Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Surreality of Time

Many of you have experienced going out one night and partying to find yourself the next morning not remembering how you got to your bed. Or someone else’s if you were lucky. Or unlucky, depending on what you see upon wakening. I have not. However… my entire experience has that type of feeling. As if I just partied too hard, fell asleep, and I’ve only just awaken, when I have hours to myself to sit and reflect upon what has happened. It doesn’t feel like the experiences were my own, but rather like I cannot remember what has happened to me, or when it was I fell asleep, but my dreams were filled with these experiences. A fellow traveler I met commented that while traveling is a great experience, in the end, when you return, it is never really the most exciting… more so it makes you want to travel more and continue… a drug in its own way that forges a powerful addiction.

I’ve often felt this surreality of time… as if I’ve just woken and the life I’ve led is not mine, but one that I’ve observed in close detail. And then you begin to forget details… some are recalled later on as you try to entrance listeners with your experiences, some are recalled at random times as you turn a corner that fires a flashback of a corner turned in a past time.. but some you just forget. Even people you can forget (the trick of being unforgettable… deserves an entry of its own :) ). So then what are the experiences for? Actually living in a different cultures, seeing things with your own eyes, many crave it, need it, desire it.. but if in the end it feels as if you’ve observed someone else seeing it… is it as real as you think? Who’s to say that you aren’t dreaming right now, that everything you think and feel are figments of your imagination that you will soon wake from to realize that it was all just a dream… though if that were true, I would not want to be you, wasting my dreams on reading a blog. :)

When your life does not feel like your own, what do you do? How do you preserve those memories, those details? Some choose to blog regularly or keep a journal of some sort so they can return to their musings and thoughts at a later time. As you can tell by my delay in postings, this is not something I’m so good at. And this is summer. Videography, photography, scrapbooking, collecting souvenirs… all attempts to remember a past time. To keep your life from being forgotten… for if you forget it, who will remember it? But then perhaps that is the trick. Perhaps it’s not your own experiences that make the difference, but the experiences others have because of you. Men and women of power built pyramids and palaces to go down in the history books… a mode of immortality, a way to make sure that your life is remembered, a way to make sure that your life was not merely a fleeting speck in a galaxy of lifetimes. But I digress.

Returning to my main point.. if you wake up one morning with no recollection of the night before, did it actually happen? Of course. But what if you wake up alone and noone else remembers what happened either… yes, but then does it actually matter? If noone remembers what happened, are the drunken exploits of the previous night of any consequence? As long as you don’t pop out a being in 9 months or discover a nasty looking rash (which a friend pointed out could be covered up by claiming to have been thrown into the Charles River) what does it matter. To relate it to an age-old question: if noone hears a tree fall in the forest, did it actually make a sound?

NGO... Turn to Business for International Development

"There’s nothing wrong with making a few locals very rich in the process of improving an entire economy.”

Sadly, due to the time that has passed since I heard this statement, I do not remember exactly who had said it… I believe it was Fredrik… but I cannot say for sure. However, it is an interesting statement which combined with Biyeun’s project, InterConnection Uganda, a business run by locals that helps the entire country, has got me thinking.

NGOs tend to depend very strongly on grants and donations which, while easy because the money comes with little strings attached, is dangerous because it tends to make the recipients more careless with how it is spent, the money is dealt with by foreigners rather than locals that know and have a solid binding (can’t think of the right word.. but you get the idea) to the welfare of their country, and it depends on other groups or individuals that can choose to or be forced to terminate their donation/grant at any time. Several branches of APDK, for example, became inactive after their primary donor abruptly stopped contributing due to political matters.

Sibusiso is a ngo that is well on its way to becoming self-sustainable. I had a chance to visit it while in Arusha, Tanzania. It means “blessing” in Swahili, and it teaches mentall disabled children and their families to help themselves. Though started by 2 very rich Europeans and still largely funded by grants, they have cows and other animals which they breed and take care of as a food source and for extra income (2 of the donkeys they have started fighting while we were walking out.. the male was trying to mate but the female had very much lost that lovin feelin). They employ previous patients as gardeners and cooks, and they have a lodge where visitors can stay with proceeds going to fund Sibusiso. However, it is never easy to become entirely self-sustainable… and even this is only becoming more self-sustainable because there is a business involved… so perhaps we should stop focusing so heavily on ngos and start turning our focus to investing in businesses that also work with international development?

InterConnection Uganda, for example, donates a percentage of its profits to education for students in Uganda, and a percentage of the computers it gets to schools all around Uganda. While empowering the workers, providing a cheaper way for people to get a hold of a computer, offering training, and being able to include good software for cheap (Microsoft Windows for about $3 I believe – a discount for developing countries), they are also contributing to the development of the country at large. What a great concept! A potential problem that I can see is corruption among the locals that run the business. It is easy to lose sight of what is happening around you if you get lifted out of it… and it’s often difficult to stay focused on your original goals when your own life becomes more stable.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Part IV: Welcome to Arusha, Tanzania

Being only one of 3 people to get off the plane, it was not a long wait for my luggage or for visas. The airport was extremely small (one small building about the size of a big ranch house) with one landing field. However, I did see a humongous plane with the nose cone opened from the rest of the plane… apparently a private plane of some really rich dude from the Middle East! It was quite neat, but I wasn’t sure what the photo policy was at the airport… and I didn’t want to risk being whisked away into a foreign Tanzanian prison, so I resisted my urge to take out the camera and shoot.

I should mention that at the airport, I met 2 professional wildlife photographers working for the Jane Goodall Institute who were on their way to shoot gorillas on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania that I may have the chance to go to as a slight detour next week. I was surprised to find they shoot only in film, and they did not carry too much equipment with them. I also kept on running into 2 gentlemen from the check-in counter all the way to the shuttle to Arusha… and then saw them again at Tish’s apartment later on, though I was on my way out and couldn’t stop to say hello. What a small (yet big) world!

Arriving in the town (they call the main part of the town “town”) of Arusha, I got off the (free) shuttle run by Air Tanzania to find a wonderful sign awaiting me and a smiling face behind it. I met Tish and we exchanged stories all evening, going out to eat fried chicken (cuckoo) and fries (chips) at a favorite restaurant of hers. It was delicious. The chicken is more chewy here than in the states for whatever reason… and fried chicken isn’t KFC-like fried, its more just fried without the batter. Very tasty (people seem to use the word tasty versus delicious). It gets quite chilly in Arusha because of its high altitude, so I had to borrow a silk cocoon-like bag from Tish to sleep in. I thought Africa was hot…. Boy was I wrong.

Arusha itself is an absolutely gorgeous area. The banana trees definitely add a je ne sais quoi, and the luscious green mountains and trickling brooks are the scenes you dream about or see in movies…. I didn’t even know where to start with pictures, because I saw all this driving to the workshop… and couldn’t really get out because the dala dalas (the bus/taxi of Tanzania - basically… cheap public transport that crams in as many people as will fit… and more)… but I tried my best to capture the beauty.

