Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Winds of Change, They be a Blowin’

I know, I know, long time, no update. But it’s because I have been busy!!!! I know, what!?! This can’t be!?! We sent him over there to do nothing, how did he find things to do!? Get over it, here’s the recap:

Nairobi

If you all remember from last post, my avid readers found me about to set off on the always magical, often life-threatening trip to Nairobi. Needless to say, after a 9 hour bus ride, followed by 3 hours of traffic, I arrived at my little slice of heaven in Nairobi, Upper Hill Campsite. Settled in for a good Hamburger and a chat with my Peace Corps friend Leah, who has sadly left service and was in Nairobi for the end of service process. But she was happy doing so, so that’s what matters, being happy! Then hit the hay hard. That bus ride is exhausting.

The next day was day one of crazy meetings. Did I mention I was with Crystal and her family? She is the Voices of Africa lady and the primary reason for going to Nairobi. Our first meeting was with a trading company in NRB whose CEO is very interested in Crystals Tuk Tuk mobile information center. So interested in fact that he called us back for another meeting. He is very interested in creating what seems to be a Socially responsible business model for some of his future endeavors and Crystal was able to wow him with some of her ideas. I provided tech support and technical opinions for the meeting. Not going to lie, I feel there is a really big potential for socially responsible corporations to do some real good in the world and make up for where development agencies have come up short, but it is relatively untested waters, so we need to swim carefully.

That afternoon it was then off to the US Embassy to meet the ambassador. Jess, the manager at Upper Hill was making fun of me for ironing my clothes that morning before the meetings, saying that the ambassador is not that big a deal, but I felt differently. We arrived at the embassy (after realizing there’s nothing to do around the embassy to kill time) early, and after 3 security checks (less intensive than an airport however…) we were able to wait in the lobby. The inside of the Embassy just feels like America. I know how cheesy that may sound, but it just does. Otherwise it doesn’t look any different from some of the office buildings in Nairobi, but at the same time, not all buildings in Nairobi feel like America. Like I said a long time ago, something is always just a little different. But here, everything felt at it should.

If your wondering how we got an appointment with the ambassador, it was easy, Crystal asked. She sent an email and they replied and said it was ok and scheduled one.

We met Mr. Ranenberger and his Assistant Jonathan that day and got a chance to discuss the general US Policy in Kenya in relation to development and they informed us that though they couldn’t offer some direct assistance they would certainly inquire more into some of Crystal’s proposals that seem to have got lost in the muck. Then the ambassador said he had to cut his part of the meeting short because of a crisis in Somalia (“Isn’t there always a crisis in Somalia?” / “Yes but this one is worse.”), and then myself, Crystal and Jonathan continued to discuss various parts of development in Africa. Overall it was good to just get info straight from the horses mouth, and Crystal got her chance to tell the ambassador in person how much she likes him, which he seemed to appreciate. What we also talked about confirmed mine and Crystal’s perception of the situation on the ground in Likoni. It’s a good feeling when the US and you share similar viewpoints. Solidifies your footing for moving forward. After our meeting, we went home and crashed.

Friday morning was a meeting with Google, or Google Round 2 as I call it. This time we got a chance to talk to Mark the Geo Team Lead. I threw at him some ideas for mapping and whatnot and in general we talked about the role of GIS in development. Crystal also talked to him about her Tuk Tuk and though he couldn’t offer any direct assistance he said he would be happy to help us get the proposals into the right hands. So that was good. Hopefully we were cordial enough that there will be a round 3 for google. I see a great opportunity for branding for them, as well as creating a socially responsible role in the east african community as a whole.

Friday afternoon I got a chance to attend the board meeting of Voices of Africa, which was good. The board has a really good grasp on the situations in Africa, and Crystal updated them with all the footwork she’s been doing, and introduced me as well. Yet another busy day!

Saturday morning Crystal and I had a very early meeting with our Tuk Tuk partner to discuss in more detail the future of the project, as well as some other ideas he hopes crystal can help him with. That afternoon I spent on the couch watching the Arsenal vs. Man U match. Man U won. I think I was supposed to cheer. I chose to dose instead.

So that ends part one of this update. I was going to write more about NYS and the good things happening here as well, but I am actually too busy to write it at the moment. hopefully later. Probably tomorrow. Until then, hopefully this gives you all some insight that I am happy and running around like a chicken with its head caught off. I find myself having gone through the stereotypical Peace Corps process of throwing myself at heaps of projects and seeing which ones pan out. Above is only a smidgeon of things I am working on and Ill keep you posted about everything else. The past few weeks have been BUSY!

