Follow me as I blog my way through 12 months of travel, 20 countries, 2 volunteer programs, 44,000 miles, over 20 flights, countless chicken bus rides and 365 wonderful work-free days.

Posts tagged ‘Africa’

A LITTLE INTRODUCTION TO VOLUNTEERING IN NAIROBI, KENYA

quitting-your-job-to-travel-the-world

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.

ORIENTATION

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.

CHANGING PROJECTS

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.

You give me FEVER… the best injection ever

You’ve been planning it for months. You’ve made lists, and checked them twice 10 times. You dream about it and think about it everyday. You find ways of bringing it up in every conversation you have with every person you see. The trip.. the big trip.

It’s so easy to do all of these things and be blasé about it when you’re still living your ‘normal’ life. But then there is that moment when you stop.. and realise.. oh my god this is actually happening. It’s not a dream anymore. IT’S REAL and there is no turning back.

That moment for me was this morning when I got my Yellow Fever Vaccination.  I’m assuming it wasn’t the rush of a foreign substance being pumped into my veins.. no it was general excitement. I walked out of the doctor’s surgery and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I felt free.

The reality is that in 9 weeks I will find myself in Kenya, about to take on something I have never done before – volunteering – or teaching English for that matter. Standing in a class room full of children so eager to learn and hear what I have to say.. but what do I have to say? I have no idea, I’ve never taught before.

As for my placement and accommodation, I’ve requested to be placed somewhere as rural and remote as possible so chances are I’ll be living in a simple hut with no water and no electricity. Past volunteers have told stories of only being allowed to bathe once a week in one bucket of water. As for my meals, I’ve been told I’ll be eating lots of rice and potatoes and that it’s not uncommon to have to pick weevils out of your food before cooking. Sleeping is generally on a mattress placed on a dirt floor and I’m afraid to even think about the toilet situation. I’ll live like this for a month before heading South on a camping tour.

So that’s the reality. That’s what hit me this morning while sitting in that doctor’s office. Such a huge impact for such a small needle.

How vastly different my life will be. And I can’t wait.

No wait… I’m not ready

I’m now on the official countdown. Ok so I was technically on the official countdown about 6 months ago but now that I’m into singular digits, it’s super official.

I’m leaving in 9 weeks (oh my god) and it’s really starting to hit me. In just 9 weeks I’ll be leaving my family, my friends, my oh so comfy bed, my favourite foods, my hot shower and my clean and varied selection of clothes, and I won’t see them again for a year. A WHOLE YEAR…

So I’m working myself up for that moment… and freaking out in the process.

I find myself going to bed at night and wrapping myself in the clean sheets, sinking into the comfy mattress and drifting peacefully to sleep. I’m embracing every moment of it knowing that for the next year I’ll be sleeping on god knows what, swatting my mosquito net out of my face every time I roll over and chucking a hissy fit in the middle of the night because something is crawling up my leg. I don’t want to go.

I find myself standing under the shower for a lot longer than I should. Loving that hot water comes out and that I have no chance of being electrocuted by live wires hanging above me. And loving that I’m behind a locked door and I don’t have to wear shoes in case I get a fungal disease. I don’t want to go.

I find myself consuming sushi by the bucket load, craving Thai food and fish and chips. Cooking Sunday roasts on weekdays and eating chocolate like it’s going out of fashion. I miss food from home when I’m away. Does Africa have sushi? I don’t want to go.

I find myself longingly staring into my wardrobe, agonising over what to take with me. I should take 2 pairs of jeans because they always stretch if you wear them for too long and they don’t fit properly and then you have that saggy arse thing going on and you look a bit like you have a penis because the front goes all pouchy.. but I can’t take 2 pairs because my mother has packed my bag so full of useless items that I’ll never use and I don’t even have room for underwear. I don’t want to go.

I find myself spending more and more time with family. The hugs are longer, the laughs are louder and more frequent. I feel like I want to hold on to them and never let go. And I’ve begun questioning myself why on earth I would choose to leave them for a whole year. I don’t want to go.

So here I am.. 9 weeks to go and I’m clearly in the freaking out stage of my countdown. I’m sure next week will be different. I’ll move on to the totally unprepared stage or something, but for now, I’m not ready, time is going too fast. Help!!

Solo Travel… it’s not that scary

Having gotten somewhat used to the “what the hell for?” and the “are you insane?” comments when telling people about my upcoming adventures, every so often someone will catch me off guard and tell me how inspirational I am and how excited they are for me. Thank you. These comments help to ease any doubts or insecurities that may rear their ugly heads from time to time.

What surprises me the most however, is the number of people that tell me I’m brave and that they wished they had the courage to do what I do.

I don’t understand this. I don’t know what people are so afraid of.  So below I have listed a couple of things that people have touched on and hopefully it may encourage some of you to take that leap of faith, and just DO IT. It’s not scary.