Tanzania overall is very peaceful and beautiful, and on top of that, it’s very stable in terms of development. There are still many things that could be improved and “developed,” but strangely it feels just as developed as the U.S., just different. It feels like Tanzania needs about as much work, maybe less, than the U.S. does, but it is still very different. The locals are proud to say that, “noone dies of hunger in Tanzania,” and it doesn’t get too cold or too hot, so noone dies from the weather. The poverty levels and unemployment levels are relatively low, and much progress seems to have been made in many different areas. The technology is far behind and everything is much less modern (including their views on roles of genders and persons with disabilities in society), but the progress on solving problems on disabilities and waste and poverty etc seem to be very well developed.

The people are amazing. Extremely friendly, and much less intimidating. They do not have a personal bubble whatsoever, which can be a bit too much at times, but I’ll be walking down the street and they just come up to you, shake you hand, introduce themselves, and just start an animated conversation with you. And everyone knows someone that happens to be walking down the street, so these exchanges are happening everywhere, and you just meet so many people, and they want to invite you over for dinner and buy you a drink and just hear all about your life! Such a big contrast from the other places I’ve been to where they call out to you or try to sell you things or harass you but few actually come up and introduce themselves just because they’re interested in hearing your stories and learning more about you. Though even here marriage proposals are rampant…. One person today was very persistent, showering me with compliments which is always a very awkward situation. Perhaps the good work that the foreigners working for ngos are doing here has something to do with their percept of foreigners. There are many foreigners that come for safaris and do waste money and act obnoxiously towards the locals, but they are often in their own groups and do not integrate themselves with the locals. So I think by us walking around the town, taking dala dalas instead of taxis, eating where the locals eat, and hanging out with locals, they know that we are here to work, and are much more curious and treats us like people and not like tourists.

My first day at the workshop, I was met with both exciting and depressing news... 2 dogs had recently had puppies... 1 family was doing extremely well... the puppies getting big and wriggling around blind.. crawling all over each other... but the other family, the mom just didn't know how to take care of her pups. I nursed one while I buried 5 dead ones... Then I put the one I had nursed back after washing it, drying it, and feeding it some millk.. but when I returned a few hours later, he was dead too...

Summary of Part III: Uganda

I really got a chance to meet and become a part of the daily life of the locals while in Uganda. Meeting the vice president, the first lady, and other politicians combined with living with one of the ministers, I also got a chance to have an insider’s view to the political structure and happenings of Uganda. Being eaten alive by mosquitos, I resorted to spraying bug spray in my room… bearing with the smell for the sake of being spared bumps all over me… but I still ended up with over 30 bites. Very itchy.... and this random dalla dalla with live chickens attached to it...

I learned that the stereotypes and stigmas of Africa being a dangerous place is actually becoming a sort of self-fulfilled prophecy. Many people don’t come to Africa because they think it is dangerous, and thus the people that do come are often the more confident ones with perhaps more money to be more adventurous and daring. Or they are volunteers/workers for NGOs which I’ve already written are sadly often corrupted. However, because the locals continue see foreigners like these, it becomes more dangerous for all the foreigners because the locals begin to think of all foreigners as rich, obnoxious people that like to waste money and party. Then we become targets for getting attacked or robbed…. And then people hear about it and more foreigners are afraid to come.. and the cycle continues. It really is not a dangerous place. Yes, you have to play it safe, you can’t go out by yourself at night and you shouldn’t be flaunting expensive clothing and equipment.. but I’ve only felt threatened a couple of times, and really, I’ve felt the same threats in NYC. Some of the larger dangers are from if you get sick, as the medical care is not as reliable or dependable as in developed countries. However, the dangers that most people fear: getting AIDS, being robbed, getting raped… all are quite avoidable and probably just as likely to happen in the U.S. But you do need to understand the neighborhoods that you are in and play it safe. If the local women don’t think it’s safe to go out at night, it’s probably not safe to go out at night. If the locals fear a certain road, you should fear a certain road. And etc.

I learned about boda bodas.. motorcycles that are used for public transport, they were often used as escape vehicles during Idi Amine’s rule… people would jump on and yell “border border!” which stuck and became “boda boda.”

I obtained a phone from InterConnection to be used for the rest of my trip, which has been quite useful as I’ve had to be separated from my hosts on several occasions, and I learned how to count in Swahili…

I also learned that “mzungu,” which everyone yells out at you from the streets to get your attention, means “British.” When locals see someone white, they call them mazungu, because the British were the first whites to come in bulk to East Africa. That stuck and now a common word for any white person is mazungu. For some strange reason, I have been mistaken for a mazungu several times.. They often yell Cheenay, for Chinese, or yell out “Japan,” but I’ve run into a couple people who insist that I’m white, just with Chinese hair. I don’t see it…. Noone usually thinks I’m Korean, but I’ve never had anyone think I’m fully white either…

Overall, Uganda was an eye-opening experience where I met many people that I will continue to work with in the future. I gained a new mentor who has been through a lot and has much knowledge to share, and several new project ideas for Biyeun that we will continue in the states. I will not miss the mosquitos, but I was definitely sad to leave my hosts and new friends.

We Are (Host) Family

For the first time ever, I stayed with a host family, albeit one that Biyeun has known for several years and has become very close with. Staying with a host family, I really became integrated into their lifestyles and got to know them on a whole new level. When you live with people, a different connection forms, even in dorm life, however imagine living in the same one-level house…. Sharing a bathroom and waking/sleeping/eating on their schedule. While it could become an inconvenience, for me it was a great opportunity to really capture and understand their lives, Biyeun’s experience, and become more Ugandan.

I would highly recommend living with a family of locals. It can be hard as it is not as private or comfortable at times as a hotel, but it is more cost-efficient (at times free though I brought a box of chocolates as a thank-you) and you get an experience and opportunity that you can’t buy. I was fortunate that this was the family of an Honorable of Uganda (a minister.. not religious, but political), and so the house was very nice (on Ugandan standards), clean, and there were orphan girls living with them and working as house girls in exchange for the promise of getting a free education after a certain amount of years. The family had 2 young boys, 2 and 5, and 1 girl cousin visiting. It was delightful to have children around, despite the screaming at 5am every morning when they would get up and want to wake everyone else up as well. Dinner was always around 11pm, 10 at the earliest and midnight when it was late. Everyone seems to eat dinner late in Uganda, my stomach wasn’t too happy with it, but they are very eager to feed you and the food is very good, so I ate every night right before going to sleep. Oh another bizarre thing... there are many many guards... every middle-class to upper-class house seems to have a gate/guard.. but its always the same guard, day in and day out. they live in that little brick room shown above... so are they bachelors? Are they ALL bachelors? That's a lot of bachelors.... or perhaps they just never see their family? I'd be interested to see the demographics of men who are guards for profession.

