Sunday, June 28, 2009

Last Minute Happenings

Wow its been a week since I last wrote. I meant to make it sooner, but now that my trip is coming to a close, it’s like I’ve been trying to cram into the last minute everything that I didn’t get a chance to do yet.

First things first. Right after I wrote last time, my mom called to tell me that she and my grandfather had decided to share the cost of a pump for us. Awesome! So a big huge thanks to my mom and Opa in Holland.

Unfortunately, there have been some other complications, so it looks like the well won’t be finished before I come home. Here’s the thing: The slums here are built on someone else’s land, and the people there are squatting in temporary mud houses. Anytime, the owner could come and demolish the houses and evict all the residents so he can build something else. In fact, one part of the slums here in Tudor is being destroyed right now. If we spend $700 on a pump and install a well in the slums, we won’t own it, so we have no insurance that it won’t be destroyed next week. A battle is currently going on in the Municipal Council about whether or not those people’s homes should be destroyed by the owner of the land. If things go well, maybe we’ll be in a situation where we can feel comfortable investing in a well. Otherwise, perhaps we can get a permit of some kind from the mayor, or talk to the owner of the land… in any case, this issue needs to be dealt with before we build the well. And the chances of that happening in the next two days are slim. It will just have to happen after I get back. At least it’s happening – that’s the important thing.

In other news… two Saturdays ago, I agreed to help some friends from an organization that I worked with on my last trip. They were writing a proposal for funding from the government and they needed someone to help them write it. I didn’t think it would be a big job but it really was. That’s the real reason that I haven’t written for the last week. I was busy writing that proposal. I spent two whole days at the WOFAK office discussing everything and a bunch of evenings writing and it still wasn’t finished. On Wednesday, I had to tell them that I couldn’t spend any more time on it. I felt really bad, but I only had three days left in Mombasa and I wanted to spend it seeing my friends, going out and finishing up what I could for Nuru. I’m glad to say that they managed to get it finished anyway with the help of someone from Likoni Health Centre, and they got it in for the deadline this weekend. I did feel guilty about flaking out though. And they bought me a gift – some kangas – which made me feel even worse. But at least they did get it done. And all of us learned a good lesson about planning ahead for proposal writing.

Things are still moving along for Nuru, but the energy that we started off with is starting to dissipate. I guess it’s because now there’s no way we can get anything else done while I’m here. I’ll be leaving for Nairobi tonight, Sunday, and leaving for home on Tuesday. Things are definitely in motion though. We have our proposals at the Municipal Council for the city works (the sewer etc) and for an office, I’m working on a proposal for medical aid for the people in the slums, which I hope will go through in the next month or so, the well, which I explained already, we are working on creating an advisory board, and there is even a little money left to get a few more kids in school. All these things are still going to happen, plus a few others, but I just won’t be around to see them. So the urgency has left a little, at least for me.

Seven weeks really wasn’t enough time to get everything done that I wanted to. I feel like I could stay for another two months and still not be done. I’m sad to leave and disappointed that I won’t be here to see some of those things happen. Plus I’ll miss my friends here. The girls who live next to me here are so upset that I’m going. I told them I would come back as soon as I can. They said they’ll really miss me. I’ll miss them too.

Last weekend, I went to a traditional song and dance competition that all the primary schools in Mombasa were invited to. It happens every year and those schools that do particularly well go on to provincials, and then nationals. There’s a movie – the name is escaping me right now – about a primary school in Northern Uganda that was picking itself up from the war and sent a team to the national dance competition… The one I went to was just like that. The girls from Marycliff were amazing. They looked so beautiful in their traditional costumes, and their singing and dancing was incredible. I remember when I was that age and singing and dancing were so embarrassing. But these girls were fearless. They did well in the rankings, too. They came in first place with their Baganda Dance, and moved to the provincials in four different categories. I have some awesome pictures which I will post on facebook.

That reminds me!! I never wrote about the library. A few weeks ago, a Dutch couple, Luuk and Maria, came to Marycliff to build a library. They had raised the money through a project where they sold Ninje books (did I spell it right? It’s that little white bunny) and used the proceeds to build two libraries at poor schools in Kenya. So we helped them. I helped the girls cover and stamp all the books and set them up on the new shelves in a newly renovated room. The guys from Nuru helped the school get ready to open the library by cutting the grass, setting up chairs and tents, etc. The school had invited about 200 people, including the mayor and the area MP. The mayor didn’t make it, but Councilor Kipara was there and the MP made it too. They had a big table at the front where I sat with Luuk and Maria and their old friends Yoko and Wilmijn from Nairobi who had arrived the day before to visit them and see the library. The MP and Councilor and the headmistress were up there too. I felt strange being set on a pedestal like that. Especially cause my fellow Nuru members had done just as much work as I had. Many speeches were made, Speaking of the area MP, he made this speech in which he detailed all the money the government had given to schools and then went on to explain how malicious people had been spreading lies that the Kenyan government is corrupt. He asked us not to listen to that horrible propaganda. I was kind of appalled. Wilmijn and I were exchanging looks of horror the whole time. I hope no one believed him, but they probably did. Sigh. Councilor Kipara made a speech as well and introduced me. A lot of the people there knew me already, but they clapped for me. Then Councilor went on about all the things we’ve done for the community with Nuru and everyone was cheering. Bobo filmed it on a video camera. It was really awesome. And Councilor really knows how to work a crowd.
Anyway, then we had some entertainment in the form of young dancers. Those girls can really shake it. ;) Some women danced for us too and pulled us down from the table to dance with them. That was fun. Even the fat, bald area MP danced. After all the entertainment, we went outside where the MP planted a tree on the school grounds. Then everyone went to see the library, where the Nuru members were keeping guard. We needed to guard the books so they wouldn’t be stolen. They won’t be lending them out, either, cause they’ll never come back. And they don’t have that many.
All in all, it was a pretty awesome day. I’ll have to make sure I get a copy of that film.

