I stepped off the plane and the humidity hit me like an open, oven door. The crowd moved through the terminal in unison, echoing off each other’s movements like a herd of wildebeest. As I mirrored the energy of those around me and made my way to baggage claim, I caught glimpses of the outside world through windows, high up on the walls. And though I couldn’t see it yet, I could feel the difference. A jungle awaited me, just beyond those doors. I was in Africa now!
In April, 2011, my long flight from England landed in Mombasa, Kenya where I was to begin a 6 month internship involved in wildlife conservation and community development. F*CK…YES!
I had worked for a full year, planning and saving up for this moment and it had finally arrived.
The first order of business was to get to the hotel where I would meet the other volunteers and together, we would leave the next day for a small fishing village on the southeast coast. The taxi ride in country was the biggest culture shock of my life however.
I watched out of the window at a world I never could have imagined. The traffic was absolute chaos. There didn’t seem to be any rules for driving, just every man for himself. The honking, the shouting and droves of people walking in the street as we flew past was overwhelming.
Small motorized carts called tuk tuks whizzed in and out of traffic, nearly getting trampled. Groups of men with motorbikes sat lazily under the shade of a tamarind tree or on street corners, analyzing last night’s Manchester United game and looking for mzungu (white person) to give them a ride. We passed through busy markets full of precarious, wooden shacks where locals sold belts, shoes, pangas, blankets or anything else you can think of. It was an entirely new world to me, and I was speechless.
Once at the hotel where palm trees and the ocean breeze were abound, I found my room and laid down. I was exhausted! I stared at the ceiling where a strange mesh cloth hung in a knot. It suddenly dawned on me that it was a mosquito net, needed to reduce the risk of malaria. Man I’m far from home…
I caught a slight nap and then stepped into the shower to wash off the sticky, tinge of a 15 hour travel day that clung to me like grease in a pan. Just starting to feel refreshed, I noticed the water was somehow different, almost salty. “Wait… is this water from the ocean?!” Man I am REALLY far from home…
After my cold, salty shower, the culture shock starting to wane and I walked out onto my 3rd floor balcony to gaze upon a courtyard filled with a botanical symphony of tropical plants, a large pool filled with happy tourists and the ocean beyond. I took a deep, satisfying breath and exhaled with a smile. I was finally in Kenya. My dream of going on safari was at fingers length. I turned to walk back inside when movement caught my eye in the trees ten feet away. “There’s a monkey in that tree!” Bloody hell I’m so far from home!!!