Blog

1 Month Update

Various stories from the last two/three weeks!

Wedding

Jonathan Nzuki, the director of U-tena, got married last Saturday! Jonah married Faith, a wonderful and beautiful woman who took us shopping our first week here. The wedding took place in Nairobi National Park, a beautiful show of nature. The wedding was very far from the traditional American norms for weddings, but we had such a good time nonetheless!

 Busloads of people from Faith’s hometown, Eldoret, were escorted to the wedding carrying gifts ranging from stoves, to firewood, to grains and rice, etc. It was a wonderful show of community (and practicality).

The wedding service itself was quite different too. Rather than walking down the aisle, everyone in the wedding party had to dance down to aisle, which was very fun to watch. Also, when it was the bride’s turn to enter, she was escorted by a group of women from her village chanting traditional songs/blessings around her. The service was led by a preacher, who gave a full sermon in the middle of the wedding. There was a huge religious emphasis throughout the whole thing, and much praying and preaching was involved. The couple signed wedding contracts on the stage and received a blessing, and the traditional “I do” was stated as “I will.”  Surprisingly, there was no official kiss in front of the public.

After the ceremony, the celebration ensued. There was a buffet style table that had servers working at it. We were first in line for food, and it was delicious. Somehow, we later ended up as servers too, bringing the family food and drinks, and returning used dishes to the kitchen. We weren’t quite sure why we ended up with that role and if it was a tradition or just a funny site to see mzungus serving food, but it was fun nonetheless. There was tons of traditional dancing in a circular train, and then the speeches and cake were delivered.

After the wedding, the celebration continued later at a nearby bar. Overall, the day was filled with joy and love!

Dance

Over the past few weeks, we’ve putting together a little choreography to some lively Kenyan music! Kevin started choreographing the dance for us when we asked him “to show us some moves,” and since then, Kevin, Cha Cha, and others have been helping us put together a more complete routine! We even added some traditional African dance costumes to spice it up a bit. We might post a video soon, depending on how willing we are to embarrass ourselves

Yoga Fundraiser for South Sudanese Refugees

Last week we had the privilege  of being invited to a fundraiser at the Africa Yoga Project in Nairobi. As some of you may know South Sudan has been plagued by civil war for decades. Tensions re-arose in July 2016 in response to an attack during peace agreement talks. This conflict has left 300,000 Sudanese dead, 1,000,000 displaced within their country and another 400,000 as refugees in neighboring countries. Many children have lost their parents or been seperated from them and sent to neighboring countries. These children are living with South Sudanese Diaspora in Kenya but are largely underserved by the Kenyan government and international aid. A friend of the Africa Yoga Project took 20 children into her small home and hoped to find a way to support them in getting into Kenyan schools. In repsonse Paige Ellison (Founder of the Africa Yoga Project) and her team pulled together a YaYa (dance and yoga) class/fundraiser led by herself and Emmanuel Jal (child soldier turned rapper) in just three days. The goal of the fundraiser was to collect $10,000 in donations to support the children’s livelihood and entrance into Kenyan schools while they remain orphaned refugees.

We arrived a little late to the class and were greeted by 200 adults and children (South Sudanese Orphans) dancing on top of yoga mats to the singing and chanting of a man dancing on a table in leopard print pants. We soon found out that this man was Emmanuel Jal. –> As a young boy Emmanuel was taken from his home in Sudan, trained to be a child soldier, and later rescued and smuggled into Kenya by an aid worker. This woman placed him in school and adopted him, but was killed only one year later in a car accident. Emmanuel then turned to music and has been recording and championing peace ever since. –> He led us through an hour of dancing, positive messages, and laughter. As it wound down Emmanuel asked all adults to find a child and hug them, to express their love and support and to tell them they are safe. He gave a small speech about how we can each change the world by living with the purpose of leaving each person you meet ten times happier than they were when you met them. Paige led us through a series of stretches – one being a wheel pose while simultaneously roaring like a lion to expel all the hate anger and sadness within us and then we took shavasana. The evening ended by chanting peace in English, Sudanese, Swahili, and Arabic.

The fundraiser made $15,903 and is still open to donations.

https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/ayoga/campaign.jsp?campaign=894&&test=true

Safari

Here is a long awaited snippet from our three day Safari in Maasai Mara. Our first week here we met up with a mutual friend Hank who had been living in Nairobi for two months. We questioned him about things we HAD to do and see before leaving and he said flatly “not going to Maasai Mara would be a crime”. During our second week we scoured the internet for good deals and found an affordable three day two night safari and booked it for the weekend. We got up at 5am on Thursday morning and met our guide Charles in the CBD. We then picked up the rest of our group at a nearby Java. Ariel made a prediction that the couple accompanying us would be named Annastasia and Kristopher (with a K) – interestingly they ended up being a couple from Denmark named Anna and Fillip (with an F). We were also joined by another woman named Anna from Switzerland. We started our 6hr journey to Maasai Mara and arrived at our camp – Rhino Camp – around 4pm. We then headed into the park for our first game drive. I – being a muzungu – had taken pictures of a single zebra crossing the road about twenty minutes before we reached camp. When we entered the park I blushed at the site of hundreds of zebras and wildebeest grazing. We were fortunate to be in Maasai Mara during the great wildebeest migration in which 2 million animals migrate from Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) into Maasai Mara from August to October. It is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Day one – Our vehicle was a van with a pop up top that allowed you to stand and look out for the duration of the trip. Outside of wildebeest we saw a two different herds of elephants, a pride of 9 lions napping on a big rock, and a bunch of hippos in a pond – all on a short 2 hr drive. We returned to camp excited for the rest of the trip and had an enlightening discussion with the rest of our group about the educational systems in our various countries.