That’s about all the writing I have time for today. We’re having a celebration of our own this afternoon to open the toilets and shower in the slums. It won’t be as big as the one for the library – just the Nuru members and a few other guests. We have a goat, which is being cooked right now at Tudor Paradise, an outdoor bar at the edge of the slums, and we’ll be buying some crates of soda and whatnot. And taking people down to see the work. It’s all finished, except that the mud is not quite dry so they haven’t cemented the walls yet, But they will, cause otherwise wind and rain will slowly wear it away into nothing. The floors are cemented though and the basins and pipes are installed, as well as doors, so it’s mostly done. If they did the cement now, it would crack, so its better if we don’t rush with that.

Anyway, the party starts in an hour, so I better go get ready. I also have to pack cause I’m leaving for Nairobi this evening. Ahhhh… it’s too soon!!!!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Toilet

June 19, 2009

Ok it’s not Wednesday, but at least I’m finally telling the story. I’ve been trying to help some friends of mine, people I worked with on my last trip, apply for some funding from the government. Writing the proposal is taking a lot of time, so that’s why I haven’t updated for a while.

Let me get to the toilet. Story, that is.

About two weeks ago now, we started working on the idea of building a toilet and well in the slums. For those of you who weren’t at my fundraiser, that was the original idea I had for what to do with the money I raised. So, we collaborated with a group of elders in the slums who had some experience with building. They were excited about the project.
When we went down to check out the place where they wanted to build – on the edge of the beach at the bottom of the slum – I was a bit shocked. There were piles of garbage, of course, not as high as you might expect, but I think they burn it now and then. And then the school that owned the next property had built a cement wall to block people from going into the bushes along the beach there. As a result, there was human refuse everywhere. I had to be really careful where I stepped. This is a bit disgusting: some people there have a toilet built for their house, which they pay rent for and lock. The rest have nowhere to go, so they go on the path, on the beach, near the piles of garbage. Or they go in a plastic bag and throw it on the garbage heap. It doesn’t smell very good. So we’re building a toilet there. Two toilets actually, and a shower room. The plan was also to build a well, so there is easy access to water there. But there have been some complications with that plan. I’ll get to that.

Okay, so after we decided to start the project, we had some logistical delays. We had to drop letters to the Area Chief (who is, by the way, a woman) and the mayor. We had to be careful, cause the land that the slums are on is owned by someone, and the people that live there are squatting illegally. One can’t build a permanent structure on the land without getting the attention of the owner. I have no idea who the owner is, but clearly they don’t have a big problem with people squatting there. We just had to be careful not to be too bold with our building plans. Plus, if we don’t own the structure, it could be demolished any time, so we had to make sure we didn’t invest too much, only to bring attention and possibly have it destroyed. Bobo told me about a time maybe ten or twelve years ago when the owner brought a couple bulldozers and flattened the entire property. Without warning. People were running for their lives, carrying what possessions they could manage to grab before they were flattened. The houses there are made of mud and stones mostly with palm roofs of metal roofing sheets. Easy to mow down I guess.
Bobo’s family made it out, in case you were curious, but they lost a lot. All their pictures and information about their grandmother, all their birth certificates and identification, their home… They had to split up and stay with friends. That’s when Bobo started living here with Jay.
I’m digressing. It’s just that I find stories like this fascinating. The way people live here, the things they have to go through…it’s unreal. I always ask Bobo questions incessantly till he gets annoyed and depressed. Anyway.
We decided to make the toilets first, making the structure with wood, stones and cement. And metal sheets for the roof. Long lasting, but not too elaborate. Then we had to get the money together and figure out exactly which materials we would need. Last Friday, Bobo and I went to the lumber yard and hardware store and bought everything from small tree trunks to cement to toilet basins and brought it all back here with a few handcarts. We got help with the handcarts, we didn’t push them ourselves. On Saturday they started work, digging out a big section of the sand and garbage, clearing a level area to start building. Then they started asking for money. I understand that those guys are struggling. Many of them have families to feed, etc, but I honestly thought they would build it just because they wanted it there. We had been collaborating on the project planning and I thought they would be happy that we bought the materials. It’s not like any of us are getting paid for this project. Bobo said they think we have a tap with money coming out. Something like a money tree I suppose. Actually, we’ve been fighting with them about money a lot. Every time we agree on a deal, they go back on it and ask for something else. We’ve had a bunch of yelling matches. It’s intensely frustrating. I want to help them, create job opportunities and all that, but they are taking advantage of us, because now that they’ve started, we’d be wasting a lot more if we stopped. None of us knew this was going to happen, so we didn’t know to prepare for it or how to deal with it. Yesterday we signed an official agreement with them, which they will have to honour.

