The Volunteer – Nairobi, Kenya

Last year I disappeared for a couple months from writing on Travelpod. I had decided to do some volunteer work in Africa and thought it would be better for me to focus my energies completely on the task at hand. I kept a journal but never posted anything online because I figured that it would take some time to really process this intense experience. As it is, I believe it will be something I will probably “processing” for the rest of my life. I have decided to post excerpts from my daily diary.

I will begin with the strange chain of events which brought me to Nyumbani. Way back in Amsterdam, I visited a photo gallery which had an exhibit of children from Kenya and Romania. I remember being so touched by the pictures which were just portraits of smiling children with their age and name. Then there were explanations that most of these kids would not make it past their 10th birthday. 4 year olds in jail for stealing food in Romania and HIV positive orphans from Kenya. I shed a few tears and wished with such tremendous emotion that there was something I could do. It was one of those moments in which you sincerely mean it but kinda know that it wouldn`t really happen. Altho it seems inconsequential, I learned how to do fire twirling in Australia.

Next I had to reroute my path in Asia substituting the continent Africa due to the SARS outbreak. When choosing my cities, I had absolutely no idea what was where and so randomly picked here there and the other. Nairobi sounded somewhat familiar but I couldn`t remember why. Next in South Africa I was just hanging out when I saw some people in the distance doing fire twirling on the beach. I ran down excitedly with my stuff and joined them. It had been a long time since I had twirled and I really enjoy it. I ended up meeting Rich and Nirali who I got along with well. We realized that we would both be in Kenya at the same time and planned to meet up in a few months.

When my plane touched down in Nairobi, I called and the invited me to stay with Niralis family who live there. One day we went for a drive to go visit some parks but they asked me if I would mind stopping for a minute some places to see they could get some volunteer work. That`s when it dawned on me. And I told them the whole story of the photo exhibit and just as I got to the end of the story, we pulled in to a long driveway. And they said well Carmella its so strange but it sounds like we are at that same place.

We walked around visiting the children and learning about the facilities. I wandered into the small graveyard which had about 15 tombstones encumbered in flowers. I stood in absolute disbelief when I read the name of the one right in front of me. Carmela. I asked if they needed help and they said not at the moment but in a few months they would need a preschool teacher. I agreed immediately not even considering that it would cut my trip shorter and I would have to shell out another 800 dollars for a ticket. It just seemed like what I had to do. I sat in the sandy playground while the kids seemed to swarm me playing, putting flowers in my hair. It all happened so fast…yet it seemed like it was somehow meant to be.

So I left Kenya and went back up to Europe to continue travelling until the time that they needed me. And after Dahab I took a loooong bus ride to Cairo then straight to the airport where I bought my ticket to Nairobi. When I got to the airport there were a group volunteers and small children to greet me with a Welcome Carmella painting they had made for me. I almost cried when I examined the care and love put into that poster. And so this begins the story of my volunteer work in Nairobi.

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