I have always been partial to volunteering. When I was unemployed and setting up my business I volunteered for WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), World Vision, Mercy Hospice, and Variety Children’s Charity. I also did two weeks volunteering at the Roman Cat Sanctuary in Rome whilst on my O.E.
When Oscar and I booked our two month camping tour in Africa, I felt obligated to give my time in some small way before leaving Africa, a place where I had always wanted to do some volunteering, and where I did not know if I would visit again.
Because our tour ended in Kenya, we set about looking for cheap or free volunteering positions as I strongly believe you should not have to pay a company when you are giving your time for free, and am insulted when the well-known volunteering organizations charge you $2,000 – $5,000 for a 2-3 week volunteering stint.
In our search we came across a website called Volunteer4Africa which we paid a small fee to in order to gain access to their database of free or almost free volunteer activities in Africa.
After filtering on Kenya and being presented with about 30 different options, we chose to contact AVIF which is a small organization based in the UK which sets up volunteers in Kenya, Tibet and Brazil. AVIF take no fees and we were advised that we would only need to pay a small stipend directly to the community to cover our food costs. This later proved inapplicable as closer to the time we were told to bring all our own food and water with us and would be cooking for ourselves.
The position which appealed to us was as a ‘community aid and education’ volunteer living with Maasai in very rural Kenya. It appealed to us the most because it said we would live as our hosts do, with no running water and electricity, waking at 5am to make a fire to boil water, and having to wash our hair and bathe in a river. We thought this sounded challenging, interesting, and humbling, as well as a great opportunity to help people whose life is very tough, and we wanted to prove to ourselves and our friends and family that we were capable of doing it.
We secured a 3 week placement to commence the day we left Giraffe Manor and booked a KSH $20,000 (US$200) return private transfer for each leg of the six-hour drive from Nairobi to Nkiito with a driver named Jacob.
Before arriving in Nkiito and even for the first days we were there we did not know what we were supposed to do to help the village. AVIF was vague, saying that we would work out after a few days there how we could help the community but that as an aside it would be great if we could maybe use our skills in photography and sound editing to help the village. It was suggested I take photos whilst there to share with the world and that Oscar could potentially record some traditional Maasai music and turn it into CDs. We didn’t then understand that our role as volunteers was to be creative and act in the role of problem solvers to come up with sustainable ways the community could make money and/or collect or conserve water. A couple of days before arriving we had seen on Facebook that the previous volunteers had been building a rain water reservoir when they were there and that it was yet unfinished, so we had an inkling that our volunteering would help complete the water reservoir.
Our first hurdle was the grocery shop. We were told by the previous volunteers that it was extremely hot and we would need to take at least 20-40 liters of water with us (we ended up using/consuming 100L of water over two weeks) and enough food to last us for three weeks as there were no shops. With no electricity and no running water, we knew that meat and dairy were out of the question and that the veges we bought would only last a few days. This meant we were to survive on a diet of canned food, pasta, rice, home-made bread, cous-cous, eggs and a few veges until they spoiled. Being foodies, this in itself was very difficult. We spent about NZ$150 on our shop and loaded the car up on our way.
Before I describe our experience over the next two weeks, let me first say that I don’t plan on sugar-coating this experience and only touching on the good points. Despite the internal pressure I feel to AVIF and to the village to paint the experience in a really positive light, I feel it would be a disservice to my readers and to ourselves to not give an honest portrayal. There were times in those two weeks (two weeks because we chose to leave a week early) where we were disappointed and hurt. Yet there were also lovely and special memories made and friendships forged. Oscar and I are worldly and we understand very well about cultural differences and knew this was to be expected, but we are also extremely moralistic and some of our belief systems were challenged during our stay.
Our biggest challenges during our stay was not surviving without electricity, running water, internet or fresh food but instead were based around these three things:
• Treatment of animals
• Gender inequality
• Apparent lack of appreciation and respect
When we arrived it was close to evening and we were greeted by a few members of the village who showed us to our accommodation. In saying goodbye to our driver Jacob it really hit home just how isolated we were going to be for the next three weeks, literally in the middle of nowhere with no communication with the outside world nor a way to leave if we didn’t like it.
