Archive | August, 2008

Nairobi

28 Aug

I was asked how life in Nairobi actually looks like… prices, security, traffic etc.

I will try to answer this… Describing a city like this is really hard. From your question I get the impression that I need to adjust the image I gave (seem to have given) in earlier descriptions. No, Nairobi is not a big muddy slum, it is a capital city and the economic hub of Eastern Africa.

Well, I did not eat “wisdom with spoons”, I have only worked here for 5 weeks now. So this reflects only my point of view (as everything in this blog by the way…)

City
Some basic info and pics can be found here. It has a skyline with banks etc. (highest building 30 stores), modern buildings, parks. The city is pretty young, not much older than 100 years. The centre is approximately 2km x 1,5 km big and most of the streets are schachbrettartig. There are palm trees on the two main avenues (Moi and Kenyatta, the two former presidents of the young republic), some bigger supermarkets, lots of small cloth shops, kiosks on the streets where you can buy cell phone credit and small snacks.

Housing

There are different kinds of neighbourhoods and the following is of course simplified: Most of the richer people and internationals live in the north of the city in “mansions” with gardens and their own guards. Middleclass people live outside the city in suburbs in so called estates. That means that a wall with guards is around a group of houses. In an estate there are unpaved streets and small shops. In most of the estates there is a wall around every single house again. The slums are everywhere around the city between the estates. Until now I haven´t found out whether people actually live in the city centre as well. It is pretty loud in the centre due to the traffic 🙂

Infrastructure

The roads in the city centre are good. Pavements and everything you expect in a capital city. There is a public bus system and as well the matatu system which is organized by the city council but run by private people. There is a single commuter train and no trams or subways. During rush hours (7-9am and 5-8pm) there are huge traffic jams around the city centre and around the roundabouts outside the city. The government just published a “Kenya vision 2030” which includes improvement of infrastructure.

Internet cafes are everywhere, with a usual speed of around 5-20 KB/s. International calls are possible in some of the cyber cafes. Until now I have not discovered a drainage system in the city, so you can imagine what happens when it rains. There is a private garbage collection service for the estates and companies.

Prices

Just to give you an idea: Basic food is a little cheaper than in Germany. Other things are around as expensive, luxury or muzungu stuff is more expensive. 100 Ksh is approximately 1 Euro, so its easys for me 😉

A lunch in the university canteen comes for 80 Ksh, a meal in a standard restaurant for 250. 3 tomatoes are 10 Ksh, a pineapple 70, loaf of bread 50, a banana 10, 1 kg of minced meat is 340. A meal in an upperclass restaurant is around 900. Going out: A beer between 80-120, longdrink or cocktail up to 600 or more. Internet comes for 0,7-2 Ksh per minute, a matatu ride from town to my home (5km) is 50 Ksh, the litre gas is 100 Ksh, an sms is 3-5 Ksh, a minute call is 15-20. Taxi to my place: 600 Ksh. Montly rent for room in a slum house (without electricity): from 500 Ksh. Visiting a doctor in a private outpatient centre is 500 for the basic consultation.

To put that into relation: As a house maid you get less than 10.000 (if you don´t stay with the family) and as a graduate you might get up to 200.000 (only when you are lucky, it starts around 50.000). Thats why you see a lot of people walking instead of taking matatus and not being able to afford restaurants or doctors.

Security

As mentioned above the living areas have walls and guards. The police is armed with machine guns. This is a little strange in the first weeks, but I got used to it. It is not so advisable to walk through the city alone after 8pm, so usually we go in groups from the university to the matatu stage (it is absoutely dark at 7pm). There are some stories about internationals being pickpocketed or even mugged . In the last 5 weeks I talked to 4 people “losing” their phones in a disco, 2 people “losing” their wallets in the city centre and one person being mugged. In some areas of town you should rather take a bus than a matatu after dark. There are stories of matatus being hijacked by people with guns. It didn´t happen to me, so I don´t know…

What happened to me just on Monday was that our matatu was stopped by police at 10pm on the way home. All passengers had to get off, police searched us for idontknowwhat and had a look in our bags. The police didn´t tell us what they were looking for and I rather didn´t ask. I guess they look for guns or drugs, but I have no idea.