Day two – We woke up early for our full day game drive. We entered the park around 7 and didn’t see many animals for about an hour. The guides all communicate over a radio about where to find animals and were all asking where they were. Our guides 13 years of experience showed when he led us to the first sighting of the day – 3 cheetahs. We watched them slink through the grass and snuck away before all the other cars arrived. We then continued to find four different groups of lions – one with a baby and a male lion, countless hippos, giraffes, buffalo and a leopard perched in a tree. By the end of the second day we had seen four of the big five – but unfortunately never saw a rhino.

Day three – The final day we woke up early and left before breakfast entering the park before sunrise. We were greeted by a pack of hyenas in the last of their waking hours. We watched the big orange sun rise over the park and soon heard the radio blowing up with conversation. Two cheetahs had been spotted close to us and they were hunting. We watched the cheetahs chase wildebeest around for almost 40 minutes. Charles our guide said he could not imagine they would make a kill as they had blown their cover but to our surprise one began sprinting towards a pack of wildebeest and pounced on a baby that had fallen behind. While I felt l amazed to have witnessed this show of nature I was quickly dismayed to see vans driving off of the roads so that tourists with large expensive cameras could see the fresh kill from 20 feet away. Maasai Mara was a beautiful experience but the way in which the animals reacted (rather didn’t) to the human presence around them gave me a pang of sadness for the lack of wild in one of the world wildest places.

A word about Charles – I (Carly) had the pleasure of talking with Charles, our guide, on the long trip home. I asked him about his childhood and how he came to be a guide. He explained to me that as a kid when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up all kids would answer doctor, pilot, banker. He acknowledged that while these children had lofty goals they often lacked the opportunities to reach them – or even the knowledge of other professions. We have decided to reach out to him to be a speaker at one of our career days at the Lunga Lunga Youth Friendly Center in the hopes that he can lead someone to their passion faster than he found his own.

Charles first learned about the world of guiding when taken to Maasai Mara by his mother. He then began training with other guides and learning the ropes and mentioned how he studies encyclopedias to this day. His knowledge and experience were so apparent in his understanding of animals, humans and value of nature. We have nothing but good things to say about him – and I will be adding his contact information for anyone looking to travel to Kenya in the future.

Overall our experience at Maasai Mara was wholly incredible. I cannot even begin to fairly describe the wild beauty we had the privilege of observing.

Birthday

For my (Carly) Birthday  (august 5th) we chose to go out the night before as we didn’t want to be up late before the wedding. Luckily for me Thursday nights provide some of the best entertainment in Nairobi. Kevin (yoga teacher) suggested that we go to a bar called choices that has live music. We rode in a matatu and then took boda bodas to the bar. The artist of the night was a young woman named Athieno, a Nairobi native who studied music at Berkeley school of music in Boston. Interestingly enough she and I had a mutual connection at Brown. She and her band played what I can only describe as African jazz all night long. Right before midnight the band started singing happy birthday and everyone forced me on stage. Lovely welcoming into my 20th year.

Ostrich Farm

We decided that while in Nairobi, it would be a crime not to take the trek to Kitengela to visit the ostrich farm. So, we found a car to take us to the “Maasai Ostrich Resort.” And a resort it was. There was a swimming pool, spa, sauna, and all your upscale hotel amenities. However, just beyond the swimming pool was a ring sheltered by a fence in which customers were allowed to ride ostriches. After enjoying some lounging by the pool and some delicious nyama choma, chips, and ugali, we mounted our ostrich and went for a thrilling ride around the perimeter of the pen. Needless to say it was a strange but memorable experience.

Painting U-tena Community Center

We dedicated a portion of our fundraiser money towards re-vamping the U-tena Community Center. The Center is a government owned building that U-Tena has offered to maintain. It is open to all the public and can be reserved for any number of events. The first day that school was out five boys showed up to play in the center, this happened to be the day we were painting. Two elected to help paint while three others learned how to play drums from a few U-tena members. The center originally had white walls and much of their equipment was becoming run down. We purchased bright blue paint for three walls and a light green for the final wall – which will eventually have a design as well. On Thursday we spent a good portion of the day preparing to paint (scraping posters off of the walls, taping the floors and ceiling) and went to purchase the paint. We woke up early on my birthday (Carly) and met everyone at the community center to finish preparations. We began painting around 11 with everyone dressed in various U-Tena costumes (men in dresses haha) and finished by 2. We then proceeded to eat chapattis with milk and have a drum session.

Monkey Park and beyond

After spending so much time in the city, Kevin recommended we all take a trip to City Park after our Wednesday morning yoga session. We took two matatus and arrived in a little haven completely different from the city. Though the highway was right behind us, you would have never guessed from the beauty of the nature that we were seemingly surrounded by.

