Thursday, December 25, 2008

Selling Eggs to Buy Bread

I’ve wanted to share a bit about the Development field for awhile – but as it currently represents everything I’m studying, it’s hard to know where to start. I can say that in most ways, my perception and understanding of Development is changing everyday, as it is truly a discipline that carries a multitude of dimensions and perspectives. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s also an industry here – so on top of the theoretical and historical aspects I’m studying, there is the practicum I see around me. The sad reality is that what in my perspective is a discipline that should be rooted in sustainability and the external focus of aiding nations in need, is often turned into a for-profit machine that employs loads (many foreigners), while directly contributing to some of the challenges facing local people. I met my friend Attem the other night and he was telling me about the high cost of living in Southern Sudan. After quoting some prices, I asked who was supporting that level of living – who could afford to pay those prices and thus enable the market to keep them that high? “Well, there are a lot of NGO’s there,” he said. So, you’ve got a lot of NGO’s on the ground with a variety of goals that we can assume boil down to HELP SUDAN, and their mere presence is making it hard for local people to afford basic needs.

In one of my first classes here, we were introducing ourselves and a classmate said he worked for a NGO that was focused on poverty alleviation. My professor asked, “So you get a job out of it, what do the people you’re helping get?” I come back to this question over and over as I reflect on my reason for being here and my long-term goals. Development work, in so many ways, can never truly be altruistic – the “developer” needs the country in need to advance for a number of reasons. On an international scale, we all benefit if others advance and become producers of goods we want/need, and consumers of goods we have. There do become reasons why certain countries advancement and development become problematic – it is infinitely easier to exploit natural resources from a country with no infrastructure or stable government. It has also become obvious that whatever developed nations’ goals are for aiding the developing world, the theory and political ideology that guides the assistance offered can have horrendous consequences on the natural course of development that might be taking place.

In post-colonial Kenya, the country was doing quite well in the 60’s and early 70’s – at one point 95% of children were enrolled in school, industrialization was in place and the country had a solid export industry and access to international markets for coffee, tea and other products. Following the oil crisis in ’73, progress was stymied and Kenya got swept up with the rest of Sub Saharan Africa in low-interest borrowing when the commodity market fell apart. When the global economy started to recover and the interest rates started to rise, Kenya and other SSA countries shifted their focus from industrialization and programs focused on bringing equity to their populace, to straight debt management. The U.S. and Britain guided the World Bank and IMF in providing public loans to relieve the private sector of this debt burden, but they came with contingencies that ultimately reversed years of growth in Kenya by requiring the government to pull out of the market and social programs completely in favor of Neo Liberal, market-driven economics. Close to thirty years after these structural adjustment programs were implemented, Kenya is just starting to see the same levels of children enrolled in school, carries somewhere between a 50-60% unemployment rate and as we saw last January, has a long way to go in terms of democracy. What started as a developing sprint has turned into a marathon, with what was intended to be a paved road turned to a fragmented cobblestone street with gaping potholes along the way.

My housemate Megan has been in Kenya for eight years and has worked on a variety of poverty alleviation programs. I trust her work more than many of the ex-pats I come across who know very few Kenyans, live in posh compounds and guide their work based on studies rather than interactions or involvement in the community they’re attempting to aid. After working with street children when she first came, Megan has a network of people who come to her for help, and we never know who we might find washing dishes or cleaning floors in our home in exchange for a day’s wage or some food staples. For the last month a young man named Labon has been here once a week or so, and I always appreciate his big smile and hard work. His family lives in Kibera and Megan has acknowledged that his mother and brother are not trustworthy (his brother’s not allowed in the house), but if Labon comes and works she will send him home with food. When she told me this I acknowledged that Labon just seems to have a good heart – and certainly a good work ethic. Then last week I noticed that a favorite necklace of mine that I “borrowed” from my mom last year wasn’t hanging in the downstairs bathroom where it usually is. It’s the only necklace I’ve kept out of my room because I know Megan likes to borrow it. It’s on a gold chain and it’s a large leaf that’s covered in gold plate. When I asked the staff about it, it became clear at some point that Labon had taken it and given it to his brother to sell. While it’s startling to have something taken from inside your own home, it’s more startling when someone who you’d personally assessed to be a good guy takes it. The whole thing got me thinking – here’s a kid who is at our house working because his family cannot afford food – but the glitter of gold overrode the good relationship he has with us in favor of a quick fix and the need for cold hard cash.

This feels like the state of development as a whole – there are entire countries whose populace face food insecurity and lack of basic needs, but their leaders succumb to the draw of wealth and quick fixes offered by exploitative industries or less-than altruistic government assistance. Rather than looking at the security and needs of the nation as a whole, or taking the time to establish policies that ensure all people benefit as growth occurs, Developing nations tend to follow the paths of those of us already industrialized – resulting in a wide gap between the haves and have-nots, and a massive contrast between the luxury car of a big city exec and the blistered feet of a rural farmer. When you think about it, who can blame them? It’s humanity acting as humanity does – so I suppose I come back to, how do we change these trends while we still have the chance? Being in Kenya right now I can see that there are opportunities all around to make choices that will benefit all of Kenya – not just those with the education, resources or connections to advance. I hope I continue to learn, and in someway contribute, to this as a goal.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Hi, I'm Joe and I'll be your personal thief today."

The past couple of weeks have felt like a real whirlwind. I'm not yet at the end of my semester but we are knee deep in term papers. I'm finding that juggling a variety of topics, tracking down resources, making my other meetings and all in absence of reliable transport or internet can be thoroughly and bone-achingly exhausting. It's been a great time - some productive meetings and introductions, the start of feeling like I'm regaining my academic sea legs and the awe of the stories and opportunity for self-assessment I come across every day. My next post will be some long-overdue thoughts on Development (since prior to coming the biggest question I got was, "what are Development studies anyway?"), but for now I think I'll just share how easy it is for your day to get completely re-worked here before it's even begun, and how with every set back there is somehow an opportunity for humor. In other words, you have to laugh or you'd cry...

