Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mi Me Tuleah

"I'm Chillin"

The past two weeks I’ve been traveling around Kenya and it’s been totally rad.  This is a breakdown of the cool stuff I did.  Please excuse the excess of the epics, awesomes, beautifuls, and amazings throughout.

Week 1 – Work

My first week in Kenya I was lucky enough to be with my good friends Matt and Daniel where we stayed at a really nice hotel in the middle of Nairobi.  This hotel is where Kiva was “conceived” back in 2005 which I thought was pretty cool.  Matt and Daniel are starting their own company in Nairobi and it was fun to see them in action, but just hanging with them was really nice.  We had a blast.  I’m super excited about what they’re doing and it was cool to be in the mix with them. 

                          

Matt, Daniel, and I -- my first hour in Kenya.

For me, it was a “business week” which meant loads of meetings with Kiva Zip borrowers and trustees.  It was crazy how many I was able to meet in three days of meetings.  I probably met 40 borrowers and 15 Trustees over the course of five days and it was really inspiring to see Kiva Zip in action in Kenya.  After so much focus on the US it was a very welcome change of pace. 

Three Trustees were particularly inspiring for me to be with.  

Safe Spaces

Safe Spaces was a really cool organization that uses basketball to teach young women life skills.  I obviously loved every second of it.  Daniel joined me on this visit and we were chilling with two of their program coordinators who showed us around.  Apparently every employee at the organization is on a club basketball team, which I thought was totally awesome.  I shadowed them all day and it was a blast.

We walked around their area and met a ton of borrowers.  It was cool how we would walk a block and they’d point out 7, 8, 9 storefronts that were Kiva Zip borrowers.  This was true for every Trustee I met with.  Incredible. 

I ended the day in a pick up game with the Slum Code girls.  It was full court, 5v5, high school boys vs. club girls team.  It was so fun – it was just great to be out there playing.  You form a connection with sports that is a special unspoken bond.  It was great. 


I'd been looking for a basketball court from when I first landed.  This was my celebration.  I love the graffiti on the wall!


Apparently they call restaurants "hotels" in Kenya.  It's weird.  Anyway, this was a borrower that made bomb chapati at a restaurant near Safe Spaces


Our tour guides knew how to ball!  They were super cool, couldn't have asked for better guides!


Meeting one of the Safe Spaces borrowers that makes cool stuff with beads.  I got to go chill in her apartment which was a really cool experience.  

Shining Hope

Shining Hope was another great Trustee, located in the biggest Slum in East Africa.  They focus on education and life skills for young girls and they have a ton of different programs.  Their plot was huge and I met a ton of Kiva Zip artisans making jewelry, bags, and clothes – loads of cool stuff.  Shining Hope has endorsed over 100 borrowers in KIbera.  Walking through the slum, again, it was “here’s a bottower, here’s a borrower, here’s a borrower”.  Incredible. 

Kibera -- 10 square miles of slums – and it was a powerful experience.  Walking around on dirt streets, people everywhere, all sorts of activity.  There was so much to consume, it was overwhelming but a good kind of overwhelming.  One of those experiences that really puts life into perspective.  I’m thankful. 


A picture from the roof of Shining Hope, tin roofs as far as you can see in Kibera.


Me and the representative from Shining Hope in front of their school for girls.  


Walking in Kibera -- it basically looked like this everywhere we went.  That's our fellow Manny who is a great dude!


Slum Codes

Slum Codes was the first Trustee I met with in Kenya and my favorite.  Their leader, Albert, was an incredibly positive, proactive, and generally awesome guy.  Everyone I met had that spirit and vibe that I look for in people.  In no other place did I feel more welcome and comfortable.  I felt I was among true friends.    

The first borrower I met was a young woman, Rose, who sold candy for 1 schilling (.01 cents).  She used a Kiva Zip loan to expand her product line to hot dogs and hard boiled eggs (a random combo if you ask me!).  Understanding her business model, her cash flows, her evolution as an entrepreneur was totally awesome.   She was a special person that I really appreciated. 

As the name implies, Slum Codes is in a slum in Nairobi and they had loads of really cool programs to keep young adults productive.  They had an Oracle / CISCO training certification to teach kids about computers.  They had a huge library where I was chatting with students, artisans, parents – but most importantly some guys my age who were super cool – Simon and Chadrick. 

We had a blast together – we talked about music, sports, jobs, school.  It was great.  We made a real connection and I went back to hang out with them a week later.  We hung out at Chadrick’s house, played basketball and soccer, walked around their town, talked about life – it was great.  I love those dudes – they were the highlight of “business week”. 


