Tangible results, excited children

In recent conversations, I’ve been summing up my role at Hatua Likoni as a ‘Management Consultant.’ The majority of my efforts dealt with the internal workings of the organization, putting systems in place that will keep it growing and functioning smoothly, hopefully for years to come. Most of my results are therefore somewhat invisible to anyone glancing at the organization. It was not the typical “go volunteer in Africa” experience and I’m fine with that. I know exactly how crucial strong internal management and various sets of systems are for the success of an organization’s programs, and the satisfaction of its staff.

I did have one big project though that could have a very visible and amazing impact on the people of Likoni. My role in it was somewhat small, but it provided the key push to get momentum stirred up in the community to carry it forward to completion. (And that is exactly the type of role that I believe foreign development workers should have in developing communities! Inspire local people to address and resolve their own issues and needs.)

Back in September, I organized an event at Hatua for International Literacy Day. It is an official holiday founded by UNESCO, celebrated annually on September 8th, and first observed in 1967.  The aim of the day is to focus attention on the need to promote worldwide literacy. On this day, individuals, organizations, and countries throughout the world renew their efforts to promote literacy and demonstrate their commitment to providing education for all.

On my initial tour of Hatua in June, I saw boxes of donated books locked in one of the bathroom stalls. We had no shelves to put them on, and no funds to create a library that would allow students and adults to check them out. So there they sat… Until this day that celebrates literacy initiatives, when we opened up the boxes! We picked out a few hundred books, sorting them into those for Young Children, Primary School students, Secondary School students and Adults.  And we set up a large table surrounded by chairs for each category.

Nine local schools sent students to participate, and local organizations, businesspeople, and individual friends and supporters of Hatua Likoni also came.  Over 150 people attended the event.

A local musician donated his sound system for our use that day, and chairs and a stage were set up in one half of the large hall. Eight talks on the topic of literacy were given by local residents, educators, and government officials. They all encouraged the students to pursue their goals and further their schooling.

Hatua Likoni’s primary objective is providing high-quality affordable education and academic guidance to underprivileged, intelligent students.  The people of Likoni are valuing education as more and more important for their children, but resources remain limited, and so therefore do opportunities.  In order to promote this enthusiasm for learning and reading, Hatua gave Likoni a “library for a day” so that children and adults could enjoy the thrill of reading – an activity that few have ever been able to cultivate.

Immediate Outcomes:

  • In the 24 hours following the event, 8 children showed up at our office asking to check out books from the “library.”  Adults and children continued to show up through December, wanting some time with our books. We decided to print temporary member cards so that we could check out books to people, and they loved it!
  • Hatua Likoni co-founder Gabrielle Fondiller and Rashid Gakucha, District Representative to the National Youth Council, discussed the situation, and decided to pursue raising the necessary funds without the government’s assistance, as long-ago promised funds were never going to arrive.
  • A stakeholder’s meeting was held ten days after the event, which led to the establishment of the Likoni Library Planning Committee, comprised of local teachers. This committee is organizing a local “harambee” (fundraiser event) for the library early this spring.

We are very optimistic about being able to raise enough money to equip the already-built (but empty) library space with furniture and shelves.

  • A carpenter was called in to estimate costs and they are estimated at 523,295 Ksh –> only $6,977!

Can you help us reach this very attainable goal?  Can you donate a shelf or a chair to Likoni’s first-ever library?  Go to our Library page to see donation options, and to read more about the five-year history of this effort to provide a library for these Kenyan children.  If you’d like to know more, ask me anything you like!

Right now, kids crouch on the floor of our office to sift through stacks of books, because we don’t have shelves there either. You can be a part of fixing this, and providing a learning environment that will encourage success!

1 Comment

Filed under education, Fundraising

Life back at home

Hm, re-entry back to life in the United States, and San Francisco, has been more turbulent than I was expecting.  There was the first week where I needed to hide away from the over-marketed, over-televised, over-gaudy society that is the American Christmas season. That and everyone’s obsession with the traffic and the weather. And then a week spent in New York City exploring and visiting friends, and imagining if I could be happy living there. Christmas with my family. And now I’ve returned to San Francisco, where I’m trying to figure out the plot twists in my next chapter of life.

