The Wild Side of a Home Stay in Kenya

I experienced more authentic Kenya in two weeks with the Kaungas than I could have in any other way. I lived in their home, ate traditional dishes, attended a local church and socialized with their friends and family. I was their special mzungo for those few days, treated as a guest of honor, a friend and a family member. For Part 1, click here. 

But my time in the Ngong Hills wasn’t all culture and kumbaya. As much fun as it was hanging with the Kaungas and doing normal, day-to-day activities, it wouldn’t be an Angie Away adventure without a couple of unbelievable tales thrown into the mix.

Adventures with Sharon & Jane

When I wasn’t volunteering at the Compassion center a few miles up the road, I spent my time hanging out with Jane & Sharon during the day while the kids were at school. They’d tidy up the house, prepare meals and hang the clothes out to dry while we talked about everything — boys, God, hair, Pride & Prejudice, Korean soap operas, Swahili lingo and the differences between America and Kenya. These two gals have such sweet hearts. If it were in my power, I’d have snagged them both and brought them back to the US with me.

One afternoon, we caught a matatu to the Nakumatt, Kenya’s version of Walmart, in neighboring Karen. (The affluent area of Karen is named for Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa.) Once I visited the Compassion center and assessed their needs, Sharon & Jane helped me pick out the perfect mix of supplies, treats and toys for the kids and the workers.

Not a day went by when I didn’t have my hair luxuriously styled by one of the gals

On the way home that day from Nakumatt, we crammed into a passing matatu with about a dozen other folks. Matatus are a private solution to the lack of public transportation in Kenya. Basically you stand just about anywhere along the shoulder of the road and flag down a passing van, often painted with bright colors and blaring an interesting music selection, and for just a few schillings, you can get just about anywhere in town. If you have the time. Traffic is brutal in Nairobi — the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately there are some downsides to riding in a matatu, not the least of which is the lack of seat belts and ventilation. Though the windows in our matatu that afternoon were open, the passing breeze was not enough to blow out the stench of a hard day’s work that clung to some of the other passengers, particularly the one sitting to my immediate right. The soles of my feet were burning through the rubber on my shoes as the uncarpeted metal floor beneath me was clearly quite close to an engine or some other heat-producing mechanism. Out of everyone on the matatu, I was the only one who noticed any of these things. Other passengers gabbed away on prepaid cell phones (Betty told me Kenyans do not like getting bills in the mail) or gazed out the window.

The road from Nairobi out to the Ngong Hills is in bad shape. Come to think of it, most of the roads in Nairobi are in bad shape. This particular road is one lane each way and absolutely riddled with potholes. Vehicles pass dangerously fast in the oncoming traffic lane or sometimes on the shoulder. After our humanitarian shopping trip to Nakumatt that day, Jane, Sharon and I were seated in the second to last row of the matatu. Fortunately I couldn’t see out the front window, because the other passengers screamed as our driver whipped off the road just in time to miss an oncoming vehicle.

Some of the passengers grumbled once our matatu driver righted the van and put us back on the road to Ngong Hills, and he was not happy about it in the least. The driver turned around, while still gunning the gas pedal to get back up to speed, and began to shout at us in Swahili. Obviously I didn’t know what he was saying, but based on the veins protruding from his forehead, his wildly waving hands and the pitch of his voice, I could tell he wasn’t telling us about luxury ski chalets or his family trip to Walt Disney World.

Very quickly, Jane, Sharon and I alighted, and they translated the driver’s rant. “Don’t tell me how to drive! I’ve been driving all my life!” Then they told me it was clear the man was drunk. So, chalk that up to one near-death experience in Kenya.

We did lots of singing and dancing 

A Surprise Visitor in the Bathroom

One morning I woke up early and before even putting on my glasses, stumbled to the bathroom down the hall. I did my business in my usual manner, and when I turned around to flush, I noticed a blurry something on the back of the toilet seat.

I squinted my eyes and leaned in for a closer look and realized I wasn’t alone.

There on the seat was a black snake.

Where I was just casually sitting. It may well have touched me with its forked tongue.

Thank God I’m not terribly scared of snakes. Had it been a cockroach, this blog would’ve come to an abrupt end along with my life and I’d be six feet under somewhere in the Ngong Hills. My main concern that morning was whether or not this little fella was poisonous or not and since I’m not too familiar with Kenya snake species, I backed out of the bathroom and ran down the hall to find Jane and Sharon for guidance. Surely they’d know what to do.

There’s a snake in the bathroom. It’s on the toilet! 

No, Angie, Sharon said patiently. It must be a caterpillar.

There are no snakes here, Angie, Jane confirmed with a gentle smile.

I lead the two disbelieving girls into the bathroom and pointed to the snake, still resting on the back of the toilet seat as though he was having his rightful morning ablution.

HOLY JESUS OF NAZARETH!!!

Jane screamed most sincerely to her Creator and nearly knocked me over trying to escape the tiny room.

Any fear I may have had was miniscule in comparison to Jane’s and Sharon’s abject terror. I later learned that East Africans hate snakes even more than most folks, believing them to be a particularly bad omen or a sign of evil. Given I’d just shown up in the neighborhood and now all of the sudden snakes were appearing in the house I lived in, my reputation took quite a hit.

