Threadless in Africa! (Very image heavy!)
On May 5th, 2011 I shipped off to Kenya with four of my good college friends. Originally, we were on a medical mission to Uganda, but literally 4 or 5 days before our trip, there were shootings and murders posted in the New York Times in the village we were suppose to work in. So, needless to say, we had to re-plan our whole trip. One of my friends had worked at this orphanage about two hours north of Nairobi in the mountains (9,000ft elevation!) a year earlier, so we thought, why not? We had non-refundable tickets and we would go to Uganda if things cleared up a couple weeks into the trip. Unfortunately, things only got worse in Uganda so we were unable to go, but things worked out for the best. This trip really taught me about... well, life.
I arrived at the orphanage open-minded, not knowing what to expect or really how extreme the conditions of living would be and whatnot, but I swear this place felt like home the second I stepped foot in it. We were greeted by all the children, lined up and singing. After introducing themselves one-by-one, the kids didn't waste time meeting us. I was pulled in about 8 different directions by little hands wanting to give me a tour of the house. The kids just instantly welcome you into their lives, just like that.
Besides teaching at the school, we got to visit one of the largest slums in Africa, Kibera, and wow was that a humbling moment. The shacks are so close together and span for miles. Walking through them was crazy. I hate to say this, but the ground literally felt and smelled of human feces. We went with an organization that goes into the slums and finds the most talented kids - academically and athletic - and trys to find them sponsors to get them out of the slums. Another "wow" moment was when we visited clinics in Njabini. Patient records were the equivalence to reading material in a doctor's office waiting room, and the operating/delivery rooms smelt of unsanitary. If i remember correctly, it was something of about 2 out of every 8 patients were HIV+. It really opened up my eyes.
I guess I should talk about our living situation. In a nutshell, we had no showers (just nice ice cold buckets of water), electricity for only 2 hours of the day if the generator wasn't broken, running water sometimes, and every meal was some variation of beans, rice, and maize. But, in lieu of it all, I have never been so happy. I mean, of course I craved burgers 24/7, but there's just something about this place that makes you lose your reliance of what you once had and lived by. I did lose about 5lbs during the whole trip, though. So, for the majority of the time we were in Njabini, we taught and tutored at their school. I still remember the first day of school. Waking up at 6am, and wondering how we were all suppose to fit in the school bus (Land Rover). Try picturing the 18 kids, us 5 volunteers, 2 teachers, and the driver in one Land Rover. Hard, right? Well, we did it. Luckily this is one of the only vehicles in this village so the road isn't busy. The road is also a dirt road, and during the rainy season this was bound to happen:
This was a basic daily schedule for me. Wake up at around 6am, help the kids get ready for school, get the gang rounded up and ready to go, and head to school. To save fuel, we ended up walking to school most of the time. And wow, the scenery is just fantastic walking. It was about a 2mile walk, and if you haven't experienced life at high elevations, it is a workout. We had to cross some rivers, climb up some super steep hills, and hop over some barbed-wire fences, NBD. But, it was beautiful. Let me just show you some pics of our walk to school:
Okay, let me move onto the kids...
This is Peter (or Smoke as we called him). He was one of my main tutees, and I love this kid to death. Peter and I just clicked from the get go and I honestly consider him one of my best friends. There wasn't a day that this kid didn't make me laugh and smile.
Getting to know the kids, and what makes each of them special was the best part about this trip. Finding out about some of their backstories, where they came from, and what they came from can put you to tears. But, seeing them now and how happy they are regardless of what they've been through is just so inspiring. These kids have shown me what happiness really is.
QUICK HIGHLIGHT FROM MY TRIP: So, a common thing in Njabini is that schoolkids just roam the streets and hangout. What they also do is follow around "mzungus" (white people/foreigners) that walk around as well. Some of them tend to grab your hands and walk miles away with you. I just found this whole thing crazy. Well, one favorite memory from my trip is when about 20 schoolboys were following me and my friend Bobby. I was probably the first Asian/Pacific Islander to step foot in this village. So, everytime I took my sunglasses off I heard the words "Jackie Chan!!!". They don't even know what Chinese is, they just consider Jackie Chan an ethnicity. Haha, well me and my friend convinced these boys I was Jackie Chan's son and I became a celebrity just like that. They tried to get me to run backwards and do backflips but I said I was tired and couldn't do them in my gumboots. We also taught them the song "Born in the USA" and we all sang it on the walk back to the house. Good times. Also, kids are scared when you point a camera at them.
So, as most of you know, I brought a bunch of Threadless shirts with me to Africa. Threadless has been a huge part of my life, and I thought to myself, I have more than I need - why not spread the love and amazingness that is Threadless? Sharing these shirts with them (as clichÃ© as this sounds) was like sharing a piece of my life with them, and a way for them to remember me by. I can still remember vividly the smiles they had when they got these shirts. It first started out as fighting over the designs (everyone wanted Boombox for some reason), but eventually everyone found a shirt for themselves. These shirts were all size Medium, so they ended up being dresses on most of them, but I don't think they cared. haha. And then we had a nice photoshoot together... where you can see how much Uncle Jeff taught them how to smile in pictures! haha
And, of course... there's always a goodbye.
One of the saddest goodbyes I've ever experienced. I'm not afraid to admit I cried and was depressed for a couple days after. haha. The kids say goodbye to you the same way they greeted you. With a song, except this time half of them are bawling their eyes out. I was doing fine until my boy Peter couldn't say goodbye to me. It was like Niagara Falls flowing out of my eyes from there. One of the hardest goodbyes I've ever had to do. In my head I knew I'd be back, but, leaving Peter was heartbreaking.
I know I'll be back soon, I promised him.
Nakupenda sana, Kenya and Threadless. (I love you, Kenya and Threadless)
Thank you guys for all your support throughout all this and extra thanks to Dustin for making me bring my camera to Africa. :)
And here's some more random photos:
Also random note:
My photos are on display on a building in a Seattle as part of an art exhibit! woo :)