We bought a few bags of peanuts and the monkeys readily approached us and picked them out of our hands, or climbed onto our shoulders to be fed from there. The monkeys were particularly fond of Sierra’s shoulders. The monkeys were super friendly, until the food ran out… and then they mostly minded their own business, though some monkeys still did continue to hang around Carly. Carly, parched, purchased a fruit juice bottle and set it down beside her. Before we knew it, the monkey had picked it up, unscrewed the top, and was downing it. See photos on the blog. After some monkey shenanigans, we went and found a lovely tree full of swingy and draping branches to climb and relax on.

We then laid down in a field for some time, soaking up the beauty and the sun, as we talked about how good of a day it had been. Though I did not want to leave, we realized that time had slipped away from us and it was a bit later then we realized, so we reluctantly headed out. As we were walking out, about fifty feet in front of us we saw a girl walking with her mother drop to the ground and begin to seize. She was having a pretty long grand mal seizure, so we ran over to help turn her onto her side and stabilize her. After she regained consciousness, we later learned that she had been off of her epilepsy medication for four days because it was too expensive (($27/month). We helped walk her out of the park and gave her enough money for medication, transport, and more, and Kevin offered to connect her to an epilepsy awareness group in the slum.

We ended up having another opportunity to do a good deed on our way home from the monkey park. When we were riding our matatu home, we noticed a husband and wife riding with three children and an insane amount of cargo (grains, suitcases, vegetables). Carly and Sierra had noticed them earlier on in the ride, and had been eyeing them throughout. When we got off the matatu, we saw the family standing by the side of the road with all their stuff. We couldn’t imagine how they could possibly carry it where they were going, so we asked where they were headed and offered our help. We helped them carry their bags to the next matatu stop, and made sure they all got on safely and without too much trouble. They were so sweet in offering their gratitude. It was really interesting to see how easily and beautifully connections are formed, and I was just so glad we got the chance to help.

Community Yoga Class

After a few weeks of conflict we finally made it to the Africa Yoga Project Community Class. Every Saturday AYP holds a free yoga class in their studio for up to 200 people. We arrived a little early and while stretching I (Carly) was asked by Kevin and his friend if would like to try some acro yoga – why not right? I then spent the next five minutes balancing in the air on a teachers feet as he encouraged me into bow pose, an upside down straddle, and a backbend off of his feet! Sierra gave it a try as well and we are hoping to return and learn more next week. We then were led through almost two hours of fast paced power flows and strengthening exercises and were sweating like never before. Afterwards AYP provides a free vegetarian lunch – yummy.

dream matatu playlist

Here is a small collection of the music that surrounds us. Literally  – almost daily we take a matatu – public transportation that is essentially a better version of an american party bus. They have huge speakers and tv screens and flaunt recording artists, basketball teams and brands ( such as timberland)  as decorations.

We spent one evening scouring youtube for the titles of our favorite songs. Here are the ones we love hearing on our commute – mainly pop, hiphop and dancehall. There are so many we couldn’t find and will be adding later.

Sauti Sol – Kenyan Afro-pop band

Live and Die in Africa – This video was shot in Nairobi and portrays a much more real setting than many videos.

 

Yemi Alade – Ft. Sauti Sol – Nigerian Star made famous through a talent tv show

Pantoranking – My woman, My everything (Carly’s favorite) – Nigerian artist

Teknomiles – Nigerian Artist

It’s only appropriate to share a few songs from Diamond Platnumz – he’s everywhere. He is a “bongo flava” artist from Tanzania.

 

Nakula kwa macho – means “eating with eyes” in swahili – aka its a smooth pick up line

Eddy Kenzo – Zigido (seeing success) is about a boy who grew up in the slum and flourish because of his hard work and faith in god

 

P-square – Nigerian twin brothers who signed a contract with Akon’s recording label.

Alkaline – Jamaican Dancehall Artist – Yes his eyes look weird (they are tattooed) – also this is an essentially all around crude video- but we couldn’t leave it out.

Enjoy!

-Carly

Viwandani – life in tin

Viwandani is the slum where U-Tena does the majority of their work, and where all of the KUZA mentees live. It is part of the greater Mukuru slum, which is home to around 700,000 people. Mukuru is the largest slum in Nairobi, but is broken into many pieces, all of which are considered informal settlements – aka their existence is essentially unacknowledged by the government. This means that there is no government provision of public goods – ex. sanitation, electricity, or health care. Consequently the people are forced to endure and adapt to their conditions. Waste is not managed, water must be purchased and boiled, and electricity is tapped. Precariously drooping between houses and across walkways are homemade electricity connections tapped from bigger supply lines. Some of the wires are naked wires twisted together, which poses an even bigger hazard. These are responsible for the ignition of fires in the slums nearly twice a month (Cha Cha’s estimate from experience). The fires have taken countless lives as there is little to be done to prevent their spread and no clear escape or exit plans. Furthermore the live wires can come untethered and fall into the street carrying enough electricity to easily kill a small child. This is only one of many hazards for the small children that live and play in the slum streets.

