30 September 2009

ICC is In

Ocampo has announced that he (aka the ICC) will be working with Kenya to find and bring to trial those leaders who helped in the post-election violence.  To me, it is the best way to deal with the issue.  With an outside organization keeping a watch over Kenya, the trials can proceed with transparency.  The next issue is the speed of the process.  It must be done as quickly as possible.  The 2012 elections already loom as leaders are moving to gain support.  Those who are looking to become the next president and had a hand in the violence must be exposed before the start of campaigns.

29 September 2009

Oxfam Delivers the Doom

More bad news comes out concerning East Africa from Oxfam.  The drought that has ravaged much of Northern Kenya, Southern Sudan and Somalia for what they claim to be five years continues.  There seems to be little hope as these areas depend upon rain for crops and there has not been nearly enough. 

The rains that the article claims to be coming next month are here, at least in Western Kenya.  It mentions concerns with flooding.  From what I have read and been told, the last time El Nino made an appearance flooding ensued.  Being that we are situated in a mountainous region, the stakes are much higher for basin areas.  With the mudslide that ripped through the escarpment just a few miles to our East in 2007, the excessive rain could be a problem.  In addition, with little sanitation water-borne illness will spread at a rapid rate.  A cholera outbreak is a possibility.  Plus water means mosquitoes.  So the fun of itching and all the disease that they carry will become a nightly event.

While the article mentions the issues that will come out of the lack/deluge of rain, it does nothing to highlight the fact that the weather problems highlight existing issues.  An overly agrarian will suffer when it is too dry or too wet.  It is confounded when infrastructure is next to non-existent and the care for the plants is entirely determined on the weather.  So farmers starve and cows die because it does not rain.  The lack of rain is problematic, but somehow Vegas can flourish when surrounded by sand and no water.

Vegas is hard to compare to Wajir, but it highlights the way that proper infrastructure can overcome natures shortcomings.  Kenya is a long way from coming close to providing the necessary infrastructure.  Although I know little on the subject, I will posit that the pressure by and help from groups like Oxfam can be harmful.  When the drought comes, money is raised and food is distributed.  When the normal rain patterns return the are is forgotten.  The pressure that existed to provide food is removed and people are left alone.  This then leaves the causes for the initial need for aid neglected.

To me, it is another example of how a strong and cohesive central government can be immensely beneficial.  It took legislation and government spending to get the American infrastructure to its current point.  Here, there is little pressure to do so.  Roads are improved when needed because of trade.  Growth is not seen as an achievement linked to the improvement of sewage, water, power and roads in Kenya.  By limiting resources spent on these vital components, the society of sustenance farming remains.

Corruption prevails and the status quo remains as the elite work to retain their positions within their stratosphere.  Throwing a few projects into the are of your constituents is not even necessary.  MP’s will just give away money and promises.  A fatter pocket leads to temporary amnesia and the re-election campaign succeeds with ease.  The MP gets to return to Nairobi where he gets his comfortable salary and is exempt from paying taxes.  When it comes time to make any sort of discussion in regards to the government, he shuffles about and makes friends within his party and the opposition. 

So what do they do?  They pass bills to change the marriage laws when they have promised a new constitution for five years, have yet to implement any of the reforms agreed upon in the coalition government, and people starve in the North.

28 September 2009

Heatin’ Up

As the autumn descends upon the the United States and the leaves no longer match the deep green of the grass, it just gets hotter in Kenya.  The temperature reads in the upper eighties, but the direct sun at one in the afternoon feels much hotter than it is.  Maybe it is the equator and the intensity of the sun, but I am convinced that temperature lies when here. 

I believe it is made more significant for two reasons.  The first is shade.  The shade provides an instant and dramatic drop in temperature.  The sun will make your skin feel as if it is literally burning off when exposed, the shade provides instant relief.  The change between the two may make the sun seem hotter, or it could just be the fact that the sun is in fact so hot.  The second reason is the rain.  With consistent rain each afternoon, the dark clouds bring a reduction in temperature and cooling winds the precede the rain. 

Of course, we are in plenty good shape in terms of water.  So, when I get home I can drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.  It is this change that brings a greater appreciation for real seasonal change.  Some may hate the winter for its cold, but constant summer loses its appeal quickly when it is as unyielding as it is here.  Four distinct changes gives forth unique character that makes each worth their three month existence.

Although I am sure that I will not be happy to go home in the winter.

First Iran, Now Venezuela

Kenya is now dealing with Venezuela to do some oil exploration.  Now it seems a bit hard to be attempting to warm relations with the US when you buddy up with Iran and Venezuela.  On the bright side, it is possible that the oil industry could expand.  Sadly, it seems to cause more problems than it solves in most of the oil rich third world.