I personally feel relatively safe in the city but maybe I am wrong. Of course everybody can see I am a foreigner and my skin colour attracts a lot of people. When I cross the city I get 2 offers for taxis, 1 for a safari and 2 invitations to curio shops. Approximately once a week somebody asks me for a job, a visa or wants to marry me right away. I feel very safe during the day (as I said maybe I am wrong…), during the night it happened to me once that a drunkard walked next to me, held my arm and wouldn´t release me until a male friend walking with me (I call them bodyguards) helped me.

I hope that gives you some ideas of how live is like in Nairobi. Just ask more questions if you want 🙂

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Happy Birthday :)

26 Aug

Thank you very much for your text messages, emails and even calls!! I had a wonderful birthday, fortunately it was a weekend, so I celebrated from Friday 6pm until Sunday 5pm.

We started with Pizza friday night, then went to a Smirnoff marketing event. Thank you Amit for the invitation! East African Breweries is a really nice company, offering their employees such nice parties 🙂 I had a good time, we were dancing, enjoying free smirnoff drinks, watching the dance competition and I got to meet some new people. In clubs it is usually easy to meet Kenyans, especially as a “white chic” 😉

I had the possibility to stay in town with a friend, so I didnt have to return home in the night. Saturday I went shopping for my party, met some more friends, had ice cream in a park and all that lazy stuff. In the evening we had a party at one of the AIESEC girls house. It was not only my birthday, but also Habibas and Amits, and also the goodbye party of a UK intern. In the end around 30 students showed up, most of them kenyans, but also our Iranian friends, the UK intern, a handful Germans and the indian and egyptian birthday kids. We had a good time: cooking Lasagne (with Cannelloni…), playing games (“I kiss the donkey on the neck”), talking, dancing (not only but also AIESEC jives) etc.

Sunday was a lazy day (some had a serious hangover ;-)), around 10 of us had stayed over night. We cleaned the house, had chicken for lunch and just chilled in the afternoon.

I had really wonderful presents: I had a big birthday cake (Adah is a very promising baker!), picture frame, the Iranians had bought me a nice neglace at Massai market, my family had gotten me a wonderful jewellery box in the shape of Africa with earrings. I just love the kenyan wood jewellery!!

Thanks to all those who are over 6000 km away and thought about me during the weekend. Thanks to all those who made my birthday an unforgettable event.

East African Leadership Development Conference 2008

19 Aug

Yes, I am still alive. Just returned from an amazing AIESEC conference, it was LIKE NO OTHER! 😉

It took place in Nanyuki, so we crossed the equator, which was fun. Had some trouble with the cold climate in the mountains, but hope to recover soon. Find some pictures below and look on facebook for more.

What a day!!

9 Aug

Current Issues in Kenya

  • Riots in secondary schools: Some weeks ago students of hundreds of secondary schools (class 9-12) went on strike, burnt down dormitories and refused to take exams. This led to a discussion on the education system. by the way: Caning (Prügelstrafe) was just abandoned from schools last year.
  • Water shortage: Due to a broken dam and few rainfall, water supply is unlikely to serve until the next rain period. So water supply to households was cut to 2-4 days per week depending on the part of the city you live in. Washing cars with piped water is forbidden. See the daily nation for more detail. In our house we have a tank on the roof and a pump so that we can store water for the days were the tabs are running dry.
  • Terrorism: On Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi which killed over 200 Kenyans and some US-americans. I visited the memorial, where the embassy used to stand. They designed a small park where the embassy used to stand, where they display all the names of the victims and show a photo gallery. The discussion about terrorism is still going on and newspapers and politicians still see a risk.

What a day

The day started like a usual day: I got up at 5.45am, left the house before seven and after preparing a lunch package. Then I spent one hour in the traffic jam (5 km to town), walked the last 1,5 km through the Industrial Area and reached the secondary school just ten past eight.

In class 10 (Form2) we gave a lecture on HIV and especially on condoms. First I showed them how to use it and finally they all practised using a condom on a banana we had brought. At the end of the lesson we distributed the rest of the 100 condoms to the kids telling especially the boys that it is not a sin to practise at home. We could clarify a lot of myths about condoms (allergies to the lubricants, they can stay inside the women, two condoms are better than one condom…).

Form3 were very interested during the German class, they asked me whether I could explain them what the Hakenkreuz means and how the german political systems looks like. They had heard that Germany is not ruled by a president and found that an interesting approach to let the parliament rule the country. I felt pretty challenged by describing the Nazi time in just 5 minutes and at the same time passing the message that Germany can serve as a role model in regards to learning from historical events.

