Monday, October 27, 2008

Procrastination = Blog Post

I should be doing the following things instead of updating my blog: finding a job for next semester, finding an apartment for next semester, writing e-mails to women’s rights NGOs in Nariobi, or reading my book for a paper (“The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State”). But instead I’m writing, so feel lucky. :-) Thoughts:

1) I hope Obama wins. Regardless of how I voted, the rest of my stay in Kenya will be much more pleasant if he wins. If he loses, I will probably be stoned... just kidding. Kind of. It’s crazy, because Obama’s father came from Kenya, people here consider him “Kenya’s Son”. In a tribal mindset, it makes sense. If someone comes from your village, you are “related”. Therefore, Obama comes from the “village” of Kenya, and is directly connected to the people of Kenya. The less-educated of the bunch even think that Obama will solve all of their problems, because he will somehow care more about Kenya and give them money.
Regardless, it’s a conversation that comes up several times a day for me. They ask who I’m voting for, and insist that I tell them. Once I do, I get a broad smile, handshake, or even hug. Sometimes people don’t even call us “mzungus” on the street anymore, but just yell out “Obama!” as we pass.
It’s amazing to see how excited people are about him. And it’s not just because he’s Kenyan. I’ve had numerous people tell me that if even America elected a black man, then maybe there was hope. Hope. Even an ocean away, there’s hope that black skin will no longer prevent people from having chance at greatness.

2) It’s so shocking how self-aware advertising is here. I just came from the mall, and in that 10 minutes I saw two ads that made me stop in my tracks and stare incredulously. The first one had a picture of a lighter skinned African male. It said in huge letters, “For Men Who Want to Go Farther.” It was an ad for skin-lightening cream. It’s horrifying to me that anyone would want to lighten their beautiful deep brown skin, but it’s true. Men who are lighter to go farther.
The second ad was on television, and had an African woman walking through a village with a basket on her head. As the commercial went on, she moved through different backgrounds and ended up in a European looking city... with a cell phone in her hand. Interesting insights into the development equals modernity mindset, eh?

3) Other random things: My nose piercing got infected because of the water in Kitui. I’m registering for classes for next semester on Wednesday. I think I’m going to Nakuru this weekend, where I can see Lake Nakuru (flamingos!), Thompson’s Falls, and the Equator. It’s rainy season here, which means it rains every afternoon for an hour or so (less dust, tons of mud). I went to a children’s home with Jess this weekend for AIDs orphans who are also HIV positive, held an HIV+ baby, and didn’t get sad about it until hours later. I eat toast for almost all of my meals that aren’t out; I should work on that.

Comment and let me know how you’re doing!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nyumbani Village and Other Interesting Tidbits

It’s been a while. Life has been heating up, and I often find myself without the energy to cook real meals (yay bananas and peanut butter), much less write a coherent blog entry.

Today is Kenyatta Day, so our program took Friday off and went on a four day trip to Kitui, a rural district about 3 hours outside of the city. Kenya has two very distinct cultures, urban and rural. Each has a separate way of speaking, dressing, cooking, and living. Most people living in Nairobi grew up in their rural village (“upcountry”) and moved to the city for opportunities and to see the world. So we spent four days experiencing how the other half of the country lives!

We stayed in a place called Nyumbani Village, which is best described as an experiment in rural development. A Kenyan NGO started this village, which is completely comprised of grandparents and grandchildren. Sadly enough, most of the middle generation of parents have died due to HIV/AIDs, so this community takes the parenting skills of dedicated grandparents, gives them a well built house, land to farm, and clean water to drink, and groups them with ten “grandchildren” (real or adopted orphans with no real grandparents) to raise. It works. There are 27 grandmothers and 2 grandfathers and they work the land with their grandchildren, who are all going to a school in the village. This village is also sustainable, in that it is 100% organic and grows most of the food it eats. An amazing sight of people working together to erase the scars of a missing generation.

