Friday, November 28, 2008


By now, I know my name pretty well - muzungu, it means white person. I've also learned the slang, mlami.

Leaving Bungoma, one of the shuttle drivers was very kind and put our luggage into another driver's shuttle. He kept saying in Swahili that he was so excited to have a muzungu there, and he wished so much he could have the honour of taking me in his bus, and that he wished he spoke english so he could speak with me. It was so funny, Irene was translating and we were cracking up.

We then drove to Bungoma, met a former WYA Africa intern, who took us to speak to another youth group. This group was quite receptive and restored our faith in youth groups. They are from the country and only 3 of them had emails, they also couldn't understand my accent at all, so I chipped in to say a few things but mostly Irene spoke.

Then we travelled to Terige, where a seminar for almost 200 high school kids is taking place and Irene and I were scheduled to present the following day. In a little car we had, taking up a full seat, Irene's suitcase with my rucksack on top, Irene and myself squished into the other seat, and in front another passenger. The roads, even without extra people and luggage would have been rough travelling. I fought a battle with my rucksack for an hour as every time we went over a bump (every 3 seconds to 5 minutes) it would attempt to land on me. Irene commented that I looked like I was in a boxing match. We finally arrived and met the teachers and coordinators responsible for the seminar who were quite welcoming.

By 8pm exhaustion had hit in a big way, and I was no longer capable of even pretending to be sociable, they were kind enough to take us to our sleeping quarters.

Today, we spent the day giving a full WYA seminar to the kids. They were quite enthusiastic, but again struggled with my accent. I've learned that english here is taught sans pronunciation. The teachers make sure the kids know what the words mean, but few of them even know how words should be pronounced so it ends up being a bit of a free for all, that then translates into some pretty funky pronunciations and difficulty understanding english from outside their area.

It was a great seminar and I think most, if not all the kids, became WYA members. We also received our evaluation forms at the end of the day. It was pretty unanimous that we were not nearly entertaining enough and needed some dramatisation to illustrate our points. Next time, perhaps we can work on translating our workshops into song or play form.

We've got a few minutes now before we board the night bus back to Nairobi. We discovered yesterday that apparently bus hijacking along the route have become common recently, we then went back to the bus station and checked on safety precautions. It turns out we'll be travelling in a convoy of 20 buses back to Nairobi to prevent hijacking and robbery. I just hope we're the middle bus! The consensus from people here though, is that the convoys are safe, and only travelling alone is dangerous - I hope that is the case!

If I don't post again, you'll know why... I joke! and I know it isn't funny. I likely won't have internet access again till I'm back in NY, so don't expect a post till next week. If I'm lucky I'll get to internet tomorrow afternoon.

starry night, starry dreams

Leaving Uganda was an adventure. Time is not simply African time, it is specifically Ugandan time which runs about 2 hours later on average than African time. I'd been hoping to have an hour or so to do some shopping and so Irene and I thought we had about a 4 hour window in which to relax before we took the bus to Bungoma, Kenya. Instead I ran from the bus station, spent 20 minutes bartering (actually got some pretty good deals considering the time constraints and skin colour), and ran back to catch the bus which left relatively punctually. Borders here are so remarkable. There is a queue, of sorts, in which 100 people squash into an area which is built to accommodate about 30. Those best at pushing get out a good 20 minutes earlier than those who were actually ahead in line. After my first border crossing I learned to box out. Since there is absolutely no personal space, and my body was pressed from all sides, I also felt not at all bad about jabbing a pushy woman in the chest to keep her out of my place in line, or to gently kick a guy in the shins if he got too aggressive.

Back on the bus, and 40 minutes away from the border, we were stopped for a police check to ensure we all had appropriate paperwork. One guy was taken off the bus as he'd walked from one border to the next, without stopping at either control, and simply got back on the bus without a passport or anything else.

Waiting in line to have our passports checked I enjoyed stargazing. It is so much fun to look up at the sky in another part of the world and invent constellations. I did see the plow and sirius though, Irene pointed them out to me, as well as my beloved manta ray constellation from Australia.

I didn't notice for quite a while that the men and women had divided themselves into separate lines to have an officer of the same sex check their paperwork. Thankfully I was following Irene or would have ended up in the men's only line without even realising what a cultural faux pas I was committing.

We arrived to Bungoma around midnight and were welcomed by the family of one of our members. They were so incredibly welcoming and Irene and I felt so at home while we were with them.