Another thing I should mention is try to stay with a host family with children near your age or with a family that you’re working with. The host family that I stayed with in Moshi, Tanzania is a family that Shirley found on facebook, and when the children were away, we were much less involved in their lives and it was more like living at a bed & breakfast, however, as soon as the host sister came back, we really got to experience the life of a Tanzanian young adult. Most highly recommended.

Back.. to Blogging

Many apologies for not updating my blog in so long. A combination of lack of internet access in Tanzania, being sick, temporary writer’s block, minor crisis situations, and my blog getting locked because they thought it was a spam blog… not sure what that’s all about. Anyways, I’ll have to try and catch up as best as I can.

First a quick overview… I left Uganda on Sunday, July 15, and arrived in Kiliminjaro Airport in Tanzania right on time. I headed off to Arusha, Tanzania, and followed Tish to Moshi on Thursday to pick up a wheelchair, where, conveniently, Shirley was doing her project! With a detour to Ngorogoro Crater, Lake Myanara, and Zanzibar, I am now waiting in Kenyatta Airport yet again for a 6 hour layover which I just found out has been delayed another 2 hours.... yay for Kenyatta. They didn't want those fond memories of “let’s see how confused we can make you” to be without fresh ones. In the past few weeks, I’ve had amazing experiences, met equally amazing people, had powerful epiphanies, run into major technical difficulties, been robbed, seen incredible scenery and animals, and been on quite the rollercoaster ride. Oh and seen Ocean’s Thirteen in a Tanzanian Movie Theater… I didn’t realize how much I missed movies until I came out of the theater entranced by the screen… and this was not exactly an Oscar winner so you can imagine what I mean. It seems that I’ve been met with many extremes….. but all’s well that ends well. :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm Alive... Internet/Power... Not so Much

Just a quick update.... I apologize for the lack of updates. I have blog entries waiting to be posted from my laptop, but unfortunately due to bad internet connection, slow computers that don't like USBs, and power shortages that limit the amount of time computers can be on for in addition to my host family needing to use the computer... I have not been able to transfer my blog entries to a computer that has access to the internet (for some reason my computer cannot connect... IP Address problems I think). When I get to Thailand on Monday, I will do a massive update. Until then... I was in Arusha last week, went on a safari with Shirley over the weekend, and am in Moshi this week. Due to most of Shirley's work being on the computer, her, Tish, and Mario's amazing trip to Zanzibar, and wonderful MIT that wants me to have a great experience in addition to working.... (though I've definitely been having that all along), I have a chance to go to Zanzibar for the next few days leaving tomorrow morning and returning on Friday in time to document Shirley's last day which just happens to be the day when she'll actually be working with community members! Tanzania is an amazing paradise country with gorgeous scenery, friendly locals, delicious food, and a pretty stable economy. I will update you more on the issues that I've seen in Tanzania, and the great progress they are making as well as about the great times that I have been having. Living with locals and working very closely and one on one with locals is definitely a great way to become truly integrated into their lifestyle and to have the best experience you could have. :) Look forward to my updates!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Part III: Welcome to Nakawa, Uganda – Greetings from the First Lady and the Vice President

Stepping off the plane into Entebbe Airport in Entebbe, Uganda, I noticed that the airport is very small. There’s one small building about the size of 2 houses, and that’s about it. There is one gate, that building, and a small parking lot no bigger than Kresge Lot at MIT.

The potholes here are crazy, and we play the “pothole” game, offroading to avoid the potholes because the bumpy dirt/grassy area is still smoother than the destructive roads. However, the weather is perfect, reminding me of San Francisco weather where its gets chilly at night, and perhaps a little warm during the day, but really its pretty much perfect. However, the mosquitos are definitely more abundant here than in Kenya or India, apparent from the 30 mosquito bites that I have already acquired.

The ruralness of Uganda surprised me as I’ve heard it being called the “pearl of Africa.” Driving into Kampala, the largest city of Uganda, it was like driving into the old downtown of Nashua, New Hampshire near where I attended high school… little to no tall buildings, no jam packed sidewalks or roads, plenty of space between buildings, and relatively clean air minus the dust and the random spouts of exhaust that clouds around me if a matatu (a mini bus that I believe I described in a Kenya entry) drives by me. Despite being close neighbors and soon to become one nation (I’m embarrassed to say that I just found out that Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and several other eastern and central African countries are uniting to become one country under one presidential power), Uganda and Kenya are drastically different in atmosphere, food, landscape, and citylife.

I’ve heard a lot of “I love you’s’ and “You’re so lovelies” which would be flattering minus the fact that I know they probably say it to every foreigner that passes by. I wonder why they say it though. Whether they think those are the only words I’ll know, or whether they want a U.S. Passport. Today I was told “I love you many times.”

They have these public transportation motorcycles called “boda boda” which came from “border border” from when Idi Amin (the old President of Uganda that was insanely corrupt and one of the most feared men) was in reign. People used to try to run away to the border to escape from his reign… and would jump on a motorcycle and say “border border”.. .so now they’re called “boda boda.”

Upon my arrival, I immediately was driven to the vice president’s house for dinner. The vice president of Uganda. Yes, of Uganda. The project that I am documenting is of InterConnection Uganda, an initiative to bring computers and internet access to all of Uganda. It is a private organization that works hand in hand with the government. Biyeun, the MIT student that has been a part of this project from its conception, has been coming to Uganda for the past 3 years to set up computer labs in schools, refurbish computers, and this year, to open up a computer refurbishment center. So we to a party at the vp’s house and I was welcomed by prime ministers and the vice president. There was delicious food and the vice president even began playing a drum at which point Biyeun began to dance. It was very relaxing and quite the experience to rub elbows with some of the highest officials on Uganda.

The excitement didn’t stop. On Sunday, my second day, I went to the State House (the equivalent of the White House to have lunch with the First Lady of Uganda. We were supposed to meet the President too, but he had to leave abruptly for Tanzania. I was overwhelmed to have this honor and a bit embarrassed at getting a chance to meet these high officials when I wasn’t actually involved with Interconnection.

So needless to say, the past couple of days have been a whirlwind, exciting and tiring, and my cold sadly getting worse, but hopefully getting better soon. I had a mango popsicle ice cream with real mangoes in it, chipote with omelette made by a food vendor which I was told should be ok (and I’m not sick yet), a samosa with beans inside… not smushed beans but whole beans… and nothing to hold them together, quite interesting really, and so much more. Ugandan food uses a lot of yams, plantains, rice, meat, plantains, and yams. Basically carbohydrates and meat. With vegetable garnishes. I was definitely spoiled by food for the president and the vp my first couple of meals, but in fact the vendor food is just as scrumptious, though differently so. I’ve also grown quite fond of the high-fibre digestion biscuits which I am convinced I owe my resilient stomach to.

