Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Images from Mathare, Day 2

The images from Mathare are so striking to me. We spent the day yesterday once again talking to 'key informants' who live near the new Iko Toilet. We were also able to walk around the slum a bit more to get acquainted with the area and the people.

Notice the raw sewage/water running down the middle of the pathway...
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Welcome to the slum: Mathare day 1

Yesterday we had the opportunity to go into one of the slums that we will be researching in to do an initial 'orientation' of the area and begin interviews. So we hopped on a bus, got off a bus, walked for a ways, stopped for a meal (masala chips - yum), got on another bus (I had a guy sitting on one of my legs and my shoulder squished behind another guy), got dropped of beside the highway, crossed the highway (near death experience pretty much every time), walked down a dirt road, crossed by a bunch of stalls and corrugated metal houses that look like this:

...rounded a corner........ and we were there - Mathare, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi:

Like most informal settlements or slums, there is no recognition from the municipality that they exist, meaning no services, like water, sanitation services, roads, or trash collection:

Since there is no sanitation/water service to the area, I bet you are wondering where everyone goes to the bathroom, aren't you? Well, that's what I am here to show you!!!


Behold, the toilets of Mathare. The right side of the bush is for men, the right for women.

No saniation services?!? No worries!!! There are pigs to help with waste removal!!

Want to know what is in many of those bags????? I'll leave it to your imagination.

Which is where my internship comes in, and the organization I am working with.......... EcoTact is building a Water and Saniation Facility, called the Iko Toilet, that is being officially opened TOMORROW!


This is less than a 1 minute walk from the 'bush.'
It is under construction for the official launch on Wednesday.

The ladies' toilet.

The tap where people will be able to fill cans to take home to cook/clean/drink.

The Community Committee of Mathare that is aiding EcoTact with this project. They will be the ones collecting the fees and managing the facility. They were so gracious and have already been an incredible wealth of inforomation for us.

And here are some completely gratuitous pictures of adorable children we met near the Iko Toilet.

FYI - we have permission from the community to take and share all of these pictures.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I kissed a giraffe, and I liked it.

Putting it in perspective: Water

I live in a posh apartment in Nairobi.
I mean, we are talking - probably the nicest place I have lived in .... maybe ever.
I'm not really sure how this happened, but I appreciate it, none the less.

However, there have been a couple of problems... first, our electricity stopped working (its now fixed), then our internet wasn't installed (like they promised - fixed now), then hot water stopped working (as in, no water at all would come out of the hot faucets), and then, two nights ago, we lost water all together. As in - we couldn't wash dishes, no showers, and... no flushing toilets. And it was just us - the rest of the building had working water.

So we didn't shower, started rationing drinking water, and ate off of paper towels. And we complained, a lot. And we called James, the go to fix it man, who promised to send over a plumber "some time." So we felt sorry for ourselves for a bit, hauled water in containers up 5 floors of stairs, and continued to complain.

Then one of my flatmates said something to the effect of "you know, all of these people in Kibera do this everyday, only they aren't able to walk downstairs to fill up cans of water."

And I looked around at our uber posh apartment, and then out the window at the people squatting by the side of the road looking for discarded food.

And felt like the most spoiled, ugly brat I have ever known.

P.S. They fixed the water.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Some introductions and explanations.

Here's what's up this summer:

This is the organization that I am working with this summer.
This article by the Daily Nation explains how the Iko Toilet is changing the whole concept of sanitation in Nairobi.

is my internship coordinator.
This article by Ashoka gives the low down on his visions for a new form of sanitation in Nairobi.
He just won African Entrepreneur of the Year from the World Economic Forum.
Read about it here.