The next day we were scheduled to speak to a group of youth organisation leaders. If it weren't for meeting the family, I would have never wanted to return to Bungoma. It was my first experience with a roomful of corruption, and such blatant corruption! After the seminar they yelled at Irene and myself for almost an hour about not paying them for attending, at not providing food, and at not even giving them souvenirs of the day. I felt terrible for our member who had organised the event, he'd been hoping for synergy between WYA and a number of youth groups, at least we know now not to work with any of them.

Afterwards, a few approached me to reiterate their statements, and after I continued to refuse to apologise to them, one informed me about how hospitable that portion of Kenya was and invited me to spend the night at his house!

I spent the afternoon playing frisbee with the neighbourhood girls (after one of the participants that morning told me how impressive it was that I, as a woman, should engage a roomful of men in conversation - argument? - I made no effort to include any of the boys in the game and only taught it to the girls) sometimes female empowerment is genuinely necessary.

I also bonded with the little boy of the house who was three, by the end of the day he knew a few English words including doggy, yeah, and high five! The next morning he was so sad to see me in my rucksack he refused to say bye. I left the frisbee for the girls to continue to be empowered through playing sports - hopefully it works. (ps. Eduardo, that's where your frisbee is)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kampala, Uganda

This morning Irene and I gave another seminar to a number of youth groups. Most of the youth either live in, or work in, the slum the clinic is based out of. I discovered today it is the largest slum in Uganda.

They all speak English as a second language, after Luganda, so Irene and I both presented in simple words and tried to speak slowly. Even so, at times there was a need for a translation break. Some of the participants had excellent english, but others struggled. I also gave a presentation on Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Seems farfetched to present those technologies to youth from a slum, some of whom haven't even graduated from high school, and all of whom are in need of basic necessities and jobs. I wasn't sure whether they would understand it, or be interested in it.

In presenting WYA, and following Irene's presentation they all expressed a great desire for knowledge. The needs they feel the most, at the moment, are for seminars, workshops, opportunities to learn and to network. With those needs met they feel confident they can even then create their own jobs and opportunities.

I attempted to present the basic biology of the technologies, and then outlined the areas for potential exploitation involved. During my presentation, I was shocked to see that many of the girls in the room had tears in their eyes and many of the guys also looked quite saddened. The points on the potential to exploit poor women hit home in a huge way.

Speaking with one of the participants afterwards, I learned that transactional sex remains a huge part of Ugandan life, especially here in Kampala. Many children from rural areas are AIDS orphans and people will convince them to come to Kampala with promises of money, they are then forced to beg on the streets or work in prostitution. Rapings and defilement are apparently common at every level; from uncles, teachers, taxi drivers, everyone.

In the schools, teachers will either ask for money or sex in order to give a good grade - if a student doesn't agree then they will receive a poor grade regardless of what they deserve. The teacher will simply assign their grade to another student who does pay or have sex with them. There is no mechanism for students to appeal, they all are aware of the system.

Girls at night will often be raped by taxi drivers or other men around. Breaking into houses is common too, and often the men have guns.

Even girls who get into university will often have one man who pays for their books, another for their shoes, another for their hair, and then their real boyfriend - whom they love. It is not just among poor girls, girls who are somewhat well off but who want something nice sooner than later will sleep with a wealthy older man to get a new dress, new car, etc. There are signs throughout Uganda about getting rid of cross-generational sex.

I even learned today that at the local university there is one older man who will pay girls a certain amount for each date they go on with him. All the girls know that he is ill with AIDS, but because he pays so well many of them will go with him anyways. The younger men, because they don't have such money, have great difficulty in finding a girlfriend. Even the modelling agencies will hire out their models to men as they go on business trips or marry them off to wealthy businessmen. The agencies then get a nice kickback from what the models earn.

HIV has started to rise again, especially in Kampala. The young people are aware that having sex with an older man can kill them, but they see the nice things their friends are getting, they see the celebrities on tv and they ignore all the warnings. The youth who were telling me this aren't sure of what to do next. When the information is there, access to retrovirals is there also although much more limited - then it is difficult to do much more.

Unless they were to get rid of corruption and offer opportunities to the girls and to families instead of transactional sex?