My housemate Angeline and I were heading to town yesterday for a Rotary event and various school errands. We hopped on a crowded bus - the first time since I've arrived that the conductor allowed entrance when there weren't enough seats. We both stood for a few moments and then Ang was ushered to the very back and crammed in to the far corner seat in the last row. I was starting to realize that we were on a completley different route than usual, but was more interested in the darling baby making eyes at me while I clung to the overhead railing. The bus paused, a guy squeezed past me and I headed back to take the now empty seat next to Ang. I caught her eye and recognized complete fear as she gasped, "My wallet!" Appropriate chaos ensued as I attempted to get the bus to stop immediately, further aware of how I had no idea where we actually were or where we had stopped to let the guy off, let alone what he looked like. I threw 50 shillings at the conductor and hopped off - followed by Ang and a concerned lady who exclaimed "I knew he was stealing!" Apparently she didn't want to risk being wrong and rudely accusing him.

Wonder of wonders we alighted across from the CID (Kenya pseudo-special police forces) office, and with our good samaritan Mary in tow, quickly gathered a crowd of plain clothes policemen around us. We found ourselves jumping into a taxi and wandering up the street in pursuit of the thief. The fact that I had not seen him, had only just figured out where we were and Ang was in total shock, did not help our meandering around in the hopes of seeing him. We returned to the station and it was recommended we go to the Kilimani police station to file a report. News to us as we thought we were at a police station. Further news to us when we discovered that the group around us was only half policemen, and the others bumming cigarettes from a distraught Angeline were just local business men (I imagine on official "business" meeeting the local police). After exchanging pleasantries and business cards (never a lack of opportunity for networking here) we were escorted by a recommended cab driver, Lanson, to the police station. Ang did her best to share the information of what was stolen, and filled out a police abstract (at a charge of 50 shillings - all sorts of requests were made that failed to reflect the loss of all funds and phone had she been alone) and then we headed off to track down the Irish Consulate and report her passport stolen.

I should note that immediately after the pick pocketing I sent a text to Ang's phone imploring the thief to return the documents - he could keep the money (about $100 U.S. she was carrying for books) and the phone - but could we get her passport and cards back? Well...upon arriving at the Police station I received a text asking me how well I knew town. I responded with some suggested locations, and indicated we could pick docs up anywhere at anytime.

Fastforward through close to an hour sitting in the blistering sun and traffic on Mombasa road (where for all extents and purposes it looks like people basically just wait there turn to run into each other - we passed three accidents at a snails pace) and the journey to the Irish Consulate. Apparently the Kenyan Embassy in Ireland has a prime piece of real estate - the Irish Consulate in Kenya is far flung from town and shares office space with a local tile company. It is also only open from 8:30 to 12:30, and we arrived at close to 3. After threatening to storm through the metal gate to attain her rights as an Irish citizen, the guard finally agreed to let us in (he'd previously suggested we call the staff sitting roughly 20 feet away inside. Again, Ang's cell phone and all resources having just been stolen seeming to escape the situation - and my credit was dwindling to nothing following frantic texts to Ireland to cancel cards).

We managed to meet with the local, non-Irish consulate staff, who was thoroughly unhelpful in her attempts to help Ang (we did learn a new passport would cost her close to a hundred euros), and then headed back home where we both passed out, entirely defeated by the day. I awoke about 30 minutes later to a text from the thief, indicating he would drop the documents in a waste bin at a cinema in town. I quickly called Lanson who'd indicated he'd be happy to help, and he headed to the cinema. The thief then began texting me the exact location of the docs, along with requests for a formal "thank you" over text for his returning of the documents. Over the next hour I text, talk and respond to the thief, and then put Lanson in touch with him when he finds the documents have been removed by someone who saw the thief drop them. It takes a 1000 shillings to get them back, and I am getting nararation from the thief, who is clearly watching, by text message the entire time.

Lanson comes to our house with the passport, credit cards and online banking info, and in the meantime the thief sends me a text asking if we need any important phone numbers from the phone. Seriously - this is full service robbery! Ang and I practically die laughing at the absurdity of it all, then send him some names and he sends the numbers back promptly. I then receive the following, "Ur taxi man is greedy. He didnt part with 1000 i was there but he didnt saw me he just took the doc. Otherwise we are not same its only that i got some feelin 4 u but i stole from u that mean i could not face you n say something good 2 u. Gudnite." (We decided to trust Lanson over the guy who pickpocketed Ang). I also received another request for a thank you text.

A few minutes later, I receive the following from him, "R u manchester united fan if u r ROY KEANE is our man."

Still later, "Is their any pickpockets at your country i can make alot of money i'm sure of that."

Then, "You want a black guy maybe we can have another obama."


Finally, "Do u take kenya beer kesho (tomorrow) I buy u one n if yes say where."

So there you have it, we managed to get Ang's documents returned, I befriended a thief and if I want I could have a date with him tonight. If we didn't stick out here so much I'd bring a policeman along with me, but I think I'll just leave the situation as it is - our luck at getting the docs back is fairly incredible and I just have to believe that the whole thing could only happen here.*

*FYI, I KID YOU NOT I just received the following text from him: "Hey baby gal i have missed u can we meet somewhere in town or what you say" He is also asking me what kind of jobs I came to create as I had sent a message yesterday (after he'd told us we should watch after our stuff better - imagine!) saying I was here to create jobs so people didn't have to steal to support themselves. Good grief.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Week in numbers and photo links :)

6: Mosquitos I counted INSIDE my mosquito net this morning
80: Gifts delivered to Red Rose elementary kids on Friday
1.23 million (ok I don't know but a lot): Bacteria residing in my stomach following traditional goat boil last Wednesday
3: Papers I need to finish by Friday in order to go camping in Naivasha this weekend!!! (following unproductive weekend due to above-mentioned bacterial condition...)

So ya, apparently two months is a pretty standard time in which some local bug gets you. My friend Sufia says she thinks it's the adrenaline you have when you first arrive that helps boost your immune system, because everyone she knows has succumbed to something or other right around the two month mark. My guardian angels intervened and let me get through the week (there were minor indicators starting Wednesday night) so I could attend a really neat meeting in Buru Buru with a local fair trade group who has registered on World of Good already (I presented the marketplace at a meeting about three weeks ago) and needed some guidance getting their inventory and shipping issues worked out. I also got to attend and play Santa Claus at the Red Rose Elementary Christmas party on Friday - which in true Red Rose fashion was a seriously wonderful and fun experience. I was joined by one of the few international students I've met at U of Nairobi, Lars (he's an undergrad taking six courses of some sort from Germany) and some Kenyan Rotoract friends Rosemary and Evans, who also helped me wrap the goodie bags we brought for the kids. I still haven't sorted out internet so I'll direct you to the Red Rose site to see the albums and I'm sure many unflattering pictures - but hopefully you can tell what a treat it was that my food poisoning held off until approximately two hours after the party concluded. See the blog post and links to the photo albums here. Talk about the Christmas spirit - these kids just might carry me through my first Christmas away from home.

