Category Archives: politics

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.


Filed under Culture, developmentissue, politics


There’s something about elections that makes me all misty-eyed like watching a damn Hallmark commercial.  I’m serious.  After a lifetime of being as apolitical a Democrat as is possible, in June 2008, I up and decided to dive headfirst into working on the Obama campaign, because something about him, and something about me, made me truly believe in the power of the individual, and the power of the vote.  I believed in my own power to affect change in this world, and I wanted others to understand that they too had this power.  Obama’s platform of Hope and Change was built for America, but I felt it applied more broadly than that.  It emboldened me to truly Hope for this world, and all of its ailments, and to seek Change for its people, and all of their needs.  And so ever since that glorious celebration night in November 2008, elections touch a soft spot in my heart.

This Wednesday, Kenyan citizens went to the polls, and voted on the state of their future.  After 20 years of independence under a Constitution and a government that are universally condemned as flawed and corrupt by its citizens and the world, a new Constitution was proposed, and the country was asked Yes or No?  Now, it is also universally agreed that this new document is not perfect, and that it does not address or fix all of the problem areas.  But the Yes campaign petitioned that it was a hugely needed step forward, finally, and that it put into place the legal mechanisms for amending it properly later on.  And the No campaign said if we’ve waited this long, we might as well make it right before we make it law, as well as some other less admirable logic. (For more details, see here)

Obama’s blood springs from this land and these people, and his passion and vision for change must be hereditary.  What it came down to this week was that the people of Kenya want a better future, and they’re tired of being told to wait for it.  They are tired of being cheated and lied to by their leaders, and they want to hold them accountable, and undo the laws that have allowed them to behave so badly.

Anxiety was understandably raised about the potential for a repeat of the post-election violence that wracked Kenya in 2007, after Kibaki blatantly stole the election from Raila.  But those two came together now in support of this new Constitution, and so their supporters merged camps as well.  If tempers flared, it would only be if it seemed that votes were stolen again, not because of former or tribal schisms.

After a day of counting votes, 69% of the votes cast were for YES – over 6 million voters versus 2.5 million for NO.  An overwhelmingly strong win for Change, and show of solidarity with Hope.

‘Twas the day after the election, and all through the country, not a riot was started, not even a brawl. Out on the streets, there arose no clatter, and peaceful smiles ruled idle chatter.  The news commentators asked, their eyes all aglow, “what will the international media think, now that we have not become violent?”

I hope that the world is paying attention, and that they are thinking about the beautiful power of a people united by the wish to better their country, and to exercise their rights as humans, and as citizens, to bring about that change on their own terms.  It is really a remarkable thing, when the ideals of Democracy become so tangible in front of you.  I hope some of you get misty-eyed thinking about it too.  And the next time you step into your own polling station to vote, give a moment of thanks to all those who fought for you to have that right, and send a prayer of strength to all of our fellow humans who are still fighting for their own ability to have a voice.

For a vote is not just one’s duty as a citizen.  Rather, the power of the individual vote lives not just on election day, but in the fact that we are all able to envision and craft our own futures.  It is our unique right as humans to conscientiously make choices for what we feel is right and good.  If we remember to embrace and flex that right, each and every day, a society is built that moves forward, that does not leave its weakest members behind, and that stands up for our children, and all of our futures together.



Filed under Culture, Motivation, politics