I started out on my journey to Riziki at 10:30 am with my driver John, my new “African Father”. He used the 3 ½ hour drive to teach me about the beauty and culture of Kenya. I wish I had recorded it all, but I wanted to truly be present on the drive. There was so much to see and take in. As we reached the outskirts of Nairobi, I saw the poverty that some may say is indicative of Africa, but what I also saw among the shanty shacks was a strong and beautiful people. People walking along the roads, children playing, and animals grazing. John asked if Kenya is what I expected or does it look like I thought it would. That is when I realized that I didn’t have any true image in my head. Africa is not a part of our American media in any true or meaningful way. My only images were the National Geographic landscapes with animals or the Feed the Children commercials that show at 2 in the morning. Nothing real or true. Nothing that has been captured and shared to educate Americans of countries outside of their own. This was a happy discovery, that essentially my visual bank was empty, and now I can fill it with my own real images.
We passed through many town centres and topographical changes; from more dry desert-like vegetation to forested areas to sweeping savannahs. The most exciting stop along the way was at a viewpoint of The Great Rift Valley (kid-friendly video below). In a class on Early Civilizations, I learned about the Rift Valley and now, I was overlooking the impressive expanse of it. Many call this area the “Cradle of Civilization” because this is where humans went from being tribes of hunter-gatherers, to beginning to settle. The land was so fertile, they were able to plant seeds, grow crops, and produce their own food; the first signs of agriculture. I had all this knowledge from a textbook, but here I was looking over this historically significant site of human evolution. It was breath-taking.
We moved onward toward Nakuru. Once we made it to the downtown centre of Nakuru, John and I stopped at a mall there for me to retrieve Kenyan Shillings (local currency) from an ATM and for us to use a washroom. In Kenyan, restrooms are called washrooms, and similar to Costa Rica, you must pay for the toilet paper to enter the washroom. It was 20 Shillings which is about 20 cents in USD.
Next, we drove to the home of the Director of Riziki, Julius, and his wife. This is where I will be staying during my time working at Riziki. As we pulled up to the gate of their home, I felt butterflies in my stomach. The gate was arched by beautiful foliage and gave you the feeling of entering a secret garden. As the gate opened I was struck by the beauty of this home. I promise to post pictures at some point. The driveway was a stunning mosaic of decorative tiles, the foliage continued onto the grounds. There stood a life-size wood carving of an African man at the entrance to the house. The home was as wonderful inside. There are chandeliers and decorative cypress wood ceilings. I was shown to my room, which is a lovely room with a queen bed, it’s own bathroom with a shower attached and windows to let in fresh air.
I was invited to have a small lunch before we head over to Riziki. Julius’ wife, Esther is a talented cook and I have already told her, I must learn how to make some of her dishes. John joined us for lunch, as well. Then it was time to go to Riziki.
Everywhere I had been so far, had paved roads, but this journey was mostly on dirt roads and they have been washed out by a recent rain, so they were VERY uneven. It took about 15 minutes to get to the gate to Riziki, nested among cornfields and farmland. A young boy opened the gate and we pulled onto a compound. As we parked, Julius called for the oldest boys to come and help unload the car. Naturally, I began to help and was asked to leave it. Kenyan culture has very traditional values and men do the heavy lifting. At this point in my journey, I wasn’t going to argue. Liz, Julius’ daughter, came out to greet me and I was most excited to meet the woman I have been communicating with as I planned my trip. She walked me into the main building, where the children had decorated the door with colorful signs saying “Welcome to Kenya Crystal”. As we walked down a hallway, we entered a large room with the children sitting at tables. There were tinsel decorations and a garland of hand-drawn people hanging from the ceiling. When signaled the children stood and said, all together, “Welcome to Riziki!”.
The children were very polite and very quiet as we began introductions. I asked if each child could introduce themselves with their name, age, and favorite activity. As we went around the room, I was surprised to find that many children loved to draw, act, sing, and dance. I knew we were going to be alright.
I insisted we start by opening up all the donations I had brought along. I started with the blankets made by the amazing blanketeers from Project Linus. As I unpacked the blankets, Liz called each child up to pick a blanket. Still the children were so quiet, despite me encouraging them to relax. It was when I started unpacking the clothes, that they really let loose. The girls went shopping at the table FULL of clothes and the boys enjoyed looking at Liz showing them their choices, based on their sizes. The kids started to get so excited, we decided to have a fashion show. Liz and I laughed until our faces hurt watching the antics of the children. The boys entered, wearing new clothes but trying to act like they didn’t really care and the girls…well…they had more modeling talent than anyone would have ever known. At one point while their girls were off preparing for the new round of outfits, I looked over and saw a group of boys intensely examining the vacuum seal bags I had used to pack everything in. They were fascinated with them, so I went over and tried to explain how they work without an actual vacuum. They seemed impressed with the concept.
I should note that the girls and boys have their heads shaved for school, so you can mostly tell by their clothes and company, if they are a girl or boy in these pictures.
After the show, Liz asked the boys to take me on a tour of Riziki’s grounds. The large property is home to numerous chickens, a bull, 3 cows (I think my dream of milking a cow is going to come true), a large greenhouse, and a full scale farm where they plant, harvest, cook, and sell anything from corn and carrots to sweet potatoes and kale. There are staff that maintain the farm but the children help with every aspect including the prepping and cooking of meals.
As the tour came to an end, the boys started to ask me questions. Surprising questions like, “What is the main economic industry where you live?” or “What do you do when you get sick in America?”. They also asked about my family and whether I knew how to ride a bike; who did I root for in the World Cup (which came with my confession of not knowing anything about futbol). The questions kept coming and they were great questions. After about 30 minutes of talking, we decided to join the girls inside, where they seemed to have started a dance party.
Soon it was time for me to leave, to return to Julius’s home. Julius picked up Liz and I and we made our way back home. We walked in to a completely home-cooked meal waiting at the table for us. It was amazing!!! After dinner and brief conversation, I head off to bed. Julius drove Liz to her place (that’s when I learned that I was sleeping in her old room and she no longer lived there) and I slowly slipped into a peaceful, comfortable sleep in Kenya. Did I just say that? I AM IN KENYA!!!