Kenya School Expedition Facts - Under the gloss

Initially the culture shock is quite considerable. If this is your first time in Africa, you're going to feel disorientated and maybe a bit afraid. There's a whole new group of people to meet and worries like "who am I sharing a tent with ?" will be paramount. The trucks will immediately take you into a whole new world of shanty towns or camps and at first glance the idea of spending time here will seem just plain ridiculous. Thankfully the accommodation is good and the first night is a lot of fun. You start to make friends.

It'll be maybe a bit embarrassing at first to talk to the leaders who will appear very confident and at ease. It is really important that you feel okay about asking them anything. They have all been in the same position as you when they first came to Kenya but their approachability is their biggest asset.

Pretty soon you'll find yourself suddenly with a bunch of African kids, all running amok and you have to do something with them. What ? you will be frantically asking. Well, the leaders there to help you but it is important to realise that communication is the number one factor in making the camp or project a success. Talk with the kids, start trying to understand them, ask them about where they live and so on, sit by the fire and join in the singing (you're in Africa now and Kenyans love singing). You'll be preparing meals with them but you won't have a clue how to prepare ugali, how to make the stew and so on. You'll begin to say "well, what can I give them ?" The answer you will find out soon enough.

The camp will have its ups and downs. You may get ill from tiredness, dehydration and  the whole new lifestyle. It is amazing how the first few days can change you. You may get homesick and  who wants to go to one of the leaders with that little thought ? Again, don't worry, we've all been homesick and it's always good to chat about it. We as leaders will probably see the signs anyway and be asking "are you alright ?". Don't be afraid to say what you feel. Expeditions are a lot about being true to yourself and being open.

Let's face it, you're either going to love being with the kids and building a school or you're not. Thankfully 99.9% fall into the first category and not only that, by the end they can't stop talking about the kids. It can get very emotional and there's no point in trying to be all restrained about it; there is nothing more annoying than somebody who stands back from everything because he or she is just 'too cool'. You can leave all that sort of baggage back in the UK.

By the end of the camp you won't want the kids to go. They won't want to go either. Don't worry, the programme goes on and the kids know that these camps are like holidays for them if they continue in education. It's a bit carrot and stick but hopefully it's a good carrot. You'll be starting to think of the next part of the trip and already talk will be turning to issues like who's sharing tents, is your kit as good as so-and-so and what is it going to be like at 16,000 feet on Mount Kenya? We take you through it slowly, we talk about food, about pace, about altitude and all that. You find out that actually it's going to be good fun. 

The thing about the mountain is that it all happens a lot slower than you imagine. So don't let the whole mountain trek get you worked up. There'll be loads of time to sort it out as we go along and the leaders will be working overtime to ensure that everything is done right.

The first sight of the massive, glaciated, rocky, pointed peaks will cause a bit of a flutter but all will be fine, I assure you. You may start to feel a bit lightheaded and exhausted by the end of the third day. This is all quite normal but if you have followed the advice of drinking loads, eating all the food and not rushing about like a mad thing at over 14,000' then again, it will all be fine. Summit day starts in the dark and that will concentrate the mind a bit but we are all together and you'll be amazed at the experience of it all. The final bit to the top will require some considerable teamwork from you and all your energy. Let me make this clear, if the weather is not good enough to go up to the top or if anything happens which gives us good reason to turn the team back then we will do.

Your safety is absolutely paramount and getting to the top is not the most important thing. I can promise you the most fabulous feeling when you eventually do stand on top of Point Lenana and let the African dawn surround you, thousands of feet above the clouds. Its unreal.

Now you will have forgotten all about those early days when you couldn't remember anyone's name and using a squat toilet brought a shudder at just the thought. Kenya will begin to seem like quite a wonderful place to be after all and you'll feel about ten foot tall coming off the mountain. You'll have worked out all the characters on the trip, the ones who are easy to talk to, the ones who are always there to help, the ones who don't do anything, the ones who are a laugh, the ones who take charge, the ones who moan a lot , the ones who you want to sit next to on the truck and so on. Of course, everyone will have made their own opinions about you aswell ! Hopefully you will find that coming off Mt Kenya is all the better because you suddenly realise that you are part of a wonderful team of people who have just climbed the second highest mountain in Africa and have been higher than anything in Europe, Australia, the Far East and nearly all of North America.

The celebrations at climbing the mountain are usually at our camp in Nari Moru and a goat or sheep is usually killed for you. Some people won't like it, especially when you are offered to drink the blood ( an old Maasai custom to promote courage ). You'll be wondering whether there's anything in Kenya remotely similar to home. Don't worry, you don't have to take part in it if you really don't want to.Back in Nairobi suddenly the old site looks familiar and you'll be saying "Habari !" with the best of them.

