Sunday 29 March 2009

Photos - Lamu

Lamu Town

Shella Beach

Shella Bahari - great place to stay on Lamu

the balcony has the best view on the island i reckon. good food (great breakfast, try the fruit pancakes!), excellent service, mid-range prices (but gets cheaper the longer you stay) and all-round great value for what is a fairly luxurious experience.

they can organise good dhow trips too, albeit more expenisive than from Lamu town (but i think the extra quality is worth it) - see the owner's rasta younger brother Yusuf, a top man.

and right round the corner (3 mins) from stunning Shella Beach.

Shella Bahari Guest House
+254 (0) 42632046
info at
or contact owner Tawfiq (nice guy) directly on +254 (0) 722901643


We are back in a noticeably (and thankfully) cooler and wetter Nairobi (did you know Nairobi is at 1,660m? and that the rainy season is about to begin? huh?) from two weeks in Lamu. Lamu is GREAT! It's all true.

A tropical island with a bit more culture, you can survive quite nicely for not very much - there are places for under $10 a night inc breakfast and that's not going anyhwhere near the budget stuff.

It was really hot (32-36 Cent) and we both burned. We stayed in Shella (40 mins walk/10 mins boat from the town, quieter and a bit more "high end" generally) for 10 days and spent 4 days in Lamu town, which nicely coincided with the Maulidi festival, celebrating the birth of Mohammed.

In the last two weeks we have:

- made a 12km white sand beach our own (well a patch of it anyway)
- seen more donkeys than ever before
- ingested more fresh fruit and fish than one perhaps should(?)
- sailed in both Swahili and Mozambique style dhows - the sails are an amazing design
- closely followed dhow races
- gone snorkelling
- discovered that I can still windsurf - yay!
- watched young boys do crazy dives off the jetty at high tide, into ridiculous currents
- met a bunch of nice people
- got really quite excited by some religious islamic music - had to get hold of a copy of the cd
- watched and listened to some relentless live drumming, very like some techno
- gone through the most rudimentary airport security ever and flown back to Nairobi in a 14 person plane

The only way to get around Lamu is by foot, donkey or boat. Fishing and tourism are pretty much the only work options for residents.

Climbing Mt Kenya etc

Two weeks ago we climbed Mt Kenya. Without a doubt the hardest thing we have ever done. The summit is at 4,985m and boy, do you feel it.

The schedule is punishing. 9km on the first day, climbing from 2,900 to 3,300m. Next day about 17km walk, up to 4,200m. Then the summit push, which starts at 3am (so basically no sleep) and afterwards, on top of that, back down the 17km you did the day before. Over 12 hrs walking that day!

If you are thinking of doing it, call Francis, our guide, directly – his contact details are at the bottom of this post. You'll get a much better price that way. Bring very warm clothes to change into after walking, lined gloves, warm hats etc - and be prepared to stay 2/3 nights in wooden unheated huts full of other walkers (sometimes 20 to a room). I didn't sleep of course, needing quite specific conditions in order to achieve R.E.M.

There is a mad valley up there (Mackinder's Valley) with these crazy plants that look like space pineapples. Sure they filmed an episode of Star Trek up there.

By the way, the middle finger on my left hand still isn't right after mt kenya. It's getting better, but circulation hasn't returned completely. YOU SEE HOW HARDCORE I AM WE ARE. Met an australian who did Kilimanjaro and he said the same thing happened to him, it does get better eventually.

On the way back from Nanyuki, which is where we started and finished the climb, we had our first proper crash, our matatu slammed into the one in front - par for the course apparently. On the news saw the funniest thing - there was a bit of a riot in central Nairobi a couple of days ago (while we were away) and some looting went on. Some guys had just raided a deli and nicked some food. One swooped in on another and grabbed a big cake from one hand, and right in front of the camera, TOOK A BITE ... whilst hot-footing it out of there. Classic.

There is a serious side to the story - the trouble followed a student protest, which was in response to the shooting of two human rights activists last week. These guys were well-known - in fact, some of the people we have met here knew one of them (G.P.O.) well. They were really cut up about it.

Looks like we picked the right time to be out of Nairobi!

contact Francis directly, he can sort you out a better deal than going through an agency. nice guy, knows his stuff, very considerate and aware. can't believe he had a fag at the top...

Francis Maina
+254 (0) 723847901
fmaina95 at

Photos - Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya

An eight year old can climb Mount Kenya is what they say. No eight year old that I ever want to babysit.

First, we acclimatised at Mountain Rock's Bantu Lodge which reminded me of Picnic On Hanging Rock with it's sprawling gardens dappled by the shade of tall trees, in which a party of boarding school girls were making merry at the end of a school trip. When wandered a little too far round the back of the lodge, things turned just a teensy bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre as we stepped over a hoof, then another, then the end of a tail and finally a pool of congealing blood and other matter, discovering that meat is served very fresh indeed at the lodge. After a beer in the mountain air watching the sun paint the sky a hundred colours as it set, I was feeling pleasantly acclimatised and ready to challenge an eight year old.