Dowries: What Are Women Worth?

My last day in Kenya I was inavited to have tea with the "head honchos" of APDK. I made a little speech about what I had accomplished during the week, what I hoped to do with the material I had gotten, my fundraising plans, and my personal future plans. Then we got into some interesting discussions about dowries.

In Kenya and in Britain (the national chairman is British), it is custom for the man to pay his wife's family a dowry. Apparently in Kenya, this dowry continues for the rest of their lives and the responsibility of supporting the woman's extended family should they need to be supported lies in the man's hands. The women in the room argued that dowries for wives made the wives appear as purchasable property in the men's eyes. This was an interesting view because I’ve only heard about women’s families having to pay a dowry to the husbands and the women feeling bad because they felt that the husband needed to receive something to take them, that they themselves weren’t worthy enough, and they were a burden to both their husband and their fathers.

We also discussed whether there should be dowries at all. I was explaining how in the U.S. that concept is pretty much extinct, but they were explaining how it bonds families together and makes it harder to divorce because so much relies on the marriage. It even makes divorce pretty much obsolete in the countries with dowries. They explained this as if it were a good thing... which it could be, but it could also backfire and restrict a woman from leaving a an abusive marriage because her families' lives depends on it.

Summary of Part II: Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi showed me the progress that developing countries are making and the high benefits of government cooperation. It also introduced me to a lot of new animal parts used as food and new animals used as food. Despite getting sick, it was a wonderful experience seeing an ngo that is well-established and on its way to becoming large and extremely successful around the country. The weather proved to be much colder than expected, but the cabin-stay and cooking over the fire was pleasant and hanging out with the locals was just what I needed to feel welcome and at home. I learned that tea is a great gift to give, and learned how important physical therapy and rehabilitation really are. I saw poverty and found a way to help, and even had a chance to try home-cooked food in the slums (I didn’t get sick, and it was extremely good… pilao.. yum). Nairobi was a success in my book.

Airport Connects More than Flights - It Connects People

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the largest airport in east and central Africa. However, it is quite frustrating to try to fly out of it. First, there are no comprehensive signs that tell you where you should go, so you find a line, wait in it, and then figure it out once you get to the front. Usually standing with the mass leads to the correct location. Secondly, the airport functions as if its staff is on strike. Despite having a line curving around the entire enclosed area, the departure customs only had one staff member granting departure from Kenya. Third, they change the gates after you’ve checked in quite frequently, and do not inform you that it has been changed. There is no announcement, you just figure it out once you get to the gate you thought you were supposed to be at and they tell you to go to a different gate. Then sometimes the workers are confused and send you back and forth between 2 gates.. .each insisting the other one is the correct gate. Fourth, they have several flights board from the same gate and scheduled to leave at roughly the same time. Obviously if everyone actually tried to board at the same time there would be chaos, so instead they just delay one of the flights. Fifth, the gate number has nothing to do with the plane you are boarding, so once you enter the gate, you walk outside and walk across the airport to your correct plane. Sixth, they put you on the airplane for 2 hours and don’t tell you when the aircraft will take off, merely that it is dangerous to fly the aircraft and so they have to wait to fix it. Quite the ordeal.

Thankfully, these frustrating problems also brought several pleasant events as well as solutions. I had a chance to try a chicken pie and a mint pineade juice, both of which were scrumptious. The chicken pie was like a chicken pot pie without a plate… crust all around the chicken/vegetable mixture. The mint pineade juice was what the counterguy recommended, and despite its grass green color, it was delicious! From the name I would assume it was pineapple juice, lemonade, and mint.

I met a lot of interesting people in the many lines I had to wait in, meeting some that were on my flight and thus finding entertainment for the hours I had to wait. I met a young Kenyan man that works in China and speaks Swahili, English, and Mandarin fluently. He sells Jacuzzis and other large objects, but does a lot of international business. Intriguing. He insisted that I call when I got to China so if there is a jacuzzi emergency, I have his business card. Then there was an older Kenyan woman that was extremely chatty and not content with how the airport was being run, but was quite a delight to talk to as she kept many of us entertained in the line… and an elderly Caucasian doctor, Chuck, who graduated from Harvard med and now works for PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. I explained that I was going to take a year off before medical school and was looking for a job where I could travel, help the developing world, and save up for medical school, and he gave me his business card, saying he might be able to find me such a position! How perfect!!!! I will definitely look into this option.

Overall the Kenyatta Airport experience was quite pleasant, and I have to fly through there to get to Tanzania, which Chuck is also doing, so I may see him again! Ooh, and I went to the supermarket yesterday and ran into a couple that had been on my flight. It’s a small country.

CBR: Community Based Rehabilitation

APDK also has a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program which serves as a mobile clinic and community outreach/awareness. I wanted to go out to the field (to the slums) with them once, but I kept on missing the chance. On Thursday, when I asked again, they decided to go out to the field to check out the workshops that were being held and the daycare they run so that I could see a bit of this program.

First we stopped at a government facility to wait for the field workers, members of the slum community that work with APDK. I had to use the washroom and I was lead down a path between some shanties and lead to a wooden outhouse. The smell was nauseating and it was dark, but at least they had litrines and private quarters (though the same outdoors, open air sewage system seen to the right); a step up from the slums in India.

We attended a workshop in the slums to educate parents of disabled children about empowering their children, getting them treatment, and getting over the stigma of disabled children being worthless and necessary to be hidden at home. We had to introduce ourselves, and they gave us a warm round of applause to welcome us and even sang us a song about disabled children. Granted it was in Swahili so I didn’t understand any of it… but it was still a nice gesture.

We then headed over to a nursery and school sponsored by APDK for disabled children. Mentally disabled children attend this school and nursery and are given a goal when they first arrive. The goal may be to be able to write or to be able to stand or to be able to read. They are also given a goal time to complete this goal by. Once the student has achieved his/her goal, he/she must leave the school which is no problem because by this time they are able to function regularly at a normal school. I visited the nursery where I had a chance to see some of the children (ranging between 3 and 9 I think) and volunteers, all mothers of children that at one point attended this nursery. The mothers clean, train, feed, and take care of these children while their parents look for work.

I had a chance to speak with the mothers about their lives and their problems. I asked them what they did in their free time, only to be met with a blank stare asking, “what free time?” I realized the error in my question, that free time is only for those with the luxury to have it. They explained that with taking care of their family, and especially of their disabled children who need to rely on them for everything, they didn’t have free time. That’s also what they found to be the hardest thing for them… knowing that their child needed them to survive… and when asked what did they want the most, they answered, “food for my children.” Their husbands look for work, and are only able to find work they are qualified for once or twice a week. With this small pay, they can barely feed the family, and often starve. Paying for rehabilitation or medication for their children is out of the question.