Generally I have the impression that our lessons in the secondary school actually make a difference in the kids education. They are rarely exposed to other cultures and beliefs (example: They simply laughed when I told them that there are people in the world who do not believe in god, because it was such an incredible idea for them) and young teachers. So they dare to ask things they would not ask otherwise and we also use “alternative” methods as group work and presentations.

Just around 10 a loud bang interupted our class. The metall walls of the school were shaking! An explosion… how far away? What caused it? Was somebody injured? I just hoped that it was not a terrorist attack. We didn´t want to panic in front of the pupils so we kept on teaching. Through the window we saw that all the primary school kids and lots of slum inhabitants were gathering outside and staring in the direction of the city center. I went outside and saw black smoke coming from the slum. A fire in our slum, just on the other side of the river, maybe around 500 metres from the primary school, around the place where we usually pass when going to the girls meetings. We went back to the classroom because we couldn´t help anyways.

After some more culture classes we left the slum for lunch at the only restaurant in the industrial are. From the bridge we were able to see the fire. 2 hours after the explosion the flames were still meters high and several houses were on fire. The fire brigades couldn´t reach the place, because the streets are to narrow. People brought water in buckets from the river. Someone told us that most probably a tank of coooking gas exploded. We were advised to walk around the slum and not through it because on such unlucky days slum inhabitants might be aggressive towards Mzungus.

In the afternoon we watched the first 30 minutes of the opening ceremony of the olympic games. Oh, please remember I have a colleague from China and one that claims to be from Taiwan (not from China!). So that caused some discussions between the girls…. Then we had a 90 minute session with the girls on “I have a dream” and how to put your live vision (e. g. dream job) into reality and stressed on the importance of education.

After the session on of the girls approached us and suggested a topic for a next session. “Everybody knows that pre-marital sex is a sin” (ok, well, I stopped arguing about that…) “but I want to stress on something else: A lot of youths engage in other activities that harm their body” (I had no clue what she was talking about) “I am talking about Masturbation. Girls use toys, such as vibrators. Please make a session about it” (I thought she wanted to promote Masturbation instead of early sexual intercourse and was not so sure whether this would be worth a session) “Nowadays we know that Masturbation makes girls infertile and boys impotent. Youths need to be educated and stop engaging in such activities”. Now I was simply speechless.

On the way back I talked to another girl. She is 19, never went to school (cannot read or write) and washes dishes in a restaurant to sustain herself and her mother who is partly disabled since she was victim of armed robbers. Her dad died when she was very young and her brothers moved away from the slum… Sounds like a hopeless story. She believes that god has a plan for her and that everything will one day make sense. To help fortune a little bit I will try to find an alphabetization course for her that she can take during the evenings.

On my way back to the city (traffic jam of course…) I had enough time to think about the day. The stigmatization of sex is obvious. I hear very often that early (meaning below 25 years!!) sex is a bad thing if not a sin. On the other hand the numbers are there… young mothers, HIV positive youths… it seems that the combination of stigmatization by the society combined with insufficient knowledge is what makes it so hard to fight the desease. (Any comments appreciated!!)

I arrived at the AIESEC office just half past seven and finally found Danny, the LCP, to talk to. While having my “lunch” I discussed what happened during the day. It feels really strange expressing everything in english and I feel really limited when I cannot express myself clearly. So talking with the other german intern helped a lot. I really feel that some of the AIESECers really do understand my issues and are interested in the topics of the slums. They share their knowledge and explain me a lot about the kenyan culture, e. g. the non-existing sex education in most families. I really enjoy these conversations, apart from joking and laughing (“Use the equipment before it gets bad” as a direct comment of one university student on my citation of “25 being the best age for first sexual intercourse” by a slum girl) it gives me insight and ideas for sessions.

Half past nine I went to my matatu stage with another AIESECer Jude (my bodyguard 😉 and arrived at home just at ten. No traffic jam after 9.30pm, yeeha!

Now I will finish writing and upload the long text (sorry, Stregi;-)) tomorrow… Good night 🙂

Pics and Videos of Nairobi

5 Aug

Finally you can find one of my videos of a Matatu ride on youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RbBmKei84s

Here you can see “our” kids in the primary school during Friday morning prayer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pp5Iwb9KYA

Then I uploaded some pictures of the slum, as I said, it was a rainy, muddy day…