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On Bicycles

NOTE: This post was written several days ago but is just getting posted now.

As you may all remember, and there is photographic evidence, I own a “shiny red bicycle.” I purchased said bicycle for the purpose of getting around the NYS compound easier (yes it is that big) and also for making it easier to get into Mtongwe from the NYS compound for when I need to pick up some items at a local duka. This bicycle has been nothing but headaches since:

  • I paid about $100 for this bicycle, which included some upgrades to the gears system, thinking that would alleviate some potential issues.
  • Within a day the front tube of the bicycle had popped, with a terrible gash down one side. The kenyans say it was because I was “jumping,” which is what they call any mode of riding that is faster than a walking-pace, as well as elevating ones bike to go over a curb instead of just simply hitting it with the tire.
  • Tube is replaced by a fundi wa basakeli (bicycle repairman), who charges a considerable amount for his services. This I know because David offered to bring it for me so that I would not get screwed, and even david got screwed.
  • The next day, my other tube breaks. This time, instead of bringing it to a fundi, I decide to be more self-reliant and wait until I can get into town.
  • Because in town, I am able to purchase tools (costing a pretty penny themselves), and a better tube. I repair the tube and everything is good, except the back wheel needs a little adjusting.
  • Until my chain breaks. Again, I must have been “jumping.” It’s like a sin to Kenyans to “jump,” one’s bike.
  • Shamefaced, I walk my bicycle home. Many kenyans inform me that I must have been “jumping.”
  • David fixes my chain. I helped a little, I promise. But he knocks out the pegs, removes the bad link, and reconnects the one-link-shorter chain. Back wheel is still wobbly, but everything else is ok. I promise David I will never “jump” again. I think I may have “jumped” in front of his eyes when testing the bike 5 seconds later. I don’t remember my tires leaving the ground.
  • This past weekend I decided to re-align the back tire so that it would not wobble. All is successful. Then just as I get off the bike and park it, the front tire deflates completely in front of my eyes. This was the tube the fundi installed, not mine, which I spent a bit more on.
  • The bicycle is currently sitting in my mud room with a flat front tire, waiting for a new tube.

I feel like one of those cartoon characters who is riding some sort of vehicle along as it falls apart from underneath them, and then just as they sense something is wrong they look down and fall to the ground. I also now have a better understanding of the whole “Made in China,” must be crap philosophy, which in America, just never really held true to this extent for me before.

BUT IN OTHER NEWS: I am hopefully going to be meeting the US Ambassador in a couple days in Nairobi. As well as getting a repeat visit to Google HQ. More on this exciting news as it develops 🙂

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Arrrgh, ther be Pirates!

Everyone knows about all the pirate attacks that are happening near the Gulf of Aden, and generally along the coast of the Horn of Africa, suspiciously near the coast of Somalia. If you haven’t heard about them, then I am afraid to speculate you’ve been living in a cave, on mars, with fingers stuck in your ears, holding your eyes tightly shut. As a result of the proximity, I have been getting all sorts of questions about pirates: Are there pirates where you live? Is mombasa filled with pirates? Do pirates attack nightly? How many times has your house been pillaged? Are you a pirate? I hear you are a pirate, really?

Up until a couple days ago however, I would have been absolutely confident in claiming that pirates have zero impact on my daily life. The local papers rarely mention them, nobody talks about them, and the only proof I have of their existence is reliant upon my trust that the BBC is not lying, and I do in fact live in the age of modern pirates; pirates equipped with rocket launchers, something which only in my wildest childhood fantasies of trying to discover how a pirate could beat a ninja could I have dreamt.

Of course, this all changed a couple days ago. I was walking down the path, coming back to the NYS compound, getting the usual barrage of “How are you?” from the kids, when out of nowhere a kid walks up, looks at me and says, “Ahoy!” I stop dead in my tracks, literally turn around and in Kiswahili say, “What, no ‘how are you?’ Do you think I am a pirate?” His repsonse: “yes.” So there you have it. The pirates have in fact landed in Mombasa, and I’m one of them. Terrorist sleep-cells got nothing on me, I’m a pirate sleeper-cell and I didn’t even know it!

In other news, I finally fixed my bike. It got two flat tires in the week I have owned it. I don’t know how. Well, the first one had a huge gash in the tube, but the second one didn’t seem to have any problems. I think they were just low quality tubes. But this time, instead of paying the fundi (tradesman) a ridiculous price to fix my bike with an inferior tube, i paid even more money and bought my own tools and a new, high quality tube and fixed it myself. Wooo for self-reliance! It’s worth it in the long run.

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