but if you guys want to know more about anything just ask and I'll answer! :D And I limited the pictures a lot, but I have them all online, so if anyone wants to see them just let me know and I'll send you the link and password!