The hardest thing about the whole ordeal is that I feel like they don’t appreciate the things we’re doing for them. I didn’t realize how much appreciation mattered to me. I didn’t think I was doing this sort of work for the recognition or whatever, but I’ve started questioning whether I would still want to do it if people didn’t appreciate it. Even if I knew it was good work, I would question it. I wouldn’t feel good about it. No such thing as a selfless act, I guess.
Other people appreciate it. Women thank us and bless us from their doorways when we walk up and down through the slums. That helps, of course.

On the upside, things are moving very quickly. The structure should be finished in the next few days. The idea was that we would have time to get the well finished before I left. But the toilets have cost more than we thought, and it looks like we won’t be able to build the well right now. It’s like this: we want to build a well with a good filter and a hand pump. There’s no electricity for an electrical pump and tap system. A good hand pump costs about $700. We have about that much left, but what about the other costs of making a well – like digging? What about the kids we’re sponsoring? What about the kids we want to sponsor, medical stuff, hiring someone to keep the toilets clean, getting some speakers in for the women there, etc, etc, etc. There are so many other things we want to do, so the well might have to wait. We could build a cheaper one, where you haul the bucket up yourself, but the water won’t be clean, it will be salty… I guess we just don’t want to go halfway with the well. It might have to wait till next time we have some money.

I have to get going, so I’m going to cut this short. Or long, I suppose. It’s not that short. I’m sure there will be more developments with the project soon, so I’ll keep you updated. As per usual.

Till next time!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Okay, before I get to the toilet/well project, I have something I want to talk about. Last night, Sunday, me, Bobo, Junior and his friend Noel were on our way back from having a beer at a local pub. We were driving, cause a friend of Bobo’s had lent us a car for the day. At the corner of the road was a big crowd, so big that we could hardly make the turn. A rasta friend of Bobo’s stuck his head in the window and told us that a man from the slums had been stabbed. The crowd was standing around him. We got out and walked to where he was lying on the pavement, bleeding as he grabbed at people’s ankles in pain. I was all for loading him into the car and driving to the hospital right away. But my friends said no, we had to go get the police. Apparently we would be in big trouble if the guy died in our car. But besides that, they told me that the hospital would not treat him unless they knew that he was not a criminal, or if they had permission from the police. So we had to drive to the police station and get the police to come and ascertain that he had not broken the law and therefore deserved medical treatment. They were fairly quick, luckily. He was still alive when they got there, but he looked awful – semi conscious and bleeding as they loaded him into the back of their truck to take him to the hospital. I was told they would need to fill out a form in order to give the hospital permission to treat him.
The whole time that we were driving to and from the police station and making our report, I kept myself in control, but after they left with him, I had a complete panic attack. I just couldn’t believe we had to go through that whole stupid process when the guy needed medical attention right now. I kept imagining him dying while the police were deciding whether or not he deserved medical attention. I couldn’t believe that the hospital would refuse to treat him because there was a possibility that he might be a criminal. Bobo and Noel tried to console me by explaining that these were the realities of life here. I’m sure you can imagine that that did not help in the slightest. They seemed totally bewildered that I was so scared and upset. I just hate the powerless feeling of situations like that. It made me wish, not for the first time, that I had some kind of medical training.
It wasn’t until Junior told me that he was keeping in touch with the officer in the truck and that the guy had made it to the hospital and was doing okay that I began to calm down. After my friends stopped making fun of me for panicking, I started to ask them some pointed questions. For example, if the man was from the slums, would his family be able to pay the hospital bill? No universal healthcare here. More importantly, it occurred to me that fifty people had been crowded around the guy for who knows how long before we got there and no one had gone to the police before us. Essentially, they were all standing there watching him die and not doing a f***ing thing. Turns out it’s because they’re afraid of the police. Turns out the police are hardly fair or just or trustworthy here. They’re corrupt and brutal. I guess I knew that. In fact, turns out the only reason they came for that guy is that they wanted to make a good impression for the white tourist. That’s right, that guy would most likely have bled to death with an audience of fifty people if I hadn’t been there. I don’t feel like a hero though. I just feel this despair because I know I’ll never be able to be there every time someone needs the police, and I know that it’s only a matter of time before someone else is stabbed because of some gang thing or petty thievery or mistaken identity or whatever and no one is able to get them proper medical attention.
My friends kept saying I need to learn that this is how it is here. But the truth is that I don’t want to stop caring. I want to think about every unfortunate person who did not have a bribe or a white girl to help them, or at least a witness who was brave enough to drive to the police station. Caring sucks when you’re confronted with such a desperate and insurmountable problem as “corruption”, but I still think I prefer it to apathy. Maybe it will even help somehow, if it motivates me to do something about it, though at this point I can’t think of what I could possibly do to fix a problem like that.

