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Archive for the ‘Kenyan Culture’ Category

Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Fair

Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Fair

We’re working hard to complete the few remaining critical tasks so we can launch our pilot in Kibera, but in the meantime I thought I’d share a fun story.  A couple of weeks ago the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, in conjunction with UNICEF, KWAHO, and several other sponsors including PATH, hosted a public fair on household water treatment and safe storage. 

Ministry of Public Health and other NGO officials

Ministry of Public Health and other NGO officials

 

I attended with one of my colleagues from PATH to run our booth and discuss the work we’re doing around social marketing for water treatment products.  To kick off the fair and generate awareness, a procession complete with marching band and school children holding big banners was held through the streets of downtown Nairobi.  Right before it started, I was called over by the Chief Public Health Officer and was asked to join him along with the Deputy Minister of Public Health and Sanitation, the UNICEF Country Representative, the Kenyan Director of Water Services, and a few other high-ranking officials who were leading the parade. 

PATH's booth at the HWTSS Fair

PATH's booth at the HWTSS Fair

Unfortunately I didn’t get to carry the giant Kenyan flag or conduct the band, but all in all, getting to help lead a parade through Nairobi was still a pretty interesting experience!

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As my time in Nairobi comes to a close, I’d like to remind everyone who’s traveling abroad (and at major cities at home) to always be careful.  In three days I had two close calls here in Nairobi.  First, a few days ago, someone tried to steal my watch while I was in a car.  I was in traffic with the window rolled down, and a guy reached in and tried to yank my watch right off my wrist.  Fortunately, he didn’t get the watch, though he did break the strap.

President Kibaki's motorcade

President Kibaki's motorcade

Then today I was at a Madaraka Day (Independence Day) celebration at the Nyayo National Stadium with another volunteer and a Kenyan.  Halfway through, the Kenyan insisted that we get up and leave.  Apparently he noticed a group of six men who had gathered around us and were studying us quite intently.  Eventually, he saw one of the guys take something resembling a knife out of his bag and he gave it to the person next to us, who slipped it in his sock.  That’s when we decided it was best to get out of there.  Unfortunately, out of respect to the president, the police lock everyone inside the stadium until after the event is over.  It was like a mosh pit as we waited by the locked gate with the couple hundred other people trying to leave.  We were lucky to eventually get out of there with our cameras, wallets, and non-punctured skin.  The event was interesting, but more stressful than I needed at this point in the trip.

Is that a bazooka?

Is that a bazooka?

I’m getting ready to head out to Cairo and then Istanbul for a bit, but I will continue to post updates on the two water projects plus any interesting travel stories, so be sure to check back in regularly.  I’ll also continue to post various travel pictures from the rest of the trip.

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In yesterday’s post I discussed how Emmanuel, a member of the Maasai tribe, received 24 cows at two Maasai rituals.  He’s now using some of those cows to buy land, but he told me that he first used some of those cows to finish paying for high school.  Without them, he said he never would have been able to complete high school and go to college.

The reason his parents couldn’t pay the school fees is that Emmanuel is just one of 43 brothers and sisters!  His father had four wives and had around ten children with each wife.  His siblings range from just babies to 44 years old.  Emmanuel explained that there were three main reasons for the massive family size.

Emmanuel and Lilly

Emmanuel and Lilly

First, the Maasai have always been a nomadic people, moving with their herds to find grazing land.  As the herds get large, they must be split up, and people prefer to entrust their cattle to family.  Second, children are often thought of as a retirement account.  When you’re too old to work, your children will provide for you.  As many children die young, having many children ensures that some will be around to support you.  Lastly, the Maasai tribe is largely patriarchal, and the men simply enjoyed having multiple wives.

Emmanuel tells me that this custom is starting to change as education and women’s empowerment programs start to take hold.  Emmanuel, for example, has just one wife and four children.  Also, the Kenyan government has been encouraging the Maasai to settle and stop their nomadic ways, which reduces the need for a larger family.

