Sunday, August 24, 2008

holland etc

Hey guys!

This will be a short one I think. I'm in the airport again with a little extra time. It turns out the airport is a really good place to use the internet. Better than some of the other places I've been anyway.

So, I have a new uncle. That is, my aunt got married last weekend. The weather was beautiful and the place where they held the ceremony was really something. It was a 17th century mansion that belonged to some baron or other and had been converted into a hotel and conference centre. My aunt looked beautiful in her long white (very expensive) dress. We ate dinner outside at an enormous long table. Everyone conversed in Dutch, which I can undertand some of but not enough to really join in the conversation. Then after dinner they had a DJ and we all danced, which was pretty fun. Even my parents.
It was a fun day. Quite extravagant, which was a little different for me, but I got used to it. Too fast in a sense.

It feels really weird that my trip is over. I'm not back yet, but I'm not in Africa anymore, so its over for most intents and purposes. I don't really know what to make of it. It was an adventure I was in the middle of for so long that now it feels strange that its something that happened in the past. Luckily, the reverse culture shock I was anticipating comeing back to the western world has not been as bad as I expected. I think it helps that I am not just returning to the life I was living before I left, but moving forward in other ways - like going to a new school, starting a new job, etc. Plus I have this trip to Holland as a buffer. I'm getting used to all the white faces the same as I did going the other way, and as for overconsumption/unfair distibution of resouces, opportunities, etc, I don't feel any worse about that here than I did in Africa, so at least its not a big shock. The biggest thing has been missing the culture and lifestyle there, and my friends, and not knowing when or if I will see them again. But that's always an element of traveling.
Its been really nice to see my family too. I only get a chance to connect with my dutch relatives once every couple of years. They were very patient and happy to listen to my long stories about Africa. I played soccer with my younger cousins (who are growing up really fast) and had some good talks with my aunts and uncles and my grandparents. This time, I will keep in touch with them when I get home!

Anyway, I'm on my way back to Canada and I should be there in about 12 hours. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with everyone, Starting school etc. And I'm sure in a few months I'll be looking forward to my next trip.

Oh, as for pictures, I should have a few up on facebook soon. I have so many and they're all disorganized so I'll need a little time to sort through them at home. In case you're not on facebook, I'll post the links here.

When I get home, I'll have to call Africa and see what is going on with Nuru. It was very expensive to call from Holland so I'm not sure exactly what's going on right now. If all is well, they should be registered properly now and starting to get things going. Exciting!
If you guys are interested, I will post a little update now and then.

See you all soon!



So, I guess I can't call it my African Blog anymore cause I'm not in Africa anymore. But since this is probably my second last blog (I'll write one more after my aunt's wedding and before I go home on the 1st) I'm not going to change it. After all, most of it is still about Africa.

Right now, I want to tell you all a bit about the organization we are starting (me and my Kenyan friends). I'm really excited about it. Its called Nuru, which s Swahili for light, and its aim is to help the families living in the slums - in abject povery - in the area of Mombasa where I was staying. This can include everything from sending children to school, feeding programs, proper latrines, clean water, even microfinance in the longer term. If things work out, we can expand into other areas and tackle other issues like family planning, medical treatment, etc. The great thing about this organization is that we can do as little or as much as the money we have allows. at the beginning when we have a little, we can do a little and things can always grow if we get more sponsorship.

The idea came, as I mentioned, when we were in Moshi and Bobo decided he wanted to get his group of friends to help the people in the slums in Chuda (particularly the children) the same way that the organization "Training for Life" was helping students in Tanzania. During my last weeks in Uganda, after rafting the Nile, I spent some time in Kampala during which I visited some street children's organizations in teh city with Kay, an English woman also working with Edirisa who is planing to start a project for the street children in Kabale, and Emma, one of our translators for workshops at the primary schools, who used to work with street kids in Kampala, and indeed was once one himself. I leanred a great deal from the tours we took. Emma even brought us into the "field" to meet some street kids and taught us how best to approach them and speak with them. We got an audience with the director of a project called the Tigers Club, where we got some quality advice, and samples of materials like brochures and newletters to copy ideas from. I will be staying in contact with all those people and getting advice from them whenever we need it.