Maybe it’s stupid but a big part of me wishes I could have treated him myself. Then I wouldn’t feel so helpless.

A couple of weeks ago, Bobo and I were in the slums visiting the families of the children we are sponsoring through Nuru. One of the kids had missed school because he’d burned his hand. It was a pretty bad burn. Over a week later, we went to check on him. His hand was still unhealed and he was still in a lot of pain, screaming at the mere hint of someone wanting to look at his hand. I couldn’t believe his mother hadn’t asked for our help. I felt awful that we had waited so long to check on him again. We took him to the clinic, by which I mean his mother dragged him while we followed carrying her other two children, one about 2, one maybe 6 months. The poor mother looks like she’s about 20, looking after three kids under 5… Anyway, we got the kid a tetanus shot and a special ointment prescribed by the doctor. He screamed the whole time, so loudly and so fearfully that it made me shaky listening to it. For a while, I had to hold both the small kids so Bobo and Dre could hold him down for his shot. The baby was weak and small and had some difficulty breathing. After, we asked the mother if he needed a checkup too, but she assured us that he was fine.
After that incident, I started to realize that the mothers we are trying to help are afraid to tell us when their children are sick or otherwise in need of our help. Apparently, this is because they are afraid we’ll think they aren’t good parents. Wow. When I think about it, I have noticed a lot of sick kids down there. Healthy ones too, but here and there is an unhealed cut, a sign of ringworms or malnutrition. And their parents can’t afford a doctor and are afraid to ask for help. I didn’t realize this was such a big problem, but I think this needs to be a priority for us. We won’t have the money this time, but next time I get some fundraising done, I want to get a doctor to check up all the kids in the slums. Maybe the adults too if we can manage. The doctor will probably have to spend a week or so down there, with a couple nurses. Then we’ll need the money to get the proper medication to the people who need it and make sure they of their parents have the proper instructions for using it. It’s going to be pricey, but it seems like the only solution to me. We even have a doctor already who I think will do this for us. What we need is some real funding. Maybe a sponsorship from a pharmacy at home or something…
I wish I had some medical training. Then I’d have a better idea of how to pull off something like that.

So I didn’t get to the toilet story. That will be a novel. I’ll start it tomorrow and it should be up by Wednesday. I just had some other things on my mind, clearly. The toilet is going well though. In fact, it’s a much better story than this rather depressing blog. I’ll try to be more upbeat next time. ;)

Also, some pictures are up on facebook. I will post the link for those who don’t use facebook. I’ll have to look it up though, which I will do in the morning cause it’s late and I’m really tired right now.

Thanks for keeping up with my news, those of you who are. If you have any words of wisdom about my above revelations, please share them. And it’s always nice to know that other people understand my sentiments. Till next time then!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Under the Weather

The rain here is really amazing. It’s not only heavy, but really loud. It hits the metal roofing sheets deafeningly, and takes over all the other sounds, like the fan sweeping back and forth at the end of the bed and even the music coming from the computer speakers. I’ve set up the computer on a chair so I can reach it lying on my stomach in bed. But today (Monday) is the first time since Friday that I’ve felt well enough to bring myself to write a blog. Don’t worry, I don’t have malaria. It’s a bacterial infection in my throat, but it’s pretty much incapacitated me. The doctor told me there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. I got some antibiotics and I’m starting to feel better. I still can’t eat much other than soup and tea though.

Jay is making me some soup for lunch. I can smell it. I hope I can be a bit sociable when he comes in. He’s been so busy with his new baby that I haven’t seen that much of him at all since I’ve been here. And even when I do see him, I’m not always sure what to say. He has this whole set of responsibilities now that I can’t even begin to identify with. We did have an interesting conversation the other day though, in which he told me that the beauty of lfe is not getting the things you want. Jay is fun – he likes his jokes, alcohol, dancing, etc, and he’s good at that. But he also always has something to say that makes me think. In this case he explained that if everyone got everything they wanted instantly, the fnu would be gone from life. I told him I knew what he meant. A little discomfort, a little risk, makes life more of an adventure. That’s one of the reasons I like coming here.

