Africa Awareness Trip Days 1, 2 and 3
If you’ve read my pre-departure blog, you know I was on my way to Africa to learn and raise awareness about some of the projects and development initiatives of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). I got involved with AKDN through the World Partnership Walk and because of the commitment that my employer, AbeBooks, had made through their walk team. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning about foreign aid and especially the Aga Khan Foundation to contact me at: email@example.com. I would be thrilled to share what I have learned!
But, without further ado I will begin with the trip.
Days 1 and 2 the Traveling day and the Delegation
I woke up Thursday July 23rd running on a mix of anxiety, nervousness, and a fear of the unknown. With so much travel and such a distance to go, I was happy to be meeting up with one of the other participants, Naila Jinnah, in Ottawa. After a decent flight arriving around 8pm, I made my way to the Radisson Hotel by Parliament Hill. Naila and I stayed up talking most of the night like excited school girls but eventually realized we would need our energy for the next day and the long flight ahead!
We woke up early (the theme of this trip for me!) and met the bulk of the other participants who were there in a AKFC Youth Ambassador capacity. We piled into cabs in a torrential downpour of rain and made our way to the Delegation meeting. The Delegation building was an example of architecture and urban space planning at its very finest. It functions primarily as a site for the Ismaili Imanat arms to work out of. I believe the Aga Khan Foundation is its only tenant. We spent a few hours in a debriefing session about foreign aid, reviewed our itineraries and introduced ourselves to the group.
There were I-STAR Adil, Aaria, and Farheen and the Knowledge Discovery Challenge winners, Rahim, Anisa, Zeeshan and Anisa that had won their trip based on essay submissions. These seven were chosen out of approximately 800 entries! These young adults ranged in age from 17 to 24 and were some of the brightest minds I have come across. I don’t doubt that I will be hearing about their accomplishments in the future. I was the only corporate sponsored participant and there were some World Partnership Walk Ambassadors as well. And let me not forget the people I can only refer to as our ‘glue’, Salimah and Salman, worked together throughout the trip with ease and grace getting us not only to where we were supposed to be but ensured that that our eyes and hearts were open when we got there. We wrapped up the session around 2pm and made our way to the airport.
I’ve been as far as Australia before, but I knew that I was in for some serious flying time. We flew from Ottawa to London in what I’ll refer to as canned-sardine-style and then somehow we managed to get upgraded to Business class from London to Nairobi. If you are ever taking a flight of this length and have a chance for an upgrade, I highly recommend it. About the only time I ever wish I had shorter legs is when I fly!
We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya late at night. We piled into a white Toyota Safari Bus that would become very familiar throughout the course of the trip. After a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the Serena Hotel, which is owned by the profit earning sect of the AKDN (it became clearer as the trip wore on that the profit arm links to the non-profit arm in the name of sustainable development). I went to bed a little homesick but mostly tired from the flying and excited to take everything in.
Elephant and Giraffe Day!!!!
This day was one of the only days ‘off’ from visiting the projects. We took the opportunity to visit an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary. We scrambled into the white safari-like Toyotas and, armed with charged batteries and cameras, we drove for about thirty minutes before we arrived. The video you can see of the baby elephants who have been rescued was completely mind blowing to me. These baby elephants were waist high and had all been rescued after being injured or abandoned. The workers explained to us that because some parts of Kenya have reopened the trade of ivory, many more baby elephants are losing their mothers to poaching. These beautiful creatures were so docile and friendly. They drank out of large barrels of water, feasted on brush and at times took a moment to collapse into the beautiful red soil to take a break. I saw monkeys jumping from tree to tree, elephants being elephants, a sleeping rhino, and running warthogs.
I took a moment to reflect on where I was and looked out at the scene that was so different than my own world back home. My feet were covered in powdery red dirt and my hair was tied back because of the humidity. I sat overlooking the horizon and looked out at the sparse trees and red soil (soil that could rival anywhere in PEI!).This was the first moment of the trip that I realized I was truly in Africa and about to experience so much more. With the stress of flights over and the initial anxiety gone, I was open to my surroundings and ready meet this trip head on!
Next, the suspension and shock-free Toyotas (not so good if you’d just eaten or are queasy from the Malaria tablets!) took us to the Giraffe sanctuary where we had the opportunity to feed these majestic, friendly, docile creatures that were even more beautiful than I could have imagined. I learned awhile back that the Giraffe is the symbol of compassionate communication in many cultures due to their gentle nature and stunning stature. They have the biggest heart (literally) of any land mammal because with such long necks they need a large heart to pump blood all the way to their brains. It hit me hard when I saw them in person. I thought to myself that if we were all a bit more Giraffe-like we could open our hearts a little more and make decisions and choices from the heart.
That afternoon was awash with pure excitement from the group. We cut our animal expedition short after hearing that the Aga Khan himself was in Nairobi and touring the Aga Khan University and Hospital. I interviewed the ISTAR group and Naila who were in the Bus and they were all smiles. They told me that for many people, this was like having the opportunity to meet a very important religious leader. No one from our group had the opportunity to meet him in person or to exchange words; however, the excitement about his presence was palatable. Naila, Rahim and I managed to befriend a security guard and found ourselves about ten feet away from His Highness as he made his way into the hospital. I couldn’t document any of this as the security was extremely tight. I thought about sneaking my camera in, but thought being conscientious and respectable was more important than sneaking a few pics!
That evening we went to a local hot spot called ‘Carnivore’. The namesake is indicative of what you might think. Local game and meats came out dim sum style to our long table. The meat came out on large swords that they would plunk tip side down on your plate and slide the meat onto its surface. It was primal to say the very least. While the ostrich meatballs were fantastic, most of the meat was your basic chicken, beef, turkey. The only thing on the menu that I experienced for the first time was chicken gizzards. Can’t say I’d make a habit out of the gizzards… but when in Africa…
After returning to the hotel I went to bed early and started to think about the next day which was starting at 8am.