Published on April 24th, 2015 | by Ashley Williams0
My First Big Trip: Kenya 2009
In 2009 I headed to Kenya as part of the Great Primate Handshake.
For 5 weeks me and a group of awesome people I’d never met, bombed around Kenya on the back of a bright yellow truck named Nox, making films and animations for primate conservation projects across the country.
It was without a doubt, the biggest trip I’d ever been on and frankly changed my life in more ways than I could have possible imagined. From haggling in local markets, to dodging over ambitious monkeys intent on stealing our lunch, the experience opened my eyes not only to how big the world actually was but how exciting travel, backpacking and doing new and breathtaking things could really be. So today I’d like to share with the story of my first big trip
Check out the video of my experience across Kenya. Sadly, the footage is almost eight years old and an awful lot had corrupted before I had been able to import it.
So why was Kenya and the Great Primate Handshake ‘My First Big Trip’?…Frankly luck.
In late 2008, I was a fat, unhealthy, unemployed graduate with very little going on. I was applying for jobs all over the place, with not much coming back my way. I was at the start of my life’s journey in a car with no wheels. I was stuck.
But, a passing opportunity arose to work with an anxious school refuser at a local secondary school, teaching them animation one on one, in the hope of bringing them back to school. Being unemployed, bored and fat, I thought ‘why not’ and rolled in with a box of Lego, a laptop and a webcam. As the months passed and the school refuser became a regular school attender, I was given more children to work with and before the year was out, I was teaching a small class of like minded school children.
The success of the club gave me an idea….why not turn it into a business….and teach children animation across the county. This led me to the Ffresh Film Festival and the Great Primate Handshake.
Now, the Ffresh Film Festival was a competition set in Wales for student filmmakers and media folk alike. The festival involved lots of courses, talks and awards from and for people across the media industry. I actually had a film entered in the same film festival and, by chance, as I was scanning the programme for things on that was on, I saw the ‘Pitch to Win’ competition – an award dedicated to the skill of pitching media ideas in a live Dragons Den style event. Competitors were challenged with pitching ideas in front of a live audience to a panel of media professionals with the winner winning mentor guidance, an application to pitch for more money and a place on the Great Primate Handshake in the summer of 2009!
So with a bit of mental Tetris, I put a proposal together for teaching children animation in schools and pitched it at the competition.
At the time, it was the scariest thing I had ever done in my life, with much of it still being a blur…..I remember dropping the ‘F-bomb’ at 3 or 4 points…but somehow…. and still being a little unsure as to how, I won…….I actually won. I had won media mentoring, a chance to pitch for lots of money and most importantly of all I’d won a place on the Great Primate Handshake.
I returned home invigorated and firing on all cylinders. My life’s journey wasn’t just on the move – it had a spoiler and go faster stripes!
As the months past and the adventure of a lifetime got closer and closer, I began loading up on the essentials…Deet….anti-bac….a silly hat…..I was prepared (I thought) to the eyeballs. And as the day finally came, I picked up my 80 litre (!?!) backpack and hopped on the train to Heathrow and my first ever plane ride and trip out of Europe!
Yes, I wasn’t very well traveled. With much of my international trips revolving around lorry rides with my dad, caravan holidays with my mum and other mini trips crushed, by a then, huge struggle with OCD, I was, on paper, a terrible traveler, let alone a backpacker.
Needless to say, the backpack remained mostly unpacked for 8 weeks, as I realized it was a lot of easier to wear the same hoodie and trousers than dig down through piles of crap every morning in a small tent. And the then crippling OCD was very quickly crushed as I realized reality could be a lot dirtier than anything the mind could conjure. Plus, showers were very very rare.
For 5 weeks, I worked with some incredible people making animations, finding out about primates, and creating educational resources for a whole range of primate sanctuaries and conservation areas all across Kenya. Travelling from Mombasa to Mount Kenya, to Ol Pajeta, Nairobi, and the Kakamega rainforest all on the back on a bright yellow lorry whilst sleeping in a small bug-infested tent, I saw an awful lot of Kenya and a massive variety of animals and environment
But I’m not going to describe in detail the many wonders of Kenya as it would seem an injustice to the many small things that seem illogical out of context. Such as a baboon destroying my tent, or Mike (tent buddy) almost vomiting at the smell of his own trousers when washing them, or finding myself drinking with a group of Kenyans inside a Nairobi shoe shop at 1 in the morning, or being threatened under pain of ‘misery for the rest of the trip’, by the Australian driver Steve to dance to Bohemian Rhapsody, only to then find a cold beer waiting for me after my embarrassment.
I owe a lot to Kenya and the Great Primate Handshake, more so than you could possibly imagine. As on a small scale it broke me out of my shell, in another it introduced me to travel and in the biggest way of all, it gave me something to talk to Lindsay about when I first met her.
When I returned to England, I quickly met Lindsay and we quickly bonded over stories of travelling (I now had a few to share). I also realised education was the direction I wanted to go in and was quickly employed by the council to teach animation in schools across the entire county, which led ultimately to me getting my PGCE and becoming a “proper” teacher.
Nowadays, my life’s journey is well on track, with a car full of fuel, a boot full of memories, and somebody along for the ride.
Thank you Great Primate Handshake and Kenya….you truly changed my life.