Bobo doesn’t agree. In fact, sometimes he gets really uneccesarily afraid or worried about things. When I first got sick, he was convinced that someone had put a spell on me and insisted on praying with me. He helped me kneel and showed me how to put my hands, then started speaking Swahili prayers. I started to feel faint after a while and almost passed out. He panicked, assuming that I had some demons in me. He was so scared, he totally freaked out. I had to calm him down, explaining that I just had no energy. But what do I know? Maybe it was demons. In any case, he’s calmed down now cause he can see the antibiotics are working and he doesn’t need to pray so much anymore. I do appreciate praying even if I’m not convinced that someone put a spell on me. We had a conversation about Religion when I was safely back in bed. I told him I thought praying was important no matter what religion you are. He had some views on the matter too. I won’t go deep into it right now.
It was kind of strange to see Bobo being so fervently religious, cause he doesn’t really fit the image of a devout Catholic. He just seems a little too…tough, big with dreadlocks and everything. It’s hard to explain.

Anyway, let’s just say this weekend was not like the last one. ;)

What else is new? Well, I realized I forgot to include an important development in my last blog entry. Well, development is maybe not the right word. I met the Mayor of Mombasa two Fridays ago. He finally had some time. We actually spent the day at the Town Hall. First we had to see the councilor who is distributing the money for municipal projects in Chuda. I think I explained that a couple blogs ago. We submitted a draft proposal but he didn’t have time to talk it over with us cause he had to get to an emergency meeting. He said it was good though and I think we have a good chance of getting the funding. Still have to hear back though. Hopefully we’ll know this week. Then Big Jay the chairman, Prince and I waited outside for Bobo and Pudus who were renewing our registration. Then we all waited for ages until the Mayor had a moment and his secretary let us in. He had a big power office that went with his big presence. He was a large man with neatly shaven white hair and beard and an authoritative face. We introduced ourselves and gave him our letter requesting an office, which the Deputy Mayor had promised at the soccer tournament. He told us he would review it with the Council. He welcomed me to Kenya and told me if there was anything we could do together I shouldn’t hesitate to ask. I thanked him and we took some pictures. I felt a little weird about pictures, but it was okay. He seemed like a nice guy to me. The Councilor in Chuda likes him a lot. Some people think he’s corrupt though. I have heard his size referenced as proof. Politics are incredibly corrupt in Kenya, so flimsy proof aside, the rumor could easily be true. That’s how it is here. Big Jay did tell me though that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission had gotten to the Municipal Council in Mombasa, explaining why they now had doors, electricity and proper paint jobs in most of the rooms of the town hall. We went to the Parliament Room, just to see. They had the classic set up with the seats of the Mayor, Deputy and Town Clerk on a dais, the councilors in concentric circles on the floor below, and the board members at a rectangular table in the middle. The walls were lined with portraits of all the mayors of Mombasa, the picture quality increasing with each year. We took some pictures there too of course.
Anyway, after the Mayor, we went to see the Town Clerk and give him a copy of the letter as well. Surprisingly, he had an even bigger office, furnished with beautiful couches and chairs and glass cabinets filled with trophies and such. He was a smaller, harder man than the Mayor. I am told he was responsible for the violence a couple weeks ago between the hawkers and the riot police. We introduced ourselves and gave him our letter, leaving pretty quickly. We didn’t take any pictures there.
So, we are now acquainted with the Municipal Council somewhat. More importantly, they are acquainted with us. If we can impress them with our work, it will doubtless be a very beneficial relationship for us.

Meanwhile, this last week, we have been making preparations to build a well and a toilet in the slums. This is the project I was hoping to do with the money I raised on May 2. It looks like we should have more than enough, We’re planning to start everything this week, and I’m really excited about it. I hope I’m well enough to help. But I think this blog is long enough. I don’t want to overload you guys. So I’ll tell you that story in a couple of days. Also, there will be more to tell once we get started.

Till then!


Monday, June 1, 2009

Long Weekend

The computer is blasting Swahili music right now. Bobo is pouring me a cup of hot milk from a plastic bag. It's for chai. He also brought some warm jam sandwiches and scrambled eggs. But that's unusual. Usually we have beef soup or coconut beans with chapati, or these sort of pastry pockets. Or else just the leftovers from whatever we cooked last night. We don’t usually pray before breakfast, but for other meals, especially when a lot of people are there, we give thanks for the food before we eat. I’ve had to catch myself a few times so I don’t start eating before we pray.

Okay, hold on, I’m just going to eat breakfast.

I’m back. Pretty quick right? It’s Bobo, he always bugs me to eat more. “Kula, bana.” I guess he thinks I starve in Canada. It reminds me of the stereotype of an Italian woman. Yesterday I saw a woman here with a t-shirt that said “I have an Italian attitude”. It made me smile.

Ok, but I’m sidetracking. I wanted to tell you about my weekend. I just woke up from my first decent sleep since the last time I wrote. It was a long weekend, for the 46th anniversary of Kenya's independence from Britain. They call it Madaraka Day.

