Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kenya Ni Sambamba!

I realized yesterday that we've been in Kenya for about a month and I still think it's such a cool place! I mean, when you greet someone with a "mambo?" or "sasa?" they respond with a "poa" or even "sambamba" meaning "cool".  And boy, am I feeling cool today! Here are some of the really tight things I've done in the past few days:
1. I rode a pikipiki to my internship! What's a pikipiki? Oh, it's just a motorcycle used for public transportation! Yes, I got on the back of a motorcycle and rode through the streets of Githurai to get to the first of three locations I visited for the first day of my internship at the Center for Domestic Training and Development. One of the teachers there, Lilian, took us around, stopping first at their domestic training institute, the school they started to generate income to support the shelter. There students learn about housekeeping, childcare, cooking, and finances. Next we went to the main office in Nairobi West where students go to be placed with employers. Finally, after a long day of transportation (all of which, besides the pikipikis, was on hot and boring buses) we got to the shelter for refugees and victims of trafficking.  This is where Katie and I both really wanted to visit and unfortunately we only got to stay for a few minutes but it seemed like a great place for the people who need it.  It was kind of awkward though because no one knew what to do with us, Lilian had friends to talk to, and we still don't know what we'll be doing for CDTD so we just sat in a room sipping water for a little while. Hopefully when the director comes back from her trip to Dar es Salaam this week it will all start to make more sense.
2. I got an interview with one of 51 forensic examiners for sexual violence in Kenya! I tend to gravitate towards pretty upsetting research and this semester is no different. After noticing that in my Male and Female Creativity class, no one brought up the issue of body image as a problem in gender studies, I decided to research the sexualization of Kenyan women.  Because our research needs to have a development component (basically meaning we need to talk to NGOs or government agencies), our director recommend that I research sexual violence against women in Kenya. With this topic and an internship that works with women who have gone through pretty horrible traumas, I'm definitely going to see if I am going to be able to emotionally deal with these issues if I chose to work for international women's empowerment for the rest of my life.  Anyway, on Friday I went to Kenyatta National Hospital and just walked into a wing called "The Gender Violence Recovery Unit". Almost immediately I found a woman (who was a nurse, psychiatrist, forensic examiner, counselor, and maybe some other things) who was able to tell me all about the unit and, although she had to be careful not to reveal anything confidential about the hospital, the kind of cases they see. It was hard to hear about, but cool that she was so willing to take time out of her day and talk to me.
3. I learned to dance with my neck! On Friday night, Aileen, Aly, Quinn S, Quinn L, and I went to this super cool concert called "Spotlight on Kenyan Music". There were beautiful costumes, singing, and I even learned how to do a traditional Samburu dance!
4. I went to a mostly Kiswahili hip hop concert! Although we couldn't understand many of the words Aly, Quinn S, and I had a great time sitting at Sarakasi Dome listening to young guys rapping in a mix of Kiswahili and maybe some English. Those dudes have swag!
5. I got some awesome produce at a Nairobi market! I love matunda (fruits) and mboga (vegetables) in Kenya. At the markets they are so cheap, fresh and so delicious, I don't know how I am ever going to eat again in the US.
6. I have enjoyed some of the most fabulous weather ever! I also don't know how I will ever go back to DC/Cincinnati hot humidity or bitter cold. Almost every day this past week was gorgeous, sunny, warm, and breezy. Sambamba sana, Nairobi!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Giraffes! And Other Great Beings

This weekend was fantastic. On Friday I met the Soteni Kenya team for lunch. I interned with Soteni over the summer in Cincinnati and spent a lot of time working on editing a book that a seventh grader in Kenya made to help other kids study for their exams here. I also got to listen in on a bunch of skype conversations that my boss had with the people here in Kenya. It was awesome to finally get to meet them and bring them some of the typed book to show them what we had done so far.  They are great, interesting people and we spent a lot of time discussing the new Women's Empowerment program they are working on in one of the villages! They will be training the women on entrepreneurship, knowledge of equality, and AIDS awareness beginning in October and they want me to come out and visit the village with them sometime! It also just so happens to be the village where Douglas, the boy whose book I worked on all summer lives AND is right by Mount Kenya so I could meet him and climb the mountain too! AH!

