Welcome to Africa

Jambo! First I want to say that I am alive and well. I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday morning and have had a pretty non-stop 72 hours. Everyone always has different experiences where ever they are, and things can happen anywhere. There are people who have lived in Kenya for years and nothing has happened to them, there are those who have been here 3 days and already have stories for the next couple weeks. Now let me catch you up to speed (strange phrase.)

I am currently sitting in an enclosed patio with a caged view of a beautiful garden/ jungle area. Yes, jungle area. There are great large trees with bushes and flowers taller than me, along with Ibecks (I didnt know what they were either) walking around and other colorful birds chirping away. At the moment its dark and I cant see them, I can only hear crickets and frogs setting the mood. An eerie, dark mood, kind of like when you are camping and you can’t see beyond your ball of light coming from the flash light, the insects filling the void don’t always make it that comforting. Now let me explain myself because that sounds a little worse than I would like it to. I would say that fifteen minutes I was in a little more ignorantly blissful of a mood. So with all this talk of not being able to see through the dark and the insects chirping, I dont want to give you the wrong impression. I am in the city, close to downtown. I only happen to live in a beautiful little enclave that has this open garden and is very quiet. And the reason why my mood changed, is that as I was sitting out here enjoying the warm night, reading and typing away, I heard some rustling in the bushes. I had been out here for a while and that rustling was more than the animal rustling I heard earlier. As I look the neighbor’s porch light comes on to show a guy move through the bush four feet from my caged patio. The light turns on, he sees me, says hi and turns and walks quickly away. A little disconcerting. For all I know he works here, but he’s not the guy at the gate I’ve met. Why the quick assumption that something is wrong? I guess I still am thinking about last night, when my boss was robbed. Twice.

Ok so let me start from the beginning. First, Kenya is awesome so far. It is different from anywhere I have been, the diversity of Asian (Indian) and Black Kenyans along with Land Rover driving Brits and cars all on the wrong side of the road (wrong I guess is very culturally subjective). The soil is red. A red that gives a mood to the city. Places where they have dug into the ground expose a six foot layer of blood red soil. The NGO culture is already visible. I’ve only been here a couple days, but already I have seen many groups of white people (usually American,) all wearing matching T-shirts, that have some combination of God, Help and Africa, written on them. Went out with some older British people the other day (to show how old they are, most have kids my age). Most worked for or used to work for the UN or World Bank. You see tons of UN trucks and cars (they have special diplomatic license plates, they are red). Along with the fleets of Pajeros, Land Rovers and surprisingly (but shouldn’t have been) Mercedes. Because I still haven’t been outside the city its seems funny to see 4×4’s with the plastic pipe extending to the roof of the car, in case a river or two need to be crossed. There are copious amounts of green trees, and colorful flowers everywhere. The sides of the streets are filled with people, it seems like there is a crowd everywhere, walking, sitting or playing frogger on the larger streets. I’ve seen lots of places with people standing in-between lanes selling things, but not the types of things I’ve seen here. Here was the first time I’ve seen puppies for sale, men walking around carrying the cutest little puff balls. They look like purebreds. I was told they are, they are stolen, bred and then sold. They drug the puppies so they are calm while they are being sold, no wonder they look so cute. They sell used clothes, dresses, jackets, pants. Maybe its just me but I dont think I can make a decision that quickly on a piece of clothing. They also sell practical things like car air-freshners, the window covers to keep the sun out, toy cars and motorcycles made out of wrapped aluminum, and three foot long hand held antennas, for getting some kind of signal.

So again, backtracking a little bit. Let me explain what I’ve been up to. Last Tuesday evening I left on a flying time 18-hour journey from San Francisco to Nairobi, arriving Thursday morning. I was lucky enough to have flown with Youa Yang, who also has the Ambassador Corps Fellowship and will be working with Kito International here in Nairobi. As recipients of the Ambassador Corps Fellowship, given by the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of the Pacific, we will work for Social Enterprises for the next few months. I am also choosing to stay on and work until November/December and then see where to go from there.

I am working for Backpack Farm, a start up social enterprise that sells low cost, yield increasing green technologies to small holder farmers (typically having 1-5 acres). We use a number of training centers around Kenya and South Sudan as the selling point for the products (all packaged into a backpack, hence the name, that provides everything a farmer would need to improve water management and increase crop yield.) The training centers are also very important because they are where we work with the farmers on how to properly use the products. Instead of running once the cash is there, we are committed to proving the products work, ensuring proper training by professional agronomists, classes on business and agriculture, and plenty of time for any questions or concerns the farmers have. My position is Franchise Development Coordinator. The training centers are our franchises and I will be working to make sure everything is running smoothly at the existing training centers and opening up new ones soon.