26 September 2009

It Started Well

What began as a good article became little more than any other about Kibera slum.  Since it is short and highlights the growth of ‘poverty tourism, it is worth the mention.  What is frustrating is that the journalist had the opportunity to explore the role of the tourism growth in Kibera.  Instead, he (I am assuming that the name Xan is a male name but could be wrong) waste words describing the slum.  For some reason it seems to be a favorite of Kibera writers.  Take as many as words as possible to describe the slum, the people, do not forget the flying toilets and smell, give a quote from a child and then fill the rest with some substance and you have a newsworthy story for any printed news source.

25 September 2009

Halloween Help

Personal requests first.  We have hyped Halloween so much that Sr. Joy has marked it in her calendar.  By ‘hype’ I really mean that we talked about how great it is on the Fourth of July and promised to have another party.  Since she enjoyed the coke floats so much, Joy made sure she would not miss our next event.  Now comes the request.  Everyone and anyone now has just over a month to send any Halloween related item.  Of course candy is best.  We will be hosting a large group and will have no regard for health as we aim to make a simple meal and provide plenty of sweets.  Decorations never hurt.

Thanks in advance.

OUT(inside)SIDE

A constant reflection and thought this year has been my relationship to the town of Malava.  Sometimes it has extended into a more general sense, but most often is in reference to where I stand in Malava.  I have said how I am an outsider who has had the privilege of being a member of the town.

Lately, I have found that my self-imposed status has had a greater impact on my perception of Malava and has little bearing on the reality.  In other words, I have allowed myself to create the false idea that I can never really be an accepted part of Malava.  It remains true that I cannot be in a complete sense because I am not from here, but the same is for people who are not Kabras.  The Kikuyu live together and are somewhat separated from the Kabras majority.  It does not mean that they cannot and do not get along.

The whole time I viewed the two as mutually exclusive.  Being an outsider prevented me from having any real relationships.  That is just not true.  It wasn’t until Mercy, the girl who sells us our vegetables, asked about our dog that I saw my error.  A silly feeling of ‘she actually cares’ came over me and I realized that she actually was listening to what I was saying each time we chatted as I bought my daily vegetables.  I assumed it to be empty conversation for no reason other than that is what I thought she thought it was.

The understanding of this made much more sense than it seems to do now, but I wanted to attempt to re-explain a topic I explored earlier.  What I thought to be true was incorrect.  I was not entirely wrong, but off just enough that it produced a negative impact.  Had I known better, I could have been working towards nurturing meaningful friendships.

24 September 2009

Good Read

I skip thorough to the main points, but this hits on the ways that statistics can be used harmfully in the aid world.  Read the full article on Aid Watch to really understand the points, but this will get the main gist of the post (the title is great and I do not want to skip on mentioning it: We Must Know How Many are Suffering, So Let’s Make Up Numbers).

As major world leaders jet from the UN General Assembly yesterday to the Pittsburgh G-20 today, the UN and World Bank have bombarded them with messages and statistics about the effect of the crisis on the global poor:

(1) We need to know how many are suffering where, so that help can be targeted to those in most need,
(2) Here are our precise numbers of how many additional poor have been created by the crisis,
(3) Since we based the numbers in (2) on thin evidence or no evidence whatsoever, you should also give us more money to expand our abuse of statistics.

They continue…

There is an obscure piece of theoretical statistics called “garbage in, garbage out.” Calculating “additional poor in poverty due to crisis” requires knowing (a) what growth would have been in absence of crisis in every country, (b) what growth will actually turn out to be in 2009 or 2010 in every country, not to mention in 2008, since the World Bank’s World Development Indicators do not yet have estimates for that year, (c) having good data on the current level of world poverty, (d) knowing the effect of growth on poverty, (e) projecting the effect of food and fuel prices on poverty, not to mention projecting food and fuel prices.

The reality is: (a) is impossible, (b) is almost impossible, (c) Voices of the Vulnerable says last real global poverty numbers were in 2005, which themselves reflected an upward revision of 40% (d) is unreliable and volatile, and (e) is impossible.

Economists can do useful projections sometimes, but the castles in the air implied by (a) through (e) should have caused a responsible analyst to NOT invent such a number.

23 September 2009

News

1979 or 2009?

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

“We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet. . . We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just.”

“Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide.”

“We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.”