Me and the Slum Codes crew.  Albert on the far right with our fellows, Kunal (next to Albert).


Rose, her mom, and kid at her candy shop.  She was awesome.


Me, Simon (right), and Chadrick (left) chillin hard.  Throwing up the "K" for Kenya.  They were not good at basketball.


Ended the day with Simon and Chadrick playing soccer on their turf at sunset.  They were very good at soccer and it was a total blast!

Week 2 – Play

Daniel and I had one weekend of fun and I carried on solo for an additional 6 days.  It was great – being with Daniel and being solo. 



View of the Rift Valley on the way to Lake Naivasha


Clouds, clouds, clouds, clouds, clouds for days.


Walking Safari -- Crescent Island

If there’s one thing you have to do while in Kenya it’s this.  Seeing animals on foot is the best way to do it.  We walked around for 5-6 hours, just us, no rush, no agenda – it was perfect.  The views and scenery was unmatched and we were literally walking next to all of the non-dangerous animals in Africa – wildabeast, zebra, water buffalo, warthogs, giraffes, monkeys, gazelles – no paths, just walk around and soak it in. 

The highlight was following around this group of eagles that were massive and totally epic.  




I tried my best to get a picture to capture the epicness of the eagle and this was the best I got!





Biking Safari -- Hells Gate National Park

Daniel’s last day in Kenya was one for the record books.  We had the chance to eat some magic candy prior to our epic adventure and it was one of the best days of my life. 

First – anything with biking is likely going to be one of my favorite things.  But this was on another level.  We biked 20-30 miles in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – all day long – loving every second of it.  Once again – animals everywhere, perfect weather -- just pure bliss. 

There was a beautiful gorge that was created from Mt. Longonot thousands of years ago.  It was a really adventurous trek that required a guide.  It was awesome.  Layers of rock, tons of color, hot water spouts coming out of the rock, quick sand – so beautiful and epic.  





Inside the gorge, the walls and surroundings were beyond epic.  That's Daniel.



Hiking a Volcano -- Mt. Longonot

So begins my epic solo adventure!  Daniel highly recommended this hike and it was first thing on my agenda after he left.  My expectations were way off – it was super challenging – 15 kilomters that was either a) very steep going up or b) very steep going down.  I had to be pretty cautious, as I saw exactly 0 people in the 5 hours I was out there (and wearing basketball shoes was just dumb). 

I literally climbed to the edge of this inactive volcano and climbed around the entire edge.  It’s the highest point in this general area so the views were amazing – epic 360 views the entire trek.  While challenging, this had the best views of the entire trip. – totally worth it.  The pictures tell the story. 







Boat Safari -- Lake Naivasha

The boat safari came about on a total whim.  It was amazing!  I saw dozens of hippos with birds everywhere.  The scenery on the lake was epic – especially because I went at sunset, which was the best call.  The sky, the clouds, the mountains, the lake, the animals – to die for.  Amazing vibes. 




video



Camp Carnelliess and Jon

I stayed at a place called Camp Carnellies and got around through a guy named Jon who had a bike.  These two played a huge part in my experience – especially when I was solo. 

Camp Carnellies was $8/night and the best bargain I got on my trip.  They had cold beer and water, amazing food (the spicy crawfish was the best dish I had in Kenya!), and a beautiful plot of land that had amazing birds, monkeys, and trees.  It was sitting on the lake and was the most peaceful place I stayed (by far). 

And Jon…..Jon was my dude.  I met him randomly in the main town of Naivasha when I took the public bus from Nairobi.  He was my partner in crime for three days and we spent hours driving around Nairobi on his motor bike.  Biking is generally unsafe, especially in Nairobi, but Naivasha was so quiet and uncongested that it wasn’t an issue.  Seeing Kenya on a motor bike was an activity in itself.  I wouldn’t have had the experience I had without him and I love that guy. 





Motor Bike -- Crater Lake

Crater lake was super beautiful.  Jon and I went on a safari on the back of his motor bike which took a few hours to complete.  On the way there were a number of beautiful mini-hikes that had epic views of the lake. 

The highlight for me was walking along the top of this ridge that overlooked the lake.  Down below three elephants were just staring me down the whole way.  There heads turned as I walked and they followed me on the 2 mile trek – that was a really awesome experience. 





This is not a good picture of the giraffe eyeing me down.