One day after work Cha Cha took us for a walk through the neighborhood where he and many other U-Tena employees grew up/lived in until a few short years ago. He showed us three different houses that he used to rent. The nicest one was a concrete building of which he rented one bare room for $28 a month (fairly posh for a slum). The average rent price is around $6 for a tin walled single room (12×12) with a dirt floor. These small home allow for little privacy and protection from the world outside. Children are disproportionately effected by home sizes as they have no place to play, little break from noise to get sleep prior to early school hours, and are exposed to sexual acts at a young age.

The slum – much like most areas of Nairobi – works in micro markets. Meaning that every 100ft you can find everything a person could need. People sell all wares and foods, there are barbers, shoemakers, hairdressers and bars. The bars commonly sell an illegal and cheap alcoholic brew called changaa, which is commonly made incorrectly and can have a large amount of methane which can leave heavy drinkers blind. The main road provides a bustling channel for community and commerce.

Unfortunately the residential areas just a few steps away are not as bright and clean. There is an unclear pathway to walk, as one must constantly be dodging piles of trash and sludge.We also unfortunately encountered a stray dog that was licking what appeared to be its own miscarried fetus. Cha Cha told us that during heavy rains, many of the homes are flooded with this trash and toxic water. An industrial area surrounds the slum and one factory dumps a blue liquid into the street daily, which then drains through the slum streets and into the river. We crossed the river on a precarious bridge that stood twenty feet above the river and was made out of sticks.

We observed that we felt very safe within the slum and that people seemed overwhelmingly kind and unconcerned with our presence. However due to a high level of unemployment the slum has been home to high rates of crime in past years.We have heard multiple stories from friends about people working hard to make an honest living, just to have it snatched away by a young boy wielding a gun – likely just trying to pay school fees or buy a meal. These crimes not only affect the victims but the whole community as police profile and falsely arrest innocent young men by accusing them of crimes.

Our walk was eye opening but also heart warming. Every minute or so we heard Cha Cha’s name called out and spoke to his countless friends and neighbors, many of which invited us into their homes or businesses. We have returned to the slum on multiple occasions and experienced more of the lively beauty they hold. Aside from the tight knit and friendly community, one can find delicious fresh samosas for 10Ksh, children playing and yelling “how are you” in candy coated voices, and small shops churning out beautiful handmade items such as clothing and shoes.

Organizations in Viwandani

One of our visits was to Reuben Center – the primary school that many of the U-Tena members attended. Reuben is the name of a large portion of Mukuru, and the school is home to 2000 students. It has made immense advances since it was composed of tin buildings which Cha Cha described to us. It is now supported by Christian Brothers from Australia and has almost fifteen concrete buildings for classrooms and offices. It is also home to a community health clinic and trade schools where students and adults who did not have the chance to pursue a university education can learn craft skills. During our first visit we met a young man named Kelvin Petrelli who is the sports coordinator at Reuben. He is a dancer and did dance therapy with rape victims before coming to work at Reuben. At Reuben he organizes different sports activities and asked us to return to talk to a group of kids interested in Track and Field. Yesterday we returned to Reuben and did a small talk and clinic focused on how skills (patience, work ethic, healthy lifestyle) you learn from track can benefit you in other areas of your life. We then showed the kids warm ups and stretches and small group lessons on frisbee, javelin and running workouts.

During another one of our walks through Viwandani, we came upon an organization run by friends of U-Tena called Wajukuu. Wajukuu is an artist collective that owns a community building in the slum. The bottom floor of the building is an open room that is used for children’s art classes and free public showings of documentaries and popular soccer matches. The upper floor is a studio space for about six artists who make a living selling their art. Kevin, our yoga teacher, is involved with Wajukuu, U-Tena, and a group called Mukuru Development Project. MDP provides a space for Kevin to teach yoga classes to young children and is developing new home building techniques (sacks full of dirt used like bricks) that will provide better insulation and protection from fires. Innovations of this sort have been attempted with cinder block but the width of the cinder block reduces the home size in a quantity that was not deemed proportionately valuable to residents.

Finally, another U-Tena member Kevin Cira has begun a program working with young boys on football (soccer) as he found it to be a vital outlet for himself as a child.

 

Our experiences in the slum have opened our eyes to the realities of the suffering and corruption that take place in Kenya. Equally however, has it increased our ability to understand and connect with the people around us and appreciate the resilience and strength of the Kenyan slum community.

– Carly

Work Update

We’ve just passed the four-week mark since we’ve arrived here, and it’s time for an update on some of the work we’ve accomplished!

Through our fundraiser, we were able to raise about $1600 for our career project, library project, and other renovations and technology for the Youth Center. We were also able to assess and edit our annual budget, and lower that by about $800, leaving opportunities for more scholarships and support for the girls to attend school, as well as more exposure visits. We have also made contact with some successful businessmen and businesswomen leading exemplary careers in or around Nairobi, and have set up future plans for the girls to visit these role models in their workplaces to receive inspirational guidance. An on-site career day is also in the works.

Here’s a rough idea of what we have decided to devote our fundraising efforts to:

-Books (story books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, motivational books) and bookshelf

-Painting the Youth Center and repairing the walls

-Repairing the cabinets and obtaining locks to secure the contents

-Computer parts (CPUs and mouses)

-Educational Programming for the computers

-Repairs to some of the recreational activities in the center that were otherwise unusable (pool table, ping pong table, etc.)

