A Travellerspoint blog

Valencia, Week 1

Running a schedule

We had not been keeping time for days and having lost our phone charger back in Kenya the only item we had capable of keeping time was my camera. A little foolishly we had set it from the church bells the night before which in Madrid seem to go off without any respect to time. When I woke up in the morning I was painfully aware that in all probability our clock was wrong and we were possibly late for the bus. With this in mind we didn't waste too much time getting to the met station where the clock on the platform was over 30 minutes ahead of ours and translated to "Unless you are lucky you're not going to make it". For some reason I should have been panicking but I just couldn't bring myself to care. We arrived at the bus station 35 minutes later and were greeted with a clock showing the same time as my camera, it had been right all along.

The bus ride was unnecessarily slow as we were restricted to 80km/h by law. Add to this a break for food at 11 in the morning and we had somehow turned a two hour bus ride into four. The landscape was pretty desolate for most of the trip but some quaint hillside villages along the way added charm to an otherwise drab scene. The bus dropped us just metres from our apartment in Valencia but because we had no keys and didn't know the address we were forced to travel across town before without dropping our bags off. After a bit of huffing and puffing we got our keys and found our apartment. Inside we were greeted by Gabriella from Sweden and we later met Else from Holland and Annette from Germany.

The apartment was spacious and homely if a little old and under-furnished. Our room had two twin beds and a private en suite to boot. It was flooded with natural light and had built in wardrobes. After having a quick chat to our new house mates we decided to go shopping. To our dismay we were told that the nearest full sized supermarket that was open on a Sunday was a 20 minute bus ride away, our only other option was the oddly stocked supermarket downstairs which seemed to sell only Ukrainian products. We found a few ingredients which looked like they might belong in a pasta and for the first time in months cooked our own meal.

Posted by jaredlking 21:33 Comments (0)

Amsterdam

Due to our ungodly hour of departure we were forced to take a taxi to the airport. Our driver was a friendly and sincere man who passionately disliked the corrupt police who as he correctly predicted stopped us at every chance whilst dozens of other cars passed unhindered. He was entirely prepared for the hassle though and passed through each check point without paying a penny in bribes. We waived him off just as he got called into the final checkpoint.

The airport was relatively well organised despite a concerning lack of security. We boarded an hour before departure which was later explained by an announcement stating that we would be picking up President Kibaki from the pavilion. Whilst others were excited I was a little nervous to be flying in the same plane as a highly unpopular world leader. My fears were further compounded my the fact that our flight path included Sudan, Libya and Algeria.

Along the way I dubbed our plane the "flying matatu" as, amongst other things my seat would not remain upright, we ran late and the entertainment system did not work.

Schipol airport was a great reminder of all things western, above all else there was a working train system which ran straight from the airport to the city. We disembarked in the centre of town and went straight to the tourist information. Decidedly unhelpful and with more hidden charges than a modern bank account we left stupider than when we had entered.

We walked the streets for a few minutes and found a hotel offering cheap rooms, they were full but the man behind the counter pointed us in the right direction. He was a friendly sort of guy who chatted briefly with me about the weather and were I was from. He was a certainly a much better ambassador to the country than the staff in the information centre.

When we found the street he was talking about we knew we had come to the right place, every second sign read Hostel (the other ones all said sex, or coffee shop). We booked in to a cheap hostel and took a walk around outside. Amsterdam is an incredibly beautiful city, it has the charm of Paris and the canals of Venice as well as some well known characteristics making it a city unto itself. Filled with classic buildings, slow moving (non-stinky) canals and weeping trees I immediately felt at ease on the streets.

We had a quiet beer in a backpacker bar before settling down in a cosy restaurant for some much longed after western food. We had chosen an Italian restaurant but could have selected from any of the several dozen international cuisines that were represented on our street.

Whilst most people were still on warm up drinks we were already heading back to our dorm.

Thanks to our early night and our African timetable we were up before the streets had begun to stir. That said it was still around 8 o'clock, an hour when back home the average person has already started work. We began our tour of Amsterdam by walking to the Ann Frank house. The route there was typical of the city, made even more serene by the fact that we had the place to ourselves. We were surprised to see that when we arrived there was already a small line.

Amongst the first ten through the door we were able to enjoy the museum in relative serenity. The building looked like any other house along the canal, and for the most part it was. The difference was that this one had hidden a family of Jews during the second world war. The front of the house was a jam manufacturing warehouse but there was a secret part to the house out back who's entrance was covered with a false bookshelf. In this area the family had lived throughout the entire war before being denounced just months before the wars end. Despicably all except the father were executed. When he returned home after the war he found a diary written by his youngest daughter, Ann. He later read and published it as an account of their experiences.

