Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

November15, 2012

Being in Burundi and Rwanda has an eeiry quality to it. On the surface everything seems normal, until you think of ethnic killing that went on here. People use the word "genocide" to describe a time, like before or after the genocide.  But that's it.

While driving with some people in Burundi I asked about the ethnic make up of the country. The largest group is Hutu (85%), much smaller is Tutsi (14%), and about 1 % Pigmy. I then asked what group they were and was politely told you just don't ask that question.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Man Carrying Rock

November 10, 2012

The town of Lainya, South Sudan is notable for not much except death and destruction during Sudan's 20 year civil war. Now there is something very notable in Lainya, a statue of a man with a rock above his head.

This statue first came to my attention by another volunteer with a press pass in the area when his car did not go properly around the town's roundabout which not only has the statue in it, and is off to the side of the main road, but also located in front of the police station. He was put in jail for a couple of hours for disobeying the roundabout and paying off the police.

When the same reporter passed Lainya again on his return, he stepped out of the car to take a picture of the statue, only to be jailed again at the nearby police station and pressured to pay a fine.

I knowing of this story and wanting to get a photo of the statue went to the police station and humbly asked permission, only to be taken to the mayor who wanted to know who I was, and where I came from. He also said "How much are you going to pay?". I said, "nothing" and that I wanted to make Lainya famous.

I must say I didn't stay long enough to read all the information on the plaque. During British Colonial times this man carried this exact stone several miles in defiance and is today remembered for his heroism and sheer ability to carry such a heavy rock so far. Please don't quote me on the statues history. There were a lot of police with automatic weapons, so I tought I should tarry.


Bumps Ahead

 November 19, 2012
South Sudan is a new country, formed after a bitter civil warAfter a bitter civil war, the country of South Sudan was established in July, 2011. As a result, numerous agencies have been pouring into the country to assist in its recovery, many times in uncoordianted efforts.

The sign below is typical of the ironies encountered. It is meant to warn people of newly created speed bumps to prevent speeding through a village or school area.
Speed bumps are probably the smoothest part of the road.
Don't worry about speeding because this is what the road is really like.
These are real speed bumps. 
My 100 mile trip took six hours and I was lucky because we actually made it through.
Others were not so lucky.
 Note truck propped up with poles. The other not so lucky.

Break time.  
 My savior and driver, Steven.


Jiminy Crickets

November 8, 2012

The Twin Hotel in Yei (pronounced Yea!), South Sudan
 during cricket season.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two Wives

November 4, 2012

A major article appeared in Sunday's Nairobi newspaper about a Kenyan model who is the second wife of an unnamed member of Parliament. The model said how happy she was to be a second wife. The man was to be revealed after the March Kenyan elections. Other women were also quoted in the article. The article went on to say one reason women become second wives, many secretly, is the lack of stable eligible men. About 10-15% of Kenyan women were at least a second wife, despite a law which forbids polygamy.

One of the drivers for the organization I am with openly had two wives who live together in the same home, dividing up raising his thirteen children. He was a member of the Luhya tribe.

I asked a married woman who works where I was staying whether she was married and what she thought of men having more than one wife. She vehemently said she was against multiple wives. She was a member of the Kukuyu tribe.

I was confused, so I asked my taxi driver this morning to explain. He was a Kukuyu, and said faithful to his wife despite advances from other women.

As best as I could understand, this was how he explained this to me:

A woman became a second wife when she had a man's child or children. If she was a member of the Luhya tribe, having multiple wives was open and well accepted. If she was a member of the Kukuyu tribe, men tended to keep the second wife secret, since Kukuyu first wives were a jealous lot and known to stab their sleeping husbands.

Now problems arise over property, divorces, and splits when women suddenly appear from nowhere claiming support usually with children in tow having the man's characteristics . The courts have some method of handling this if the man decides to fess up rather than pay the customary blackmail money. The taxi driver indicated the woman always wins.

I asked about women who have multiple husbands. We just then arrived at the airport and the question went unanswered.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Women of Shikokho

October 31, 2012

On big thing that is happening in rural subsistence living Africa is the need for money among people who never before needed to generate money. Although they have desire and skills to earn an income, they lack the vision as to how to market what they already have.

It is a heart warming thing to watch what happens when they are presented and given a boost on new ways to earn some money.

Women of Shikokho Village, Kenya
Women sing their song
With Women's Group Leader, Jennifer, at her Clinic

Summary of  My Visit:
In discussions with fifteen members of Women’s Finance Initiative group in the Shikokho, Kenya including group leader, Jennifer, ideas were discussed to find if there were new ways to generate income. Upon assessing their current program, it was determined the women may be able to earn considerably more income by producing handmade baskets in their homes, imprinted with pictures of two unique Kagamega features, bull fighting and a rock formation, called “The Crying Stone”. These products would be sold at local markets and at the bull fights. No such items were currently available.