– A potential kick-start to a program for boys

-We are also working on getting yoga mats donated to the youth center for free.

In addition to working on our budgets and obtaining estimates and value assessments from the different U-tena members, we have also been working on preparing for the graduation of the current class of Kuza girls, and the recruitment of the next class. This has included preparing the Monitoring and Evaluation report, preparing the endline surveys, preparing the baseline surveys, and creating a pamphlet (with the takeaway messages from the endline surveys and the Kuza manuals in general) for the participants to keep as a reminder of the important key points they have learned.

In our free time, we have also been trying to engage in local community efforts, and also participate in some of U-tena’s other projects. This has included doing yoga with Kevin (see Carly’s blog), visiting Wajukuu (a painter’s collective in the slum), going with Vicky to St. Phillips school in a rural area of Kenya to teach dance, visiting the African Yoga Project for a fundraiser for South Sudanesse regufee children to attend school, visiting and volunteering in several local schools and hospitals, and also giving a motivational speech to aspiring runners in Ruben Primary School in the slum (Ariel and Carly do Track and Field at Brown, and Sierra does Frisbee). We have gotten to meet many of the local community members, and see how many of the projects are delicately intertwined.

By the end of this week, we will be done with painting the youth center, purchasing the books, administering the baseline survey for the new group of recruits, repairing the ping pong table, pool table, and bookshelves too. We have also decided that we want to place a big emphasis on “bringing GROW back” to Brown’s GlobeMed Chapter. In other words, we want the members of the club to understand the work U-tena does, the people behind it, and the communities it reaches. We have started doing video interviews with some of the head staff members to put together a video compilation of some of the stories of U-tena members.

Work has been busy! Projects have been snowballing our way, but we are so excited to be getting the chance to do so much while we are here.

P.S. The internet has been a bit too spotty to post the photos from the past few weeks, but updates to the photo blog are soon to come!

–Ariel

A Day in the Life

7:30 AM: Wake up

 Wake up at Cha Cha’s house. Although my alarm usually goes off, the thing that really gets me out of bed is knowing that Cha Cha has made warm chai tea that is sitting there waiting for me. After drinking my tea and eating a couple pieces of bread, I take a shower. This involves filling a bucket with cold water and using a cup to pour the water over myself. (Most Kenyans just use their hands to splash themselves and don’t need a cup, but Cha Cha leaves one out for me knowing that I have not yet mastered the art of the bucket bath).

 

8:30 AM Leave for Work

 Around 8:30 we begin our journey to U Tena’s office. Our travel begins with about a quarter mile walk to the first matatu stop. At the stop matatu drivers usher us in and along with many other people we cram into the matatu. We take the first matatu to a gas station in Donholm (where Ariel and Carly live) and get off there. Then we walk across a construction site where they are building a new road. Every day the site gets bigger and soon we won’t be able to cut through it. Next we walk through a slum, where I have to watch my step as the ground is uneven and there are many puddles of sludge. Upon exiting the slum we arrive at the next matatu stop. We take that matatu to Governor street and then walk a short distance to U Tena’s office.

 

9:00AM Starting Work

 At U Tena’s office, we begin our workday. For the last few weeks, we have been mostly working on creating an end-line survey to administer to the girls who are about to graduate the KUZA program. The results from this survey will help us analyze the progress that the girls have made during the two year KUZA program.

In addition to the endline survey, we have recently begun work on a baseline survey that we will hand out to all the girls entering the KUZA program, to assess their knowledge of the KUZA topics before they start the program.

However, some mornings we don’t work at the office at all. The first day we were here, we went to different meetings. Carly and Ariel went to a discussion on sexual health and I went to one on setting and evaluating goals. Carly and Ariel have also gone to a clinic and volunteered there. (I didn’t go to because I was sick with the flu L). However, we plan to continue to volunteer at the clinic again in the next few weeks.

 

12:00 PM Lunch

 There are a lot of yummy places to eat lunch near the office. Sometimes we go to the mall for lunch. There’s a place there called Afrikaner that serves delicious Kenyan food. There’s also an Indian food restaurant where we can get paneer J

However, my favorite lunch places are the ones that we would never find on our own, but are small hidden secrets that the U Tena members share with us. One time we went to a small shack with the U Tena team and ate madodo (beans) and chapatti. It was very delicious and for the seven of us it only cost the equivalent of $2.80. Our other favorites included ndengue (lentils) which are eaten with avocado and mokimo (a delicious mixture of potato and beans).

 

1:00 PM Back to Work

 After lunch we finish our workday with full bellies.

 

3:00 PM Travel back Home

 After walking and taking the matatus back, we arrive at the house just in time for Mayan to get home from school. At this time many of the neighborhood kids come and visit in the house as well. Cha Cha’s house is very welcoming and with all the kids the house is loud and lively.

 

5:30 Cook and Eat Dinner

Then after a little bit of relaxing, we venture around Umoja (where Cha Cha lives) to get the fresh meat and veggies that we will cook for dinner. (A few days ago, when we went to buy beef, Cha Cha pointed to a part of a beef carcass, and the butcher sawed it off right then and there to give to us!) We also usually buy onions, bell peppers, and avocados all for less than a US dollar. I cook the vegetables and meat and Cha Cha makes ugali or rice. (our favorite is chapati, but it takes a really long time to cook).

We eat dinner around the little coffee table and put cushions on the floor to sit on. Cha Cha serves the kids their food and Mayan (Cha cha’s son) almost always complains whenever we make bell peppers even though we tell him that they aren’t spicy!

After dinner, we relax by reading or watching TV. Cha Cha’s taste in TV shows is very funny and many times we end up watching Shadow Hunters, an American show about vampires. Every night Cha Cha helps Mayan with his homework and I watch tv or read a book.

 

10:30 Bedtime

Around 10:30 I go to bed under my mosquito net and have crazy vivid malaria medicine- induced dreams.

 

Two week update

We have officially been in Kenya for two weeks!

Here are a few miscellaneous stories from our adventures so far.

Yoga

On Wednesday last week we were invited by two U-tena members to do some yoga in the Community Center. At 10am we were greeted by our teacher Kevin who led us through an hour and a half of quick paced power flows with a big smile. Afterwards we sat on the floor stretching and talking to him about his yoga practice. He told us that he had applied and received a scholarship to study yoga with the Africa Yoga Project. This organization teaches yoga as a mental health practice to youth and prisoners in Kenya. Kevin’s focus however was specifically on children who were growing up in the slums. He detailed that many children living in the slum do not have much room for physical activity and the parents are often too busy or tired to engage with them. We are looking forward to hearing more about his project and doing more yoga in the coming weeks!

Shopping in Kenya

Everywhere you go in Kenya there are items for sale – from Nike air maxes on a tarp to Kitenge fabrics stacked upon a woman’s head. Kenya has a massive market for used clothes (see Gikomba Market blog) which we have had the pleasure of experiencing. Ariel snagged a scarf waiting for a matatu for 50Ksh, Sierra purchased a dress for a mere 100 Ksh, and I (Carly) have obtained two treasures for 300Ksh. The first was a hat that caught my eye on a dusty round about – It said “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”. I immediately tossed the woman 50Khs and ran to catch up with everyone crossing the street. Interestingly enough I think it is my only belonging that says Colorado on it. (Late last week I saw a man in a Colorado State University hoodie and thoroughly confused him trying to explain that it was from my hometown.) My other treasure is an “adidas” hoodie that caught Ariel’s eye from across a busy street (I had mentioned wanting one). Upon closer inspection I noticed that the garment was in fact and American Eagle sweatshirt with the Adidas logo painted (unevenly) on the front. When I heard the vendor say 250 I knew I had to have this bizarre piece of true Kenyan clothing. While we have thoroughly enjoyed the cheap shopping we have also indulged ourselves in some higher end shopping. After our overwhelming experience in Gikomba we stumbled upon a store in the CBD called Mr. Price. It and its products have a great resemblance to that of an American H&M and we fell into some comfortable retail therapy.

Boda Boda

We have ridden on two boda bodas (motorcycle taxis). Much to my mothers dismay I love them. We rode one home from work and weaved in and out of cars and matatus. The other was on our way to the rural school on a bouncy dirt road. While boda bodas can be enjoyable they aren’t the cheapest or safest mode of transportation and will be saved for special occasions.

 

Safari Walk and Market

Our first weekend we set out in the morning towards the outskirts of Nairobi to the National Park. We spent the morning in a natural zoo and were fortunate to see many animals up close and active (namely some cheetahs). We will be going on a real safari later in our trip but enjoyed the animals and the quiet immensely. After a few hours of ooh-ing and ahh-ing we headed back into the CBD (central business district) to see the Maasai Market – much to our dismay it was closed due to a UN meeting. However Mokaya (one of our hosts) suggested that he knew an even better place to get crafts and led us to the Market. We found ourselves surrounded by beautifully beaded Maasai sandals and after some haggling, each left with a pair.

 Mareba Hospital

Right next to the U-tena Community Center is a small government hospital that serves much of the population of Viwandani. (Mareba is a factory area located just outside of the slum. The factories produce wigs and employ many of the residents of Viwandani – at very low wages about $3 a day. Yet there is still a high unemployment rate in the area.) The U-tena members have a close relationship with the hospital and volunteer there when they have free time. Cha Cha gave us a tour of the hospital and we got to speak with quite a few employees about the work they do there. A woman working in the family planning office showed us a huge variety of contraceptives that they offer for free (including pills, injections, and even IUD’s). We were interested to see that most women elect the short-term options such as an injection (lasts for 3 months). While IUD’s are becoming a more popular option for young adult women in the United States, women in Kenya rarely use them until after they have given birth. We are planning on volunteering here when we have some extra time.

