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A student's perspective

Mimi Shepherd — 29th July 2019

A student's perspective

Last night was easily one my favourite nights of the trip so far. 

As the girls Football came to a slow end with a 0-0 score, we headed back to the camp for some much-needed relaxation time after spending a long day with the students. It is really amusing, interesting and sometimes inspiring speaking to the children here, but it is also draining in a way I wasn’t expecting it to be. Maybe it’s the constant smiles that I feel I have to keep up around them. Or maybe it’s the slightly guilty feeling I have in my heart as we walk around their home telling them about England when all they can do is imagine. 

Nearly every student I have spoken to wants to leave Kenya, and move to England… or the USA, or Canada. But I expect most will never even see these places. One boy even said to me on our first day, ‘once I am in England I will be happy’. It was hard hitting to hear, and to a degree upsetting, as that happiness and ease of life they associate with England is clearly a perception they have learned from the wealthy tourists who can travel here. The concept of a poor, or homeless westerner, or ‘Mzungu’ as they call us, is incomprehensible, and it is clear they do not believe us when we tell them of the many dynamics of western societies. 

Most people in the West work hard day and night to lead the lives they do, and that is something that, considering the Kenyan ‘poley poley’ (slowly slowly) attitude to life, that has been hard to convey to many of the people I have met over here. As with the West, if you work hard here, it seems you can lead a fulfilling life, but it is hard work, and, from what I have gathered so far, it is not the dreams many of the Kenyans are lacking, but the hard-work attitude, understanding, education and examples of how to pursue them that is holding even the smallest of dreams back.

* * * * *

Leaving the smiling faces of the students behind us, we retreated for our camp; it was obvious from the dark ominous clouds looming overhead that the rains were coming, and the winds picked up as if on command. We showered, relaxed, and settled down for supper under the mottled sky of stars and cloud. The occasional flash of lightning brightening the horizon, and the calls of an African Bull Frog signifying the coming rains.

The lightning picked up after supper, and so too did the thunder. The first peal sounded like a base speaker in the sky, as its waves of sound never ended just faded and then came again like a thumping beat. Less than 30 meters away, the diurnal migration of the elephants directly past our camp had begun, and their crashing, stomping and growling added excitement to the evening; maybe tonight we would finally catch a glimpse. Their heavy breathing, the swaying and snapping of branches, and their occasional low guttural growls were incredible, as we sat in silence and strained our eyes into the darkness. 

By now there was near constant succession of lighting and thunder, as the eye of the storm moved closer and closer. The crashing and great rumbling boomed throughout the sky, and the lightning was so bright it would highlight the trees around. The elephants continued to ‘graze’, or, more appropriately, destroy the trees around us with ever greater crunches as another branch fell. At times it was even hard to distinguish between the elephants and the thunder! We walked the remaining 10 meters to edge of our camp, and crouching by the electric fence, we were by now no more than 15 meters from the herd. Hiding ourselves in the shadows, we watched and waited for a body to appear, as Francis and Sam shone their torches between the vegetation. When we finally caught a glimpse of a trunk swinging back and forth, and then the legs plodding through a gap in the trees, we gasped and giggled with excitement as the elephant walked past, just in sight. 

Satisfied, we headed back to our table, and settled down for the evening, warm tea in our hands as the elephants, thunder and lightning partied on around us. Our evening activity has become star gazing, and as usual we quickly found Mars, however, tonight we decided to watching a film – Pretty Woman. Lightning, thunder, elephants, tea and a movie in the Kenyan bush – does it get better than this? 

As the first raindrop hit, I jumped thinking one of the many horrifying bugs had yet again landed on my shoulder(!), but as many more drops appeared, we quickly glanced at one another as someone said, ‘it’s coming!’. Scrambling to gather our things and rush to my tent, we ran for shelter, and within 30 seconds the hammering rain came down around us in true tropical storm style. The regular flashes of the lightning even lit up the inside of our thick, marquee-like tents, and so as the crashing continues and our adrenaline subsided, all five of us huddled down in the tent and enjoyed the remainder of this incredible evening. 

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, last night was definitely one of my favourite evenings I have experienced in Kenya so far. From what I have gathered about this environment, it is harsh, unforgiving, and unexpected, but so beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time. From the climate to the wildlife, it really pushes you to your limits in every way, and I’m beginning to realise that maybe that’s why I can’t seem to get enough of this region. There are great highs, and lows too, but everything is an experience, and I’m so grateful for them all.

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