What I am 'doing' this summer (subject to change, of course) includes, but is not limited to:
  • What I'm doing: Helping create a needs-based assessment for areas of two slums where the Iko Toilet has been introduced.
  • What that means: The three other interns and I are interviewing key community members, writing and administering a survey-type questionnaire and forming focus groups in order to learn about how, why, when, who, etc. uses the toilets in the slums, and what their current hygiene practices are. The data that we will collect from these surveys will tell us about people's knowledge, attitudes and perceptions regarding water, sanitation and a little bit about health.
  • What I'm doing: Laying the groundwork for a hygiene social marketing campaign.
  • What that means: We are going to take the information from the surveys and begin to create an education campaign about hygiene. In other words, if we learn that hand-washing is a huge problem, we will come up with creative ways to educate and promote hand-washing within the cultural context of the areas we are working. An idea currently being worked on is a radio reality show. Watch out.
  • What I am doing: Helping create a global movement for clean water and against cholera.
  • What this means: In conjunction with other graduate students around the world, I am working to start an awareness initiative (read: blog) regarding cholera and how it can be wiped out. Think Rotary and Polio. This excites me GREATLY.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Apartment = Found

Walking distance to the office - check.
Safe neighborhood - check.
Walking distance to the grocery store - check.
Internet - check.
Fully furnished (even a washing machine - what?!?!?) - check.
Off and on hot water - check.
In price range - check.
Didn't have to deal with creepo fake realtor - check.


Uncheck the internet. I thought it was a little optimistic.


For anyone who thought the last post was the opposite of funny -
We were with two members of the Ecotact staff who smelled this guy out from a mile away (as did I - every red flag in the book was going off in my head), and there was no way we would ever have done business with him.
I don't want to worry anyone.

More apartment hunting will ensue today, surely with more stories.

I'm still jet lagging - spent the better part of the night last night staring at the ceiling scheming and planning about who knows what.

On a side note, I FINALLY started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I love love love it (thanks Pearsy!!!!).

You know you might be getting scammed when...

1. You show up at the building that the “realtor” says his office is in, but no one in the entire building has ever heard of him

2. The “realtor” shows up after you call to ask again where his office is, laughs off the fact no one has ever heard of him (including the people in the offices directly next door), and shows you into an office with a different company’s logo on the door.

3. The office that you are shown into is approximately 2 feet by 2 feet large, so he has you and your 4 companions stand, one outside the door, while he talks to you.

4. He asks you what price he quoted you on the apartment, then tells you he charges 10% commission, then asks you what 10% of what he quoted you is.

5. He takes you to an apartment building, but doesn’t have keys to get in, so you just stand outside.

6. He adamently insists at least three different times that you just need to trust him.

7. He then tells you that there is another apartment for triple the price just down the block and he can surely get you in to that one.

8. He tells you he doesn’t ‘trek’ so you have to take a cab to the apartment down the block.

9. When people in your group have had enough and argue with him, he disappears under the pretense of looking for a cab, never to be seen again.

Ah, apartment hunting in Nairobi.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Safe and Sound in Nairobi!

I made it!!

We arrived last night at around 7:30, were picked up at the airport and taken to a student hostel.

Today we are getting oriented and figuring out more permanent housing, because even the brave "I will sleep anywhere" Haley thinks the hostel is a bit sketch.
We will most likely rent an apartment close to the Ecotact office we will be working at (which is in a lovely neighborhood - the office is actually a small gated compound surrounded by flowering trees and grass - very charming).

The plane trip was very long but smooth. My luck apparently turned for the better (after having my phone stolen AND losing my car keys in the last week) as I was able to get on a standby flight, so I got into Amsterdam earlier and didn't have to sprint to make my next flight. We arrived pretty disheveled but upbeat.

Most exciting/traumatizing event so far was almost running over a dead body last night on the way from the airport- apparently someone had been expelled from a truck a few minutes before we drove by and he was still laying in the middle of the road. We were so exhausted that we actually started laughing, and then were horrified at ourselves. Welcome to Kenya.

Everything here is pretty familiar - it wasn't so long ago I was here last time (December) so I'm not having a huge shock. Still its a bit of an adjustment to realize that once again I'll be living in a state of semi-discomfort for a while, at least until we are more permanently settled. This morning I had an audience of 5 workers (3 men and 2 women) stare at me while I brushed my teeth in the communal bathroom. I'm sure they were just concerned about my dental hygiene.

The girls I am with are so great - we have found ways to laugh through a lot already, which makes a HUGE difference to quality of life while travelling out of one's comfort zone.

