Friday, October 30, 2009

Things are looking up

Just a quick note to say that if the rumor mill is true, my classmates and I have officially passed our first year! I know that doesn't sound horribly impressive - but considering our statistics class last semester, there was a bit of concern! I also think I've found a car that I can afford and meets the safety criteria for Nairobi roads. Please say a prayer that it comes through - the alternative is a teeny tiny toyota or a corolla without a working horn (not ideal for coming up against matatu drivers!).

I will head to Nakuru next week to deliver the first round of laptops, and then to Kakamega Forest with a rotarian to distribute sanitary pads to a school in his home town. I'm going to take the ZanaA intern and we will hopefully do an empowerment workshop with the girl's there. I'm also excited about an upcoming training opportunity with the beading group that I provided a loan for via the excess funds raised by my rotary club in Orange to get their website up and running. They ended up using the funds to hold a series of trainings on quality control with their beaders, and now they want me to come and present on style and designs - how fun! It has been great to reconnect and to have a creative outlet moving forward. I will keep you posted!

Oh - lastly, my classes this semester are really interesting! Last year we were fairly mired in theory and history - now we're getting into the more tangible side of development and its relation to business, which is where my interests rest. My classes include Entrepreneurship, Economics of African Agriculture, Industrialization and Rural Societies and Change. I'm excited to see where the year takes us.

Happy weekend to all!

Monday, October 26, 2009

In which I attempt to cover a lot of bases and wrap them up into a coherent blog post

My first two weeks back in Nairobi have been much like the rest of my time here - a mess of contradictions, struggles to balance needs versus wants versus the needs and wants of others, and finally the reminder of what a funny role I play here. I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I'm not sure I've ever adequately conveyed how much I struggle not fitting into any of the social boxes that that I think we're all used to in some form or another. They might be slightly different here, but who doesn't (however much they may hate to admit it) appreciate identifying with some sort of group/class/culture etc.? I can't really fit myself into one of those yet - though I am constantly confronted by others who assume I fall into the role that many who look like me or come from where I come from do (like the ex-pat friend who heard I was looking for a car, and sent me a notice for a great toyota at what he must have assumed was the reasonable price of $28,000).*

The thing is, I don't think it's that big of a deal to feel like an outsider to a group you're either used to being in or expected to be a part of, provided you've identified a new group on which to hang your hat. But I'm not even your typical starving student here - I have far "more" resources than many classmates or others on my campus - not to mention some of my young professional friends who can't seem to make the leap to the next salary range - which might be only $500/month (great by Kenyan standards when compared to the masses but a far cry from the earnings of many from the elite, well-educated class). I'm both a have, and to a far lesser extent (but often obvious), a have-not - and I'm living and making life decisions daily in a place where the color of my skin, my background, or my home country will constantly decry this fact. It's a simple reality, but it means I spend far more time than I should explaining why I can't afford a car that is considered a deal even by local standards, or why I want to live in a certain area, or how to balance the poverty that I see daily with planning a fabulous trip for my best friends when they come to visit. I sit and I stew because in the midst of living my life here and figuring all these things out, I can pass a little boy on the street begging, learn his name, see how vastly different our struggles are - watch my internal dialogue come to a screeching halt when I stop to consider what his must be: "There's a rich mzungu. She looks nice, I bet she's got some money to spare, now I just have to figure out what words to say to get her to veer off her path and take me to buy some bread and milk...yep, she's wavering, I can tell I've got her now!" This reality, both of the world around me, and how it perceives me, is never far from my mind - and it creates the craziest duality of resenting the label I'm given, the lack of a clear cut label to apply instead, and the guilt of worrying about such things in the first place, given the more profound reality of a small child in worn out shoes forced to walk from a far-off slum to try and find food for the day.

I guess all this goes to say that I'm learning that much of feeling grounded is being able to identify within some sort of a community (duh, right?) - be it socially, economically or philosophically. Part of being abroad for me this time has been removing myself from pretty much all of the identifying groups I'm used to, and at the same time trying to process the realities of my new home and how I relate to them. I have been introduced to so many fascinating microcosms of these things - pockets of people and groups that I am fortunate to be exposed to, but can never quite fit myself completely into.

I wonder how my perspective on this might change over the course of the next year. In the meantime it's somehow therapeutic to write about it, to at least try and explain why my sensitivity level is so heightened here.

*For many foreigners who work for embassies, the UN or high profiled Development agencies or businesses, that is a steal - they've got most of their basic needs covered through work (housing, moving costs, security etc.) so they just buy the biggest car considered safe and convenient for Nairobi driving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Semi-charmed kind of life...

I like to joke sometimes about how charmed my life seems - because in the past three years (starting in fall of 2006) things have really fallen into place at times so perfectly I can't quite fathom my luck. Of course life is life - ups, downs and all-arounds regardless, but every once in awhile I'm reminded by things that seem almost absurdly charmed to be thankful for this time, and this life. One such recent reminder? That given how much I adore my littlest nephew, Dexter, God saw fit to put another one in my life here in Kenya:

Dexter Ness, born July 5, 2009 (might have been morning of the 6th now that I think of it...)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day, 2009

I like to participate in Blog Action Day, but I am doing so too late in the game to add any original thoughts to this year's topic of climate change. I can say that Kenya is experiencing its own microcosm of the issue (if the environment of an entire country can be considered as such!) with the destruction of the Mau Forest and the ensuing environmental degradation that is causing (or at least contributing to) the raging drought. Aside from that, I include a quote (and a link to the original post from whence it came) that touches on the fact that the issue of climate change has become like so many other indescribably important things - fodder for debate, rather than an impetus for change.

"Our silence is not the lack of words, it is the absence of an essence in urgent human relationships, an essence with power to break the bonds of unthinkable thoughts:



Day 4 in Nairobi and I'm starting to settle in. I admit that while breaking the trip up always helps (who wouldn't want to acclimate to the time difference in a glorious place like Turkey!?) it also made returning to the ever-developing world a bit harder than I had expected. While fellow travelers in Turkey remarked upon air quality and trash, compared to parts of Nairobi I found it impeccably clean, and I had an incredibly inspiring and exciting week exploring on my own and with new friends. Cappadocia was quite simply everything I had hoped it would be and more - and I was reluctant to leave, to be sure.

But as the days go on, and I take advantage of being in my own bed for the first time in 3 months, with bags fully unpacked and a few final days to awake naturally (before school requires an alarm), I rediscover all that makes Kenya feel like home. Reconnecting with old friends, seeing the familiar faces on my corner, meeting new people who welcome me so warmly, though we've just met. There is hustle and bustle in our house - one of Zanna's Junior Field Officers is pregnant and a new American volunteer named Katie who has taken my old room keeps her busy with pre-natal exercises. We were excited to find out after a healthy ultrasound she is expecting a baby girl.

School starts next week, and I'm taking advantage of these days to catch up on long overdue work, as well as put a few things in place in extension of the incredible generosity of friends and Rotarians this summer. 3 beautiful laptops donated by my friend Jason Pierce have already arrived, and another 4 or 5 are on their way from my sponsor Rotary club in Orange (thanks to Shirley for all she's done in this regard!). Some will go to the boys' home in Nakuru, and others will hopefully be used to help establish a small training center in Nakuru center with some former street boys who have taken in a number of other kids and are attempting to raise them. Like so many things such efforts will take a village. Thankfully, having spent the summer in the U.S. I am reminded that mine is always bigger than I think, and no matter how far apart we all are - the global village is what we make it.

More of my Cappadocia pictures here - slow internet means Istanbul will have to wait :)