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.
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.
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!