Later that day Katie and I met with the director of our internships at the Center for Domestic Training and Development, an organization that empowers domestic workers by teaching them the skills and financial knowledge to successful get good jobs in people's homes. Additionally, they run a shelter for refugees and victims of human trafficking. We are going on a tour of all the places they work on Friday so we can decide how we want to help.  Edith, the director, really wants us to come up with our own ideas on how to improve the organization so that is exciting!

On Saturday a bunch of us went to a soccer game in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, top two in Africa.  We had visited before to get idea of what slum life is like and to meet some guys who work at ICA, an NGO working to strengthen Kiberan communities and empower the youth, but that day we just went to hang out with the ICA guys, our new friends, and watch some soccer! It was wonderful. The second we got there, all the kids at the game ran up to us, grabbed our hands while yelling "how are youu." I chased the kids around a bit and watched them braid Katie, Crista, and Natalie's hair while learning pick up lines in swahili from the ICA guys. Umetumwa kutoka binguni = you were sent from heaven.

Today we got up early to visit a Maasai Village. Again, it was amazing. We began by meeting Chief Joseph and a lot of other people at their church. They were all so nice, welcoming and full of joy. Then, get ready to hear about one of the coolest things I have ever done.... I HERDED GIRAFFES! Steven, Chief Joseph and I quietly surrounded a bunch of giraffes that were grazing and then all started running at them at the same time and they started stampeding past the rest of the group, running away from us! It was INCREDIBLE.
I was a little concerned this giraffe would come charging at me first because we were making intense eye contact until I ran at it!
I'm the creature with the long neck but tiny and in a pink shirt (bottom right corner!)
I feel like I'm in a state where I've sort of gotten over the initial shock of being here but am just in awe, intellectually and emotionally, of everything we see and do. I am so lucky to be here and meet so many great people (and giraffes) on the one hand and am understanding more and more about Kenyan culture all the time. The fact that people give you this delicious milky, sweet tea when you come to their homes is one thing I can definitely get used to and it symbolizes how wonderful, welcoming, and friendly most people are. On the other hand I am experiencing some culture shock but it has been more of an intellectual learning experience for me than something that has been truly personally upsetting, at least so far.  For example, my USIU classes have been interesting but more just to sit in and listen to how things are taught here than anything else and I'm loving analyzing the crap out of them.  Especially my gender studies class. While the professor is really interesting and seems progressive, gender studies in Kenya is not at the same level of acceptance as gender studies in America. A number of people in the class, including the professor, mentioned the "problem" of transsexuality, a topic that, while just becoming part of the discourses about gender and sex in the US, is certainly never described as a problem. We also discussed "metrosexuality", a term not generally accepted in American gender studies circles. My professor asked if it was a problem and one student said that it was to a certain extent because then if a car breaks down both the man and the woman would be too afraid to break their nails to try and fix it. This made me me uncomfortable on many levels because in addition to the furthering of the assumption that women are afraid to break nails, it implied that men should be the ones to fix cars and not care about their looks. These are real stereotypical issues in the US but not in gender studies classes! The cultural difference is very interesting and I am working up the courage to speak in the class because these students will probably find the difference intriguing as well.
Another eye opening and disturbing experience I had was last week when I went to the Village Market, a very touristy, wealthy, mzungu-y sort of place. Ironically, it made me pretty uncomfortable to not be the minority anymore because I had gotten used to the African make up of most of Nairobi and the fact that this place was full of white people made it seem inauthentic and disturbing because if this is where tourists come, they will have no idea of what Nairobi is really like.  There were no street kids or poor people in sight, everything was squeaky clean, the roads nearby had no potholes or dust and there were even some people performing "traditional" music for all the foreigners to enjoy while comfortably eating pizza and milkshakes. On my matatu ride back the buildings and streets quickly became more and more informal and run down and I got a very real image of the wealth gap that exists in this city.

Here's a great picture to leave you off with...
Some great people in the Maasai Village
And this is Nairobi from the top of the tallest building in the city. I live here these days.

I should probably work on updating more often so that these posts aren't so long...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Americans in Kenya

Whew. We just finished orientation in Kenya!
Before I start chatting: the end of Istanbul was great. Highlight was an 'eating party' in Beyoglu in this district called Nevizade where the restaurants are mostly outside and there are musicians that walk from table to table. We got free fruit, wine, and tea. Definitely recommend to anyone going to Istanbul.