Our accommodation was a humble but adequate tin shed separated into two rooms. One room had two slightly larger than ‘single’ beds, a table between them and a small window. The other room had a table for a kitchen, a low wooden stool and no windows. The shed had solar light bulbs and phone charging ports which was pretty amazing.
We had our own toilet block which consisted of two small tin rooms with a concrete floor and a hole in the floor of each one. One was for a shower and the other was the toilet. A shower for us consisted of using a drink bottle of water to wash ourselves, and as water was scarce we only showered every 2-3 days.
Our shed and toilet block were within its own village complex along with the unfinished water reservoir. All of the other villagers lived in huts in 10 other surrounding villages. All of the villages had fences around them made of dead spiky acacia bushes with spikes as sharp, strong and long as needles, with the exception of the central village which also had a proper wood and wire fence built around it, paid for by an organization.
The fences were to keep the cattle in, and to keep the lions, hyenas and elephants out. Over the course of the next couple weeks I came to hate the spiky ‘devil plants’ as I called them despite their useful purpose because many a spike went through the shoe and into the foot, were trampled inside and left waiting for unsuspecting bare feet, and animals would occasionally get stuck in the fences which was horrific as the spikes would cut their faces up and it was very difficult to get them unstuck.
The best part about our location and accommodation was the view. We would wake in the morning, step outside the shed, and be greeted by the most magnificent view of Mount Kilimanjaro which, due to its proximity to us was completely dwarfing.
The first thing we did on arrival was set up our kitchen with all of the food we brought with us and the 20L jerry can of water. Not knowing what would already be there, we brought with us dish washing liquid, scrubbing-brush, cloth, plastic food storage containers and two plastic mugs. We also had two lunch boxes with a fork-spoon in each and two small sharp knives. It was lucky we brought these things as the only utensil in the kitchen was a sieve. The village then gave us a small kerosene cooker (we had bought kerosene on the way there), two small pots, a small metal bowl, one mug and one spoon. Without our additions it would have been extremely challenging to cook with what we were given.
Once the kitchen was set up we decided to give our gifts to the village. We had brought with us two footballs, three kiwiana tea-towels, a whole bunch of kiwiana pens and key rings, and a blanket we no longer needed. We gave everything to our host Jackson to distribute as we weren’t sure it was appropriate to give directly to the kids. We had also bought two phone-charging solar lamps for the village from a website but there had been a mix up with the post so unfortunately they would need to be given to the village by our driver Jacob at a later date.
We then cooked our first meal in the shed with Jackson’s dad Alais as a visitor for dinner. We made vegetarian nachos which were really delicious. We soon came to expect Alais every evening for dinner, and sometimes also a boy named Lebois so we quickly learnt to make a little extra each night but conversation these nights was very difficult as Alais spoke not a word of English, but rather a mix of Maasai and Swahili. Oscar was eagerly trying to learn both and the conversations were rather comical, with lots of pointing and gestures and head-nodding.
After dinner we went to bed early, something we practiced the whole time we were there, as it was very dark once the sun went down, there wasn’t much to do, and the mornings were very early.
The next day Jackson’s 16 year-old sister Mary came to ask us to join her and a couple of the mothers to search for a calf which had run away. I’m not sure how they knew which path the calf had taken but after half an hour walking we came across the calf, or should I say we came across half of it. Lions had split the calf clean in two with only the tail remaining of the bottom half and it’s insides hanging out from its top half. It was crazy and exhilarating to know that lions had been in the same spot we were standing in and there was no protection for us if they chose to return. Yet we also felt sad for the village, as each and every livestock is a precious resource of food and money for the village and this one had been wasted.
We then started looking for firewood and putting the sticks into piles. Once a pile was big enough a strap was tied around the bundle, the bundle was hoisted on to the woman’s back and the strap was carried against the woman’s head. Both Oscar and I had a go at carrying the sticks for the half hour walk back home and it was extremely uncomfortable as the strap exerted a huge pressure on your head from the weight of the wood and the sticks struck into your back as you walked.
That same day we went to collect water, something we would do a few times over the course of the two weeks. As I mentioned earlier we went through about 100L of water in total over the two weeks for drinking, cooking, washing up and bathing. 40L of which was bought from a store and 60L was collected. Luckily for the Maasai, there was a broken pipe about 1km away from the village, over a hill. This pipe carried water to a nearby lodge, but water only ran through it a couple of days per week. On those days women and children from all of the villages would do many trips over the hill to fill jerry cans with water and carry them back to the village. You can imagine with a village of 200 people and water only being available two days per week (these days were consecutive so you would have five days without water) that a lot of water was needed to sustain the village for a week.
