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Week 45 Revisited: Kenya YAVs Closing Retreat and Dinner

Our Ugandan closing retreat did not just consist of us rafting down the source of Nile river, but another day as well. Phyllis, our site coordinator in Kenya, had told us since we arrived in Kenya that we were going to slaughter a lamb, skin it, and eat it. We thought she was joking. The morning after our rafting trip there was a lamb outside… we thought, “she’s really putting a lot into this joke.” Yeah, turns out she was not joking. Part of the broader African culture involves the spilling of blood during a major transition point in a person’s life, Phyllis explained. I personally felt, I have been eating goat and lamb my entire year with the mamas taking care of killing, skinning, and cooking our food. Therefore, I thought it was an important experience to have in realizing what occurs in order for me to eat every day here in Kenya. Apparently, it is difficult to kill a lamb, so we had a professional do the actual killing while other YAVs held the lamb down. Then some of the YAVs took turns skinning the lamb and preparing it to be cooked for dinner. That night we all sat around the grill as our lamb roasted and talked about our year of service together and our futures. It was a beautiful night spent enjoying good friends as our group of YAVs in Africa for the last time.

Kenya YAVs and Hawa in front of the Nile during our closing retreat:
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Saturday, we had our farewell dinner at a nice restaurant at the Nairobi Game Park. Each YAV was able to invite two friends and their host parents. This was another very good experience in closing our year together as the Kenyan YAVs. I realized to an extent during the year what an amazing group of seven we were, but as what brought us together was ending I really was able to grasp what an impressive and eclectic group we are. I’m going to miss my Kenyan YAV brothers and sisters very much.

My two friends, William my boss, and Rodgers, AEE’s handy man:
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Kenya YAVs at the YAV closing dinner (We’re good looking):
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I was finally back in Nairobi after three weeks away and was ready to begin attending schools again to tell them all good-bye.

Week 45: Rafting the Nile in Uganda

Our YAV year is winding down and so it was time for our closing retreat.  Ideas and thoughts had bounced around for quite some time, but it was eventually decided that we would go to Jinja, Uganda to raft the source of the Nile.  So, the seven of us hopped in a bus for twelve hours and found ourselves doing just that the next morning.

The Seven Kenya YAVs before:
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I had crossed over the Nile during my visit to Kampala, Uganda with Cosmas in December and was awe struck by it.  Then in Cairo in January I crossed the Nile more times than I could count, but I had never been “in” the Nile so I was excited for the opportunity.  You only live once.

Our group of seven has grown accustom to being told what to do and then doing it without question which made for good Nile rafters.  I was very happy that everyone was willing and able to participate.  We found our helmets and life jackets and headed down the Nile with our Ugandan guide, Jeff.  Our favorite quote that Jeff kept repeating was, “And just enjoy the Nile.”  It was what he said previous to that statement that made it funny.  Jeff would say, “When you find that the raft has flipped and you’re under it, reach around, find the sides of the raft, pull yourself out, lean back, grab onto your life jacket, and just enjoy the Nile.”  Awesome.

We flipped collectively, as a raft, twice, but individually we found ways to make our way out of the raft as well.  We went down eight big rapids that were all class four and class five.  Class five is the highest level that rafts can go on, but the classes go up to seven which only kayaks can go down.

As I said, we’ve become very good at taking orders and following them which resulted in some really entertaining bo-jazz.  Story number one, Jeff would say wave at the camera and we would all turn and wave to the camera not realizing that the camera’s presence meant that we were getting ready to go down something that was worthy of being photographed.  Therefore, after Jeff would tell us to wave, a second later he would say, “Get down!” which means that you turn back to back bending down in the raft while holding onto the rope for dear life… “and then just enjoy the Nile.”

This is what happened:
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Story number two, Jeff would tell us to paddle hard and so we would… not asking what we were paddling to.  Turns out one time we were paddling toward a waterfall, so if we paddled hard we would get to go down a waterfall and if we didn’t rapids.  We paddled hard because we were told to do so and were the only group out of the three to go down the waterfall… backwards.  Awesome.

