Thursday, 8 June 2017

Visiting tea tree farmers in Kenya with The Body Shop

Last year I was chosen as the winner of a competition organised by The Body Shop based on my pledge to enrich the planet and people. Last month I received my prize, which was joining them on their visit to the Kenya Organic Oil Farmers Association (KOOFA), a cooperative of over 550 small-scale farmers around Mount Kenya National Park that The Body Shop buys their tea tree oil from. On 15th May in the morning, I headed to London Heathrow to meet Elen, The Body Shop’s Marketing & Corporate Responsibility Director, and Tasha, a vlogger who was documenting the trip, who I both travelled with to Kenya. We met in the business lounge and travelled business class, which I was very excited about. The business lounge included a complimentary buffet, snacks, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, and access to computers. The seat in business class felt like a little cabin and was facing backwards, which was interesting because I was facing downwards during ascent, and upwards during descent. There was someone sat on the other side facing in the opposite direction and there was a screen between us that could be closed. I had a complimentary pair of headphones for the TV, a washbag, and a blanket and pillow because the seat could be turned into a bed. There was a wide selection of TV programmes and films, and I especially enjoyed browsing the list of new releases. In the end, I decided to watch 'Hidden Figures' and 'Jackie', both of which I'd wanted to see for some time. I enjoyed many glasses of Rosé champagne, a 3-course meal, snacks, and afternoon tea. I’m always happy to have a window seat on planes because I never get tired of looking outside, and I find it fascinating to follow the journey on the screen. I saw the coast of Egypt and I was really hoping to fly over the river Nile, but we didn’t. The last few hours of the flight were dark. The flight was so amazing that I was laughing with joy at some points. The flight took about 8 hours and arrived late in the evening, then we took a taxi to the Town Lodge Hotel. Whilst travelling business class and staying at such lovely hotels after what I saw was something my conscience struggled with, I made the most of the opportunity.

We woke up early the next morning and after a very quick breakfast, we met a Richard, the General Manager of Earthoil, a company that specialises in the manufacture and supply of pure, organic, fair trade essential and cold pressed vegetable seed oils. Together we headed to the domestic Wilson airport, although unfortunately due to some kind of mix-up we ended up on different flights to Nanyuki, a town in central Kenya known as a gateway to Mount Kenya and its National Park. Richard ended up flying on his own, and the three of us flew on our own. Elen and Tasha seemed nervous because the plane was very small and had less than 20 seats. I heard that these flights are often cancelled because there aren’t enough passengers. It did create some struggles for me as a person who tries to be thrifty and environmentally conscious. The flight only took about 30 minutes, and I was happy to see that the pilot was female. The views were incredible, and I saw some animals, including giraffes, as we flew over Nairobi national park. Luckily I had my binoculars to hand. The runway that the plane landed on consisted of gravel, and had apparently previously only been grass. The airport was the smallest I had ever been to, even smaller than the airport here in Tampere in Finland, and smaller that the airport when I lived in Melilla in Spain. There were no conveyor belts to collect our luggage, it was just carried, which was a lot simpler and faster, and which I had often wished would have been an option when I lived in Melilla.

We had an introduction and tour around Luckhurst farm and distillation unit by the manager, Martin. We also met Heather, The Body Shop’s Sustainable Sourcing Manager, who has a very interesting background and seemed to know a lot about wildlife. We learnt that after six months when the trees have reached around 2 metres tall, they can be cut down and taken to the distillation unit within 12 hours of harvest to be turned into oil. The stumps then grown into trees again and the farmers can rotate around the different blocks of the farm. Any excess is used as fertiliser, and therefore apparently, the whole process doesn’t produce any waste. We then met the farmers, and learnt about their social and community projects that they are able to use their premium for. They introduced themselves, sang songs, and were finally able answer and ask questions, and give both positive and negative feedback about their experience growing tea tree. I admired the sense of community between farmers, who help each other out, for example when one of them has a health problem. The farmers requested that they wanted to see the final products, which Elen had brought with her to show and give to some of the farmers to use. They also requested that they could have their own shop to sell the products at the farm, although the feasibility of this is questionable due to The Body Shop not having any branches in Kenya, and the price of the final products themselves being very high by the standards of the local people.