After the party I came and laid down for a nap, thinking four hours of dancing with 3-9 year olds had taken its toll. I woke up achey from head to toe, and with a fever that would grow through the night. The stomach problems didn't really start until the next day, but suffice it to say I didn't really leave my bed (let alone the house) until this morning when I went to the doctor for a rehydrating IV drip. Wow - talk about feeling better - I wish I could keep one of those in my closet! So I've survived my first Kenyan food poisoning and while the heat in this cyber cafe is threatening to undo all the good of this morning's drip I should be back in class tomorrow or Wednesday. The truly tragic thing about this all is that I appear to have lost any desire for goat meat, which I really, really liked.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Contact Details

So I can't figure out how to post this permanently on my blog - but for those who have asked and lovingly suggested they will send letters/small packages upon receipt of this information, here's my PO Box:

Megan MacDonald c/o Margaret White
PO Box 73405-00200
Nairobi, Kenya

My phone number is: +254(0)734 715 780 - if you're in Nairobi start with the zero, if you're in the states, leave the zero out.

Unfortunately, nothing of "value" should be sent by mail as it can be assessed a random tax amount based on the perceived value according to the customs agent that opens it (ya, it gets opened). My roommate once had to pay tax on a bar of soap. But a friend who studied here last year said small packages (the size of a VHS or smaller) don't tend to cause much upset - and things like burned CDs/DVDs, small food stuff/goodies etc. shouldn't be a problem. Or, anything that looks previously owned/used tends to get by. Fortunately for me - there's nothing more valuable than a hand-written note from home!

I'll post this on the blog permanently when I figure out how - but in the meantime, there ya go!

Also - since this post is in response to the general awesomeness of friends and family requesting it, I need to acknowledge how wonderful my friends have been in supporting my mom post-surgery since I can't be there. From sending cards and emails to visiting in person - it means the world to me and I am SO lucky to have you guys.



Saturday, November 29, 2008


Par for the course in a constant stream of amazement, today was more or less like any other day in my life here. In some ways, it was totally exhausting – I was going to the UN Environmental Program library (UNEP) to try and find materials for my upcoming term papers, and needed to take two matatus to get there. For those who are still unclear about the matatu system, this blog has included Lonely Planet's "Guide to surviving a matatu." I was thinking the other day of how to convey just how rattling it is relying on a public transport system that’s based on independent contractors whose take-home pay depends on how many passengers and routes they can get in during the course of the day (rather than a scheduled time table). Every time you go to catch a bus or matatu, it is at a frantic pace in which any baggy clothing or hanging bags/jewelry can be a downright threat to your safety (or it’s own existence if God forbid you drop something) as you scramble into extremely cramped seats. My book bag has likely done more damage to others than it’s experienced itself as I make my way down narrow rows that barely accommodate my curves, let alone whatever books I am carting around on a given day.

After two sets of directions and a walk across the part of town where I am the only muzungu* I see (and where in my second week I had a guy punch me in the neck trying to grab the gold cross I’d stupidly worn for my first day of school), I found my second matatu. I should note that matatu conductors are notorious for tricking passengers as matatus won’t leave a stage until they are full, but they are highly skilled at getting people into an empty one with promises of “leaving right now right now right now boss/madam. Rrrrrrright now.” Today, however, both of the collectors I had went out of their way to get me to where I needed to be as I’d never been to either place before. One actually got me out of the matatu while we were stopped in a traffic jam and tried to get me into another that would take me to the next stage, but it didn’t work out so we hopped back into the first one as everyone started to move. I finally arrived at the UNEP stage and after passing through security found myself in one of the most pristine complexes I’ve been in since arriving. I guess if you’re interested in international anything, the UN just has an aura of magic around it, and I was a bit giddy as I wandered the complex, passing foreign dignitaries in their national dress (the Nigerians are just stunning) and an incredible diversity of staff. I spent a couple of hours at the library, very excited about the… BOOKS!...and an online database that directed me to…BOOKS!...that were actually on the shelves…in order! And then, as if the heavens wanted to smile on me, a photocopier that I get to use for FREE. Seriously – this is a grad student in a developing country’s dream. Oh, and fast internet, that I wasn’t supposed to use for email, but that let me get some pictures sent home before I found out the rules.

After checking out some books under a friend’s name (she is running the UN Billion Tree campaign – check it out!) we headed for lunch in a lovely dining area with four different vendors that felt like I was back at eBay or in the midst of any major American corporate campus. Part of why today was so fun was because I heard from a number of random friends I’ve met in town, on the bus or out and about and I ended up having two lunches (second lunch being second only to second breakfast). I was invited for Nyama Choma by a guy I’ve bought kangas from, for Ethiopian by a native son that I met on the bus last week, for coffee by the Sudanese friend I mentioned in a previous post, for lunch by my friend Esteban who I met my first week here when I realized he spoke Spanish (he’s an attaché for the Mexican embassy - when you're surrounded by a language you don't speak it's very gratifying finding someone who speaks the second language you keep attempting to communicate with) and finally, for pizza (it’s 2x1 Friday!) by Sanjay, my trustee mobile phone dealer. I decided to visit Sanjay as he was closest to my bus home and after enjoying some veggie pizza (ham and pineapple) I finally had the chance to visit his house and meet his 28 day daughter and his first born daughter who is about 15 months. This entailed yet another walk across town, this time in a different direction that gave me my first view of one of the dumps right outside of city center. It’s amazing how a few blocks in any direction can place you in a completely new arena. When we got to Sanjay’s apartment the courtyard was filled with Indian women in saris, seated on the ground sifting what looked like corn. I was amazed to have touched down in the midst of such a different community than I’ve been exposed to here.

After, I trekked back through the city, passing two traditionally dressed samburu (I think!) men, their colorful red fabric, beads and leather gladiator-like sandals snapping me out of grays and browns of the dirt, dust and exhaust that I tend to notice only when I’m tired and walking on sore feet. I had to walk a long way to a bus stop as it was too late to catch my bus where I normally do (all full) but I enjoyed the walk accompanied by the sounds of the new ipod shuffle my parents sent me (thanks guys!) as an early Christmas present. My days here rarely turn out as I plan (I was supposed to spend all afternoon at a coffee shop doing reading) but I find great joy in letting go of expectations, even if it’s challenging to juggle all the opportunities that present themselves socially, educationally, Rotary-related and work wise with matatu commutes and navigating down town by foot. But of course, it's half the fun!

