Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ungrateful Guest

So, yesterday I decided that this weekend, we will be leaving our workaway with Justus. There is just too much that was not true and Ajenai really really hates where we are staying. Part of me feels like crap for being such stereotypical westerners. 

Caroline (Justus' sister) and Ms. Emily (the director of the school) both said how nice this crap hole is. They had no complaints about no kitchen to speak of, no hot water, a bed that sags so far in the middle it’s deeper than the Great Rift valley, a toilet that does not flush, a broken window where mosquito's poor in desperate for our blood. And I looked under the covers of the bed, it’s not even a mattress, it’s like some foam thing wrapped in smelly, holey blankets! I quickly covered it back up.

It’s not just where we are staying, it is that this whole thing is completely unorganized. I do truly think what Justus is trying to do is wonderful. He’s trying to give back to his community. But he has just plunged in head first without any thought and I am not doing well as his first guinea pig! 

I, am a poor guest. I had to do it. I had to tell Justus what is wrong with his program and I do mean everything that is wrong. (which is where I found Justus) is a website where travelers and people in need can come together for a mutually beneficial period of time and work together. The traveler finds free room and board (at least 1 meal a day) in a city, country, continent, they have never set foot on before. 

The homeowner receives free services in their home, farm, camper, whatever. When I signed up for the workaway with Justus, I was aware that he was going to charge me 5 euros/day. His profile stated that as some small amount to help the family we would be staying with as well as provide some much needed program fees. I didn’t have a problem with that. His email told me I would be staying with a trusted family who he was very close with and had used before. Also he had had other volunteers, not many, but some others.

None of that was true. It turns out, the host family was going to be his own parents and sister, however, they are currently living in a home with only 2 rooms complete and I told you about my bathroom experience there! I have no idea how they cook! Justus wisely decided we would not be living there. 

Instead, he put us up in a teeny tiny ½ apartment which I still firmly believe is his, even though he refuses to answer my question. His program has had 1 previous volunteer, and she was with another program that provided her with room and board, and I believe she just came once or twice to see Justus and the children he represents. So, he basically has no experience in hosting foreigners. Today, on the walk back from the program, I told him that he must be truthful in his online profile. That I had planned a certain budget based on information he gave me and it is not right or fair that he mislead me in his profile and emails. I said I don’t have too big of an issue with things as they stand (except for the food issue!) but he has to be trustworthy from the start.

I think he is mad at me. I am being obstinate and difficult, but, damn it, this is not what I signed up for! Me and the kid only had 2 shared crossiants and a bag of fries all day today! And the croissants were at 10am and the fries at 5! The next day Justus cooked us dinner somewhere and brought it to us, almost freezing cold and about 10pm! 

He said in the future, he would bring food to the school. I said fine, however…. I would not feel comfortable eating in front of the kids and we have nothing to warm the food up in! after thinking a moment, he decided that we would go to his parents house after school to eat. I’m definitely fine with that.

I made a hotel reservation for this weekend and, if it is a nice place, I will go there next weekend as well. Maybe even the whole last week of my stay!

I think because I am volunteering at a school, I’m kind of getting the laundry list of what is needed in the hopes that I will give money, but the kids are happy and are so smart! They are grateful and happy to be in school. There are not enough teachers for all the classes and they can tell one class what to do, leave the class, and the kids sit there and actually do the work the teacher gave them! Then after play time, some kids get rags and go to the water spigot and start cleaning all the benches in the classrooms as well as the walls and the floor! Without any direction or instructions from an adult. They told me they know their jobs and they are getting ready for tomorrow. This is at 5pm by the way, and school starts at 8am. And Ms. Emily told me that some of the students don’t even have food. So that is all day (and maybe the night as well) studying and learning on an empty stomach.

Justus said that his future plans are to get computers so the kids can edit their photos. Computers?! Almost every child I saw had holes in some part of their clothing. In a class of 10 there were only 3 books. A child was writing with a stub of pencil so small I couldn’t even see it in her hand. And there are 200 kids in the school and less than 50 lunch boxes on the lunch table. Where do you start? I understand wanting to bring some arts and wonder into their lives, but what about the basics? And who can help with that? I’m sure no one can buy every kid a new shirt, or a whole set of encyclopedias. But how can you help? 

I commend Justus for trying to do something, to give back to his community. Although I think his timing is not right. A lot needs to be done before he can bring volunteers from other countries to help out, cus this is not working. But the kernel of an idea and the drive and the will is there. I so wish I could do something! But I don’t even know how to get money or items to them once I leave here. Justus said the mail would probably be opened by the government and the bank accounts are not international or something. If I sent resources electronically, they wouldn’t be able to print them out. Sigh…

The kid said one great thing about all the people she has met so far is that they all look towards a bright future. Justus' parents and sister’s house is terrible but she talks about how they are building and one day it will be remarkable. And Justus sees a future with a full scale photography program. These people look to their future with positivity and hope and ain’t nothing wrong with that!

I told Justus we are leaving on Saturday, that I’m sorry but this isn’t working out. He was very shocked. He kept saying, “oh wow”. I also told him I would be needing my money back. He just looked at me and rubbed his face. I’m betting most of it is spent already. And not on the “feeding program” he said he was trying to do for the schools. He also kept asking me when I was leaving the country. That is none of his business and I don’t know what he could have been asking that for but I just reiterated, Saturday. 

If I was really in the classrooms and felt that I was working with the kids and that they wanted my help more than my money, I would stay. But that is not the case, unfortunately.  But how can I tell him everything I think is wrong in this situation? 

How can I complain to the man about a bathroom with an un-flushing toilet with no toilet seat, when his parents and his sister live in a place where the toilet is a hole in the ground? How can I complain about only cold water in the “shower” tap when they have one spigot in the floor that provides all the water for the house? How can I complain about the sagging foam “mattress” when they are sleeping on pallets on the floor? If it was just the apartment, I would stay. But I am not helping here. I’m doing absolutely no work and I think they just are seeing me as a gold mine instead of a font of knowledge.

Ugh, 2 more nights in this bed! I think I will be permanently crippled!


I am enlightened! Ms. Emily and I had a talk... Justus lied way more than I ever thought! Now I know why the kids and Ms. Emily were asking me for gifts and things!

Basically, Justus has only been working with Ms. Emily for a little over 2 months, and he only came to her school 2 or 3 times to teach the kids. She said he told her he had a western "sponsor" coming to the school and if I was impressed by the school, I would give money and I was bringing gifts for all the kids. He said nothing about me volunteering in the classes! Only that I would be giving lots and lots of money and gifts!

We are definitely leaving at the end of this week, and I hope I never have to lay eyes on Justus again!

But here are some pictures of the school, at least I got to meet some wonderful kids!

He was sangin'!

They were focused!

What beautiful smiles!


  1. Justus is just a total and complete liar. That is a shame! I wish things were better for you, it sounds like it had the potential to be a great trip. Glad you got to have a real talk with the teacher so you both could see what was really going on. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

  2. So sorry to hear that you all had to leave early. Justus...smh

  3. This totally sucks! I am sorry that you have to deal with this when you went into it with better intentions.

  4. Oh wow! I'm so sorry that you had to leave early! This should have been a great trip!