For a three-week stretch in November and December, I slept in nine different places. I’ve now spent three weeks sleeping in one place – a home in SF full of friends – and that has been great – but until I get a new job, I will be firmly engaged in a gypsy life, floating from friend to friend, and couch to couch. And that is a very strange, and very new, feeling for me.

It’s been six weeks since I arrived back home to this country – and I’ve been struggling to define “home” ever since. I no longer have my own apartment; I no longer have a job to give me a defined purpose and way to focus my days; I graduated from my Masters program; most friends are hibernating during January, so my usual social scene is very slow right now. And, perhaps most importantly, I got very comfortable with the slower pace of life in Kenya, and a more homey existence, complete with helpful neighbors and boisterous kids next-door. I realize now that I want my next home to include other people – no more studio living for me. Having a cluster of wonderful friends that are part of my daily life, creating deeper connections, that’s what will make me feel more connected and at home.

How do you define home?

 

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, EverydayLiving

tick tock goes the calendar

Happy December!

Wow, five and a half months have passed, and I’m now looking at my final five days in Kenya now.  I have been remiss in posting these past months, sorry about that.  I learned one good lesson about Kenya (too late, alas) about a month ago, when my laptop up and died.  The plastic case I’d bought for it was apparently perfect for trapping in the massive amounts of dust, heat and humidity that Kenya is blessed with… and so my RAM and hard drive were toasted.  So… internet I’ve been catching here and there.  It was good for my productivity, at least.

Speaking of productivity… well, I have to say that I feel like I have been quite productive while working here.  Another list of finished projects probably isn’t what you want to read though. What I will tell you about is one project that I feel great pride and satisfaction in, and that is the Monitoring and Evaluation system that I have built for Hatua Likoni, and specifically for the Likoni Scholarship Fund (LSF) program.

One of my classes in my final semester of my MPA program earlier this year was Evaluation.  I was excited for that class because I felt that the field of evaluation and impact analysis might be the career path that I’ve been circling and circling, narrowing in on, and finally might have found the X in the middle of the maze.  After learning everything that I did in that class, I was very eager for the possibility of implementing my knowledge in the field.  Luckily for me, an M&E system was on the list of potential projects for me to do while volunteering!

So, I’ve now created a system of logic model, data collection tools, spreadsheets, analysis plan and report templates that feels very strong, useful and tied into the running of the program.  The Program Coordinator, Kwame, feels that it will serve as a guide for the program’s future and growth, and that it makes all of their information make much more sense now.  I hope in six months he still feels the same, but as for right now, I feel confident about the system we created together, and how it will help Hatua grow stronger and better.

I’m crossing tasks off of my shrinking to-do list, and come Sunday, I’ll be back on a plane, making my way Westward.  I’m looking forward to big hugs and big meals and big love, and can’t wait to see so many of you.  And to everyone in Kenya that I’ve become close to, may we meet again one day, and until then, many blessings to you!

6 Comments

Filed under Internship

A Capital Time

I promised you a post about Nairobi a while back didn’t I?  I haven’t forgotten.  Everything you read about Nairobi mentions how it’s referred to as ‘Nairobbery,’ and that you should take taxis everywhere at all costs and never walk around at night. I was therefore both cautious and extremely curious about what it really was like.  I ended up being incredibly surprised by Nairobi, for many reasons. The Nairobi I saw was a pleasant, cultured, courteous and safe one.  Maybe I was just lucky, or blessed by guardian angels, but it felt like a nice city, except for the truly disgusting level of pollution in the air.  The traffic is intense and the smog and dust and construction dirt and soot from industry means that on arrival you immediately start sneezing, coughing, and making your handkerchief black – that is the gross part of Nairobi.

