This post has been sitting on the back burner for a while.. better late than never! 

Jambo means ‘Hi’ in Swahili. Believe it or not, Disney has already taught you Swahili. 'Hakuna Matata' is Swahili for 'no worries', 'Simba' means 'lion' and 'Rafiki' means 'friend.' This blew my mind. I hope you're excited. 

A number of people have been asking me what I'm actually doing in Kenya. Good question. 

I wake up at 5:30am every morning and the first thing on my mind is mango. Real mango. Mangoes are a rare sight to behold in the frigid and barren land known as Canada. I am taking full advantage of all the tropical fruit I can get my hands on.. including the bananas growing in our back yard. 

I take a 30-40 minute bus ride with the school kids through the outskirts of Nairobi. We wind through villages or "slums", markets and farmlands. (to read more about my experience in the slum where the children live, click here)

One of the first things I noticed about Africa is the shear number of people walking.. from toddlers to grandparents. Some are carrying water or produce on their heads and backs, others are pulling wagons or trailers. 

I also noticed the red soil. It's a clay called laterite that is enriched with iron and aluminum due to heavy rainfalls and intense heat. When I wash my feet at the end of the day I can see the water turn red. 

We round a corner and see the school perched on top of a hill overlooking the valley. Koinonia.

The teachers start every morning off by singing in our daily meeting. On Monday and Friday mornings we have 'flag raising' and sing the national anthem. 

Then we break into our respective classes and I assist the high school kids with their school work. Whenever they ask me a math or science question I get giddy and excited. If they ask an english or grammer question I cringe and start to break a sweat. 

I've also been doing some simple science experiments. We examined a chicken skeleton, water pressure, static electricity and mentos/diet coke explosion. The children are extremely inquisitive and enthusiastic, it's such a joy teaching them.  

Then we have recess and the teachers drink tea, or 'chi'. I have never seen people fill their mugs up almost to the brim! They call it "African style". The teachers joke with me and say that africans can fill their cups higher because they have flat noses. White folk only fill their mugs half way because our noses stick out so far! 

The children are absolutely obsessed with 'football' and rush outside as soon as they're done their porridge.

We have Swahili classes 3 times every week and I have slowly been expanding my repertoire beyond Disney. We've all heard 'safari' before, but what you probably didn’t know is that it means 'to travel'.

Here are some key words: 
How are you – Hujambo
I am fine – Sijambo
Thank you – Asante
Welcome – Karibu
Sawa - OK

One good think about Swahili is that the words are spelled the exactly the way they sound. None of this silent letter nonsense and “ph = f” shenanigans. Teaching someone English makes you realize how ridiculous the language actually is.

I’ve noticed that some of the English phrases Kenyans use are very British.

‘To let’.. For 2 weeks I thought that someone was being mischievous and removing all the ‘I’s on the 'To let' signs. No, apparently ‘To let’ means ‘To rent’

A number of the kids have complimented me saying “you’re smart”. At first I was confused about what I could have possibly done to lead them to believe that I’m so “smart” and intelligent. It turns out that they were complimenting my outfits.

At 12:30 we break for lunch, every day the children are fed a hearty meal because most don't eat much at home. Chapati Thursdays are my favorite.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday the children have an hour of cross-country running. These kids are fast as lightning.. no wonder Kenya always places in the Olympics! Joshua's shoes fell apart so he finished the race in sock feet. 

The air is thin here, Nairobi is almost 6,000ft above sea level. It's a great place to improve an athlete's endurance because their bodies get used to functioning with less oxygen.  However, the thin air also makes it difficult to get a deep restful sleep in the evenings.

Then the bus takes us home. I really enjoy the bus rides, they give me a chance to unwind and reflect on the day's activities. I feel so incredibly blessed to be here. 

Saturdays are my days for doing touristy activities... like kissing giraffes.

Sundays we have church under the warm African sun. 

The Heart of Africa

I’ve been to 12 countries, but this is the first time I've ever ventured into third world country. The moment I stepped out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport I was in for some serious culture shock. 

The roads were congested with cattle, children with sticks trailed along behind herding them. I saw toddlers wandering alone alongside the road barefoot. I wondered if they were lost, or if they even have a home.

I arrived in Africa with very few expectations. My life has been a complete whirlwind the past few months; I’m still trying to process the fact that I’m actually here in Kenya.

I came to volunteer at Kinonia, a school founded by my friend’s parents for underprivileged children who live in the slums. We believe that the best way to give these children a future is go give them a quality education. 

I instantly fell helplessly in love with the students. I have never met children that are so happy, cheerful and full of life. I wonder if this is what all children were like before the era of TV, videogames and computers. They run around for hours rolling wheels with sticks. They tape together plastic bags to make haky sacks. 

They love to laugh and hug and sing and dance. They are sharp, and inquisitive. They will steal your heart. 

After school one day we walked the kids back to their village. The image of such extreme poverty will forever haunt me. They live in small rusted tin shacks, an entire family in a single room with a dirt floor. There is no running water, the women need to buy water and carry it home in order to wash clothes, cook and clean. Toddlers and babies sit in the mud dressed in tattered clothing. 

