When I went to Kenya last month, I expected the unexpected. And Kenya did not disappoint me. Here’s 9 things that I didn’t expect to

Open wide!

see there.

9. The Weather- When I think of Africa, I tend to think of large stretches of desert or open savanna and I imagine that the weather is dry and hot. Kenya had a lot of savannas, but the temperatures ranged from a dry pleasant mid-70s in the daytime to cool 60-degree temps at night. This despite being almost right on the equator. I was there during the dry season and got to experience a dust/rainstorm as it blew in over the savanna. The dust cause people to head for cover, the cooking ladies to cover their pots and dust clouds to blot out the stars. It’s not like any storm I’ve seen in the states. It could be seen coming from miles away, but blew in quietly.

8. Big Animals- Well, okay, I knew Kenya had large animals like elephants wandering around. But I assumed I would need to go on safari to see them. But out in the country, some teammates and I encountered wild elephants crossing the road. Near the Nairobi airport, there’s giraffes that can be seen in an open field next to the airport. Plus the national park offers some animal-viewing opportunities without having to go on a full-blown safari.

7. The Roads- For starters, Kenyans drive on the left side of the road instead of the right. But it’s the condition of the roads that’s the

Samburu mothers

Samburu mothers singing in Parkishon

surprising part. In the rural areas, roads are unpaved and often have large rocks and ruts in them. Trying to traverse them in anything less rugged then a Land Rover is asking for trouble. Out in the country, it’s also common to have to slow down to get around herds of cattle. In the city, roundabouts rule. Not many stoplights or other traffic direction devices exist and it’s a bit of “every man for himself” at times. Driving is not for the faint of heart here.

6. The Walls- In Nairobi, nearly every building had walls surrounding it. Whether it was an apartment complex, a hotel, a mall, a hospital or almost anything else except a gas station, they all had walls. The walls were usually made of either concrete or metal and topped off with barbed wire or shards of glass designed to scratch up any daring intruder. I don’t know what the reason is for such security, but I’ve never seen so many high walls everywhere.

5. Security Guards- With so many walls come lots of security guards. Since all the walled complexes needed gates for people and cars

Elephant Crossing

Elephants crossing the road between Parkishon and Karare

to get in and out of, nearly all of them had at least one guard at the gate. Some larger complexes have several guards, some who tote around AK-47s or other weaponry. Sure, other countries have guards too but they are usually a little more discreet.

4. The Gate-Raisers- In some places, a gate arm needs to be raised to let cars into a parking lot or road. In the US, gate arms are automated. But in Kenya, most gates have a guy standing there to pull the arm up. They usually don’t do anything else then that since a second person will collect parking fees, check cars, etc. All they do is raise and lower the gate. Apparently it’s cheaper to hire someone then to put the automation technology in. It’s certainly one way to keep the Kenyan employment rate up.

3. Clotheslines- In most apartment complexes and condos around the city long, colorful clotheslines with the day’s wash can be seen hanging off of balconies and windows. Washer/dryer units are not a common feature in most homes, so clotheslines are used instead. It’s an interesting way to see the different standards of living between Kenya and the US.

2. Singing- Out in the rural areas of Kenya it’s common to sing while doing tasks like cooking or cleaning. But what really surprised

Kids in Karare

Kids in Karare

me is how long people could sing. I went to church on Sunday in a small village called Parkishon. The children were already singing when I got there, and they kept singing non-stop for well over two hours. And they seemed to enjoy every chorus of every song they sang. It was so beautiful to listen to.

1. The Generous People- I met a lot of wonderful people while I was in Kenya. But what astonished me was how generous the Kenyans were to me and the rest of the team I was with. The women of the church that we visited gave everyone a beaded necklace. Which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that it takes nearly a week’s income to be able to buy the supplies to make just one. Then at the end of the week, the villagers slaughtered a goat in our honor. It’s the highest honor that a village can give to a guest, and it’s significant since it means a villager gave up a piece of his property for us. On our last night in Karare some girls walked through the area we were staying in. Some of the other women and I struck up a conversation with them and we had a nice chat for half an hour or so. They then said they would stop by in the morning before we left to say goodbye. Sure enough, they returned and brought us more necklaces. Incredible, considering that we did nothing for them except talk.

I like to think that I’m a generous and hospitable person, but I have a thing or two to learn from the Kenyans.