As for my personal experience, I took bucket baths (I did it wrong and had to be told how to do it properly), went to the bathroom in squat toilets (think latrine with no lid or seat), and ate nothing but beans, chapati and rice. I never considered myself incapable of living in a rural area, but man was it an eye opener to experience the sheer work it took in keeping yourself clean, eating, etc. when there’s no electricity. A fun fun experience, but not something I could do for long! This really isn’t nearly enough to describe my experience, but it’s the best I can do for now.

In other news, I’ve started to go into the slums with my internship, and I’m having a blast. I can’t really help it. I love seeing the women in their houses, conducting their own meetings, and really trying to change their own lives. The slums are hard, so hard, so desperate. But I can’t get one experience out of my head. I was walking through the slum Kiambiu as the sun was beginning to set. The children were coming home from school in their uniforms, mamas were cooking dinner, and babies were playing on blankets. And despite the fact that I was stepping over sewage pits and experiencing every sign of extreme poverty, it was home. Not for me, but for the people surrounding me. It felt like community and home I feel in the States. Heartbreaking, but so amazingly empowering at the same time.

That’s about it for now! I just had some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life at an Indian place we found down the street, and discovered that there’s a place in D.C. that sells Tusker, so I’m pretty happy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ninapenda Kusafari!

So I’m back! Well, I’ve been back for like a week now, but there have been internet/laziness complications, so here it is. It's a bit long, but deal with it, it's been a while.

To be short, the safari was amazing. One of the best weekends of my life, I would say. It was more refreshing then I can convey to my devoted readers to be out of the city for the weekend. I spent the entire time breathing as much crisp clean air as possible. I spent nights next to a bonfire and the little spare time I had in the afternoon napping on an overstuffed couch on a porch looking over the Mara. The stars were breathtaking. Being near the Equator and miles upon miles from any civilization I could see more stars than I’ve seen in years.

The game drives were so much fun. We were in converted minibuses that had no ceiling so that we could stand up and see everything around us. We went on three game drives, two afternoons and one early morning. We saw four out of the Big 5 animals which was impressive! The Big 5, with it’s origins in big game hunting, are the lion, the elephant, the water buffalo, the rhino, and the leopard. We saw all of the them but the rhino, which are almost non-existent nowadays. Seeing the leopard was a very rare sighting, so we were excited! It was napping, then it woke up and walked around a bit, looking very grumpy. It then plopped back down in the grass and went back to sleep. Otherwise, we came across a whole pride of lions eating a freshly killed wildebeest, which was so gross but even for my vegetarian self was so cool. We also saw warthogs, two cheetahs, hippos, impalas, thompson’s gazelles and tons of baby goats and cows (herded by the Masasii people). Let me tell you, seeing these things in their natural environment is about 100x cooler than seeing them in the zoo.

So check out the pictures in the link below! The place we stayed at was absolutely gorgeous and had the most luxurious “tents” I’ve ever seen.... So if you ever want to safari in East Africa, let me know and I’ll hook you up :-).

Otherwise, there has been a bit of a power issue here, i.e. a city wide crazy intense power shortage. For the last 7 days the electricity has gone out at least once an evening, usually for at least an hour. The last few days have been bad, with us having no power for hours and hours (up to 12 or 14) at a time. This is a big deal when you have reading to do for classes and can't do it, or can't boil water so that you can drink it, or cook dinner, or charge your phone. We've also been having brown-outs, which is when the government intentionally cuts the energy output in half, so that the lights are kind of on, but the microwave, stove, and water heater/boiler still don't work. I will never take having consistent electricity for granted again.

On Saturday I went to a fashion show/beauty pageant called Mr. and Ms. Kibera, which takes place and is for the biggest slum in Nairobi. It was pretty amazing, the girls and guys were all beautiful, even walking around a rickety half-stage in the middle a gigantic mud field in the middle of the slum.

Alas, I am too tired to go on. For two mornings in a row now, the homeless man that lives outside of my apartment building has decided it was a good idea to bang rocks together. This morning he started at 6:15am.