Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last Day at Cura, Recycled Glass, and Kibera

Our time at Cura for this trip has come and gone. It seemed too short, of course, but we all had a great time and the visit was a success, I think.

We worked a bit in the classrooms, held a field day with the kids from the school, and spent a day working at the home itself and playing with the kids. While all of this was going on, Hayden and I did a lot of administrative work and politicking with the board members and the teachers. All in all I believe our trip was a success, and we already have a good head start on our next sets of projects and our next steps when we get home.

Of course we were regaled with song and dance the whole visit, and the ladies endured endless hair-braiding and decorating. I attempted to revisit my youth and served as a goal keeper (target) for the footballers. We did some art projects and took portraits of each child for their sponsors back home.

After watching the US lose a heart breaker to Ghana in the loving company of a few hundred Ghana* fans at Gypsy (of course), we took everyone to Kitengela Glass, one of our favorite stops here.

The artisans at Kitengela make amazing glassware and artwork from all recycled Kenyan products. We may or may not have made a large purchase while we were there. It may or may not be being custom made for us. And it may or may not be shipped to the states when it is complete. It may or may not look like this:

I think we are all ready to slow down a bit and head for the coast. I know I am ready to be out of the smog and traffic of Nairobi for a while, though I do have to say it is much easier to take this year than last. I guess maybe I’m just a little more used to it than I was before.

But before we hop a flight to Malindi, we have one last day here in the city. After I send this post, we will visit Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya and depending on who is doing the estimating, the second-largest in Africa behind Soweto in South Africa.

The population density in Kibera is approximately 750,000 people per square mile. That breaks down to about 30 square feet per person. Stand in your bedroom and ponder that.

It is worth reading and learning more about slum culture and the politic and social failures that lead to the proliferation of slums. As with all issues that plague the third world, the slums are a massively complex problem that will take a significant cultural shift, a hell of a lot of money, and a ton of political wherewithal to repair.

After Kibera we will enjoy a small game drive in Nairobi National Park, and in the morning we fly to the coast. Time to start the anti-Malaria medications!

*But before I cry too hard over the loss, I have to remind myself that it could be worse. Matthew had to watch England get absolutely crushed by Germany. Sorry England. But you looked even worse than the Yanks.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Few More Pictures

Welcome Home

Hayden in full bloom after a visit to the Cura Hair Salon.

Guess Who! Another endless game.

The boys from the pitch after some rough and tumble football.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some Photos. Words to Follow.

The whirlwind pace of traveling to Cura during the day and visiting friends in Nairobi at night hasn't left much time for writing. Things should slow down a bit soon. In the meantime, here are some photos to keep you occupied.
Linette went beyond this point. The entrance to Cura Rotary Homes.

Norman "Don't Call Me Lucy" the Cow. Norman is pregnant. Gender issues much? With Norman at the village, the home saves 3,000 Shillings a month on milk bills.

Evan at The Depot. Karibu, Evan!

This is true.

Much more to come. Very soon!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Cura via the Depot. But First, World Cup.

Evan the Barfly
Wednesday night, being the good parental figures that we are, we took Evan to the Westlands area of Nairobi to Gypsy, a bar favored by Hayden's old University hooligan friends, Paul and Gerald. I'm fairly certain Paul is the mayor of Gypsy, and if he is, his fiefdom is an excellent one. In Nairobi's lovely rush hour traffic, the 15 km drive took only 1 hour.
It was a mob scene at Gypsy, with both the England and US football matches on and expatriate supporters jamming the bar. Vuvuzelas were in full force. (Truth be told, 99% of the televisions were tuned to the England match. The US supporters were relegated to a little corner of the bar with no tables. It was close to the restroom, though. It was us and a table of Algerians rooting cautiously for our respective teams. When the US scored the winning goal, the Algerians kindly gave us their table.

So Evan's first experience (we assume) at a bar was one to remember (we think.)

US 1 - Algeria 0. Next up on Saturday night: US v. Ghana. Should be epic around here.

In Nairobi there are large communities from just about every country you can imagine. So for World Cup action it isn't just the African nations being supported. Every nation is here, as evidenced by the embassies on every corner in town.

All The Depot Ladies Say "Oh Yeah"
Our driver, Malik, is expressly unhappy with our weird non-tourist destinations. He doesn't know any of our "crazy places" and would clearly rather be driving us on safari or to national parks. Sorry Malik, but you're stuck with us for pretty much the entire trip.

One "crazy" destination is The DEPOT. The DEPOT honors Dan Eldon's life by hosting a small museum of his artifacts and photographs and also conducting leadership training for local and international groups. Seeing Dan's work is always inspiring, and this trip to the DEPOT was no exception.

On to Cura
Our first day at Cura was to be an orientation for the new recruits and a bit of a work day for Hayden and myself. The anticipation in the car was high as we pulled through Wangige and turned onto the red dirt road that leads to Cura. For those who hadn't been there before, it was time to see how the real place lived up to their expectations.

Of course it did not. How could it? No pictures or descriptions can capture any place, but especially not a place like Cura. Cura is an experience more than a place, and you'll just have to come with us next year to understand what I mean.

In addition to our merry band of tourists, we had Matthew with us. Matt is an incoming long term volunteer for Cura, and he was about to get a bit of an education in rural Africa in general and in Cura specifically. The thesis of this lesson: shut up and listen. You have a lot to learn.