A couple of hours later when we left the house the line to get inside stretched around the corner and the exhibits inside were hidden behind masses of people. Dianne was embarrassingly keen to do some shopping so for much of the afternoon I was dragged from shop to shop whilst Di tried to spend the little spare money she had.

Posted by jaredlking 21:32 Comments (0)

Lavenda, week 2

sunny 22 °C

Saturday morning we took another computer class to make up for the Tuesday group who had missed out. In the afternoon Di, 5 workers and I spent 4 hours loading the school´s truck to the hilt with firewood whilst Charlie conveniently dissapeared. I found him later in the bottlo when I went to pick up some softdrinks. Whilst we were loading the wood we ran into Simon who introduced us to his mother. We later found out she was only 55 but she looked like she´d seen 70 winters a tribute to the harsh lifestyles that women in Africa live. Just for kicks I drove the 10 tonner truck home which made the staff a little anxious as last time a mzungu had been in control they had run straight off the road.

We slept in untill 8am and for the first time since christmas in Sweden some years ago we went to church. It started off fantastic with some wonderful singing by the whole school and charming performances the singular year levels. The second half was horrible though and I couldn´t wait to get away. There was lots of talk about the devil and how rap music was his instrument, there were people crying into their handichiefs and others praying so fast that their words were incoherent.

When we finally got out of church we joined a group of people heading into Nyeri. Most of the people were going in to see Moomby who had been admitted into hospital. We dropped by quickly to say hello but left the girls to their business after only a few minutes. Charlie was asked to leave because he was being too loud so we left at the same time. He invited us to lunch with his wife Shiro, his daughter Maureen, his baby Queen Latifa, two of his orphaned nieces and one of their friends. We ate nothing but goat meat which at any other time would have been plain but suited me just fine after a week of vegetarian meals.

Following lunch Di went of to grab some internet and of course we were followed by some local street kids. One of them tried to open Di´s bag so I grabbed him and pushed into the wall, he looked absoloutely terrified so I let him go and he ran away. After an hour in the internet cafe we picked up some more supplies and waited for the others to meet us. The attention from the street kids and would be criminals became too suffocating and we retreated to a cafe and eventually the car.

We brought in the new working week on a positive note. At 7.30 in the morning we met with a bricklayer to get a quote to build a retaining wall. Over the past few days we had designed a new landscape for part of the senior school´s grounds and this was the first step. His fee was something like $7 a day which was pretty hard to complain about. He was a middle age guy with reasonable English and a very agrreable personality. He introduced himself as Francis the little and was suitably happy when I laughed. We agreed on a price for the project as a whole and began digging a trench for the foundations. Simon had been allocated to help us with the project which was good for both the assistence, his knowledge of the school and his good natured company.

We continued working on the project until 3.30 so that we had time to take a shower before computer clases. Normaly the showering from a bucket was a non issue but it was a little less satisfying when we were covered from head to toe with dirt. That night we ran class computer class number two which was on computer navigation. It was a little less interesting for them than the first week but they did learn some vital skills and at the end we played them a Michael Jackson DVD to maintain increase their interest.

That night we had a full house in our quarters. We had Aaron from the library, Simon, Grace, us and the funny little grounds lady that we saw around regurarly. We broke open some sodas for everyone and watched some more of the Michael Jackson video.

Tuesday saw the birth of our new routine. We awoke at 5 to the continual crowing of the roosters, we then passed in and out of sleep until the primary school met for assembly and eventually our alarm would go off at seven. We would then have breakfast and head up to the high school where we continued with our job. Simon and anyone else helping out would take a break for morning tea which day in day out was the same gruel which they ambitiously called porridge. Despite our objections to its taste and texture they all seemed to like it. We would all take a 30-45 minute lunch break and then work through until 3.30 when Di and I would head of to prepare for computer class. Simon would then work for another hour and pack up the worksite.

After our second day on the job we had not even completed half of the trench. Within an inch of the surface we struck rocks which were at times the size of my torso, only thicker. Most of the tools had nothing more than a branch from a tree or a 40cm stump for a handle. To make matters worse the heads fell off on a regular basis despite our efforts to secure them firmly.

On the Wednesday my routine was stretched a little longer. I was asked by Sido to begin taking maths classes for the year twelves. As I was busy during the day I decided to take them at morning prep time which ran from 7 until 8. With this new addition my working day was a 7am to 5.30pm affair. It was tiring but it was nice to know that I was ctually making the difference that I had wanted. It also meant that at night time I would need to prepare a class for the following morning as well as give instructions as to what should be done before I arrived on the job site in the morning.

That day whilst Simon and Dianne continued work on the job I left early to catch a free ride to Nyeri, in town I downloaded some tools which I needed to build a new library database system. I returned as quickly as I could but I arrived alittle late. Thankfully Di had taken it upon herself to begin the computer clases without me. By the end we had 12 or so students in attendance and even more spectators. That night amongst my other duties I started to create a new library borrowing system.

