Monday, July 15, 2013

Life in Keveye - Weekend Edition

Karibu Keveye!

My last couple months or so has been spent living with a host family in Keveye (pronounced Kayvay), Kakamega. Keveye is a very small village area about a 45 minute matatu (minivan that seats 14 but fits up to 27) ride from Kakamega.

I've decided for this post to give a brief introduction followed by several pictures I took this weekend (note it is now a couple weeks later). The pictures will basically give you a walk through of my Sunday in Keveye and will introduce you to my host family and friends, as well as what the general area looks like.

First, a few notes:

Host Family
My host family is the greatest. Kenyans are extremely welcoming and I have become a part of the family in no time.  They say in Kenya that the first day you stay with a family you are a guest, the next day you are handed a tool and told to go work the fields.  Not entirely true, but I have gotten to do a fair share of work around here.

The host family, the Amukunes, is twelve members strong and consists of the following:

Mama Felister - Mother, Primary School Teacher, Head of the household and local shop owner
Papa Joe - Father, Primary School Teacher
Maurine - Daughter, college graduate, stays in Nairobi but is living with us now
Timothy - Son, Electrician, Student at University, doesn't currently live in the home
Metty - Daughter, Student at University, is currently living with us, works at the shop
Angela - Adopted Daughter, Student in Secondary School, works at the shop
Diana - Daughter, Student at local girls' school, works at the shop
Madesa - Auntie, works at the shop
Ishmael - Son, herdsman
Pauline - Grand daughter, Preschool student
Cecilia - Baby Niece who just learned to walk, Madesa's daughter
Blessing - Baby less than a year of age, Maurine's daughter

The house is always full!

The House

- 3 meals a day
- bucket shower
- loo
- electricity when its not raining (every other night)
- stable
- chickens, cows, and a goat
- guard dogs
- several acres of maize and other crops
- pottery hut and kiln
- tin roofs that amplify the rain like none other
- a radio
-cell phones
- lots of conversation

Don't Have:
- running water
-water heater
- ceiling
- toilet
- sink
- mirror
- bathtub
- television
- AC or heater
- clean water (it has to be boiled or gathered from an underground spring)
- dishwasher or washer/dryer
- oven/stove
- refrigerator
- paper/school supplies (Pauline uses little scraps of paper from old budget spreadsheets at the shop and a pencil that is down to one inch length)
- books/novels to pass the time
-basic medicines for fever/cold
- baby food for Cecilia & Blessing

Despite the "don't have" list, life is relatively good for us in Keveye. The rain supplies the crops often and also gives us drinking/washing water that doesn't have to be boiled. All the food is prepared fresh and waste is very minimal.   Life is simple, the way it should be, and I quite enjoy it (though I still feel a bit of relief whenever I see a toilet in Kakamega town).

Now for a walk through of my past Sunday!

Sunday Fun Day
First things first: Wake up, make the bed, and tie my malaria net up
Take a Shower: one jug has boiled water and the other cold
They are mixed and... presto!

Go to the loo and aim carefully

Enjoy a cup of tea with a fried egg and mandazi (Kenyan donut)

Help Cecilia wash my laundry

Hang laundry on the line to dry
Walk with Pauline to go to church

After the first three hours of church,
head to the local primary school to grab some lunch

Lunch is just a simple yet delicious mix of rice and beans

Meet Walter, he is a good friend and a cousin to the family

We like to goof around together

After our individual lunch, it is time to prepare lunch
for everyone in the church service, we start by gathering
rain water for hand washing

After much heavy lifting we were able to get rice and
beans to the church to serve over 400 locals 

Walter being Walter...
After the church service (lasted 8 hours) Pauline, Cecilia, Walter
and I found a sugar bag to play with
Sack race!
I lost.
But it is a friendly competition after all 
Use the loo again and change out of church clothes - this time avoid the horns on the way
Pay a visit to Walter's family and pick myself a
fresh organic snack on the way
Walter's family has probably the nicest home in the Keveye region
After discussing bull fighting and the Kenya constitution with Walter's father,
we headed back home to get the livestock in before dark
Watch the sun set behind the trees
Help make chapati - a Kenyan version of a tortilla or flat bread
that tastes amazing and is served with
ndengu - a specially prepared lentil, tomato and onion mix
Frying oil might as well be a Kenyan staple food
After dinner, Pauline and I practice writing our ABC's and our names
Have some fun on Photo Booth with my brother Ishmael
And of course every good day ends with an episode of Dexter pirated and bought locally
(each season costs 50 ksh or about 60 cents)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kenya Time

Can you tell I'm operating on Kenyan time yet?  In Kenya, a meeting set at 9am probably begins at about 1pm, and a weekly blog probably becomes monthly - I'll be better about this I hope.

