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A circle closes

27 Apr

Today I spent some time with two friends in Nairobi, both of who were instrumental in me falling in love with Kenya.

One replied my email asking about volunteering in Nairobi very detailed and fast, picked me from the airport, included me in family travels and gave advice on my slum projects to start the list.

The other one spent hours explaining me his culture, boosted my confidence allowing me to integrate seamlessly and became my brother hosting me in his family’s house for over a year only to mention few highlights.

As we were sitting together, sharing updates about work, challenges and business and advice on relationships I realized how far we’ve come since the first emails in April 2008 and since this blog started.

Thanks for all and I’m glad I’ve been able to return the friendship and bringing in mutuality!

A great and highly recommended book which again I looked through today is “Africa – altered states and ordinary wonders” by Richard Dowdon

“I have seen the sun set, shrunken and mean, over a cold drab English street and stood outside a mud hut the next morning on a Kenyan hillside and seen it rise in glory over the East African plains. Africa is close.
Few go there. Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war. But when outsiders go they are often surprised by Africa’s welcome. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa. If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. You will frequently be humbled by African generosity. Africans have in abundance what we call social skills.”

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Drought!

1 Aug

Huge parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are affected by the worst drought in decades. Low Rain fall, growing deserts, low investments in irrigation systems and transport infrastructure are hitting Millions of people. Animals starved first, now its children, elderly people, breastfeeding mothers. Everyone. 2/3rd of Kenya are arid or semi-arid areas, meanwhile the other parts are very green and extremely fertile. We have mud slides and floods in the west, while Millions are in hunger on the other side. Hunger and thirst are words that can hardly express what is happening just 10 hours away from me. I have talked to AIESECers and NGO workers who have been in the area in the last days and they are all very shocked and touched with how desperate the situation is.

Check out some pictures here, articles about Somali refugees in Kenyan Refugee Camps here and international reactions here.

Here in Nairobi we are affected, but until now not much more than we were during the last drought in 2009. Water rationing as usual and “Power Supply Management” (a new word invented by Kenya Power for Power Rationing, predefined power cuts) for industrial areas all over the country. Food Prices have increased over the last months.

The government spokesmen said during his press conference, that no Kenyan has yet died of Hunger. Shock on us! Even if he was quote out of context (or so he said later) it is a lie and a shame for all Kenyans to listen to him on media and imagining the international reactions on international media. Every help is welcome and the faster the donations and international help, the better.

A great initiative called Kenyans for Kenya (follow on Twitter) showed that Kenyans are concerned themselves and can do something for the starving brothers and sisters in the north and east. Banks, Supermarkets and Mobile Phone Companies are building a platform for every single Kenyan to be able to donate and give amounts from as much as 10 KSH. The goal is to collect 500 Million KSH in the next 4 weeks to make a big difference in millions of ppls lives that are affected.

My highlight this weekend was a ceremony that I attended where 7 trucks with 150 tons of food (or to be more precise a mixed powder of maize flour and proteins that can be mixed with water to feed undernourished humans) were presented to the public and sent off. Kenyans have so far donated 61 Million KSH in 5 days for the drought victims in the north and east of the country! We heard speeches from the CEO of involved companies, ordinary people who donated and more importantly the Country Manager of the Red Cross, who reminded the public, that the North and East of Kenya with the right investments and infrastructure can feed the whole country and the center and west of Kenya can produce agricultural products for export. A true vision for the country!

Winter in Nairobi

28 Jun

In the last week we received visitors from Denmark, Spain, Canada, Russia and Dubai. As much as we told them it is the cold season, they were not really prepared. So let me do this explicitly!

I really dont know how to call it, so that people understand… winter? fall? It doesnt quite fit into Western climate patterns.
We are experiencing the long rainy season in Kenya.

If people think of Africa, they think of heat in the steppe and deserts. If you say it can also be cold, someone might think of the chilly nights in the deserts…

Nairobi is neither in the desert nor in the steppe. It is at the edge of the Kenyan Central Highlands on 1700m. Currently it is rainy, grey, chilly and foggy most of the days. The temperatures vary between 8 and 15 degrees, although you might find a rare sunny hour where it heats up to 20 degrees. On Sunday it rained for 3 hours straight and one of the major roads (near the National Stadium) was flooded around 30cm deep! I clearly remember 2009, where the long rains did not fall and Kenya fell into a crisis of food, water and electricity shortage.

So should someone be happy about the water? I am really not saying this! The infrastructure does not effectively handle the rain. From one season to the other we are falling from one extreme (too much water) into the other (no water).

I really don’t want to upload a picture, please use your imagination to understand how grey and muddy looks like 🙂 So if you come here in July, carry 2 sweaters, warm jeans, socks, closed shoes and a shawl!

How long is the weather going to stay like this? Hard to say! Usually it gets dryer and warmer again in August…

People ask me how to prepare for Africa

22 Apr

When I say Africa Stay, I dont mean your 2-week Safari. I dont mean an Expatriate, who is coming to work on a Western Salary. This article is meant for young people, who prepare for a 2-12 month stay in Africa (preferably Uganda 😉 ), for volunteering or internship purpose. People who want to get involved with local people and experience Africa outside 5-star hotels and tour cars.

What to pack in my suitcase….