When being used, a piece of hose was placed over the pipe opening and this was used to fill the jerry cans and when no-one was collecting water, a rock was placed on top of the broken pipe to stop it from wasting. Although the Maasai were able to drink this water, it would upset our stomachs so it was lucky that we had in our possession some water purification tablets for when our purchased drinking water ran out. We also used this untreated water for cooking, washing dishes, and showering.
The 20L+ jerry cans were carried back to the village in the same way as the fire wood. Carried on the back with a strap over your head and you would have to hunch over as you walked. It was extremely heavy and difficult work carrying the water back and in 35 degree heat it wasn’t a task I looked forward to. Luckily for me Oscar would always take the largest one and I would carry a smaller one of 10 or 15L. And then we were asked to carry a 100L drum… As you can imagine this drum was huge and could not be lifted but had to be rolled up the hill and back to the village. It took three of us pushing all at the same time to roll the drum back, taking a short break every few pushes. This was hard work on your hands as spikes and rocks would stick to the outside of the drum and lodge themselves in your hands as you pushed. It was also extremely difficult to maneuver and steer due to its weight.
Day 2 was the first time that we saw wild elephants from the village which was incredible. It was also market day. Market day was when a car carrying supplies drove to the village and sold its wares to the mothers. This included milk, sugar, maize, bread, and veges. The women and children sit on the side of the road waiting for the car to arrive. We sat with them for about 40 minutes and no car had yet turned up. Whilst sitting with them, I gestured with my camera towards the mother of one of the kids to ask if I could photograph her child, her response in Maasai was translated by Mary to ‘you must pay me first’. I instantly put my camera down and turned away, annoyed that I was being told to pay for an image when I was putting money, gifts, and three weeks of my time into helping their village, asking for nothing in return except a photo, which she could have just politely refused.
As you may have guessed by my earlier mention, there is huge gender inequality in the village. Women do absolutely everything, including all of the hard physical labour. They look after the children, cook, clean, shop, fetch water, fetch fire wood, herd cattle, build houses, and take down houses while the men sit under trees all day. The only work I saw Maasai men doing was shepherding, spraying worm treatment on cattle once, and Jackson helped us a little with laying the concrete foundations for the shop. I can almost guarantee that a man in that village has never once collected water or firewood. Jackson is an exception as he is off in different towns having meetings almost every day about various aspects of the village life and he looks after all ten villages so he contributes in that way.
Seeing a woman with a baby strapped to her back and a machete in her hand hacking at the ground repeatedly to create a trench for the foundations of a house in the hot African sun is just awful. The women never rested or took a break, it was endless work. I am told that the men’s duty is to slaughter the animals and cook the meat every two weeks (which seemed to me more of a social gathering when I witnessed it), but that men are allowed to eat the meat more frequently than the woman are – yet another form of gender inequality.
Because we did not know what we were supposed to be doing to help, Oscar and I would help the women in their duties. When we weren’t collecting water or wood we would help the women build and take down houses. This was hard, hot, dirty work. As mentioned earlier the trenches for the house foundations were created by machete rather than a spade which seemed like a completely ineffective method, especially as we later learned that there were two spades and a pick axe in the tool shed. The houses were made of a huge amount of sticks and ‘cement’ made of cow poo. You can imagine that when you are taking a house down and ripping the sticks out of cow poo cement you get very, very dirty and covered in cow poo dust. I’ve no idea how the mothers managed to stay so clean and immaculate looking and how they worked whilst wearing so much jewellery.
Besides the obvious unfairness of it all, the gender inequality bothered us for another couple of reasons. First, the men would sit there and laugh at Oscar because he was helping the women with their physical work, and this infuriated both of us. Secondly, we were there as volunteers under the belief that we would help the village do what they could not do themselves. Doing physical labour whilst the men sat around and watched us or laughed at us made us question why we were even there at all when the men could have been doing that work themselves.
