Category Archives: Where You See Lions

Where You See Lions?: A Closing

 

The memory of Kenya is all I have left. I remember the overwhelmingly green hills and mud rivers. I remember the crowds of children in high-pitched nasally voices yelling “How are you? How are you?” over and over at me. I remember getting stuck in African rain, mud clinging to the back of my legs, waiting for the rain to let up shivering under a banana thatched matatu stop. I remember the old mamas dancing and singing me down the road, grasping my hands, and asking me to return again one day.

The situation of Africa currently is dire. It’s not only the fault of corrupt governments or environmental disasters or inadequate international aid or deteriorating infrastructure or endemic disease or any number of other causes. Africa is in a dire situation because all of these causes feed and intertwine with one another to delay or eliminate positive effects. I am not suggesting that Africa will forever be subject to persistent poverty, disease, and death. I am suggesting, however, that the international community in conjunction with African political, community, and tribal leaders must act now and quickly to avert or prevent future disasters.

Currently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) there are unspeakable acts of violence going on destroyed psychologically from the 1994 genocide have been carrying out crimes against humanity in eastern DRC. Rape and brutality are becoming everyday occurrences for the people of villages and communities. Although there are 17,000 UN peacekeeping forces currently in the region, the DRC is close to the size of Western Europe and the third largest country in Africa. Peacekeeping is an uphill battle, and those living in these communities are running out of time.

In the horn of Africa as of today, there is a drought effecting millions of lives. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania among others are directly impacted by this environmental disaster in the making. Somalia is already fragile enough that a highly disruptive event such as a drought could send the country into a downward spiral fostering terrorism, war, and death. Somalia will not be able to weather this drought without sustaining international emergency aid and continuing grants and loans afterward to reestablish the economy.

I love Kenya. I love Africa. But there are problems on the continent that are beyond their resources. I am looking forward to returning as soon as possible to Kakamega. If not there at least to a new place in Africa. The beauty, the sadness, and the resilience of the people of Africa is astounding.

To end Where You See Lions? I’d like to share a few excerpts of my journal during the summer.

July 10th, 2007

“Yesterday, I went to Khayega with Bridget, Janet, and Ana to take a look at a program that CARD (Janet’s organization) holds every Saturday. It’s free VCT services (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) for HIV/AIDS. Each councellor meets with people for between forty-five minutes and an hour to speak of life style habits, high risk activities, etc. in a confidential setting.

I think it’s amazing the way it’s set up. There is a comprehensive evaluation and counseling before a person learns their HIV status. Additionally, they have a DJ playing music and theater groups performing in order to make it more inviting. Honestly, it’s a fantastic program.”

July 13th, 2007

“Last night, I fell asleep pretty peacefully until about 11:30pm. I wake up feeling something in my hair. Naturally, I freak out a little, fuss at my hair, feel around in the dark. I don’t feel anything so I lie back don. Then something (a roach) climbs on the top of me and bites my hip. I scream horribly and wake up Judith. I hate those roaches.”

July 20th, 2007

“After my first month in Africa, I can confidently say two things. I don’t understand Africa. I understand why people love Africa. I have only been to Kenya, but it is the kind of place that I could be happy. There is terrible corruption, roads are atrocious, disease is ubiquitous, and money is scarce. At the same time, family is essential, money is secondary, and community comes first. ”

August 3rd, 2007

“Mayowa and I saw it was going to rain so we grabbed bodas and headed back to Azare. Well, wouldn’t you know that half way there, it started to pour and my boda wouldn’t continue. The roads are awful in Matioli so I can understand why. But after fifteen minutes, I decided to walk the final mile to Azare. It was hateful. I was soaking wet and muddy when I arrived. I saw Mayowa shivering in the rain and sat next to him.

We waited two hours for a matatu but none came. The roads were too bad and the rain did not let up. So we called a taxi to get us. The taxi took another hour at which time two matatus came by. However, they preceeded to get stuck in the mud one by one. So when the taxi came, I was happy to my way down the hazardous road to Shibuli. When I arrived home, I was wet, muddy and cranky. But I was home.

The following day, I wake up at 5:45 am to get to Milimani. I spoke to Janet, and she was telling me that I had to get there by myself. Okay, no big deal.

I get a matatu out past Lubao and deal with an hour trip of being hit on by some older guy who wanted a green card in the U.S. I switch matatus at Junction and go to Turbo silently screaming the whole time because honestly, I have no idea where I’m going.”

August 10th, 2007

Paulina, mtoto mzuri, Paulina kiba
Paulina, mtoto mzuri, Paulina kiba

Habu cheza qua maringo tukuonae kiba
Habu cheza qua maringo tukuonae kiba

Eba chikicha chikicha eba (Repeat)

August 19th, 2007

“I am in Uganda overlooking the source of the Nile. I am tired, beat up, and my skin hurts. But I am absolutely happy right now.”

August 21st, 2007

“I am currently at the end of my final theater workshop in Butere. I thought this was going to be difficult. Now, I could do this lecture with my eyes closed. In addition, I am beginning to memorize the Shakespeare by heart, which is nice…

I really like the Butere CBO. Maybe the reason they are so good is because of Zablon. Maybe not. But they work hard, they’re fun to be with, and I enjoy teaching this group. I hope that I’ve actually made an impact.”

August 26th, 2007

“It was both how I imagined it and how I couldn’t have imagined it. Kibera was further than anything I have ever personally experienced. It was very difficult to imagine daily life there even with it in front of me.”