Travelling - Ugandan style

Last night, Irene and I physically crashed around 9pm but were unable to get into bed till midnight. We are being hosted by a family here. After taking tea at 9pm yesterday we went back to the clinic and chatted with some of the staff and patients while waiting to find our accomodations. Upon arrival we waited as they wished to also bring us tea and food. By the time we'd finished eating I was so exhausted that I only washed my face and feet before crawling into bed - even though I felt so filthy from travelling all day.

On the bus we'd had the seats directly behind the door. They of course packed the bus so full with seats that my feet extended over the edge and spent most of the 8 hour trip either tucked under my seat or dangling over the ledge. The door also didn't fully close so I would wipe my pants every 30 minutes or so to get rid of the film of dirt which had accumulated from the incoming wind. After we stopped by the roadside for a pee break, I felt much less comfortable dangling my feet.

The toilet consisted of a cement block with a hole in the middle surrounded by corrugated tin. All the women would wait outside while one went inside and squatted. When it was my turn I went inside and the two women after me peeked around the corner to watch. I tried to wait for them to get bored of watching me, but apparently they wanted to see a white woman pee. Eventually I just asked them to please turn around. They nearly waited till I finished, and I guess that is the best I could hope for...

Of course, no one on the bus washed their hands afterwards and everyone held onto the ledge as they entered, then one of the guys on the bus took a sip of water and spat onto the stairs. By the end of the bus ride I alternated between sticking my feet into the air ahead of me and tucking under my seat since I could feel my knees starting to go numb.

Washing this morning, my whole body, was one of the happiest things I've ever done :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I saw a warthog!

This morning Irene and I left at 530am to take a bus from Kigali to Kampala. The bus, running on African time, left around 630am... We then stopped at the Ugandan border to get our passports stamped, bit of a stampede and my toes started itching after I'd wandered around the area in flip flops. Knowing that when jiggers (fleas) infest a person the area feels itchy, I obsessed and spent 20 min checking every so often to find it again. Of course since there was the thought of jigger there the itchyness didn't go away till Irene also checked my toes and found them jigger free :)

We're now in Kamapala, I'm typing on a keyboard so stiff that it feels like a really old typewriter that you had to pound. I think my fingers will be stiff tomorrow :p

We were picked up at the bus station by a Friend of WYA. He took us to his clinic, he's worked there for the past 7 years. It's in a slum and serves the people of the community. Many are Somalian refugees and there is a mosque across the street. He said 90% of the slum is Muslim, and apparently Somali's tend to be strict as I saw for the first time two little girls of about 5 and 7 wearing hijabs.

They are incredibly friendly. Almost everyone here speaks English, and I recognise my name by now - muzungu. So as they're calling out to me I'll wave or say hi. Many of the kids are excited to practice their english and will say "hi, how are you, I'm fine" and leave so pleased with themselves. The adults will wait till I smile and then they'll grin back. The little babies I think are terrified of this strange-looking creature.

At the clinic there is only one fulltime doctor and 3 other part time doctors as well as nurses and other staff. So many young people are HIV infected, and if they can be offered treatment and counselling then that is a great help to them. As we've wandered through the slums the doctor is a bit of a celebrity.

Gotta run now, but as I mentioned in the title - I saw a warthog today! A few minutes across the border and he was splashing around in a little stream, he looked just like pumba :) We also saw hundreds of goats. Cows being herded (in herds!) horns and all. And the insides hanging gracefully at every market we passed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Thursday and Friday, Irene and I gave a two-day seminar to WYA members (now they are WYA members, they weren't when we started...) at the National University of Rwanda. It is the holidays now for Rwandan students, as it is the rainy season here, the only students left at the university of Rwanda were the science students who were still in the middle of exams. We were incredibly lucky, with an empty campus, to have over 40 students participate for 2 days while taking a break from exams.

Our seminar focused on the dignity of the human person - who am I? who are you? and what implications does that have for freedom, solidarity and human rights. We also spoke about HIV/AIDS and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. As in every seminar, I began by introducing WYA - who we are and what we do. When I speak about how WYA was founded, at a conference on Population and Development at the UN in 1999, I ask the participants - if they had been the young people - what they would have asked to be considered as the basis of development. The answers I almost always receive are access to employment, food, education, basic healthcare and good governance. From time to time I'll receive answers like providing youth with a greater voice, or technology skills. Here in Rwanda was the first time I've received the answer: self confidence.