The Beginnings - Nairobi
I've been in Kenya for two weeks now and still can't get Aga off my mind.  Who's Aga? Some call him Agape (his real name) others call him Aga, but I like to think of him as the little lion man. You see, its Kenyan common knowledge that you can hear a lion from three miles away. Basically, Aga has the loudest roar of us all. He has the loudest, most hearty laugh I've ever heard, and there's not a single lady that doesn't love him. He is the true alpha male. The irony comes in the fact that he is a priest in training.

Aga and Fr. Frank (an American priest from UP) gave me and Kelly an in depth view of Nairobi including everything from the slums to the largest tourist attraction.  Here's the break down.

"Are you excited to let the lions see you?"
Asked Fr. Frank.  What's a trip to Africa without your classic safari adventure? We went to the Nairobi National Park where the people are in cages (cars) and the animals roam free. And we were out of our cage too...

 This man took us through the grounds to see an alligator from about fifteen feet (at which point my camera died of course). On the way in he mentioned that he saw lions in the spot we were standing in about ten minutes before, hakuna matata! All went smoothly though.  Well, not smoothly, there were a couple times while driving through the terrain that we had to all lean in one direction to prevent the van from tipping. It was well worth the whiplash though, look what I saw!

I spy...

One of those really tall couples

Ow ow look at those legs!

A group of 7 (typical Kenyan family size)

So the park was a blast, but the real learning took place in the slums. It was both intriguing and disturbing to know that this market, typical of a small mall in the US, and the slums were pretty much within walking distance of each other.

The Galeria: I never got to ride the Disney roller coaster :(

An empty sales stand, which doubles as a sleeping tent, that we passed on the way into Mukuru slum

To me, these neighbors were a prime example of the idea that "God gives, but he doesn't share." Its an old Haitian proverb that really speaks the truth about socioeconomic divide both in the first world and third world. All of the resources necessary to sustain humanity is at our finger tips, but we bear the responsibility of divvying up the loot - we should have payed closer attention to our sharing lessons in kindergarten.

Despite this divide, theres not been a time nor place since I've been in Kenya in which I've not witnessed truly grateful people. I learned from a local Christian worker that Kenya is home to a population in which 50% of people live on less than a dollar a day.  In the Mukuru slums, everyone lives under the poverty line, and most don't make any more than 50 cents in a day. When the dollar menu is too much to handle, I get worried. But my tour of the slum made me worry instead not for the men, women, and children that called the slums their home, but instead for many of the people I know back home. 

My experience in Mukuru taught me that the great tragedy of this world is not that people die, but its what dies inside of people while they’re still living. 

The strength and resilience of those in the slums was inspiring, as was their attitude that there is extreme opportunity in extreme poverty.  I had the pleasure of receiving a free concert by a church band and I saw in that moment that these individuals were all very alive and that living in the slum, simply meant living closer together as a community - facing the same challenges, helping each other out of corruption, and passing time together with conversation, faith, music, and anything else that involves a big group of people cramming together into a tiny, hot, sweaty room with the intention of getting to know one another.   Anyway, the music was great, and I even got to show off a little bit on the keyboard afterword! 

One of the band members joined us as we toured the slum and visited multiple homes exchanging introductions and more. He was the camera guy, so I unfortunately don't have pictures from the slum. But the camera guy also quickly became someone I'll never forget.

His name was Rich.  I thought that was doubly ironic considering he is very poor by our standards, yet he is rich with hope and ambition. He taught me a great deal about Kenyan culture and the slum conditions throughout the day. We discussed everything that two boys possibly could. Girls, rap and hip pop artists, swimming, the olympics, computer games, and even Hawaii.  The discussion that really caught me off guard was about homelessness. 

If you don't already know, homelessness is something I work very closely on with an organization in Portland called Operation Nightwatch, so I felt prepared for anything on this topic. I wasn't really as prepared as I thought...

Rich asked me how it was possible that there could be homeless people in America, when there aren't any in Kenya. Everyone in Kenya has a home, even if that means its made of a few sticks and mud. All I could really come up with in response is that some folks simply can't afford a place to stay. But that didn't really make any sense to him. They can't just build a place to stay? Its strange that the standards for living in America put people out of this option. While answering Rich's question I was even more shocked by the fact that he felt he had it better off than those living in the streets in America. And in some sense, I agreed with him. He had great dignity in the fact that he had anything at all. Rich is living proof that your excuse for not being grateful is just plain immature. To me, he is also proof that there must be a utopia in every human heart before there can be a utopia in the world.

