Sunday, July 31, 2011

Curious? Then this is the place for you!

I am a curious person. That is part of the reason why I love new places, especially drastically new places. Like large urban settlements half-way across the globe. Rarely does a day go by when I don't say to myself (or whoever is nearby) "Huh. I wonder why ...."

Some things I am curious about:
  • How exactly did that Bellingham Boys and Girls Club Basketball 2005 t-shirt make its way all the way here?
  • Where the heck did that dog that looks half beagle/half golden retriever come from? I have yet to see either a beagle or a golden retriever.
  • What the heck is a ghetto ambulance? 

  • How the heck do they get those shoes so clean, day-in and day-out?
  • What is the fascination with Shania Twain? No, really. What is it?
  • How can you resist these faces?
Photo credit: Ladyejane Vickers
  • Who taught the kids to scream "HOWAREYOU" on repeat at every white person that goes by?
  • Who is that driving a hummer? That bright yellow hummer?
  • Who the heck told EVERY HAWKER along my street my bloody name? And no! I don't believe your name is Arsenal!
  • Whose pigs are these?
Photo credit: Ladyejane Vickers
  • Who was the first person to drop the "up" from the phrase "pick-up"? Now I say "come and pick me here" and "She isn't picking her phone"
  • Does anyone ever actually accept those marriage proposals? And who taught you to call all mzungu girls 'princess' and speak only in falsetto during these proposals?
  • Who does the painting of the signs in Kibera? And who comes up with those awesome names? 
  • How the heck did they get that many people into that matatu? And why did I agree to get in too?
  • When a random matatu conductor comes up to a mzungu lady in a matatu and after touching their white skin say "I like this. Can you give me your contact info?" does that ever work? 
  • How did Kibera manage to get under my skin so much that I am already plotting planning my return?
Ladyejane and I on the hill above Kibera

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Smile. You're in Kenya.

Today has been one of those days. You know those ones were nothing can seem to go smoothly? I won't bore you with the details. But it reminded me of one on my mantras during my time here.

When my friend and classmate Andria was arriving here in Kenya, she arrived at the visa checkpoint looking a bit travel worn and tired. And reasonably so. Staring absently at the man issuing her the visa, she was greeted with this reply, which I have found particularly insightful. Thanks random-smart-aleck-visa-issuing-man.

"Smile" he said "You are in Kenya. And there is nothing you can do about it".

See you America, in all your glory, in two weeks from today!

My smile last Sunday during the procession, as genuine as they come.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am Rad, and So Are You!

Yesterday I had an interview with a staff person here at CFK that does media relations. He wanted a five minute interview about my time in Kibera. He had four questions. The last one was "If you could change one thing about Kibera, what would it be?"

Needless to say, I was stumped. How do you answer this question, period? And in less than a minute? And on the spot? There are as many things that I would change as there are things I would keep the same. Now that I have thought about it a bit I could come up with a pretty decent answer, but this is much after the fact.

Instead, I bumbled through a series of overly cheesy one-liners about working with CFK to teach potential to the youth, yadda yadda yadda. And then I stumbled on this gem, in all my sheer brilliance.

"So basically, I would change the fact that the youth here often find themselves put in a box that restricts their achievement and potential. I would tell them that they each have their own individual talents and potential to be what they want and achieve what they want, and we can work together with CFK to realize that. I would tell them I am rad and so are you."

I wonder what the Swahili word for "rad" is.

Some rad CFK Staffers - Alfred, Moses, Kennedy, Cantar, and Maureen

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy 10th Carolina for Kibera!

It has been my absolute pleasure to work with the staff here at CFK all summer long. This year is their 10th anniversary and we had a big party in the community yesterday to celebrate. This included a procession from the office with a marching band and plenty of dancing, needless to say I had a goofy grin plastered on my face for the entire procession. It was truly a 'mountain-top-moment' for me and it was a total privilege to be a part of the whole event. There was a play about the founding of CFK, testimonials from community members, and dance contests.We have another celebration on Wednesday, complete with a book launch of Rye Barcott's book

Condom Couture -Nina, Ben and I rep the health dept

Can you spot impromtu band-leader Rye?

Put your hands in the air!