*Muzungu means ‘white person,’ though not in a derogatory way. You’d be surprised at how friendly it sounds when someone exclaims “muzungu!” when you walk by and catch them by surprise ☺

Monday, November 24, 2008


I've been waiting to blog until my internet at home was up, which was supposed to happen a week ago today. As of today, still no word on whether the problem that delayed it has been fixed. When you depend on internet for all your communications (phone calls are quite expensive here - so not only am I trying to keep in good touch with home, but all the various projects I'm working on are heavily conducted via emails and outreach), it's very challenging not having easy access to it. Anyway - all complaints aside, let me offer a few updates as things have been very busy and exciting. School is definitely picking up, but I'm also making some great progress on craft-group outreach and linkages with the U.S. (transport challenges second only to lack of internet!) and have started my Rotary presentations which have been great experiences as well. In a nutshell:
  • Two weeks ago I attended my roommate's (Megan White) official launch for the non-profit she's started called Zanna. Zanna means "tools" in Kiswahili and the organization is focused on coordinating the effort to provide sanitary pads to school girls throughout Kenya. Would you believe that 3.5 million school days are missed PER MONTH because girls cannot afford pads? The mildest result is staying home from school, the more extreme is literal prostitution in order to pay for something that I know most of us take for complete granted. Zanna is working with the Ministry of Education to coordinate outreach efforts and a comprehensive program to ensure girls can stay in school - translating to higher graduation rates, lower pregnancy rates and all around brighter futures. Zanna is also working on designing and manufacturing eco-friendly and locally produced pads - responding to the need for both feminine products and jobs.
  • I was introduced to Hannington Odame, Executive Director of CABE, which is a newish non-profit focused on technology advancements in agriculture in the hopes of creating jobs for youth who are looking to use their education and desire to innovate in one of Kenya's most important industries. Hannington and I have met a few times in the past couple of weeks and I am now officially a Research Associate in charge of Global Partnerships, helping the organization to find partners and funding to build on their expertise and program ideas. I'll share more about this soon as I have a feeling that some of you will have ideas or suggestions for this organization.
  • I'm trying to keep my ears and mind open as I go about day to day life, and this often results in meeting fascinating people. I recently took a short bus ride with a young man from Sudan, who later shared his life story with me over email, offering insight into Sudanese history (this too I'll have to elaborate on in the future). I am fascinated with Sudan right now as they have many untapped natural resources that they are aggressively looking for foreign investment in. How this investment is sought and acquired is likely to determine whether Sudan follows the brutal process that so many other resource-rich African countries have (especially evident in Congo right now). I feel like I am watching history.
  • I spoke to my first Rotary club (I've attended a number of meetings but this was my first speech) two Thursdays ago. I wasn't sure if my story about cultural sensitivity would go over well (it was about a time when I was 13 staying with a family in Taiwan and the father passed gas excessively throughout the duration of our first dinner there, and we had to try not to laugh) but it was a big hit. Of course the following week when I attended the meeting as a guest, I was asked by nearly everyone if I've managed to shake the habits I picked up in Taiwan.
  • I was supposed to visit a women's group in Nanyuki this past weekend to work on exploring product creation for Rising International, but my ride fell through. I'm going to attempt to get there this week on public transport - more news about that in future updates.
I'd like to thank everyone who continues to write and encourage me. This week was tough as my mom had her (successful!) back surgery and all I could do was sit and pray and wait for the phone to ring. I am sorry for those who are awaiting emails from me - I am working on juggling it all and it is so important for me to share my life here and hear about all that's going on at home. I write notes all the time about blog posts and then weeks go by and I realize I haven't shared half of what I'd like to.

I'll sign off with this story as it made me giggle and realize how all things are relative. In class recently we were talking about Newton's discovery of gravity, and the story that is told to explain it. One of my classmate's related it as such, "He was sitting under a tree, and a mango fell on his head."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keeping my ears open

To make up for a day spent in a high-up classroom trudging through a cross-discipline mash-up of theorists and confronting just how little I know, the end of my day rewards me with the rich sounds of downtown Nairobi. On my walk to the bus stop I pass a woman in slightly muted but still colorful kangas, shaking a maraca-like rhythm instrument and singing songs I wish I understood from her now familiar spot. Today she hits a cadence higher than normal and so beautiful it makes me stop for a moment, wishing my bulky bag was easier to maneuver so I might offer her some change.

A block further I hear one of the local mosque's familiar call to afternoon prayer, then a bit of conversation about the sister of the woman to my left. Crossing the street I am surprised to see the crossing light is actually green – a few days ago I caught myself subconsciously walking to the crosswalk before I corrected myself with a reminder that there’s really no need for such formality – in Kenya you just cross (sometimes in a sprint) wherever the traffic offers a bit of respite (or you can at least make eye contact with the drivers coming your way).

I walk alongside the barrier in front of the post office that separates the passengers from the buses we are attempting to load. I listen for the call of the #46, which in full is “Hurlingham, Ya Ya Center, Kangweri,” but sounds like “Hurlingyakangweri, kangweri kangweri!” It’s really only perceptible in auditory hindsight. Before we leave another driver approaches our driver to ask him to move forward, calling out a friendly, “Hey, boss” to get his attention.

We wait for the bus to fill then the engine revs and we lurch forward, passing through the puddle-filled roundabout as the ticket lady starts to collect our change. She issues our tickets with a quick crank of the ancient metal machine she wears over one shoulder. As we climb Valley Road we take the sounds of downtown Nairobi's car horns with us in the direction of the setting sun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Obama Day! (literally)

I got to my election day gathering at 5:00 this morning, thankful to have been spared the angst of waiting for the first returns to come in. Within two hours, Obama was being declared the winner, and we were watching John McCain give an admirable concession speech. Like many, I find it hard to express the joy of this day, the revitalization of hope, the amazement that all of America's struggles in the last century have brought us to a place where this is the man that we would choose to lead us.