Emmanuel's home

Emmanuel's home

It’s my opinion that large family sizes contribute to many of the problems in Kenya, and family planning education is a critical component for things turning around here.  It’s not at all uncommon for people to have 6-10 children in the villages or slums.  I discussed this with a group in Kibera who basically said that when a husband and wife are both unemployed, they procreate just to have something to do.  Unfortunately, this just perpetuates the trend of having too few resources for too many people.  I have heard a lot of younger (and often educated) people tell me they’re only going to have one or two children, which I find encouraging.  I firmly believe that education is the key in Kenya.  It’s the key to improved employment, less disease, and an overall higher quality of life.

Lastly, I want to thank Emmanuel for sharing these fascinating stories with me and allowing me to share them on my blog.  Tune in tomorrow for an update on the Kibera water kiosk project.

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A few days ago I was lucky enough to stay in the home of one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.  Emmanuel is part of the Maasai tribe in Kenya.  After becoming the first person in his village to attend university, he returned home and built a school so more Maasai can become educated and improve their lives.  He’s currently building a health clinic and adult literacy center on the school grounds, and ultimately wants to build four more schools.  Emmanuel doesn’t draw a salary from the school, and provides safari tours as a way of subsidizing the school and earning a living (www.karmakenya.com).

Emmanuel

Emmanuel

In fact, the school is operating at a pretty severe loss because many foreign donors pledged to sponsor students and then reneged when it was time to pay.  Rather than kick out the students, Emmanuel just works harder at his second job to make sure the school stays afloat.  While I was there, Emmanuel told me a few stories that I thought were just fascinating.

Emmanuel's school

Emmanuel's school

Amongst the many topics we discussed, I asked him about how he saves for retirement (trust me, it gets interesting).  He said that his long term plan is to build an eco-tourism resort near the Maasai Mara game park on a 60 acre property he’s purchasing in installments.  When I asked how he could afford to buy 60 acres of land, he said that he paid for half of it with cows.  My next question was how did he get so many cows, and that’s where the story gets good.

Pulled tooth

Pulled tooth

As it turns out, there’s a big Maasai ceremony when you turn 9 years old.  At the ceremony, they pull out one or two of your bottom center teeth, and if you don’t cry, then everyone at the ceremony gives you a cow.  Apparently the Maasai tribe used to commonly suffer from lockjaw, and the only way to get medicine into your mouth was to knock out a couple of teeth.  These days lockjaw is less of a problem for them, but the tradition carried on.  Emmanuel didn’t cry at his ceremony, and so he got seven cows.

Then a few years later, there’s a male circumcision ritual followed by 3 months of seclusion.  When he returned from seclusion, there was another ceremony where he received seventeen more cows.  Over time, his 24 cows reproduced, and eventually he had a large herd that could use to purchase the land.

Class

Class

Tomorrow I’ll share another short story about Emmanuel’s family.  If you or anyone you know is planning a safari vacation, I urge you to consider Karma Kenya.  Emmanuel is an incredible guide and a fascinating and generous person.  Plus the majority of the profits go to the school, so you can feel extra good about yourself.  His nearly completed website is www.karmakenya.com.   Be sure to check back tomorrow for more stories and on Monday for an update on the water kiosk project.

Also, check out more photos of Emmanuel’s school by clicking on the Flickr album on the right.

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I’m sure local politics can be difficult to maneuver all over the world, but it’s particularly challenging in Kenya.  Here local officials wield huge amounts of power, and one person can stop a project dead in its tracks.  Fortunately, if you make a strong case (or know the right people), they can also shepherd a project swiftly through the system.

Today I used a friend of a friend of a friend to land a meeting with a District Officer in Nairobi.  A District Officer is fairly high up in the local food chain, and I pitched him the water kiosk concept.  I was delighted at how quickly he embraced the idea, and he asked if I could come back on Monday to meet with several other government officials.  Assuming that meeting goes well, we’ll pitch the kiosk model at a formal committee meeting where the project will hopefully receive the official governmental go ahead.