Dance Contest
Jump rope impresses once again

We drew quite a crowd

The play of the founding of CFK

Maureen and Mueni show the CFK love

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The stuff they don't teach you in grad school

So most of my readers know that I love being in the field. I love working with people, learning new cultures, and problem solving in the context that I am working in - rather than reading about all of these things. Of course, doing research or implementing a program is much more difficult in the field than it is back at home in an office or a classroom. But I love this challenge. It is largely not a deficiency in the education I got back at Duke that this has been a challenge, but more the name of the game.  I have learned A LOT in the past two months and thought I would pass on a few tidbits, both to serve as advice but also (and more importantly) to serve as a note to self.

Trust is key - Although cliche, this couldn't be more true. But this is more than just establishing who is a trusted partner abroad. I have found that it is equally essential, if not more so, to have the partner trust you. Trust means different things in different places. Be yourself. People don't trust phonies - and people are wise to games everywhere you go. I have learned over and over again to the last two months to trust myself. I know more than I think I do, my instincts tend to be almost always right, and when I am confident in myself others will be confident in me too.

Just go with it - In one of the most helpful conversations I had regarding my time abroad, I was assured by a mentor to allow myself a healthy dose of "winging it". And have I? As my dad would say, boy howdy. There have been times the conversation has meandered from my script, but often this is when I find the most intriguing things. For example, when only half of the people who showed up to my focus groups for participants of the program had actually ever participated, the conversation went to the CFK brand in Kibera and was an unexpected, but important, conversation.

Quit taking it personally - Don't take it personal when people don't show up to things or show up three hours late, don't understand the questions you are asking, or are hesitant in sharing their opinion. I find that Kenyans can be refreshingly blunt, even to the point of laughing directly at the way you dress (and the way you say chakula or ngong, not that I am still bitter taking that personally).

Context is everything - Be flexible and understand things change. Find out when people will actually show up to things, go to where people will actually be, and conform to them. Today I trekked half way across Kibera for a twenty minute interview. In the room with the people I spoke with where three teens, two newborns, two children, one kitten, and one rooster. Three children were breastfed while I talked with their mothers. Never in Professor Whats-Their-Bucket's class did I learn how to administer an interview to a woman who is breastfeeding in a ten-by-ten while contemplating if the rooster's noise would cover up the voices on my audio-recording. But again, I could not have (nor would I have) taken those women from their homes into my own sterile environment to have that conversation.

Be patient (with yourself) - We are reminded to be patient with our partners abroad. Collaboration doesn't happen overnight. Cultural adjustment doesn't either. You aren't going to know the cool way to say "hey what's up" right off the bat. Most cultures don't come with a how-to guide, nor should they. That's the fun part. Rarely are we taught to be patient with ourselves as well. As a person who has once or twice been called an overachiever, I am often more patient with others than with myself. Sometimes learning how things DO NOT work is more important in learning how things DO work. Can I tell you how ridiculously awkward my first interview was? I was terrible. And then I was frustrated at myself for being terrible. But I learned and now I am so in the groove I can handle errant roosters in the middle of the interview like a pro.

Something else I learned while here? Betting on horses, even those in foreign lands, will only lose you (or your new friend) money. Pole rafiki yangu. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

A feel good post

I thought I would follow up a more depressing blog with a bit on the light and fluffy side...

One of my fave 90's artists has a song that didn't get the props it deserved entitled just that - A Life Uncommon. While the entire song is wonderfully written, in my humble opinion, I think that a few lines speak to me especially while I am here.

Lend our voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from
Fill your lives with love and bravery
And we shall lead a life uncommon 

There are plenty of people who pray for peace
But if praying were enough it would have come to be
Let your words enslave no one and the heavens will hush themselves
To hear our voices ring out clear
with sounds of freedom

Each of us has a certain amount of energy, a certain amount of time, a certain amount of strength that we are able to give. I attempt to make an effort to put my energy in places that result in freedom. This to me means putting my energy towards empowerment. I have met many genuine people here in Kenya and I appreciate their honesty and their willingness to share. I am empowered to be myself through those relationships and I hope that in return I can aid in their empowerment. 

I like how love and bravery are linked in this song. I am wearing a bracelet here in Kenya that reads "Jipe Moyo". Literally this means 'take heart' in Swahili, but I read it as 'courage'. It was given to me by the women I worked with in Tanzania. Often it takes courage to love - some of those closest to me are very brave in their love and I admire them. The world provides innumerable opportunities to hate, and to be passive. Often the opportunities to exhibit love must be sought out and are costly. Sometimes those who need love the most are the most difficult to show love to. I like how the second phrase here talks about how praying isn't sufficient (although its important). Peace requires action! Love requires action!