We had a very traditional meeting with the board of Cura. These meetings are an exercise in formality, politics, and hierarchy.

Much more on the Cura experience as I have time to reflect.

Useful Phrase of the Day
We love our Swahilli guidebooks. We especially love the "Useful Phrases" sections. So, for all you future Kenya travelers, here is what you say to the waiter when your prawns have run out:
  • Kamba zi mekwisha. (Literally: Prawns, they are finished.)

Trivial Pursuit Question of the Day
To pass the time in our van between Nairobi and Wangige, I have a full box of Trivial Pursuit cards. Today's most interesting question:
  • What Disneyland ride, in 1964, was responsible for the amusement park's first fatality?
Look it up.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Travel and Arrival

We are comfortably settled into our Nairobi digs for the week, so it's time for an update.

Say what you will about the British, they know how to run an airline. After suffering through crabby flight attendants, lost meal requests, mysteriously wet seats, and a rather bumpy flight from Dallas to London on the aptly named American* Airlines, we navigated Heathrow Airport (still the same disaster as last year) and boarded our British Airways flight to Nairobi.

Here, from my journal, are some ways British Airways is better than American Airlines:
  • British accents. Nothing more charming. I realize he isn't part of the airline, but even the security employee who searched me in Heathrow was polite, charming, and funny.
  • Clean airplanes. Novel concept.
  • Comfortable seats. Another novel concept.
  • Decent food. When they lost our vegetarian meal request on the American flight, we were counseled in how to complain. When they lost it at British, they actually solved the problem and - gasp - apologized.
  • They're British. Let's face it, Americans have taken a bunch of cool things from the British and totally screwed them up. When everything else goes sideways, at least the British can fall back on basic human civility. We'll have Sarah Palin and Glen Beck.
Fly British. It will cost a little more, perhaps, but it is worth it. The flight from Seattle to Nairobi is roughly 24 hours in the air, and the only part of it I dread is the 4 hour domestic leg between Seattle and whatever our launch pad in the states happens to be.

And the thing is, what truly sets them apart doesn't cost any money. The US airlines can complain about costs and charge for bags and blankets all they like and no one would care if the service were decent. Case in point: the in-flight entertainment on our British flight was broken, and because they were polite about it and kept us informed, no one really seemed to care.

In other news, our flight from London to Nairobi was deemed some sort of special flight, and we were supposed to be honored that some celebrities were onboard for a ComicRelief trip to Kenya. Call me a cynic, but these huge, expensive, high-profile "aid" events sure seem disingenuous. They raise a lot of money, no doubt, but they spend a lot to do so. I couldn't help but look around at all of the "Flying Start" and "Comic Relief" branding on the airplane and wonder about the cost of doing this humanitarian business. I'll have to ponder this. I'm sure some economist can point out to me the costs involved with my own personal philanthropic work...Also, I have no idea who the "celebrities" on our flight were, but the people in front of us sure wanted their autographs. Can someone explain to me the appeal of having someone you don't know sign something for you if it isn't a check? I digress.

But enough about that. We're here and we don't have to worry about American Airlines for 3 weeks.

Meanwhile, in Kenya
This year Hayden and I are here with a small group of folks, and since last year was a fact-finding trip to help us plan this one, we are visiting many of the same places again. On our first day - after our now traditional Tusker and crisps arrival dinner and a good night's sleep - we took the gang to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum. Evan and Linette made out with some twigas at the Giraffe Center, and we learned which items in Karen Blixen's house were original and which ones we "not original but were used in the film Out of Africa."

We capped the day of tourism and settling in with a light meal and a cocktail or two at the Fairview hotel next door to our more spartan accommodations. Rolling blackouts be damned, we're having a gin and tonic.

After a day of provisioning at the local mall on our second day (Tuesday) we will be making daily trips out to Cura to work with the teachers and staff and most importantly see the kids!

Some Things We Have Learned
  • "There's virtually no line at the other security checkpoint" is the airline equivalent of "the check is in the mail." It's a lie. (Seattle, WA)
  • Elephant farts are loud. (Nairobi, Kenya)
  • The sushi is in the basement and the wine cellar is upstairs. (Fairview Hotel, Kenya)
  • The road is open. Don't let the metal barrier or the armed guard fool you.
  • Talisman Restaurant isn't open on Mondays.
  • All journalists just lie to make you believe things. (This from our fearless driver, Malik)
  • "We have run out of prawns" is apparently an important Swahilli phrase to know.
  • "Tamambo," while it looks and sounds vaguely African, is not a word. In Swahilli or any other language we can find. It is, however, the name of a restaurant in Karen that caters to white people. Shocking. Good food though.
More to come! We're off to Gigiri today for some shopping and a bit of cocktail luxury at Tribe Hotel. Then to Carnivore Restaurant tonight, the vegetarian heaven. Err...

Pictures to follow. Right now I have to finish my coffee. Which is excellent, by the way. You should try it. Just follow the sign.


*If American means "purely profit-driven, short-sighted, selfish, and obscenely arrogant"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Watch This Space!

We are headed back to Kenya here in a few days, so it's time to dust off this blog and get ready to share our adventures with all of you.

This year we are traveling with Hayden's oldest daughter, Evan. Also coming with us is Hayden's sister-in-law Linette and two former EdCC students Tammy and Tesha.

More soon, but for the moment we need to pack!