-From Pres Jimmy Carter’s A Crisis of Confidence speech 5 July 1979

I am not for all the ‘Go USA’ type stuff, but it is alarming when a speech given three decades ago can be applied to now.  I left out the majority of the speech’s focus: energy.  Carter goes ahead to promise various ways that oil consumption was going to be cut.  I left that part out because he seems to have been too idealistic.  It seems that the path of ‘fragmentation and self-interest’ was chosen and his speech ignored.  Not remembered for being the best president, but history has shown that it was not necessarily the decisions of the presidency that led to the recession and oil crisis. 

So maybe the blame needs to be moved from the Bush presidency and onto the American public.  Why doesn’t (at least I have yet to hear this yet) someone blame the people for not wanting stricter regulations or for living outside of their own means.  It seems too easy to blame the federal government for problems when they are simply a reactionary mechanism.

Thanks to brilliant, yet stupid, laws and legislation, the American congress is incapable of creating a bill in a timely manner.  It is a reactive body that changes something already wrong.  So as healthcare is failing and energy problems predicted decades ago are coming to be true; the congress reacts.  Yet, shock is the reaction when we put a band-aid on a bullet hole.

That does not mean that states rights should be suddenly increased.  Too many individualist states caused the first American government to collapse and has continued to be problematic when concerning issues such as drug laws.  What can be done is to no longer accept mediocrity.  Yes, the new healthcare bill will provide more coverage, but it will add debt and fail to achieve its true goal of universal healthcare.

I pin my frustrations upon living in Kenya for the past nine months.  With little or no ability to affect government policy, most Kenyans simply sit and hope that it will change on its own.  Dissent is still silenced and the ruling elite maintain a firm grasp upon Kenyan politics.  Right now, there is a debate over various government positions that the parliament do not want to see be reappointed.  Despite this, the presidency went ahead and made the appointments.  Even the elected parliament has little say.  They did in fact move to prevent the appointment and found success.  However, it seems that the ousted men will soon find new work within the Kenyan government.  Shuffling the deck does not change the cards that lie within. 

I can understand their inaction, because short of a revolution Kenya is incapable of change.  We should not invoke Jefferson and rise up in arms (in either the US or Kenya), but should use our better political system to enact the change we want.  Not the false change used as a slogan by a politician.

One of these semi-rants hits me every so often.  Today, I happened to be at my computer when it happened.  Again, these are personal reflections and sentiments.  I am not speaking on behalf any person or organization.

You can read the entire Carter speech here.

21 September 2009

Drop in Tourism Can Be Good

The Daily Nation has an op-ed piece that discusses the move of people out of Kibera slum and into new housing.  Basically, a project has been set up outside that will offer cheaper rooms (500 KSH a month per room) and better facilities.  The amount of people that it will house is much lower than the hundreds of thousands who live in Kibera, but it is a start. 

What is most notable is the fact that the rise in reasonable housing will kill the ‘poverty tourism’ industry.  In my opinion, it is a great thing for tourism to come to an end in Kibera.  People traveling around the slum and taking pictures of poor people so that they can feel good by making a donation as they leave must stop.  If we do not want people to invade our own homes and document us at our worst, why should we feel it ok to do it to a stranger in slum?

Some will argue that it is beneficial for people to learn and see the conditions.  Plus the additional benefit of donation makes it a bit easier to justify when an NGO.  Those small goods do not outweigh the insensitivity and lack of respect for human dignity.  Not wanting to get too far into the issue, it will be a good thing if tourism drops because there are less slums in Kenya (and the rest of the world too).

20 September 2009

Sunday News (at least what I noticed)

  • Kenyan PM Raila Odinga has be uninvited to have lunch with Obama.
  • Kenya has until the 30th to get its act together or the ICC will begin to step in.  Here’s hoping that Ocampo follows his word.
  • No surprise here: South Africa knew that Caster Semenya was not all woman.  Having felt bad for her because of all the publicity, it makes me rethink my sympathy if she knew what was going on and willingly complied.
  • Food is short and drought continues.  The solution?  Cut funding.  That makes the most sense when you are an organization that specializes in this field.  Nice job World Food Programme.
  • Why we Need to Talk About Obama and Racism: written by Raina Kelly for Newsweek.  Can’t say I know too much about what is going on, but it is about time someone was willing to say what may be behind the absurd criticisms of the administration.
  • Now I hate Fox News, but I have a hard time believing that they are the only news channel that do a little pre-work to elicit a wanted response.  An apology is necessary, but lets not wag the finger too long.  Making up false stories and trying to call out the other news programs via a Washington Post ad is just plain wrong.

Termite Hunters…and those who just like to be kids

"Kids are running around and eating things off the ground," was all Michael needed to say to arouse curiosity. We investigated and found his statement to be correct.  To be more accurate, kids were running around and eating termites off the ground.  Always looking to lend a helping hand, we joined in.  Oh, and we ate a few along the way. 