My take-home message: Be yourself, make purposeful decisions as to where to put your energy, and love bravely. 

Here is a feel good quote to end my feel good blog from one of my very favorite books.

"If you care about something you have to protect it – If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it."
 John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)

Two new friends - Janet and Cathrine

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kibera Reflection #3 - Thoughts on mob justice

In any exercise of cultural exchange, you encounter situations that make you uneasy. Even those travelers that attempt to accept a new place wholly, with all the good and the bad mixed together, inevitably find incidents, moral codes, cultural practices that are impossible to align with their own cultural experience – even with the most liberal application of acceptance. For me, this sticking place is mob justice. Mob justice, in this context, is generally the response to a theft in which the surrounding community responds by beating the thief, most typically resulting in death. Since I have been in Kenya, I have seen two dead bodies, doubling the amount of dead people I have seen in my entire life. Both of the deceased I have seen here died as a result of mob justice. While it is surely a gruesome and uncomfortable topic, it is a reality for the residents here and I thought it was important to attempt to share my experiences.

I do not intend to misconstrue this act as simply an expression of the moral code of Kibera, it is much more complicated than that. It is an act that is the product of extreme desperation, frustration with the almost complete lack of a judicial system, a reaction to violation and insecurity, and a presumed safety measure. This explanation isn’t meant to justify the action, but to illustrate the complexity. It also does not mean to paint the residents of Kibera as lawless, amoral people without a sense of right and wrong - that is also far from the truth.

I have not seen the act, but have witnessed the results. The two people I have seen – one killed in the market directly in front of my place and the other killed in front of the office in which I work – elicited from me strong emotions. I was upset that someone’s child had been murdered at the hands of other humans. Frustrated that there wasn’t a police system functioning to properly react. Disheartened at the quickness and ease in which the thief was seemingly disposed of.

But perhaps the more illustrative observation I made was the almost complete nonchalance at which the bodies were pointed out to me and the relative non-reaction of those that also witnessed the scenes.  Imagine how many bodies you would need to see in order for the next to just blend in with the scenery or to not provoke a strong sense of emotion?

The second body, which I saw just this week in front of the office where I work, was a boy, probably 16 or 17. He had reached in a mama’s house and taken her purse. Because it was light outside, the woman was able to see who had taken her bag. She screamed and the boy was chased down and beaten. Eventually someone came with a metal bar.

I have had a few really interesting and involved conversation about mob justice in Kibera that resulted from this incident. Several ideas were posed, several entities or circumstances were blamed, several justifications were made.

How are the citizens to protect themselves against the roving bands of thugs present every night?

Didn’t that boy murder that mama by taking her livelihood?

Where were the police?  

It is about a lack of hope! If the youth had hope they wouldn’t resort to this behavior!

That boy was most likely working for another man, it was that man who should be killed!

The boy knows that happens to thieves here!

The mama should have known he just wanted something to eat and should not have screamed!

But at the core those I talked with understand that this mode of retaliation is regrettable. 

As a result of this incident, some officials showed up to the office (which used to be a medical clinic and is known to be well equipped) to ask for two things – someone to come and document the proceedings, i.e. to videotape or take pictures, and for some gloves to carry the body away with. This request alone has implications that just left me shaking my head. Also as a result, I was told that the mama who shouted at the thief will now be ostracized by her neighbors and blamed for the boy’s death. Not those whose hands committed murder, but the woman who screamed.

What is the proper reaction to this act? I am still considering where my personal response lies, probably it is found somewhere along the spectrum from disgust to acceptance. But this is a vast, and convoluted, continuum. Mob justice is a fact of life here - a complicated, messy, entirely deplorable fact of life.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Typical Tuesday

About two weeks before I left, my dad posed a question to me about what my typical day in Kibera would look like. I told him to ask me when I had been there a month. I have been here almost six weeks now and I still haven't really had a 'typical day' because of the vast diversity of my activities, and the multitude of opportunities that Nairobi has to offer. It isn't unusual for me to go from Kibera to an upscale Nairobi mall in a single day, with varying degrees of whiplash. That said, there are a few things that tend to happen every day. So here it is Dad, just for "typical Tuesday"...