On day one, I found myself merrily marching up the mountain feeling a teensy bit smug that Alex was running out of puff before me for once. I was happily pointing out the birds, gasping with wonder at the giant bamboo, busy comparing the mountain's landscape with Burnham Beeches, the Lake District and India alternately, all the while firmly believing that climbing Mount Kenya was 100% doable.

From the minute we woke up on day two (after an umcomfortable night in a dorm where mattresses go to die, listening to poor Alex fight a losing battle with a broken sleeping bag) I had a sudden and complete change of heart. After only an hour, I reverted to the tactic I'd used at the end of our 40 mile sponsored walk of counting steps to keep up the rhythym of walking. Looking at the view, taking photos, admiring the weird and wonderful plants that live at about 3,000m up the mountain... I didn't do any of that. I counted to four.

Stopping for lunch was my first chance that day to take a good look around me and suddenly I was reminded why we were doing it. Mackinder picked a damn good valley to name after himself. From our perch on the edge of a big rock overlooking the valley, we got our first close up glimpse of the summit, and also of the clouds that would shortly be emptying themselves on top of us. I love the rain! I thought happily as I munched on the tastiest boiled egg I've ever eaten.

The most commonly known symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea and tiredness. Fortunately, of these I only suffered the tiredeness, but a kind of tired I've never felt before, not even after walking 40 miles, starting at midnight, while hungover. As a result of this tiredness, my altitude sickness manifested itself as a series of bad decisions. As we made our way through Mackinder's space pineapple valley, Alex suggested I put my camera away. As the hail began to bombard us, he also suggested I change my canvas safari hat for a waterproof one. Very good ideas, I'm sure you'll agree. Could I be arsed? Could I hell. As I put one fut in front of the other, catching my breath everytime my foot rolled on an unexpected stone, my camera banged against me uncomfortably inside my jacket and hail collected in the rim of my hat, then ran down my neck in little ice cold rivers onto my jumper and other layers. When we finally arrived at a little sign that said 'Shipton Camp, Altitude: Some Thing Or Other', I didn't even have the energy to feel relieved. As I sat down for a dinner I couldn't eat, no longer having to count to four, my brain achieved what my yoga teacher has been trying to get it to do for ages: complete emptiness.

What's the best thing to do to recover from the hardest day's walking you've ever done? Why, get up at 2 in the morning and walk harder and longer, of course! Fortunately, I was unable to fully process this plan in the state I was in, or I might have cried. Instead, I spent the dark hours before the final big push listening to a fellow walker complain to her guide that there were rats in her bed ("Are you saying that I'm making this up? I'm telling you there was one on my pillow and another four having a little party at the bottom of my sleeping bag" was the line that made me lol out loud) and a teacher go through with his party of teenagers all the various symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as the dangers of sunburn, dehydration and hypothermia. And then it was 2am and time to pull on my wet clothes and not eat breakfast.

Walking in the dark is not as mad an idea as it may sound. If I'd had a good look at what I was climbing, I might have very easily completely freaked out. As it was, my headlamp lit up not much further than our guides feet (he was holding my hand, convinced that I was liable to fall over at any moment, which I might have found embarrassing if I hadn't felt so glad for the support) and so the task in hand was only ever a short stretch in front of us. The moment Francis heard me quicken my breath, he'd stop us for a rest, I'd look round and audibly gasp with awe at what I saw. There was barely a cloud in the sky, in the middle of which hung a bright, full moon that lit up snow dusted ridges and plunging valleys for miles around. Celebrities are always going to exclusive clubs and hotels, but for me the definition of 'exclusive' is now the privilege of seeing Mount Kenya in all its midnight, moonlit glory.

It was also on Mount Kenya that I learned that to be a good photographer, you need to be so much more than a good photographer. You need to be fit, strong, agile, have good balance and, in this case, a good pair of gloves. When we finally reached the summit, I took off the mittens I'd hired and in the time it took me to get the camera out, my shutter finger froze solid. Actually froze solid. I couldn't move it. It was on the button and WOULD NOT PRESS. The sun was rising, and exactly opposite, the moon was setting in a scene that, if I'd imagined it, I'd have dismissed as contrived AND MY DAMN FINGER ON THE DAMN SHUTTER WOULDN'T DAMN WELL FIRE. It is my painful regret that the pictures I took on Mount Kenya are nowhere near as good as the ones I didn't take.

And then we had to walk back down!

Grace House Resort


Photos - Open Hand Orphanage (my efforts)

Pamoja Trust Farewell

How much help we could really be would always be in question. They certainly didn’t learn as much from me as I did from them, although Alex had a queue of people wanting him to do to their computer what he’d done for others. But that was not reflected in their send off for us, which was as appreciative as I’ve ever experienced in my entire working life. Four weeks goes quickly, but it’s long enough to develop a routine that can only properly be appreciated when it’s over. I would miss the good-mornings and the have-a-good-evenings with familiar faces, not least that of Weldon the security guard who greeted us with as much enthusiasm as my family does.

