Life, death and impending marriage

Trip Start Nov 27, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

There are always a lot of emotions surrounding Kenya and the inevitable trip home. We've been back in Australia for a couple of weeks now, caught up in the Christmas celebrations and back to life as usual. But there are so many reminders each day about our friends and family in our Kenyan home - wondering what everyone in Shikunga will be doing for Christmas, hoping there's enough money for a good meal, a quiet smile looking back over pictures we've taken and remembering some of the thousands of incredibly special moments we become a part of while we're there.

And there are thousands of wonderful moments. From watching little Roger grow up over the years, to seeing Joseph graduate to secondary school with a newfound confidence. Wondering if Saul will grow up to be a professional photographer or a slick, quick talking lawyer. There are the times we spend with family at home, relaxing after the day with ball games and a quick laugh with the girls. The wonderful meals that are prepared for us each and every day, that include traditional Kenyan fare such as ugali and sukamawiki and the occasional treat of pancakes, mandazi or peanut soup and chapatti. The thousands of cups of sweet, sweet tea and chatting by the light of the lamp late into the night. It's easy to romanticise village life in Shikunga simply because it is so romantic. There's no TV. There's no electricity. Entertainment consists of time with friends and family, watching the sky turn dark over a steaming mug of chai, talking about the day. It's a beautiful place, full of beautiful people who will never fail to open their arms and their houses, no matter how little they have to spare.

Despite this dreamy description, life in Shikunga is hard. As volunteers we only scrape the surface of true village life; we sample a small slice of the hardships involved and for most of us, that's enough. While life by candlelight is picturesque, there's the hassle of finding a place to charge your mobile phone - the only real link you have with home. There's a variety of creepy crawlies, most worryingly - mosquitoes, which carry more diseases than I'd ever care to know about. While you can get used to using a drop toilet there are those annoying first few days where your feet are inevitably somewhat wetter than you'd like them to be, and let me assure you the deep-thigh burn you get when faced with a drop toilet and a stomach bug is not something anyone wants to write home about.

Water, however, always remains the greatest threat and stressor. There's no running water in Shikunga. The closest water reserve is a trickling muddy stream, and getting water to the house involves a 15 minute slog up a hill with a massive water drum on top of your head. And when you get it there, it will make you sick if you drink it -unless you cut up wood, build a fire, and boil it first. For volunteers, clean water means a trip to town, and there's nothing worse than wondering as you brush your teeth at night if you have enough left to swallow your anti-malarials or to last the morning walk ahead. If you ever catch yourself wondering whether water tanks in developing countries are a valuable investment - they are. Life without easy access to clean water is a killer, literally.

These tiny frustrations are just a taste of daily life in Shikunga. For volunteers, it's a little like camping: there's a definite end and return to the usual luxuries of Western life, and, if anything goes wrong, you know you've got a planned escape. For locals it's a struggle, but one that's overcome with more grace than I could ever imagine achieving in the face of such hardships. So I would like to finish up this travel blog with a few stories from our trip - the lives, deaths and impending marriages of our time in Kenya.
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