Posts Tagged ‘MSID Kenya’

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Doug: Heavenly landscapes in Hell’s Gate

October 4, 2011

Not a bad parking spot

Last weekend I made the trek to Hell’s Gate National Park with a few friends. Hell’s Gate is about an hour and a half from downtown Nairobi via Matatu, near the town of Naivasha (one of the central locations of the post-2007 election violence actually).

Sheer rock face that we biked up to the base of

On Friday morning we left taking two matatu’s to Naivasha, and then a motorbike from Naivasha to our hostel which was a beautiful backpacker’s place on lake Naivasha. The rest of the one night trip was our day-long biking into the park. The pictures speak for themselves. These were some of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve seen in my entire life.

Fun fact: Rumor has it that Hell’s Gate is where priderock from the Lion King was based off of. (Though I’m pretty sure multiple parks claim this).

Clouds like the ones from Toy Story rolling across the savannah

We spent the day biking (mine broke halfway through the park and I had to walk it back to the entrance. At least I had these views to keep me occupied…). We then went back to our hostel, chilled on the dock, and had a bonfire. We went back to Nairobi in the morning. A short but sweet trip.

Back on the dock of our hostel on Lake Naivasha

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Mia: More Kenya antics

September 29, 2011

So on Monday, I decided after not being able to run or exercise outside of house aerobics (squats down the hallway are a blast) that I needed to get a good workout. I pulled a random circuit/muscle-building workout off the internet and went to the nearest, cheapest gym, which happens to be 5 minutes from my house, outside of Kenyatta Market. It’s only 250 shillings a day for students, and 3000 a month (the exchange rate is about 102 shillings per dollar right now). 

It was a great workout, but the people in the gym seemed puzzled at my confusion as they were trying to introduce themselves to me…as I was on the treadmill with my mp3 player on. I think the gym is more of a social scene here, as everyone was having a conversation in the weight/treadmill/water room. But it’s a great value, and because of the unsafe running areas around the house, and the hot showers at the gym, I’ll be going back there frequently. 

I was actually going to return to the gym today, but research got in the way of that. I’ve been sitting at my computer for about 8 hours now trying to find ‘scholarly’ sources for all these term papers, and the concept paper for our research proposal. For some topics, finding free sources (mostly studies), is very easy. Apparently American foreign policy in Africa during the Cold War is not one of those topics…JSTOR has failed me again (honestly, who the ^%@* wants to pay 25 dollars for an article), so I’m going to the University of Nairobi’s Library to attempt to find some of the sources I found online. But I’m sure there are other topics with more available resources, so I’ll just have to play it by ear.

On a lighter note, I’ve been having hair issues lately (I took the braids out, and my hair is longer than it’s been in 3 years), so I bit the bullet and got a straightener. I wasn’t expecting much (it was 30$, only heats up to 290 degrees, and is tiny), but I was definitely in for a surprise. When I plugged it in, it heated up within 5 seconds, and made my hair the straightest I’ve ever seen it haha…I think it’s one of the nicest ones I’ve ever used. Kak harasho! 

Well, blog break’s over, now I have to get back to writing my literature review for the concept paper. The group settled on researching refugees in northern Kenya, and I’m focusing on where and how the children are getting educated. Fun stuff, I’ll probably put something about it on here next time. 

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Mia: Security, beads & research papers

September 24, 2011

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but my house got broken into a few weeks ago, so my mom decided to tighten security a bit. Formerly, we had a glass door with a sliding metal grate, and a solid metal door that opens (it’s about 7 feet tall). There was a space of about 8 inches between the top of the metal grate and the cement above the door that wasn’t secured, and that’s how the thief got in. 

She had a metal grill put in above the metal grate, and soon I’m going to have a metal grate on my window as well. However, I ran into trouble today because I locked the keys (to everything, it’s one keychain) in the yard outside of the aforementioned security measures. The metal grate is secured with a padlock, and there’s no other way to get out to the lawn, so I had to break out of the house. Thankfully mom wasn’t home, or she might have had a heart attack (I’m still not sure how I’m going to explain this…I’m thinking it might be better left unsaid). 