The most important things we have learnt from doing our first internship is that it is easier to be a burden to the organisation than it is to be a help, and that helping people, really helping them, is far harder than I'd expected.

Photos - Open Hand Orphanage (by the kids)

I think you’ll find that the spirit and energy of the kids are best captured by the kids themselves. The kids of Open Hand Orphanage own copyright of the pictures in this slideshow.

Open Hand Orphanage - the sequel

When we arrived at the orphanage to stay for the weekend (which was our second weekend during our internship at Pamoja), the staff were embarrassed because the water had been cut off. “We haven’t done any washing since yesterday!” they said apologetically, and it meant we had nothing else to do than play!

I don’t know what came over me, but I did a very unusual thing: I let someone else use my camera. In fact, I let 20 kids use my camera, bending forward and holding it for them while they took it in turns to stand in front of me and press all the buttons. At first, all they were interested in was making the noise of the shutter firing. Gradually, I managed to get them to look through the viewfinder and, eventually, they started pointing it at things before pressing the button (well, some of them, the others were only interested in was making the noise. It is a good noise.). Within an hour, they had taken over 500 shots, changed the display settings and exhausted the battery.

Suddenly, George shouted, “Cows!” and everyone rushed into the TV room and stood by the window where we could see a herd of cows grazing on the rubbish tip just outside. As we aimed the camera in the general direction of the cows, George looked up at me and said with a small voice and pleading look that will stay with me forever, “Can’t we go outside?” No, we couldn’t go outside. But they did sneak out, and it took about half an hour to herd them all back in again.

When Jane first told us about the orphanage and its 36 abandoned children, I’d asked an embarrassing question. “Do you remember all their names?” I’d said. She looked at me as if I was stupid. “Of course! They’re our babies!” she scolded. And, in fact, this was the easiest I’ve ever found it to remember lots of names. Faith I’ve already mentioned. She had a fascination with Alex’s arm hair and seemed determined to keep some of it for herself, and a little flesh too. She had the same trouble using my camera that I do – the damn shutter button is on the wrong side. George took to using the camera the quickest and held it very naturally, the only one to use it independently. He also used his good eye and clever hands to fix my hair, which he’d noticed was a mess, and took great care to arrange it in a nice ponytail. Yvonne is quietly considerate. While George was fixing my hair, she kept my hair slides safe from the marauding hands and mouths of the younger kids and returned them to me as soon as George had finished. Deft and intelligent, she was the only one to figure out how to change the time on my watch (they all tried) and was mindful to return it to the correct time afterwards. Paul is the dramatist and does a convincing death scene. Naturally, he preferred to be in front of the camera than behind it, but it couldn’t work fast enough to catch all his poses. Hope is strong beyond her build and springs eternally. Tracy is softly spoken and gentle but won’t take any crap from anyone. Merianne is shy and only puts her arm round you when you’re not looking. Boas puts everything in his constantly grinning mouth and doesn’t care which foot goes in which shoe. Noah is like a puppy, by turns mischievous and heartbreakingly adorable. But if you want anything done, ask Evans, if he isn’t already doing it. One of the older kids, he takes it upon himself to take care of the youngest, feeding and changing them and giving them all goes in the one pram, taking it round and round the edge of the courtyard. Even we felt safe with Evans as he chaperoned us to the supermarket to fetch supplies. I would mention them all if my memory allowed it. Those that I haven’t are no less deserving, perhaps even more deserving by letting others divert our attention rather than demand it themselves.

Esther and the rest of the staff took as good care of us as they do the rest of the kids, giving us hearty meals and (to our embarrassment) the best beds in the house. If we’d thought we could get away without washing for the weekend, we were wrong. The water came back some 36 hours after it had gone off, and they made sure we were all clean for our trip to church. I always worry that a bolt of lightening will strike me when I go near a church, but the worst to happen was to be given a mic to introduce ourselves to a parish of 200ish members. I tried to make myself as inaudible as it is possible to be with a microphone, Alex made sure that most of Kenya could hear him say “God praise the children”.

The intention had been to help with the kids. I’m not sure we did that exactly, unless helping means playing. A theme of the trip is developing: are our experiences as valuable to those around us as they are to us? The sense so far is probably not. We did what we could by way of donating supplies and sweets and fizzy drinks (which, when they started bouncing off the walls, didn’t strike us as such a good idea), but those kids and the staff need more than we can give them. The sobering thought is that, difficult as these kids’ lives are, they’re the lucky ones.

Friday 13 March 2009

i made a map

click on the 4 markers to find out about that place...

Sunday 1 March 2009

Photos - Pamoja Trust's work to improve living conditions in slums

And what the bricks look like before Alex gets to them..