Many of the children stroke my hands and arms saying that my skin is "so soft." Stacy said that her hands get hard and cracked when she touches the "brown water". 

These children loose their innocence so early in life.. they are exposed to so much at such a young age. Some children have mothers that are prostitutes and bring men back to the house. So many have been beaten, abused, and rejected. Many are responsible for taking care of their younger siblings, even though they are merely children themselves. 

The irony is that alongside the slum are huge mansions for the  UN ambassadors and the Mexican Embassy. The surrounding neighbourhood built a tall brick wall around the village and hires guards to lock them in after a certain hour in the evening.

Despite their circumstances, these kids never fail to amaze me with their love, generosity and compassion. Phyllis is 8 years old and the sweetest girl you will ever meet. She is standing with her brother outside their home in the photo above. I didn't bring my purse to church on Sunday, I prefer to leave my valuables at home. When the offering plate was handed around Phyllis asked me if I had anything to put in it. I was so ashamed when I said no ... she gladly gave me half of her coins.

My eyes welled up and I squeezed her tightly. In that moment I felt so incredibly humbled. I remembered the story in Mark 12 about Jesus  watching the widow's offering and saying “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others."

I understand why Jesus had a special place in his heart for children. They are absolute treasures, more precious than silver. 

This has been the soundtrack to my life the past few days:

Disclaimer: all the photos in the slum were taken by the one and only Debbie Hahto. She is remarkable. (Check out her facebook page here

The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain

My first European adventure was with some friends after university graduation. We called ourselves “Eng Club 7” (lame yet awesome) and hit up 7 countries. Unfortunately Spain didn’t make the cut, so I knew I'd have to find my way back to Europe one day. 

Well, I kicked off 2013 with some fantastic Spanish adventures! Spain is bursting with imagination and creativity. You can see it reflected in the sidewalk tiles, the architecture, landscape, and all of Guell’s designs.

Park Guell attracts some of the most impressive street performers. I love listening to local musicians, they really help you get to know a city.

I’ve seen my share of old European churches, but I’ve never seen anything like Sacra Familia. They call it “neo-gothic” style. Guell's work is said to be inspired by nature: trees, animals, snails, honeycombs etc.

We saw posters of mountains in the subway and decided to take a train to Montserrat. We got off at the wrong stop and had to take a cable car up to the top, much to mother’s dismay.

It turns out that Montserrat is a monastery. 

We strolled along stone paths through the mountains where monks would meditate

Personally, I think that the peaks of the mountain look like potatoes. 

I generally find the the best adventures or (mis)adventures in life are unexpected and spontaneous. You haven't any preconceived expectations that need to be met. Instead you can just enjoy a place for what it is. 

Vivre chaque jour comme si c'était le dernier

There were 3 local musicians in this square singing “Vivre chaque jour comme si c'était le dernier ” meaning “Live each day as if it's the last”. The song summed up exactly how I felt walking around my final day in Paris, trying to take it all in. 

What stands out to me when I look back on my travels is not the famous monuments and museums, rather it’s wandering around foreign countries and cities. 

In Paris, my favorite memory was not the Eiffel tower, nor the Louvre. It was weaving through the cobblestone roads, listening to street performers and watching local painters create their artwork. 

Put the map down and don’t be afraid to get lost, detours really give you a true sense of a city. I love the flavour of Paris. I love the chimneys, the cafes, the bakeries, the lamp posts, the street signs, the elaborate doors and archways and windows.

The Eiffel tower and the Louvre are grand too, don’t get me wrong. “Tourist attractions” are attractions for a reason. But they also mean long lines and swarms of people.

It is absolutely impossible to see everything in the Louvre in 1 day, it's overwhelming really.. you could be lost in it for weeks! My favorite part, however, is this courtyard of sculptures.

Paris really is a magical city. I can see why artists, painters and writers flock there from all over the world for inspiration. Audrey Hepburn was right. Paris really is always a good idea.

My advice for travellers (particularly those who are Europe bound)
  1. Europeans love stairs, pack light.
  2. Dress in layers, I’ve gone from a tank top to 4 layers in 1 day.
  3. You will be scammed and taken advantage of. Just accept it as part of travelling and try your best to avoid tourist traps. We were stunned when we received our bill of 10 euros (~13 CAD) for 2 bottles of water!!! They charged us 2 euros for each bottle and 6 euros for sitting in their cafe to drink it.
  4. If you don’t specify “still” water, you will get carbonated water.
  5. Don’t pay for wifi, just follow those McD’s golden arches to  free internet
  6. I know money belts are dorky and make you look preggo.. but it’s worth the hassle.
  7. Bring vitamins. Food is extremely expensive, especially nutritious food. Pump up your immune system daily, there is noting worse than being sick when travelling.
  8. At all costs, avoid the metro in the wee hour of the morning. (5:45am Jan 1st was not a good idea)  
  9. In some cities (Rome, Paris, London) it is worth it to see the sights both at day and at night. Seeing the monuments light up gives them a whole new magic.
  10. Get the tourist sites out of the way and then focus on relaxing and enjoying the city.