In addition to selling baskets with imprints of bull fights, and Crying Stone, the local upscale resort of “Rondo Retreat” expressed great interest in buying and selling local handmade items produced by the Women’s Initiative group at their gift shop and as picnic baskets for their guests. They have given permission to use their logo to imprint on the baskets. 

Stencils for bull fights, Crying Stone, and Rondo Retreat are being designed and manufactured by a Kagamega design studio. Three women from the Women’s Initiative will receive training, 6 November, 2012 on how to imprint the designs on the baskets.

Rural women lack the experience and knowledge on how to market their current talents and skills in unique ways to produce goods and services with higher profit margins. By providing a new paradigm in ways they think about their skills and resources, the women have the organization and desire to elevate their efforts beyond what they thought possible.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kenya Countryside

October 31, 2012

In driving through Kenya, the variety of scenery amazes me. From tropical rain forest to dry savannas, from mountains to plains. Not only is the scenery varied but the tribes which inhabit them are as diverse and contentious as the topography.
 Tropical rain forest

 Climbing the escarpment from Rift Valley
Rift Valley view
 Rift Valley with volcanos
 Maasi and their cattle, floor of Rift Valley
 World's largest caldera
 Landscape like American West
 Buying chickens for dinner at roadside stop

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


October 29,2012

Here in Kenya there is a huge ex-patriot population. Most are from England, Ireland, and the United States. The question of why people chose to leave their culture, country, and family to live in a foriegn land has always interested me. Most immigrants leave for economic reasons or for safety. They often have dreams of someday returning to the familiar

Ex-patriots I find leave for different reasons, freedom being a main one. It is not a freedom to leave behind their previous comforts, lifestyle, or mores, for these seem to be little changed. It is not the desire to someday return to their native land, although they periodly return to visit left behind family. The freedom is of being released from the pressure of their native cultural norms.

It is like being a bird, but without the pressures to fly. It is the challenge to live your life on the ground with the full knowledge you have the ability to be in the air, but never do.

 Ex-Patriots from South Africa, Edina, MN, and Ireland
on a tea plantation walk

Friday, October 26, 2012

Today is "Furahi Day"

October 26, 2012

Furahi Day in Swahili means "Happy Day".
The day begins when you wake up and  this state of mind continues throughout the workday.
In my office, there are cakes, treats, and friendship to help you make it till quiting time.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Working with Africans

October 25, 2012

I am beginning to appreciate working with East Africans. The ones I have met are open in their discussions and feelings. There seems to be a mutual respect in the exchange of ideas. Most of the ones I meet daily are educated, but even the uneducated seem to have these qualities.

If there is a mistrust, it is with their own government and politicians. If there is a trust, it is in their religion. If there is bigotry, it is with other ethnic African groups. There is a curiosity about the outside world, but I haven't detected an envy. They are generally quiet and reserved.

My travels to other countries in the region haven't started yet and my opinions could change.
So far, so good.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kenyan Grand Auto Theft

October 23, 2012

A woman in our office has had four side view mirrors ripped off her Toyota Rav 4 in three incidents while driving on the streets of Nairobi.
This is what she and others are doing to protect their property.
Note: all glass and plastic rain guards are etched and coded.

Photos listed of parts in order of marketabilty on street with prices (USD).

Toyota front grill emblem: $24
Note: screws
Model Hardware: $24
Side mirror complete: $80-$120
Note: chain between mirror and door frame
Mirror motor only: $32
Mirror glass (unetched):$16-$24
Note: guard to protect mirror glass
 Fender Blind Spot Mirror: $16
Antenna: $16
Side Running Light: $8
Rain Guards: $4 each
Mercedes Hood Emblem: $0
Toyota is the car here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Jones House

October 20, 2012
Since being here I have lived in at two different places and slept in five different beds, due to either volunteers before me claiming seniority when returning from trips or only three available beds for four people.
My latest house belongs to the supervisor of my program who is gone this next week with his wife on vacation to Cape Town, South Africa. He has kindly let me stay in his house.
This is where I now live on Thigiri Ridge Road, Nairobi.
Sure beats regular Peace Corps accommodations.
Entrance to house, complete with occupied guard house.
 Driveway looking back to entrance gate.