With the belief that we weren’t really helping in the right way, we spoke to Jackson about the water reservoir. He said that they needed to purchase materials to complete the reservoir and also a builder since neither Oscar or I were builders ourselves. We gathered very quickly that if we wanted to complete the water reservoir while we were there we would need to pay for materials ourselves and for the cost of the builder. We hadn’t expected that we would need to spend money whilst volunteering, as we were giving our time instead, but in our desire to help the village in some concrete, tangible way and not waste our time volunteering, we agreed to put forward US$200 towards the building materials and a builder to get the job done. We decided that if it cost less than US$200 to complete the reservoir we would use the remaining money to purchase materials for a small shop they were creating to sell basic goods to the surrounding villages. Unfortunately the $200 only stretched as far as completing the water reservoir, but we did the physical work of laying the stone and pebble foundations for the concrete floor of the shop.
Given that the last volunteers who were builders had drawn a plan of the water reservoir and listed some of the materials needed, we thought we would be able to save costs on a builder and just build it ourselves. We changed our minds however as we knew the result wouldn’t have been as great if we had of attempted it on our own. Also the builder was only US$12 per day so it seemed entirely worth it.
When we asked how we would purchase the materials Jackson informed us of a once weekly bus to the nearest town called Kimana, about 3 hours away. The bus picks you up from the village at 6am on a Tuesday, drops you back at around 7pm, and costs US$6 per person for a round trip. It was a Monday and the bus was due to come the next day but Jackson wanted us to have a meeting with the builder before we went, to ensure we got the correct materials so we delayed the town trip for a week. This was unfortunate as we were unable to get hold of the builder before the following Tuesday and so went to town a week later not having spoken to him, so could not do any work on the water reservoir for the first 10 days of volunteering and had to take a gamble on what tools and materials we would need.
The afternoon of day 2 was when we found the puppies. When walking around the village with some of the kids, I spotted a puppy near some huts and excitedly ran over to see it. On closer inspection I could see that it was extremely malnourished and very young and alone. Mary told me that the mother had rejected it and refused to feed it. She then showed me a dead emaciated puppy nearby, lying on the ground. There was no emotion or concern in any of the kids when this was talked about, even though the mother of the puppy is in fact a pet dog of the village. As quickly as I could, I grabbed the still-alive puppy and took it back to our shed where I gave it some long-life milk that we had brought with us to the village. The puppy drank it greedily. As this was happening, the kids brought another emaciated puppy over to the shed in a wheelbarrow. This one was even smaller and more starving than the first one and was so weak it couldn’t move. I asked how many puppies there were in total and they told me there had been six, but apart from the dead one, they didn’t know where the remaining puppies were. It absolutely broke my heart to see the puppies like this, especially as the village had just allowed it to happen right in front of them, and I committed myself to looking after them and to try to get them back up to health while I was living there. The smaller puppy although very weak, also drank the milk with as much vigor as he could muster. He had sores all over his body and both pups were covered in fleas. I asked Oscar for one of his old t-shirts which he no longer wanted and put the t-shirt in the bottom of a box tipped over on its side. I then put both puppies inside the box and they made it their home straight away, snuggling up to each other to sleep. They were the most beautiful and helpless creatures I had ever seen and I was obsessed with caring for them and loving them.
After the puppies were settled, we had a baby goat visitor to the shed who had wandered over on his own and who loved being petted. The baby goat subsequently visited us at our shed every day and would allow us to pick it up and cuddle it. We were also shown how to make an outdoor fire for cooking on and from that point on-wards would frequently make our dinners outside under a blanket of stars.
On day 3 for breakfast we made our very first chapattis from scratch to have with scrambled eggs and they were divine. While our diet was extremely restricted, it was a treat to have fresh fried bread straight from the pan. On this day we helped the mothers take down a house and build the foundations for a new house, as well as played football, cricket, volleyball, and wheelbarrows with the kids. It was also the day a third puppy showed up.
On walking back to our shed from the house we were building I heard an animal lovers worst cry coming from one of the puppies. Through a fence in a neighboring village I could see that somehow big pup had made his way out of our village and into the central village (despite dead spiky acacia bush everywhere) and he was crying next to a puppy which appeared to be dead. On closer inspection I could see the puppy was alive but only just, it was on death’s door. Panicking I ran into the village and grabbed both puppies with as much care as I was able to muster with only two hands and took them back to the hut where I presented the third pup with milk and water before putting him in the box with the other puppies in the hope he would gather his strength.