The Body Shop established its Community Trade projects (formerly Trade not Aid) 30 years ago, and this particular project 10 years ago. Whilst Fairtrade is beneficial, it may not necessarily be long-term. It can sometimes be temporary and seasonal, and disrupt the ongoing livelihoods of farmers who may leave their regular trade for a Fairtrade alternative. Afterwards, they may be left with nowhere to turn to. Alternatively, community trade is an ongoing and long-term partnership.

Irrigation for the farm

Tea tree seeds

Tea tree oil after being distilled

I was also interested in the surrounding nature and wildlife, especially yellow weaver birds who weave their nests upside down, and beetles that sounded like bees that kept flying around.

Then we went to the nearby wonderful Trout Tree restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is high up in a tree, which is accessed via a wooden bridge and overlooks the trout farm below. I enjoyed a delicious vegetable platter. As we were leaving, we saw monkeys in the trees. They were black with very long white tails and looked like they were wearing white shawls. I later found out that they are called Colobus monkeys.

Feeding the monkey

In addition to the buying the plastic chairs for the local hall that we had met the farmers in, one of the uses of the premium and social fund that KOOFA manages is to award bursaries to enable local children from disadvantaged backgrounds to complete their education. We visited one of the schools that has benefited from the premium, which was a primary school. We had a quick tour around the buildings, met the teachers, and some of the students sung and gave speeches, especially some of the many students who had positions within their own student council. I think it’s great that the students are given positions of responsibility. They were preparing for their upcoming sports day. They used to scrunch up old newspaper and tape it together to make footballs until Earthoil provided them with some footballs. I felt mixed emotions and had tears in my eyes. We found out that the school children really like biros, so we brought lots of packs to give to them.

The head teacher's office

I've never high fived so many times!

In the evening, we headed to Mount Kenya Safari Club hotel, and on our way, we stopped at a sign on the equator where we could have our photos taken. Incidentally, the hotel has spectacular views of Mount Kenya. Upon arrival, we were given drinks and a personal letter welcoming us to the hotel and providing us with a list of activities! I really wanted to visit the animal orphanage and go for a swim, but unfortunately both the orphanage and the swimming pool closed before we arrived and opened after we left the next day. Instead, I walked around the hotel and enjoyed its extensive grounds and wildlife, as birds, including peacocks, were wandering around. There was a traditional dance performance outside in the evening. I discovered an ‘equatorial suite’ when walking around the hotel, which was interesting, and I wondered what it looked like inside. I sat outside next to a fire looking at the mountain before some cocktails and a 3-course dinner. Whilst staying at these hotels, I found it strange that my luggage was carried for me when I am perfectly capable of carrying it myself. At this particular hotel, it was transported around the corner by golf cart and taken outside my room door! When I researched the hotel before the trip, it said that it includes a ‘turndown’ service. I had no idea what that meant until I returned to the room after dinner to find my bed open for me. When I got in bed I wondered why it felt so warm, when I discovered there were hot water bottles inside, which was very cosy. There was also the option to indicate to the staff to have the fire turned on, but unfortunately I forgot to do so. A small elephant figure gift to keep was left on the bedside in the evening, which was a nice touch. There was a separate bath and waterfall shower, and I decided to have a shower. I realised this was a good decision when I found a spider in the bath in the morning. I had a group video call with my Mum, sister, and girlfriend, because I was so excited and I wanted to show everyone where I was staying.

During the huge breakfast buffet outside those Colobus monkeys were running around, probably hoping for some food. Peacocks were also squawking outside someone’s room, which was probably irritating for them, but I found it pretty funny. The hotel prepared some posh packed lunches for us to take with us when we left.

Very posh packed lunches

Then we visited different groups of tea tree farmers on the upper part of Mount Kenya in Timau Region and near Ol Pejeta Conservancy, who have received gasifier stoves with CarbonZero certification and water tanks. They were all from different backgrounds and in different situations. I particularly remember the first farm where we met farmers Joyce and Cyrus, who were retired teachers able to speak English well and owners of a nice house and extensive farmland. The farmer’s wives were often very shy, but were also encouraged to contribute to the conversation. Many of the farms were struggling due to the lack of rainfall, but Joyce and Cyrus had installed water tanks to collect water from the foot of Mount Kenya. They also had avocado trees and banana plants, and we were able to try fresh bananas! At the next farm, initially the family were a little fearful of us and our technology, asking whether it was “godly”. Eventually, the 90-year-old farmer became interested in my camera and wanted me to take a photo of him. I will contact The Body Shop and hopefully they can send him a copy. There was also a young child who was fascinated by seeing a photo of himself and his mother on Tasha’s camera, and we were told that he has “never seen anyone like you”, meaning a white person. It was difficult to see the reaction of some farmers to the ‘Western’ price of the products. One farmer in particular was very fast in calculating his wage against the price of the final product. However, I later heard that the very small proportion of tea tree oil in the final product; and the costs of production, shipping, and marketing in Kenya and the UK, both of which have very different costs of living, must be considered.

Avocado tree 

Banana plant

The next farm was closer to Mount Kenya and therefore more moist. It was raining and the track was very muddy, so we had to get out and walk. We were told it was about 100 metres, but it was actually much longer! I should have worn my waterproof trousers and walking boots, because my shoes got covered in mud and so did my legs because I was wearing shorts. We were invited into the house of the farmer and his wife. He had some new furniture and said that he had bought it with the money he receives from tea tree farming. However, as the tea tree is harvested every six months, he also grows other crops which can be harvested more regularly. Several of the farmers had other crops in addition to tea tree, including bananas, avocados, cotton, sugar cane, and other interesting produce… Another nearby farmer who came to the house was very insistent that his wage should be increased. Both farmers were also requesting more seedlings in order to increase the size of their harvest, which seemed to be a difficult situation because the demand does not require more. The farmers were giving different figures regarding how much they pay their workers if they employ additional labour, and therefore it seemed difficult to come to a conclusion about their finances. They had a community meeting on Friday that Heather attended regarding their payment, although Elen, Tasha, and I headed back to Nairobi in the morning. Elen and Heather gave some of the farmers the tea tree products from The Body Shop, although encouraged them to give it to their children because those particular products are designed to treat the skin of young people, particularly blemishes. We gave one farmer an extra product because he said that his son really liked the product when he received it after a previous visit. By this time, myself and others really needed the toilet, and so we experienced using their toilet, which involved squatting inside their hut with a hole in the ground. The last farmer we visited has a tea tree farm just outside the Ol Pejeta conservancy. He had previously had a problem with the animals from the conservancy destroying his crops, although this improved since the electric fence around the conservancy had been installed. We then went to visit a plant nursery which is used as a demonstration for farmers to provide training and education about sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit another school and meet the children who had received scholarships as was specified in the schedule.


Then we went to Sweetwaters Tented Camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It was absolutely incredible. The ‘camp’ is located next to a watering hole where you can see the animals. The ‘tent’ is under a shelter and inside is a massive bed and an en suite. It definitely wasn’t the kind of camping that I’m used to! There were net windows so I could see the watering hole from my bed. Whilst the tents behind us looked lovely and were raised above the ground, I preferred being in the tents on the ground, which were closer to the watering hole. After a buffet dinner, including a station where you can have a freshly prepared stir-fry made with ingredients of your choice, we went for a night game drive in the conservancy. It was very exciting because the man in the passenger seat was shining a torch looking for animals. We saw two male lions who appeared to be competing for the attention of a female. For some time, it looked like a pair were going to mate, but they didn’t. We then saw another group of lions with cubs, a buffalo, elephants with babies, and a southern white rhino.

I tried to catch this well-camouflaged spider in my tent in a glass, but it was too big. After getting someone to help, I found out that it is poisonous and its bite can put someone in hospital! Later I also found another spider, although that apparently wasn’t dangerous.

We were up early in the morning for a game drive before breakfast. This time it was less dramatic and exciting, but easier to see the animals and very beautiful. The sunrise against Mount Kenya was breath-taking. We saw antelope, gazelles, baboons, buffalo, giraffes, rhinos, zebra, and impalas. The driver took us to a ‘rhino cemetery’, which was a memorial to rhinos poached on the conservancy since 2004 by poachers who manage to cut the fence, enter the conservancy, and kill the rhinos in order to obtain their horns. This is mostly due to the value of rhino horns for medicinal purposes in the Far East. The conservancy has also had some problems with lions attacking the rhinos. The conservancy has three species of rhino: black, southern white, and northern white.

Whilst I’m sceptical of nature and animals being used as tourist attractions and its possible negative impacts, I understand that it can be a beneficial way to increase both conservation funds and people’s awareness of endangered species and their possible positive impacts.

We saw the last three northern white rhinos in the world: one male and two females. The average lifespan of these is about 40 years, and the male is already 44. As he is struggling to reproduce, artificial insemination may be the last hope. They are in a separate space and have extra security. 

After an amazing buffet breakfast, Heather organised for us to learn more about The Body Shop’s cooperation with the conservancy by speaking to its Community Development Manager, Moses. All the animals are able to freely enter and leave the 360km2  conservancy through ‘corridors’, except the rhinos because they are so endangered. Therefore, it is particularly important to support the nearby farmers because their farms can be affected by the movement of the animals. Furthermore, providing new alternative sources of income such as tea tree farming also supports the conservancy by discouraging poachers. Last year, The Body Shop partnered with Flora & Fauna International (FFI), an international conservation charity, and the conservancy to provide local farmers with access to clean water through building rainwater harvesting infrastructure. ½ million litres were collected last year, and the project aims to collect 1 million by 2018. The target of replanting 5,000 seedlings last year to restore the river habitat was doubled at 10,000. The conservancy also allows local school groups to visit free of charge.

In the afternoon, we had some free time, so I walked around the camp and watched the wildlife. It helped that Heather lent me her binoculars, which are significantly better than mine. I really liked a bird with orange and turquoise shiny feathers which Heather told me is called a brilliant starling. There were many of them so I assumed they are common. It was interesting how a common bird such as a starling could be so beautiful.

Later I answered some questions from Elen and spoke about my experience whilst she recorded it for a video that will be shared on social media. I was amazed that the camp had such good Wi-Fi. I was so excited that I video called my Mum again and I was able to walk around and show her the zebras. Whilst I was sitting on the bed and talking to her, I saw an elephant approaching the watering hole! At other times, I also saw birds, including storks; antelopes; impalas; warthogs; and a rhino drinking at the watering hole. There were also camels fenced off in the camp, although I don’t think that camels would normally be in such as place. The hotel was offering camel rides, but I’d done that before in the Sahara Desert and it was a little scary and painful for my legs. My Mum also loves animals and wildlife, and I know she would have adored this trip. If I am ever able to take her on such a trip, I will. When we’ve travelled together before, I loved seeing how exciting it is for her.

In the afternoon, we went to the chimpanzee sanctuary. We had a tour around the chimpanzee enclosure, which is separated into two sections to prevent fighting between the two dominant males. There was also a visitors’ cage, and when asked about it, the ranger told a story about when one of the chimpanzees escaped and he had to put some visitors into the cage for their own safety because chimpanzees are very strong and can be aggressive. They are also very intelligent animals. He said that some of them had to be put inside whilst the electric fence was fixed because they had figured out how to get through it using a branch! Most of the chimpanzees were rescued from being pets, or being orphaned as a result of their parents being killed for logging or for bush meat. Some of them had acquired bad habits such as smoking and drugs, and those who were born in captivity wouldn’t be able to be released into the wild again. I only got one photo of one chimpanzee that approached us, as they were shy. The photo looked rather sad because he was behind a fence, although when we went up to an elevated platform, I saw that the enclosure is pretty huge and the chimpanzees are provided with various play stations. We also visited the information centre where we read about the stories of some of the chimpanzees.

On the way to the rhino sanctuary, we had heard that there had been a leopard sighting in the area and so we were looking for it. The driver, Leonard, said that it is very rare to see them, but Tasha spotted it sat under a tree! It was beautiful and I loved the way that its tail twitched. We also saw an elephant with a baby.

At the rhino sanctuary, we saw a blind black rhino named Baraka who also has a separate space because he is blind in one eye and lost the other in a fight, making him a target for lions and poachers. We were able to touch and feed him, and he made a very loud crunching sound when I fed him a branch.

On the way back to the camp we saw some baboons with babies, and also a rhino and a baby at a watering hole. I don’t think they were happy with our presence because they charged at the car! Leonard said that he had had some near misses before.

The next morning before we left, we went on another morning game drive before breakfast in search of some lions by day, although we didn’t see any. We did see some ostriches and wild cows in amongst the animals we had seen before.

I would have liked to have also seen some hippos, but I think we were very lucky with what we did see. The conservancy claims itself to be home to the big five game animals are the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. When questioned about the origins of this and why animals such as giraffe and zebra weren’t included, one driver explained that the big five are a group of animals that were commonly hunted.

Whilst we were waiting for the taxi driver John to arrive, I was relaxing around the camp and then Elen suggested that we could get massages if we wanted. I had never had one before and I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of it, but I thought I can’t really say without trying. It was amazing and so relaxing!

I had my first massage!

On our way out of the conservancy we went the long way around in a final attempt to see some lions by day. We didn’t see any, but we did see some more zebras, some elephants around a swap, an elephant taking a dump, and another very close by in a bush. Then we drove back to Nairobi airport. It took about 5 hours because of traffic, so then I understood why we arrived by plane. It was amazing to drive back through all the villages and hear John tell us all about them. We saw a huge coffee farm. When we stopped in one village, a crowd of people came to us selling fruit through the car window. People were also selling fish, and because they smell in the car, people hang them over their wing mirrors as they drive home! The traffic was so slow on the 3-carriage motorway that people were standing in the middle of the road selling water, snacks, and sweets. We realised that the reason that the traffic is so bad is because there are speed bumps and zebra crossings on the motorway. However, people didn’t seem to use them and just ran across the road at random points. John said that many accidents happen because of this. There are also pedestrian overpasses, but motorbikes seem to use them rather than pedestrians. It seemed that someone was impatient, as they were driving on a dirt road that looked like it might be the hard shoulder, but in the opposite direction. When the traffic seemed gridlocked, some cars just drove off the motorway onto the pavement or the grass. It was total chaos!

An elephant taking a dump

John dropped Elen and Tasha at Nairobi airport. I had asked to stay for two extra days because I wanted to see Nairobi, so he then dropped me off at the Fairmont Norfolk hotel, which was the same chain as the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club we had previously stayed in, so I also got a figure gift to keep each night. The hotel was old and beautiful, and apparently, Winston Churchill had previously stayed there.

I wanted to make the most of my time in Kenya especially because I spent a considerable amount of money on vaccinations against yellow fever, hepatitis, and meningitis; and tablets against typhoid and malaria. It seems that mixed with the allergy tablets and the other medication I’m already taking; the side effects weren’t particularly pleasant. I was sick a few times, anxious, and had terrible dreams – or should I say nightmares –, although usually I can’t remember what I dream about. I have to continue taking these for one month after the end of the trip, and I’m looking forward to when that month comes to an end!

I took the following vaccinations and medication based on the recommendations of the organisation who organised the competition and UK country-specific travel advice.

I got the prescriptions and vaccinations at the Tampere Finnish Student Health Service:
I took three of these (altogether €170.55 (£153.08))
Total €329.20 (£295.46)

I put one vaccination in a freezer bag and got it at administered at my previous doctor in the UK. This was because I had already booked to be there when I was due to have my next vaccination.

The next morning after another wonderful buffet breakfast, I went to the hotel to ask for a map in order to make some kind of vague plan where I would go. The receptionist seemed pretty confused, so perhaps this isn’t something people often ask for in a 5* hotel. Anyway, she managed to find an old conference map which wasn’t the best, but it showed all the main streets. The hotel has a lot of security, and you and your luggage must be security checked each time you enter. I wasn’t sure whether to find this reassuring or scary. I was leaving the hotel when the security guard asked me where I want the taxi to take me. I was heading to the market, which was only a few streets away, and said that I’d like to walk because I can see more that way. He looked a little concerned. I’m not sure if I was naïve, or if he was over-cautious, or maybe both. He seemed more reassured when I showed him my map, the lock on my bag, and my money belt under my dress which was a useful gift from my Nan. I had asked John’s advice, and he had told me not to go around in the dark on my own, so I always made sure I headed back to the hotel when I saw the sun setting. In Kenya, it seems to get dark a lot sooner and faster than Finland and even the UK.

Perhaps I should have taken a taxi because I did get lost and ended up in an area that seemed a bit dodgy, and where I got approached by some people with strange requests. For the first few hours I was nervous to be walking around on my own. Perhaps I had got too used to the luxury of the previous days! However, once I found the city centre and saw other tourists then I felt more comfortable, although still wary. I stumbled across the central park on the way to the market. I then saw the Jamia Mosque and the McMillan Memorial Library. I saw a lot of signs claiming that the area does not tolerate corruption, which was interesting because I’ve never seen anything like that before and it made me assume that corruption is a problem in the area. I then went to Uhuru park, where I found a memorial to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era. I saw a lot of remnants of British colonialism in Kenya before it became independent in 1963, such as British architecture; the use of English on the streets, the radio, and the TV; and red post boxes. I used the park’s dodgy public toilet that you pay a small fee for, and the cleaners there seemed to look at me like I was crazy, I’m not sure why. The three main avenues in the city are named after important figures in Kenya’s past; Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s respective first and second Presidents; and Haile Selassie, perhaps because he was friendly with Kenyatta and resisted colonialism. I then saw the Office of the Deputy President, the parliament, a microfinance bank, the Supreme Court of Kenya, and the city hall. I frequently noticed advertisements and services providing M-Pesa, which is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 by Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. In the airport, I also saw an advertisement for ‘Ecobank’, presumably aimed at the Kenyan diaspora. It was interesting to finally see the things I had been taught about and seen lecturers’ photos of whilst studying my Bachelor’s degree in International Development.


There were election posters plastered everywhere for the election in August. The best slogan goes to “Mama with a vision”, a poster that Heather pointed out in Nanyuki. I was surprised how early the campaigning starts in comparison with the UK. I could already see party floats and warnings against violence on the TV.

There were a lot of beggars on the street, many of whom were disabled, although I’m aware that there are gangs who take children, especially orphans, injure them, and put them on the street to gain money for their operations. Of course, this is not always the case, but locals also warned me about this.

After some lunch in a local café, I was walking past the parliament when someone approached me. It was low season, so there weren’t really many other tourists around and I was getting a bit irritated about not being left alone. The man introduced himself as Wilson and said he works for a tourist company called Maasai Mara Train Safaris. I was a little nervous, but he had a badge and card that looked authentic. We chatted for some time and agreed that he would take me to the Karen Blixen Museum, the Giraffe Centre, and the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage the next day. He said that his business was struggling and so I was happy to support him rather than the ridiculously-priced Jaguar ‘taxi’ that the hotel offered. I noticed other female tourists also being accompanied by a man. Even though I am a feminist, I have to admit that did feel much safer in his company, not only because he is a man, but because he is a local. He took me up the up the 28-story Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) and he had to sign in using his tour guide ID or something, so it seemed legit. At the KICC, there’s a former helipad and there used to be a restaurant, although unfortunately this closed down, apparently because business wasn’t going very well.

Someone casually just hanging on the edge

Former helipad

I went to the John Michuki Memorial Park near the hotel, which wasn’t as nice as I’d envisioned, then headed back to the hotel in the evening for a swim in the heated pool and dinner at the restaurant.

The next morning, after another lovely breakfast buffet, I was picked up by Wilson and his friend David who was driving. I was still a bit nervous about it, but I had given his details to my girlfriend and the hotel, who seemed to think it was fine. It was nothing personal to Wilson as he seemed friendly enough, but I knew that I had to be careful because I was on my own. Firstly, we went to Karen Blixen’s house and museum. Karen Blixen was a Danish author who is best known for ‘Out of Africa’, an account of her life while living in Kenya. This was also made into a film. She took an interest in helping the local people and schools, and welcomed the locals into her home. I was actually the only visitor at the place at that time, so I had a guide to myself. He was very knowledgeable and passionate about Karen Blixen. It was clear that Karen was respected because I noticed that a suburb, road, and many shops were named after her.

Coffee plant

Next we went to the Giraffe Centre, which was established to conserve the forest and the endangered Rothschild giraffe population; and to educate children about their country’s wildlife and environment. Since then several breeding pairs of Rothschild giraffe have been introduced into Kenyan national parks. I was able to feed and touch the giraffe, although at one point I got a bit too close and it blew into my ear. It was an amazing experience and they have really long tongues. I did feel a bit bad about the use of animals as a tourist attraction, and going somewhere where there are many people waving selfie sticks is usually a warning sign. People were also putting the food pellets into their mouths and letting the giraffes take it from them, which I wouldn’t do personally. I saw a man there who was selling beautiful wooden birds that he carves. I found one that looks like a brilliant starling, so I bought it.

Interesting use of old plastic bottles

Lastly, we went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, which also homes other animals including rhinos. The keepers introduced all the elephants and their stories. We were able to watch some being fed and touch them if they willingly approached us. Most of them had been rescued when their parents had been killed by poachers, or after they had fallen down a well. One of them had been injured by a poacher and had to have stitches in their trunk, but had ripped them back out. Again, I had mixed feelings about animals being used as a tourist attraction, but as a tourist there myself, I was happy to financially support their well-being and glad to hear that they are also released back into the wild when they are ready.


Wilson then took me to his friend’s shop and we went for lunch in a local cafe. After, we went to the August 7th memorial park located at the 1998 Bomb blast scene. I thought it was interesting, so we also went the visitors centre where we could see a film about it, and read stories about the survivors. On the way, we went past a square where there was some kind of roller-skating event. On the way back to the hotel we also saw some kind of dance competition on the street. There were lots of pimped-out buses decorated in different ways, such as supporting Manchester United or Arsenal football clubs. If the way in which Nairobi is represented in the amazing TV series Sense8 is anything to go by, the buses are decorated in order to gain more customers. We also went to Jeevanjee gardens, which are dedicated to Jeevanjee, who was an Indian merchant, politician and philanthropist who went on to play a large role in the development of modern day Kenya during colonial rule.

I went back to the hotel to have dinner, collect my luggage, and wait for John to pick me up and take me to the airport. The gardens were lovely and enjoyed sitting next to the water fountain. I was so happy that I video called my Mum again to take her on a tour of the place.

Luckily it didn’t take long to get to the airport because there wasn’t much traffic because it was a Sunday. I enjoyed some snacks and sangría whilst waiting in the Turkish Airlines lounge. I watched 'Hacksaw Ridge' then slept, as the flight was overnight. I even managed to get a seat in the upper cabin, where there are less people and it is more peaceful. It was getting light as we got to Europe and I saw the Alps from the window. I also saw Windsor Castle just before we landed back in London.

It seems that The Body Shop’s community projects are effective, although I remain sceptical of the changes that may have been made since it was sold to L'Oréal in 2006. The Body Shop has campaigned to end animal testing in cosmetics since 1989, although there are claims of loopholes in L'Oréal’s anti-animal testing policy.

I thought it would be difficult to find vegan food in Kenya, but I was actually surprised that the hotels and even some cafes offered soy milk and lots of vegetable-based dishes. I think I may have accidentally eaten yoghurt and cream, and drank milk at some points, but I guess that’s not the end of the world. I’m considering compromising with my veganism whilst travelling to make things easier. I learnt about the term ‘freegan’, which seems sensible since I presume that it means eating vegan where possible. Whilst I believe that we don’t need to labels ourselves so strictly, I also believe that it is important to be as consistent as possible in our ideals and morals.

I also discovered that in trying to make some of their products vegan, The Body Shop had to choose less environmentally products than those produced by animals that they were previously using. Therefore, choosing a vegan product does not always ensure that it is ethical or environmentally friendly. I recall a discussion at dinner about whether we would choose coffee that is ethical, such as Fairtrade certified, or environmentally friendly, such as Rainforest Alliance certified. Personally, I would choose Fairtrade because that is a certification that I am more familiar with, even though I also care the environment and animals in additions to ethics. I believe that they are all important because they are interconnected. I guess there is no one right product to choose, or lifestyle to follow.

The trip was incredible, and I’ll probably never experience something like it again. Even if I do, I hope I’ll enjoy it as much as I did this trip, and that I never become blasé.

I’ve never really felt brave enough to travel alone until this year. Whilst it can be nice to decide when and what you do yourself, it is nice to have someone there to share the memories with.

When I first heard that I had won the trip and I was excited to share the news with others, I was surprised by a minority of the reactions that I faced. When others can’t take happiness in our fortune, I can only think of two reasons why, one of which is cynicism. I was particularly taken aback by the claim that it is nothing more than the company using me for marketing purposes. Whilst this lack of support initially upset me, eventually I was grateful that I was faced with that observation because it made me think differently and ultimately realise that it was true. I doubt that companies would provide prizes without some kind of intention that benefits themselves. However, I think that marketing through giving customers the opportunity to visit a company’s project is more interesting than traditional methods. I don’t think there’s many people who would turn down the opportunity because it’s for the purposes of marketing or too ‘mainstream’. The founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, believed that a good product does not need to be advertised.