Front lawn
Front porch 



 Living room


 Servant's quarter
Live-in housekeeper who cooks and does laundry
"Pela", the guard dog 

"Cat", the cat


October 17-19, 2012
My firist trip outside of Nairobi is to the northeastern area of Uganda, a journey of about 320 miles. You have to imagine what the roads are like, that is if you want to call them roads. It takes 1 1/2 days to travel the distance. The roads we travelled are used by large trucks hauling goods and petroleum to landlocked Uganda and the new country of South Sudan. 
Kenyan Sights
Most people associate Kenya with big game and indeed they exist, but they are mostly confined to game reserves. The rest of Kenya is made up of small, poverty-ridden, subsistence farms, intensely cultivated, interspersed with larger commercial farms. If any game existed, it has long been eaten. Most of western Kenya is at a high elevation, so the climate is very mild, even cool.
Just outside of Nairobi is the 1,200 mile Rift Valley, truly spectacular with escarpments and volcanoes. For our trip we descend into and across the valley to the highlands of Western Kenya.The landscape continues to amaze me as we are on the equator.
Looking across a section of the Rift Valley with an extinct volcano to the left,
 behind which is the famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve
Upland scene with a Flame Tree on right
Forested area
Tea Plantation, a major Kenyan export
  Police, police in-training, and future young police cadets parade.
Kagamega, Kenya
  Street scene in Kagamega.
Bicycles are the main form of transportation, often carrying very heavy loads and pushed along the side of major highways.
Low powered motorbikes, called Boda Boda, are the main taxi's with some carrying two passengers. They are everywhere.

 Convoy of United Nations trucks heading for South Sudan.
Sign at a restaurant.
Owner says he goes through 12 rolls of toilet paper a day.
You really don't want to see the toilet.
Buyobo, Uganda
Crossing into Uganda at Busia, Kenya is a wild and frightening experience. There is lots of red tape, idling trucks lined up, money changers, push carts, uniformed people with AK-47s, everything you expect at a frontier border. In a way it is like crossing from the U.S. into Tijuana, Mexico, going from a rich place to a poor one with people always on the hustle. The only difference is Kenya is poor and Uganda even more so. To add to the backdrop is the memory of Idi Amin. Our car has red license plates, indicating we are either U.N. or someone important which makes the crossing that much easier. Photographs are those who like their cameras confiscated.
Sometimes "Failures to Communicate" happen, directions are scant, and cell phone reception poor. Such is the case when we are in Nambale, Kenya calling a person who says she will meet us at the famous "Chat and Chino" restaurant. Two problems exist: one is no one has ever heard of this restaurant and second no one has ever heard of Buyobo, Uganda, including Google, our destination. I luckily guessed Buyobo is near a town called, Mbale, Uganda which is in the opposite direction of our travels and not in Kenya.
Eureka! Upon arriving in Mbale, Uganda we locate "Chat and Chino", only to see it is a coffee shop unknown to all residents of Mbale, except a few Westerners. There are American lady sits, patiently waiting our arrival who after living there for nine months is not exactly sure how to get from Mbale to where she lives in Buyobo. We are to learn about the nine year program conducted by the U.S. based Women Microfinace Organization.
The famous "Chit and Chino" Coffee Shop, shared with Gatsby Microfinace, Ltd. 
Mbale, Uganda
Buyobo, Uganda Scenes
 Main Street, Buyobo
Toyota Land Cruiser is ours. Cattle theirs.
 An upscale Buyobo house
 Mt. Elgon
A 14,000 ft+ volcano which dominates the landscape between Kenya and Uganda.
Buyobo is along side it.
 Cheki, our driver, with Buyobo children
Samoan thoughts.
In many ways Buyobo reminds me of some parts of Savaii, Samoa with the rain, humidity, and misted mountain back drop.
Business Opportunities
One reason I am in East Africa is to identify business opportunities. So far, I have found three:
-Fried Banana Chips
     The microfinance women in Buyobo, Uganda harvest and sell bananas to earn extra money, but they never heard of slicing the bananas, frying and bagging them as a snack food. Banana chips are their next enterprise.
-Unique Baskets
     The microfinance women of Kagamega, Kenya basically sell the same food stuffs as hundreds of other people scraping a living. Upon a little thought, bull fighting (two bulls fight each other) and the crying rock are two very unique things about this area. Why not paint pictures of bulls fighting, the Crying Stone, and the name of Kagamega on baskets to sell?
 Crying Stone
-Bicycle Paths
     Why not rip up and sell the unused rails of Uganda for scrape and use the money to convert the roadbeds to bicycle paths? Why stop there when the bike trails can be dotted with coffee shops, boutique inns, and padded bike pant shops?
Picture yourself biking across Uganda.
Goats R'Us
I love goat meat and sometimes serve it at home to unsuspecting guests. Usually the goat I buy is chopped up into little bony pieces. When our driver learned about my love, and also his love for chomo (Swahili for goat), we just had to stop at a road "Chomo Eden".

 Kind of like "Fuddruckers", only the meat is fresher,
 being killed that day and unrefrigerated.
 Charcoal cooking, with fat dripping onto the coals.
Can't be beat.
As any carnivore knows, the most nutritious part of any animal is not the meat, but the innards.
These innards are dripping with fat and "Delicious!"