Well begun is half done

As promised, this post is an update on the work that I’ve been doing over the past 2.5 months.  It was actually a good reason to sit down with the original eight projects that I began with and examine what I’ve done under each one and which ones have changed completely.

I’m tempted to just paste in the page-and-a-half long document with all of the tasks that I have carried out bulleted under each heading.  Actually yeah, I will do that – it lays out the details better than any kind of written summary could.  And I do want to share all of the details with you (I just hope some of you find it interesting, and make it through to the end).  But to preface it, I will say this: I am now halfway through my time here in Kenya.  Twelve weeks in, twelve left to go.  Knowing this, I was nervous about looking back to see what I’d accomplished.  Sometimes working here can feel like nothing is happening.  And I know that I still have a lot of work to get done.  So it feels like a countdown has begun, since I know what 12 weeks here feels like now, and I’ve begun thinking in terms of making sure certain projects get accomplished in that length of time.  Happily, I feel very good about the work that I’ve been able to accomplish.

I was especially happy about the event that I organized last week, which was a great success with only a month of planning.  (I’ll tell you more about it in a post to itself.)  And I am very eager to really work on our Monitoring and Evaluation system, and to also work with FSD on their own evaluation this Fall.  I’m going to focus right now on getting the publicity for the Volunteer Program in place and then I’ll be able to spend most of my time on those M&E projects.  Doing such work in real-time, in the field, with deadlines, will be a very helpful experience, as I intend to pursue a career as an evaluator.

So far, I’m feeling very pleased with what I’ve been able to give and get through my volunteer role.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get the guidance I might want before moving forward, but that means I’m also gaining more confidence in my own judgments and autonomy.  Here is the original list of 8 projects, with 4 additional ones at the end.  Each one has notes under it about what’s been done so far.  You’ll see that the projects are quite varied.  That has made it both more challenging and more interesting.  One perhaps easily-foreseen consequence of being able to work within many sundry areas is that I am regularly asked to help out on lots of other things too, like fundraising meetings and the charity concert committee and football tournament planning team.  Thankfully, I’ve communicated that the bulk of my work is already planned for, and I’m not readily available for these projects, but that doesn’t make it completely easy to say no either.

1. Create publicity materials for the Volunteer Program and the Hatua House that volunteers stay at, and broadcast the info to relevant volunteer agencies and universities globally.

  • Took new pictures of Hatua House that include volunteers, to use in literature and on website
  • Created professional, engaging publicity material to use when sending out info on volunteering with Hatua
  • Researched all of the volunteering-abroad websites and agencies that are out there, and where we should post the info about our program
  • Began collecting contact info for universities globally, then learned from FSD’s experiences that our planned approach didn’t work for them; revised the plan for university outreach
  • Have nearly finished drafting the new Volunteer pages for the website
  • Expressed the urgent need for a dedicated Volunteer Coordinator, a position which we have now offered to one of our teachers

2. Review the newly-created Constitution and By-Laws for decisions that have not been implemented yet, and put those systems in place.

  • Reviewed the documents with the Secretary, created action list
  • Established a system for tracking sick and vacation leave days
  • Heightened security controls on office computers
  • Obtained program stamps for all programs, established secure storage solution for them
  • Began obtaining formal letters of agreement with our partners
  • Instigated more upfront and thorough accounting with our income-generating activity (IGA)
  • Investigated our options for donor relations software; awaiting response re: obtaining an affordable copy of GiftWorks
  • Discussed plan for donor relations and followup with Gabi, who will be taking on that role more fully
  • Monitoring and evaluation: See #3.
  • Ensured property logs with property values were completed.

3. Establish a monitoring and evaluation system for Hatua and all of its programs.

  • Met with LSF and Twaayf Program Coordinators to discuss appropriate questions and needed evaluation tools
  • Finalized 1 of 4 documents for LSF so far

4. Work with local high-performing schools to learn from their curriculums, updating our own in time for the next session in September.

  • (Removed from list, as Hatua is not ready for this major project yet. We will advertise on Idealist.org for a volunteer with relevant skills and experience to advise us on this project.)

5. Recruit sponsors for 5 of our kids from my personal network.

  • Heidi and Joe came to visit and want to sponsor a child – that’s 1!  Our sponsorship system should be live in the next week or two – maybe you want to too?

6. Document the newly-established systems and processes for 1- Child Sponsorship, 2- Donor relations and 3- M&E.

  • (None of the systems are fully established yet.)