After a half hour or so, we retreated to relax.  I grabbed my camera, needing to prove my story, and took pictures of those who remained.  With less termites and kids hunting (because they had already eaten their fill and collected enough for later) the pictures do not represent the entire saga, but will pass.  This is a bit what the hunt looked like and what some of the others were doing while termite catching was taking place.

*Note* Titi is a ham for the camera and spent as much time in front of it as possible.

19 September 2009

The Battle of the Shower

For the past month or so, an on-going battle between myself and the shower has slowly gained intensity.  With a ruptured handle a few months ago, I finally came up with a solution to keep it from continuing to break.  Then came the small holes.  Each one small enough to cause a problem.  A little super glue with recycled plastic always did the trick.

That was until a larger hole emerged.  A weeks fight resulted in a victory via super glue and duct tape.  Before we left, I decided to try to get ahead of the curve and attach a large sheet to the front of the shower.  With no leeks, I thought it would prevent the inner plastic from wearing because it was exposed less.

However, upon returning home, I found that the bag was unable to hold any water when placed out to heat in the sun.  I removed the large piece to discover that large gashes has developed.  Again, duct tape and super glue came into the fray.  This effort was met with little success.  Yesterday, I went to Kakamega and bought some yellow blob glue to attempt to fix it once and for all.  I painted the glue on with a brush and said a few prayers last night.

This morning, I filled up the bag and water continued to pour out.

We are not entirely defeated.  The bottom third is without holes.  That means that we are unable to heat it in the sun without losing all of the water.  The final solution is to heat the water over the stove and mix it to the temperature we want with unheated water.  We found that pouring straight hot water makes for a great shower and a further destroyed bag.

Three months.  That is all I need out of this bag.  If it can last for three more months I will be very happy.  I am sure that it was not intended to be used 4-5 times a week for nine months, but I remain optimistic.

18 September 2009

The Police

Now that the chief of the police (Ali) has been moved to postmaster general, I hope that the police force will run with more transparency and do what they are intended to do: protect the people of Kenya.  Today, I had a nice experience with them.  Riding my matatu home, we were stopped by one.  Usually, the police take a jovial manner.  They joke with the conductor and pass on a bribe as if it was a handshake amongst friends.  Today, the police decided to put on their tough guy faces and be more serious.

Stopped, the driver was hassled for having a toy hanging from his rearview mirror.  The driver attempted to kid with him and he had none of it.  When asked to produce his license, the driver only had a copy.  This did not fly over well.  He lectured and stamped around.  Pretended to do his job and then went to yell at the conductor.  Of course the bribe was paid, at a steep rate I assume.  The officer returned to the driver to yell some more before stomping off with the copy in his hand.

The problem is not with the officer applying the law.  The issue is the fact that he choose this occasion to be a stickler.  He told of how everything was wrong and then broke the law to take a bribe and look the other way.  Yes he was doing his job better than usual, but he was also making more money for himself.  It is troublesome when the law resorts to the law when in need of more money.

How can people take the law and those who protect it seriously when it is applied in such an uneven manner?

17 September 2009

Why am I Here?

Since it is something that I am in constant battle with, I thought that I should set out to explain my thoughts and reasoning for being in Malava for a year.  Having done one year of service with NDMV in New Haven, I made the choice to come here for a few reasons.  As the end draws closer, yet still remains a bit away, now seems the best time to explain.  I must also admit that I am influenced by what I have read and heard from other people who have done or are doing similar things to myself.  As always, I may say things that will not agree with some.  It is what I do best.

To begin, I will say a little about what I am not trying to do.  I have always found it easier to begin with what I do not want to accomplish in order to better determine what it is that I want to do.  First and most important of all, I am not here to save _________(insert anything: Kenya, Malava, disabled children, myself, etc.).  I find it problematic when people set out to save someone else.  That is not to be confused with the lifeguard/doctor sense of saving.  The idea that an individual (like myself) needs to go to a place (Kenya) to save some people (disabled children and their families).  I believe it impossible to be anything but condescending when taking on this mentality.  I have worked hard to prevent myself from sliding into it.  I am not this great gift to the SJC that is going to transform it and its clients.  I will continue to work to the best of my abilities to provide the necessary support and work that is needed for it to run and grow.  However, I recognize that my greatest contributions will not be via my work.