On the upside, I look like a bead hoarder now because my desk is covered with jewelry for the fundraiser. Now when I come around the bead ladies give me crazy discounts because they know I’m coming back. They’re pretty nice too, so hopefully they’ll sell. 

We have a Swahili midterm this week, and several papers (short ones) due at the end of the week. We also have about 5 term papers due at the end of the program, which I’m not looking forward to writing…15 page research papers aren’t my favorite. It also looks like I may have to write them by hand, and then copy them, because I won’t have electricity at the new digs in October and November. Although there’s a solar powered netbook that just came out here that I’m almost tempted to buy…

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Doug: “A state of war”

September 21, 2011

This is how one governmental leader described the series of events over the last week here in Kenya on the news last night. Though a formal conflict has not broken out in the country, the seemingly endless death toll that has emerged in the last seven days has been heart wrenching. But even more frustrating than the series of events themselves is how preventable each accident could have been with better regulation by the Kenyan government. Many of the Kenyans that I’ve talked to, rather than showing sympathy, have expressed more of a weary resignation, saying things like, “Us Kenyans, we never learn…”

Tomorrow is the official mass burial for the 100+ victims of the Sinai gas pipeline disaster. This horrific accident occurred last Monday, at around 9AM, and even made it onto international news stations. Essentially a gas pipeline running underneath the residential slum of Sinai (near Nairobi) burst, after which residents rushed to get containers to collect the free fuel. Tragically, something (people think possibly a cigarette) turned the scene into a blazing fire pretty quickly. The images were almost post-apocalyptic looking, with houses near the gas leak incinerated in seconds. As more bodies were found, Kenyans demanded justice (relatives of victims are now suing both the Kenyan Pipeline Company and the Kenyan government). But one question kept emerging: Did Sinai need to happen? Articles resurfaced from as early as February 2009, in which residents in the slum were told of the dangers of where their homes were located, but refused to move. Also the pipe that burst was over 30 years old, way over the life expectancy for pipelines. One of the major differences I have noticed after living for a month here in Kenya is the lack of effective governmental regulation in so many different sectors in life. In America, despite how much we complain about partisan politics, we place a huge amount of faith in our government to get things done. And oftentimes they deliver. If there is a huge pothole on the highway, usually it is repaved over within a week or two. If there is a water main burst, someone is there to repair it within the day.

But in Kenya (which is considered one of the more relatively advanced African countries) oftentimes those people never show up. Like in the case of Sinai, why was the pipeline not replaced after 30 years? Moreover, how could the Kenyan government not know that this pipeline was due to burst soon? Or if they did know, why did they not move residents away? After all, isn’t one of the sole roles of a government to protect its people?

But the tragedy did not stop at Sinai. Earlier this week another thirteen people lost their lives as a bus lost control trying to pass another car in Mwingi. This is just another addition to the long list of causalities resulting from one of Kenya’s most pressing problems at the moment:  failure to control road safety. Earlier, I wrote a blog post about how crazy matatus (essentially small vans used for transportation) are to ride in. At the time, I thought it was kinda scary but fun, an exciting new experience in Kenya. But now I am realizing how dangerous transportation in Kenya truly is—claiming so many unnecessary lives every year. Many roads are falling apart, while some (those built by the Chinese) are brand new. Seatbelts? Who needs ‘em. Speed limits? Hardly ever even seen a sign for them. Traffic lights and stop signs? Why even bother to obey something if you know you won’t get a ticket for failing to? This is the mentality that the government of Kenya is struggling (failing) to control.