Day 4 aka ‘Black Wednesday’. When we woke on Black Wednesday, we realised the third rescued pup wasn’t doing very well and not eating or drinking anything so we wrapped him in a second of Oscar’s too small t-shirts to keep him warm (as the nights were extremely windy and cold) and attempted to feed the pup milk and water through a straw. It seemed to be somewhat working as the pup was swallowing some of the liquid, however very weakly. We then left the pup wrapped in the t-shirt and left him inside our shed for protection and went off to help the women continue to take down one of the houses.
We were working hard and getting really filthy taking the house down, while the men stood around watching us work and chatting to each other. Twice I had to run over to our shed to rescue a pup from the awful thorns of the acacia bushes, with blood all over their faces, and I was so grateful for being close enough that I could see and hear them when it happened, as they would not have gotten out of the thorns on their own. Being responsible for the puppies made me completely paranoid and filled with worry, I never wanted to leave the shed for too long in case anything should happen to them as they were outside and free to roam.
We were then told that we needed to quickly clean ourselves up for our welcome meeting, and that people from all ten villages had gathered to welcome us. With no prior warning of the meeting we rushed back and attempted to clean the filth off of us as quickly as possible. We filled a plastic container with water and grabbed a bar of soap. At that moment a Maasai warrior and another Maasai man came over and asked if they could wash their hands. As the Maasai warrior was washing his hands in the container, big pup ran over to the container and put his face over the edge of it. Without warning, the Maasai warrior kicked the puppy very hard in the face and the puppy went flying. Apart from the appalling fact that this was a tiny puppy and should never be abused, he had also been rescued only two days ago from starvation and death. The puppy cried and I ran to pick him up to console him and yelled at the warrior, who in turn looked completely shocked that I had just yelled at him. If it had have been one of the smaller and weaker pups, he would have died on impact.
I was completely distraught and had to turn the corner of the shed to hide my tears from the warrior. He left without apologizing, and Jackson our host came over to ask what had happened, and then offered a kind-of apology on behalf of the warrior saying the warrior didn’t realise the action was going to make me upset. I could tell that Jackson was upset that I was crying and embarrassed about what had happened. I didn’t know what to do as I was furious and didn’t want to be around any of them, let alone attend a welcome meeting on our behalf in front of the whole village. But as everyone was waiting for us I pulled myself together and attended the meeting.
No sooner had the welcome meeting started when one of the men threw a rock at the face of one of the nearby adult dogs, and then did it again, for no reason. Almost all of the villagers then laughed and looked to us for our reaction, having obviously heard what had just happened at our shed. Oscar and I could not believe that they were trying to get a reaction out of us and trying to make me cry again, at our own welcome meeting. What a way to make us feel welcome. We gave them no satisfaction and just ignored them, but were silently fuming.
At the welcome meeting Jackson asked us if we had any sustainable ideas for the village to make money and/or conserve and collect water, as those were the two main pain points in the village. We suddenly understood that our role as volunteers was exactly that, to be idea masters for them, not to simply help the women in their day-to-day work as we had been doing, which seemed to us to be redundant volunteering.
We told them we would need some time to come up with ideas, and would come back to them. We were then dismissed from the meeting, and trudged back to our shed shocked and upset. Oscar and I feel extremely strongly about animal welfare, not to mention the welfare of the animals under our care, and the kick coupled with the fact that they had tried to make me cry at my own welcome meeting, as well as the huge gender inequality in the village, was too much for us. On top of this we returned to our shed to find that the weakest of the three puppies had died.
After only four days volunteering and a commitment of three weeks, Oscar was ready to call it quits and leave, but I was completely torn by the prospect as I felt obligated to stay and didn’t want to disappoint the village despite the fact that the village had disappointed me.
We shut ourselves in our shed and locked the door against the constant stream of visitors that we would usually get, and refused to do any work for the rest of the day.
At one point in the afternoon we did get a visitor despite not wanting one, and he helped himself to our bottle of gin which he drank straight as we had no mixer, and would have finished off the bottle if we hadn’t of taken it off him. He also hit one of the puppies on the head with his stick (again for no reason) and I snapped at him fiercely just like I had with the warrior. These incidents of our puppies being abused were not isolated to this day, over the next few days I stopped a few children from hitting and kicking the puppies too. It seemed completely in their nature to hurt animals, something I knew I could not attempt to change over two weeks volunteering but word must have spread among the village for in the second week we were there, to my knowledge, nobody hurt either of our puppies again and I could see that people were treating them better, at least when we were around.