When I got to Kenya, we had a meeting with me, Bobo and two Jays (big Jay and small Jay). Big Jay has some experience working with organizations, so he has taken over a lot of the directing of the organization. We decided that we would start small, with a feeding program and helping with uniforms and books so that the children of several families can be sent to school. The next day, we went into the slums and interviewed several mothers, as well as the elder and a community childcare worker, asking what are the biggest problem facing people living in the slums, and what they would like to see from an organization. School was the common denominator, cause everyone wants to see their children into a brighter future. Clothes, financial stability and prevention of diseases like cholera, tb and aids were others. We decided to start by sponsoring the school-aged children of three families, each of which is living with no income, little or no support and existing with a mother and up to six kids in one room.

I took the guys to visit Kodonde, the director of WOFAK, the organization I worked with while I was there. He explained the best way to register the organization and offered to hook them up with some other local organizations once they were registered. That way, if they don't have the resources to help someone, we can send them somewhere that does. Like HIV positive people can be sent to WOFAK, who can give them the help they need much better than we can at this point. I am very grateful for Kodonde's support.

I think the best thing at this point is to get the input and advice of as many people as possible and to put together a good constitution and proposal, get registered and get everything going. If you guys have any ideas from personal experience of starting up an organization, I would love to hear them. Fundraising ideas would be greatly appreciated. ;)

Can't wait to see you all in a week!!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Bye Africa

it is 7:24 in the morning and I am sitting in Jomo Kinyatta International Airport, waiting for my flight to Amsterdam which is scheduled to leave in an hour and a half. Having been here for a short stop over on my way to Dar es Salaam six months ago, I have started to realize just how much my perceptions have changed since I came here. For example, last February in Amsterdam when I transferred onto my flight to Kenya, I remember thinking how odd it was to see so many African people in one place. Over half the flight was filled with Africans. Now, coming into Jomo Kenyatta, I'm struggling to deal with how many white people there are here. I can only imagine how things will be when I get to Europe.

I also remember getting to Kenya and feeling so hot I could hardly stand it and wondering how I was going to spend six months in this sweltering heat. Right now, I'm wearing a sweater.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Africa. I mean, I can't wait to see my family, Ian, my friends. On the other hand, I nearly started crying just now when I wrote that title. My friends here were sad to see me go as well. They told me if it was up to them, I wouldn't be leaving at all, let alone coming back. I'm going to miss them a lot. I also didn't get the chance to do a lot of the things that were on my to-do list for Africa. But once you cross everything off that list, you have no reason to come back. One thing I know for sure is that this is not my last time in East Africa.

Some last observations about Africa:

The amazing experiences and opportunities I've had here have made me grow a lot. Not just in weight either. I've learned so much about adapting to different cultures, been thrown into situations and learned to deal with them, and been given opportunities to try things that I would never have tried if I'd stayed at home. It's made me feel more capable and more powerful than I ever have at home; I feel like I'm somebody here. I hope that feeling lasts when I get home.

Another observation, the people here are amazing. I'm not just saying that. They are so open and friendly. The are very emotionally open and honest, which can make them very vulnerable. A child who has no family and no home will come up to you and hold your hand, ask you to teach them something. They don't close themselves off to the world the way people tend to do at home. And they understand the incredible value of opporunity that we take for granted. They may be terrible at saving money as a rule, but that is a by-product of lack of greed. A person that has no job, no family to support them and is struggling to survive will still invite you into their home and offer you a meal. And they are not unhappy. It sounds strange, but even though poverty and disease don't bring people great joy, they still manage to find it. Obviously they have stress, but they have fun, too. They find it where they can. I think everyone in the Western world could do with taking a lesson from these people.

This is obvious, but there are a lot of issues here that need working on. Some are getting better slowly, but most are only starting to be addressed. Things like gender equality. I have a friend in Mombasa whose husband wont let her leave the house on her own. She told me once about a time that she triend to go meet a friend who was visiting from abroad and he locked her in the house until the friend left. At the clinic I worked at, some women were forbidden to come in for examination during their pregnancy because their husband disapproved of a doctor touching them. Those are some of the nice examples.

Then of course there's disease, poverty, conflict. I passed an internally displaced persons camp yesterday. Imagine being a refugee in your own country.

Corruption, I think, is one of the worst issues. Money comes in to deal with issues from so many sources and it ends up in the wrong hands all the time. I mean, everywhere you go it is happening. The principal of one of the elementary schools in Kabale embezzled a ton of money we had gotten from a donor in England and were trying to use to build a nursery school. The building is still unfinished, and we had more than enough money to build two.