To be an American in Kenya right now is to see our country as the world sees us. For so many years when I've traveled I've been forced to acknowledge the fading admiration of the U.S. by those beyond its borders. Today, I walked the streets of a foreign nation with my head held high as an American. In recent years I have had to carry my pride in our country and the dreams it has fostered much more closely to me - sharing what I can of our strengths while often taking responsibility for the increasing abuse of power and valuation of profit over all else that has tarnished our image as a land of equality, innovation and potential for all.

This election is, of course, especially poignant for Kenyans who see Obama as their native son, "our brother." President Kibaki has declared a national holiday tomorrow in celebration and mock voting was conducted in his ancestral village. If you look closely and put nationality aside though, it is the unity that Obama as a candidate stands for that is reflected in the Kenyan response to the elections. In the midst of general revelry during our first class this morning my classmate Gladys said, "we are all Kenyans." This statement may sound simple, but following the deeply traumatic post election violence in this country and the almost forgotten tribal tensions it unveiled, this statement carries so much hope. Kenyans support Obama because he is a Kenyan - not a Luo, a Kenyan. In America I hope we take this to heart - we are all Americans, we are in the midst of our own crisis and this must be a time of unity to address it.

I have been cautioning my classmates and other Kenyans that they cannot expect too much from the U.S. in the near future simply because Obama is now at the helm - we simply have our hands full with our own present crisis'. Further, I've reminded them that the Bush administration has greatly increased aid to Africa - which the new administration may need to cut in order to get the budget in order. I was touched by a classmate's comment to this as she admonished us all to "Never celebrate aid. These are our problems, not donor's problems." As we discussed things further (there was a brief debate with one student suggesting it wasn't right to put Kenya's economy on hold to celebrate an American victory) it was wonderful to realize that the joy we all feel is not because of false promises of an easy road ahead, but because there is so much hope in this leader and the reflection of our history and future potential that he represents. As another classmate said enthusiastically, "This is the first black American president...of Kenyan origin!"

One of my professors also shared how one of the things that stands out to him about Obama are the pictures and stories shared by his Kenyan family of how, during visits, he would rise early every day to help them bring their vegetables to market. For Kenyans, to see someone become president of the United States that has taken that early walk in an effort to support their family, is a great source of pride. For many Americans who have worked their butts off to put themselves through school, to gain success or who have committed their lives to making the country a better place - there is the same pride in seeing the American dream embodied in an Obama presidency.

As I said, there aren't words to convey the joy or hope of this day. I know there are those whose feelings are different than mine, who feel John McCain is a more qualified leader and will better protect Americans interests. With this in mind I pray that our newly elected leader will fulfill his commitments to unify our country in the hope that one day we will all look back and see this day as a turning point in the history of our great nation and the world as a whole. I will reflect further as I start to share some of my studies and how I am confident that a change in policies will ultimately improve the most fundamental of problems throughout the world - most significantly, poverty.

For anyone who has ever marched 'We will overcome,' or rallied to 'Si se puede!' it is a day to rejoice and know that the world celebrates with us. For me, this is the essence of this day:

"To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."

Amen, furaha!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Day by Day

This week brought all sorts of news that makes it incredibly difficult to be so far from home. I found out my mom will be having major back surgery next month (we'd hoped it would hold off until I was home next summer) and I can' t stand the thought of not being able to help her and the rest of my family through it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed I'll have skype set up by then so at the very least we can have some good video chats as she prepares!

In better news, I found out last night that my cousin Emily gave birth to a healthy baby girl - and was ecstatic to find that I could dial her direct to congratulate her and Eric briefly before my airtime ran out. It's not the same as being there but it's nice to realize that your loved ones are really just a phone call away.

This week has been very energetic - in large part because the enthusiasm for next week's election is really picking up. As soon as someone finds out you're an American they ask if you've voted, then for who, then tell you their hopes for the election and how proud they are to have Obama in the lead. On the news last night it showed that Obama enjoys a 97% approval rating in Kenya - how jealous are all the politicos in America!? Last night my roommate Angeline and I went across the street to check out our "local" as she calls it and grab a Tusker (beer). We ended up talking to a guy named Oketch who had studied at the Art Institute in Chicago in the 90's and had met with Obama due to his Kenyan heritage (one of Obama's staff came across him and arranged the meeting). He said it was strange to meet someone under the guise of shared heritage, and then to be slotted into the brisk 30-minute meeting standard (and by some accounts generous) for politicians. I joked that in Kenya it would probably take about 30 minutes just to catch up on the well being of the extended family before you really started a visit.

Like so many conversations I have here, I found myself drinking up the cultural and historical insight that Oketch and his friend had to offer (check out his website linked above - you can tell what a fascinating guy he'd be to chat with). From discussing the results of decades of dictatorship under Moi (or M1 according to local slang), to existing economic problems and issues with corruption, it's great to talk to people from different backgrounds and find how they're impacted by the reality of Kenya today. I had some nice chats with classmates this week as well - we're starting to bond a bit more as a group and they enjoy asking me all sorts of questions about my life, what the heck I'm doing in Kenya, what's different here etc. I in turn enjoy hearing how this relatively new city-generation is adapting to the rapid changes underfoot in Kenya. Everyone here has a village their family traces back too - some are still very close to these roots, some only visit once every few years and lament how their "country" relatives seem to only be interested in getting money from them. Here in Nairobi, the majority of my classmates are not considered wealthy by any stretch (some are actually still trying to sort out paying their fees), but to their relatives in rural areas, they have countless resources. I look forward to sharing more about my classmates as I get to know them. Until then... bon weekend!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pictures and World of Good

Hi there - I chose to blog over at World of Good today - you can see my post by clicking here. I've also finally uploaded some Africa pics and you can see them and my favorite shots from my two weeks in Europe by visiting my smugmug site here. I feel seriously high-tech!

Quick update - the penpal project is growing! I received an email from my friend Tania who I went to Chapman with while she was an exchange student in 1998-99 yesterday. She's just started teaching 7 and 8 year olds in the UK and the majority of her students are of Afro-Caribbean descent. She thought having the opportunity to interact with children in Africa would be great for enhancing their understanding of their heritage, and Red Rose is excited to have found their first European partner. So the ripple is in full effect!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Joy! (and first pics!)