All in all, my experiences in Nairobi and Mukuru reminded me of a song I listened to back in the day. Be My Escape by Relient K has a line as follows:

"The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair"

Let that sink in a second. What does it even mean? 
Something interesting I learned on the way back from the slums was that there have been multiple government operations that have attempted to relocate entire slums into better living conditions. The result: the folks in the slums refused to move. In truth, they are content in their conditions. Surely things could be better, but at the same time, the slums are all that many of the inhabitants have ever known to be home. They've not only accepted the card they've been dealt, but they've embraced it. And by listening to many conversations with families of the slums, I've come to understand why that is...

I'm not much of one to talk about God, but the Kenyans sure are. So given that, here is my interpretation:

If each one of us received what’s “fair”, we would not like the result all that much. In truth, when we ask for fairness, we’re often asking for special treatment, especially in the first world. The sins others commit that cause us to turn up our noses and call a foul are often the very same ones that we’re hoping will be overlooked. And so while life is unfair for many Kenyans, they perceive themselves to have the favor. And thus life is much less about what's missing, and much more about what's already there.

That's all for now. Next time (which will be soon I promise!) I'll write about my time spent so far in Kakamega and I'll introduce you to my host family and organization! And for those of you who've been asking what my blog title means, Ichariba Chode is a common greeting in what is said to be a home to the happiest people on earth - Okinawa, Japan.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A New Seed Planted

Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba. 
Not only is this a great rhyme, it is a great way to begin. Little and little fills the measure; small things when combined together make up big things. I'll elaborate on this in a bit.
But first, if you didn't already know, I am currently writing from Nairobi, Kenya at the Holy Cross seminary where I am staying until Saturday, prior to my next few months in Kakamega, Kenya as an intern working for the Foundation of Sustainable Development. I will be spending most of my time in rural Kakamega about 6 miles outside of town in a small village known as Chavakali within the Vihiga county. I will live in Chavakali alongside a standard rural Kenyan family, the Amukunes, complete with a father, mother, 4 children, one niece, and one grandchild. Needless to say, I can always count on my new home for entertainment! 

So what's the internship all about and why go?
The Foundation for Sustainable Development has partnered me with a local grassroots organization by the name Christian Partners Development Agency (CPDA) that originated as a response to a drought in 1985 that led to widespread famine across Kenya, particularly Kakamega. Since then, it has developed a programmatic focus separated into two categories: Governance and Democracy, and Integrated Food Security for Sustainable Livelihoods with the aim of uplifting the standards of the local, disadvantaged communities and empowering them to take charge of their own development. 
At this point, I will most likely be doing work within the water and sanitation sector of the organization, but can pretty much choose what interests me most once I have gotten to know the community better.
Exciting right!!!

The challenge... 


Lets have a brief history lesson and talk about Western aid to Kenya and the African continent as a whole.  Legend here in Kenya tells that on the first day of Kenyan independence as a free nation (Dec 12, 1963) the country's new flag had gotten stuck as it was being run up the flag pole. Awaiting the bold fluttering of Kenya's new red, green, and black dawn, and surrounded by tens of thousands of hopeful new citizens, Prince Phillip (representing the Queen) turned to the newly elected, and well respected President, Jomo Kenyatta and told him, "Its not too late to change your mind." He was of course referring to the idea that Kenyatta surrender his new nation back to Britain under which the people of Kenya would remain unheard and oppressed. Today, due to Kenyatta's trust in his people, Kenya has come far and has developed to become more than a nation in name only. Kenyatta was crucial in the transformation into "Uhuru" or freedom, for the country while maintaining peace, despite a bitter past, with Britain. He declared to his people that "We are all human beings. We all make mistakes. But we can all forgive. That is what we need to learn in Kenya. Where I have harmed you, I ask forgiveness. We must put the past behind us." Kenyatta went on to say that those who are not welcome, are simply those who are unwilling to view the African people as neighbors, friends, and family, particularly those who would continue to consider themselves "bwanas" or masters, who have some unspoken superiority over the Africans because of race, class, and gender differences.
 Kenya has done well to follow Kenyatta's guidance, but it is of great question whether we, the first world nations, are willing to respect and embody this idea of a human race; this idea of forgiveness; this idea of giving and receiving love; this idea that the only real nation, is humanity.