I haven't decided yet what is the best way to tackle these problems - from teh government or via NGOs and ouside aid. There are good arguments for both. At this point, though, I only have experience with the latter, so I'll stick with that until I learn better. My friends in Mombasa and I have started an organization for the slums in Chuda where I was living, helping with feeding anf clothing children, sending them to school, supporting mothers in business and all that sort of thing. Trying to do something about the incredible poverty there. We had some meetings and there are a lot of great ideas. I am very excited about it. When I come back, I will be looking for funds (my favorite) so if anyone has any ideas for fundraising or knows anyone with money to give away to a good cause, please please please let me know, cause I'm out of them after the whole Pole to Pole debacle.

I have to go cause I need to check in with my flight, but I have a whole novel to write about Nuru (the organization), so I'll have to do that in another note when I get to Holland. Can't wait to see you all in a couple of weeks!


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Post Birthday

Hey everyone!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone that commented on my last post in the various ways they did. Its good to hear that people identify with how I am feeling and good to read the insights people have shared from their own travels and experiences. I have to say I feel more motivated than ever to use my opportunities and privileges (be it education, money, mobility, support network, etc) to the best possible ends. 

And thanks for all the birthday wishes! I feel special. 

I think more interactive blogs are in order, cause it was really quite something to hear from people like that. :) I'll have to put my thinking cap on...

In the meantime, I'll brief you on my last week, which has been a very interesting one. Last weekend, I went with a few friends to Jinja near the coast of Lake Victoria where we went white water rafting on the source of the Nile. It was crazy! And by crazy I mean really fun. We went through four different grade 5 rapids, flipped over twice, fell over on numerous occasions... We even paddled through a thunderstorm. At one point, someone on one of the other boats got stuck in a waterfall and the kayaker who went to help him got stuck as well. The rafter got out okay, but the kayaker was struggling for ages and no one really new what to do. Eventually he got out of his kayak and it floated away down river and he got pulled out by the safety raft. 
Our guide Juma was a great guy, who told awesome stories (lies) about himself, which we later found out that he is well known for doing. He told us that he had moved to Jinja from up north cause he was a drug dealer and the rafting guides were some of his biggest clients. Then they decided to teach him to guide rafting and he gave it up to earn an honest living. I will note here that he was quite serious and believable (and it wasn't just me that believed him). It was one of those things where you assume that if it was the truth, he wouldn't have told us, unless he assumed that on one would believe it was the truth even if he told it to them. Anyway, he also told us he had been guiding for four months and hadn't quite gotten the route figured out yet. Turns out he's been doing it for ten years. And he's a musician, which he failed to mention. He said he was a pimp too, which I am happy to say we didn't believe. But he very seriously said it was an ok job, but he did it cause the money was good.
When we asked Juma about parasites in the water (there were crocodiles. too), he told us we just had to drink ten beers when we got back, then we would pee out all the parasites, and if we were hung over the next day, we should go jump in the Nile.
On the last rapid, Juma flipped us over on purpose, cause we had only flipped once and apparently that wasn't enough. When we went over the waterfall and he told us to get down and hold on, he also told us to enjoy this flip. We flipped back over front and everyone got pushed really deep by the waterfall pressure. I was down long enough that I ran out of breath and almost inhaled a lung-ful of water. When I came up I was gasping and coughing and out of it for a while as I tried to navigate through the waves and rapids. It was pretty scary. The others in the boat had similar experiences and we all got out shaken but soon were laughing and wishing we could do it again. When we reached the buses, we couldn't find one of our friends. She came up almost ten minutes later. It turned out she had been under the water for about 200 metres and couldn't reach the surface. She said she had actually thought she would drown and had started thinking she wouldn't make it to South Africa and would never see her boyfriend again. She didn't know how the kayakers found her, but when they pulled her up, she had her shorts and bikini bottoms around her ankles. Oh man.

Even though I didn't get a chance to do a bunch of the things I wanted to do while I was here, I'm really glad I got to do that. They are planning to dam the Nile 

That Monday, I spent the day with my friend in Kampala and in the evening Emma, a friend and Edirisa employee, came to show us around a couple of the projects for street children in the city. More about that soon, but I have to go for dinner. Rolex....mmmm.