Louis and I took a weekend trip to Nanyuki, 3 hours north of Nairobi, to see Mt. Kenya, the largest mountain in Kenya and 2nd only to Kiliminjaro in Africa. We left last Friday afternoon after work and got into a matatu (vans used for public transportation), headed up the road listening to books on tape and pondered what our final trip in Kenya would be like.
About a kilometer before getting to Nanyuki, our matatu suddenly slammed on its brakes and we smashed into a car in front of us. Dazed but conscious, I looked over at Louis on my right and another friend of ours on my left to find them bleeding from their noses. We slowly gathered our things and moved out of the vehicle, where I swiftly fainted (most likely from hitting my head on the broken television that was in front of where I was sitting).
I don’t remember much directly after the accident, but somehow we were moved into another matatu and taken to the nearest hospital, which luckily was right around the corner. At the hospital I recovered, and the other two received stitches. After all the confusion, it became clear how we got there- through the help of kind Kenyans. One in particular, Albert Muchemi, a local mountain climbing guide, stayed with us the entire time until we reached the nearest hotel to settle in for the night.
I’m not going to lie. When I realized Albert was staying with us in the hospital, my first thought was “he’s going to want money for helping us.” I felt ashamed when, after we received the hefty hospital bill that took virtually all of the money we had on us, he stayed with us and called a cab to take us to the hotel. He offered to pay for the cab. The next day, he came to check on us, drove us into town, and told us where to eat and look for hiking (when we felt up for it).
As a Westerner in a developing country, it is inevitable that you will be viewed as wealthy. It quickly becomes draining to be incessantly asked for money; you feel that everyone is taking advantage of you. You start to avoid anyone who tries to talk to you unless you know them. You start to doubt why you came in the first place and how much longer you can stand to stay.
The crash put things back in perspective for me. An event that threatens life brings out the humanity in everyone. For that moment everyone forgets about other worries and focuses on survival. After Albert showed us such kindness, I remembered why I came to Kenya, why I got involved in this line of work: people are good. We are all human. We all have the same basic needs. We all want to have food, shelter, stability, and safety. We want to feel dignity, to have a say in what happens to us and our loved ones.
We are leaving in a couple days to go back to Massachusetts. I will become wrapped up in my studies and will no longer have children begging, “just 10 bob, please (11 cents).” The members of Hakijamii not only live within a society that faces enormous poverty and inequality but they dedicate countless hours trying to overcome those difficulties. The community-based advocacy that I have witnessed here is beyond anything I could have imagined. Never have I encountered marginalized groups that are more aware of their situation, more eager to learn their rights, and more dedicated to improving their own lives.
Louis and I have worked on creating an interactive website that Hakijamii staff can update themselves through blog entries; the site highlights the work of its community partners. The website has a long way to go, but we trust that the dedicated staff will take over where we left off. Our time here is up, but if you want to continue to follow Hakijamii’s incredible work, you can do so through this site.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted Aug 19th, 2010