Then, to make matters worse, a few days ago, four more people died in Kiambu after consuming the illicit Chang’aa brew, a cheap, illegal, alcoholic beverage (oftentimes containing ethanol) that has been blinding those who consume it and even killing others. Kibaki (the President of Kenya) ordered an official crackdown on the brewing of the drink last week, but what does that actually mean? The communities affected by this brew are usually those living in poverty, since the drink is so cheap, and they are fed up. These poor areas, the slums, are often the ones who pay the penalty for governmental oversight. Huge crowds (mainly women) stormed suspected pubs, smashing bottles, outraged that some of their husbands suffered the consequences of this unregulated drink.

As an American student who has just started learning about Kenya in the past year, I’m trying to understand why Kenya continues to have these problems after 60 years of independence, and what led to them; but it’s not easy. I’m starting to understand how immensely complicated this field of development is, and how many different factors play into a country’s attempts to alleviate poverty.  But amidst all this sorrow there is still great hope. I went last week with several friends to donate blood at Kenyatta Hospital—the main hospital where many of the burn victims from the Sinai fire were receiving treatment. The number of Kenyans who had showed up to donate blood was inspiring. And though that experience (though perfectly safe) probably banned me from giving blood in the US ever again, it was uplifting to see the support Kenyans had for other Kenyans.

And so life in Kenya pushes onward. Only time will tell what the next 3 months will bring, but undoubtedly it will continue to open my eyes to this country that is, for now, my home.

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Mia: the word of the day is “frustration”

September 18, 2011

We got out of class very early today, so I decided to come home and change into warmer clothes (it was very cold today) before going out to get tortillas to make quesadillas for my family. The paper was on the table when I got home, so I sat down and started reading it. When I turned the page, I saw an article that really pissed me off, and I’ve actually been pissed off for several hours now. Looks like the quesadillas are going to have to wait. 

This article described the sadness of one of the firefighters at the Sinai fire, and goes on to quote him saying that it’s the worst thing he’s seen in all his days of firefighting. This is understandable—over 100 hundred people have died so far, mostly because they were either in their houses, which are right next the river in the slum, or they were trying to get oil out of the river to sell later. Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the bodies have been horrifying—people literally burned to a crisp, with entire bones showing through the blackened flesh. It’s enough to make you want to buy every single person living in that slum a house to themselves so that this never happens again.

As I was considering what I could do to do just that (not the house part), that only thing that came to mind was that I can’t. This seems to be one of the many things in this country that I want to help with, but can’t change, which let me tell you, is maddening. I spent the next several hours trying to find some kind of NGO online that helps people in poverty pay for their medical bills. Google tells me there isn’t one, as does the State Department. This would seem to be encouraging, because it opens the door for me to start one, but then the problem arrises as to how exactly I would go about that…

The idea I have for this NGO is an organization that gives small loans to people in Nairobi to pay for their medical bills or the medical bills of their deceased family members. It’s a huge problem here, and getting loans is next to impossible for medical bills. This organization would start off with a small amount of money, loan it out, and when the money is returned, reuse it with other loans. This seems like a good idea in theory, but the work it would involve, and the paperwork that would be needed, is mind-boggling. Especially for one senior in college, in America, in ROTC. Simply put, it’s not possible for me right now. 

So that’s unfortunate. But maybe, I thought, I could keep the idea in the back of my head, and do some research while I’m serving out my time in the Air Force so that I’ll be well-prepared to attempt this venture later. Thankfully, something like this has already been successfully put into action in the form of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which loans money to the poor, and is almost completely owned by its owners. Seeing such a successful example of what I might want to do, I thought, maybe an internship with them would be a good idea? Judging by how long it’s taking the current commissionees to go active duty (in layman’s terms, it’s going to be 9-12 months before I have a job after I graduate), I would have time. 

Looking at their site, I discovered that an internship is actually fairly easy to get, and not too expensive. The idea actually seemed to be feasible. And then I looked back at the last few months of my life, and realized that if I actually go through with this, I will have studied/researched in Russia, Kenya, and Bangladesh within a year of each other. This brings me to more frustration.