I traveled there with my Director Gabi for a 3day weekend back at the end of September. We left 10pm Friday on an overnight bus.  We splurged a bit and got tickets on the nice bus, which was comfy, spacious, and came with snacks even.  The road between Mombasa and Nairobi is in notoriously bad shape though (and dangerous, so many accidents), and it seemed like the bus had to go off-roading, um, the whole trip. So there was a ton of turbulence whenever I tried to nod off, and I didn’t sleep a whole lot. We arrived about 5am, and waited for our friends Nikki and Nick to come collect us from the bus stage on the side of the road.  It was here that began our weekend of guardian angels.  A pikipiki (motorbike) driver stood with us, very much standing guard, not taking any passengers until our hosts showed up and we were secure.  We walked to their apartment and fell into sleep.  The next day we spent recovering from the journey, and helping prepare the apartment for a party Nikki was hosting that evening. We hung out with a bunch of Kenyans in the NGO and tech scene at this party, making new friends and connections. Possibly the biggest surprise for me about this city was that everyone speaks English to each other! Such a change from life on the Coast, where everyone speaks Kiswahili, and English is not guaranteed. The people of Nairobi are a mix of not just internationals, but of so many Kenyan tribes too. Each of these tribes has its own mother tongue, so Engish IS the common language here. And we were hanging out with a well-educated bunch too. All the same, it was a welcome relief to be sitting in a room full of Kenyans, and understanding the conversation for once. I also met someone who’d just moved to San Francisco, and was working for Samasource, a friend’s former employer. It’s fun to say “small world!” when you actually are on the other side of the world.  🙂

On Sunday we met with and interviewed a Kenyan girl who’d applied for an internship with us.  She was very impressive and has now been a great addition to our office the past three weeks. We then headed towards Impala Park, to check out a “Classical Fusion” concert we’d seen advertised. A string quartet from South Africa was headlining, and we’d missed the Mombasa show, so we decided not to miss it twice. It was such an unexpected experience!

Immediately after walking through the gate, the classical music, not-crowded grounds, and the atmosphere of the event made for a pleasantly abrupt change from the matatus and traffic-heavy road just outside. I was blown away by how familiar and normal everything and everyone inside was – from the picnic baskets and box-wine to the kids playing in the bouncy castle and the teenagers looking impressively stylish and hipster-like for their age. Just like home! The only difference was that ~97% of the people there were African. All ages, all styles, but definitely most all were in the upper middle class, happily enjoying this outdoor concert on a hot summer day. Like I said, unexpected! The music too: it was definitely “fusion” – I think they intended that to mean a combination of Classical and African beats… but it felt more like Irish folk music!! Seriously. The entire crowd got up on their feet and danced when asked to by the band.  And they stayed dancing, everyone, until the end, which was capped off by fireworks no less, in front of a brilliant sunset.  Really such a fantastic time.

We then went off in pursuit of Thai food.  I’d read that there were quite a few restaurants in the city and I had to get some tasty Thai, my favorite, while I had the opportunity.  After a trio of matatus across town, and a few more guardian angels helping us find our way, (even accompanying us out of their way a few times!) we made it to Westlands and a Thai restaurant – oh no it was closed on Sundays!  But thankfully, there was another one in the building that was open! Oh the magnificent options of a real city, how I miss thee. We enjoyed a very delicious meal, and not just because we were in Kenya. It stood on its own as really delicious, and I made note to attempt some Thai cooking back in Likoni, to diversify the options for my tastebuds. (See: Thai cooking post) We headed back to Nikki’s, enjoying two more matatu rides (gasp, at night!). Not once did we take a taxi, our entire time in Nairobi. So there, Lonely Planet!