St. Phillips Primary

Another one of U-tena’s projects involves teaching physical education and dance to students at a rural school. This past Saturday we joined Vicky (U-tena Member) on a trek to the rural school. We had a long matatu trip that prompted us to buy snacks (peanuts, bananas, and sugar cane) by yelling out the window. The second part of our travels occurred on boda bodas. We rode about five miles on a bumpy dirt road that made for a bouncy fun trip. It was nice to see some wide-open space and breathe fresh air. We arrived at the school and had a lunch of githeri (beans and corn). Then we watched as Vicky set up his drums and about 50 students started filing into the main hall. He began the lesson with a bunch of jumping on two feet – literally 300 times- to the beat of the drums. We then did some planks and squats, which garnered a lot of laughs and tumbling children. We then learned four or five African dance steps and combined them into a dance. The students practiced choreographed dances in small groups and Vicky provided corrections and helped keep the room lively but focused. As the session continued other kids slipped into the hall and danced along the walls while others peaked in through windows. The cook was caught dancing along in the kitchen and gave everyone a good laugh. Vicky explained to us that he learned to dance when he was of primary school age and wanted to share his passion with other children.

Elephant Orphanage

This weekend we decided to head to the elephant orphanage again and made it an hour early this time. The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is home to 24 baby elephants (and some rhinos) all under the age of two years. They were all rescued from the wild for a variety of reasons – getting separated from their herd, falling into wells, and many had lost their mothers to ivory poaching. The elephants are kept in the orphanage for about three years and then monitored for five as they are reintegrated into a herd in the wild. We brought along Cha Cha’s son and nephew who were both extremely excited. At 11 they opened the gate and we along with a bunch of muzungus rushed in to get a good spot. We were giddy when we saw baby elephants – about hip height, 6months old – running down a path towards the roped off area we surrounded. They were each fed two liters of milk (baby formula) and received a mud bath. They then proceeded to play in the mud with each other, eat  leaves and walk around the perimeter where we could touch them. Im not sure who loved it the most Ariel or Cha Cha’s six year old son Mayan.

Maasai Market

Finally we made it to the Maasai Market after three tries. The market takes up a full city block in the CBD and has a wealth of beautiful crafts, art and gifts. We spent about three hours enjoying the works and haggling for our favorites. We made friends with some of the dealers by speaking to them in Swahili – Habari:greeting, pesangapi:how much – and explaining where in Nairobi we live. The variety of crafts includes – rolled paper bead necklaces, woven bead jewelry, maasai sandals, oil paintings, batiks, kitenge fabrics on bags, clothes, and scarves, carvings, stuffed animals and dolls in beautiful fabrics, statues, drums, and much more. The majority of gifts are within a 25 cent – $5 range – if you can charm and or bargain well. We each left with a full bags of gifts, a small dent in our wallet and big smiles.

More updates soon! Thanks for following along!

There are pictures to match many of these experiences on the photo blog aswell!

– Carly Paul

 

Justice

We’ve had an interesting relationship with the justice system here so far. Police are a rarity. Though we live close to a police station, we seldom see them out in the streets. This comes across in the lack of traffic regulation, and the total chaos that sometimes occurs. Despite a large push for reform from the Kenyan police force and from the government, many citizens are still facing a very corrupt system.

A week before arriving in Nairobi, we were a little startled when we saw Kenyan’s police force making national headlines for infamy. A lawyer from the International Justice Mission, Willie Kimani, was investigating a case in which his client, Joseph Mwenda, made a complaint against the police for wrongly shooting him in the arm. Though Mwenda was further targeted by the police with intimidation and harassment for making the claim against them, he persisted in his work with Mr. Kimani. Kimani, Mwenda, and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, disappeared, and then were later found dead at the bottom of the river with their eyes gauged out. This act of suspected police brutality and corruption caused outrage from people across the world, including some ongoing protests that have been occurring while we’ve been here.

While this case happened to make headlines, there is wrongful corruption going on all the time. Our first few days here, one of U-tena’s own members was wrongly arrested as a thief with no basis for finding him guilty, and was not released until the entire U-tena team vouched for him and cleared his name. The officer arresting him had no evidence pinning the U-tena member to the crime they were accusing him of. They just knew they needed to bring back someone.

Because the police are known to be so corrupt, many people often try to create “justice” on their own by taking matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, we had to witness the aftermath of this. While walking to work through the outskirt of the slum, we saw a man lying out on the ground in a pile of trash. Not an uncommon site here. However, the way in which this man was sprawled out gave us an inkling that something was not right. After walking up and joining the few other spectators, we realized that this man was dead. He had been beaten to death (supposedly by a Maasai, who was not a documented citizen) for stealing. Since the Maasai would not be in the system, his murderer would get away with it.

Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot of extremely unjust things happen here. However, it is the work of U-tena and other similar organizations that gives us hope and makes us optimistic for the future of this beautiful country.

–Ariel Silverman

Kenya from a glance

Here is some of the basic Swahili vocab we have learned!

Hey (casual greeting) – Sasa/Jambo

Hello (formal) -Jambo (we’ve basically only heard this when people are greeting us as tourists. Sasa is most common)

How are you?-Habari?

Thank you-Asante

Thank you very much-Asante Sana

Welcome/You’re welcome -Karibu (a little confusing at times since it serves as both)

Please -Tafadhali

Sorry – Polei (most commonly used in the phrase “POLEI CHA CHA”)

General information about Kenya. 