7. Heighten Hatua’s online impact and information sharing.

  • Have been regularly taking and posting pictures and information on Hatua’s facebook page, and inviting volunteers and visitors to do the same

8. Research grant opportunities for Hatua.

  • (Not really my area of expertise – we have another volunteer working on grant proposals.)

9. International Literacy Day event

  • Planned and hosted an after-school event for International Literacy Day (Sept 8th).  Over 150 people attended, including students and representatives from 9 local schools and 3 local CBOs.  Poems, skits and songs were performed.  Hundreds of our donated books had been sorted into Children, Primary School, Secondary School and Adult sections for all to peruse and enjoy.  Local businesspeople, educators and government officials gave speeches on the importance of education and literacy.
  • In the 24 hours following the event, 8 children showed up at our office asking to check out books from the “library.”

10.     FSD M&E – work with the local Mombasa FSD staff on their evaluations of data collected from community constituents about the impact of FSD intern projects on their lives and communities, in time for a report due in December

  • Still to do

11.  Info Management – Organize documents / folder systems across all computers

  • Still to do

12.  HR – Determine needed roles / job descriptions; create Hatua’s ideal organizational chart

  • Still to do

Like I said, there’s still a lot to do.  But now I am the only FSD intern left from the summer, so there are many fewer people to distract me from my work.  (More interns arrive in 2 weeks, but I won’t have too much interaction with them – except one who might be working at Hatua actually).  I plan to go on just a few more weekend trips, perhaps one a month – but otherwise, I came to Kenya to work, not play, and I’m still excited to get these projects done.  Wish me luck and brilliance!

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Katiba holiday

This past Friday was really lovely. So much so, that I want to share it with you as a taste of my days here, atypical though it was.

It was another national holiday, this time in honor of the new Constitution (Katiba) being signed into law. There were ceremonies and speeches and music performances being televised all day long, and millions of people gathered in Nairobi to be there for it. We decided it was a good day to get out of the office, and so everyone was asked to help out at Twaayf, our children’s center, as it was in need of a fresh coat of paint.

I woke up to the sound of rain, lulling me back to sleep. A little late, I woke up again and showered, and ate the yummy egg, tomato, onion scramble that my hostmama had left for me to eat (it’s the month of Ramadan, so they all wake before dawn to eat, and then go back to sleep). I head out, catch a matatu to Ferry Plaza, meet Denno at the hardware store and we buy a big bag of whitewash. We then get a tuktuk to take us to the center. Its raining again now, so we all hang out for a while, waiting for it to abate. It continues to rain, so the board games and beads are brought out, and we all start playing. The kids have all been beading a ton since one of the volunteers brought them the materials last week, and they love it. Like every new fun activity that is introduced to them, some of them show immediate zeal and skill for it, their brains leaping at the chance to engage their creative sides. I become engrossed in finishing my necklace (and excited to check out the bead store in town so I can make more) and when I’m done, the sun has emerged.

I begin to whitewash with all of the other staff and volunteers working today, slopping the pasty mix over the dingy walls and fading graffiti decorations. As we accumulate more and more white spots all over us, I’m reminded of Tom Sawyer, and realize how easy of a sell he had to make to all those boys – painting IS fun!

Denno, Omali, Sami and Burning whitewashing

By mid-afternoon, we’re done, and the place looks so bright and white and clean. The center is just across the road from the beach, so I’d brought my swimsuit. Stephie and I decide to change and head that direction. Shelly Beach is very convenient – but not super as beaches go. I love exploring the tide pools that stretch out for 200 yards, but that means that when the tide comes in, you swim through a whole lot of seaweed and floating detritus. Flip-side of that coin though is that there are no waves coming in, and so with the strong current, we had ourselves our own Endless Pool where you could swim against a current for many minutes and not get anywhere. It felt great to get some proper exercise – I think I’ll be making swimming a regular activity when I live closer to the beach.