On Monday we went to the Tarehe School for Boys to visit their library and take notes, as we were organizing our own community to get our library completed. The school and library were clean, orderly, impressive. Freshly inspired, we were to then meet with Gabi’s friend who works at a school in Kibera. She had to cancel, so I called a friend of a friend, and we met up with him for lunch instead. He is building schools throughout the slums of Nairobi, and meeting with great success using a corporate model (Bridge Academies – the site is pretty empty though!). The nicest part about meeting Jay was talking to someone about our mutual friends, while also about development topics and issues on a professional level. I want more of that in my life! I’m eager for more of my socializing to be with people in my chosen career world. That might mean leaving all of my loved ones in San Francisco for a while. I found the immense size of Nairobi comfortable and exciting, and it made me wonder if New York might be the place I want to live next. I’m applying for jobs all over the country, we’ll see where the winds blow me…

We parted ways with Jay and headed to a second-hand clothes market for some shopping.  Even though I don’t really enjoy bartering at all (I’ve found that I miss pricetags so much – don’t ask me what I want to pay, just tell me how much it is!), we managed to get some good deals, and some cute new items.  We went back into town, met up with a coworker’s sister for a drink, and then went to another place to get some burgers.  Nikki and Nick met us there after a bit, and Gabi and I intentionally drank our beers quickly so that we’d sleep well on the late bus home. It worked! I managed to sleep, and we got into Mombasa just about sunrise. Our words were few and our eyelids heavy, but a satisfying and fun time was had. I was glad to leave before something happened to sour my experience!

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, EverydayLiving

Thoughts on Change

When I was deciding on this developing country experience, I figured that six months would be just long enough that I would really be able to become engaged with the community, but not quite long enough that it would feel like I had to leave a new home.

I now have less than three weeks remaining of my 5.5 month assignment here.  And I was right.  I’ve made lots of friends, and gotten comfortable in my own home here, and made relationships with my neighbors.  Hell, I’ve even adopted a cat!  (and found a family to care for it after I leave, too, yes.)  And it’s a strange feeling that I have now.  It’s not one of longing to stay here.  No, I’m ready to come home.  Which makes the feeling even stranger.  I’ve been here so long and gotten into such a rhythm, that it feels odd to imagine that in three quick weeks it will all end and change drastically, all over again.  Maybe part of that is a reflection of what it is like to live in Kenya.  Change is hard to imagine.  Whether it’s introducing a new item to the menu, replacing the ferry with a bridge, or understanding how a complete education could improve your child’s life, many people in Kenya just do not comprehend, or have no experience thinking about, such things.

But I hear you asking, Didn’t Kenya just usher in a new Constitution, under the hopeful banner of We Want Change?  Yes, they did.  And most everyone here has high expectations for how it will make their country better very quickly, like some magic potion mixed up by the medicine man on the corner.  And there have been headlines daily about this Prime Minister here and that official there being exposed as corrupt, and now arrest is even being threatened to them.  But what is the ordinary person doing in their life to affect positive changes in their life and community?  Well, some are deeply committed, yes, but on average? From my impressions, not much. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not that those people are lazy or dumb or would just rather steal to make money.  It’s more that they simply cannot imagine that it could work any other way.  Kenya has just emerged from a 24 year regime, as one Kenyan friend put it.  Corruption was so commonplace and expected that a whole generation, the entire youth of the country, grew up thinking that was how life worked, that you had to give someone some money to get anything.  Slowly, some of these youth are starting to realize how deeply engrained this has been in their minds, and are working to undo it, and to help the new generation see life in a different way.

What I’ve come to learn is that when you live in a developing country… where your government has never provided or looked out for you, where your parents are forced to view you more as an expense and a burden than an investment and a source of joy, and where your work options can be counted on one hand… When you live this kind of life, maybe you get used to nothing good happening to you.  You get used to nothing changing, and you learn to be happy with whatever life hands you, and to not demand any better.  Maybe that’s why visitors so often become enamored with smiling children and families living in squalor, seemingly content with so little.  The tourists wonder “Do they know something important about life that we’re missing?”

In a way, yes. There is one fact of life that is deeply engrained in their collective minds, but it is so depressing and firm that it is better to just make do with what you’ve got and forget about it. This fact is how desperately difficult it is to change your circumstances when you’re on the world’s bottom-most rung, how unfairly lacking your opportunities are. Without something new being added to the equation from outside your bubble of resources, you have no options. Learning about new crop techniques, new seamstress training courses, or how to research available scholarships online are some of these new things. Local civil society and international NGOs have been working for decades to introduce these small advancements. Some few people throughout the country (and world) have seized these opportunities and made their lives better. But until the government steps in to make the big changes, like sewage systems, adequate public education through high school, and potable water systems, everyday life for the everyday person will remain unchangeable in any meaningful way.