The unemployment in Kenya in 2001 was 40% according to statistics online, and I was told by word of mouth that it is currently over 55%. And not by choice. Not because they do drugs or waste money on alcohol… but because of the state their economy is in and the lack of a widespread education. This unemployment is hard enough for regular families in the slums, but for the families with disabled children…. They have no means of paying for rehabilitation which could make the kids able to support themselves after their parents die or even be completely normal, and they have no money for medications which can prevent these disabilities. Another interesting and sad fact…. Over 50% of the Kenyan population falls under the poverty line.

I racked my brain for a way to help, and thankfully, I came up with a plan while I was still there. I asked for the recipes of the food they served the children at the nursery, very simple and basic, and plan to make these dishes back at MIT to sell to the MIT community, sending all proceeds back to APDK to feed the disabled children and their families. We spend about $5 on a typical meal, and this converts to about 300 shilllings which converts to being able to feed more than 15 children. I hope to work with conferences throughout Boston to provide lunches for them with these humble but filling foods which will both make the conference attendees think about the blessing of the food they eat everyday, and be a source of donation: if they donate what they would have paid a catering service for unhealthy, sauce-filled sandwiches, chips, and cookies… if they would’ve paid $5 per lunchbox.. given that 100 people attend the conference, this is $500 which will feed over 1500 children. Or another way of looking at it… It will feed one child 3 meals a day for OVER 1 FULL YEAR. Just because you chose to have a simpler lunch for one meal of one day, a child will get to not starve for an entire year. How much easier can we make it for you?

Excitingly, one of my Sigma Kappa sisters is starting a club on neurological diseases at MIT. I proposed the idea to her to become part of the club’s mission, and she was interested, so I am working out the plans with her. I love the snowball effect that begins with just a little push and motivation to help out!

I love how everything connects together and seems to fall into place. I have explained APDK to some of the students working in India on developing a program for disabled children in the slums of India, and we will be communicating more in the future about what APDK does and how it can be adapted for India. This way they can build off of what works well, and will not have to start from scratch. They can get so much more done and can avoid a lot of trial and error. If we all work together, things can run so smoothly!

Neat Ways to Help Out

This website allows you to loan money to poor workers to expand/start businesses. You lend them money, and then eventually you get it back. You lose nothing, and in the process, you help a whole family: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=about

This website gives you a way to donate money to a legitimate organization (though I'm not sure how legit), and gives 100% of your donation to the ngo of your choice. It also lets you search for volunteer opportunities throughout the world, many of which do not require pay or even give you a stipend: http://www.universalgiving.org/jsp/index.do

What You Dare Not Ask

“The mentally disabled are better off dead.” Shocking statement, isn’t it? Don’t you want to just yell at whoever said that and accuse them of wanting genocide and being unfair to a large group of our population? Don’t you want to argue on the behalf of the mentally disabled?

In a well-intentioned attempt to be fair and just, our society has become afraid of even discussing certain topics. We’re afraid of discussing touchy subjects because we’re afraid of the conclusion. And often the most logical utilitarian conclusion (the one that benefits the most people the most) is not the most humane nor may it seem more just. Imagine, if you will, that you are the leader of a population of 100 people. You have the option of keeping all 100 people alive but sick and sad, or keeping 90 people alive and healthy by killing (murdering or sacrificing, depending on how you look at it) the 10 weakest. What would you do? Would your decision change if it changed to 50/50? What if you were the one that had to end the 10 lives.. what if you weren’t and didn’t even have to acknowledge that it happened… if you had “people” that “made it happen” while you focused on the 90 happy lives that you had cured.

Before I delve further, I want to put a disclaimer that I am merely musing about this topic. I am not stating my beliefs, merely making observations and using what seems to be logical thinking to state certain ideas that form. I personally believe that we, as humans, do not have the authority to end another human’s life. Nothing makes me better than any other human being, so who am I to decide whether someone deserves to live or die?

However.. going back to the previous example, for the sake of the majority, the minority can be sacrificed. This often happens in war where we call them “casualties of war,” innocent people that die so that millions can be saved. So what about the weak? If all humans suffering from genetic diseases were to die, or be killed, those genetic diseases would be obliterated. In theory. If all humans with the HIV virus were killed.. HIV would be eliminated and there would be no innocent children born with the virus through no fault of their own. Again, to clarify, this is NOT what I think should be done by any means. But can you see a glimpse of how someone may be able to reason that this is the solution and thus try to implement it not for malicious reasons but for the benefit of the masses?

The wonderful thing (and often confusing thing) about being human is that the world isn’t black and white. Thankfully, we don’t have to decide between just 2 hard decisions, we can use our creativity and cumulative learning abilities to come up with new and different solutions. Ways around the problem or ways to solve the problem. For example, with HIV, we’re searching for cures and teaching prevention methods.. But what if you couldn’t… what if you only had 2 choices… what would you do? What would be right? Or would one just be the lesser of 2 wrongs? Does that make the better of the 2 wrongs the better choice… and thus the right one?

Tea: A Gift for All

On my last day at APDK, I presented a giftbox of tea from India to the National Director, requesting that the tea be served at tea time in place of the regular Kenyan tea that is served every workday. This was a terrific idea for a gift. The entire association was able to enjoy the gift which served as a token of my appreciation for their warm hospitality and cheery smiles every day. The national director was so touched that he organized a formal tea time with all the sub-directors and department heads and invited me to come give a mini speech. We had great discussions about dowries (which apparently the man gives to the woman’s family when asking for her hand in marriage.. more on this later), cultural differences between Kenya and the U.S., the need for more physicians in Africa, and more. All over India tea.

Just fyi for anyone who wants to present a gift to a group of people in the future…

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) + Government = Non-Organization... but not in Kenya

I met with the national director, Mr. Seifert, last week to get more information about ADPK and its history (everyone is so welcoming and helpful in Kenya that if I want to talk to someone or see something, they’ll make it happen). The association is really inspiring with its stability, future prospects, and affect and it has a great framework that would prove invaluable to other countries trying to start a similar organization.

I read the annual report, several grant proposals, and basically all the brochures and information booklets they had about APDK, learning about more of the technical aspects, but wanted to learn more about Mr. Seifert’s view and recommendations. From the readings, I saw that the Kenyan government had a huge role in the success of this NGO. Traditionally, governments and NGOs don’t work too well together because the government feels they have to compete for money or the NGO feels threatened by the government. However, Mr. Seifert felt that the key to nationalizing and stabilizing a program or association is collaboration with the government.

