London Preparations, Nairobi and Moshi

London Preparations, Nairobi and Moshi

The morning after I posted the previous blog entry, I found myself sat alone on a sofa in the plush downstairs area of our School’s swanky new building. It was a Saturday and the first day of the holidays no less, and so I was quite alone with my own thoughts; the last time I would have this opportunity for the last three weeks.

I’ll be completely honest here – in the fifteen or so minutes I was sat waiting for both my adult and teenage companions to arrive I felt a twisted knot in the pit of my stomach.

I was telling myself I should be more excited, that we’d been working two years to get to this point and now was the time to enjoy the moment. But instead, I was a bag of nerves. All I could think about was what could go wrong, and that it was too late to back out now and claim back three weeks of my summer holiday like the rest of the School community. Was I, to coin a phrase, bottling it?

The arrival of the adults accompanying me on the trip dissipated my nerves. Unlike me, both of them had previous experience of taking young people to developing countries on trips that were designed to stretch and challenge them, and give them an experience beyond the sheltered worldview informed by their English, middle class upbringing. This was reassurance indeed: as the girls arrived, wide-eyed and eager, they seemed more young and naïve than ever before.

IMG_2693Ready to go…?

After a quick kit check, sorting out of our budget, and last practice session involving putting up tents, it was time to get down to the all-important team briefing. Our leader, Richard, was keen that the girls know what their roles were – finance team, kit team, food team etc – from the off, so that we could hit the ground running in country.

Each day we would have a different team leader, plus deputy, who was responsible for overseeing everything – be that cooking for the evening, booking accommodation, or arranging transport from place to place. As with any team, there were some more natural leaders than others, so it would be interesting to see how those who were less obviously capable of being ‘in charge’ would cope in the role. The first girl, of course, had an easier time of it than most – there’s not much leading to be done when you’re basically sat on a plane!

As we loaded up the school minibuses for the airport, through to boarding the plane, and finally landing at Nairobi Airport one noticeable thing was that the girls had lapsed back in to a tendency to segregate themselves in to their age groups. The youngest ones, in particular, seemed reluctant to mingle with the older girls. The temptation was to step in, but that would be missing the point of this expedition – it was a learning, maturing experience for the girls and it would be too ‘teacher’ of us to step in and directly address this ourselves.

At Nairobi Airport - still smiling!
    At Nairobi Airport – still smiling!

Our first port of call was Nairobi in Kenya, which we flew to for economical and time-bound reasons: it’s actually closer to Moshi, the town closest to the KYGN School, than Dar es Salaam is. A city with something of a shady reputation – it’s known as ‘Nairobbery’ in some quarters – we, of course, didn’t really spend long enough here to be able to meaningfully gauge what it’s like as a place. The most noteworthy thing for us was that the minibus that came to collect us from the airport kept getting lost, and a half hour journey to our hostel turned in to a two hour plus one.

I suppose the upside is that we got to see more of the city: what was clear was that Nairobi, like many other cities of its ilk, has clear traffic problems, and also in a similar vein to comparable cities, it was a place of marked contrasts between its glitzy, soaring skyscrapers and ramshackle shanty towns. The presence of hawkers peddling everything from snacks to Miley Cyrus clocks to vehicles stuck in traffic was also ubiquitous!

We travelled to Moshi – which to the average traveller is essentially your base for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro – the next day in order to prepare ourselves for our time at the School. Enroute we stopped by to hire some cooking equipment – pots, pans, stoves and the like – giving our girls their first taste of negotiation. Unsurprisingly, the guy tried to rip them off but, with some suitable support from the adults, we secured a decent price.


We also swung by the Nakumatt supermarket in Moshi to pick up food for the week. This was another challenge for the girls, as they’re not used to buying weekly groceries for themselves, let alone for 17 people. Common mistakes made included stocking up on too many luxury items rather than nutritional essentials, miscalculating both sums and quantities of foodstuffs, and getting too many perishable foods. We would be camping on the school grounds during our time there, and with no refrigerator to speak of, certain things were off the menu!

The girls undoubtedly found this difficult, but by splitting themselves in to three groups (breakfast, lunch and dinner teams) and dividing the budget up accordingly, they were able to resolve the situation well enough. It was also, pleasingly, the first sign that the barriers were starting to break down.

After another night at a hostel, it was time to saddle up and head to the School where the KYGN kids, and the library building, would be waiting for us. This was it!



  • Mhairi Flannigan

    August 5, 2016 at 1:53 pm Reply

    Love reading your blog!!! ? fascinating and brings back memories ? x

    • Joe

      August 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm Reply

      Ah, thanks Mhairi 🙂

  • Jamie Graffman

    August 6, 2016 at 12:28 am Reply

    Inspiring! I’ve never read any firsthand experiences like this. Something I would love to do, come to thank of it.

    • Joe

      August 6, 2016 at 8:03 am Reply

      Definitely recommend it, although you have to be fortunate in terms of your circumstances etc enabling it. It’s hard work, but all worth it in the end!

  • Cynthia

    August 7, 2016 at 11:46 am Reply

    It’s a great initiative to give those girls firsthand experiences! But I believe that no matter where they go, the success of a project like this depends a lot on the group dynamics and their guides. I can imagine you were feeling a bit stressed before take-off 🙂 But it seems like you’ve had a great start and it was so far a good learning experience for the group.

    • Joe

      August 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm Reply

      Hi Cynthia! Yeah, the success of this trip was very much down to how the group functioned, not least because we were pushing them to do things they wouldn’t have experienced before. It was a good start, but the real litmus test came when we arrived at the school…which will be blogged about soon 🙂

  • Renne Simpson

    August 7, 2016 at 10:52 pm Reply

    I liked reading your blog post because it was so honest. Your nervous feeling were completely understandable. This trip will undoubtedly be a wonderful experience for the girls. Some of it depends on group dynamics, but regardless, it will be a growing opportunity they will never forget.
    Renne Simpson recently posted…Peru Guide: Part 6 – How to Spend 24 Hours in LimaMy Profile

    • Joe

      August 8, 2016 at 7:37 am Reply

      Thanks Renee. It was hard to tell at this point how much the trip would affect them on an individual and group level, but they started well enough 🙂

  • vicki

    August 8, 2016 at 9:58 pm Reply

    This is a great post; Thanks for sharing! A journey that combines pleasure, sense of purpose and bonding experience!

    • Joe

      August 8, 2016 at 10:18 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂 The bonding was still in its infancy at this point – the best was yet to come!

  • Brian

    August 8, 2016 at 11:10 pm Reply

    What you are saying about Nairobi reminds me of my experience in Johannesburg.
    Brian recently posted…5 Reasons to Visit Williamsport, PennsylvaniaMy Profile

    • Joe

      August 9, 2016 at 7:50 am Reply

      Johannesburg seems to have a bit of a rep as well…

  • The Toronto Seoulcialite

    August 9, 2016 at 10:27 am Reply

    Sounds like the start of a great experience! There will always be some hiccups along the road, but as long as your stay cheerful the travels will be pretty easy. I actually laughed out loud at “Nairobbery” ?. Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe

      August 9, 2016 at 8:43 pm Reply

      Thanks – and yes, keeping good humour in the face of setbacks does help see you through! Nairobbery is a long-standing nickname for Kenya’s notorious capital: it’s not something I’ve encountered personally, but others I know tell me it’s a name that’s not totally undeserved, sadly.

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