No matter how much you have travelled, it’s always a little daunting arriving in a country you have never been to. Navigating the airport, filling out paperwork, getting your visa, transferring to your hotel.. and doing it all after 4 flights, countless hours of stopovers and very little sleep, it’s enough to make your average person a little crazy.
Scrolling through IVHQ’s facebook page, I see a lot of questions about arriving at the airport and orientation etc, so I thought I’d share my experience and hopefully it’ll help ease some of your anxieties. And if there is anything I have missed out, feel free to ask me.
THE AIRPORT – WHERE TO GO.. WHAT TO DO
Once off your flight, if you’re unsure where to go, my advice – follow the crowd, you can’t go wrong. If that fails, and you find yourself in the bathroom or at a duty free shop with the rest of your flight, walk down the long corridor in between the money exchange and the helpdesk. This will lead you to the visa counter. Before getting in line you need to fill out 2 forms, which are located just in front of the visa counter. They ask you the usual questions, passport number, flight number that you were on etc, but they also ask the address you are going to. Simply fill in the address that IVHQ give you in your welcome pack. They won’t ask questions.
Make sure you have US $50 on you for your visa and remember that in most African countries, they won’t accept notes printed prior to 2009, or notes that are badly damaged/wrinkled/dirty etc.
If you have read your volunteering information, it will tell you to apply for a tourist visa, not a volunteer’s visa. If you are stressed about this (like I was), and think you’re going to get caught and thrown in a Kenyan prison.. don’t be. They don’t ask. But if they do, tell them you’re there to visit their beautiful country, maybe go on a safari or two.
Once you have your visa, follow the stairs down to the baggage claim.. easy.. I think there is only 1 in the terminal. Grab your bag, politely decline all offers from people offering to help carry it for you (they’ll want money), or for taxi’s and take the only exit. It’s a small airport. You can’t really get lost.
MEETING YOUR TRANSFER
My experience here didn’t go down the way IVHQ said it would but there should be someone just in front of the exit holding up an IVHQ sign.. it may also say NVS (network for volunteer services). If by chance there is no one there, head to the small brown information booth just left of the exit. The nice lady I spoke to knew NVS and rang them free of charge for me. My driver was hiding in the carpark and arrived shortly after to collect me.
ARRIVING AT YOUR VOLUNTEER HOUSE
Depending on when you arrive, your driver will drop you at a volunteer house. There are a few of these scattered around Nairobi and it’s here that they store everyone until orientation. These are owned by host families and can house up to 12 or more people. Chances are, the people you meet on your first night won’t be the people you end up volunteering with.
BUYING PHONE CARDS/FREE WIFI/GETTING FOOD/MONEY EXCHANGE
Close by to all of the volunteer houses (walking distance for some, quick matatu ride for others) is a large shopping centre with everything you need. For those wanting to buy a cheap phone, phone card or credit, you can do it here at numerous stores. They also have a few places with free wifi (upstairs in the food court or in the restaurants at the front of the shopping centre). They have a wallmart style supermarket where you can buy everything from wedding dresses to washing machines.. or just water if that’s what you need. There are various ATMs at the front of the centre and there is a money exchange located just to the left of the entrance to the centre.. don’t forget to bring your passport with you if you’re exchanging money.
On orientation day you will be collected and driven to a college where they hold the orientation. They will go through an introduction about NVS, have various people tell you about their programs and will also tell you about safaris and other tours you can do while you are there. You can sign up and pay for these tours at the end of the presentation, and you can call and book at a later date if you haven’t made up your mind at that stage.
After a few hours you will stop for lunch, and then be put into groups based on your project. Here they will explain in more detail what you can expect from your placement. You can ask questions and talk to NVS about any concerns you have. Note that by this time NVS will have already allocated you to a project and it’s very unlikely they will allow you to change on the day.
With orientation done in the early afternoon, NVS will then allocate you a car/van which will drop you at your placement, or host family’s house.
If you don’t feel that your placement is right for you, NVS will allow you a few days to request to be moved to another project. If you have not contacted them within a few days, you will be required to stay at your placement for a minimum of 2 weeks.
SAFETY & GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
They mention it in the welcome pack but I thought I would touch on it anyway based on my experiences.
- Don’t walk around the streets after nightfall, not even if you’re in a group. If you’re held up at gunpoint, the fact that you’re in a group won’t protect you.
- Taxi drivers will almost certainly try to rip you off.. do some research before you go anywhere and know what the standard fare is. For metered taxi’s, make sure the driver has turned the meter on. For unmetered taxi’s, make sure you negotiate the fare before you accept the ride.
- The same on matatu’s. Some will try and charge you more than the locals. Stand your ground and refuse to pay more. They won’t chuck you off and if they do, another one will be by within a few minutes.
- Be careful on matatu’s. Hold your bag on your lap and don’t put valuables in your pockets. If someone asks you to swap seats with them, for whatever reason.. don’t. Be prepared. Matatu’s can get very full so you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re pressed up against 3 guys with your camera in your pocket.
- Don’t be scared that something may happen. I felt pretty safe most of the time. Just be cautious and take precautions to avoid being robbed. Don’t flash your camera around, don’t leave money in your pockets, don’t wear expensive jewellery.. you know the deal.
- Girls.. be aware you will get hollered at.. all day, every day. Majority of the time it’s harmless and can be dispelled by ignoring them or politely declining whatever it is they offer you. You will very quickly get used to being stared at and yelled at, even by women and children. They don’t mean any harm, they’re just intrigued.
Despite the above warnings, I found Kenyans to be extremely friendly and welcoming. They see it as a blessing that you are there to visit their country and they will tell you so too. Go with an open mind, be prepared to welcome whatever comes your way, and you won’t be disappointed. I promise you that.
If I have missed anything or if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.