Lake Nkuru -- Menengite Crater & the Caves

After five days in Naivasha I was ready to hit the road and see a new town.  It was a nice small quiet city that reminded me of Fayetteville Arkansas.  The city was bustling but it wasn’t overwhelming – where Nairobi is completely overwhelming. 

I stayed at a nice hotel for $15 that had wifi and cell reception which was really nice.  Getting the chance to Skype with the fam after five days off the grid was a nice moral boost for me.  I was told about a cool crater at the top of the town and headed straight there from the hotel, and I’m glad I did. 

The previous two days I had climbed Longonot and done the Bike Safari so I was pretty physically exhausted.  When they said it was a 5 mile walk to the caves I was up for it, but I thought it’d be round-trip – the 5 mile one way trek was a killer but it was worth it.  These caves were absolutely amazing.  Unlike any caves I’ve ever ventured into, these were MASSIVE.  Apparently people illegally post up there and use it as a church and there were “FEAR GOD” markings all over the caves which I thought was funny.  The last thing I was thinking in the beauty of those caves was fear – let alone fear of God! 

I ended the trek to a beautiful open meadow in a small community.  Kids were playing soccer and I joined them for a game of pick up.  The views from this spot were amazing.  It was a perfect way to end a perfect adventure.






Nkuru National Park Safari

At this point in the trip, I’d been traveling alone doing a ton of physical activity for six consecutive days – I was burned out.  Till that point I hadn’t done the “traditional” safari, so I wanted to check it out.  This one was unique in that it was a 5 hour drive around a massive lake.  It was beautiful and I was loving it.  The views and scenery were to die for.  I was literally feet away from huge populations of buffalo, rhino, zebras, gazelles, flamingos, pelicans – it was awesome. 

I had the safari driver take me back to Nairobi after the trek and I was ready to go home.  I had gotten everything and more from the trip and my adventure.  But after realizing I had another two days in Nairobi I had to figure out how to end my trip with a bang – and I did. 










Ngong Hills

Monday morning was great.  I slept in, got a great breakfast, and got my inbox down to 0 – an impressive feat after 6 days offline.  I was feeling great and decided to make something of my afternoon.  My friend Taylor, who spent 6 months in Nairobi, gave me a big list of stuff to do – most of which I checked off my hit list.  There was on that thing that was intriguing and it was a hike through the hills that bordered Nairobi. 

I got a cab to drop me off, wait, and take me back which was huge and I took my sweet time going through the vast hills that awaited me.  There was a newly developed wind farm at the top, which made things even more epic.  I would lie down and stare at the huge blades spinning above me -- it was so powerful. 

One thing that I haven’t mentioned that I need to – clouds.  The clouds in Kenya are epic – it’s the only way to describe them.  At Ngong I was in heaven, the clouds were the best – massive clouds that towered above the land for as far as you could see.  It contrast to the wind farms, it was borderline life changing.  I LOVED it.  It reminded me of my favorite place in the world, Mt. Lemon (.d, do you hear me!).  It gave Mt. Lemon a run for it’s money.  Everything about it was perfect. 













Elephant Sanctuary

My last day in Nairobi was spent at a popular tourist attraction on the border of Nairobi National Park – an elephant sanctuary.  I’m generally very iffy on tourist attractions – I try to stay away as best I can – but this was a well deserved tourist attraction.  There were 30 baby elephants running around loving life and I was right there, feet away playing with them for an hour.  Elephants are incredible creatures.  I felt so lucky to be there. 



video


My Take Aways

1) I am lucky.  For anyone to experience this you’ve got to feel lucky.  I am so grateful to work at Kiva, to be where I am, to have the opportunity to experience all the things I have.  So thankful to the universe for giving me amazing, life-changing experiences like this. 

2) What Kiva Zip is doing in Kenya is really really incredible.  The hustlers spirit in Kenya is alive and well.  Seeing it first hand, talking to entrepreneurs, hearing the stories of our trustees – it was really special for me. 

3) Family means everything.  Julia and Blu.  Josh and Christian.  Mom and Dad.  I love them more than anything. 

4) Probably the most insightful for me – I like being alone.  I’ve never traveled alone, I’ve never really done anything alone for an extended period of time.  Being by myself, exploring my mind, experiencing the world alone was powerful and I loved it.  Solitude is bliss. 

5) I’m happier now than I’ve ever been and there’s nothing better than that.  I’m feeing very positive. 




Finally – a few songs that really hit me good at the right time over these past two weeks.