The best picture I could snap with my iPhone

Jane, Sharon and I ran around screaming, flailing and bumping into each other like cartoon characters for a few minutes after discovering the snake. Betty was away at work in the city center and Sammy was in Colorado for a Compassion meeting and of course the kids were at school, so it was up to us three ladies to figure out what in the world to do with the small, but still snaky, snake on the potty. The girls couldn’t come up with a rational solution and were terrified beyond measure, so I suggested we call John, the night watchman, to come help extract the visitor.

Is it poisonous? I asked John as he gingerly used the toilet brush to remove the snake.

It is too small to be poisonous, he said reassuringly. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that’s not quite how the whole poisonous snake thing works.

John rid the house of the snake in short order, but the story had to be told and retold to just about every Kenyan I met the rest of my stay.

Inspiration to Visit Kenya

I love kids and kids love me, a truth I attribute mostly to the fact that I’m not the least bit afraid to make a fool of myself – you’ll soon see what I mean. Jane, Sharon, Sereria and Melodie became my little Kenyan siblings during the course of my two week home stay so I treated them just like I treat RaeRae and Alex, which meant that despite an obscenely slow Internet connection, we had lots of YouTube to watch. Is there anything more exciting for a social media nerd like me than introducing someone to YouTube for the first time? I had a heap of videos I wanted to show them (like clips from the Lion King which they’ve never seen), but only one clip really inspired me to go to Kenya so that was top of the list. Here’s the original:

Did you watch it? I hope so, otherwise this next video is not going to make much sense. (Hint: I make a fool of myself dancing around in the next clip, so even if you don’t usually watch my recaps, this one might be worth a quick glance. If only to mock me later. The redo of the Weebls Kenya video starts at :13)

In short, I was partially inspired to visit Kenya by the Weebls YouTube clip and once I arrived in Kenya, I introduced the Kenyans to it and subsequently recorded our own version. I mean… isn’t that what everyone does when they visit a new country?

I think kids also like me because I bring Fanta and candy =) 

My home stay was priceless. Thanks to Sammy & Betty and the kids for making me feel so welcome in Kenya!

COME AWAY WITH ME!
Get exclusive updates with all the latest news and posts delivered directly to your inbox
  • March 09, 2012
    Mom

    Love it! So sweet! One of my favorites.

  • March 10, 2012

    Awesome! What funny, cute videos – that little boy is precious!!! Oh..and I don’t like bills either…my cell is also pre-paid! Did it after my RTW trip since I saw so many in Europe and elsewhere do this. It saves me a ton of $$. I only spend about $150 a year for my cell.

    • March 13, 2012

      I would do the same but I can’t do without my iPhone… at least not yet. It’s an addiction!

  • March 11, 2012

    This is gorgeous, I can see you had a lovely stay and beautiful company 🙂

  • March 12, 2012

    Fantastic post on a beautiful destination I have yet to see. The snakes on the toilet however, get a big thumbs down. I would have done the freaky dance all the back to Canada!

    • March 12, 2012

      It certainly wasn’t my favorite moment! But I guess it makes for a good story =) Thanks for reading!

  • March 12, 2012

    What an amazing way to really get to know locals, and funny about bad omens and the snake and you showing up at the same time.

    • March 13, 2012

      I felt like such a freak! You should’ve seen the dirty looks I got 😉 But other than that, it was a great visit!

      • May 05, 2012

        Dirty looks from the snake i suppose :)What a nasty character to show up like that. Caterpillars are creepy too in toilets. This story reminds me of childhood fears come true.

  • March 13, 2012

    Hilarious story! For some reason I am now picturing you as Eve in the Garden of Eden, finding temptation in an African toilet…

    • March 13, 2012

      Oh gosh, if it were only that glamorous! No forbidden fruit to be found =)

  • April 03, 2012

    I wish that poisonous rational worked with everything… then I wouldn’t have to be so scared of spiders in Australia!

  • April 04, 2012

    Lovely to read about your wonderful experience in Kenya. Glad that you loved the stay!

  • April 29, 2012

    That video just completely made my week. Love it.

  • April 29, 2012

    OK, so now I see what you meant when in Assisi you said you had “mad dancing & karaoke skillz”. You should have just pointed me towards this post immediately. My eyes have now been opened.

    *backs away* 😉

  • June 04, 2012
    Max

    Hey! First time on your blog. Great read and glad you enjoyed your stay in our country. A homestay is always the best option to experience a less “touristy”, packaged Kenyan experience.
    Welcome back soon!

    • June 05, 2012

      I agree – I got to know the culture so well!

      • June 05, 2012
        Max

        oh yeah, and the dancing 🙂

  • November 07, 2014

    Haha, love the snake story! I had a similar one when the snake crawled into my bed during the night 😉
    Anna recently posted..How to fly around the world for less: RTW flights explainedMy Profile

  • June 23, 2016
    Ray

    Great. Now I can’t get that Weebls song out of my head. Forget, Norway! LOL! BTW, did you ever figure out what kind of snake it was that you found at the back of your toilet seat?
    Ray recently posted..San Juan Bautista de Los RemediosMy Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge