Well it starts today folks; my next BIG adventure. I had the time of my life in East Africa, and then spent an amazing summer in the Muskoka’s. Now after a semester in my beloved Nova Scotia I am off for five months to study in France!! I know, I know, for those of you that know me you know that French isn’t my strong suit, but just you wait I am planning on coming back fluent! 
Tonight I am getting on a plane with my roommate Rhea and we are travelling to Paris where we will catch a train to the Northern town of Lille. Ray and I have an apartment there that we are both VERY curious to see. I do not start my orientation until Friday so I have a few days to meander around town and get things sorted before I head off to school!
Although I have been to Europe before this is probably my scariest adventure to date. This is not a short term trip where I will be moving from place to place, one adventure to the next. I will be LIVING in a foreign country for half a year. If I am honest, that scares me. I am grateful everyday for Skype and iPhones because they remind me that even if I am half a world away I can still call home at anytime…which I will do. 
I am going to try and video blog more on this trip, so I can better communicate with you all of the amazing sights I plan on seeing!

As always thanks so much Mom and Dad for making this and everything possible. 

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  • Took on a busy market solo
  • Ate copious amounts of sukuma and chapati
  • Travelled in a 14 passenger van with 25 people
  • Camped on Lake Naivasha
  • Saw Hippos around our campsite
  • Fractured my elbow doing a backbend
  • Biked (or sat on one) through Hells Gate National Park
  • Saw Giraffes, Zebras, Antelope, Baboons, and Wart Hogs
  • Hiked through the gorges of Hells Gate National Park
  • Lived in a two bedroom apartment with 13 people
  • Had my heart touched and changed by the children of the Kisumu community
  • Went clubbing in Kisumu, Kenya- was also felt up by the bouncer upon entering this club
  • Talked about gender roles and women’s rights with a group of college students (mostly male) at the Kisumu Polytechnic
  • Helped construct a library for a children’s after school program with YCCM in the Nylenda area of Kisumu
  • Survived 3 overnight busses- the one to Rwanda was a close call
  • Slept outside an abandoned bus station in the middle of Uganda waiting for the earliest bus
  • Went white water rafting in the Nile
  • Swam in the Nile!!
  • Took my first motto in Kampala, Uganda
  • Went to the second largest Mosque in Africa
  • Visited the Genocide Memorials of Rwanda
  • Went to the movie theatre in Kigali and watched a double feature
  • Lived with a local family in Kimironko, Rwanda for three days in a village of widows
  • Witnessed how easily and quickly development can break down and fail
  • Went to trivia night- and got our asses kicked- with the expat community of Kigali
  • Stepped on Sea Urchins in the Indian Ocean and had a local man cut them out of my feet
  • Walked through the old towns of Mombassa Kenya and explored Fort Jesus and the Leven Steps
  • Navigated a trip to Northern Rwanda solo and learned to trust my gut
  • Went on a Gorilla Trek in the mountains of Rwanda!! Saw about 30 Gorillas!
  • Explored the streets of Lamu, Kenya and saw into the beauty of a simple life
  • Had custom made clothes tailored for us (and my African Hips) in a shop in Lamu
  • Ate seafood for three straight meals
  • Swam in the Indian Ocean
  • Sailed to an unknown island in Wattamu
  • Had a seafood feast of Octopus and fish on the beach
  • Slept outside on a bed overlooking the ocean
  • Had a migraine for 24 hours straight- including 12 hours on an overnight bus
  • Slept for 14 hours straight
  • Kissed multiple giraffes
  • Fell in love with Ethiopian food
  • Learned how to bargain like a boss
  • Got ring worm….probably from lovely Lydia
  • Learned how easy it is to fall in love with people, places, and moments in such a short amount of time
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Last Sunday we arrived after a VERY cold and VERY bumpy overnight bus into the beautiful country of Rwanda. The country has the apt title of the “land of a thousand hills” and as we drove into Kigali it became obvious why. The landscape is absolutely beautiful filled with rolling mountains and deep lush valleys. Now this is all well and beautiful but it is also a pain in the ass to have to walk up all of these hills. You are also always walking uphill, never down. The team all checked into our hostel that morning and we set off to explore the city. In the afternoon we all went to the main genocide memorial museum which I personally was very interested in seeing. There was a lot of information and the memorial gave not only a good overview of the Rwanda Genocide but also other genocides around the world that have occurred.
The next day we took about a 20 minute drive out of the city to a town called Kimiroko where we spent the next three days and nights. In groups of two we stayed with host families to b able to really have an authentic cultural immersion experience. This community was built after the genocide for widows so there are 140 government built homes who have widows and their families living in them. The lady in my house was a sweet old lady who spoke no english or french named Dafrose but she was SO lovely. Her daughter who was about thirty lived there, as well as her two nieces who were in their late twenties. The daughters and nieces spoke french so that was good as my roommate Nicole went to French Immersion so she could translate for me although I was surprised to find myslef understanding a lot of it. One of the nieces was 12 during the genocide and lost all of her brothers and parents and so she refers to Dafrose as mom. Another niece Victoire, was four at the time and lost her one year old sister. All of their families are buried in the mass graves at the kigali memorial we first visited. Its crazy going from reading and learning about all of this in school to actually meeting people who have lived through this history. Its also so hard to believe that this happened here only 19 years ago. Rwanda is the most calm and orderly city and bears no signs of the chaos and violence that was evident less than 20 years ago. The Rwandan people have really worked towards an era of self- resilience and have made a concerted effort to forgive in order to end the cycle of violence that would continue if they held onto grudges and anger. I can’t imagine forigving, let alone living side by side the people who killed your family, yet this is a reality for so many of the people who live here. It was truly an honour to be welcomed so graciously into these people’s homes and it was a privilege to hear some of their stories.
After our three days in Kimironko we headed back to Kigali for two days of city exploring. The first morning I went to Nyamata which has a church memorial and is only about half an hour outside of town. At the beginning of the genocide churches were thought to be safe spaces but many priests turned on their own congregations and made deals with the rebels. So this church held about 10,00 Tutsi’s, and moderate Hutu’s who were all slaughtered. The church still holds all of the clothes of the victims and they line the pews giving a very real look into just how many lives were lost within those walls. In the church cellars there are caskets holding remains, and shelves where you can see the skulls and bones of victims. It doesn’t seem real that those were people not too long ago.
After a few days of being surrounded by the tragic stories of Rwanda’s past I was ready to see something different. When people think of Rwanda they only think of the genocide but there is so much more to this beautiful county and so on Friday Leah and and I took off on a bus to Virunga to explore one of Rwanda’s ( and the worlds) most famous and amazing specimens; the mountain gorillas. There are only about 850 mountain gorillas left in the world and they live within the mountains of The DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. These countries, especially Rwanda are working hard on conservation efforts to protect these amazing creatures and a huge part of their funding to do this comes from the tourism industry and the gorilla treks they provide which is what Leah and I bought permits for. After a peaceful night in a guest house in town we got up bright and early at 5:30 ready to see some gorillas. After arriving at HeadQuarters we were all spilt into different groups who would track different families. Leah and I were in a group of eight who would track the Agaisha family who has 27 members. We set off into the park and up the mountain and about half an hour in we saw a gorilla and I can honestly tell you it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. A few minutes later we found the whole family which included a very large silverback male, a few mature females, a few very playful juveniles, and the most adorable three month old baby. We were about four feet away from the gorillas at all times although you’d often be crouched down taking a picture of one gorilla and see another walk casually past you. At one point a juvenile walked right by my feet, looked up at me, hit my leg and then continued on walking. I could almost cry at that point I was so happy. We got to stay with the group for an hour as anything longer than that would disturb their day which would be unfair. I recommend doing a gorilla trek to anyone who has the opportunity as it is amazing to be so close to these amazing animals who only differ in 3% DNA with us.
Leah and I headed back to Kigali where I have spent the past two days lazing around the city- checking out markets and enjoying the city. Kigali could easily be a city within Europe or North America as it is so developed and kept ridiculously clean. Last night I even went to the movies and saw The Great Gatsby ( it was amazing) which was a very cool experience.
Our time of independent travel has started and so tomorrow morning I am off on a early flight back to Nairobi and then will hop onto a bus towards the Swahili coast where I plan to spend the week lounging on beaches and exploring different markets.
I hope everyone at home is enjoying their summers! I miss you all and can’t wait to hug each of ya!

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We left kisumu Kenya on May 30th after a beautiful 10 days there where we were able to partner with the amazing Young County Change Makers. On Thursday night we enjoyed a lovely send off meal of pizza and beer ( so y’all know I was happy) and then boarded the night bus to Jinja, Uganda. We arrived in Jinja at about 4:30am but our pick up wasn’t until 6 am so we all snuggled in, used our packs as pillows and napped until the bus came. We got to our site at around seven and were all able to grab about an hour of sleep. That was the first actual bed any of us had seen in ten days so we were all pretty excited.
After our short lived loved affair with our new beds we were woken up to get ready for river rafting!! After getting all ready we all headed down to the base camp to start! Our raft guides name was Jack and he was from NZ and filled with jokes- some I appreciated, some (when he would tug at my leg in the water pretending to be a snake) I didn’t. All in all though rafting was maybe the coolest thing I have ever done. Right off the bat we went over a three meter waterfall and paddled our way out of it successfully. Our raft didn’t flip once and I managed not to fall out the entire day! I’m so thankful I didn’t because if you have seen me tubing you know I hate falling off because getting back on is torture- well this was ten times worse. And with one weak arm I was just an overall dead fish trying to get back into the raft. I did jump out a few times to cool off and swim in the Nile ( I SWAM IN THE NILE) but thankfully Meg could pull me back up by my life jacket every time. THANKS MEG.
We spent the full day rafting and were overjoyed to get back to hot showers and a hot supper. I continued my quest of trying different African Beers and after deciding I wasn’t a fan of the local Ugandan Nile Special, moved onto the South African Castle Light which I highly recommend. Between the day of rafting and the Castle Lights I slept like a baby that night.
The next morning was another early one as we had a full day ahead. The day started with bungee jumping which unfortunately didn’t work out for me. Rafting aggravated my elbow a little bit ( so worth it) so I didn’t want to make it worse with a free fall- but I was able to watch lots of the other girls do it which was awesome. After the jumps we all got onto another bus to visit Kampala the capital city. Kampala is CRAZY- So many people on such congested streets- so naturally I chose for that to be the site of my first piki ride ( motorbike). After holding on for dear life I finally arrived at my destination for the day.; The Gaddafi Mosque which is the second largest mosque in Africa and holds absolutely beautiful views of Kampala. We got all dressed up in traditional burkas and chadors ( mine was bedazzled naturally) which was hilarious to see. I don’t think the Muslim dress suited any of us. But the mosque was beautiful and I learned a lot about Islam so all in all my day in Kampala was great.
I spent less than 48 hours in Uganda but it was time well spent for sure.

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I can believe that tomorrow night I will be getting on a night bus to Uganda marking the end of my travels here in Kenya. It has been an amazing three weeks and I have loved spending time in the different cities of Nairobi, Naivaisha, and Kisumu. I’ve learned so much while in this country so I wanted to share just a few of these lessons 🙂

1.) learning to say thank you in the local tongue of where you are traveling to is very important. Asante sana.
2.) you can fit 25 people in a 14 seat matatu
3.) at the end of the day what you see on your feet sadly isn’t a birks tan. It’s just dirt and it’ll come off in the shower
4.) the power of smiles is universal
5.) soccer is EVERYONE’S favorite sport
6.) you can really live off beans and rice
7.) pretending that you are married works every-time.
8.) you can always bargain down prices at a market. Never settle.
9.) you do get used to falling asleep to the sound of goats and waking up to the sound of chickens
10.) cow crossing exists here
11.) the first english any child learns here is ” mzungu how are you!”
12.) it is beneficial being a mzungu trying to catch a matatu
13.) it is not beneficial being a mzungu while walking in a busy market
14.) children all over the world are the same
15.) it is important to find alone time wherever you are. Especially if you are living in an apartment with 14 other people
16.) if you tell people that you live close to the USA and that you love Obama they will in turn instantly love you
17.) patience is a virtue and a serious necessity in Africa. Things move in a different time
18.) Africa time basically means ” we will get to it eventually”
19.) if you order a vodka soda at a bar they will give you a Smirnoff ice.
20.) everyone in the world has a cell phone. No shoes? No problem. No house? No problem. No phone? Huge problem.
21.) children are fascinated with the look and feel of white people’s hands and arms
22.) Celine dion is a huge star in Kenya
23.) development is a touchy topic and everyone has a different opinion on it.
24.) long blonde hair is a hot commodity here. And very fun to play with
25.) there is dignity and pride in every lifestyle. Just because something doesnt look the way it does in Canada it does not mean it is worth any less.

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So I have spent the last week in the hot hot lands of Kisumu County and it has been a whirlwind of emotions. We have been partnered with a local organization called Young County Change Makers (YCCM) who work to empower youth to recognize and utilize their talents. The first three days with them we spent our mornings at the Youth Remand Center which we were told was a youth correctional center but we soon found out that it also houses lost children, children whose parens can’t afford school fee’s, and just unwanted children. All from the ages of 5-17. Some of these kids have been there for years. The conditions are horrendous; no toothbrushes, bed bugs, tattered clothes, no working toilets, no information on their own cases, no education services provided, and a diet of beans and rice everyday. I saw two special needs boys who were just thrown into the center with the rest of the children and ignored. Those special needs boys won’t be able to leave until they are sponsored by an individual or organization who can pay for their place in group homes which is far and few between. These kids just sit and do nothing all day and are dying to learn something. We brought in activities to do one morning and they were just enamored to have something to do. I met a boy named Sammy who is 14 years old and has been at the remand center for two years. Sammy’s parents died when he was younger and so he has been bounced between relatives homes. These relatives do not have a stable environment and could not pay for Sammy’s school fee’s and so Sammy was often left wandering the streets. That’s when the police picked him up and brought him to the Remand Home. Sammy’s home environment is a volatile place yet he is one of the kindest, quietest souls I have ever met. All three days I was there he sat quietly beside me just listening.
The Remand Home is a government run facility and so their sole source of funding comes from ( or doesn’t come) from them. Unfortunately the government provides little to none of these funds for basic needs. Instead Kenyan MP’s are asking for a 500, 000 KSH pay raise. PER MONTH. The problem with politics in Kenya is that it’s people are it’s own worst enemy. Tribal relations dictate so much of Kenyan life that political parties are defined by citizens loyalties to tribes. And so bad governments rule again and again because of these tribe loyalties. What’s frustrating is that these political problems and greedy politicians affect those most innocent like these children in the Remand Home. The need for children’s rights here is probably what has been tugging on my heart strings the most. All of these children I have met are so eager to learn and they deserve that chance. All kids deserve the right to learn.
With all of this said, it has been cool that while here in kisumu I have gotten to work alongside an organization that recognizes this. The new library that we are helping YCCM to construct is located in the largest slum in Kisumu, in an area called Nylenda. Around the library sight there are always children running around who should be in school. There are so many kids here who have attached themselves to the hearts of the whole team and they all deserve the opportunity to learn. Hopefully this library/ learning center will help to foster some of these kids talents and allow for them to reach and surpass their potential. That’s been my hope and wish this week.

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Hello from Kenya friends and family! So last Thursday we all piled into a matatu and ventured to the beautiful Naivasha where we spent the weekend camping. Our camp site was right on the lake which was absolutely stunning. Lake Naivasha is home to about 800 hippos so I was quite excited to take a boat tour around the lake and spot some. I was repeatedly told how dangerous hippos are but I had a hard time believing that when I saw how cute they were when they wiggled their ears. That night I hit a little bump in the road when I tried to attempt a backbend (let the record state I could do it) and I injured my elbow. It was super sore that night but I was hoping that I would be fine in the morning. Unfortunately that was not the case. I was a little bit upset about the timing because the Friday morning was our bike and hike through Hells Gate National Park. I did want to try and see if I could bike but it soon became evident that I couldn’t balance with one arm. But my faithful leaders Josh and Meg proved once again why they are the best ever and found me a hilarious, albeit embarrassing solution. They got a very nice man named Joseph to ride his bike into Hells Gate with me awkwardly sitting on the back trying to hold on with one arm and keep my legs from touching the ground. If I thought I got stares just walking down a street you can’t imagine the stares I got riding on the back of a locals bike. I understand now why Africans think muzungo’s are ridiculous. Despite the awkwardness I was and am extremely thankful for this solution as I was able to experience Hells Gate and see all of the pretty animals within; zebras, giraffes, antelopes, baboons, warthogs, and buffalo! Once we got through the bike ride and made it to the gorge entrance the real work began. The group met our guide Joseph ( a super popular name) who is maybe the most intense person I have ever met. He was in the kenya military for six years where he served in Sierra Leone, Darfur, and Somalia. Talk about seeing the worst of the worst. But he had such a positive spirit and is still able to see the beauty in the everyday things. His positive and can- do attitude made it possible for me to make it through the day and I am so thankful for him.
The gorges in the park are where part of Tomb Raider 2 was filmed if anyone wants a visual. And with my arm in a sling it was an opportune moment to make lots of 127 hours references. Joseph our guide saw my arm was hurt and immediately took my makeshift sling off and got a tensor band to wrap it so I could have a better range of motion. (Dad you would be impressed he wrapped it super tight just like you would.) And from then on out Joseph made sure that I wouldn’t be hindered during the hike because of my arm. He was my angel that day. He also terrified me because every time he would stretch my elbow he kept joking that he was going to pop it straight, and I think had it not been for my almost tears, he would have. Finishing the climb was such a great moment- not only were the views stunning but I was super proud I was able to do it all with only one strong arm. Sometimes asking for help is hard but I think when we do we are not only taught a lesson in humility but given a reminder about the kindness of others. My friend Leah tied my shoes all day, Meg did my hair, and Ashley helped me with the zippers on my backpack. Although I don’t like that I cannot straighten or bend my arm all the way, I appreciate the injury for the experiences it gave me. I was able to accomplish something I didn’t think was possible and I was taught a huge lesson about the importance of asking for help.
Pictures won’t do Hells Gate justice as it was just filled with absolutely breathtaking scenery but I will upload a few to give y’all just a taste.

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‘Kewa hapo, kewa sasa, popote ulipo, kewa hapo.’ Be here, be present, wherever you are, be here. That is our motto for this trip and it has been such a release throwing away the worries of planning that come with daily life back home and just living in the moment. I really hope whoever is reading this is able to connect to this motto in whatever way you can at home.
Nairobi is like no place I have ever been before. I fall asleep to blaring Celine Dion music from local shops ( she is huge in Kenya) and I wake up to the sound of roosters. The streets are filled with some of the craziest drivers I have ever seen and so j-walking has a whole new level of fear associated with it to me. Matatu’s ( local mini vans) even have a guide in addition to a driver so that navigating the streets of Nairobi doesn’t become fatal. I haven’t yet gotten used to the stares that often come from being a mzungo (foreigner) but people have been so friendly that it isn’t something that is bothersome or worrying.
I have spent the last six nights in Nairobi and have enjoyed my time here immensely. The hostel we have been staying at (Manyatta backpackers hostel) has been amazing and we have felt so spoiled in our time here. This week we went to Kibera ( my favourite thing), met with local gender rights activists, and got acclimated to living in Kenya. Operation Groundswell really aims to make its participants more ethical and responsible travelers aiming for us to become super comfortable in whatever city we are traveling to. Josh and Meg our fabulous trip leaders have given us tons of ownership on the trip which has been amazing and forced us all to step outside of our comfort zones. On our first day in Nairobi they gave us each 100 shillings ( around $1.20 ) and let us loose in a local market (which was insanely busy) with the instructions to buy something and to bargain( My nightmare). Well let me tell you I have never felt more like an odd man out than I did navigating my way through the busy market while every vendor called ‘Mzungo’ or ‘Sista’ at me. This would not have been something I would have done on my own but it was an amazing experience and I am so glad Josh and Meg made us do it. Another fun experience was our photo scavenger hunt this morning. We were broken into three teams of 4 and given tasks to take pictures of different things all around Nairobi. If you know me you know that sometimes I get nervous talking to strangers and asking questions so obviously this was daunting but it turned out to be a huge success. We walked all through Nairobi and by the end of it I felt as if I were just walking through Toronto on a hot summers day.
Tomorrow we live for Naivasha to go camping for two days which is so exciting! We are going to bike through hells gate national park where I will finally get to see some animals! And then hike through the gorges of the park which inspired the sketches of lion king!!! I’m excited to be camping outside and falling asleep to the sounds of hippos and enjoying the beautiful scenery. From there we are taking an 8ish hour bus ride to kisumu city where we will be working and spending the next two weeks. Once I am in kisumu I will have wifi once again and will update all you lovely people.

Lots and lots and lots of love to all!!!!

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Jambo Rafikis!!!
Today I spent my morning in the largest slum in East Africa; Kibera. And it was poa sana ( very cool). To be honest last night I was quite nervous about visiting Kibera because I have never seen a slum before and was expecting an overload of emotions. But I can tell you now the only emotion I felt all morning was pure joy. Kibera has a population of 1.2 million people and is absolutely massive. People live, work, go to school and church there. And yet you will not find Kibera on a map as it is technically illegal.
We took the public bus into Kibera and when we got off began to walk through the slums to the Massai Mbili an art collective that has become famous not only within Kibera but also around the world. Massai Mbili was founded around 2005 by local artists who wanted to raise the importance of art within the community. Goaba one of the founding artists told us that during that time art was considered a waste of time and those that called themselves artists were considered uncool. And so these artists worked to show how important art could be. Goaba said that a few years ago being a gangster was considered cool and that now being an artist is what is cool. These guys were definitely the coolest cats in the slum as we walked through the areas everyone stopped to say hello to them.
In addition to hosting around 8 local artists Maasai Mbili has children from Kibera come in everyday to paint and have a space to escape from their everyday lives. They are able to use art as a therapy for these children and told us that their progress has been evident as the first paintings children did were always of horrible scenes but as they came back their paintings progressed towards beautiful things.
The hopes of the Maasai Mbili were amplified in 2007 when the elections in Kenyan turned violent. One of the art collectives most famous artists Solo7 recognized the extreme need for peace in Kenya during this time and instead of running away decided to take action. Solo said ” if I ran away I would become a victim of circumstance.” And so he began to create street art all over Nairobi in the name and hope of peace. ‘Peace wanted alive’ became his slogan.
Kibera is often seen by outsiders as dirty, unsafe and a haven of poverty. But I saw nothing but a space of community and love during my time there. These artists wanted to show that good could come out of Kibera and remind the outside world of the human experience that exists within. When I asked one one of the artists who later walked us around part of the slum what he would want the world to know about Kibera he answered that he would want people too see that there is life inside. He said that often a single story is told about this place, that mzungo’s (foreigners like us) often drive on busses down the main road taking pictures but never getting off to walk around and interact with those who live there. People then walk away with a negative view of a place they never really got to know. Getting off the bus today and walking through Kibera was such a positive experience. Everyone was friendly, I saw nothing but smiles and people who were nothing but proud of where they were from.

I am so far in love with my adventure. My team is amazing filled with people with such big heats and smiles. And the people of Kenya are nothing but friendly. We have Swahili lessons everyday around 5 and so I am off to practice mine so I don’t embarrass myself.

Lots of love to everyone!!!!

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This is it!!! Leaving Toronto in half an hour! Got through security super quick and was able to buy a magazine and a book for the flight. It is all starting to hit me as I sit here waiting to board. The emotions are a little overwhelming but I know that these emotions means something exciting is happening. Tomorrow morning I will be in London for a split second before heading off to Nairobi. Once I arrive there I am sure things will be quite crazy so I won’t be able to update ya’ll for a bit!
Mom and Dad you two made this all possible so thank you thank you thank you. I love you both more thank you could ever know. I can’t wait to tell you all about this trip when I am home!
Africa here I come!!✈✈✈

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