I think I agree, though I need to think more about this concept, but my initial thought is that without the government, there is only so much you can do and only so far that you can spread. You want to make a NGO self-sustainable, limiting the reliance on donors in case something happens to that relationship or the donor loses the means to contribute. This is hard to do if the government isn’t involved, and even harder if the government isn’t happy with the idea. As an executive member of the Christian Blind Organization which has hundreds of international developmental projects worldwide, Mr. Seifert spoke on their behalf and said the only way to make a national, sustainable difference is to collaborate with the government. In fact, many donors and organizations offering grants are changing their policies and only granting or donating funds if the proposal comes through the nation’s government. Therefore, many NGO’s are realizing that without working with the government, they often will not be able to work at all.

But then what happens to those countries where the government is not interested in helping its people? Especially not the "weaker" ones they find dispensable and "useless." India seems to be one of these cases where if you brought up the idea of starting a ngo working to help the poor physically disabled, the government would not look twice at the proposal. How then can you make a national impact?

Empowering the Disabled from Childhood

While physical therapy is much more prevalent in the United States, it is often overlooked in developing countries where citizens with disabilities are often ignored and considered useless and not really worth anyone’s time. Kenya has overcome this stigma with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya. The tricycles are merely one investment of this association which is a non-governmental organization working closel with the government’s Ministry of Health (more on this later). The chairman of the association is the vice president of Kenya and they have many government-employed staff.

The clinic consists of two different departments which are very small (the occupational therapy department which deals with training children on every day tasks and the physiotherapy department which trains the children on the basic essentials – strengthening their immune systems and such), each consisting of one room in one building which is also connected to the administrative office. Though small, this clinic makes a huge difference. They focus on children because they say that the younger you are treated, the more effective the therapy and the child can even grow up to have NO physical disabilities in their adult stage. The key is to catch the problem early on and get it fixed, but the fixing is a long and grueling process as well. The clinic is relatively cheap even for Kenya, about 50 shillings per visit depending on the problem. I met one 5 years and 2 weeks old boy named Jakes (yes, Jakes with an ‘s’) and his mother who let me photograph them during their rehabilitation session (he's the little boy to the left walking with the help of a green walker). Jakes has bowed legs and flat feet and cannot walk on his own. Over the past year, his mother says that his walking has improved tremendously. He can now walk with the assistance of a toy on wheels, or some sort of rolling companion.

The screams, cries, whimpering, and uncontrollable coughing echoes off the walls of the clinic. While waiting to speak with Grace, the head of one of the departments, tears came to my eyes as I observed disabled children all around me struggling to take a step or screaming at the pain of a therapist trying to straighten out their legs. There are many support devices designed to train specific muscles that will help the children stand or sit properly. Some children are oblivious and do not seem to care, others slouch down in distress, fully aware that they aren’t capable of changing the situation, and others scream with the discomfort of their bound limbs.

Polio is the leading cause of disability here, a disease that has been obliterated in the U.S. We have a vaccine against this disease so why are so many lives here in Kenya and in fact in many developing countries ruined because of it?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Giving Wisely

A brief overview... worth a quick read. :)


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Political Corruption: Do Truly BAD People Exist?

What makes someone "bad." Some say it is who they are, something they cannot control and cannot change. Some say it is a result of environmental determinism, the combination of the setting and happenings around them that shape their character and mind. Others say that it is entirely controllable and you just need self-restraint and it is completely your own fault if you do something "bad."

Who knows what it is.. who can say for sure? I think it's a combination, but I often wonder as some seem to be more likely than others depending on the situation.

Selfishness and greed are prominent human characteristics that are at the core of many problems and conflicts. Wars, political conflicts, poverty, devastation, so much of it stems from selfishness and greed. I've had the pleasure of having some great conversations with Fredrik, a program manager for Microsoft Emerging Markets who travels around developing technology and implementing technology in developing countries. He has been to India several times, and we were talking about the reason for India's poverty, lack of a middle class, and slow development. Here is what I've learned/deduced from that discussion (to be taken with a grain of salt because it is of course my opinion and his, not the final hoorah.. there are many details that I will not include and do not know, which I plan to educate myself on in the future. I have always tried to stay away from political affairs because the corruption disgusts me, but I'm discovering that if I want to really help, I need to know about the political systems and find the non-corrupted parts to work with.).

There are several people in India that are richer than Bill Gates. After that upper upper class, there is the upper class consisting of actors and politicians that are very wealthy. After that there is the lower lower class. And little in between. Why is this? Part of it is due to religion which begins another controversy and headache of a discussion altogether. Many Indian citizens believe in a form of reincarnation. So if they are rich in their current life, it means they did something right in their previous life, and are being rewarded for their achievements. If they are poor in their current life, they were bad in their previous life, and thus are being punished in this one. This accounts for why the rich feel they don't need to and in fact should not help the poor, and why the poor are so set in the way they are and don't feel they can get out.

Now initially you may think the solution is to wake the people out of this conception that many may deem absurd. However, many more problems can arise by trying to change such a big part of their culture. People depend on their religion and the society is built up around it. Trying to change their view on this concept could have dire consequences. In addition, we don't have proof that they're incorrect. Perhaps their beliefs are true. Who are we to say they're false and condemn them for their beliefs? Then the tricky part becomes how do you solve the problem. A deeper problem exists still: what really is the problem? Are the rich people "bad" and don't feel empathy and don't want to help? Have they just not seen the poverty (which seems impossible because it is everywhere) and thus have not had a chance to feel the empathy? Have they seen it and want to help but feel that it would be wrong to do so? And then are they truly malicious? Do they only care about making money for themselves and getting more power? Why is the development so slow?

In the end, the best solution always seems to be one where everyone wins. The problem is finding this solution. In this particular situation, I see one potential solution that seems realistic (given there's someone that has the opportunity and the skill to do it). Going from the angle of convincing the people in power that they have power, they have money, but they do not have the acts that will make their names go down in history; they do not have the glory. Selfishness and greed are 2 sins, but the desire for glory is another... but can be harnessed to do good. If someone can convince the people in power that making the people of their nation stable and bringing them out of poverty will put their names in history books for eternity, making them the leaders of a developed nation... that would be (I would think) extremely tempting.

I do not want to believe that anyone can be truly "bad." People make mistakes, but I can't imagine someone doing anything purposely to hurt someone else. They may overlook something or not realize the effect it will have.. but purposely hurting someone? If they think it is the lesser of 2 evils, then they may be able to justify it... but someone who just likes making others feel pain... I can't believe that could exist. And for those few where it does... it's a problem of the wrong chemicals in their brain and their feeling of exasperation or something where they have lost hope or are not thinking straight. Where they think hurting the other persons is the better of two evils where perhaps the worser evil is themselves being hurt...

but then again... perhaps i'm being too idealistic. how can we ever really know?

Corruption and Human Nature: Is it Inevitable? (Part I)

All human beings are sinners. Christian churches preach it, and many believe it. Some accept it and could care less, others take comfort in Jesus Christ saving them from their sins. But why this concept that sinning is inevitable? Because of human nature?