I am not here to travel and have fun.  That does not mean that I have not and will not accomplish both, but travel is the least important thing I will do this year.  It does provide plenty of good photos and relaxation, but remains the lowest on my priorities.  I do not look forward to weekends because I get to do (insert activity here).  Staying here for a year is a conscious decision to become as much a part of the community as I can.  People here do not go away every weekend to travel around Kenya.  How can I understand what it really is like if I spend every weekend away?  I have enjoyed every part of this year because I love where I work, the people I work with, the friends I have made, the people in town, and the ways that I have had to struggle to do a simple task like drink water.  In no way has this been a year off from my life or a vacation.  I see it more as the first year I have not been on vacation.

I am not here for that warm feeling of self fulfillment when I am the reason for a child being happy.  It is a powerful thing to bring joy but an equally addictive feeling.  I find it to be counterproductive as well.  Too often, I hear people express the wonderful feeling that it gives them to provide a service.  Something along the lines of, “Feeding those poor people at the soup kitchen made me feel to happy.”  Maybe taking a few liberties, but I have heard variants on that said before.  What it means is, “It made me feel good to provide something to those helpless people who would not have eaten anything if it was not for my generous time and service.”  Volunteerism is vital, but viewing it in that manner can only give the volunteer cause to place him or herself above the people who they are ‘serving.’  I do not wish to be unhappy or disconnected this year or at any point.  For me, my happiness, really joy, can not be predicated upon other people.  It must lie within living a way that I believe to be truly just.

I am here to do just that.  Live in the way that I believe to be just and virtuous.  Headed into philosophical territory, I will pull back.  I know too little to make a more complete argument for this, so I will not bother.  I am here, and have stayed for nine months, because I felt the need to remove myself from what I am accustomed to further learn what a just existence means.  My joy in working with children also accounted for my decision to join this program and work at the SJC.  For me, much of my experience is in order to learn.  Not to be selfish, I was aware that I would gain far more than I could ever give going into this year.  It was the most important thing I learned last year.  In the long term, I hope to use my experiences to determine the way I live and find a way to distill and share what I have learned.  At the end of the year I will move forward to use it positively.

Being politically and socially minded, I knew that leaving the United States was vital to this learning.  Looking down from the top is always the best view of the bottom.  It obscures what is below, forcing it to meld together as if it were meant to be.  I needed a different view.  Of course that plays into why I named my blog as such.  I wanted to see and live where the majority of the people live.  I saw it from an internal standpoint in New Haven and now externally in Malava.  There is still much more left out there, but this year has provided the chance to reflect from a new view point.

As always, I have rambled.  I hope that I have done an adequate job at explaining why I am here.  Surely there are things I neglected to mention or explain.  Comments remain a way to ask for clarification or just plain disagree.

16 September 2009

No Public Option, No Thanks

Sen. Max Baucus (Mon D) came out with his (sub)committee's  plan for healthcare.  Without even an public option, the bill amounts to a monumental waste of government money.  As it stands, there are a few competing bills in committee.  A public option is offered in most, but a single payer system has been entirely scrapped.  All those worried about a socialistic health care system should be happy.  The real solution (single payer), the one that has struck fear in the fear-mongering lips of conservative personalities has been gone for months and has no hope of being a part of the bill. 

That can be understandable.  The abolishment of private health insurance is a large step, so a system with a public option is best.  It provides a government system that allows for private competition.  People get to pick what plan they want.  Opponents will argue that it will be impossible to compete because the government will reduce costs and give better coverage (which is the point of reforming healthcare in the first place).

Now, the fake Dem Baucus has come up with a plan that eliminates the public option and allocates money for non-for-profit start-ups.  Where things stand, I believe it would be best to start all over.  The proposed bills are ineffective and full of ways that the people who are meant to receive care can be denied.

Sorry to diverge, but my recent readings have led me to wholeheartedly oppose all of the proposed healthcare plans in the house and senate.  Obama was elected to bring national healthcare and he has failed miserably so far.

15 September 2009

Will They Finally Listen

Since what it seems like last year, reports of drought have filled the stories out of the Rift Valley.  Yet, too little continues to be the reaction by the Kibaki-led government.  Yes, there have been increases.  Not enough.  Every time it is mentioned, a change takes place that only accounts for a small portion of the problem.  Now we have fighting over cattle and deaths as a result.  Is this enough to cause the necessary changes?

Kenyan rustlers in deadly attack

map

A least 29 people have been killed and dozens injured in a cattle raid in drought-stricken central Kenya.

The BBC's Nur Hassan in the region says the clashes began when ethnic Pokot cattle rustlers attacked a field with animals belonging to Samburu herders.

Local MP Raphael Letimalo said women and children were among the dead.

The Laikipia District in the Rift Valley has a long history of fighting over pasture and water, which has been exacerbated by the drought.

The authorities say the dead include 21 Samburu people and eight Pokot raiders.

Hundreds of police officers have been deployed to the area where tension is high and people are fleeing, our reporter says.

Last week, 15 people were killed in a similar raid and an estimated 100 families were displaced.

The drought and the failure of the government to clamp down on illegal weapons is blamed for the violence, our reporter says.

BBC  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8257620.stm

14 September 2009

YES! (maybe)

“We want to move away from aid dependency. It’s become like a bottomless pit.  Most if the aid finds its way back to the country it came from.”

-Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said today in Nairobi

Now this is what I want to hear from the leadership in Kenya.  There is a good chance that it is simple posturing, as it seems that every leader is doing it in the race for 2012, but maybe there is something behind the remarks.  Can Kenya remove itself from the grip of international aid?

Spending a little more time in Nairobi has confirmed two things for me.  I hate the city of Nairobi and a large portion has to do with aid.  My main reason for hating the city is in its planning.  With numerous circles and no real planning, the city is a cluster-fuck of people and cars.  You have to challenge the cars when you want to get from one side of the road to the other.  Traffic lights are installed and serve no purpose other than to waste electricity.  Police help with traffic when the removal of a circle in the middle of a highway could solve a lot of problems. 

That is where it is a logistical mess.  Then come the people.  There are generally three types of foreigners in Kenya.  You have the tourists, the business people and the NGO/voluteers.  Everyone in Nairobi is lumped into one group that is dominated by the common denominator of money.  Tourists arrive to spend money, businessmen to invest and make money, and voluteers to work in organizations that provide services and even money to people.  The basic white=money is most evident in the crowds of Nairobi.  This is troublesome when trying to simply walk from one point to the next.  A man will approach and tell you his story of being a Lost Boy of Sudan or a Somali refugee.  School fees are requested, a small loan here and there, or just straight forward food. 

No is never enough when you are stopped.  Which makes it impossible to do so.  It is not easy when moving, but continual motion will help.  I applaud the remarks of Raila because he sees the problem of aid money.  It creates a system of reliance.  Instead of finding partnerships in investment in Kenyan industry, NGO’s crowd Kibera and give out free bed nets.  David Beckham kicks a ball into a net and tells you to donate so that children can have a net when they go to sleep.  The economy of Kenya stagnates because it is not allowed to truly flounder.  In my hack opinion, there is something to be said for economic failure.  Would people be more reactive if the system around them was to fail?

The status quo somehow is good enough for most Kenyans.  At the very least, good enough not to demand true reforms.  I believe that this is buoyed by aid.  Loans can and should exist, but free money must be removed.  I say this with a understanding that I contribute to this complex.  I have mentioned before about my concerns with aid, and the past few weeks has begun to solidify my position.

I occupy a position that could exist for another person.  My job is in no way highly skilled.  Yes, my education has contributed a bit, but there are plenty of young Kenyans who are without work and could easily replace me.  My aim was to use the experience to learn about the ways that aid can help or hurt a place like Kenya.  Seeing it first hand, I have now come to realize the ways that aid can hurt and help.

Do not get me wrong.  There are great things being done here.  I have not been to every NGO in this country.  However, the culture of aid has become unquestionably harmful.  The areas with the most aid groups (re. Nairobi) continue to be the most troubled.  After a half century of aid on the continent what real growth has taken place?  I may be wrong, but have not most of the developed nations achieved progress through mostly independent means? 

The results of pulling aid will be terrible in the short term.  There is no question about that, but what is the cost right now?  The level of living here remains poor for most and shows no hope of improving.  Is it better to suffer horribly for a short period or to wallow for decades or longer?  Right now I lean towards the short term.  The way things look, a long term solution is not possible.

Raila, please follow your own words.  Reduce aid money and begin to invest in the country.  Start off by cleaning up Nairobi.  Get people out of slums, have a real source of electricity and water, make city water drinkable, take out all the circles, have police do their jobs and prevent hijackings, and tell all the NGO’s “Thank you, but you need to go home.”

10 September 2009

Strange

In 100 days from today I will be leaving Kenya to return to the United States.  The reality of going home becomes more tangible.

It’s Been So Long

Way Too Much

Fairmont Mara Club

Birds Cheetah

Elephants

Flowers Hippos Hyena

Landscapes

Lions (some shots meant to be watched in succession)

People Rhino

All Other Animals that I do not want to list by name

Of and From the Plane

Must Read

Latest from Bill Easterly.  Shows how ‘free trade’ really works in the world.  I have included one of the pictures he uses, but he has more and since he is an economist and knows a lot more than a hack like me they are better explained.