It started with the final match for the Premier League. Barcelona won, for those of you who don't follow soccer. So the weekend started with a celebration by Barcelona fans. I don't really have a particular leaning it comes to the premier league, but I don't mind celebrating. Bobo had convinced me to rent a car for the night, cause he wanted us to go to a place that you can’t get to on the Matatu. I finally caved and spent the $30. A bunch of us piled in the car and then we spent the evening driving around to drop people here, pick up people, get this and that, and then we ended up at our usual place cause so many people had tagged along that we couldn’t afford to go to an expensive place. And by “we” I mean me. Now I’m sure I’ve done this before but I feel like I need to qualify that. People aren’t freeloaders the way you probably think they are. Socially, it’s accepted here that if you have money and you’re going out, you can treat other people. True, this does not promote good budgeting and saving. A lot of people don’t think about the future at all, actually. But it’s not like they’re taking advantage of me for my money. That’s all. People have treated me when I was short. And in truth, I do have the money to pay a five dollar cover for six people and buy them a couple beers. Beer here is about $2 to $4 depending on where you go. The only thing about that night was that renting a car was a complete waste.

Enough of that. Let me move on to Sunday night. I didn’t go out Saturday cause I was not feeling at all well. But Sunday night we had to celebrate Kenyan independence. I put on some makeup and a little dress I had brought with me. Everyone kept telling me how good I looked, and when we went dancing the guys were fighting each other over who got to dance with me. Maybe it’s juvenile, but I enjoyed the attention. Especially when there were so many beautiful African women there to occupy their attention. The girls in the bathroom even told me they were jealous. The thing is, I get attention from people just for being white, but I know it’s because they think of me as rich, as an opportunity for them or as representing a culture they admire. This was different because they’re my friends and I know they were dancing with me cause they thought I was attractive and not cozying up to me for a free drink or to steal my phone. Whatever, you would have enjoyed it too.

Yesterday I got my hair braided by a bunch of masai warrior hair dressers. It was strange. They were all decked out in red checked kangas, beaded jewelry, and rubber sandals; all but carrying spears as they combed and braided people’s hair. There was a newspaper clipping on the wall with a headline that said “Masai Warriors Break Taboos”. That’s for sure. But they were really good. It took them only 4 hours to cover me with rasta-style twists. And they are very tight. It hurts a lot actually.
All the little girls who hang out around here in Chuda thought it was so cool. When I got back from the salon they were all touching it and telling me I look “so smart”. They know enough English that I can converse with them, which is fun. They like to come and visit me sometimes and take pictures with my camera and practice their English.

Well that pretty much brings me up to date. I went to bed early last night cause I was so tired from the weekend.
Pictures are coming. We just need to get some software installed on the computer to upload them onto. Then I’ll get them online. It’s so much easier for me to do computer stuff thee days since we have a computer here, and I really want to share pictures with you all. More than that, I want to save them so I don’t lose them all like last time.

So we are supposed to present our sewage system proposal today. I will write soon and let you know how it goes.

Bye for now!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A really long post about Nuru stuff

Oh man! I can’t believe how much is happening for Nuru right now. Things are really moving. It makes me feel good. It’s really easy for a new and budding organization like ours to stagnate for lack of funding, dedication, etc, so I’m really excited that that’s not happening to us. In fact, people keep commenting on how well we’re doing. Here are some of the things we have managed in the last few days:

The Sufuria

On Monday, we went and bought a huge sufuria (a stainless steel pot) for Marycliff Primary to cook their food from the World Food Program. Prince, Bobo, Pudus and I spent a good chunk of the day going to different places to find a good one for a good price. I had to force them to take me along actually cause they thought I would get too tired. I was annoyed that they thought I couldn’t handle it, so I told them I didn’t come here so I could sit around and let them do everything. But of course I did get tired. And sunburnt. So now I can add that to my list of discomforts. Still, I was much happier doing something useful, and it was nice to spend the day with them.

On Tuesday we went to a meeting of the board at Marycliff and formally presented them with the sufuria. They couldn’t believe it. Here in Africa, you can be promised something for ten years and never get it, so they couldn’t believe that in less than a week, we had obliged their request. Lots of “thank you”s and “our pleasure”s were exchanged, and we took a picture of all ten or so of us who had shown up to represent Nuru passing the pot over to the headmistress and the senior board members. The kids were also really excited and they all wanted to help carry the pot for us. I have some cute pictures. The kids here really make me smile. They get so excited about things like shaking hands with me, carrying a pot, going to school. Things kids don’t really get excited about at home.

The Computer

Meanwhile, Bobo’s friends Payne sold us his computer for about $200. It’s almost new, about a year old. It’s decently fast and has all the programs and everything we need. We got a portable modem that runs off a sim card from a phone, so we have internet now as well. This is going to be a big asset for Nuru, cause we will no longer have to pay for internet cafes for keeping our record and files and sharing pictures, updating the facebook group and, hopefully soon, the website. When we have an office, we will put it there.