“We can [reduce] poverty if we start by looking at all human beings as part of a single global community that recognizes that everyone deserves a chance to build a life worth living.”
- Jaqueline Novogratz

Africa's three largest and most consistent problems after gaining independence have been poverty, lack of national identity, and poor distribution of rewards of office.

I think most would agree that the most prevalent concern is poverty.

Poverty by the Numbers

Let's have a look at the average African continent:

Population: 15 million citizens
Size: That of California (~190 sq miles)
Life Expectancy: 47
Pop. Growth: 2.2% per year
Unemployment rate: 15-35%
Rural: 2/3 population
City: 1/3 population (3/4 of which are slums)
Average income: ~$400 per year -- slightly more than a dollar a day 
(~40% of the population lives below the internationally agreed measure of absolute poverty)


AIDS - 21% of all deaths
Respiratory Infections(Flus) - 10% of all deaths
Malaria - 9% of all deaths (2 children every minute of the year for Africa as a whole)
Diarrhea diseases - 7% of all deaths
Malnourishment/Hunger - 37% of all deaths
Other - 16%


Adult Literacy ~65% of population
Primary School - Less than 50% of children enrolled complete due to costs
Children ages 10-14 ~30% are part of the work force, not in school


Irrigated Land - 3.8%
Paved Roads - 13% of roads (more than doubles transportation costs)
Water ~42% of population lacks access to "improved" (reasonably clean) water sources
Waste ~50% of population lacks "improved sanitation" (non-hazardous waste environment)


Refugees/Displaced Peoples from across borders ~ 100,000
Budget - ~ $2.05 billion ($133 per person)
Debt - varies

Essentially, the average country government has to meet the public's needs for education, health, water, road building and maintenance, agriculture, infrastructure, policing, national defense, customs, revenue collection, foreign representation, environmental/animal protection, and civil services with $133 per person.  WHAT?!

Given these numbers, and keeping in mind that this is an average (there is far worse), it is clear that families and government must make near-impossible choices and many sacrifices. It is this dilemma that is the hallmark of all poverty within Africa. 

Depressed yet??? 

Well, there's still some hope, and after all if anything is to get better, something must be done, and taking risks is inevitable. Standing on the sidelines wringing our hands about politics, about every penny spent, and about running tightly controlled projects achieves very little. It is true that first world nations and even individuals have the power to improve security within Africa, but it also true that attempts at aid have failed the continent time and time again. Why is that?  Well, with a world that is in a constant state of flux, it is crucial to understand that there is no one size fits all solution, nor will there ever be. 

So that just makes the job harder right? Right. Impossible? No.

So what helps and how in the world am I gonna be of help?

"If you want to go fast, go alone - but if you want to go far, go together." ~African proverb
Development aid, whether it be charity aid, national aid, international aid, or simply volunteer visits like what I'm doing, is made most effective by ownership, capacity, and sustainability. What do these mean?
Ownership simply refers to the idea that the best way to find out what someone needs is to ask them. Capacity suggests that there's no point in giving aid if those intended to benefit from it don't have the capacity to use it. I consider sustainability most important, and the groundwork for development. The ideal of sustainability and of development aid is, simply put, to enable the abilities of the poor to meet their own needs, thus laying the foundation for continuous and effective change. 

A sustainable project is the holy grail of development projects and its ultimately what I'm after as an intern. Since I will only be in Kakamega for nine weeks, I've come to face the fact that there's not a whole lot I can do to influence public policy and the likes. 

So why am i going again???

Remember that first line? Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba. Well I'm here to do little things, to act locally, and to impact a community, by simply being there, and listening and observing rather than hearing and seeing.  Would you ask a farmer from rural Kenya to tell you where to build a school in downtown Portland or how big it should be, or how many students it should have, etc? I sure hope not. It is absolutely necessary to be in solidarity among the Chavakali community in Kakamega to make any effective change at all.  I liken the situation to a marriage, the couple (or maybe more if you're in Kenya) has to be in the same place at the same time with the same commitment. My personal aid won't solve Africa's problems as a whole, but there's a chance I can address specific symptoms in localized areas to make a real difference in the lives of individuals, families, and a larger community. I'm excited to enter into this commitment with the local community, and mostly I just can't wait to learn about myself, about my future, about Kenya, about culture, and about the power of the human race in action.

Next time I'll actually write about what I've been doing here in Nairobi for the past few days - a much more fun topic!

Until then,

Love Always Wins