I love you all and will check in again soon.
Malaria pill is digesting, sunblock is on, and generally, I am happy and healthy!
Here's to the next adventure!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

23 months,

1 thesis,
2 computer batteries,
2 internships,
2 very generous Rotary scholarships,
3 continents,
5 meltdowns,
15 roommates,
16 countries,
19 classes,
109 changes in life plans,
600 pages written (estimate),


700+ packets of gum, bottles of fizzy water and mild panic attacks later,


bring it on, real world.

*graduation is actually August 17 , but I just submitted my last paper. ever. maybe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

tomorrow = Nairobi

i just got back from an amazing weekend in Charleston, South Carolina with amazing friends.

I rolled back into Denver last night at 1am.
and my head is spinning a little because of the fact that tomorrow i'll be back in Africa.

today is stress day, since i have the inability to transition in a normal manner.

indulge me for a minute - - - - -

taking advantage of all of these amazing opportunities..
sometimes makes me a little tired.

and i just want things like:

  • a plant
  • a comfortable couch
  • my own plates and forks
  • consistent electricity and internet
  • an income where i do more than break even
  • to be able to call/see/snuggle with my fam/friends when i want
  • a car
  • to be in one place for more than a few months
  • not to have to worry about catching malaria or bilharzia
  • a porch
  • and a fireplace
  • stability
  • flushing toilets with toilet paper that isn't dyed green
  • to be with my fiance for more than a couple of days..
  • or at least in the same time zone..
  • or even same continent
  • to not live out of a suitcase
  • to throw dinner parties
  • to be able to take yoga classes
  • to speak the same first language as the people around me
  • to not be stared at for looking or dressing differently
  • to be able to plan my wedding
  • to be able to attend my friend's weddings and birthday parties
  • to be able to eat food that i like..
  • like fresh leafy veggies..
  • and berries..
  • and not worry that they will make me super sick
  • to not have to think about malaria pills

but then i think about it a little harder

and my heart starts pumping

and i remember that i actually really, really love this

and i pack my bags again.

see you in September.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 12 is Loving Day

"Loving Day is an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United Stated Supreme Court decision which struck down all anti-miscegnation laws remaining in 16 states citing "There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause." - taken from Wikipedia.

Thank you Loving Day.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On a lighter note...

My dad said my blog was in the running for the most depressing blog ever...
SO, here's a nice little happy video.
It will make you smile, I promise.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The LAUREN Project

This project was set up in memory of Lauren Johnson, a member of my Jerusalem Program team who died of carbon monoxide poisoning just 5 days before we left for Jerusalem.

It turned out that I took her internship placement at Rabbis for Human Rights when my original placement fell through.

Her legacy of integrity and passion for human rights is something that had a large impact on me during my time in Jerusalem, and is something I still think of often.

Her family and supporters are creating a fund to assist people who want to volunteer overseas. They also are working hard to educate about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and are pushing for everyone to have a detector (my roommate just put one in our house last week!).

Check out the link:

Monday, June 1, 2009


today I received news that a great and godly man, and friend of mine from Malawi, died of malaria this month.

malaria claimed his wife only months ago.

they left four young children, who are now numbered among the countless orphans in malawi.

suddenly i understand the questions people ask of God.

why HIM? why did this man, whose life was dedicated to orphans and the downtrodden, have to die of a treatable disease?

all of those statistics, are people.

its all real.

my heart
is broken.


i don't know how to reconcile the fact that i went to the health clinic the other day on campus and was given free malaria medication by the doctor - they just had it 'on hand' as a sample.

and the fact that a man i worked with, painted with, sweated with, laughed with is now dead.
and his daughter, who i played with, is an orphan.

i don't know how to reconcile that.


a huge realization with this work and these opportunities has been how much I have been given.

but the gut wrenching part is understanding what responsibility comes with that.

if you knew you could save a man by paying $10, would you?

A malaria net costs $10.

Today I spent more than $10 on dinner out when I had food in the fridge.

and George is dead.


i am devastated.

i feel like its important to write about this, because its real.

Luke 12:48

I swear you can't make this stuff up.

Swazi MP apologizes for HIV branding proposal: