An experience to remember for a lifetime
Arriving in Kenya
After a twenty hour flight and a nine hour lay-over in London, we landed in Nairobi,
Kenya. It was Thursday morning, February 16, 1990. Walking off the airplane, we got our
first look at Kenya. The land was a flat, grassy savannah which seemed to stretch
endlessly to the horizon. Acacia trees dotted the landscape. As I looked around at the
terrain, I was reminded of nature shows that I had watched back home.
The hot, humid air greeted us as we walked off the plane and stayed with us until we
entered customs. After having my passports stamped, I waited for my classmates; I noticed
that everyone passing by looked so dressed up. Most of the men were wearing slacks, a
dress shirt, and a sport coat. Gosh, I thought, how can they do that? It
must be at least eighty-five degrees.
I didn't fully comprehend that we were on the other side of the world until Jonathan
exclaimed: Can you believe it? We're in Kenya you guys! Then I could believe
it. It seemed as if my heart stopped for a second. Other than London, I had never been
outside the U.S.. For the next eighteen days, I would have some of the most memorable
experiences of my life.
We had arrived! We walked across the runway, through immigration, and straight to the
baggage claim. All around us were signs in both Kiswahili, the national language of Kenya,
and English. We had fun trying to pronounce these words correctly and discover their
After we had all passed through customs, we pulled our group together and acknowledged the
moment; we had arrived safely in Kenya. Gary gave everyone four hundred Kenyan
shillingsabout twenty dollars in U.S. currencyso that we would have some
spending money. Then we walked out of the airport. Our Kenyan host, David Maina, was
waiting there with three vans. Karibuni Kenya! (Welcome to Kenya!), he
exclaimed. After several handshakes and friendly greetings, we put our baggage into the
vans and sped off to the Nairobi Game Park.
We got our first taste of Kenyan wildlife
at the gate of the game park. There was a colorful tree, teeming with hundreds of birds.
These birds would dart in and out of small nests into the sky. I had never seen anything
Maina and Julius teaching us about the language and the culture
We learned enough Kiswahili to communicate with the people.
When we arrived at the YMCA, Maina introduced us to Julius. Julius is an instructor at
Maina's language school in Nairobi. They both became our instant friends and companions.
Julius' tribal home, Kitu, is a large town east of Nairobi in Kamba territory. He spent
the early part of his life there, but, as there are few jobs in his rural district, he
came to Nairobi several years ago to find work.
What I remember best about Julius was his friendly smile. I loved how he said,
My name is Julius, with his rich tribal accent. When teaching Kiswahili his
smile would always come through. Whenever we answered a question correctly, he would smile
and raise his finger and say, Ndio (yes, that is correct).
When I spoke with him, he was always pleasant and very easy to get to know. He wanted to
know all that he could about America; this desire made for active conversations. Since I
have returned, my memory of his smile remains vivid.
When we first arrived in Kenya, I wanted to meet someone and talk to them, using the
Kiswahili that I had learned at school before we left. During the drive from the airport
to the YWCA, I hung out the window of the van and called out, Jambo! (Hello!)
to everyone I saw. I was excited when they understood me and waved back.
When I got to the YWCA, a 20 year old Kenyan girl named Juliette came into my room
looking for my roommate. She was my next door neighbor, but she always hung out in my
room. When she saw me, she ran over and shook my hand. I took the opportunity to practice
my Kiswahili again and said, Habari gani? (How are you?). She responded,
Nzuri! (Good!), and we both started laughing.