That afternoon I buried the dead pup in a shallow grave in our front yard while being watched by Mary and her friend who seemed fascinated that I would go to the effort of burying it.
In the evening I convinced Oscar that we should stay at least until the water reservoir was completed and he agreed. We decided to start day 5 with a fresh perspective and spent the morning coming up with ideas for the village to make money / collect water.
On the top of our list was ‘complete water reservoir’ which would hopefully solve the water problem, and then we brainstormed the money issue. This was extremely difficult due to the fact that the village was in the middle of nowhere, a 3-hr once weekly bus trip from town, and the land was completely barren with no natural resource. Despite this difficulty we managed to come up with 20 potential ideas which we were quite proud of, and we relayed these potential ideas to Jackson.
Of these ideas, the one we felt most positively about and the one which Jackson liked the best was the Village Tours idea. The village was situated on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park and national parks in Africa are visited frequently by tour companies carrying tourists on safari. We proposed that we could email all of the tour companies that presently go to Amboseli National Park and propose Maasai village tours for their clients where the tourists would visit Jackson’s village, be greeted by a welcome dance, see inside a traditional house, visit the nursery school, and have an opportunity to buy Maasai jewellery. Oscar and I did this exact activity in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and really enjoyed the experience which is how I thought of it.
The second idea that Jackson liked was the Maasai portrait idea. I proposed that I would take portraits of some of the village members and then attempt to sell them over Facebook as fine art prints, greeting cards and calendars with all of the profits going directly to the village. Both of these ideas would involve more work by Oscar and I once we left the village, particularly the portrait project and neither were guaranteed to succeed but both were worth trying.
That afternoon we were invited to have some meat with the men. While some Maasai villages live solely on meat, this Maasai village only eats meat every fortnight, probably because livestock is scarce due to drought and therefore lack of grass. I asked Mary if she would be joining us and she told me that women are not allowed, but that I am an exception as I’m a volunteer. I considered not going as it didn’t feel right that I was able to have meat and not the other women, but I didn’t want to be rude to my hosts and was curious to have the experience.
We went over a nearby hill where the men were gathered around under a tree cooking the meat. One of the men had a container with pieces of deep-fried goat crackling and gave Oscar and I a small piece each to try. The remainder of the meat was being cooked in a soup, and we were given a few small pieces of meat from that soup. The crackling was really tasty when you could ignore the pieces of animal hair which were still attached.
On day 6 we visited the nursery school which was a really nice experience as the teacher seemed like a really good teacher, the classroom was decorated with pictures and words in English, and the kids sang a couple of songs for us which was really sweet. There were seven kids in the class who didn’t have school uniforms because they couldn’t afford them, so we agreed to buy the missing uniforms on our trip to Kimana. The seven pullovers and two dresses cost us around US$40 in total. The teacher also asked us if we wouldn’t mind getting her some sugar, potatoes and rice as she was struggling to buy food when the kids could not all afford to pay their school fees. Despite being reluctant to advocate handouts we agreed to this because it was such a small request.
That afternoon Oscar and I transported wheelbarrows of quartz pebbles to the foundations of a shop which was being built at the village and we spread them out evenly on the ground before bringing over wheelbarrows of large, heavy, flat stones which I put together like a jigsaw puzzle to form the foundations of the floor, where concrete would then be poured between the gaps. While Jackson helped us a little in the beginning, the other men of the village simply watched us, which was yet again frustrating because the shop was to make money for them and they could have done the labour themselves or at least helped us with it. Two young brothers about three years-old decided on their own accord to help us. It was comical and really adorable to see a three year-old boy hoisting heavy stones into a wheelbarrow and wheeling it over to us. If a three year-old boy could help, you’d think a grown man could help too. We rewarded each of the two boys with a slice of Belgian dark chocolate and made sure they knew it was because they had helped us.