Upon reflection it is absolutely a requirement for development, we cannot develop if we do not believe we are worthy of respect or capable of creating a better future. After each seminar, Irene and I would break the participants into groups for discussion and they would then present their answers. In every discussion we asked them to present the core issues along with solutions. Every group, at some point would mention again the need for self confidence. They also spoke a great deal about peace, and the need to accept every member of society and demonstrate that everyone, regardless of any condition, can contribute in some way to society.

The answers were so incredible to hear. As I'm always made aware of when speaking to various groups, people worldwide have many of the same needs and desires for change. Here in Rwanda, with its unique history of recent human rights abuses and genocide, our members have extra difficulties to overcome alongside a much greater awareness of how important the work of WYA is.

An interesting side note is that people here will talk a great deal of progress and reconstruction - almost never will anyone say the word genocide, although they might mention 'war' or '1994'.

I also realised in these last few days that while many humanitarian and aid agencies have flocked to Rwanda, no one has come to offer counselling or guidance to the survivors. Both the perpetrators and those attacked are in great need of guidance to understand what happened, how, to make sense of how to move forward, and to deal with any emotional or psychological trauma they may have endured or still suffer with. No one has yet come to offer that.

The lucky ones are those are able to integrate back into society and continue with their lives, they work extra hard to ensure nothing like that will ever happen again and through all this they struggle with comprehending and coming to grips with what happened. Many are not so lucky and retreat into their homes in the hills, living from day to day unable to move on with their lives. I hope someone reading this blog will take the initiative to come. People now, I get the impression, are open to help and guidance and it could really change many people's lives if they were to receive that.

As we speak with the members about HIV/AIDS, about human dignity, about perceptions of the person, there is no need to go into the dangers of what discrimination and placing people into categories of fully human or less human can do. If you simply begin to mention those dangers, it is obvious in their faces how deeply they understand what can happen. In that way, as they become aware of the concept of intrinsic human dignity - it is something which can really guide their lives and their work. I would love to offer more WYA members and youth to learn from the Rwandese about the importance of these issues.

The Rwandese members here are inspirational to me, as they open up little by little about their pasts, and how much they want to accomplish in their lives, it hits home how lucky so many of us are worldwide to not have endured what they have endured, but also how much they can offer to the world if they are able to retain those lessons and remind others' and other countries of what needs to be done.

Chigari (Kigali)

Wednesday was a more relaxing day for Irene and myself. I spent the morning at the GSL (Greatest School of Languages) where they teach English, reading through the beginning and intermediate books to correct grammar and have my voice recorded. All future English students of the school should come away with a lovely Canadian accent!

In the afternoon Irene and I met with some members here in Kigali who want to re-energise the committee that is currently here and were looking for some guidance. We sat outside at a little concrete table and benches overlooking a vegetable garden, overlooking the slums of Rwanda which skirt the embassies and hotels. The slums are scattered along the slopes and in the afternoon sunlight were quite picturesque - then the rains began. We attempted to stay in our little shelter but the rains came down so hard we were splashed from its landing and it blew in from both sides of the shelter as well as from minuscule holes in the roofing. We then fled to our room to finish the meeting.

In the evening, Irene and I attended the Pioneers of Prosperity Africa Awards. The awards ceremony was to honour 10 entrepreneurs from across Africa (selected from over 1400 nominations) who demonstrate excellence in entrepreneurship and are contributing to a better society in some way. The evening was an incredible opportunity to meet some of those most dedicated to improving Africa's development and private sector from a range of angles. There were also present people from across Africa who support or are otherwise engaged in similar fields - an absolute gold mine of people changing the world!

All the entrepreneurs were incredible, there were finalists from South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. The finalist who won the grand prize was a man from Nigeria who runs a paper company, he provides jobs and care for almost 600 people and used his $100,000 of prize money to build houses for his workers - he deserved to win!

I also met a man who works for a health/insurance company in Kenya, called AAR. He absolutely oozed energy - I think I've never spoken with someone who so clearly had multiple thought processes running in intersecting areas throughout his mind, and would pull from one or another as they became relevant to the conversation. His company charges insurance - but with the theory that healthy patients saves money for the insurance company in the long run. By tying the insurance company to the healthcare sector, they work a great deal with preventative care, thereby caring for their customers in a much more meaningful and impactful way!