August 28th, 2007

“I am definitely excited to be in Amsterdam. Another country to add to my map. I’d like to go to Vietnam, Iceland, Ghana, and Senegal. Those are my top destinations now.

The guy next to me just pulled out a laptop in at the train station. I am millions of miles away from Kenya.”

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Where You See Lions 4: Who’s Nostradamus?

The predictability of the weather in Western Province has proved an unexpected but welcome addition to my trip. I know that everyday at 4pm it will start to rain. I know that everyday at noon is will be dry and hot outside. I know every night will be cloudy (except for those rare, clear, and stunning nights without light pollution). This consistency can be charming and infuriating. I know everyday when I am trying to get a matatu home, it will be raining. But I also know to bring a raincoat in the mornings. It’s an interesting mix of both.

In contrast, the people of this country are not nearly so reliably predictable. Last week, I managed two workshops at two different locations near Kakamega. The locations were Burkura and Lugari (click on the map on the right–Kakamega, Lugari nad Burkura are circled). The workshops were concerning theater and microfinance. However, the reactions, experiences, and evaluation couldn’t have been different.

Burkura is a small town up a steep hill about 20kms outside of Kakamega town. Luckily, it’s only about 5kms from the village I am living, Shibuli. Nevertheless, it takes a good two hours to travel up the bumpy, treacherous and frequently cattle-prone road that leads to Burkura. In order to reach the Community Based Organization (CBO), which is not located in Burkura but in a smaller village called Matioli (which I’d like to point out was not related to me that first time I went to see the CBO) you must take another matatu and then a boda boda. The scenery is beautiful and on a clear day, you can see Mount Elgon from up there.

Nevertheless, what I discovered in Burkura are youth groups desperate for information and motivated to put acquired knowledge into action. They read Shakespeare with vigor, wrote plays with enthusiasm, and participated as often as possible. The Burkura CBO became a model, to me, for how Kenyan CBOs should behave. If nothing else, the fact that the people were friendly definitely helped.

However, Burkura has a merciless side to it as well. On the final day of the workshops, as I quickly tried to patch up loose ends, it started to rain. And it didn’t stop. Because the roads in Kenya are unsurprisingly dilapidated, paved roads are difficult to maneuver in the rain. A dirt road is nearly impossible. So when my bodaboda decided to stop a mile away from the matatu stop, I had to press on with the other volunteer and wait for three hours in the rain for a matatu. So it goes in Kenya. (We called a cab).

The following day, I went out to Lugari. Lugari is much farther away from Kakamega (about 30 miles), and it took five hours to get there. Unfortunately, the trip should only take three so I was late. Lugari was a disappointment on every level that Burkura was pleasure. The participants were immature, the director was only concerned with getting his hands on some muzungu money, and African Time took new levels of tardiness.

(Now, African Time deserves a moment of explanation.  Obviously, this refers to the way people observe time in Africa. If you plan a meeting for 9am, people begin to arrive at 10am. You should be able to start the meeting at 11pm. You will receive your final stragglers arriving around 1pm, when you’re trying to leave.)

Now, these two experiences should have not been too different. I had the same number of participants from the same organization with the same workshop. But this is how it goes in Kenya, Sometimes things work fabulously and sometimes they fabulously fall apart. This is not an indictment of one CBO and accolades for another, but simply an example that, here, things never work the way you think they will. People are unpredictable; fortunately, the weather is not.

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Where You See Lions 3: People

kenya.jpgThe types of people you meet in Kenya are as varied as the kernels of maize in the hills…uh, songs by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, whatever. Truly, the people of Kakamega, Kenya have been marvelous and disappointing and heart warming and tragic. However, there have been a few certain types of people I have come to know so far that have been replicated more than a few times since I’ve arrived. Just as in America, you can identify your hipsters, Reganite yuppies, and hip-hop wanna -be’s, so in Kenya, there are some types easily identifiable. Each type has its benefits and detriments, but all of them are peculiarly spectacular.

After the break, a look at a few of these prevalent groups of people.

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Where You See Lions 2: Getting Around

kenya.jpgThere aren’t a whole lot of ways to get around Kakamega, a town near Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. You can walk, certainly. If you need to get someplace a bit faster than your feet can take you, though, you’re not going to find a subway or trolley or a bus schedule lying conveniently on a rack in the non-existence transit station. Nope. You’re going to take a bit more rustic, less organized transit, and you’re going to need some advice.

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Where You See Lions: An Introduction

kenya.jpgHabari!

Why wouldn’t a person choose to spend nine weeks of their life without electricity, without running water, 7200 miles from home, living with a polygamist family who speak Kiluhya outside in their remote home in the village Shibuli, an hour’s travel from the closest “major” Kenyan city, Kakamega? I will seek to answer these questions as I uproot my life in the coming weeks to move to Shibuli and work at the Uzima Youth Foundation.

Contributing to the foundations already impressive programs, I will start a theater program for children who have been orphaned or affected by HIV/AIDS in the community. Do I know what I’m doing? Probably not. But it should be an interesting experience to say the least.

Additionally, I will be learning Swahili as I stay there. Although, when I return to the US, there will be a good chance I will have only mastered two phrases: Hapana (No) and Sielewi (I don’t understand).

I will try to update Where You See Lions (WYSL) as often as I can. However, my internet access will be limited due to the lack of electricity, so I may not be able to post from Kenya with my usual, ahem, clockwork regularity. It happens. Nevertheless, I will update as often as I can find opportunity.

In the meantime, enjoy your running water. Enjoy your lights at night. I will be typing by battery powered lamp.

Tutaonana (Goodbye).

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