We head back, change out of our suits, and walk down the road to a palm-filled bar. We enjoy our beers, chatting under the trees about Kenya, men and our future careers, until just before sunset. Back out on the road, a man named Francis insists I ride back to Ferry on his pikipiki (motorbike), for the same price as a tuktuk, so I agree, judging him to be sober and old enough to know how to drive it well. Plenty of pikipiki drivers possess neither quality, so I generally only ride with ones that I know and trust. Francis is a-ok, and I try to remember his face for next time. At Ferry, I walk towards the spot where I’ll catch a matatu home, but Sunday (one of my regular, approved drivers) pulls up to me on his pikipiki and insists that I let him drive me home. I don’t want to pay the 50shillings so I say the matatu’s fine (10sh), but he says he’ll just charge 20, so I say ok. We chat about his health and the holiday, and when we arrive, he doesn’t have change for me, so he just says I’ll get it from you next time. I love being a regular now.  🙂

I go inside, greet my hostfamily, wash my hands, and sit down just in time for dinner, as they break their fast as soon as the sun goes down. I make myself do some work on the computer, and finish the last few pages of my book, and then the active day, topped off with swimming, a beer and a full tummy sends me to sleep soundly and content.

Next post: “So what is this ‘work’ she’s talking about?”

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A mini-tour of places I’ve been in Kenya

I thought you might enjoy a little tour of the spots I’ve been to in Kenya so far. I actually have not taken that many pictures that have not been work-related (surprising, I know, for the girl who always has a camera in her bag back in the US), but I’ve got some good random ones from these places that help tell a bit about each place.
Mombasa

Mombasa roofline

I took this picture from Rebecca’s host family’s apartment, in Old Town, Mombasa. I took it because I recognized the beautiful green and white mosque from my flickr-stalking of Mombasa before I came. I wanted to make sure I found my way to it at some point – I’ve got a bit of a thing for the color green, you see. I did the same thing in London actually… hunting down a green bridge there because I saw a picture of it on flickr. Heh. Anyway, this roofline picture of Mombasa shows you just how city-like it is, cluttered with buildings. None of them are very tall though, and little things like the palm tree, the turrets of two mosques, the colored buildings and the rusty tin roof-shed and laundry hanging on a line are some details that make this Mombasa, and not Metropolis, USA.

Diani

Fresh fish! (and squid)

This picture would be better if Diani Beach was in the background, but the best part of this picture is that this fisherman is standing right next to our house’s porch (and you’ve seen a million pictures of beautiful beaches). The FSD staff took us five interns to Diani for a weekend retreat halfway through June. We had a cottage just 50 yards from the beach, and Saturday morning this man walked up through the property asking each house if we’d like freshly caught fish, prawns, or these squid he’s holding up – all taken from the water we’d just been swimming in. He had a pocket scale that he could hang the fish or prawns from in a plastic bag, so you knew how much you were getting, and so he could charge you based on his per-kilogram price. The squids were getting their ink all over the place, and the fish we didn’t feel like scaling, so we ended up getting prawns and cooking them up with lots of fresh veggies – we couldn’t get enough vegetables that weekend – and they were very delicious!

Likoni

My hostmama in Flats

Two weeks ago was Kenya’s Referendum Day, when people voted Yes or No for the new Constitution. I walked with my hostmama to her polling station (where my hostsister was working for the day too!). After she voted, we went to buy some groceries, and stopped in at her friends’ apartment in Flats on the way. Flats is a section of Likoni where a whole bunch of apartment buildings were built (hence the name Flats) – I am not sure if it is similar to ‘the projects’ in US cities, but it seems comparable. It’s one of the safer places to walk through though, because there is always someone around. It’s the areas where there are no residences that are less safe, because there is no one around to help you or hear you. So, this is my hostmama, pausing in the doorway to the very open and airy building as we are leaving to say again how much she wishes she was able to attend the wedding of her friend’s son in Nairobi.

Pirates

Camel ride

Two weekends ago, we had a girls day at the beach. We took a matatu up to Pirates, a beach just north of Mombasa. We got some sun, went on a boatride, and Debora and Rebecca hopped on a camel for a ride down the beach. My most memorable part of the day was watching the beach become a waterpark for all of the local kids and families who had come out for the day. The tide came in higher and higher, making the beach shorter and the waves crash harder. The kids would just sit and let the waves hit them, eliciting dozens of squeals in unison as they crashed over them. Mothers would hold their small babies in the waves, submerged in their full long robes to maintain modesty. And the shore was lined with people just standing there, in slacks and button-down shirts and nice shoes (like the guy in the picture above), simply taking in the chaos and cacophony of these amusements, and looking very out of place in this tropical scene. Debora, who lives nearby in Nyali, explained that people just stop by on their way to other places to check it out, and they aren’t there for ‘beachtime’ themselves.

