Tuesday, June 29, 2010


For more photos, see my album on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2088127&id=15800409&ref=mf

Is that a rock or a lion? If it’s a lion, who do we sacrifice first?

A lot has happened in the past few days. On Friday, the organization I’m interning at (Kituo cha Sheria) threw a party to celebrate the big win (thanks to the legal aid team at Kituo, Kenyan prisoners can now vote in the upcoming referendum). There was a staff meeting, followed by three hours of singing, followed by roast goat in a bucket (yes, literally, a roasted goat chopped up into pieces was passed around in a plastic bucket), followed by alcohol. I actually had to leave early and didn’t get to the alcohol part, but I still had a jolly good time. Jamie, Consuelo and I met up back at the guesthouse and then went to an art show put together by Charles DeSantis. Charles is the Vice President of Benefits at Georgetown University and comes to Kenya each summer to teach an art program for high school kids in Kibera—the second largest slum in Africa. (You can check out his website here: http://artinkibera2010.blogspot.com/). When we got to the venue, the power was out, so Charles gave us a tour of the gallery by candlelight. The work the students had done was beautiful. I took a photo of one drawing I thought was really amazing.

Saturday we woke up early. The other muzungu intern at Kituo, Aaron aka ‘Harvard Law,’ really wanted to get out of the city for the weekend, so we decided to head north to Lake Nivasha. There were five of us total: me, Aaron, Jamie, Consuelo, and Bethuel (another intern at Kituo). Originally, we were going to rent a car and drive up ourselves (and here I mean we were going to make Bethuel drive, since none of the rest of us know how to drive on the left side of the road), but after waiting two hours for the rental guy to drop off the car, we decided to just go to town and take a matatu (taxi van).

The Kenyan countryside is beautiful! Despite sitting in the uncomfortable matatu and hitting my head on the ceiling at every bump in the road, it was still an enjoyable car ride. We arrived in Nivasha town and got a taxi to take us to the lake. We rented rooms at the YMCA and set off in search of lunch. After walking down a dirt road for what seemed like ages, we finally stumbled upon the Simba Club. It was actually a really nice place for being in the middle of nowhere—they even had a pool table! By the time we had finished lunch, it was already 4:00, but we really wanted to see the lake, so we walked to a place called Crayfish Camp to see if they had beach access. They did! We walked down a long paved road towards the lake to find a small boy herding an enormous flock of sheep near the edge of the water. And past him was a jetty with a man and a boat at the end. So pleasantly, and unexpectedly, we got to go on a boat ride. We saw lots of birds, and about ten hippos. Consuelo was freaking out the whole time about the hippos, but we survived. Only once did a hippo submerge itself and make an underwater run for our boat. But, we escaped and rode off into the sunset—literally.

We ended up ordering dinner and watching the Ghana vs. US game at Crayfish Camp. They showed the game on a huge projector screen outside—it would have been awesome had the US won, and had the three Americans not been surrounded by about 50 Kenyans and one Venezuelan who were delighted with the Ghana win.

On Sunday, we hopped on our YMCA rented mountain bikes at 7AM and rode into Hell’s Gate National Park. The following is an excerpt from the Lonely Planet guide on Hell’s Gate: “Looking at animals from the safety of your car seat is all well and good, but let’s be honest – after a while who doesn’t get the urge to get out of the vehicle and re-enter the food chain?” We didn’t see any big cats, but we did see a ton of zebra and warthog. At the far end of the park, we dismounted and took a hike down into Hell’s Gate Gorge. I’ve never been on such a cool hike in my life. It’s a good thing we had a guide… we were climbing up and down steep rocks and through streams, and several times, our guide had to physically carry us to safety. He looked like he weighed maybe 120 pounds, but he must have been tough because he killed a lion with a spear when he was 15. Yup. He was from the Maasi tribe, and to “become a man” and to be accepted as an adult in the community, you have to kill a lion. To “become a woman,” you’re supposed to undergo circumcision. I think I’d much rather kill a lion.

Riding back through the park after our intense hike was not pleasant. (The original sentence I had written here was much more accurate, but Jamie made me change it to something more polite). It was mostly uphill, and very hot, the bike seats were not well padded, and I only had one gear switch that worked. But we made it without being eaten by lions, or being chased by a rhino, and safety is all that matters right?

We hitched a matatu ride back to Nivasha town, which was an interesting experience in itself. When the mat stopped to pick us up, there was only one available seat, but we all managed to squeeze on anyway. I was sitting in between two seats in the back on the floor with Aaron on my knee, and Bethuel on his knee. Jamie was sitting in the second row with a kid on her lap, and Consuelo was sitting up in the first row smushed against the driver and two or three other people. During all of this, I am acutely aware of the fact that my back is exposed because my shirt is stuck on something, but I can’t pull it down because I can’t move my arms as they are trapped between the two seats on either side of me. So for twenty minutes I’m thinking that these four guys in the back row behind me are probably having a great time staring at my foreign, pasty-white skin. Even though I couldn’t move my body at all, at least I was able to watch the Ugandan music videos on the TV screen behind the driver’s headrest.