Week 2 passed by relatively without incident. We went to Kimana which to our disappointment was a shanty town with no actual supermarkets and we bought the building materials after going to about seven different hardware stores, and struggled with the list of groceries and kitchen supplies we had intended to buy. Mary had also asked us to buy her a story book in English which we did from a choice of only three English story books at the book store, and none of them looked very good. We arrived back at the village after an extremely long day in Kimana and a huge load of things to carry over to the shed from the bus stop as we had all of the building materials, school uniforms, 20L of water and lots of groceries and there were only two of us, and were disappointed that only the young children helped us carry things, none of the adults helped us despite being near the bus stop when we arrived.
The builder came and constructed the water reservoir, he worked very slowly and took twice as long as he should have taken, and then tried to charge us for an extra day which he hadn’t worked so there was a dispute, but we got it finished in the end and it looked great. The builder, Oscar and I tirelessly cleaned out the inside of the water reservoir so that it would be clean when the rain started, a job which the men watched us do offering their opinions on how it should be done, but not lifting a finger.
I spent a few days doing my portraits of the Maasai and a few of the people I photographed then had the nerve to put their hand out and ask for money for the photo I had just taken despite the fact that a) I had put ALOT of money and work into their village already and b) the portraits were entirely for the benefit of the community and I was not making a single thing from the photos. Of course it was impossible to explain this to them when none of them spoke any English but I knew that they had been explained it already at the village meeting held to discuss the ways in which we would help them.
On day 12 while Oscar and I were resting in our shed a man we had never met before stormed into our shed without knocking (this was extremely common) shouting ‘Muzungu’ repeatedly which translates to ‘white person’. Without asking he then helped himself to our purchased drinking water which we had carried all the way from Kimana and which was running extremely low and then kept refilling his cup and handing out glasses of water to some of the kids who had followed him in. I’m sure I don’t have to describe how I was feeling at this point.
Feeling disrespected and unappreciated, Mary then came to tell Oscar and I that we needed to push the 100L barrel of water up the hill and to the village. The same task we had done the week prior. I simply refused to do it saying I didn’t want to (the water was not for us and I was tired of being unappreciated and used) and Oscar being the nicest person in the world went to help. On arriving at the water barrel Mary asked Oscar if he was planning on pushing the barrel on his own in which he replied incredulously “of course not, where are the men to help me?” Mary responded that the men refuse to push the water barrel and Oscar very defiantly (and I’m very proud of this) said “if the men do not help me push this water then the men will not get any of this water. Understanding this, one of the mothers then went and fetched a warrior and asked him to help Oscar push the water barrel which he did (the first and only time we saw this happen).
On our last full day at the village Mary gave me a beaded necklace she had created and I in-turn gave her my favourite bracelet – a unique hand crafted bracelet I had bought in a small village in Malawi. We were getting picked up a week early, having completed the water reservoir and finished our budget, and we needed to do work on the portraits and village tours which we could not do whilst at the village as it required computers and internet.
The morning we were getting picked up was a really sad morning as we had to say goodbye to our puppies knowing that they may be abandoned again and left for dead after we had left. They had become extremely attached to us and followed us every where we went so we knew it would be hard for them.
Jackson had given us a thank-you letter the night before which we appreciated, but he was the only person in the whole village who said thank-you to us. A few people said goodbye but they didn’t seem to care that we were leaving, with the exception of Mary who started crying when I hugged her, bless her soul.
We were then dealt two final blows of rudeness, the first was that before we had even left, someone had the nerve to steal Oscars two t-shirts from the puppies bed and run off with them, despite the fact that we had left more clothes inside the shed for the village to keep. The second blow was that a man we knew from the village hitched a ride in our paid transfer for about 10 minutes up the road and then got out of the car not saying thank-you or even goodbye to us, despite making the effort to say goodbye to our driver.
Despite all of the challenges and differences in etiquette we felt over the two weeks with the village, a small piece of my heart was left in Nkiito for the puppies, baby goat, and for Jackson, Mary and Alais who always treated us with kindness, humour and made us feel welcome, and the kids who visited us every day and were a source of joy throughout the two weeks.
We are still committed to dedicating a large chunk of our personal time to the village tours and portrait project, as the money which comes from those two ventures will help pay for school fees and school uniforms, and we believe that education is key in helping the children of this village grow up with more choices and more awareness. Educated men and women could get jobs outside of the village, perhaps this would lessen the gender inequality, and help foster respect and politeness to people of other walks of life and maybe even to animals.