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Original 2017-12- 03
With thousands of backstage private messages from interested readers flushing in, we finally take a moment to sort that out a bit. To our surprise, most of the inquiries involve volunteering life and actual work. In view of this, we arranged a few Skype interviews with our previous volunteer, Zoe. Zoe is also generous enough to share part of her diary, and there comes this ‘First-hand Africa’ series.
‘First-hand Africa’ series comes in six episodes
Episode 1: Dream Country (pre-interview, diary)
Episode 2: Nairobi Life Heck (living cost, getting around, foodies, languages)
Episode 3: Pack and Go (visa, luggage)
Episode 4: Working as a Volunteer (job nature, daily routine)
Episode 5: The Stranger (life adventure)
Episode 6: The Last Words
Here is this question I have always asked: If you can pick 3 countries to visit, any country, what is in your list? The answers I received take many forms, but there is only one answer to me — Africa, Africa, Africa. It was the same in the past, and still the same right now. I have been imagining living in ‘Africa’ countless of times. Those granny imaginations, as compared to this authentic experience, resemble similarities, and also differences. This is experience, authentic and direct. If I have not had this experience, I would never had known the truth.
Basics of interviewee
Name of interviewee: Zoe Zhao
Volunteer duration: 2016.5- 2016.9
Volunteer ID: 025326
Interview Excerpt (motivation & expectation)
Motivation: There are two pieces of thing I die hard to do – ‘go to Africa’ and ‘volunteering’. When there is such opportunity to ‘volunteer in Africa’, it simply fits me perfectly.
Expectation: Apart from being a bit excited, there were other feelings in particular. I tried to held myself open to this upcoming authentic Africa experience.
Impression on Slum (By Zoe)
Garbage, stinky ditch, chickens and goats running around
— First impression of foreigners coming to the slums
Opportunities, research focus, endless possibilities …
— Perspectives of foreigners working in the slums
Home, sleeping place, life …
— Slum residents
An African slum in eyes of different people – each got its own view. While to those living here, this is just another typical day. There were few times, when I walked along streets of the slum, a kiddo came up,
‘Buy me a lunch!’
‘Why?’ I feel baffled,
‘Because I am poor, you have money,’ he said, straight forway
‘Why would I have money?’ I was still confused,
‘All the foreigners have money,’
‘I’m a foreigner with no money, I’m just a student, my family does not even support me coming to Africa, and I’m here because of money I earned from working part-time the last year,
‘Oh,’ He paused, handed his lunch box out, ‘This is for you!’
I can hardly describe the look in his eye, that was pure straightforwardness. And while it was me who had trouble reacting to this now. Looking at the box of Ugali (Kenyan food) and greens, I could barely speak.
‘…… Thank you, but I’m not hungry, you can have it,’ I squeezed out barely a sentence after a long time. He did not take his lunch box away, but looked at me, confusedly.
‘I’ve already eaten’, I pushed back the lunchbox over his chest. He turned around and happy to eat again.
The same scene and dialogue often flash back. Every time, every memory make it differently. There are loads of stories of this kind, and with every bit of it, they form a piece of fragment that I used to slowly understand the place. My thoughts and imaginations became more concrete. If someday, someone ask me: ‘How is it in Africa? How is the slums?’ I will say: ‘go and see it yourself, and you will figure out’.
Excerpt of Zoe’s Diary
Bit by bit, I started to adapt into the everyday rhythm of life here. It becomes so natural that I need to subconsciously remind myself that, this is Africa, here in front of my eye. The sunshine, sky, dust, air and even background noises, are all within a touch. I no longer feel nervous walking to the slum, rather it comes naturally. At the Matatu bus station, the bus coordinator also starts recognizing my face. He would greet me from a distance and even help me with finding a bus. Life is getting better, slowly.
The same old work day at slum. Nevertheless I start figuring out the trick, and all these makes me feel comfortable.
Work in the slums remains the same, and I started to find the focus of my work here. Everything makes me feel comfortable.
It is 20:00 when I was heading back today, and the same time Nairobi started getting lively. At a glance, the whole street is full of heads, citizens making their way home with this booming music. Occasionally I walked past a shop, with this phenomenal music pattern, I would also get excited because of the life here.
At the end of the street is this open-end, I jumped into the gap. Two seconds later, this bus hopped in, with its iconic rear-light. I swear, I am slowly falling in love with this place. The confusion when being bumped off by incoming shoulders, the speechlessness when gotten misled into the wrong bus, the madness getting ripped off by street sellers, they all form part of this thing called ‘love’…. accompanied by frustration, anger, misunderstanding, but also excitons, happiness, curiousness, these all emotions are so true to the extent that I fall for it.
On my Matatu road back home, I observe every picture displaying outside the window. There are people negotiating on prices, there are people selling stuff, there are people enjoying supper, there are people chit-chatting, there are people rushing their way, there are people pulling the truck, there are people on a date, and all of these livelihoods only belong to this place called Nairobi.