Andreas Widmer of 7 fund and Eric Kacou of OTF were there as co-hosts of the event with Legatum. I realised in the days leading up to the event that here in Rwanda they are both celebrities. As I mentioned to our WYA members that Irene and I would attend, they were so jealous and wished so much to meet them - they all remembered seeing Andreas on tv years ago, and Eric currently. Seeing them at the event was great by itself, and extra fun knowing that I was speaking with such celebrities :)

We had taken motorcycle taxis to the event, and on the way home it seemed we would have to walk. It was do-able, but at 11pm not the best use of 40 min of our time, especially as we had to leave the next morning at 6am for Butare. Thankfully, 5 minutes into the walk a woman who had been at the event was driving by and gave us a lift home. I think I've already mentioned how friendly people are here?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So it just cuts through the air?

I brought a few frisbees with me to Africa to introduce WYA members to a new sport. I didn't realise how incredibly revolutionary my little plastic discs would be...

In Nairobi, I spent an afternoon with the interns in Uhuru park teaching them to play. As I was first demonstrating how to throw, one of the interns threw it so it landed near a woman's feet. She picked it up to hand it back to me but was staring so intently at it that I encouraged her to throw. A panicked look crossed her face and she shook her head, I asked her again to throw it to me, and she said "so it just cuts through the air?" She threw it back and was so excited to watch it go.

We then threw around for a little while until a few guys walked past, one of them called out to me "I'm Obama's cousin!" I laughed and they asked me to throw the frisbee to them. I did, and then the second one wanted to catch also, I threw it to him but he crouched and it hit him in the forehead - he was so embarassed and the third one also wanted to catch. Then one told me that I was beautiful and should remain in Kenya, his logic was flawless - apparently white women and Kenyan men produce senators and Presidents, so if I had children with him, just think what our kids could do!

Here in Rwanda, the members have been equally fascinated by my frisbee. I threw a bit with them today and they are excited to learn to play tomorrow. The only problem for them is that apparently kids here play with paint can lids, and they are a little concerned about their reputations :)

We couldn't play this afternoon as it is the rainy season here, and it poured. While we sat inside listening to thunder, they asked me if I like the rain - it just so happens I love rain. They then said that they hated rain because whenever there is a thunderstorm here, people die from being struck by lightning, and also their shacks will wash away so they will drown. Apparently every major thunderstorm approximately 50 people will die from their houses being destroyed or freezing in the streets, or other related causes.

It just reminds me how priviledged, and selfish, I am that my whole life I have loved thunderstorms since I can watch it from the comfort of being inside or to enjoy the feeling of changing into dry, comfy clothes after getting soaked. It's easy to remember that people die in earthquakes, fires, typhoons, etc. It's much harder to remember that in some places all it takes is a rainstorm for people to die...

The members have taken such excellent care of Irene and myself. After the rainstorm the walked us back to our lodgings before they left to take care of business. We're staying in accommodations near a Church at the center of Kigali. Irene and I need to explore this Church, it is huge and we are both convinced that this is one of the famous places from the genocide where a few thousand were massacred after seeking asylum here.

One thing that I cannot quite accustom myself to, is how physically affectionate people are here. It is so common for men to walk around together holding hands or with their arms around each other, and women also. They'll do the same with me and I have to remember to be polite and reciprocate. I don't generally hold hands in public or hug people so closely that to do so with multiple people and strangers is a little difficult. Of all the countries in Africa I have been to, Rwanda is the friendliest and most affectionate. People here, especially children are so outgoing and will go out of their way to shake my hand. I think the entire country has made a huge effort to be friendly and loving towards everyone to prevent any hell like what they experienced from ever happening again.

Their thoughts are so geared towards peace, the value of each person, and development at all times - I truly hope they become the most incredible example worldwide of recovering from an atrocity by building as a nation and with a high development standard.

Maramutze en Rwanda

It is now the third day of Irene's and my stay in Rwanda. We are taking a few moments at an internet cafe with a French keyboard so I will likely avoid all contractions since I cant find the apostrophe key...

I think I will never get used to Rwanda's beauty. The red dirt amongst rolling hills and lush tropical greenery everywhere. So much construction has occurred since I last visited, there are more houses and fewer shacks, the roads have more flowers and plants growing alongside - its amazing how much it has developed! On top of all this, many of the Rwandese still wear their traditional dress, so they look so beautiful walking along the roads.