Trade goes to Africa via Nigeria (for oil) and South Africa.

09 September 2009

The Mara

Alive in the Mara with limited internet. Big five are done and over 500 pictures have made the cut with still one day left. Tomorrow afternoon we will be back in Nairobi and the family will head out Friday night. I will be sure to make up for lost time with my most epic photo album ever.

Spoiler Alert!!!
You will see the following:
Lions feeding on Wildebeast
Charlie with a rhino
My Father dancing not once, but twice
My mother with monkeys, hippos, and lions, oh my!
Myself gazing into the great beyond

All and more tomorrow evening (that will be morning/afternoon for you North Americans)

05 September 2009

NBO to MBA

The family made it safely to Nairobi last night.  With a beer shared and some sleep thereafter, we set off this morning for Nairobi.  Making a late change Payton Manning style, we choose to go to Diani Beach rather than stay in Mombasa.  The choice was a good one as we relaxed and body surfed in the Indian Ocean.

04 September 2009

Stranded in Hell(’s Gate National Park)

From Mt. Longonot, sorry for the delay on this part of the story, we drove for about forty five minutes into Hell’s Gate National Park.  Still feeling the euphoria of the volcano and run down the slope, I remained alert as we entered the park in our car.  Being that we have no money and are cheap, we got the cheapest car possible.  A tiny Camery-type car, we made our first mistake nearly twenty four hours before entering the park.

Being that it is a large expanse with numerous wild animals, it is advised to drive.  With tired legs from our climb, the ride was a welcome rest.  We made our second mistake by opting to drive in a game park with our small car.  The third occurred concurrently as we did not take a cell number from the people at the gate.  I think that our excitement and exhaustion prevented us from thinking clearly.

Driving forward, we found ourselves surrounded by Thompson’s Gazelles.  We stopped to watch and take pictures and continued.  This continued as we went to see a 25m free standing volcanic phallus and moving on to some obsidian caves.  Plenty of animals filled the ride in between with more gazelle, warthogs, judging zebras and various birds.  Happy to have had the car taking us about, we made the decision to turn left out of the obsidian caves.  I did not think it to be a wise choice for no real reason.  I just thought right was a better option from there.  Not wanting to back track, we took the road less traveled and paid for it dearly.

That was mistake number four.  Number five came as we tried to press forward in a road of sand.  The car got stuck and forced Michael and I to help push it out.  Freed, the car had to be turned around so as not to have to descend a hill in reverse.  We found an area to turn and Sue shot around to return to the road.  The final mistake was trying to return to the road at too straight of an angle.  At once the car lodged itself upon the ground and the front right wheel found itself in loose sand.  With nothing to grip, the car as stuck.  

As if we were not dirty enough, digging in the sand made things worse.  We started with sticks and found no results.  Michael felt that we should try to feed rocks in and build a base.  After an hour of trying with moderate gains we rested.  Finding larger rocks, Michael and I alternated kicking them in to create greater traction for the wheel.  Moments of grip were fleeting as the wheel wore down on the abrasive rocks. 

The jack was then brought out.  Since we were under sand, the probability of a successful jacking of the care seemed low.  The impossibility was sealed by a terrible jack.  Unable to go higher than an inch, the jack was useless.  Knowing that this would not have been a likely solution, we did no realize the importance of this defective device at the time.

With dead animals abound, it seemed natural to try smooth bones.  No such luck.  In the meantime, we called the warden of the park.  With two numbers from the flyer we figured that it was be an easy thing to do.  What kind of park would list phone numbers that do not work?  We learned that we were in fact within a park that did that.  With a stuck car, no way of contact, 10km from the gate and darkness about two hours away, we started to worry.  Fortunately, with Sue at the phone-helm, she forced the KWS to contact the park through other means.  With it being 4pm, we knew that it was time to walk if there was to be no help.

While walking and desperate for water, we found a half filled bottle of water.  Wasting no time, Michael snapped it up and enjoyed every drop of water it had to provide.  Questioning his sanity, we pressed forth.  Not five minutes later, Sue’s phone rang with news that a car was on the way.  We turned about and walked back.  No more than ten minutes after we had arrived back at the car, a monster KWS truck arrived to pull us out.  Two friendly gentlemen towed us out and helped us get back onto the road.  After being stuck for two to three hours we were ready to head back.  So we drove out of the park, onto the tarmac and drove back to Nairobi.