We eventually made it back to Nairobi. As soon as the bus dropped us off, it spit a plume of black smoke right into my face. Consuelo thought it was hilarious.

Overall, it was a great weekend. Next weekend though, we may take it easy… we’re so exhausted and don’t know when we’ll be able to catch up on our sleep.

Today was another busy day. We went to the Refugee Consortium of Kenya in the morning and then met with Abdi Rashid, one of the men who helped write the Proposed Constitution of Kenya (to be voted on on August 4th - this is what prisoners can now vote on). After our meeting, he took us to meet with Hassan Omer Hassan, a Commissioner at the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights.

Anyway, I’ve written too much. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jamie and I want to marry Mr. Darcy... or maybe just Colin Firth.

Pride & Prejudice. What a beautiful story. Why do women love it so much? Is it the tortured Mr. Darcy? The sexual tension between our two protagonists? Or the notion that semi-attractive, sensible women really do have a chance at finding true love? Ugh… I sound like such an inquisitive romantic; I’m making myself nauseous. It’s stories like Pride & Prejudice that self-help books like “He’s Just Not That Into You” strive to contradict. Will a man really let you know if he’s interested, or does it pay to be pushy? The lack of consensus vexes me. Jamie and I just finished watching the BBC mini series version of the classic story. Last night was our third night in a row spent with Ms. Elizabeth. Even British television can’t ruin a story that good!

Most of the reports on the safety of Nairobi suggest not traveling outside after dark sans taxi, so we’ve been sitting in our room from 7 till bedtime either reading or watching movies on Jamie’s laptop. Sometimes, when we walk to the store around 6:30 and then race to make it home before sunset, I feel like we’re in some zombie movie like “I Am Legend.” Tonight we did venture out into the dark (via taxi of course) to meet a Kenyan Georgetown alumna for dinner. The restaurant was this really cool Ethiopian place. As our car pulled into the gated compound, we could smell incense burning. We got out of the car and walked up a winding, lit path through flowering trees and found ourselves in the midst of a collection of several patios/huts connected by little footpaths. Each outdoor room was adorned with comfy chairs and low tables. We found Rose, picked a room, and she ordered for us. The food was very good, but a little bit greasy and every bite is basically the same flavors over and over again – as opposed to having a dinner of something like vegetables, chicken and rice. (For those of you who haven’t had Ethiopian, you use your hands to break off pieces of pancake and then use that to pick up small pieces of meat). Rose was simply wonderful. We hope to see her again soon.

Oh yeah, I’m in Kenya now if you haven’t guessed!! Been here almost one week. I haven’t written or blogged yet because I got such positive feedback on my blog last summer, and I’m afraid of posting anything that won’t live up to your expectations. Also, to be quite frank, nothing exceedingly fascinating has happened yet. Kenya is so different from Rwanda and even Uganda. For one thing, it’s not like I’m constantly pondering the lasting impact of genocide. The country doesn’t have the same indescribable, eerie feeling that characterizes Rwanda. Poverty isn't shoved in my face here either. So far, Nairobi seems to be more similar to Rabat than either Kigali or Kampala. I haven’t seen any houses with tin roofs; I’ve come across neither beggars nor maimed people; and the women in my neighborhood carry fancy purses, not sacks of grain on their heads. Sure the roads are packed with matatus and other speeding vehicles, pollution is horrid, and dirt gets on everything, but the mall we visited on Saturday was just as nice as any mall in DC – nicer perhaps. (It had a swimming pool, a movie theater, an amazing food court, and a bowling alley).

On my way to work, and walking around town, I hardly see any other white people at all. But unlike in Rwanda, very few people stare at me or bother me by shouting “muzungu!” I wonder if Kenyan men are more polite, or if it’s just that we haven’t been to the more rugged parts of town yet.

Today was my third day interning at Kituo cha Sheria. The people there seem very friendly, and I hope I will make some good friends. I sit at a small desk/cubicle thing surrounded by several other student interns. Today we helped run a workshop on the plight of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Kenya. Jamie and I start our work at the Refugee Consortium of Kenya on Monday. (Monday and Tuesday I’ll be at RCK, and then W/Th/F I’m at Kituo). On top of all this, we have this networking/long-term partnership project for Georgetown. In a very small nutshell, we’re to search for other people and organizations here working on peace, justice, and reconciliation and explore how Gtown might be able to assist in the future. We don’t want the 2012 elections to end up like the 2007 ones… It's going to be a busy, but hopefully productive 7 weeks!

That’s all for now. I sincerely hope this blog finds everyone well.