Going down the waterfall backwards:
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Flip Number Two
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I spliced together a very short video from our rafting experience:

This was my favorite touristy thing that I’ve done in Africa so far.  I’m a very outdoors adventure kind of person.  I think being with my six good friends for the last time in Africa made it even better.  As Dave Matthews says, “Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters,” however, I would argue that where you are can definitely add to the experience as it did in this case.

To view all of the photos click here.

Seven Rapids and One Waterfall later we decided to just enjoy the Nile:
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Week 13: Uganda

Preface:  I have many friends who have come to Uganda and loved their experience and the country.  I hope that I can go back to Uganda one day because my time there this time around wasn’t great.  However, I have heard people talk about places I love negatively and know how upsetting it is.  I usually just think to myself, “they really don’t understand.”  Therefore, I will try to refrain from being one of those people “who just doesn’t understand” in this post and look forward to returning to Uganda one day hopefully.

Cosmas and I got up Thursday morning and headed toward the Kenya and Uganda border. I checked the Uganda website and it said that Kenya residents (which I am) do not have to pay anything, but normal US citizens must pay $50. Thus, I made it to the immigration desk and was asked where my money was. I told them I was a resident of Kenya, the man asked where my money was and eventually I got to meet with the supervisor. The supervisor explained to me that although I am a resident of Kenya I am a US citizen and would have to pay the $50. After making a fuss, I budged and got out $50 in Kenya Shillings. The supervisor said that they do not accept Kenya Shillings. Luckily, I thought this might happen and had already gotten some Uganda shillings, so I got out $50 in Uganda Shillings, but the supervisor told me that they don’t accept Uganda Shillings either, only US dollars. This is the point where I asked, “you don’t accept your own currency?” No, they don’t. Therefore, if you are ever entering Uganda make sure you have dollars. So, Cosmas ran ahead and exchanged $50 of Shillings for Dollars at a painful exchange rate and everything was squared away. We got on another matatu for Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and I was grumpy for half an hour before I got over myself and my small problems.

Kampala is a bustling city that is extremely busy with people going every which direction and reminded me of ants marching.

From Mfangano

There are fewer wazungu in Uganda and so I was stared at from the moment most people laid eyes on me until I was out of their sight. In Kenya, the children will all run out and yell “mzungu!” as I walk along, but in Uganda the adults do it more than the children which I found odd. Cosmas remarked that “everyone was staring at me” which I found odd because on Mfangano I would have 10-20 children following me down the road whenever we went somewhere.  Thus, there were A LOT of eyes on me. On a cute note, most people don’t speak Swahili in Uganda, but the word Mzungu is Swahili, so some kids were a bit mixed up and called me “chachungu,” “watungu,” and anything else that kind of sounds like mzungu.  This spiced things up a bit and made me smile.

I believe the main issue we had in Uganda was that our contact in Kampala was on a retreat so could not help us.  Therefore, everyone we interacted with was a business interaction. On Saturday after we arrived at the bus stop to take us back to Nairobi, our contact called and ran over and took us out for sodas and was a delightful man. He has invited me back and I really hope that I have the opportunity to return to Uganda as a friend and not a customer.
Cosmas and I then embarked on a 17 hour bus ride from Kampala to Nairobi which left at 3 PM Saturday afternoon and arrived in town at 8 AM Sunday morning. I chose the seat in the very back row with the aisle for leg room (again) which was a good choice for my legs, but a bad choice for trying to sleep. At one point I dozed off for a few minutes, but quickly found myself 3-4 ft off my seat from a big bump which taught me it was a better idea just to stay awake the rest of the ride. We arrived back to Nairobi after being away for exactly 2 weeks and for the first time Nairobi/AEE really felt like home for me which was really nice.

First Sighting of the Nile River

From Mfangano