My last visit to Rwanda I wanted so much to take a motorcycle taxi, yesterday my wish came true. We arrived late Sunday night as Kenya air had overbooked the flight and we couldn't get on - so we waited 6 hours to take the next flight. We were greeted by Obadias whom I'd met my previous visit along with Ntezimana - a member from Butare who took the bus into Kigali simply to meet us. Our first night we spent in a hostel which cost much more than our budget, so we took Monday morning with Ntezimana to ask around for a cheaper place. We took the bus to the other side of Kigali close to the embassies where a Christian organisation had said they could offer us a room for a third of the cost. After following their directions to the bus stop, we had to walk 45 minutes back in the direction we had come to find the place. Upon arrival, it turned out they had no rooms but that another center close by might.

Since they told us the other center was close by, and knowing African time, I asked them to call the other place before we spent the rest of the day walking in search of it. They did have rooms, so we walked for 30 min, it was a very nice clean humanitarian organisation with extra rooms, so we agreed to stay there. By that time we had only 20 min to get back into Kigali as we had a radio interview scheduled, so we had to take motorcycles rather than the bus - LOVED it!

We spoke on the English radio station here, we had a one hour segment and a WYA member here was the DJ so he asked great questions to keep the show moving and focus on WYA. We then moved our stuff from the hostel to another cheaper place - it turned out that Obadias knew a cheaper place but thought we would want more comfortable lodgings - very thoughtful, but not how WYA works ;)

Today we gave a seminar scheduled from 8am till 3pm. I knew last evening that it would start on African time - but there was so much talk of punctuality. I arrived just on time, and Irene shortly afterwards as she had been printing slides of my speech since the laptop wasn't working. We then sat till 9am since apparently more than half the participants had called to say they would show at 10am. I felt terrible for the few who had actually been punctual and were sitting waiting there, when I asked if we could begin at least for those I was reminded that Africa functions on African time...

It was especially frustrating though as, true to form, I hadn't woken up on time - so hadn't eaten breakfast. Always a problem, but with anti-malaria pills eating my insides if I neglect to eat every few hours, the time spent waiting was especially painful. After I finally gave my first talk, I snuck outside to eat a protein bar (thanks Bissie!) After the seminar we gave out certificates to all the participants and then had a few photo ops. Then we went for lunch with Obadias, Allen (the DJ) and Bosco (another WYA member).

Food here is so delicious and filling. Meals consist typically of rice, kasava, cooked bananas, beans, ugali, potatoes, carrots, and some form of meat. Not every dish has all those ingredients (although todays did!) but the foods are so filling that it doesn't really matter.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Preaching and Hawking strictly prohibited

That was the sign on the bus yesterday going home, shortly before our driver got into a shouting match with another bus as they competed to remain the one bus on the road. My driver won.

Since last posting I visited with Caroline Maingi, the first Director for WYA Africa, and her 3 little kids. Her newest baby Rafael is adorable with curly hair, and he just wouldn't stop staring at me, I think I was the oddest thing he's seen in his short life... The other two, Victor and little Javi were so funny. When I first arrived two sets of eyes would appear from behind a doorway, and disappear the moment I looked in that direction. As the visit progressed they became increasingly less shy, and rowdier. By the end of the visit they were pushing tires throughout the house and running in and out every few seconds to give me "sweets". Last I saw little Javi he looked exactly like a cabbage patch doll. His body has grown quite a bit since then to match his head, although his eyes remain so big in his face - he is so cute!

Yesterday, Irene and I were media stars... We went in the early morning to visit the BBC. Once they found out we were travelling to Rwanda and Uganda they postponed our interview so we could come back with a field report. We then went to K24 and were interviewed about WYA. We were shown on primetime tv, at 1230pm that same day, with a 30 min. segment. We went to a nearby cafe to watch ourselves with the interns. Later in the day, we visited Pomoja radio station for a brief WYA introduction. Pomoja is the radio station which broadcasts out of Kibera slum - the largest in the world. The interview with Irene took place in Swahili and mine was translated.

On our way into the radio station we drove through Kibera slum, it was my first time visiting Kibera. We parked outside the radio station and two of the most adorable little boys were staring from behind a corner. I managed to become friend with them and we played soccer for a few seconds together until Oscar Beauttah and Irene dragged me into the radio station. After our radio interview they took us onto the balcony which gave a birds-eye view of the slum. As we peered around I saw my two little buddies, they also noticed me and waved at me from 5 stories below! On my way out of the station, they were still there hanging around, I wanted to steal them and bring them with me but managed to leave them there. One of the little boys had a sore in the corner of his mouth, I really wished I had something with me for him.