Nearly everything, if not everything, that we do is in our own self-interest. Even volunteering just for the sake of helping people (without the benefit of looking good on a resume or receiving some sort of compensation), is selfish because if it didn't make you feel good in some way, you wouldn't do it. I've heard countless times people saying it's stupid to do something that doesn't make you happy. No matter how "good" it may be.

But where do you draw the line? I recently discovered through conversation that many NGO staff make $50,000 US DOLLARS PER MONTH. PER MONTH!!!! They live in huge houses with 7 bedrooms and a heated swimming pool, staying in $400 hotel rooms and eating like kings... while all around them the people that money should be helping suffer. They must get some comfort in that if they weren't there the people wouldn't be getting any help. But really... how do they sleep at night? How do they live with themselves? I have woken up in the middle of the night infuriated after I heard this, and several times a day, I remember it and become angry and am searching for a solution.

$50,000/month = $600,000/year. WITHOUT taxes, because they're ngo employees. ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE.

How can people be so evil... putting on a facade of saving the world, and instead sitting in a bed of money relishing in luxuries that even those in the developed world rarely see. Did they know they would have these lifestyles when they started working in these positions? Or did they start out with good, honorable intentions and become corrupted by the corrupted system and the simple, easy way of swindling money. And how can they get away with this?

I want to make it clear that NOT EVERY NGO does this. I am currently looking into more information about which ngo's partake in this disgusting activity. It seems that a lot of the ngos that are sponsored by the government end up corrupt because they are only situated in the developing country to "spy" or to channel funds to their own economy. If you look up NGO corruption on google or NGO salaries, you will find a lot more information about this. Perhaps I was just ignorant or naive, but I never imagined that this would be happening. I have heard of some ngos being careless with how they spend money, spending too much money on advertising and getting big shot actors, but never something to this scale. Can you just sit there and let this continue? Never mind donating more money or finding more grants... for this organizations, just cut the salaries to even the average US salary, and the ngo will be able to expand exponentially and make worlds of a difference. How can they be getting so much and yet complaining that they need more money to be able to change the developing world?

I cannot accept that this is inevitable corruption and that it will be the way it is. Yes, more is being done in these countries because the ngos are there helping (in most situations, though in some the ngo hurts the nation more than it helps), but so much more could be done if people that actually cared were the ones that were working. If the money were being spent in the right way for the right reasons.. if a better system were in place to keep the ngos in check and to cut off their funding source if their budget says that 90% of the budget will go to paying workers' salaries.

Weather Forecast for Nairobi: Cold

Nairobi was much colder than I expected, and I came down with quite the flu or cold or whatever this past week. My apologies for not updating my blog. Again. I'm still suffering, drugged up on dayquil and cough drops and ibuprofin so that I can go about my day as normal as I can... it would suck to have 1 day where I couldn't do anything because that's 1/7 of my stay... and if you think about travel time.. its 1/6 of my stay. so i'm keeping up, but i'm sleeping whenever i can and my head is a bit foggy so my writing hasn't been keeping up. I will update slowly but surely. :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rolling in the Right Direction

Here in Nairobi, I am documenting Mario Bollini, a rising junior at MIT, who designed a new version of an existing tricycle for the physically disabled to make transportation easier and safer. We come to the base of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya every day, getting up at 6:30am, leaving the campground at 7am, getting to the site at 8am, and working until about 5pm. The work being done here is very mechanical; they build, design, and test existing and prototypes of new tricycles. There is not as much interaction in the workshop with the population he is helping, but occasionally some of the clients will come to test out the new designs. Aside from the tricycle, I got permission to go into the rehab clinic to take photographs with the permission of the patient, which was an amazing experience and deserves an entry of its own. I’ve been able to help test the prototypes, building up my arms, and giving suggestions on improvements to the design. My interviews with the staff are going extremely well, as they both have a lot of positive feedback and ideas for future improvement.

The tricycles cost $200 in American dollars, but Safaricom, the most successful company (a cell phone company) in Kenya, buys them and donates them to the physically disabled. They are also given a loan to purchase a phone which they can use to bring in an income, and then they have to pay for their minutes. The tricycles donated by Safaricom are painted their signature lime green color and has advertisements on a big umbrella that shades the rider from the sun. The recipients seem overjoyed to get this vehicle which allows them to transport themselves further distances more safely than via a wheelchair (most raggedy and old from wear and tear – they were all donated used). Not only the tricycles, but in fact the entire association is a great sector of the government. It empowers the disabled by producing new devices, treating them in a rehabilitation clinic, meeting those that can’t reach the clinic through a mobile clinic, custom-making braces and shoes to help people walk, and giving out crutches. I have seen more physically disabled people in the past couple of days than I have ever seen in a lifetime. Some of them have always been disabled as a result from a disease such as polio, and others have become disabled due to accidents or developed disease. Many of the staff are physically disabled themselves which really adds to the empowering and I think is a huge reassurement and hope for those that come to be treated or helped.

Hell's Gate: Tales of Beauty, Adventure, and Sickness

Sunday was a no-work day, so I went mountain biking with Samir and Mario. We took several buses to Navasha and then to Fisherman’s where we rented bikes and rode to Hell’s Gate National Park. I had eaten an orange earlier which I guess didn’t suit me because while we were riding to Hell’s Gate I got extremely nauseous and faint and couldn’t move. I was forced to get off my bike and I sat for a while, and then mustered up enough energy to get to the entrance of Hell’s Gate. Once there, I threw up a couple times, rested for a couple minutes, drank Kenyan Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic, a strong version of GingerAle) and then forced myself to continue. I didn’t want to ruin the day for everyone and I was determined to see Hell’s Gate.

It was definitely worth it. I threw up a couple more times, but wow. Majestic cliffs and mountains with those flat treetop trees… zebras grazing… getting completely covered in light brown dust such that your clothing is covered and your face is covered and your teeth are covered…. J the vast blue sky with clouds playing hide and seek with you behind the mountains. I saw zebras and wild hogs like pumba in their natural habitats! I walked so close up to them. But I couldn’t take a picture up close because they seemed to think it was a weapon. The bikes weren’t that great quality and we were riding basically in sand, so it was very very hard, and I’m STILL sore, but it was an amazing experience. We rode to the gorge and hiked through it, easy because it had not rained in a while so it was very dry. On our way back from the gorge we ran into nightfall and it was pitch black, and we kept on fishtailing in the sand, so when a truck drove up, we hitched a ride. It was a group of Christian men who were on their way back from church and were driving through the park (which is very expensive for foreigners, but very cheap for Kenyan citizens). I got to stand on the back of a pickup and feel the wind go through my hair and my fingers, blowing some of the dust off me. And the stars! Amazing, the most I have ever seen. The clearest night… stars everywhere, not a patch without them…

On our way back to Nairobi, we had to take a cab which turned out to be a much bigger adventure than I could imagine it to be. First some men tried to sneak into my backpack and then people tried to recruit us for the “bus”… it’s a small private van that is commonly used for transportation, but the driver seemed drunk as well so we declined. When we finally got a cab, we went for a little bit and then we stopped and our driver got out and went to go talk to the drunk guys that had been following the car. He came back, and the guys followed him so he got out and punched them. Then punched them some more and got back in the car. A whole bunch of guys were in the trunk part of the car (station wagon) and when the car stopped to drop them off, Samir had a pocket knife ready in case someone tried to hijack the car or rob us while we were in it. Apparently that’s a very common occurrence here. And driving at night is not very safe. There were no lights on the shoulders, so the darkness did not help us to feel safer.