Some rest came on Thursday as the Fundi was busy and we were mostly finished the trench. After maths classes we perfected the trench and with Aarons help removed the last of the rocks. In the afternoon I wrote some code for the library system and with the help of two other workers carried the building blocks from the dumping ground to the work site. By the end of the day we were completely ready to build the wall, unfortunately we had one fully functional pick left. The handle had become so short on one of them that Simon managed to hit himself in the head during his backswing.

We played cards again with Grace that night who to our comical benefit showed no signs of improving. After a bit more work that night I was able to show Aaron a glimpse of what the library system would look like.

On the last day of the working week Di rose the same time as me. Whilst I took my maths class Simon and her prepared sand, cement and water for the job site. That day we got the whole foundations laid which meant it would have the weekend to settle. It was a labourios task mixing over a ton of concrete on the ground and then laying it. Di wore out quickly and soon fell into the role which we had assigned her, ¨Indian foreman¨ not normaly a term of endearment in Africa it became a running joke. When we had finished work and computer clases the Friday night crowd gathered at our place again so we fueled the party with a few strong soft drinks.

Posted by jaredlking 12.01.2010 21:28 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Lavenda Springs, week 1

A slow start

sunny 23 °C

We were supposed to meet some representatives from Lavenda mid morning so we headed off to the KLM office to book the next leg of our flight before going bush. When we were ready to go we called Charlie, one of the guys we were meeting. He came to greet us in our hotel where he told us that the others were delayed and that we should pass time until he called. In the end after we got away early to mid afternoon.

We were shown to the school minivan where Charlie introduced us to the project´s manager, Sido along with another staff member Kenya and a group of senior school girls. The traffic was slow moving but we were kept amused by Sido and Charlie who wanted to compare countires. On the outskirts of town we dropped Sido off and met Charlie´s daughter, Queen Latifa.

In all the drive took about 5 hours and took us through several smaller towns and past such sights as ¨Thriller Hotel and Butchery¨. The last major town we passed through was called Nyeri, the closest thing to a city within one hour of Lavenda. We got our first taste of the town when within 1 minute of entering the streets some of our bananas were stolen out of the window. We pulled over to get some supplies from the local supermarket and continued on.

When we arrived it was dark. We had expected to be without electricity for the full three weeks but we were greeted by the humm of fluroescent globes that we later found out were powered solar-charged battery. Even better news was our temporary abode. We were shown through a door which led into a lounge area and in turn two bedrooms and a bathroom with flushing toilet which we could use at night time. Normally the residence of Ruth and Jeff, the institutes founders it was ours for the next three weeks as they had left for Australia. It was a far cry from the gender-assigned, shared rooms that we had expected.

Our third surprise for the night was our dinner: rice, vegies and beef stew. It was fantastic and best of all it had meat, something we had not anticipated eating for the duration of our stay. Over dinner we talked more with Charlie. He told us two saddening stories about the deaths of his siblings, both of which had occured in the last 12 weeks. He also told us a more light hearted story where he had escorted one of the academy´s guests back to Nairobi, she had booked him a room in an expensive hotel. Unused to this sort of establishment he proceeded to drink every single little thing inside the mini-bar, he thought he was getting ¨the most¨out of the room. In the morning the lady was confronted by a bill bigger than Mount Kenya.

Whilst I stayed chatting to Cahrlie, Di got to work unpacking all of our bags. She was so excited to be setting down for a few weeks that she couldn´t wait until morning.

In the morning after breakfast we wandered around the school to orientate ourselves. Shortly after leaving our room we were introduced to Mr Clements, the vice principle of the primary school who offered to give us a guided tour. The school is comprised of a several different sections. The first place we saw was the sporting/recreation area which had a football field, a netball court, a basketball court and a tree plantation. The courts were just unleveled dirt floors with slightly decrepent goals at each end but the kids didn´t seem to mind at all. Next we were taken to the Kivuli houses were 20 odd orphaned children live with their suggregate mothers. They were the best buidings in the school, complete with a bathroom, kitchen, lounge and two bedrooms. After saying hello to the kids we moved on to the nursery school which sat in the same building as the gigantic mess hall, kitchen and posho mill. Due to the fact that the kids wouldn´t come back from holidays until Tuesday there were very few people around. Before being shown the impressive senior school and library we were taken through the primary school which is the hub of the institute. Although it wasn´t part of the tour there is also another section of the school which plays host to the staff accomodation, the guest area, a few crops, the workshop and the medical centre to be.

In all the school seemed pretty well equiped but there were cleary things that needed to be done. To begin with there was a shortage of water around as they were without well or bore, they collected rain water to drink but were forced to collect dirty water from the creek some kilometres away. Although mostly aesthetical the grounds of the high school in particular looked completely un-landscaped. With 1 metre high steps, exposed trenches and seriously smelly toilets it needed some work.