Well, this post took a swift turn for the disheartening.  That was unintended.  Changes are happening, and lives are improving.  But perhaps it’s appropriate to think about this as I evaluate all that I’ve learned from this experience.  I have yet to see an example of international NGOs or local organizations making drastic improvements in a country.  No that’s not true. Bangladesh was recently lauded for its incredible rise in the HDI rankings (Human Development Report 2010).  And much of that effort can be attributed to Grameen Bank and all of its subsidiaries.  I am not sure if that model is repeatable.  Do you have other examples of work in the development sector having a direct connection to improvement in national numbers and indices?

The lack of examples do not lessen my resolve or spirit.  I am only further inspired to be a part of some effort that does make lasting positive BIG change.

file:///F:/Library%20Borrowing%20Card.doc
st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-ansi-language:#0400;
mso-fareast-language:#0400;
mso-bidi-language:#0400;}
 

When I was deciding on this developing country experience, I figured that six months would be just long enough that I would really be able to become engaged with the community, but not quite long enough that it would feel like I had to leave a new home.

I now have less than three weeks remaining of my 5.5 month assignment here.  And I was right.  I’ve made lots of friends, and gotten comfortable in my own home here, and made relationships with my neighbors.  Hell, I’ve even adopted a cat!  (and found a family to care for it after I leave, too, yes.)  And it’s a strange feeling that I have now.  It’s not one of longing to stay here.  No, I’m ready to come home.  Which makes the feeling even stranger.  I’ve been here so long and gotten into such a rhythm, that it feels odd to imagine that in three quick weeks it will all end and change drastically.  Maybe part of that is a reflection of what it is like to live in Kenya.  Change is hard to imagine.  Whether it’s introducing a new item to the menu, replacing the ferry with a bridge, or understanding how a complete education could improve your child’s life, many people in Kenya just do not comprehend, or have no experience thinking about, such things.

But I hear you asking, Didn’t Kenya just usher in a new Constitution, under the hopeful banner of We Want Change?  Yes, they did.  And most everyone here has high expectations for how it will make their country better very quickly, like some magic potion mixed up by the medicine man on the corner.  And there have been headlines daily about this Prime Minister here and that official there being exposed as corrupt, and now arrest is even being threatened to them.  But what is the ordinary person doing in their life to affect positive changes in their life and community?  Well, some are deeply committed, yes, but on average? From my impressions, not much. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not that those people are lazy or dumb or would just rather steal to make money.  It’s more that they simply cannot imagine that it could work any other way.  Kenya has just emerged from a 24 year regime, as one Kenyan friend put it.  Corruption was so commonplace and expected that a whole generation, the entire youth of the country, grew up thinking that was how life worked, that you had to give someone some money to get anything.  Slowly, some of these youth are starting to realize how deeply engrained this has been in their minds, and are working to undo it, and to help the new generation see life in a different way.

What I’ve come to learn is that when you live in a developing country… where your government has never provided or looked out for you, where your parents are forced to view you more as an expense and a burden than an investment and a source of joy, and where your work options can be counted on one hand… When you live this kind of life, maybe you get used to nothing good happening to you.  You get used to nothing changing, and you learn to be happy with whatever life hands you, and to not demand any better.  Maybe that’s why visitors so often become enamored with smiling children and families living in squalor, seemingly content with so little.  The tourists wonder “Do they know something important about life that we’re missing?”

In a way, yes. There is one fact of life that is deeply engrained in their collective minds, but it is so depressing and firm that it is better to just make do with what you’ve got and forget about it. This fact is how desperately difficult it is to change your circumstances when you’re on the world’s bottom-most rung, how unfairly lacking your opportunities are. Without something new being added to the equation from outside your bubble of resources, you have no options. Learning about new crop techniques, new seamstress training courses, or how to research available scholarships online are some of these new things. Local civil society and international NGOs have been working for decades to introduce these small advancements. Some few people throughout the country (and world) have seized these opportunities and made their lives better. But until the government steps in to make the big changes, like sewage systems, adequate public education through high school, and potable water systems, everyday life for the everyday person will remain unchangeable in any meaningful way.