Malindi and Gede Ruins

Posing as Queen at the Palace

And because three of my fellow interns leave Kenya this weekend to return home, last weekend we went to Malindi, which is about 2 hours north of Mombasa. It’s a town with a huge Italian influence, and so we saw strange sights like a mozzarella shop and a few gelato shops… and little Kenyan children yelling Ciao! to us from the side of the road! We got tasty pizzas for one meal even, which was a nice treat. It’s very tourist-centric, so we did plenty of shopping at both the Tourist Market and the Craft Cooperative, picking up special gifts for loved ones back home. We went to visit Gede Ruins as well, 15km outside of Malindi, which is the site of an excavated Swahili city from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in the middle of the jungle and we saw great huge baobab trees, monkeys, butterflies, lots of strangling fig trees that make you think of Ankgor Wat, and a long staircase up one very large tree, leading to a viewing platform treehouse that overlooked the main Palace. Here I am, posing as Queen at the entrance to the first Palace.  Christan took this picture – for pictures of the treehouse, Palace and monkeys check out her blogpost.

I’m now wrapping up my ninth week here in Kenya, so I’ve got fifteen weeks left to see other places. The spots highest on the list are Nairobi, Watamu, Lamu, Lake Victoria and hopefully even flying to Zanzibar! Stay tuned… I’ve got lots to do during the workweek, but it’s relatively easy to travel for a weekend or even a day to someplace new!

PS – Thanks to Skippy, I just learned that roundtrip flights to Mombasa from SFO are only $1266 in November! Come visit!

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The land of fire and dust

Bikes whiz past you.  Flashes of fire catch the corner of your eye.  Throngs of people weave with the traffic in the road, at a leisurely lope.  Right-of-way applies to everyone and no one.  Neon lights blink and flash, and wispy dustclouds are stirred up with every step and passing vehicle.  Everyone seems happy to be here, adding their gait, their style, their ride, to the vibe.

Welcome to the Likoni Ferry Plaza.  It’s my own little piece of the playa, here in Kenya.  It only feels like this at night, when every vendor puts small kerosene lamps on their stands, and those are the brightest lights you see, except for motorcycle headlights.  The dirt roads, the ramshackle buildings, the small wooden stands, the masses of people moving in every direction – everything has such a mishmash order and layout, colored by a friendly yet frenetic energy, it reminds me of the major intersections of Black Rock City, and the random corners and pockets just off the road.  The dustiness and the different beats coming from all directions are also here (though neither is the right quality of course.)

Every time I experience this, I think of my second-home city and how I love and miss it.  This is the second year in a row I won’t be on the playa, after six years straight attendance.  As of now, 2011 has my name on it – I hope life doesn’t decide otherwise for me.  But it’s 2010 now.. To everyone returning this year, welcome home! and a big welcome spank to all the virgins.  Have an excellent burn, and an awesome Tuesday night!

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YES!

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.

YES YOU CANYA

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Wengi Watoto (Many children)

One of the Directors here at Hatua is excited and eager to revamp the curriculum at our school, Madaraka Community Nursery School.  We will be speaking with some of the top-performing schools in Likoni about their curricula, and adapting ours based on what we learn from them.  One of the crucial elements that my Director is already aware of, and very excited to implement, is having the teachers switch to a method of teaching that focuses on tracking each individual student’s progress and learning abilities, rather than teaching each day’s syllabus by rote, without adaptation to the students’ grasp.

I realize now how very fortunate I was to grow up taking such attention for granted.  Here in Kenya, it seems the emphasis has had to be more on getting the kids into the classroom, than on what to do with them once they’re there.  So, schools are built, teachers are hired, and kids are collected into the classrooms.  Slowly but surely, more and more parents (and their children) are realizing how powerful and valuable education can be for one’s future.  And the government provides free primary education, which is a huge step forward.  The result is that many kids are getting into school.  Unfortunately… that’s also part of the problem.

There are never fewer than 25 kids in a classroom – and there can be as many as 60, or 100!  Does that mean there are not enough schools?  No, I don’t think so – there are 30 schools in Likoni alone, though admittedly they range from 100-1000 students each.  And of course, building schools is a pet charity of foreigners from all over.  I believe the Issue is that there are simply too many children.

our Baby Class has 58 students

In the past 10 years, the population of Kenya has climbed at a steady rate around 2.6% each year (the 27th highest rate in the world). The result is that 42% of Kenyans are under the age of 14.  (ref: CIA World Factbook) Check out this interactive comparison of population growth rates of all the countries.

