Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Monday, October 31, 2011

First Impressions and Advice from a Newcomer

“I hope everyone has a sense of humor,” yelled Sergio, who was steering over the crash of the waves against our boat.  By the time we arrived on Wasini Island, all five of us new volunteers/inters are soaked to the bone (along with all our belongings).  We have just crossed the channel between Shimoni and Mkwiro in the midst of an apocalyptic down pour that staff members seem all too quick to reassure us is not normal.  Our good timing continues.  The tide is out so we have a small trek to base camp.  Hoisting our monstrous backpacks onto our shoulders, our bedraggled group slowly trudges over to the formidable coral steps leading from the beach up to the place where shelter awaits us.  Steps conquered, we are unanimously too tired to even take in our new surroundings and without hesitation, throw our bags onto the first available bunk bed.  We then hastily hang our mosquito nets and silently pray for the call to dinner and bed.  “Can I do this?” I wonder.  “Can I do this for six months?”
At 6:00 AM I awake to the sound of shrieking rats.  “I guess it’s time to get up.”  Trying not to wake my sleeping bunk, I fumble around in my backpack for biodegradable shampoo and soap.  Pausing to step over a sleepy millipede, I grab my towel and stumble out of the main house.
Don't you agree Mkwiro is a paradise?

Once out in the early morning light, I remember exactly why I went through all this to get here.  Despite our muddy, sweaty, sea-soaked journey the previous afternoon, I feel clean juts stepping into the clear bright sunlight.  I take a moment to absorb its warmth and breathe deeply as I feel the gentle ocean breeze blow across my skin.  I make my way to the beach and the steps I equated to a trek up a Mayan temple yesterday have become an inviting descent into the cool crystal blue waters where we have the pleasure of bathing.  All alone with only the sun and the sea, I strip to my bathing suit and dive in.
There really are no other words to describe Mkwiro other than a tropical paradise.  The living conditions are quite basic but it only enhances (and preserves) the island’s natural beauty.  Sharing daily shores creates an instant sense of community among the staff and volunteers/interns.  Even as a newcomer from America, I never felt lonely or isolated.  There is a sense of pride you gain early on while discovering how crucial the work of each individual is in order to maintain a clean, safe living environment.  Getting your hands dirty is a must, and they will get dirty.  They will probably stay dirty all day long with every other part of your body.  Learn to love it; learn to cope with it, or this place is not for you.  Having said all that, if you’re up for it, this is an opportunity not to be missed. 
After only a few days on the island I have already learned the pleasures of waking up with the sun (even if only because attempting to sleep through twenty bleating goats and a rat fight is an exercise in futility); a far cry from my 12:00 pm stretch and yawn at home.  I have also come to love the feeling of having earned my meals, either through work in the community, helping others at base camp, or working out in the field.  Mkwiro is what you make of it.  Leave your expectations behind and experience each moment in the present.  Heed this advice and new friends are sure to follow; perhaps even more than you’ll know what to do with if you participate in reading under The Big Tree in Mkwiro village! 
I’ll leave you with some parting words of local wisdom… pole pole (take it easy), and when all else fails… Hakuna Matata!

Text: Sarah Klien