Well, this post took a swift turn for the disheartening.  That was unintended.  But perhaps appropriate as I evaluate all that I’ve learned from this experience.  I have yet to see an example of international NGOs or local organizations making drastic improvements in a country.  No that’s not true. Bangladesh was recently lauded for its incredible rise in the HDI rankings (Human Development Report 2010).  And much of that effort can be attributed to Grameen Bank and all of its subsidiaries.  I am not sure if that model is repeatable.  Do you have other examples of work in the development sector having a direct connection to improvement in national numbers and indices?

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, developmentissue, Motivation

Adding some spice

When I visited Nairobi at the end of September, I insisted on going out to a Thai restaurant.  It was surprisingly delicious, and not just because we were in Kenya!  I will write more about Nairobi soon – but I was inspired to try out some Thai cooking myself.  I began cooking my own dinners a few weeks back.  Spaghetti pasta with butter, salt and pepper, tossed with some cut-up tomatoes and avocados.  Simple, tasty, healthy, and oh it made me happy.  I have always been too busy to cook my own meals back in SF, and I’m finding that I really enjoy it, especially with fresh vegetables so available!  I stepped it up a notch this Monday though, and I went to Nakumatt’s exotic foods aisle and found some green curry paste.  I am now making some seriously good food over here, people!  Green curry eggplant and spinach with pan-fried noodles.  Oh the new taste sensation is magnificent manna to my mouth!

Next concoction for my menu: Sauteed spinach with Thai pepper sauce!

Leave a comment

Filed under EverydayLiving

Excess

Living here in a land of meager means has made me realize just how easily we let ourselves consume to excess back at home.  Some examples:

1.     I’ve been taking “bucket baths” here instead of showers.  You have a large bucket of water, and you use a small pail to scoop some up and pour it over yourself.  Repeat.  It’s very effective, and efficient.  Occasionally I will travel and stay at a hotel, and then, taking a shower feels like such luxury, but it’s also a bit unsettling because I’m so conscious of how much water I’m using, and wasting.  It’s the soap that does the cleaning, not the water.  So you really just need enough water to lather, and then rinse it off.  I thought I was being good before by turning off the shower while I shaved my legs, but going back to using gallons of water every time will be a shock!

2.     I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty the food was in the Coast region of Kenya.  Previous visitors to NW Kenya had warned me of severe blandness.  But here, there is a mix of cultures that make the Swahili cuisine something different from the rest of the country.  However, there are about five main dishes in this cuisine.  And they’re all starch-heavy and salt-low and begin to taste the same.  And no one ever makes anything else.  Especially in Likoni – it’s all the same, everywhere you go.  Every restaurant has literally the same exact menu.  So, despite the pleasant tastes, I got very tired of the food, very quickly.  I adjusted to smaller portions, and ate only enough to satisfy my hunger.  I think I have eaten until the point where you feel achingly full maybe five times in Kenya.  This is of course the healthiest way to eat, but it is hardly the norm in the developed world, where delicious, eclectic tasty food is readily available, and lots of it is served to you in every portion.  Now that I’ve gotten into the habit of eating so little (and seeing the benefits!) I’m a little wary of returning to the US (oh no especially during the holidays!), and facing the piles of delicious we so eagerly present to loved ones and customers.

3.     Soda here is served with a straw, every single time.  You rarely see someone drinking directly from the bottle.  This is for two reasons.  1 – the bottles are returned to the shop, and then returned to the bottler, and used again.  So the lip of the bottle might end up chipped or have a rusty cap on it… it’s easy to wipe the lip, but it’s also easy to just avoid it and use a straw.  2 – The other reason though is that the straw makes you take small sips of the bubbly, sugary treat.  Straw-sips let you get the taste without having to pour it into your mouth.  You can make it last much, much longer, allowing you to savor the unnecessary food item that you decided to purchase anyway.  I’m not much of a soda drinker, but sometimes I will get a Stoney’s (mm, ginger beer), and I can really appreciate the slow, savoring method of drinking.