The person who introduced me to the District Official is a great community leader who runs a micro-finance branch.  He is also the chairman of a local community organization that runs a health clinic and several other programs.  I feel very lucky to have found him, as he’s working with me very closely to gather allies and navigate the political process.  I’ll update this post later with a picture of him and the clinic this weekend.

Definitely stay tuned for an update on Monday’s meeting.  Also, make sure you check in for some fascinating stories about Maasai culture this weekend.

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After a few days without internet access, I’m back in Nairobi and can resume my updates.  I’ll have a post with lots of pictures of the safari soon, but first I wanted to share a few observations around Kenyan hospitality.

When a house guest comes for a visit, hospitality can kick into overdrive in Kenya.  For virtually every meal I ate at someone’s home, not only would I be served first, but many times the children and even the other adults would refuse to serve themselves until I had at least started eating.  Often the children and workers would eat in a second sitting after us.  And trust me, the other volunteers and I tried insisting that they eat with us, but we were rarely successful.

I thought the level of adherence to hospitality customs was particularly interesting when I arrived at my latest host’s home.  As you may have seen in my last post, my former host, Joshua, had major car problems on our trip.  When we finally made it to our destination the next morning, my new host (Emmanuel) asked if Joshua could spend the day with us, but he politely explained that he needs to get his car fixed and then spend another 8 hours driving home.  Before he could get on the road, they first sat down for tea.  After tea, we all went to take a “quick” tour of Emmanuel’s school (both Joshua and Emmanuel run schools in Kenya).  After a very interesting but thorough tour, we of course had another round of tea.  That was followed by a short presentation by the students.  At that point it was lunchtime, and of course we couldn’t send Joshua off without lunch.  While we arrived that morning around 8:30 am, Joshua didn’t end up starting work on the car until early afternoon and finally hit the road around 2:30 or 3:00 pm.  What I found most interesting was that not only did Emmanuel keep politely offering things, but Joshua kept politely accepting.  I suppose it would have be considered rude for either of them to have acted any differently, even though they both knew Joshua had a long trip ahead of him.

Joshua, Emmanuel, and the headmaster

Joshua, Emmanuel, and the headmaster

I’ve encountered this custom several times while at the villages as well.  Often after meeting with a women’s group, there was no way I was leaving without drinking at least two cups of tea and eating something.  Even once when a storm was clearly about to hit, we still stayed for almost an hour, resulting in us standing in a random barn for 30 minutes on our way home to escape the torrential downpour. Overall I think it’s a nice custom, but be forewarned that there’s no such thing as a “quick visit” in Kenya.

I’ll be continuing work on the Kibera water kiosk model over the next several days, but I’ll also post a link very soon to some of the 250 pictures I took on my safari yesterday.

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Jeremy in Kenya

Jeremy in Kenya

I’m very excited that after roughly one month, today the Clean Water For All blog went over the 1,000 views mark.  I’ve received a lot of very positive feedback about the posts, the pictures, and the work I’m doing here in Kenya.  I’m really quite flattered that so many people are following along and are engaged in the project.

While I had another great day in the field conducting interviews in the slums outside of Kitale, I’m going to hold off on the write-up until tomorrow.  Instead, I thought I’d celebrate the 1,000 views by posting a bunch of new pictures.  If you go to the “more photos” link under the Flickr section on the right, you can find the 20+ new pictures or catch up if you haven’t seen the full 134 picture album.

Caleb on motorcycle

Caleb on motorcycle

Here are a few of my favorites from the past few days.  Enjoy, and thanks again for following along.

-Jeremy

3 sheep on a motorcycle

3 sheep on a motorcycle

Kenyan landscape picture

Kenyan landscape picture

Kenyan kids

Kenyan kids

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