I'm terribly behind in sharing this experience as each day brings some new mini-adventure or general understanding of what my day to day life in Nairobi will be like. Classes started last week, I finally have a schedule (classes M-W and serious library time on Th/F) and I'm settled into my new house. We had a big international celebration yesterday at Uni and I got to meet a number of students from throughout Africa and the handful that have come from beyond to do various degrees at our 40,000+ in population institution. I met guys from Liberia and Southern Sudan who are on scholarships from their governments to encourage them to return and invest their education in the development of their countries (they know if they send them to the U.S. they rarely come back). The university choir performed which was fantastic - I talked to the director about joining and I'm hopeful I can learn the songs and all the various movements that tend to accompany them.

The best part of my day was my morning visit to Kibera. Via an American acquaintance who worked at a high school there last year, I was ultimately put in touch with Red Rose Elementary as a partner school for the kids at Red Hill and their pen-pal project. I do not think I could have found a better school to partner with! First off - I think it's great that Red Hill and Red Rose will partner - what a coincidence in names, right? Second - I can't convey the joy I found in this school. They are clearly doing a great job at providing an education to 80 or so kids from the inner depths of Kibera, Nairobi's biggest slum. But perhaps just as important, they've created a safe, fun and encouraging place for these kids to spend their days. Each child I encountered was just bursting with enthusiasm and energy - it was great to see. I had never been to Kibera before, and as the school is on the outskirts, I don't think I've had the true Kibera experience yet - so that will wait until another post. But my morning with the kids was the most fun I've had in some time. On Fridays they have an extended play time just outside the small little compound their classes are in. We all got in a circle and sang, clapped and danced to various songs, nursery rhymes and games for at least an hour. The school works with kids from the age of two or three through 4th grade - and they are so excited about pen-palling with Lauren and Audrey's classes. Additionally, the teachers look forward to communicating with the teachers at Red Hill, learning about their curriculum and sharing their own. You can see pictures from my visit here, and I will be sharing with the girl's classes what they can start collecting to support Red Rose students. I believe there is sponsorship information on their blog as well - so make sure to visit!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


A bumpy road leads west out of Nairobi. Past rising structures of development and crumbling houses that bear the mark of having once been far enough from the center of town to warrant existing. After a couple of hours we reached Machakos and drove briefly around town before emerging to find the steep road that led to our destination. Down the abrupt and rippled dirt driveway the local children greeted us as we pulled up to Sadat’s house. What a difference a year makes – I’m no longer in the position of being a volunteer inside this house that serves 60 local orphans. I’m here to live amidst a community of my peers, and this day is just that – total immersion into the roots of young men who were raised in the city but can slaughter a goat without getting a speck of blood on their perfectly pressed jeans (a few hours after we arrived they did just that, and I watched the process of taking an animal from the comfort of its well-fed enclosure to the humane insertion of a kitchen knife into its jugular).

Afterwards I took a walk to the edge of the property to see where the children who are cared for at this home stay. As the sun sank lower over the surrounding hills, I breathed in the freshly toiled soil, the pit latrine, the chipati frying in the kitchen. A handful of children in over sized dresses watched me as they held their smaller siblings on a large hill just outside of the compound. Only one of the kids would muster a smile and venture forward to take my hand (which I gave as a lame offering in exchange for the pictures I rushed to take). I wondered how you could choose to take a picture of a crying and runny-nosed toddler left sitting by himself in the middle of a vast hill, rather than scoop him up and comfort him. In lame paralysis I did neither, as these children were local - they were not at this home for lack of parents, and thus even our basic interaction seemed somehow intrusive (not to mention my pictures). The smiling sister who had run away returned to collect the toddler as if he were a casual afterthought. She was the tallest of the lot – the girl with the baby on her back next to her couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. I couldn’t get a smile from the rest, and fear my pictures do not capture the essence of the moment. Even after all I’ve seen it is perhaps the most striking vision I’ve ever had. Something about the size of these kids - the babies on their backs looked almost big in comparison to the size of the siblings looking after them.

This is a different kind of trip for me. I am not watching after these children, not here for a short time to temporarily relieve the burden of those who have undertaken their care full time. I’m here to learn, to connect the dots between the world I come from, the various worlds I’ve been a part of and the theories and practices that find a peaceful and equal line between them all. I went to the church service on Sunday but was not compelled to sit through the four hours as I did last year. I drank in instead the wrinkles on the old woman’s hands and face next to me after giving her a warm greeting. I saw my own dirty fingernails next to the equally dirty nails of the woman seated to my left. I saw the puffy shoulders of the children in the front row in their best dresses, and the nursing mother behind me. I did not ask anything of this experience in all its richness other than to be present and let it inform all that lays ahead as part of my growing understanding of the reality of life here.

I left the service and walked back up the hill, returning to our wanton group of merrymakers who came to this place to celebrate birthdays and graduations. The guard dog growled from its enclosure as I approached, the scent of eucalyptus overwhelmed the music in the background, “When Jesus says yes, no one can say no!” Hours later we sat in a circle and picked at pieces of freshly roasted goat. I’d relinquished my role as a strictly curious outsider, but had not yet embraced this intimate invitation into community to venture a vaguely furry goat hoof.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Settling in

First off - apologies to Audrey, one of the Ripple Kids who has initiated the pen pal project (I mistakenly called her Ashley in my last post!). I'm at the end of a long and fruitful email session - it's so rare to find a computer that has any sort of speed, so when you do, you really relish it. The last few days have been quite full - I had my orientation, visited two Rotary clubs, went to two karaoke nights (what!?) and met my first international student who is even crazier than me. Her name is Angeline and she has come from Ireland to do a 5-year BA/MA in Veterinary studies with a focus on primates. I have warned her of how aggressive chimps can be, but I suppose she knows more about this than I do as she already has a BA/MA in Zoology.

Orientation was great - pretty basic (we'll get more info next week) but a nice opportunity to meet some of the professors and my classmates. I've met 7 of the 15 so far, and we have a pretty diverse range of backgrounds. Some are recent grads, others have been working in NGO's, the education field or have business backgrounds. We took a tour of the IDS library - I may never find it again as you have to go up three flights of stairs, around a couple of corners and then down two more flights to get there. God help me if there's ever a fire.