So, after arriving I met with Founder and Managing Director, Rachel. She picked me up from the airport and we were off, work had started. Well for her at least. She had powered away the last couple days to make sure she had the time to help me acclimate myself, yet she was still getting calls non-stop. Setting the tone for the pace of work in the near future, exactly what I was looking for.

In one day, I was moved in, purchased a SIM card to plug in my old Jordanian phone, got groceries, met the wonderful ladies at the bank that will give me the best exchange rate, heard the lowdown on Nairobi and the other social enterprises working in the area, and designed and ordered business cards. Not bad for one day. Oh and I was told that Monday we have an important road trip out to the Eldoret training center.

We also ate some delicious Chomo (sp?). We walked into a place with only locals, ordered a kilo of goat, watched the guy cut it down with a machete, break the bones a little and then we went to sit down as they began to barbecue it. They came out twenty minutes later with a kilo of cooked goat. The man put it on a wooden cutting board and at our table began chopping it up into little pieces with another machete. They brought out Ugali (a white Maize dough-like food) along with cooked spinach, chopped tomatoes which we ate utensil-free, and a couple Tuskers. After passing out early, I was done with my first day in Nairobi.

Day two had a little more action. A phone call in the morning told me I had a meeting with a man from the East African Social Enterprise Network (EA SEN) in an hour. At the meeting I also met Justice, an intern who just recently began working with Backpack Farm (BPF) and who I am now managing. After the meeting we ran more errands that needed to be done and then had a great strategy session, giving me a long list of To-Do’s. The work that day was exciting for me, I see a lot of potential for the position and an awesome amount of learning to be done. I’ll tell you more as time progresses but I am very much looking forward to what I’ll be doing.

That evening we went to “The Village Market,” an upscale outdoor shopping and restaurant center that has a very Euro outdoor cafe and American mall mixture going on. It is were the wealthier Kenyans, UN workers and politicians gather. We were meeting a group of older British men, along with an American and Kenyan. They had all worked years in the field in places like Pakistan, East Timor, Sudan and Rwanda. They had some very interesting stories to share, along with stories of the other people who were there. It painted an interesting picture of UN and its employees.

After being there for a couple hours, some of them had gone to different tables, chatting with friends and acquaintances. Rachel sat with some Kenyan women and had left her purse at our table, next to one of the guys. Ten minutes later she comes back, “where is my purse? My purse is gone!?” They had lifted it from under our noses, no-one even noticed a thing. I was told that people come, well dressed, they sit down and order a juice, watching and waiting for a chance to steal something. You would never be able to tell. We ran around a little looking under and around tables, finally I went with one the guys to the bathrooms to see if it had been dumped there.

When we returned, no one was at the table. I went outside to check and found Rachel on one knee talking to a girl having an asthma attack and a large group of Kenyans circling around. They were highschool kids and drunk. The girl didn’t have an inhaler and for a period wasn’t breathing. Most of the people (including the guards) just stood there and watched, except for a couple of drunk boys who would try to push everyone away and then get down and shake her head and yell something. None of them had any idea what they were doing except Rachel and I’m surprised they didn’t fight between each other. Rachel had earlier given her phone to someone to call the Ambulance, I also tried to get the guards to call someone but they just stood there. Rachel began asking me where the phone was, whoever she had given it to in order to make the call had left, they stole her phone. We started yelling about where the phone was and no one knew. There were a few people that were legitimately looking (mainly girls) realizing that this women, in the process of trying to keep their friend from dying had her phone stolen. Not to mention this is after her purse was stolen half an hour earlier.

After a while the police showed up. No ambulance. The police just stood there and watched. At this point the girl was making the loud gasps for breath, which seem dramatic but are actually a good sign. If you can make a sound, you can breathe. Because the police were there, and although they weren’t doing anything, the most likely thing they would have done would be to mess with us, demanding a bribe or making us go with them, so we left.

Nairobberi is a nickname I read before we came. But I dont want that to paint the wrong picture, like I said before, people have lived here years and had nothing happen to them. Others have been robbed, carjacked and attacked, it really just depends. This is definitely a place you have to be cautious, always aware and nothing should come as a surprise.

Apart from the robbery, I have really enjoyed what I’ve seen. I’m excited for the trip on Monday and really look forward to experiencing Kenya. Work is hard, nature is beautiful, bad shit happens, Welcome to Africa.


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