Scene:Lauren is in downtown Nairobi waiting for a friend. They planned to meet in front of a landmark office building that also happens to have high security protection. Lauren's friend is running late, so she is sitting and waiting on the ledge of the gate surrounding the building. A security guard approaches her.
(Lauren immediately senses that the guard is going to ask her to move, and really doesn't feel like moving, so she turns on the charm.)
Lauren:"Sir, I'm waiting for a friend who is running late. He is supposed to meet me right at this spot. Is it okay if I wait here?"
(Lauren glances at him with sympathetic bedroom eyes. The guard melts on contact and shifts purpose.)
Guard:"Oh yes, that's okay. You can stay right here. Welcome."
(Lauren smiles at him again with outward gratitude and inward smug satisfaction.)
Lauren:"Thank you sir."
(The guard walks away.)
----15 minutes pass----
(The guard returns.)
Guard:"Madam, is that you friend over there?"
(The guard points to the crowd of people walking down the street. Lauren's friend is a young Kenyan man about her age.)
Lauren:"No, I don't see him."
Guard:"Are you sure?"
(The guard points again at the LONE white girl walking the street. Lauren raises her eyebrows at the guard's statement.)
Lauren:"Ha, no. My friend is a he, and he's Kenyan."
(The guard's response is dripping with skepticism. Lauren gets the feeling that the guard thinks all white people must know each other. Again, someone is mislabeling her as the mzungu white girl.)
Lauren:"Trust me....that's not who I'm waiting for."
(The guard walks away with a look on his face like the joke is on Lauren.)
My time in Kenya is quickly coming to an end. I miss America and I miss home. For all the things that America does wrong, there are many things that she does right. There is a quality of life, efficiency and creativity that I can’t wait to be a part of again.
Kibera is located in a very favorable area for development. It is close enough to downtown Nairobi that it offers a short commute, but far enough to allow for space for development. A few residents shared their perspective on the development that is taking place.
Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa. I visited with a friend who was raised there, and continues to make his home there today.
The estimates of the population of Kibera range from close to 200,000 up to 2,000,000. Disputes over the population aside, Kibera is HUGE. You look out over the neighborhood and it just seems to stretch on and on.
I have heard many different things about the community and its people, so I wanted to visit and see for myself. Here are the bits and pieces that I have brought together about Kibera.
Scene:Lauren is in a restaurant and has just placed an order for lunch. She takes out her water bottle and starts drinking. The server comes back over to her table.
Server:"Excuse me madam we don't allow drinks from outside in the restaurant."
(Lauren takes a sip.)
Lauren:"Oh? I mean, it's water. It's not like I opened a bottle of wine..."
Server:"Yes, that is our policy - it says no outside drinks. So if you want I can bring you a soda or you can order something off the drink menu."
Lauren:"No, that's okay, I'm fine with just water. I don't really drink soda."
(Lauren takes another sip. The server isn't sure what to do, so Lauren offers clarification.)
Lauren:"You know, where I come from, when you go to a restaurant, you get tap water on the table for free."
Lauren:"Yup, for free. But at home I always carry around a bottle, like this one."
(Lauren takes a swig and nods the bottle towards the server.)
Server:"Where are you from?"
Lauren:"So the point I'm trying to make is that I will not be buying another bottle of water when I already have a perfectly good one right here. And you know, I've been in Kenya for months, and taken my water to many restaurants in different cities, and I've never had a problem."
Server:"But our policy says...."
(Lauren takes another sip. Usually, she is very interested in water policy, just not this kind of water policy. After spending a summer working with national malaria policy, this kind of policy seems trivial and annoying.)
Lauren:"Maybe it's best to not worry about the policy for today. Okay?"
(Lauren takes another sip. Defeated, the server nods in agreement. The bottle is almost empty.)
Lauren:"And you know what else? In a Chinese restaurant in America, you get free water AND free rice with your meal. Here it is separate, and you said it would cost me extra. How are you supposed to eat Chinese food with no rice???"
(For this reason, Lauren ordered noodles.)
Server:"You mean you always get the rice for FREE?!?!"
Earlier in the summer I wrote a post about the challenges of finding a reliable driver in Nairobi. I’m happy to report that I have a good driver who picks up his phone when I call, and doesn’t stare at my lady parts.
Scene:Lauren is watching a program about Kenyan Olympians past and present with her host mom in Eldoret. There is a feature on Lornah Kiplagat, a famous long distance runner who is from this area. Her husband is from the Netherlands, and she is now a Dutch citizen competing for her adopted homeland.
Host Mom:"Remember the high altitude training camp we visited? She owns that place."
Host Mom:"And she is married to a tall European. He's from Sweden or Switzerland..."
Lauren:"Actually he's Dutch."
Host Mom:"That's right. We should start shopping for one for you."
Lauren:"A tall European? Nah, I have that covered."
Host Mom:"No no no. A tall Kenyan. A rich tall Kenyan. Maybe an Olympic runner that is rich and tall. What if one comes your way? Would you like that?"
Lauren:"I'm not above it."
Host Mom:"Okay, I will start looking. You can come back next year for him."
Humans vs. Mosquitoes: Let’s talk about climate change
The university students I meet are often eager to engage in conversations about climate change. The first topic of discussion is usually why the United States is not making viable international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I can’t say enough good things about the Kenya Red Cross Society. So far, I have visited four different branch offices, and I have a few more to go. All of the people who I have met have been warm and professional, and supportive of me and my project.
I have thought a lot about how to strike the balance between the personal and the professional with regard to this blog. I am a firm believer that professional doesn’t have to be sterile, and personal doesn’t have to mean over-exposure.
All of my experiences are intertwined and help to inform each other, so there is no purpose in divorcing the two.
When a Kenyan walks into a room full of people, he or she says “good mornings”. The plural is used because there is more than one person. It is one of those peculiar things that is unique to the country. The first time I heard it said it sounded silly, but I now understand the phrase as a symbol of Kenyan hospitality.
I have met with close to 100 community health workers (CHWs) since arriving in Kenya. Together, they are the team at the forefront of health promotion because they interact directly with the public. They see the good, the bad and the ugly. Some CHWs work through a local branch of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), and others through the Ministry of Health (MoH). Many wear both hats. These are the experiences that they have shared with me.