I have been most excited by the start of my Rotary visits. I have not given any talks yet so I can enjoy visiting and meeting people without the stress of knowing I will be speaking. Rotary in Kenya and throughout District 9200 is very prestigious, I am excited about the various business and community leaders I will have the opportunity to meet, learn from and network with. It is really an honor to represent such a great organization - every meeting I go to I hear about service projects (there has been a big focus here on assisting the IDP population (internally displaced persons)after the unrest earlier this year, as well as on helping with various improvements in rural areas related to water, healthcare and nutrition. One thing I really enjoyed at last nights meeting as I sat alongside a number of prominent business people in an especially formal meeting (we had two AG's there) was the manner in which the club president chose to recognize various members of the club. After acknowledging their contributions he said that in addition to the certificates they'll get for being club members of the month, the four of them will also receive a goat. They just need to let him know when they'd like to enjoy it and he'll make the arrangements. I love this place.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Brighter and Brighter

Yesterday I let myself have some down time, but I resolved it wouldn't last past last night. So, this morning, I got up, took a nice swim in the Y's pool and set out to focus the energy of my day on some of the projects I've been asked to help out with while I'm here. The first is a penpal project that Red Hill Elementary and Ripple Kid's (see link on sidebar) Lauren and Ashley approached me about when their family heard about my plans to come to Kenya. They sent me with letters and worksheets from their classes (hi kids!) and I am working on finding a couple of classes here that will receive the letters and respond. The kids and their teachers, Mrs. Pacelli and Mrs. Pierce, are also interested in doing a drive of some sorts when I find out what the school kids here might use. I have a school in the Kibera slum that a friend worked with last year that I hope will participate, and I will be calling their principal tomorrow to inquire.

I am also working with Rotarians here to identify a partner club and some resources for a new school being supported in part by the Newport Rotary and the African Children's Fund (also at sidebar). One of the great things about Rotary is that everyone knows someone! In fact, I went to my first meeting today, Nairobi South, and was hosted by the YMCA National Secretary, Eric, and introduced to another Megan. She is an American who has been here for eight years, and just *happens* to have rooms available in her beautiful house. So though my energies were focused elsewhere today, I think I managed to find a great living situation, and make my first Rotary contacts.

Many thanks for everyone's comments and emails - it's a joy to share this with you - even if sometimes it's just the day to day stuff I have to write about. Tomorrow is orientation - can't wait to meet my classmates!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Winding Roads

As I finished the first iteration of this blog post yesterday and the power suddenly went out, I remembered I should never be composing in blogger (and, the $38 I was debating for a surge protector might be a good idea after all). The past few days have been full of house hunting, and while I was proud that for the first few days I kept my cool about how challenging it has been, today has been the first down day I've had. I always know in the back of my head when everything is going well that at some point, there will have to be some feelings or experiences to counter the euphoria of what feels like perfection. Still, it never makes it any easier when they hit. I found out today that I did not get a really wonderful cottage I'd found that had been recommended by a contact from Monterey. The delightful British woman who bought the property in 1958 and has been feeling under the weather lately, "you know, a heart attack or some nonsense like that," as she said, had promised it to a guy who hadn't yet deposited. She wanted to follow through on her word and give him another chance, and sure enough - he showed up today to sign the papers. My other leads have fizzled - some due to a loose interpretation of what "unfurnished" means (I can handle getting furniture, but buying my own stove top might be pushing things a bit). Another strong lead - right price bracket, right area, turned out to be scam - you know things aren't good when they ask for 3500 shillings before you've even met in person. There are so many factors to take into account - the prices are quite a bit higher than I expected (I'll likely pay close to what I paid for my room in Berkeley this last year, and could easily pay more than I did living two blocks from the beach in Corona del Mar). More importantly though is safety - both Kenyans and ex-pats alike will indicate just what a property must have to give you a slightly better chance of avoiding robbery - you can take your pick from a 24 guard (mandatory), electric fence (suggested), guard dogs (favorable) etc. I also have to balance out transport as I naively thought I could get by without a car here (oh the irony of having a car that won't sell in the states, and knowing thateven if it did, it wouldn't even buy you a car that runs here!). I haven't yet mustered up the courage to take on the matatus, the exceptionally over-packed Nissan minibuses emblazoned with names like "White Gazelle" and "Teenz Club." They slow just enough to let people hop in to what little space there is before flooring the pedal and weaving through traffic (did I mention I've been prohibited by everyone to whom I've mentioned the possibility of riding a bike here?). I'm still getting the lay of the land and fear getting on the wrong matatu and ending up somewhere I'm not familiar with. I'm also still a bit shaken by the hi-jacking that happened when I was in Kenya last year that resulted in a driver and fair collector being beheaded. Sure, it's not likely - but I'm only human - stories like that stay with you!

On a much less stressful note (for my own and any readers benefit!) I continue to have moments each day where I just can't believe I'm here, or having the conversations or experiences I am. I have a major goal to make progress while I'm here in getting a test area in Africa paypal accessible. On Friday I met someone at a party who is actually interested in the same thing. We have slightly different motivations, but it's always great to be able to churn ideas over with others. I also met another young Kenyan at the same party who was very excited about my studies at IDS (Institute for Development Studies). Many people have told me how much the research and policy recommendations IDS makes are used by the government and various NGO's in Kenya, but his excitement lay in the students he said I'll share the program with. He said the type of thinker the program attracts is very creative and fascinated with innovative approaches to Development and Kenya's evolution as a whole (which everyone I come across seems actively invested in). Young people in general here are very politically astute, informed and motivated to see their country progress and embrace its role as a leader in Africa. It's an exciting time to be here - the business sector is up for the taking and that means there is tons of room for being proactive in the development sector - and hopefully extending the benefits of profit to people throughout the country.

For those of you who pray, please throw a few in for me and my house search and banking issues (won't go into details but suffice it to say I am hitting a lot of roadblocks in terms of timing for getting my funds to my account here in time to pay my tuition and start classes on Monday). Continued thanks for all the encouragement as well!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sort of a long one...

I’ll be honest, it took me about three hours after I got up yesterday to leave the YMCA. Part of it was that I just wasn’t oriented to where I was, and part of it was because I wasn’t really sure what my objective was. How exactly do you go about “starting” life in a new place? I decided to take it step by step, and so I walked to town and got a phone card. Well. Reflecting on the last day and half it feels a bit like I’m walking around town wearing a sandwich board that says “Help me and I’ll do something really, REALLY cool for you.” Except I’m not giving anyone anything to help me out, but everyone I come across continues to go out of their way to help me get stuff done. For those of you who’ve ever tried to get things done on a bureaucratic level in a foreign country (or heck, in the U.S. – sorry County friends!), you know how critical it can be to have a local on your side. So I buy my phone card and suddenly Sanjay and Maureen from the cell shop are my new best friends. Maureen proceeded to walk me around town, pointing out various places of interest. This included customer service for the SIM card they sold me and an introduction that helped me cut in front of approximately 40 people waiting for help (which I actually felt bad about, though it was certainly a timesaver). Sanjay is also convinced he has an apartment he can rent me – I’m not sure how interested I am given the direction he pointed, but I’m keeping all options open at this point.