I’m no ascetic saint though, I won’t lie – as soon as I get to a country with potable water (the Istanbul airport?) I plan on parking myself at the water fountain and drinking from the tap until my bladder bursts.  As soon as I get home, I plan on soaking in the tub until all the grime on the bottom of my feet, that bucket baths just won’t cleanse, finally comes off.  And I am looking so forward to a sushi feast, and rushing to a Thai restaurant in SF for duck curry, that I will probably start having dreams about it soon.

But as the holidays approach, and as the new year begins, I hope both you and I remember to savor our bounty, every bite, and every sip.

4 Comments

Filed under EverydayLiving

Brain balance

Oh wow, it’s been three weeks since I last posted!  Everything here is still good.  Work is getting a bit complicated.  But my projects are gaining a clearer focus as the weeks tick past. I’ll give a work update later this week, but for now, something different.

Chances are probably quite good that if you’re reading this, you have a hobby.  Dancing, painting – something related to music?  Amateur photographer?  Doodler, or designer?  Using the left side of my brain is yet another luxury that I’ve taken for granted (with many grateful thanks, Mama and Papa!).  I have learned to play the piano and the trumpet, taken ballet, singing and hip-hop dance lessons.  I brought a set of gouache paints with me to Kenya, and have been practicing watercolor painting while here.

And it’s days like this past Saturday that make me wish so fervently for the day when all children have such everyday opportunities to creatively express themselves.  I went to watch our most recent football tournament, and to be the photographer for it.  As usual, when I break out the big SLR camera, every kid wants to play with it.  I had two girls in my lap, so I kept the strap around my neck and let them take pictures.  One of the girls, Fatuma, was enthralled.  Snap, snap, snap, zooom, snap!  Putting a camera into a child’s hands is one of the most thrilling transformations you can ever watch.  Suddenly they’re in control of how they look at the world – and some of the ways and things that they see will stop you still, and make you realize how much their young brains take in.  In fact, Kids with Cameras was the organization that first got me thinking that I wanted to work with NGOs in the developing world.  More specifically, it was their documentary Born Into Brothels.  If you missed it somehow, I recommend you watch it immediately.

Fatuma and Aisha

Anyway, as Fatuma was happily snapping away on the camera, another child, a 7 or 8 year-old boy, became intrigued with my hair and kept petting it.  He asked for my hairclip, and began trying out at least a dozen different hairstyles.  He passed judgment on each one, until he was finally satisfied.  About a month ago, a volunteer brought beads and string to the Center, and the kids leapt on the activity of making necklaces and bracelets with a fervor.  We also brought in a poi instructor to give them two lessons, and a few of them picked it up really quickly and really want to learn more skills.  It’s examples like this that make me realize how little there is to activate this half of impoverished kids’ brains.

Now, I’m not saying that there is a dearth of creativity among the children in Kenya.  Not at all.  You’d be amazed at some of vehicles that they make out of plastic bottles, straws rubber flip flops, and scrap wire.  But that short list of materials just about exhausts the resources available to the average child in Likoni.  Oh, there’s also the old classic “hoop and a stick” – I am not lying, it’s one of the more prevalent toys here.  And some of the kids are damn good with it!  But every time I see one of them running down the road with one, I can’t help but think how 19th century it is.