That would have been a nice ending if our tire did not go flat.  Just a few miles out of the park with thoughts of hot showers a palpable reality, a matatu flashed its lights at us.  I told Sue to pull over and he stopped alongside of us.  “You have a flat tire,” were the words that reminded us that the ordeal was not over.  Remember the defective jack?  It was not the sand that caused it problems.  It did not work.  However, our luck turned as another matatu passed by and offered help.  We accepted and the conductor and driver proceeded to change our tire.  Not wanting to step in, we allowed them to work.  With few turns, many thanks and the passing of some currency, we returned to the road.

With darkness falling, finding our way back became a bit of a challenge.  Requiring a single stop to get directions, we returned back to the retreat center at 8pm.  A 12+ hour day ended with a long hot shower.  Running water is a blessing.  Thus ended our day and ordeal.  Despite the whole getting stuck part, I enjoyed our adventure.

Now I am relaxing in Nairobi, waiting for my parents and brother to arrive at 9pm (2pm EST).  Tomorrow we travel to the coast so that they can experience the Swahili culture and the Indian Ocean.  Monday will bring us to Maasai Mara and back to Nairobi on Thursday before they travel home late Friday night.  It will be a busy week of travel and I shall to my best to keep up.  Be sure to expect even more pictures.

03 September 2009

“Tumbled over rim in roundy wells / Stones ring”

Hopkins seemed to find his way into my thoughts as I finally made it to the top of of Mt. Longonot.  The extinct volcano ran round in a way that could only be summed up within Hopkins “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”  Not really his intent for the lines, but the fact that they came to mind first made them right for my experience.

Setting off at 7:30, we drove from the retreat center in Karen to Mt. Longonot.  Set amidst the Rift Valley and just south of Lake Naivasha, the two hour ride was enjoyable as we drove along the hills next to the valley and finally into the valley itself to the volcano.  A short drive off the paved road brought us to the park entrance.  With a little bit of deliberation over our residency permits, we were permitted access at the resident rate (which is about $6 vs. $20 for non-residents).

The first few steps yielded immediate rewards as we spotted a group of zebras standing twenty or so yards in front of us and directly next to the path.  With some pictures recorded the hike continued.  Having not even reached the first hill, we were forced to stop again to look at the giraffes in the distance.  Michael, with his super-zoom telescopic Hubble lens, allowed for us to move from hundreds of yards away to within twenty feet in a matter of seconds.  With memory cards filled with images of wild animals, we began the first ascent in good spirits.

As with any hike, the beginning is filled with energy and excitement for what is to come.  Thoughts of the top filled our minds.  The promise of a volcano with a view of the Rift Valley was impossible to forget.  Steps upward moved us closer to our goal.  We scrambled up the first hill, fatigue no real factor when so concerned with the top.  A bit of flat some rest to the legs before the second climb.  Not particularly long, the climb seemed to be an easy one at this point.

Then we hit the sand.  As if someone had just filled the slope with cat litter, we walked upwards with little progress made on each step.  A full step was reduced at least 50% by the loose sand beneath.  What could have been a moderate hill became twice as hard as more energy was needed to climb.  Resorting to all fours was useless as there was nothing for hands to grip.  As we struggled up the incline of sand, we were watched by a second group of Zebras.  As if they were judging us with their incessant looks, we decided that they did not like us.

With the hill working against us and Zebras filled with scorn, we enjoyed a second flat section before the final push to the top.  Do not worry, there were more Zebras to watch.  Climbing resumed and hateful eyes persisted.  Two more groups stared at the silly trio trying to make it to the top.  Finally making it to the top, we relaxed.

Although the top was nice, the descent was most fun.  With sliding sand, I dashed ahead back to the bottom.  Michael and Sue saw no reason to rush, but I could not resist using the soft surface as a reason to dash down.  The hardest part on the way up became my playground as I leapt downward with great bounds towards the bottom.  Happy and covered in dust, I washed up and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

Back in the car we set off for Hell’s Gate National Park.  It was here that the day became fare more fun and we managed to be stranded for two hours. . .

02 September 2009

Mt. Longonot and Hells Gate

Pictures from today’s hike.  A description of what we did and what happened will follow.

01 September 2009

Nairobi National Museum

Wondered about Nairobi today and spent some time in the National Museum.  The whole thing is a bit disjointed, but I enjoyed a good amount of the art work.  Vibrant colors are a major weakness and art here fully embraces it.  We ended the day by renting a car.  Tomorrow Michael, Sue and I will set off to climb to the top of Mt. Longolot.  It is a giant volcano near Hells Gate Park.  It is our hope to then wander around the park for the afternoon before making it back to Nairobi.  There will be a ton of pictures tomorrow.

*The pictures of pictures are soccer players that I took because it made me laugh seeing most of Man U photographed.

Permissions