Speaking of offices we haven’t managed to get a meeting with the mayor yet. I don’t think we’ll have a big problem getting an office, but the mayor has been busy. The municipal council started charging taxes from hawkers. It makes sense to me, cause the shops can’t compete when the hawkers don’t have to pay rent, tax, labour etc. The hawkers were not amused and they rioted Mombasa. Don’t worry, I stayed away ;). In any case, that turn of events has occupied the mayor, understandably, so we’re still waiting for that meeting.

The Drainage System

This is a pretty awesome piece of news. Obviously, sanitation is a problem in the slums here. That’s why I was originally hoping to start a project to build some proper washroom facilities. The Municipal Council of Mombasa, it turns out, has some funding that they have allotted for cleaning up the area, including two drainage projects, one sewage disposal project and one for public bathrooms. But they haven’t done any of them. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has recently begun an initiative for job creation in Kenya. This initiative requires that projects like the aforementioned ones be delegated to youth groups who can take on the planning, engineering and labour using government funding. You can see where this story is going I think.
This morning (Wednesday), the Municipal Council of Mombasa invited community-based organizations from around Chuda and Kachongo to discuss this. Only two organizations turned up for the meeting, ours obviously included. This is a really great opportunity for us. We have to write a proposal for the drainage project by Friday to present it to the council. Because there is only two of us, there is an excellent chance that we will get the funding (600 000 shillings, or like $8000). We will also have a chance to work with the Mombasa Municipal Council, and hopefully form a good relationship with them.
Prince was especially excited about this project, cause he loves working the bureaucracy and organizational stuff – going to meetings and asking questions and making proposals. One of the great things tis project has going for it is the variety of skills and interests. We have people like Prince and the Chairman Jay who are all about meetings and letters and amending the constitution and stuff like that, and then we have people like Bobo who hate that stuff but love the hands-on doing of things. None of us has a lot of experience though, so of course we need lots of advice, but we are getting a ton of support from people in the community who work with NGOs and international organizations. This evening, we had a meeting with a local man named Jimmy who works for the Kenya branch of the International Center for Reproductive Health, and a colleague of his that is an expert in finding funding. They both gave us some excellent advice about running the organization, where to go for funding and how to approach our proposal for this drainage project. We’ll be struggling to get this proposal done by Friday, I think, but it will be an interesting learning experience. And there is much more to be dome once that is finished!

Ok that’s enough I think.

That blog was probably kind of boring for some of you. Those who aren’t really interested in the inner workings of an organization, that is. But a lot of cool things are starting to happen so I hope you will continue to tune in anyway. And I’m going to try to upload some pictures so that should make things more interesting as well. Right now, I have to go watch the finals of British soccer between Manchester United and Barcelona. But I will write again soon!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week one of seven is already over

Hello again!

I guess you'll all be happy to know that I made it through the last few days with very little money. Thanks to my mom's midnight efforts to send me money, I have managed not to starve. Thanks mom.

Things are still awesome. Still strangely comfortable. I mean that in the sense that I don't have the same sense of fear and unknown that I remember from last time I was here. It feels familiar, as if I just went to visit some friends on the other side of town and not of the world. Maybe it's because I'm missing the getting-mugged intro to Chuda that I had on my last visit. maybe it's because everyone knows me and I know them and so I don't feel quite so out of place. All I'm sure of is that I don't feel like sitting inside and watching movies as much as I did last time.

My comfort, however, does not extend to the physical. I hadn't realized that I would get so soft being away from here. I guess I got tough during my six months last time, but now... I cut up my feet using African sandals Bobo's mom lent me. Then I tries to do laundry and made my knuckles raw after like three pieces of clothing. I couldn't even finish it. I also have like 800 mosquito bites. I'm taking malaria medication, but they're still aweful even if they don't make me sick! On Thursday morning, I went running with Bobo and joined some other guys at Chuda beach for their morning excersises. They go from 5 to 6 every morning while it isn't too hot. I kept up. Sort of. But I'm only just able to walk properly again today. You know how Kenyan people are always winning races and stuff? They told me they'll make me fit like that before I go home. We'll see how that goes. Meanwhile people keep commenting that I got too skinny while I was at home and are attempting to make me fat. That makes me laugh, especially when I think about how much people fight against getting fat at home. I explain that to them and they think we're crazy. In a way, I agree. I guess there's a happy medium. In any case, it will be interesting to see whether I come home fit or huge, cause I doubt it will be both.