  • Safety

Don’t put your life on hold for the ‘what ifs’.

Of course you have to be careful and use your common sense. Don’t walk around at night alone, don’t accept a lift from someone you don’t know, don’t leave your drink unattended in a bar etc. Basically just take the same precautions as you would at home and be alert.

Information is power.. or so they say…DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are so many websites that you can check out regarding safety, and I list some here on my planning page.

If you’re a first time traveller or really worried about safety, think about doing an organised tour. They are great for meeting new people and you’re never alone (if you don’t want to be). One of the things I love most about organised tours is that you’ll often be taken somewhere you would have never considered going, and you’ll end up falling in love with the place. Some companies that I can recommend are:

www.intrepidtravel.com

www.kumuka.com

www.contiki.com

For me, safety has never really been a big concern. I live in Australia which is a pretty safe country and yet you still hear stories of people getting shot, murdered, kidnapped etc. I pay about as much attention to these stories as I would about stories in Mexico or Brazil. Am I naive? Probably. But I’m a big believer that if something bad is going to happen, it will happen, and that you shouldn’t put your life on hold for the ‘what ifs’.

  • Leaving it all behind

Do you stay for them or do you go for yourself?

Some of you may have more to leave behind than I do, or have had to in the past, and you have to consider each aspect of your life and decide, when all is said and done, can you leave it behind?

Whether it’s your job, your house or your family and friends that are holding you back, you have decide what’s more important to you. If the desire to travel means more to you than everything else.. I think you have your answer.

I have a wonderful, loving mother and father, two awesome sisters and some amazing friends. While I’m overseas I miss them everyday. To make it even harder I have 3 beautiful nieces who even now as I write this, bring tears to my eyes just thinking about not seeing them for a year. I’m afraid they’ll forget me or that we’ll lose our close bond with each other. But there came a time when I had to decide, do I stay here for them, or do I go for myself?

  • Being lonely

You’ll get lonely, no doubt about it, but it will pass.

What I love so much about travelling is the incredible people who you meet along the way.  Before every trip I worry about the same thing. What if I don’t meet anyone? What if no one likes me? and it usually takes about 30 seconds after arriving or meeting a new group that those thoughts are gone out the window. I’ve made lifelong friends throughout my travels.

Yes you will miss your family and friends. I think every traveller has that problem somewhere along the line. But it passes. You’re sad for a day or two and then you remember where you are and what an incredible opportunity this is, and you gradually forget about being sad.

  • Not knowing where to go/getting lost

I think it’s all part of the adventure.

I’ve gotten lost and stranded many times but I’ve never come across a local who isn’t happy to help you, and I’ve always been able to find my way. Open your mouth, speak to people, ask questions. Even in countries where you don’t speak the language there’s always an option. Look at the signs, ask taxi or bus drivers. Ask enough people and you’ll eventually find someone who speaks your language. Or my strategy – just keep walking until you see something that looks familiar.

Don’t be put off by the thought that you may get lost. Who cares??? you’re travelling so chances are you’re not late for anything. Enjoy the adventure. And hey, you may even end up stumbling across something wonderful that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Is there anything I’m missing?

I’d love to hear what else worries you when thinking about travelling solo. Let me know by leaving a comment below.  

BANG HEAD HERE….reactions from friends & family

When telling friends, family and random strangers about where I am headed during my year of travel, the reaction, 9 times out of 10, has been somewhat like this…

Hayley: “well I’m starting in Africa and then heading to Mexico and…”

Them: (a look on their faces like I’ve just told them I’m going to join the fight in the Afghan war), followed by “are you insane?/what the hell for?/it’s so dangerous/I saw on the news/a friend of my neighbours uncle went there and…”

Hayley:  (rolls eyes, shakes head, and bangs it up against a wall for the tenth time that day)

Have you noticed there’s always that story of someone’s friend who went there, got kidnapped and held for ransom or was robbed by a syringe wielding junkie? Now I know these things can happen, but is it going to stop me from going? No.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for taking advice from people who actually know what they are talking about. But after hearing the above scenario for the hundredth time, from people who have never even left the State, let alone travelled overseas, I have developed a motto of sorts. It goes a little something like this:

IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN THERE, YOU LOSE YOUR RIGHT TO GIVE ME YOUR OPINION ABOUT IT.

…unless your opinion is “great, that’s so exciting”.

I highly recommend developing a similar motto when planning a holiday or RTW trip, or feel free to steal mine. It’s completely universal.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that maybe I need to add a #11 to things I have learned while travelling, and that is to accept that not everyone is going to be as excited about your trip as you are. And I’m ok with that.

Is it just me, or is this a common thing among other travellers? Please feel free to leave a comment, share your stories or put me out of my misery.