Anyway, we arrived in Nairobi around 2am on Monday, slept all day and headed to Naivasha the next morning! There we began learning Swahili, went over program rules and stuff, played some games by Lake Naivasha (and heard hippos!-even though we couldn't see them) and visited a fair trade certified rose farm.  Naivasha is the number one producer of flowers that get exported throughout the world. As Americans in Kenya we saw the town where our flowers come from. It is a uncomfortable thought that so much land, water, energy, and fuel is used to send unessential goods to the US and Europe when so many people are starving here in Africa but the particular farm we visited was doing some pretty fantastic things with its profits.  We visited its shelter for the orphans and runaways of Naivasha and I was thoroughly impressed. Once all the boys (the girls shelter was next door) had run up and shaken our hands we saw their dorms, classrooms, gardens, wood carving room, and kitchen- all of which made this shelter seem like a great place for these boys to grow up. My only question was if a co-ed education system could be used to promote gender equality in places like this. Obviously, the first priority is to feed, educate, and get the kids off the street, but I couldn't help but wonder if Kenya's gender inequities could be improved if from a young age, children learned to play and learn together.  On the other hand, another project site we visited was the beginnings of a women's health hospital.  Right now the medical center in Naivasha is always overcrowded with sometimes 3 new mothers sharing one bed.  The new wing will be devoted to maternity, other women's health issues as well as an HIV treatment and counseling center.

In Naivasha we also rode our first matatu (which was fortunate because Naivasha is not nearly as hectic as Nairobi). A matatu is a 14-person van that functions as a bus and to ride you have to figure out where it's going, stopping, and how much it costs based on a mix of hand signals, Swahili words, Shang words (swahili slang), and English (but apparently you are more likely to be overcharged if you use English because it's more obvious that you don't know what you are doing). They are pretty scary at first but since our first experience in Naivasha we've gotten used to them a little and today successfully rode them without our orientation guides! I have never felt so proud of myself than when i walked up to matatu and declared "u na enda jianjee gardens?" ("are you going to jianjee gardens?"-the place we get the United States International University shuttle). Matatus are interesting because although the seats tend to be falling apart, some of them have tvs attached to the seats on which they play music videos- mostly American and Kenyan. I've been loving the new Kenyan music I've been exposed to ( but while sitting two inches from Biggie and his scantily clad women, I got a real life explanation of why I had just been told throughout orientation that as a white, American woman, certain things would be assumed of me. The media we produce, our dispersed images of "ideal women" show us as sex symbols and really little else. If this is the limited exposure Kenyans get to Americans, it is hard not to blame ourselves.
Of course, this stigma of over- sexualized women is not the only assumption that comes with being a "Mzungu" (white foreigner in East Africa). We are also assumed to be extremely wealthy and have the ability to take people back to the US to improve their lives. This one is almost harder to deal with because of the truth that lies in it. Even though I am comfortably middle class in the US, in Kenya that translates to extreme wealth. For example, recently I bought a tea for the equivalent of 25 cents, a bottle of nice rose wine for $6, a full meal for $1.20. Meanwhile, the number of people with nothing here is overwhelming. It's a confusing situation because although I could afford to give all the children on the street money, we've been told that children are often forced to beg by controlling adults who share none of the money and of course it is unreasonable to give out money to everyone.  At the Maasai Market on Saturday, people would ask where I was from and because I responded "America" they would say things like "but you are American, you can afford more" when I would participate in customary bargaining and try to get good deals to save the money that I still have to budget.

I'm facing the fact that I am a rich American, but still haven't figured out how to respond to this status.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All of Istanbul

Internet in Istanbul wouldn't let me connect to blogger so here's what I would have blogged:

Monday August 22
Today is our second day in Istanbul. It is awesome. Most notably, I have been mistaken for J Lo and Jessie for Shakira. But seriously the things vendors say to you are just hilarious. Today, for example, as we were walking by I was talking to Aly, Aileen, and Jessie and a man said “she is always right” I replied “why yes, I am” to which he said “I love you.”
Above: Yesterday we went to Hagia Sofia, a gorgeous Byzantine Church-turned-Mosque once the Ottoman Empire took over.
We went to the Grand Bazaar and were overwhelmed by the colors and sheer amount of EVERYTHING. We haggled ourselves some scarves, earrings, and most importantly HAREM PANTS. This evening Jessie made us some delicious rice and veggies and we sat on the roof of our hostel eating, waving to other people on the top floors of their apartments, and discussing all the awesome things we could do with our harem pants for example, smuggle some of the large quantities of cats from Turkey to Kenya, catch baseballs in the excess cloth, hide your friends, dance, and basically anything else you could possibly want to do. We also went to a great spice market where we got lots of free samples of tea and dry fruit. This evening the four of us took a romantic walk through the grounds of the Topkapi. We practiced our Sultan’s daughter princess walks.
A great thing we have learned from Turkish restaurant owners is the custom of giving free tea to new friends. We’ve gotten three cups so far and vowed to not pay for another cup while here. Apparently once you’ve shared a cup of tea, you are automatically friends for the next 40 years. Apple tea is fantastic and, as long as you can handle some awkward conversation and smile, it is even better free!

Wednesday August 24
Dear Diary,
Today has been a big day! We went to the Blue Mosque, the Archeological Museum,
 a tasty lunch sitting on pillows (our new favorite way to eat, drink, and sit), the Cistern, and some bars with some other cool travelers we met in our hostel in the more metropolitan or modern part of Istanbul- Beyoglu!
Fun facts:
-The Blue Mosque (or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) used the most tiles in a dome: 20000!
-The Cistern has a capacity for 100,000 tons water storage! Way to go Byzantine Emperor Justinianus!
-The Cistern has two Medusa heads at the bottom of two columns. One is sideways and one is upside down. No one really knows why but it might have something to do with good luck. Mysterious!
-There were a lot of hardcore women/goddess statues at the Archeology museum. Way to go Rome and Hellenic-inspired sculptors!

Yesterday we went on one of those uber-touristy hop on/hop off tours. We hopped off at the Dolmabahce Palace and went over the bridge and hopped off again in ASIA.
The Dolmabahce Palace was simply gorgeous. We walked around the grounds, again as princesses, and went in to the Harem section (the apartments of all the royal women and where Sultans and Ataturk had bedrooms). They were overwhelmingly intricate and colorful and beautiful. In Asia we sat by the water and congratulated ourselves on being great tourists. 15 minutes later we went to a restaurant staffed by people who spoke only Turkish without a Turkish dictionary. We pointed at pictures of the food to attempt to avoid meat (for me, Aly, and Jessie) or gluten (for Aileen). I do not recommend ordering food in another language when you have a restrictive diet.
Back in Europe we walked around and looked at more HAREM PANTS. Then we went to a little outdoor restaurant for drinks and Hummus and sat on pillows for a good 3 hours. It was wonderful. Then we went to another restaurant with a rooftop view of the Blue Mosque and a Whirling Dervish show going on below! We had a veggie dish that the waiter sets on fire before serving!
I am getting quite the collection of pamphlets. I know all about tours and whirling dervish shows. Every store has a pamphlet and every worker has a business card. We’re thinking of getting some that say “Margaret Kran-Annexstein: super tourist”

Thursday August 26, 2011

Today is the day we went from being American tourists to Turkish goddesses. We got up this morning and decided to go to a Turkish bath. We didn’t want to pay to much so we just got the self service sauna/hot tub/cold faucet deal. The traditional scrubble bubble body treatment (pretty sure that’s what it’s called) looked pretty nice but we made the most of that gorgeous bathhouse by giving each other head massages while sitting in there for way longer than anyone else and then lingering in the main (outside the bath) room with tea and on the roof terrace with lunch for a strangely long amount of time. We are really good at sitting around Istanbul. Especially when so relaxed. We floated back to our hostel and sat a little more before heading to the New Mosque and then back to the spice market where we snagged some free dried fruit samples. The guy who gave them to us was great. He kept going “everybody dance now!” and “show me the money!” and “I am from chicaaaaago” and “I’ll give you tons of things for free, this isn’t even my store!” It was his store though so we bought some dried fruit and nuts and headed down to the docks on the Bosphorus to take a ferry! It was a commuter ferry so we were the only people taking pictures and riding it just to ride it (we got off and turned around and got back on). It was another romantic experience as the sun set on Istanbul.