As for Nuru, things are moving. A little slowly, but as they say, "this is Africa." No hurry. Hakuna matata. We should be meeting with the mayor this Monday or Tuesday with the help of the Tudor (Chuda) area councilor. I had a long conversation with the councilor yesterday. He is very interesting. He was telling me the story of how he became coucilor - against the odds. He was a conductor on a matatu (minibus), and a kid from the slums. Several years ago a small girl, five years old, was raped here in Chuda by a matatu driver, and found miles away across the city in a ditch. Mr Unziru (mostly they just call him the councilor) heard about it and went to the matatu park, where he found the man, arrested him by himself and took him into the police station. When the rapist talked himself out of prison, the councilor rallied the angry women of Chuda and demonstrated at the police station until they jailed the man. He has since been released and drives matatus in a different part of town. In any case, the councilor decided he wanted to become a leader. So every night after he finished conducting, he would poster his small black-and-white posters around Chuda with the help of a few friends. He told the chidren of teh neighbourhood, who liked him a lot because he was plentiful with the sweets, to tell their parents to vote for him. To everyone's surprise, he beat out the former councilor who was rich and affluent in his campaign. The story was all over the news, and he is still famous. The Mombasa council couldn't believe a slum kid could become councilor. he still comes to sit and smoke and chew miraa with the guys at ruff howz and he refuses to buy a car and always takes the matatu to work. He has done a lot for Chuda though and his voters love him. He has offered to help us as much as possible with Nuru including getting us some land in Chuda to build a children's home, securing us some government funding for working with youth, etc. This is all in the future of course.

Well, that was a digression. But an interesting one I think.
I'll just finish up with a few more updates. They are indeed lacking kitchen equipment at the school, so we will be our first use of the money so generously donated by my friends and well-wishers in Canada. I had a lovely tour of Marycliff Primary school on Wednesday. The headmistress is great. I really liked her. I'm looking forward to help them out. All they really need is a couple of really big pots so they don't have to waste tonsa of fuel cooking over and over in order to feed everyone. And someone to do the cooking of course. It's looking like about $300 for everything there, and it will get a lot of parents from the slums off the hook.
Other than that, we're waiting on the mayor and a couple meetings with other organizations. And we had to revise the constitution and are working on a couple of other organizational things. Further news on that to come as soon as something interesting happens.

Today we're going to a group counseling session led by a friend of mine from WOFAK, the organization I worked for last time. One of the things i would like to do is get some of the mombers, and us, educated in peer counseling. there are organizations that do this for free so we are looking into that. Again, I will say more about it when something interesting happens.

Thanks for tuning in. See you next time, same time, same channel!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Back in Africa

Wow! This is weird. It's been nine months and here I am again at the cyber cafe in Chuda writing in my blog. The weirdest part actually is that it feels surprisingly normal to be back here, like I'm coming back after a weekend away. It's nice. I feel a lot more comfortable than I expected.

The trip was good. Long, but I slept for a lot of it. Probably couldn't stay awake without the mass amounts of coffee I've been drinking since exam period. When I arrived in Nairobi, I stepped off the airplane and the heavy air and the vaguely incense-like smell hit me with such a barrage of memories that I couldn't stop grinning te whole shuttle ride to the airport. Two of my friends, Moses (Bobo) and Mwangi were there to pick me up. It was really exciting to see them.
I spent the next few days in Nairobi, visiting various people. My photgrapher friend Jose recently had a baby, so we had to visit him and bring some gifts. I spent an afternoon with his wife, Tracy, arguing pleasantly about whether white or African babies are cuter and cooking mboga and ugali. We met a few other people on Friday and went for drinks. We ended up staying there for hours as the rain started and we couldn't even manage a step outside the bar without getting drenched.
It was really awesome to be back in Kenya, walking the dirt side streets of Nairobi, with the colourful concrete apartment buildings and endless clothelines, the crazy traffic and bustling atosphere of downtown. I'm sure that doesn't sound like paradise to most people, but I've missed it.

Moses and I took the bus back to Mombasa on Friday night. I was grinning again as the Tuktuk pulled into Chuda, even though there was no one there and it was still dark. Since then, my time has been a whirlwind of meeting everyone again and being welcomed back. On Saturday several of us went out with Bobo's friend Junior who runs his fathers shipping company and was more than happy to buy us all drinks. I culdn't buy them because I'm a little tight on money. I forgot my wallet. Those of you who know me are rolling your eyes right now. Actually it's turing out to be an interesting experience. The guys here know how to live on almost nothing and they are teaching me quite well.

Junior is very interested in Nuru and has given us some excellent advice. He invited us to his place for a meeting yesterday which was incredibly productive, and we now have a course of action for the next week which includes securing the office promised to us by the head of the Mombasa council, and making a few amendments to the consitution. I don't have the time or money to go into detail right now, but I will definitely keep you updated as our plans play out.

Today, we are going to visit the school. This morning, seveal uniformed students were hanging around outside our place. It turns out they had bee sent away when they were unable to provide an extra fee of 60 shillings that the school was suddenly requiring of every student. That's a dollar by the way. Bobo and Jay speculated that government food has come for the school, but they don't have the resources to cook it. Aparently the headmaster was worried about this several weeks ago. So we're going today to see if we can help. if we can get some stoves or whatever for the school, we can save all the families of the kids in the school the trouble of coming up with a dollar, and the school won't have to send home the students who can't pay. I will let you know how that does in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading!! Lots more to come!