Since arriving back in Nairobi we’ve been going non-stop. I’ve accompanied Andy on several site visits and have also headed off on my own a few times too. Here are some highlights:
Africa Yoga Project: I was able to attend a class at Mama Fatuma Orphanage in EastLeigh, a neighborhood that’s a step up from a slum (as in, it has running water and people pay rent). The instructors Anthony and Bernard had been trained by Baron Baptiste thanks to a bit of arranging by Paige of Africa Yoga Project. The program started to heal those affected by the violence after the 2007 elections in Kenya but has evolved to help train instructors who are able to make a living teaching yoga. After the class, which was attended by about a dozen kids and included a half hour of acrobatics at the end, we went to Anthony’s studio apartment. Having grown up in the slums, he was very proud to show off his home which was small but tidy. We chatted for about an hour and when I showed them pictures of snow back home, and even a snowman, they were amazed.
HELGA: The next day, Andy and I traveled about an hour and a half to Kajiado, a small city occupied by Masai people, one of the 40+ tribes in Kenya and the one most devoted to maintaining tradition. Some of these are lovely, like bright red scarves dress and beautiful bead-work. However, some of the traditions are pretty archaic, like Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage. And that’s where a Masai woman named Priscilla steps in. In her organization, HELGA, Priscilla gets the help of the local authorities to enforce the age requirements for marriage, which are 18 rather than the often accepted 12 or 13. She’ll house the girls and educate them, returning them home if their fathers agree to not marry them and keeping them for the duration if not. All in all she’s helped more than 700 girls escape this fate. Most had been promised to friends of the fathers–sometimes even before birth–which means they would often be a third or fourth wife to a middle-aged man.
Children at one of the schools Priscilla maintains for area children
Here are some of the girls currently receiving her assistance:
Not surprisingly, they all loved Andy. (Even more so after he started speaking Swahili with them.)
World Bicycle Relief: Next I jetted off to Kisumu, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. There I met the small staff that runs the Kenya branch of World Bicycle Relief. The project is large and multi-faceted. In Zambia and South Africa bicycles are donated to school children (mostly girls) to help them make the trek to school. Many children live 4+ km from school which can be a long walk there and back. To help fund these efforts, for-profit WBR projects like the one I visited in Kenya are growing. The name for this segment is simply Buffalo Bikes–the bikes, which are sold to NGOs, private companies, and individuals, are designed by American bike pros with specifications specific for the rugged conditions in Africa. All are upright bikes (no leaning forward to reach the handle bars), made of durable steel, and outfitted with cushy seats, a strong carrier in the back (for water, people, and more), and mountain bike tires that roll over the many potholes and rocks in the road. An assembly line of 5 men work on the bikes, building up to 24 each day.
Here’s Dominic, one of the test riders for Buffalo, putting the bike through all sorts of tasks:
And the assembly line:
Finally, today we went to Kawangware to check out a venture called iSmart, which is basically a door-to-door sales program that helps teach marketing and sales skills to street kids and other underprivileged people. It was really interesting to hear the stories of the employees–some had grown up in slums with no job prospects and now they’re able to earn a living, albeit a humble one. It was also amazing to hear how necessary this service is–many workers and slum residents had never shopped in stores (opting for the many open-air markets instead) and therefore didn’t realize that many basic products, such as solar-powered lanterns, were available to them. We traveled through the neighborhood and I took some photos. This is a pretty typical scene here in Nairobi, where high-walled homes protected by razor wire abut slums like these.
These large hand-trucks move everything, from lumber to food.
All of that talk of health-harming cooking fires made sense after seeing this “coal” which was actually just burned wood.
The site to buy clean (drinkable) water. (While many homes in Nairobi have tap water, none have drinkable water.)
Tomorrow I head off for a 4-day animal safari. I just found out I’m the only one on the safari–there will be other people at the camp and meals but I’ll be alone on the game drives. For about 5 seconds I felt a little dismayed–what if I get lonely? But then I realized that the worst thing about group tours is the group so… Awesome!