After the cell shop I ate lunch at a traditional restaurant Maurine had recommended – 150 Kenyan shillings for a full plate of beef stew, sauteed greens and chapatti (about $2). I then visited a book shop to pick up a comprehensive map, and in the course of that meeting was directed to the taxi driver they use for book transfers and given instructions on negotiating the fairest price. This driver took me quite a way to the Citibank I had hoped to open an account with, only to find out they only work with corporate clients. No matter, he then took me free of charge to another bank so I could inquire about opening account, and waited for me to bring me back to the center of town.

Later in the day I connected with my Rotary host counselor, Pam, who stopped by after a crazy day at work to check in and brainstorm banking and housing options with me. Between her and my other host counselor George (who stopped by early this morning to check in as both were out of town when I arrived), I know I am in great hands! My group of guys I met last year - Dan, Ladama and Chris have all checked in and I am meeting up with friends of friends tonight for drinks. I also dropped in on the National Secretary for the YMCA this morning, Erik, who I met at the Rotary International Convention this summer. He had all sorts of helpful advice and suggestions and introduced me to one of his staff, Jackie, who is a grad student at U of Nairobi as well. Jackie proceeded to spend the next two hours getting the correct fee structure with me from the University (this involved many offices referring us to other offices), and showing me the campus, which is actually quite nice. I was very thankful for her and Erik’s assistance, as when I’d written the school to gain clarity on the fee structure form they’d provided, I received an email that said in just a few more words, “The fee structure form we sent is very clear, please reference it with your questions.” I was quite pleased to know that my confusion was warranted and I must pay my fees from an entirely different form. Good news is that my tuition is less than I’d anticipated – perhaps my new answer when people ask me, “Why are you going to Kenya for grad school?” will be, “because it costs approximately 1/15 of what I’d pay in the U.S.” Of course that’s not the reason, but it doesn’t hurt!

The greatest part about the past day and a half is that as I’ve reached out to people – friends of friends and various organizational connections people have provided, I’ve already started to see opportunities for partnerships and projects I could never do or find on my own. In fact, I got an email from an Orange County acquaintance today indicating an interest in finding a school to sponsor in Kenya, and then a few emails later another from a Rotary member in Orange County with a school they will be visiting here soon and need sponsors for. Who knows if it will be the perfect fit – but the symbolism is profound to me as I know it is opportunities just like these that will validate this journey even more.

I will provide more details about projects and opportunities for support from home as things progress – thank you to those of you who have already asked! I will try and keep posts a bit more manageable from here on out, but it’s always good to share the when the kindness and hospitality of others is making such a difference acclimating to a new place.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

African Soil

The picture in the post below was taken in 1990 on my first trip to Nairobi. My aunt had planned a trip so my grandfather could experience a true safari, but his health intervened and somehow I found myself at the age of ten headed to Kenya. It amazes me that 18 years later I return as an adult, on my own terms, to continue getting to know this place. It’s hard to articulate the reality of landing on Kenyan soil after a year plus of anticipation for this moment. I would say I’m running on adrenaline – but it’s not quite that. It’s more that I’ve been resting in the reality of this approaching experience for so long, and now that it's here I almost feel as if I’m just along for the ride.

As I gathered my cart full of bags and exited the terminal tonight, I was pleased to see the smiling face of my friend Daniel, the brother of a professor from Chapman who showed me around last year when I was unexpectedly in Kenya on my own for a few days. After heaving a large sigh of relief we headed to the YMCA, with a quick stop for me to get cash (and in so doing mix-up the exchange rate and spend $5 in ATM fees to withdraw about $42 – so much for being a seasoned traveler!). The YMCA has a 24 hour gate and guard, and though my room is quite simple I have all I need for the next few nights while I sort out where I’ll live, how I’ll get around and get my enrollment at Uni underway.

Right now I’m sitting under a mosquito net canopy, not quite as romantic as the scenes I watched on the plane from Out of Africa (the last few minutes of which were interrupted by landing IN Africa). My Kenyan friends advised me last year that Out of Africa is not a real story of Kenya, and I understand their point – it does not focus on the story of Africans, but of colonists and settlers, many of whom claimed this land as their own, and whose legacies live on in the tribal strife and land disputes that influenced the unrest earlier this year. Still, the beauty of the country and the people comes through in the story, and reminds me that just as I am but a visitor, the richness of this place has nothing to do with ownership or title as the colonists once thought. Rather, it is in how you go about creating a home, temporary or not, and discovering the small place you will occupy in a country’s ongoing story.

I arrived tonight under the softly dark Kenyan sky, and tomorrow my experience begins in earnest.

Friday, September 12, 2008

18 years later

There are those truths you know about yourself. The tangible and deep to the core identifying values you can’t remember being without. They’re indestructible, but also human and sometimes fickle. In moments of transition, in attempts at responsibility, or in the hopes of security they can be pushed aside for the sake of logic and sensibility. I like to think that I’m wise enough to learn from the experiences of others, but often I jump the gun, claiming a wisdom and foresight that can’t exist in the absence of the risks required to achieve success, however you define it. So, about a year and a half ago, I started to strip myself of self-imposed straight lines and was graced with a reminder of my core that screamed out to be immersed in a world beyond that of my daily life. To find what I sensed (but refused to trust) was a purpose I could sink my teeth into. I took a first step to letting go of the guilt and fear that kept me from indulging in the idea of a “calling” thus far. As soon as I did, doors flew open. Opportunities and objectives began to greet me, and I could let my head rest as the journey unfolded before me.

I keep expecting my luck to run out, but with the incredible support of Rotary, my family and my dear friends, I take this next step in following this path. My hopes are simple – to learn, to question, to theorize and ultimately to act.

My theme word last year was 'hope.' I walked away from my time in South Africa last May with this mantra in my head: There’s always room for hope.

Today I have a new theme I hope to live by and build this year upon:

Don’t just talk. Go. Do.

Thank you for starting this journey with me – I look forward to sharing it with you.