To most people, it probably seems like I’m just bouncing from country to country with no direction, and to an extent, that may be true. I’ve tried to find connections between Russia and Kenya, and believe me, there are no connections. Russia is developing, and Kenya is developing as well, so the streets and buildings may look the same, and they both enjoy tea, but the similiarities end there. The only connection that I can find is myself (and how JFK funneled money into Kenya to stop the spread of Communism during the Cold War, but that’s another term paper…). I went to Russia to polish up my Russian, and I’m in Kenya to study development and try to bring back enough expertise and experience to educate other people, specifically people in the military. However, it’s beginning to seem to me that I may have tried to do too much, something that probably sounds familiar to most of my friends.

So, frustration. Frustration that despite taking 10 semesters of Russian, I can’t score well enough on the military’s language test to get foreign language pay, frustration that I don’t have enough time and resources to start the NGO that I want to, and frustration that on paper, it really looks like I’m throwing darts at a globe to decide where I’m going next. But most of all, frustration with myself that I’m trying to do all these unconnected things at the same time. And that I got REALLY off track with that quesadilla-making.

These problems aren’t things that can be solved overnight, so I can only keep chipping away at them, and hope that eventually all the work will pay off. Oh, the troubles of a middle-class white girl… Well, I’m going to go get that tortilla, and make some Russian and Swahili flashcards.

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Mia: Updates from Nairobi

September 15, 2011

Updates: I’ve been going to Kibera, I got braids, I gave blood at the hospital yesterday, and I’m going camping tomorrow. 

I started going to Kibera with Jeremy to help with the girls’ play, which was this Saturday. At first I was incredibly pissed off that people lived like that in the slums, and that no one was doing anything about it. But after being with the girls for a while, I realized that yes, it sucks that they live in a place like that, but they’re making the best of it, and they’re doing a great job of it. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of young girls reap the rewards of all their hard work (the entire event was to benefit them).

That same day, in the morning, I visited the giraffe center and got to kiss some giraffes. They let you put giraffe food in your mouth so the the giraffe takes it from you! 

After the play, some of the other students and I went to an Egyptian restaurant and enjoyed some Tuskers while watching the Wisconsin football game online…until we lost the feed. Then we relied on updates from Grace’s boyfriend, and Roy gave me updates on the OSU game. We stayed out for a while, and Chris and I had an unfortunate almost run-in with some men with AKs, but the night ended with all of us happily in our beds.

Also, I managed to find time to get braids last Friday. I sashayed into Kenyatta market and plopped myself down in front of several women that were all too happy to braid a mzungu’s hair. At one point there were five ladies working on my head, it was quite the experience! 

On a darker note, the hospital put out a need for blood a couple days ago after some oil got into a river inside a slum and exploded. Over 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. A lot of the MSID students went to give blood and food to the hospital, and there were tons of people lined up there when we arrived. The hospital staff said the response had been great, and that they’d reached their goal for blood. 

Tomorrow I’ll be going camping with Simon’s (one of our coordinators) family, in Ngong Hills. It should be a great time! We will be matatuing out there (a kind of crazy bus), and then piki-pikiing (a motorcycle) to the camp site. Apparently we’re going on a guided hiking tour, so I’m ver excited for that. 

Also, I’ve finally decided what to do with the reception that I paid for, but don’t need anymore. I’m going to be holding a fundraiser to benefit the Longonot Initiative, a NGO co-founded by Kyle, the ROTC guy that went on this program last year. So far the plan is to have it on Dec 18th, and sell tickets for 20 dollars. We’re working on a contract with the hotel, and finding entertainment. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by like-minded people that are very happy to work with me on it.

It can be overwhelming to look around here and see everything that’s going wrong, but it’s impossible to ‘fix’ all of it, and it may not look like it, but people ARE trying to make things better. It’s just difficult to see sometimes. My host mom says that all the kids that come here get overwhelmed and try to do everything at once, and I think she’s right. We’re not expected to come in and make everything better—we’re expected to learn, and hopefully to contribute something in return. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all be doing by the end of this. 

That’s all for now, I’m off to write some papers for class.

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Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.

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