Reflecting on my time in Kenya - a blog by Matt Warner

Many of you X-factor fans who watched the show on Saturday evening will remember the all-girl group “Little Mix” from a few seasons ago.  In Kenya, it was the term used to describe our 4th cement mix of the day –  just one “little mix” to go…6 wheel barrows of sand, 9 wheel barrows of stones and 3x50kg bags of cement. Pour in about 20 buckets of magi (water) then stir with a shovel until it resembles a grey stone sludge.  To quote Andy Lee “my wife won’t believe I’m doing this!!” That’s probably true for most of our partners back home, but ‘do it’ we have and the medical facility we’ve been charged with building at least now resembles a building versus the pile of bricks, sand and gravel that greeted us on arrival. Through the cement stained faces, arms and legs a collective sense of achievement has certainly being shared amongst us.

Aside from mucking in on site, it has been a challenging week in so many respects.  Some of the scenarios and emotions were envisaged beforehand, but so many were completely unexpected.

On the light hearted side of things; highlights include giving Meir his first Marmite experience (“hmm, must be a British taste” was his diplomatic reply), hearing the “bear joke” (thanks Andy Lid), watching an enthusiastic paint covered hand go to work in a confined space (you had to be there, sorry!) and proving that good old fashioned English defending has a place on the football field even as far away as Ol Maisor (reference to Olly’s blog from Friday, but in my defence, he would have kicked me if I hadn’t kicked him first!!).

On the emotional front, where do you start?  Maybe with the simple things: The smiles that greeted us each morning at assembly, the innocence and fun the young kids enjoy as they play in the playground every day and the determined hard work and drive of the fundi (local workers) working alongside us.

But that rosy picture shouldn’t mask-over some of the realities of life in Ol Maisor. If you were to judge the standards of hygiene, nutrition, health & safety and social welfare by those you consider the norm at home then they’d fall woefully short.  For me, that’s actually what makes the abundant character and personality of the people so admirable.

The first emotion I had when arriving in Ol Maisor was one of sympathy. A sympathy that was based on me judging every situation and scenario against the life I live back home.  In reality, my sympathy actually contributes nothing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the vast majority here just wouldn’t want it.  If our efforts can help provide stability and improvements around absolutely essential things like health, education, basic amenities and opportunities, then that’s something to be proud of. Something that will enable this community to live, grow and support itself long after we are gone.

I’m not for one minute saying I’d like to give up my lifestyle and all the things I now consider essential to daily life as that would obviously be a lie.  What I do question is; what’s to actually say that one style of life and community is “better” than another?  Although we’ve only touched the surface in our short time in Ol Maisor, I respect and admire the vast majority of people we met and the way they go about living their lives.

I guess the question I’m asking is; would the lives of the people I have met in Kenya really be “better” if their Saturday evening revolved around the decision of whether to watch X-factor or Strictly Come Dancing?