Sure, the main question is: What should I bring from home and what can I buy when I am there? Most capital cities have huge supermarkets with all that can be bought in Europe. Should I bring…

…Shampoo, Contact Lense Liquid, Sunscreen? – You get those but they are quite expensive. (For ladies: Just bring the Tampons, they can be hard to find)

…Washing powder, Soap, Body Lotion, Toilet Paper? – Is this a serious question?? This is Africa, not the moon.

…Mosquito net, water purifying tablets? – Definitely you should use them, but you can buy those items cheaper here than in most Western countries

… my towel, sleeping bag, bedsheets? – That one really depends on your personality. The degree of homesickness and fear of insects varies between individuals. If it will make you feel more safe, clean or comfortable, bring it. But just know that Africa is much cleaner, than you might expect!

… my laptop, my expensive phone and camera? – Depends on where you are going. There are very safe countries. Just know one thing: YOU ARE WHITE! You will stick out and attract attention (of good and bad people). If you wave around your phone and camera all the time, you might “lose” them. A laptop will most definitely be helpful for your work and also leisure time (watch movies, write a jounal, write your blog and email offline and then take the files to an internet cafe on a flash disc). If you dont want to use your iPhone, you can always by a cheap, internet enabled phone for around

… travellers cheques? – I have really not seen travellers cheques anywhere here. Just bring Euro OR Dollar (depending where you come from) and your credit card / Maestro card. ATMs are everywhere in larger cities!

A last word about the size of your suitcase: Bring just as much luggage as you can handle yourself. 40 kg might just be a bit to much. There are very many clothes markets in Africa, cheap and nice second hand dresses, jeans and tops. Aquire shoes that fit the local roads and fashion cheaply just in a few hours.

You will have the best experience in Africa, when you come with the mindset of getting to know the local lifestyle.

What preventive health measures should I take?

This is my personal experience and does not replace your own judgement or consultation of a doctor.

Of course you will be advised by your doctor to carry 5 kg of medication and take malaria prophylaxis through out your stay. The truth is that in capital cities all medication is available – probably cheaper than at home. What you should do is take the necessary vaccinations, check your guidebook to see what is advised. Yellow fever, Tetanus/Diphteria, Measles, Polio, Hepatitis A and B should be included in the list of vaccinations you take (if you never have).

Personally I have not taken Malaria Prophylaxis in the last 2 years and have NOT contracted Malaria. I sleep under a mosquito net and wear long trousers in the evenings. In case I get a temperature, I immediately go for a malaria test (2-5 Euros).

Also check your health insurerer’s policies whether they will cover you for a long-term stay abroad.

What can I read to prepare better?

You could prepare historic knowledge, learn some basic language skills. Look up music on YouTube and watch clips of top local comedians. I also think hearing experiences of other travellers will help you to integrate better. Look out for blogs of other internationals, but dont overprepare or overanalyse. Every persons view is different. I promise you that you will still make your own mistakes, get a serious culture shock and step on peoples feet (culturally I mean). It is good to read about intercultural competence and some of the theory behind cultures (Hofstede)

On historic and social knowledge: There are many books written by Africans, which I would probably prefer to those written by foreigners. Also national newspapers can be read online or news clips watched on youtube. Get a feel of what moves people in the country you are going to!

Enjoy yourself. Enjoy Africa. Your time is limited anyways!

Home again. But now what does home mean?

14 Aug

Because of complications with my visa application for India I had to come back from Kampala to Nairobi. The Indian High Commission sent me “home”. Officially stated, Kenya is my residence, Uganda not. Now what does that mean.

What do I write on my facebook status when getting on the bus? “am coming home!” clearly everybody would think I mean our house in Banda. In swa it is simple, “nakuja nyumbani”, my friends in nairobi would be excited. But does that make sense, if all my belongings are in my cute little room in kampala with Eva and Prima?
Home is where you feel home, a wise person told me. Where your friends are. So does that make facebook my home? Often enough it brings the world to your small little mobile phone screen and you laugh in realtime with friends, that are physically far away. And the first word after login also says “Home”. So clearly, all that is needed now, is the “apply visa” button!

Nice day everyone, wherever your home is.

A new constitution

10 Aug

The mantra was… VOTE PEACEFULLY! Nobody wanted another violence in the country, tourism numbers are back on track, wounds are healing and in the end, its “only” the constitution, not yet 2012.

First a draft, then a million of comments handed it to the Constitution Commission, followed by several months of Yes and No campaigns, a big tour throughout the country to make people read themselves, decide themselves and vote themselves the Proposed new Constitution for the Republic of Kenya was long awaited. Not only hopes for economic growth but al

The results of the referendum were undoubtful: 2 thirds of the voting Kenyans voted yes and 1 third no. At the same time the international Press still talks of tribalism in the decision taking.

Anyways, happy new constitution, Kenya!

Whats next?

Slow is not a good description

4 May

Slow…

The most annoying thing in the last two weeks has clearly been the internet! Some problem with the undersea cable has thrown us some years back – to the Satellite Connection. It sounds simple, but is really influencing my work. More than one tab will not open at one time and surely you will disconnect twice during the

Slowly…

I am getting used to the thought of leaving Nairobi. The daily facebook countdown helps a bit, though it is extremely unreal! The 12th of May is my last day in the office, on the 28th of May I will get on a bus to Kampala. As much as I am looking forward to it, planning for my goodbye party doesnt come easily!