Two weeks in Nakuru: What have we learnt so far?

Two weeks in Nakuru: What have we learnt so far?

During training, we were told time and time again that our volunteering placement would fly by. But how quickly can three months spent in a completely new place go? Well, if our first two weeks here as Balloon Kenya’s latest intake is anything to go by – pretty fast.

Over the past fortnight, us volunteers – ten UK, nine Kenyan – have lived, learnt and shared experiences and friendships together here in Nakuru as we’ve taken our small first steps towards the big goal of supporting sustainable East African enterprises.

From in-depth classes into Balloon’s business curriculum to heated discussions on gender roles, inquisitive first conversations with our entrepreneurs to a group trip to see Nakuru’s take on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, we’re all in agreement that it’s been a busy introduction into our new lives!

But what have we learnt? We caught up with Jess, Abel, Gladys and Steven to hear what they think about the culture change.

How have you found the food here in Nakuru?

Jess Murdoch, UK Balloon volunteer, 2016


It’s been really interesting actually – my assumptions were completely wrong. I’d expected Kenyan dishes to be full of spice. That hasn’t been the case at all. Lots of the food we’ve eaten so far has been much plainer than any of us anticipated.

It would be impossible to talk about Kenyan food without mentioning ugali – their staple dish. It certainly divides opinion! Made up of just flour and water, it’s like a thick, stiff, white dough. But I can’t get my head around why people are such fans – they’re crazy about it!

Mary, my host mum, is a great cook. She’s always insisting we eat more – the portion sizes can be overwhelming at times – but there’s definitely no worries about going hungry while we’re here! Snacking during the day just isn’t a possibility!

Another thing to mention is that I wanted to go veggie when I came back from Kenya. I thought it would be really hard to not eat meat here – but it’s totally the opposite. The vegetarian dishes I’ve been served are great and really well seasoned.

Even in a household made up of meat eaters and vegetarians, Mary caters for both really well. I never go hungry, I feel like I’m eating healthily and most importantly, the food is tasty! Here’s a standard day:

Breakfast – coffee, green tea, two boiled eggs and some watermelon

Lunch – chapatti with cabbage and kale – called sukuma wiki (meaning ‘push the week’ in Swahili after its ability to stretch resources through the week!)

Dinner – bean, courgette and red pepper stew, chapatti

What’s been your experience of the Balloon curriculum?

Abel Baraza, Kenyan Balloon volunteer, 2016


Being aware of the damage that international aid can cause when applied badly, it’s fair to say I begun my ICS placement trying to look critically at how Balloon’s business curriculum could actually benefit the very real lives of our Kenyan entrepreneurs.

But on the first day of training, I was hooked. The facilitators were engaging, fun, and most importantly – the content was interesting and relevant. On the second day, my previous assumptions were challenged and any remaining doubts were gone.

I had thought I knew everything the programme would teach me. I was wrong. It was factual; it was evidence-based; it provided simple but effective ways of modelling businesses that could very easily be applied to entrepreneurs working in the informal sector.

In the training, Balloon introduced a quote from American venture capitalist Randy Komisar, which stuck with me long after the session finished: “Because they can make the dog jump, entrepreneurs somehow assume that everyone wants a jumping dog.”

It’s a great quote because it shows the value of challenging your assumptions – something the course went on to demonstrate the benefits of. I saw for the first time that testing business ideas will be crucial to our entrepreneurs’ success.

And so, just like my assumptions about the value of the curriculum were wrong, I’ve learnt to keep an open mind, question and challenge the status quo and to not be afraid to jump in and try out ideas! Bring on the next nine weeks!

Tell us about your experience of living in a host home.

Gladys Chepchirchir, Kenyan Balloon volunteer, 2016


Before I left for Nakuru I was definitely anxious about the idea of living in a host home! I’d worried myself with preconceptions of all the things I feared the house and family would be like – but when I got here it was completely the opposite.

I knew what I wanted – a friendly and welcoming family. I wanted to be taken in not as a visitor, but as one of them. I wanted to live somewhere safe, close to the town centre, and easy enough to get around. Not too many expectations!

But everything’s great. My host mum is the mirror image of my real mum! She’s taken me and my counterpart, Georgia, in as her daughters, and as the only kids in the house it’s fair to say we’re pretty spoiled.

We’re so free – right from the start we were asked exactly how we like our food. At first she was reluctant to let us cook, but every day we insisted that we needed to help her out. Last week our small victory was when we finally broke her down and she accepted!

My host mum and dad are an outgoing couple with kids living abroad. They’re a pair who have travelled all over the world, who are well cultured, and who are experts at living with people from outside Kenya – but still very keen to keep their own traditions.

It’s been a great chance for us to embrace their own traditions, though. At home I go to the Anglican church – but here my host mum goes to the Presbyterian. There’s been no expectation to join her but it’s been really nice to experience her religion.

As part of the older generation, they’re used to cooking foods like mandazi (fried bread) without sugar, which was a bit of a shock for those of used to sugar in everything we eat! For me, these little differences in cooking style are really interesting.

So it’s fair to say that when I go home, I’m going to really miss them. From our talks about Nigerian life with Georgia to religiously watching the ridiculously popular Mexican soap opera La Gata every evening, we’ve totally become part of the family!

How have you found travelling around town?

Jaskirat Thethy, UK Balloon volunteer, 2016


I guess I thought I’d be travelling around in tuk tuks. It seemed like the most convenient way to get around, but the more time I’ve spent with the Kenyan volunteers and host family, the more I’ve realised that many hadn’t taken tuk tuks before. The reason – they’re expensive.

Although a journey in a tuk tuk is less than a bus or train fare for us UK volunteers, a matatu is significantly cheaper, with fares generally between 20-60 shillings (£0.13-£0.39).

The matatus – 14-seater minibuses which can extend to 16 seats using sambazas (‘invisible chairs’) when demand is high!) – have been a lot of fun. From the loud Afrobeat music to the getting squashed, it’s the best way to get around.

And on weekends the matatus even reverse around corners to find extra customers. Imagine the same tactic in London?

We’ve also learnt the art of haggling!

The trick, I’ve found, is to start 100 shillings less than the price you’re willing to pay and settle for 50 shillings more. It’s not perfect, but it makes me feel better!

I’m a keen cyclist in London but I’d be terrified to bike around here. Most accidents occur due to aggressive matatu drivers overtaking slower vehicles overtaking even slower vehicles. It’s crazy at first but you soon get used to looking from every angle at once!