Life has taken on a routine and you'll feel a lot more comfortable with the people you're sharing it with. We'll be going into town and seeing all sorts of things and hopefully you'll start to get into the way of life in Kenya, the pace of life, the way people always greet each other with a handshake and a smile, the way people aren't worried about what you wear or peer pressure or how you think you're supposed to be. Survival is all too close to the surface for Africans in general to worry about things like that. It'll be nice to be seen for who you are. Quiet people become more outgoing, and those loud people you remember at the beginning have also changed, perhaps beginning to realise that a big image doesn't work on an expedition. The psychology of it all will not be lost on you.

The whole safari and R&R is great fun but it can get hot and dusty on the game drive and, lets face it, you may not see many animals. It just depends on how lucky we are on the day. Never mind, we will be out in the middle of the Savannah trundling across in trucks and anything can happen. The trucks may get stuck and it may take three hours to get them out, it may rain and a flash flood could make the route impassable for a day, we may have a puncture, the fuel pump could break down on one of the vehicles or there might be a landslip. Expect the unexpected and you have the right attitude. And believe me that if the truck gets stuck in four foot deep mud then it will be up to everyone to help pull it out.

After all the intensity of doing the camp/project and then the mountain, the R&R at the end can be a time when things get out of hand. Suddenly it’s much more relaxed and it can lead to bickering. With time to gossip, little things get put out of proportion. You know how it is. The trick is to keep a perspective on it all and enjoy the sun !

By now the end of the trip will be looming and it'll be clear who you will be keeping in touch with. It is amazing how the smallest thing, the tiniest detail can assume huge proportions on an expedition. The way someone eats, the way a person talks, how they act in a tent, whether they wash or not, how friendly they are…or not, as the case may be. It is important to understand that Kenya and Africamp is just the stage, the setting for an experience. It is up to you to see what part you play on that stage, whether you decide from the start if you are in Kenya just for yourself or for other people. Kenya will not change, she will remain just the same, but you could find yourself changing an awful lot.

Our leaders will be asking a lot of you. We will be asking for initiative, teamwork, a sense of humour, common sense, determination and even humility. We will be asking you to show qualities you may not even be sure you have, in a country and in situations totally alien to you. That is the beauty of an expedition, it tests the ability of an individual in a place where the resources we usually rely on at home simply aren't there. That is why it is a challenge. The challenge is not only to build a school or climb a mountain, the challenge is to see if you are up to it.

Through the course of your trip you will experience a range of different types of accommodation and will have the opportunity to eat and even learn to prepare traditional Kenyan food. In this way we aim to give you a full and rich cultural experience and allow you to see what life in Kenya is like for Kenyans rather than for tourists passing through. The accommodation will primarily be camping but also with the possibility of homestays with Kenyan families in their own houses.

Kenya school expedition - camping

On the project phase of the trip we will camp in a large group with all the staff, the Africampers and also the Kenyan kids from the local community. We will sleep mainly in large safari tents. These sleep 4 people, are large enough to stand up in and have a covered porch area at the front. For our communual cooking area we may have a large mess/kitchen tent or perhaps a small local building. On the expedition phase we will usually sleep in small domed mountain tents, sleeping three persons per tent. The tents are large enough to live in comfortably as long as you are fairly organised with your belongings and work as a team with your tent-mates. The toilets will be shared facilities which will almost certainly be squat-type toilets. We will bring shower tents in which you can wash with hot water.

Kenya school expedition - homestays

As part of the programme you may be offered the opportunity to stay with a Kenyan host family in their own home. It is likely that the home will be that of one of your Kenyan partner peers with whom you will be travelling. We will provide an appropriate amount of money and/or supplies to the family so that they are not left wanting because of it. Obviously the style, size and facilities at the home will vary according to specific circumstances. However we will ensure that the facilities available to you are sufficient for your needs. This part of your stay puts you in a very privileged position to experience real Kenyan life and the essence of Kenyan culture, it is one that will stay with you long into your future.

Kenya school expedition - Food

During your stay in Kenya the vast majority of the food that you eat will be prepared by ourselves in our accomodation or camp. Our staff are masters at cooking large volumes of tasty food in even the most basic of environments. However we will require you to help with the processes of preparing and clearing up the meals. Again this can be a fantastic opportunity to gain first hand experience of another essential part of any culture. You will also learn skills and priciples that are transferrable to cooking any food any where any time. Traditional Kenyan food is healthy, tasty and often very filling. Staple foods include ugali, rice, chapatis, beans, potatoes, vegetables, meat and chicken. The staple foods also vary slightly by area and according to what the main crops are locally. For example some regions have vast fields of pineapples, some have bananas, maize, sugar cane, tea, coffee or rice paddys. We will of course cater for any medical food requirements and to some extent for group consensus on taste. However, do not expect to be eating all traditional European foods or having endless varieties of ingredients.