Drive My Car
July 5, 2010, 2:37 PM
Filed under: TRIP SHENANIGANS (Kenya 2010)

Written 6/21/10

Hey friends.

I heart Mombasa. The city has such an “old town” feel to it, and the Arab influence is extremely noticeable. It was a wonderful experience, especially since I have not yet been introduced to physical aspects of that culture before. We were in Mombasa only briefly, enough to wander around Fort Jesus, a few markets to buy khangas (skirt/cloth wraps that women wear in Kayafungo, they are absolutely beautiful patterns), and frequent a few bars to watch some World Cup games. I was just anxious because the next day was going to be our transfer to Miriakani, a town near the community I would be working in, and then finally, Kayafungo itself.

We all piled into vans and drove to Miriakani to dump our things at Weigh Bridge Inn, the motel where all of the GDIs and staff stay for two days out of the week while we work in Kayafungo. This place is like a little oasis with toilets. That’s all I could ask for. Plus, after spending a week in the community, coming back here feels like coming home in a bizarre sort of way. Can’t complain!

Our first foray into Kayafungo was quite the experience. We really made a great first impression, let me tell you. Lily wanted to show us the past development projects in Kayafungo, plus let us have a mental picture of where we were going before our work began that coming Wednesday. We visited the first project, Gogoruhe Primary School, which was built last year by ThinkImpact. The way to the school was treacherous because the recent rains utterly destroyed the dirt roads. Our matatu was stuck for 45 minutes on our way there. Finally reaching the school, I was really impressed. The kids are adorable and have such a thirst to learn. The headmaster and teachers are extremely inspiring individuals who are eager to help their students improve. It was a wonderful visit and furthered my anticipation to meet more community members in the coming days.

On our drive out, both of our matatus got stuck about 200 yards from the school. Not just stuck, but basically immovable. It was hilarious at first, given our previous forays with matatus a few hours previous, but it quickly became more serious as the daylight began to wane and we could not free our van. I occupied myself with entertaining some school children (because the entire school left class to help us free our vans; even random community members walked from their homesteads to offer suggestions or a helping hand, probably like 200 people in all) and teaching them the chicken dance. Someone finally freed one matatu around 6:30pm when the sun was setting (mind you, we were there since like 1pm), and we needed the light to see the road. Lily decided to have all 22 of us pile into the one working matatu and leave, and we would come back in the morning to deal with the broken/stuck one. I honestly laughed so hard that I cried.

The next day would be the last day our group was all together before we split up into our homestay groups and begin working with the curriculum. I was really ready to stop moving around so much and finally be in one place for more than two days. It would be nice to also not have to ride in a matatu for a couple of days; those vans and roads can make anyone sick. I don’t know how Rasta, our fearless matatu driver, learned to navigate the Kayafungo dirt roads.

New post on my homestay and community experience to come soon!




Magical Mystery Tour
July 5, 2010, 2:17 PM
Filed under: TRIP SHENANIGANS (Kenya 2010)

Written 6/20/10

Hey friends!

Sorry for my extreme lack of internet access. Getting internet to function in Kenya has been an interesting experience, to say the least. It is spotty at best, so I have been writing out my blog posts in my journal to upload on here whenever I get the chance. So for now, pretend that I posted this on June 20th or something. It’ll be a good chance to exercise your dormant imagination.

The last I left off I believe I was in Nairobi. What an intense and crazy city. Right after I last updated, I left the internet cafe with the other GDIs and we went to lunch at a Somalian restaurant. Initially, we were supposed to meet with an NGO that constructs greenhouses for farmers to grow crops, but they were closed. Backup plan: visit Kibera slum, the third largest slum in the entire world. The visit happened on a whim and I had no time to really mentally prepare myself, save for the few bumpy minutes in the matatu (van) ride to Kibera. Visiting Kibera, to me, was incredibly important to help contextualize everything. On the way in, we passed some apartment buildings that the government constructed in an attempt to deal with managing Kibera. The Kenyan government gave Kibera’s residents these apartments in the hopes that they would begin to move out of the cramped quarters. Yet little did they realize that the residents would instead choose to stay in the slum and rent out the brand new apartment for a source of income. It was shocking. Another example of an aid program not listening to the needs of the stakeholders. Plus, inside Kibera itself, there are functioning structures that make it seem like a mini metropolis. It was amazing and difficult to see the lengths people went through to have some semblance of a daily routine. When we arrived, we were told to remain in the van for safety reasons. After about 10 minutes of awkward tension, I trickled out of the van with a few other GDIs to play with children and talk to some residents. It was such a bizarre feeling. The expansiveness of Kibera is not something I can actually convey in words, nor does a quick Google search truly do it justice. I could not capture the atmosphere around me in a photograph. I don’t even think I can adequately articulate my feelings from that encounter on this blog post. I caught myself falling into the trap of thinking, it’s such a huge and expansive issue, how could one person possibly start affecting change? At the same time, the drastic, glaringly obvious situation that Kibera presented energized me, proving that there still is much work to be done. Passion, drive, and creativity are essential to the task of improving conditions such as the ones I encountered.

After our brief stint in Kibera, we took a “shortcut” back to downtown Nairobi, which basically consisted of us driving our matatus through completely deserted bush. About five minutes in, our matatu was pulled over and policemen told us that they needed to escort us. Concerned, they explained that because the bush was so desolate, it would not be safe for us to travel by ourselves on the shortcut back to the highway. Just the first adventure I have had so far in a matatu this trip. TIK, I guess.

I arrived back at our hotel in downtown Nairobi completely emotionally drained from the day’s travels. I noticed the atmosphere and attitude of my group was quite subdued; people were still struggling to grasp what we had encountered. To switch gears, we met with Emily, the founder of Muthaa Community Development Foundation (MCDF). She’s a very remarkable woman doing similar work to ThinkImpact in different communities around Kenya. It was wonderful to hear from individuals working in the same field that I would soon be entering. She gave us great advice on how to navigate what we were about to experience.

Our last night in the city, we all went out to dinner at a restaurant showing the world cup. We ate with some Maasai warriors who shared their daily routines and stories with us, which was wonderful and insane. The last highlight from that night was my spontaneous decision to try out ICEing in Kenya. I decided to ICE Rachael, one of our team leaders. The waiter brought it over to her on a silver platter and whispered, “You have been ICEd” to her in his thick Swahili accept. I almost died. Epic win.

The ridiculousness did not end when I left Nairobi. The next day, I was supposed to take a flight to Mombasa, which is a short 45 minute endeavor. The flight itself went swimmingly, until it became time to land. The pilot announced to us that there was a failure in our navigation system so we were forced to return to Nairobi to fix it for around two hours, and then attempt the trip again. My journal entry from the plane cracks me up. The end of one says, “Great, finally landing, excited for Mombasa,” and the next page starts off with “JUST KIDDING. FML. Back to Nairobi.” So absurd. Don’t fret; we made it to Mombasa in one piece, only after traveling for a good chunk of the day.

I’ll update more in a few!

Hope all of you are enjoying your summers, I miss you!