“A week before the shop was due to open I had the fright of my life when I got a letter from a solicitor threatening to sue unless I changed the name of the shop. It was incredible. There were apparently two funeral parlours in Kensington Gardens who claimed their business would be affected, that the bereaved would not want to hire a funeral direction whose premises were close to a ‘Body Shop’. (There was also a betting shop nearby which was taking bets on how long we would stay in business.) All my life I have been intimidated by headmasters and solicitors, and at first I simply did not know what to do. But then it occurred to me I might be able to get some free publicity out of it. I made an anonymous telephone call to the local newspaper, the Brighton Evening Argus, and poured out a colourful story to a reporter about a ‘mafia’ of undertakers ganging up on some poor defenceless woman who was only trying to open her own business while her husband was planning to go off and ride a horse across South America. The Argus took the bait and published a centre-page spread. I never heard any more from the solicitors and what I learned then was there was no need, ever, to pay for advertising.” Anita Roddick, Body and Soul, pp.86-87

I assume the modern-day alternative is using social media and encouraging customers to interact with or make their own posts, as I have done. Why not market something that is doing good, even if it has flaws, as everything does? Otherwise people would not become aware of the solutions that are offered (and their flaws!) as alternatives to problems. I don’t see the point in constant criticism without offering some kind of solution. Let those cynics who are so above the rest of us propose the solutions!

Another observation that stuck with me was that I keep a blog because I’m so full of myself. I don’t really feel like that’s my character and I hope anybody that knows me well enough would agree. I do try to take all criticism into consideration as it could be that it has some element of truth because it originates from somewhere. However, generally, it’s probably hatred that I should just ignore and not let hold me back, especially if it comes from people that don’t know me very well. I feel that I blog because I like to reflect upon and share my raw thoughts (which sometimes even leads to my own change of mind), especially regarding world issues, and initiate discussions, or at least I hope that’s the reason why. It was interesting that after sharing the photos on Facebook, the likes and comments focused on national park and animals, but overlooked the farms and school. Then again, I was pretty speechless when I saw that school so I’m not that surprised if others didn’t know what to say either.

I thought as I get older I would care less about what others think, but the opposite seems to be the case. I think all of us care a little, even subconsciously. I’m not so bothered by the opinions of acquaintances, but rather those of people I care about. But slowly I’m coming to realise that there’s not much point in caring so much about what others think, wasting our time trying to please people, or feeling that we have to walk on eggshells when we talk about our interests. Some people are going to criticise us for being too ‘mainstream’, whilst others will criticise us for being too ‘alternative’. Who we are and what we like just is, whether it be ‘mainstream’ or not. I don’t have a ‘reputation’ to maintain. Who cares? What even is ‘mainstream’? And why would we force ourselves to openly like or not like something depending on how many other people do or don’t like it? Wouldn’t that be conformity in itself? What’s the point in being against things just for the sake of being against them? I don’t see the value in creating further segregation, especially within groups that are already minorities, over some minor disagreements, or feeling the need to veer away from the ‘mainstream’ and appear as ‘alternative’.

Everybody is different, but personally I’d rather just try to do stuff with my life and promote good, for example through using social media even if its flawed as everything is, than be one of those 'ghost' users who read but pretend not to, who don’t interact, and who spend their lives sitting on their backsides evaluating and criticising what others do with theirs. Instead of basing our judgements on what we've found whilst snooping around each other's social media, why can't we just directly ask each other about our interests and opinions? Maybe I'm a hypocrite because I vent and pour out my emotions on here. I believe in constructive criticism, but unfortunately, as a sensitive person, such criticism has led me to see flaws in every single one of my actions, and to feel the need to justify them. Then again, I can’t live my life focusing so much on what’s wrong with what I’m doing, otherwise I’ll never get anything done. I also shouldn’t consider such intense criticism from those who are unable to justify their own actions. When I'm struggling, I try to remind myself of these quotes: “Never waste your time explaining yourself to people committed to misunderstanding you.” and "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else."

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this blog, that elephant with it's baby was very cute and the starling so beautiful as you say. It was great to hear about your experiences - seems like you packed a lot of different experiences in - and see the array of photos again. As you say, you can only be yourself, can't force yourself to feel/not feel, do/not do. Loved the bit where you said you laughed with joy. Glad you had such a great time, take care, H