I released Jomo back into the wild. I don’t think he was very happy in his yellow plastic bucket with his rock and his tree branch and his bulbous swiveling omniscient eyes. I was planning to get him a tree to lord over but after doing some research I decided that I didn’t have the patience or dedication to care for him the way the internet gods wanted me to. One of the two plants that I bought for my trellised doorway was trying to kill himself for a couple of weeks, but I think I coaxed him out of his death spiral with a dose of commercial fertilizer. Maybe he was on a hunger strike in protest of Jomo’s captivity. Either way, he’s starting to sprout again.
Last week I went to a PC regional cross-sector meeting in Meru, a small city in the highlands of Mt Kenya, and the national hub for the miraa trade (qat in Arabic, I believe). Miraa is a popular plant among matatu drivers, who chew the leaves and stems for its stimulant effect. Long-term users are easily identified by their chronically bloodshot eyes, green-stained and rotting teeth, and green streaks of saliva plastered to their mouths like shore-strewn seaweed in the sun. It is arguably the number one cause of auto accidents in
Meru is one of the most beautiful areas of the country, surrounded by rolling hills clothed in dark forest green foliage, and pierced by the granite-capped granite dagger of
We did do some actual ‘training’ during the week, lest my wordiness distract you. Since the volunteers in attendance were all from the Eastern region of
In the afternoon we visited a secondary school, where we gave gender-specific group talks on HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment. They already knew most of the statistics, though, so I was somewhat disappointed by the session. Not because we didn’t have a chance to share our knowledge with them, but because we wasted the opportunity to speak with them about real behavior change. One of the issues in
The week before I had taken a couple of girls from a secondary school in my village to camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Nairobi, a PC-sponsored camp run by the Gender and Development committee. The camp was held on the outskirts of Kibera slums, one of the largest slums in the world and the star of ‘The Constant Gardener.’ I guess that sounds more dangerous than it was – we were in a heavily wooded Scout Camp surrounded by an electric fence (which was turned off during the day…but they didn’t mention that). I’ve heard estimates that between 800,000 and 1.5 million people live in the slums, most of whom are trapped with their families in one-room tin shacks without electricity or plumbing, even nearby. Visitors are warned to watch out for the ‘flying choo (pronounced cho),’ a plastic baggie filled with poo and launched in the air. Quick cleanup, I suppose.
The camp was fun, and for many of the girls their first trip into the capital city. All of the sessions had to do with gender equality or women’s health or rights or something geared towards empowerment of the girls involved. They responded well, considering that a majority of Kenyans (men and women) believe that it’s not rape if a man forces his wife to have sex – it’s his marital right. One of days was reserved for Take Our Daughters to Work, during which the girls were paired up with a professional woman in Nairobi (doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc), whose career matched the interests of her ‘daughter.’ One of my girls, Susan, who aspires to be an actress, was paired with a popular pop radio DJ on KissFM, and giddily related her five seconds of radio fame the next day to the rest of girls at camp. My other girl, Winfred, a short, overweight, shy Form 2 student, accompanied an accountant, although she was interested in being a doctor (“because they make a lot of money”). When we got back to Thika she told me she wants to be an accountant now, and directly bought a calculator.
The last time that I visited a slum around
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t speak for all of Africa – I’ve only seen the situation in a couple of countries here. And Kenyans ARE poor, when compared with the opulence of the US. But they are not as hopeless, or as destitute, as many might have you believe. Poverty is subjective, and relative, and not easily defined. It pisses me off when people like Jeffrey Sachs visit Kenya for a couple of weeks and feel like they are experienced enough to make blanket statements about Africa. I’m not saying that I am – I freely and openly admit that I don’t know much of anything about Africans after being here for 9 months. I can only speak for myself, which is the most that anyone can truly say.