To sum it up the school was an impressive organisation changing the lifes of its 300 students and 100 staff members. As well as offereing services and hope to the surrounding community.

With the school still in shutdown for the holidays there wasn´t much we could do so we passed time in the guest quaters talking to our host, Moorby. She was a heavy set lady with a beautiful smile and a matching personality. She always seemed a little cheeky when she talked but it was just an illusion generated by her smile.

Day two in Lavenda was not really in Lavenda at all as we caught a matatu into Nyeri where we wasted the day. On our way home we managed to crack an old record, 26 adults and one child in the same mini-van. The ladies at our local market found it particuarly funny.

Over the next couple of days I became increasingly frustrated at our idleness. On Monday we taught a group of early returning students some basic computer skills and on Tuesday we spent the afternoon building a water drain in the primary school but it wasn´t really satisfying.

On Wednesday we started to get a little more proactive as we found our footing. In the morning we went to the senior school´s welcome back assembly where we introduced ourselves and arranged to give a series of computer classes over the duration of our stay.

After assembly we walked to the primary school where we sat in on a year 8 english class. It was a double and the second half the teacher asked us to take the second half. We accepted but as we found out later the kids had difficulty getting passed our accents.

We had lunch then returned to the high school were we attended a year twelve mathematics class. As it should be, the material was familiar and simple to me so I enjoyed watching Di, furrow browed working seriously on the problems.

That afternoon we were asked if we would like to take some clases in the future but I couldn´t really see the point. There were teachers there doing that job. If we were to take the clases the staff members would have had extra time to take coffee but in the end the school would be no better off.

We helped out by doing some manual planing in the workshop until it was time for our first real computer lesson. To me getting kids computer literate was the best thing we could do. Unfortunately except for a few 15 year old macs there were only two laptops at our disposal. I had hoped to rectify this situation by the time we left but with limited money, no power and a shortage of time it became apparent that it wouldn´t happen.

I was shocked to learn that over 90% of the year 11 and 12 students had never used a computer in their lives so amazingly we spent over an hour teaching 14 or so students how to use a keyboard and mouse. It was a successful lesson which not only taught the students how to control a computer but also generated interest in their use.

Thursday morning we found some workmen who were building a sandpit. They had already dug the hole so we just helped build the enclosure and fill it with sand. Di got tired towards the end and turned to making friends with a calf who was in the procees of being weened. In the afternoon we continued planing wood as we had done for the last few days, it was boring as hell but better than nothing, I was desperate to find something better to do with my time. When school had finished we took a computer class for a second group of students.

The same day we got to talking with one of the labourers. His name was Simon and he was a really nice guy. After chatting about all sorts of things we found out that he is hoping to make it to Australia this year to study. He had a sponsor all ready and just needed a visa. For the first time since entering Africa we exchanged contact details with the first person we hoped to catch up with in Australia.

Our first Friday in Lavenda was pitiful. We wasted the morning and I cracked the shits. In the afternoon we helped carry pavers and sand but whenever we helped the others just stopped working. African work ethic is through the floor, for the most part if you don´t ride them they don´t work. Not to mention the shoody job they did with the pavers, I couldn´t believe that even an unexperienced person could be so bad at it.

That night we were joined in cards by Grace, our new carer. Her lack of experience kept us in stitches until bed time. We played fish and she never got more than two pairs. She always picked up one or two extra cards when she had to fish and she couldn´t fan her cards. To add to her woes everytime we burst into laughter she would lean forward and show all her cards. After a good laugh I went to bed a lot happier than I had been during the day.

Posted by jaredlking 12.01.2010 21:28 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nairobi (2)

Boring old us

sunny

The bus from Mombassa arrived at 4am or there abouts. The streets were still crawling with the people that daylight rejects so like the rest of the passenegrs we took refuge inside the waiting room until they had cleared. For the next couple of days I spent a lot of time in front of the computer. The only real tourist site that we visited was the National Archives which housed a good array of exhibits from all over Africa including some really cool Congolese masks, old photos and insights into some of the thousands of micro-cultures which exist throughout the continent.

Some excitement came our way when, on the second day we walked down a street packed which had recently become packed with people and police. Not realising what was happening we walked past a few of the policemen and found ourselves in no man´s land. Seeing that we had become unsure a policemen ushured us back into the crowd. We asked someone what was happening and they informed us that the president was going to lunch. Inadvertently we had been allowed to walk within 10 metres of the presidents car unchecked. Realising that this could get ugly quickly we left the spectacle behind us. It was disgraceful that in a country full of starving people and refugee camps that so many resources could be plowed into a president´s five star lunch.

Posted by jaredlking 12.01.2010 21:28 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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