Into the Eyes of Strangers become Friends

Samir has been to Somalia, Mumbasa, Sudan, and many other dangerous areas, and has almost been shot while out on the field. He met an Icelandic girl at the campsite we’re staying at a couple weeks ago, and now they’re talking about their future children… interesting to me because they only knew each other/saw each other for about 2 weeks… and then it’s a long distance relationship… and they are planning on getting married and the girl wants 10 kids. They have incredible and astounding stories to tell. But it was weird to hear about how they think because it’s so different from what you would hear back in the U.S. well at least with the people I know. Samir is still at the campground with us, and has been very helpful in acting as a translator and bodyguard as he used to be a cop. His past is sad but he has done so well to rise from it. His mother was abused by her father and she married a British man in an attempt to get away from the physical abuse. However, her husband beat her too. In Samir’s words, “we haven’t seen my father in many years. And we’re very happy because of it.” I can’t even imagine… He also made a delicious, authentic Kenyan dish for us at Phillippe’s house (he started renting a guesthouse when he had the opportunity because it’s is a lot cheaper and he is staying for several months) last night with many many spices, chicken, and vegetables. It was made on a clay stove sort of device heated by a fire in the bottom and coal on the top part. We put it on a dead tree trunk (the night before we cooked hot dogs on this clay stove and the center of the dead tree trunk caught on fire so we got to see the inside of the trunk burn… it looked like a volcano getting ready to erupt). We sopped up the thick stew with French bread as we watched a movie on Phillippe’s laptop. I was curled up in a hammock with a warm blanket around me, and wow. It was so peaceful.

Phillipe is a 21-year old French-Canadian who just graduated from McGill and has served in the Canadian military. He has extensive travel experience and war-training experience and he carries around a machete in his bag at all times. I definitely feel safe with my two bodyguards. Phillipe seems much older due to his military and travel experience and both the boys treat me like their little sister which is quite nice and comfortable.

Welcome to Nairobi, Kenya

The flight to Kenya was long, stopping through Dubai. I met a pro Holland football player (well European football, otherwise known as soccer in the U.S.) who I chatted with briefly and tried a falafel which I thought was the most authentic (compared to McDs or the French Bistro). I also wanted to buy a gift for the project supervisor I was working with in Nairobi so I looked around the airport and saw that dates seemed to be the big thing in Dubai. As I was looking, one of the salesmen offered me a free sample and let me choose which one to try! I chose the white chocolate covered dates with pistachio. WOW! It was delicious. I then chose a box to take as a gift and when I was paying for it, they offered me another sample! This time I chose the milk chocolate one with dates and some other nut inside. This one wasn’t AS good, but it was still quite delectable.

Nairobi is much more developed than the part of India I was in. It is much cleaner and much more modern. It even feels safer. There aren’t any tourists wandering around, so I find that myself and Mario, the student I’m here to document, are the only foreigners. But on the bright side, it means that we’re not getting ripped off too badly.

My first night in Nairobi was a success, Mario made 2 friends here, Samir and Phillippe, who were staying at the same campground for an extended period of time. Samir is 28 and is a professional photojournalist. They took me to visa, a restaurant that sells slabs of goat meat that you pick out and they hack up with a big machete. They cook it on the bone and bring it to your table where they cut it into smaller pieces. You take a cornmeal/water mixture dough, massage it into a ball, pick up a piece of meat and some fresh salsa with it, and eat it in one bite. It was absolutely delicious. I had never had goat meat before, and though it does NOT taste like chicken, it was very good.

It is very different here than in India in terms of culture and the environment, but also in the people I’m living with. In India I was with a bunch of girls and 2 Indian boys that were very conservative, and here I’m with 3 guys and working with basically all males in the shop. The campground has many foreigners but I am often exhausted by the time I get back and do not have the time or the energy to socialize much. The men in the workshop are impressed that I’m so handy, laughing at me as I helped fix the bikes and wowing at my hammering skills. I love making things so I’m very excited that I get to help build the tricycles (for the physically disabled… you pedal with your arms and not your legs). It is also different from India because I blended in slightly better there (some thought I was Tibetan or potentially north Indian) but here, Kenyans don’t seem to know about Korea as much, so they assume that everyone Asian is Chinese, though they know Japanese so that ask me if I’m that a lot. But I am the only Asian I have seen during my entire stay here. It is also very cold here in the mornings and at night (about 40 or 50 degrees F), which is a pleasant and dramatic difference from the humidity and heat of India. Another interesting piece of information is that apparently sex is very acceptable and open here. I expected Kenyans to be more conservative than Americans, but according to the locals, it is perfectly acceptable for the Kenyan girls to have many sexual partners and that it is very common and acceptable.

My free time is spent differently as well because its not as dangerous to go out when you’re with 3 armed guys and because they’re definition of fun is a bit different. In India I watched lots of Bollywood movies and went shopping, here we’re having barbeques watching action movies, and just having discussions around the fire. I made them guacamole and bbqued the hot dogs and buns and they cooked Kenyan food and made me a pineapple drink (a whole fresh pineapple blended into juice with a bit of vanilla…. (extremely good).

The food is amazing in Kenya. In India I ate meat once, but here meat is in everything. I have it in every meal and even in my snacks. India and Kenya seem to have a lot of similarities in food. They have samosas everywhere here, though they are made of meat instead of potatoes. They also have chipote which is basically like nan.. and chevra which is a snack that is like the Indian hot mix. I love the different flavored fantas and they drink tea in the same way as Indians with boiled milk instead of water and tons of sugar. It is quite a treat, though a bit too sweet for my tastes. I just can’t drink too much of it, but the locals can’t seem to get enough of it. One interesting food escapade was trying to order a dish that one of the community members had described as her favorite, and finding out that it definitely wasn’t that. Not knowing what it was, but pretty sure it was some sort of intestines, I forced myself to finish the dish, called Matumbo. I found out later that it was indeed goat intestines so was a bit grossed out, but the sauce was tasty and the intestines were very chewy but good considering, so I survived. I’m definitely trying a LOT of new things.