National Languages – Swahili and English

  • Nearly everyone speaks both languages – they learn Swahili at home and study 5 of six subjects in school in English
  • Most people communicate entirely in Swahili, but commonly use an english/swahili slang language called sheng

Population – 45,010,056 (total), 6.5 million in Nairobi metropolitan area

  • Within Nairobi 60% of the population lives in slums – on 6% of the land
  • 73% of the population is under 30
  • The life expectancy for men in the city is under 60 (Cha cha told us this)

Religion – 83% Christian and 11.2% Muslim

  • upon telling a friend we were not religious we received the response “Oh no. You should get religious.”

Climate – Kenya is close to the equator so it does not experience stark summers and winters. The temp ranges from 55-85 degrees F. It has been around 70 the last week.

Economy – Kenya’s services sector contributes 61% of GDP (much through tourism) yet 75% of the work force is employed in agriculture (an underdeveloped and inefficient sector which accounts for 24% of GDP). Their largest export is tea.

Development – Kenya has a fairly low HDI (Human Development Index – composite measurement of life expectancy, income per capita and education) is 0.591 of 1  – ranked 146 of 186 countries in the world.

Independence/Politics – The Kenyan Movement for independence began in 1944 with the formation of the Kenyan African Union led by Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta’s Kanu (Kenyan African National Union) party represented the Kikuyu ethnic group an economically marginalized group which demanded political rights and land reforms in reaction to white settler expansion. Beginning in 1952 a violent Kikuyu guerilla uprising left Kenya in a declared state of emergency, which endured eight years and led to the deaths of thousands of Africans.

In 1963 Kenya achieved its independence (from Britain) led by Kenyatta and the Kanu party, which remained in power for four decades. The Kanu reign was characterized by centralization, corruption and rent seeking, civilian disapproval and ethnic tensions that came to a violent peak surrounding the 2007 presidential elections in which nearly 1,500 people died.The Kenyan people have faced severe ethic preference from their leaders – meaning that Kikuyu areas have received disproportionate amounts of public goods over the years.  Up until this point Kenya had essentially existed as a single party state and was arguably not even a formal democracy until 2010 when its new constitution was ratified. This constitution intended to devolve power regionally and received a two-thirds approval vote from Kenyans. This new era of governance focused on the development of county governments and improved public service delivery, government accountability, and equitable allocation of land and resources has Kenya headed toward the shaping of a participatory democracy.

–Carly Paul

 

 

 

Gikomba Market-A Paradox

A feminist’s nightmare paired with the cheapest shopping we’ve ever seen…

Sierra, Carly and I (Ariel) decided to go to the market. We wanted to get a taste of local color and maybe pick up a few souvenirs or goodies while we were there. We took several matatus there with Shiko (a Kuza mentor) and Faith (Jonathan’s wife). They decided the best place to buy clothes was the Gikomba market—an especially cheap outlet where many of the shops and stands that line the streets all around Nairobi purchase their merchandise. Gikomba is the largest mitumba (second-hand) market and employs 65,000 people. The second-hand industry accounts for all the vigor of the market, but is often criticized as ruining Kenya’s garment industry. As we pulled to the Gikomba market, halfway between our home in Umoja and the Central Business District, we hopped out of the matatu and were instantly overwhelmed with sensory overflow. There were literally hundreds of stands in front of us, all selling very similar goods. There were shoes, all likely knock-off brands or second-hand, some of which were still wet from being washed by the storeowners in bins right alongside the shops. There were piles and piles of clothing, some of which still had Goodwill tags on them, though they were being sold for a tiny fraction of the price that the Goodwill tags dictated. Sierra was able to get a fancy floral dress for the American equivalent of only $1.00. It’s a great place for locals to buy affordable clothing, and their were many prominent brands. Shiko told us about some of the great deals she had gotten on Nike and other brands while there, and we could see her shopping expertise as she navigated through the stands. The shopping was extravagant, and the deals were unrivaled. However, we did not realize that we would barely even have the chance to look at the clothing.

We were harassed so incessantly, and it only worsened as we got deeper and deeper into the market. It started with people jokingly screaming “mzungu” (Swahili for white person/foreigner) at us as we walked through. Then it quickly worsened into a feminist’s nightmare. Men began calling out at us with things like:

“I want one! Give me one!”

…“Those are your bedroom dresses for my bedroom!”

…or disgustingly whisper in our ears “You are sexy”

…or even “I want to have you”

…and other things of the sorts.

I, being Asian, also got “Ching Chong” a few times.

What I found to be far worse than any of the verbal harassment, however, was the physical harassment. Men literally grabbed us and would hold onto us as we tried to walk forward. Getting rather annoyed, we began to shrug or push the men off, though some had stronger grips than others. Faith told us that she frequently faces this type of harassment in places like this, with men frequently slapping her butt. Faith walked behind us to try to protect us from behind, while Shiko walked in front of us.  The men were hardly kinder to Shiko. I’d say the biggest difference is that they yelled at her in Swahili instead.

We suddenly realized, however, that even though we felt entirely uncomfortable with the way the men treated us within the market, we ultimately have homes in the United States where women are treated as HUMANS and get the RESPECT that we deserve. That realization made us even more sympathetic towards Kenyan women, and also made us feel very fortunate for the progress the United States has made. Yes, there are still issues within America concerning income inequality, power balances, and sexism. However, our struggles as women in America are dwarfed in comparison to the daily plights of many of the women in Kenya.

–Ariel Silverman