And unfortunately, the government, specifically High Education Minister William Ruto, doesn’t think very highly of the arts as an essential part of your daily education.  In fact, universities that offer majors in the arts are having their funding reduced, so that more money can go towards science and technical degrees, because those will lead to jobs that directly boost the economy.  This is important, and does make some sense.  BUT we are not all right-brain-dominant robots though, and this approach won’t benefit Kenya.  Some of us are left-brain-led monkeys.  Society needs artists and musicians and photographers and performers and designers too.  Thankfully, his plan has riled a lot of people in Kenya who agree with me.  Unfortunately, despite being a “working” democracy, that doesn’t mean that officials in Kenya actually have to listen to their constituents.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, developmentissue, politics

A Typical Day in the Life of My Stomach/Wallet (in Kenya)

1 = hamri >1= mahamri

Breakfast:

  • Hamri (pastry) – 10 Ksh
  • Banana – 5 Ksh
  • Tea with milk – 10 Ksh

o   Total: 25 Ksh

Lunch

  • Omelette (2 eggs) – 20 Ksh
  • Chapati (tortilla-like pastry) – 10 Ksh

o   Total: 30 Ksh

Dinner

  • ¼ chicken, grilled – 100 Ksh
  • rice, with sliced tomatoes – 30 Ksh
  • Sukuma (Kale) – 15 Ksh

o   Total: 145 Ksh

Grand Total: 200 Kenyan shillings

Grand Total (USD): $2.50

Sometimes it’s good to remind myself that occasionally splurging on the grilled chicken is OK for me to do.  Thankfully, in other stomach news, I remain completely healthy and have not been waylaid by any stomach issues so far.  All of this biking and walking around is also trimming me down a bit!  I hope my final 10 weeks here will also be illness-free, cross your fingers for me  🙂

2 Comments

Filed under EverydayLiving

My own place

On a more personal note, I also moved into my own 2-room apartment on Sept 1 – here everyone calls it shifting places.  I then immediately spent five days with my friends Heidi and Joe, who were visiting Kenya and came to Mombasa to see me and my life here.  We had a great time, and they got to meet my hostmama and hostsister, and to hang out with the kids at Twaayf and Madaraka, and we all worked on our tans. 🙂  So then I spent last weekend nesting a bit and getting used to the place.  After 2+ months of living with 4-7 other people in my host family’s house, being back in an apartment with just me and no TV was so quiet.  Luckily, everyone else in the building makes up for that.  Music and TV are on loudly a lot, but I really don’t mind.  I usually need to be up by 8am anyway, it’s cool.

Here’s a picture of me in my new apartment, and a picture of all of the plastic crap that I had to buy for it.  The red wrinkly floor is included in that category, by the way.  It’s what’s called “PVC carpeting” and it’s covering the floors in both of my rooms because new concrete floors soak up a lot of moisture from the ground and make the floor very damp at night.  It eventually lays flat, and adheres thanks to this moisture.

My apartment is in a neighborhood of Likoni called Majengo Mapya (which translates to New Buildings).  This whole area has been populated just within the past ten or so years I’ve been told – one person was given a huge tract of land by someone in the government, and eventually locals stepped in and took the land back and started building.  Something like that.  Houses are being built at a very fast rate here, and I wake up to hammers quite a bit.  Though I now live very close to a mosque, so the call to prayer wakes me up even more – I’m getting used to it though.  I’m very happy now that Ramadan is wrapping up, as that means shorter and fewer calls over the megaphones.  The 5am one will be there every day though.  I’m getting better at falling back asleep after it wakes me up…

Here’s a map of Likoni.  You can see the ferry at the northern edge, just south of the island part of Mombasa.  The green arrow is the Hatua Likoni office, the yellow arrow is my host family’s house, and the orange arrow is my new apartment.  It takes me about 25minutes to walk across to the office now, and it took me 5min to walk from the other house, to give you perspective of scale.  Most of my coworkers live on this side of Likoni, and you also see how much closer the beach is now, and those are 2 big pluses.  The Likoni-Ukunda Road that is yellow and snakes around the edge of the map is the only paved road in all of Likoni.  I can also walk to ferry easily. I just got a bicycle, and biked to work today for the first time, which was great!  The roads are definitely very bumpy, and plagued by sharp coral-rocks, but I’ll go slowly and hopefully avoid punctures.  I’m excited to explore more of the area – having my own means of locomotion always makes me a much happier monkey.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, EverydayLiving