In July 2018, my 17-year-old daughter Lydia and I joined 20 or so other adventurers from the U.S. and Kenya for a two-week service project in south-central Kenya – a week in Nairobi and a week in Embu. We cleaned windows, chairs, cabinets, etc. in the children’s ward of Kenyatta National Hospital, renovated a playground in Embu, spent a good deal of time with kids, and got up close and personal with giraffes.

Although we served at the Kenyatta National Hospital for four days, we were not allowed to take pictures; they were quite twitchy from a recent exposé in the media.

Embu had fewer restrictions on photography, although they still didn’t want photos taken around government buildings. Here are the before-after pics of the playground we worked on.

The ground was hard-packed, and the grass was very tough and deeply rooted. We had to get it all out, and we moved in several tons of dirt via bucket and wheelbarrow to level the surface.

While we were in Kenya, Barack Obama was also there, and got a lot of media coverage.
When we went to Embu and met the kids at Modern Green Primary school, our site leader David Fleurant said Hi.

Many of them thought he was Obama.

Edd Rothschild is 18 feet tall and weighs 6,000 pounds. (Fun fact: a group of giraffes is called a tower.) I met Edd at the African Fund For Endangered Wildlife’s Giraffe Sanctuary. It’s about 12 bucks to get into A.F.E.W. Or, you can pay $600 to stay at Giraffe Manor for a night, where Edd will also pay you a visit.

I was pretty thrilled; Edd just wanted to eat.

We ate very well. The Kenyan diet is relatively simple, but very healthy. In contrast to a typical U.S. diet, it’s locally grown, freshly prepared and cheaper than fast food (of which there is almost none). We ate a lot of hardboiled eggs, ugali, rice, mokimo, beef stew, and cooked cabbage. Dessert was pineapple or watermelon. And we had tea at 4:00(ish) every day, often with mandazi. On the way back from Embu, we stopped at Nice Rice Millers LTD, where Christine bought me a matomoko fruit. Kevin Oduor assured me it was delicious:

After ripening for a day, it turned out to be very tasty – sweet, slightly tart, and somewhat chewy. If you can find it here, it’s also known as soursop.

Our group took a trip to the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in downtown Nairobi.

This is the building featured on the 100-Kenyan-shilling note, along with the nearby statue of the Founding Father of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta (who is featured on every denomination of KES):

100 KES is $1.00 US.

Through Dubai, it’s 9,434 miles between Chicago and Nairobi. Somehow, it now feels right around the corner (except for the all the flying!)