Thursday, January 28, 2010

Well I go a new nickname. After several days of attempting to remember and pronounce my name, several of my new colleagues decided to call me Makena, which means happy/joyful/jolly.

I also had my first real tour of the area and saw elephant dung in the forest today. I am so excited at the possibility to see an Elephant. Apparently they will come to the farms just outside the forest in the early morning and eat their corn. I know that’s not good but I can’t help feeling a little enchanted by it as well.

We met with 5 vulnerable families today to assess their need for a pilot feeding program we are going to start. Many of these families are made up of grandparents or great grandparents who have found themselves the caretakers of small children whose parents have either died or gone away. It’s not certain in all the cases if the parents were victims to HIV although I did meet a 15 year old girl who has been HIV positive all her life. She probably contracted the virus from her mother’s breast milk. Nevertheless, she is going to school and her quality of life seems relatively good. In fact in a visit to her school I saw her running and playing with the other children flashing a brilliant smile.

On a lighter note we also met with several people who were loan recipients and it is really encouraging to see people take the initiative and creativity to make their lives better. Apparently one big problem here is the apathy many young people have in improving their situation. There was a woman about 29 years old who bought goods for a small boutique and she seems to be making money already. Another man took his loan money to dig ponds to farm tilapia fish, a fairly new idea in these parts. There are few areas where this kind of endeavor can take place due to the mountainous terrain.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I have been in Kenya now for 6 days and I must say it is surreal in many ways. I suppose I have spent more time in Africa than most but I would be hard pressed to call myself an expert. Nevertheless, there are things about Kenya that force Wolof words to my lips and ears. There are things about it here that remind me of Ghana, Mali, and Cameroun, most especially the public transport vans with their dangling appranti who harass you to get on and hang off the van to gather more passengers. The drivers drive too fast for the roads and the vehicles themselves but somehow get us safely to our destination.

The terrain and vegetation here are similar to Ghana and Cameroun with the red sand, rolling hills and grass (something you rarely saw in Senegal). Although today I was embarrassed I did not recognize a coffee tree because in my mind it is not a crop of Africa but of South America. There are many cypress looking trees that cause me to imagine I am in Southern Europe. I am taken aback each time I step outside and find the heat is no more than on a hot summer day in Boston. Unlike the heat of Senegal that introduced me to sweat in places I never knew I could sweat while doing absolutely nothing. Apparently January is the hot month too!

Once again I am made aware of how expensive the Western world is. The difference between what a farmer can live on and what I need in order to maintain a fraction of my lifestyle in the US is beyond comprehension. I ask myself what is true development? Is it the presence of cell phones, internet, and television when only a fraction of the population here can even consider them as a part of their life? When to buy a 1/2 kilogram of carrots is 15% of the credit I put on my phone and will last me perhaps a week.

Each African country has the chant for white person from the peeping frog sound of ‘toubab’ in Senegal to the soft mumble of ‘abruni’ in Ghana; the term here is ‘Muzungu’. I have yet to be harassed in the same manner here by aggressive children jockeying to get a look at the white person and see if she eats. I imagine the number of tourists and aid workers here are greater and so the novelty is much less. This is not to say I am not picked out in the market by the beggar assuming I have money to throw at him, it’s just less…

My new boss is a Kenyan born man who had the opportunity to go to the United States for high school and remained there for about 30 years advancing his education and career before coming back to Kenya to see what he could do to help his people. So far it is an amazing story of reverse brain drain.

There are a lot of things I am experiencing here and I have yet to scratch the surface. Although if I don't get used to people driving on the left side of the road I might get hit! I do hope my subsequent blogs will be a bit more coherent and less rambling. Unfortunately, in the midst of moving and packing I seem to have forgotten my camera charger and link up to the computer so pictures will be delayed until I can figure some other alternative…


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2:41 am Nairobi...

Well, I made it! No delays and safely delivered to a lovely hotel in Nairobi. The only down point of the trip was looking online in Amsterdam to find that Scott Brown won the Senate seat in Massachusetts. I am slightly pleased that I will be away for the new transition. However, a bit torn that I am too far away to do anything.

I will hopefully update in a couple of days with more interesting things to say...