When I first arrived in Nairobi, Kenya I was greeted with every bit as much culture shock as I had expected and more. To be honest I thought I’d never get used to it. And I was right; I never did. But thank god for that.
My first two weeks in Kenya have been more life changing and spectacular than anything I could have ever imagined. The places I’ve already seen in these short two weeks, from the Mathare slums to the green hills of Ngong, have been just unbelievable. The people I have met (and even the ones I haven’t) have been friendlier than anywhere I’ve ever been. And the completely absurd Matatus I’ve ridden everywhere in whose bright colors and blaring music are an acquired taste. All of it has come together to make this experience leave all expectations I had in the dust.
Most all of my time is spent with a man named Mwas, he is the head of the theater element of VOCAL, the main group that I am working with here. He was born in Mathare, the second oldest slum in Nairobi, and he lived there up until he was 18. He and I have done pretty much everything together and as a result have become very close. He’s a great guy and having him around I always feel safe. I’m proud to have him as a friend.
Three days a week I’ve been having rehearsal with Shabooya, one of the VOCAL drama groups Mwas is in charge of. I had pretty high expectations for this group to begin with but these guys ran circles around every one of them. I swear these kids are fearless—they let nothing hold them back and just throw every last bit of themselves into every exercise and game I present to them. I have nothing but respect for every last one of them.
The other two days of the week I’ve been spending at a little school in Mathare teaching English to much younger kids as well as doing some drama work with a group of them. I had never really done any classroom teaching before, especially not elementary English, so safe to say I learned a whole lot more than the kids did in that class.
Whenever I’ve had spare time I’ve been volunteering at a home for abandoned children in Mathare run by a veritable saint named “Mama Mercy”. She sleeps 4 hours a night with somewhere around 20 newborn babies in the room with her.
I don’t think there’s much the world needs more than people like her. And the children there, as well as in the rest of Mathare, are just awesome. They’re always playing and laughing and every time I pass by a group of kids in Mathare, without fail I’m greeted with all of them chanting “how are you” in unison while they grab my hands and follow me wherever I’m going. Nothing could keep these kids from being kids and that is pretty powerful.
In short, these first two weeks have been everything I could have hoped for and more and I’m thrilled for two more to come!
Written by Jack Mullen
Performing Arts Abroad theatre volunteer in Kenya