I'm a huge fan of signs in Nairobi, some of my personal favourites to date are: "car park under rehabilitation" (construction) "driver under instruction" (student driver) "do not urinate here, it is unethical and prohibited" "don't hoot, driver is sleeping". More will come...

Gotta run now, the interns are all waiting patiently for me to finish so we can all go home tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Buru Buru

I am staying at phase 5 of Buru Buru in the Eastern Headlands. The best way to travel there is by the hip hop matatu, although there is a "normal" bus that actually follows the traffic signs - it is much slower. En route from Nairobi center to Buru Buru are numerous roadside stands. I noticed yesterday one stand selling grave-stone markers, anything from crosses to hearts to the standard variety. I also passed one this morning selling soccer cleats - very cool cleats, it made me want to shop! You can get everything from leather shoes, to nighties, to bananas to electronics equipment. All the while you're being tossed around while dodging people, other buses, and road dividers - there is no point in dodging potholes :)

Last night, Noreen, one of the girls I am staying with cooked Ugali, a bony fish and scuma wiki. Ugali is a paste made of flour and water which you roll around in your hand and then use it as a spoon to scoop up the scuma wiki (greens) and fish. The fish also was to be eaten with your hands. Irene was kind enough to eat the head, eyeballs and all, and to leave me with the middle section. I've had a bit of practice by now eating with my hands, but realised about 5 minutes into the meal that I've likely got my idea of how to eat with my hands from babies - I was by far the messiest eater :p

Today, I've brought a frisbee with me to the office, at some point I'll take the interns to a park nearby and introduce them to the greatest sport :)

Of course in the midst of all this, I'm also working! I expect no one to believe me...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sawa sawa

Last night, I arrived to Nairobi! I got a cool visa in my new passport and after claiming my lost baggage was greeted by Irene Mwangi, and Mr and Mrs Beauttah. I was excited they had come, I'd expected to have Irene meet me, but to have Mr and Mrs Beauttah show up made me feel that much more welcome :)

We took a taxi to the apartment Irene and Esther share - WYA Africa staff unite! I was quite happy to see the pilates ball I gave them is being put to good use as one of their living room chairs! It was so great to see them, Esther served me delicious non-plane food and we just chatted and caught up. Irene also gave me a little introduction to the large and small mosquitos Kenya has, with the large ones not carrying malaria. Conveniently, there was a large mosquito on the ceiling which she could point to, I thought it was a daddy-longlegs spider! I got up as close as I could to see that it was actually a mosquito, we took a picture - I have proof that spider sized mosquitos exist. After taking his picture we thought it best to name him. As he is Kenyan and larger-than-life, we called him Obama. I just hope he doesn't get squished by someone unaware of who he is!

Today, Esther and I took a matatu into the office to visit Irene and the interns. We rode on one which markets to teenagers by blaring hip hop and rock music with tv screens on the bus! We stood the whole way, Esther was impressed by my anti-pickpocketing purse hold :) I think I'm still somewhat deaf from the ride and my right arm will be sore tomorrow from holding on. The roads are very potholed outside of the city center which makes for some funky directional changes.

Day one is half over, I'll now get back to work before we head to Caroline's house this afternoon for tea.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Karibu Sana!

At last, the moment has arrived. In 0:50 hours I leave for Newark to head to Africa! I'll be visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. I am so excited to leave!!! I'll be visiting Nairobi, Eldoret and Bungoma in Kenya. Kigali and Butare in Rwanda, and Kampala in Uganda. Irene, the WYA Africa staff member, and I will be travelling together by bus through most of these places for the next 3 weeks.

This morning, I needed another 2 days before I would be fully packed and ready to go. Lots of adrenaline, a little stress, and 1 cup of coffee later I have time to write a short blog before heading out the door. This is the teaser... I'll post as I'm able to find internet during my travels.

Now, off to finalise all the last-minute details of the trip, hug everyone goodbye and start lugging my suitcase through the subway system en-route to Newark airport...

So long rafikis! (Swahili for friends & Karibu Sana is You are Very Welcome)