4:48am, or about daybreak: The neighboring mosque begins the call to prayer. More significantly, this signals the guards who sit below my window in the market that it is a time to begin playing their music loudly. They play the same album every.single.morning. Good Morning Nairobi!

6:30-7:00am: I manage to get myself out of bed after a feeble attempt to get back to sleep.

7:30am: After making myself moderately presentable, I go downstairs where Mama has breakfast laid out for me. More importantly, where she has chai waiting - the famous milk masala tea that Kenyans exist on. Its no two-pump-vanilla-soy-latte, but when in Rome, right? It is hot, spicy, and contains just enough caffeine to jumpstart my day. Breakfast is usually bread, or eggs, or sweet potatoes, or sausages, but usually bread.

8:30am: I am off on my 25 minute walk to Kibera. This walk takes me through the massive Toi Market. I meet some friendly faces, some more tolerant than friendly, but I enjoy this morning walk in the cold morning air. It is the dead of winter here in Nairobi, meaning it is a brisk 60 degrees when I walk to work. BRRRR.

9:00am: Arrive at the office in Kibera and greet every staff member present with a smile and a handshake and follow-up on their family. I enjoy the fact that as time goes on we get to know each other. Sometimes I see this cat, who has adopted CFK as a home.

9:30am: A trip down to the satellite office where the SRH program is primarily located. Check in with those peeps, including the PYEs who are hanging around and the program officer Ben.

10:00am: Chai, again, this time with the staff.

10:30am: Start on whatever task I have, this can include interviews, digging through documents, organizing my to-do list, and revising the to-do list from yesterday. Things change often, but I like being on my toes.

1:00pm: Lunch! This usually involves trekking to somewhere appealing in Kibera - like Atlanta Fries (guess what they have) or Arusha Dishes which serves local cuisine. Chapo and beans it is again! For less than 50 cents, its a deal.

2:00pm: Back to the office, or home-again-home-again. Depending on the day, I trek back to the office or make my way back to my place. Because I leave my laptop at home and concentrate better in my own space, I often work the afternoon from home. Or, if I am feeling nostalgic, from the coffee shop just around the corner.

5:30pm: Mama comes home! She works in a organization in Kibera too. With these ladies!

6:00pm: Chai again. When Mama comes home, it is a boost of chai to get us to dinner, and to power Mama in her cooking. She is a fabulous cook and I really lucked out that way.

8:00pm: Dinner! Tonight it is fish, ugali, and greens. Yum.

9:00pm: Local news with the fam, they are kind enough to watch the English speaking channel. Tonight is on the new country of South Sudan and the celebrations that took place over the weekend.

10:30pm: Read, or watch 20 minutes of one of three Harry Potter movies I managed to download on my computer before I left, and fall dead asleep. What a day!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Life in a Market

I live in a veritable thrift shop. Like, no joke. I cannot get anywhere without walking by stands selling anything you can imagine – pants, avocados, sheets, fabric, stoves. I live right around Toi Market, a giant market in which you can find ANYTHING. I challenge you to think of one thing that they don’t sell there - anything that can be bought in bulk, placed in a small wooden kiosks (okay, so not cars), but they have pretty much anything. Bandanas. Beans. Belts. Bananas. Coat hangers. Cow meat. Cashmere sweaters. Canteens. Coffins. I walk through this market every day and am tempted to buy many things, and others I am just amused about. How exactly does someone amass several dozen shovel heads? Or a few hundred spare socks? Where does this come from? I really enjoy my walks through the markets, browsing through piles of sweaters and shirts that someone somewhere threw away. Some items still have “goodwill” or “value village” tags still stuck on them.  Yesterday I found a t-shirt from a basketball tournament at the Boys and Girls club in my hometown in Washington state.

What is really convenient is that no matter where I go when I am looking at clothes the sales person declares that all of his goods are “your size! Your size! Everything is your size!”. I am simultaneously a size 4 and a size 14. Rock on.

Life in a market provides many temptations and no end of hustle and bustle. I have made friends with a couple of the people who run shops by where I stay and they know my name and we chat it up every morning. I am in awe at how they pack it all in every single night and bring it all back in the next day. This market was destroyed by fire in the post-election violence of 2008 and was rebuilt after with the help of a few donor organizations. Although the market is loud and results in a continuous 24/7 soundtrack, it is an exciting place to live. 
The market, part of my daily path to CFK.