Having identified an Issue, I’ve been trying to trace back its Causes, in order to find a Solution.  (Spoiler alert: It’s never that easy.)  Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had in pursuit of one though.  They are by no means fully developed or even that helpful, but I felt like this was a good example to share, to show how difficult it is to address and remedy such an issue.

Ok, why are there so many children?  Well, families are huge here. The average family has 4 children (ref: World in Balance), and a family with 8 or 9 children is not uncommon at all. Why? In a developing country, I would’ve expected that people would want to keep the number of children that need feeding to 1 or 2.  But that’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket, apparently.  I’ve been told that the reasoning is that the more kids you have, the more likely it is that one of them will get a good job that pays well and can take care of the whole family.  Life is viewed as so tenuous here that you hear people speak about the guarantee of your next meal feeling as slim as the chance of whether you’ll be alive tomorrow.  So, the running philosophy is to make lots of kids, to increase the chances that one of them will live long and prosper.

Except Kenya can’t afford to provide this free primary school education for all of these kids, much less begin to provide free secondary school education (high school).  But the value of education is becoming more appreciated – surely more parents will begin deciding to raise and educate fewer children for longer, like my host family is doing with their 3 children.

Except if a Kenyan says they have 2 or 3 kids, people look concerned, and ask what went wrong. A large family is a sign of a capable man.  Kind of like how a large man is a sign of a rich man.  So, that’s a major cultural hurdle.  The egos of men are not to be trifled with when attempting to change a male-dominated society.  But spreading information can change that right?  Perhaps a campaign that outlines the many benefits of smaller families, not just for the children and the family’s sakes, but for Kenya as a whole.  And increased family planning services and sharing information about how and why to limit your pregnancies.  Ok, it seems Kenya is already doing this. Back in the 1960s, Kenya was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to begin developing a national family-planning campaign.  The average number of children per woman has dropped to around four from around eight in the 1980s, which constitutes one of the fastest-ever national declines in family size.  (ref: World in the Balance)  But that’s still a lot of kids per family.

AND family planning can only do so much, now that the kids already exist. But a 1993 study found that literacy was a strong contributor to desire for small family size (ref).  So, as education continues to spread, desire for fewer children will likely increase.  That also explains my hostfamily’s smaller size.  So, in time, this issue should right itself?

Family planning poster

Except “While the Kenyan government formulates official strategies on family planning, promotion of the message and means of family planning falls mainly to local health-care offices and nongovernmental organizations.” (ref: World in the Balance)  For family planning to be even more effective, the government probably needs to take an active role in promoting its use.  And, despite the efforts that have been made, I’ve been told that many women like the idea of the pill’s benefits, but as a whole, tend to forget to take it on a regular basis.  And abortion is as divisive a topic here as anywhere, if not more so (thanks to the legacy of missionaries, and the stoking of the issue with regard to a clause in the new proposed Constitution).  Although my Muslim hostsister said that although her religion says it is a sin, she doesn’t think the Kenyan Constitution should ban it – she’ll simply follow her religion’s rules, over the government’s.  Well, maybe the other forms of birth control, like the Depo Provera injections, and IUDs, are something that could be made more readily available in developing countries then?

Except I’m sure it would be extremely difficult to get pharmaceutical companies to make them available at prices low enough to make a difference to the women most in need of them.  The poorest people are the ones who won’t get the information or medical supplies that will let them control the size of their families.

So much for figuring out how to reduce classroom size.  I feel like the last station for this train of thought is to do market research in order to woo corporations into a new market.  Well, one can’t expect such a major issue to be simply remedied.  It muddles my brain a bit.  Which explains why this blog post that is a bit all over the place.  And way too long.  🙂  If you made it this far, I hope your brain isn’t too befuddled, and got something from it.  Now go outside and have a good weekend.  I welcome your comments on this topic, and its many threads.

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Welcome new readers!

Thanks to being featured on Freshly Pressed! there are now a lot more of you reading along, which is great. And I won’t lie, a tad anxiety-inducing, as I’m still new to the blogger role.  I’ve been getting better about posting more regularly though, so I hope you enjoy!  Stick around for more moments from Kenya.  🙂

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One fine day

I step out of the living room to better hear the choir singing at the church next door.  It’s a perfectly warm day, and the breeze is blowing through the pale blue foyer, lifting the gauzy curtains in rhythmic sways.  Two clean white cows pass on the road outside, slowly munching the grass.  Beyond them, a man in orange robes stands on his roof, quietly surveying his own scene.  The Kiswahili words that have been floating in the air, from within them I suddenly hear “One Fine Day” in the refrain.  The notes float away on the breeze as the choir finishes their song.  A hammer is picked up nearby, and the tapping rhythm of construction replaces the music.

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The real Africa?

Africa is huge. Fifty-three countries in a giant continent. Hundreds of languages and dialects, and so many tribes within those countries. Iconic images of children, animals, and landscapes, recognizable the world over. Discouraging statistics, endless genocides, and reports of pirates dominate outside perceptions of life in Africa.

So what is “the real Africa”? Is it the mud huts and fly-eyed children? Is it puttering tuk-tuks on narrow streets and bartering vendors selling beaded wares? Is it overcrowded ferry boats, or wildlife safaris? Is it cities or villages? Or is the act of delegating only a portion of Something as the “Real” Something just as ridiculous to say as when McCain-Palin uttered the same gaff regarding America?

People waiting to be let onto the ferry.

After four days of navigating Mombasa, we had kept to the main island part of the city, which is the major center and bulk of Mombasa. We went across the northern bridge just once to see the open-air market (largest in East Africa) near Nyali district, but that still had a very ‘city’ feel to it.

Finally we came to Likoni, the area to the south of the city, across the river, where four out of five of us are now living and working. Our first experience of Likoni quickly showed us a new side of daily life in Africa. The one road is dirt and full of giant puddles, lined with stalls (ie. storefronts and food vendors) made of scrap wood and metal, litter is strewn pretty much everywhere, and goats and cows wander about, munching on the sometimes-burning trash and shrubs interchangeably. This is my neighborhood. To be fair, this main heavy-traffic road through Likoni is much more drastic than the side roads and residential areas just off of it. But the poverty and lack of infrastructure here is immediately and abruptly obvious, and maybe that is what caused one of the other interns to say, with some relish, that this felt more like the real Africa.

This puddle is the road to my house.

When I heard that, I immediately felt odd about it.  What makes this more real?  Perhaps “real” is the wrong word – perhaps “reality” is more apt – all parts of Africa are real, but the reality of the challenges that Kenyans face is simply more clear outside of the city bustle. While plenty of people do live within the city of Mombasa, most people who work in the city commute in, and live in the poorer areas outside the city. And also, the overwhelming majority of Africans live in rural, impoverished areas. Areas like Likoni where the road has become a canal a foot deep, and the girl down the street dies of cholera.  But even in Likoni, one of the poorest areas of Mombasa, I live with an educated family that has done well for itself and enjoys a nice life.

My host-family's house - it's lovely.

It is here where you learn about the library that was built under the ego of one Cabinet member, only to sit bookless now after the election brought someone else into power. It is here where you learn that skinny, lean people don’t receive as much respect as larger, rounder people (because they must not have enough to eat).  It is here where babies cry at the sight of your face, as you are the first white one they have seen.

But then again, it is in the city where you have a lively discussion with the older female owner of your hotel (who owns many properties in the city and is married to a white man) about how she is ready and eager for change in the woman’s role in Africa. “Learn how to cook!” she yells at her (male) manager, only half-chidingly. She says Africa is ready for change, and woman are already making their way there. He stoutly refuses to budge on his view that women are meant to cook and clean, and that Africa cannot change because African humans are fundamentally different from American humans, and should not be the same. I didn’t bait him too much, hopeful with the knowledge that the aging of a single generation can elicit much of this impossible-sounding change.

Like everywhere in the world, the interplay of city and rural life is just a part of life – it’s the tug and war of progressive and conservative views, of import and export, of grow it vs. buy it, of cultural clashes and mixing, that has played a fundamental role in the development of civilization and the furthering of progress throughout human history.  The existence of both together is as Real as it gets.

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Filed under Capacity Building, Culture

Safari pics are posted

I went on a safari trip last weekend with eight other interns.  It was amazing!  We saw so many animals, and so many of them were so close to us!  I began to really get a kick out of saying “Oh look, more elephants.”  Seriously, on one hillside, a herd of them looked like cows at a glance… surreal.  We saw lots of mamas and babies, and passed through a herd of giraffes, munching away on treetops.  The pictures I took are now posted, check them out!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/415monkey/sets/72157624512879412/detail/

I made them all pretty small so that it wouldn’t take forever to upload – if you want to see any of them at original size, just ask!

ps- remember the names in the Lion King?  Simba means lion, and Rafiki means friend, in Kiswahili.  I have to remember to look up Mufasa, Pumba, Timon, etc.

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Filed under Culture, Safari