Research Update

The purpose of my trip here is to conduct research in order to turn in a thesis at the end of this year so that I may graduate with my Masters in Global Health. I am fortunate that I was able to combine this requirement with an experience that matches my career, and personal, interests. Working with CFK has provided insight into organizations and in the sort of “participatory development” that is so important. While I am thankful for the opportunity to pursue higher education at Duke, and to participate in the classes that I took while there, I chose Duke almost exclusively for the guaranteed chance to work abroad for this time and was really ready to get out of the classroom and into the field. It feels so satisfying to be doing something. While I give props to my more academically inclined classmates, I am much more excited to be here and talking with the people I hope to serve.

Check out this famous-in-my-field person talking about the importance of organizations “accompanying” those that they work with here.

Mary, Amy and I on Amy's brief tour of Kibera
To complete my goal of doing a program assessment of the SRH program, I have conducted almost all of the interviews with the staff that are involved in the Sexual and Reproductive Health program here at CFK. Because the program relies heavily on the use of peer-youth-educators, I have also conducted interviews with these youth leaders whom have turned out to be a fantastic resource for understanding the dynamics of Kibera. I have another focus group with these youth this weekend along with a focus group discussion with a small sampling of the participants of the program. Because of the newness of a project like mine to CFK, things move slowly but it is a learning process for all involved, and that is the point at the end of the day. I am also hoping to help the SRH program put in place a more thorough method of evaluating the program going forward. It may sound counterintuitive, but monitoring and evaluation is a relatively new concept for organizations, and CFK is not alone in needing to improve in this area. Luckily, the staff here is awesome, and  the program officer I am working with (Ben!) has been very helpful. 

While Kibera is an exhausting place to work at times, it is also an interesting and rewarding place that provides many adventures but also a space to contribute. There is always room for improvement in programming, for continual modification to suit new needs and feedback, and it is good opportunity to be a part of that process here.  

CFK is celebrating its tenth year anniversary this month and you can bet there will be a big celebration in the community. Check out the book written by co-founder Rye Barcott here

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hell's Gate National Park

Me and the path through the park - yes I managed to wear both Carolina and Duke gear without spontaneous combustion

Amy and I took a much needed mental health day and took a two hour drive up to Hell's Gate National Park. This park is unique in that you can opt to bike the 8km to the Rangers station through the wildlife. Amy and I kept reassuring ourselves that if there were lions in this area they wouldn't willingly give tourists bikes and free reign of the place. That said, we saw plenty of wildlife and because we arrived early we were able to have the place to be the only visitors there. It was a very calm morning and I felt lucky to be able to be a part of nature in that sort of way. The bike was nothing luxurious but it wasn't a big safari vehicle and that made all the difference. It was really amazing to be so close to zebras, giraffes, warthogs, impalas, etc. without a metal cage all around us. We were able to stop and take pictures and meander through the park to the rangers station at the other side.
Zebra crossing in front of my favorite acacia tree
My sweeeeet ride - a too small bike stuck in first gear

Such a peaceful morning

Zebras and warthog parade

Can you see the giraffe?

A hike down into the gorge
When we got to the Rangers Station after 8 km of bouncing down the road, we were offered a chance for a two hour hike into the gorge. Although we were assured by the rangers that the hike was nothing to be afraid of, I was skeptical. The three other time I had been on "very easy" hikes in Africa they had turned into full-body clothes-destroying adventures. I warned Amy it would be more than a nature walk and we decided why  not, we were here. I guess correctly and at points we were hiking down vertical slabs of wet limestone (with the assistance of our tour guide George) and at another point I was shimmying parallel to the ground over a small stream. The biggest accomplishment was that I only fell once. It was a beautiful trek through the limestone that is continuously being eroded away. There were warning signs of flash floods throughout and George told us just a few days ago he had to usher 75 school kids as quick as possible out of the gorge because of imminent disaster. This is also apparently the gorge where they filmed Tomb Raider in 1992. The Gorge is not part of the national park but instead is on Maasai land. This was apparent when we saw a young Maasai boy herding his goats up and down the steep slopes of the gorge. There has been a drought in this area for the past two years resulting in more and more animals migrating towards the little water inside of the gorge. This includes large buffalo who have fallen into the gorge attempting to find food.

Our trusty tour guide, George, washes his hands in the hot springs

The green is from the algae caused by the hot springs

Amy and I 

Who knew we were so close to the chaos of Nairobi?