Sunday, November 28, 2010

African Babies: How the West Objectifies Children in a Quest to Do Good

We all have seen pictures of starving children in Ethiopia, children in refugee camps in Darfur, AIDS orphans and other pitiful looking African children in the news. We also have heard tales of Angie's and Madonna's adoptions of African babies. Many Christian missionary groups will take opportunities to work at orphanages in Africa. Let's face it, African babies are trendy. Who can resist those chubby little babies with smooth brown skin and big eyes framed with long, thick lashes? Who can resist when a parent hands you a baby, asking you to please take that baby to America and give it a better life? Here's the problem. In our quest to save the world, we tend to objectify these little ones, treating them as nothing more than trendy accessories. What it has left is a wake of harm.

Now, I'm not against helping the children and I don't doubt that many Westerners come with the aim of objectifying them. However, there are many issues that arise. For example, let me point out the aforementioned adoptions. Madonna adopted a little boy from Malawi a few years ago. This was not a boy without parents, in fact, he had a father. His father was actually reluctant to put him up for adoption and Madonna practically begged to take him, saying that she could save his life. I don't doubt this is true, at the same time, I have a problem with this. Madonna basically said that, white Westerner that she is, she has more of a right to parent this child than the child's own father, simply because she's rich. Of course, a white woman with a cute African baby looks like she's the Holy Mother (gotta live up to the namesake, right?). Not that I think foreign adoption is bad, I have two cousins adopted from Russia and China (who truly didn't have parents/futures there) and I think my relatives did good things. However, taking a child who already has parents? Maybe some families struggle on $1 per day but it doesn't make them horrible parents. Also, no one ever remembers the African American children we have in our country, those who live out their lives in foster care and never know what unconditional love looks like (guess they're not as lovable as an "exotic" "tragic" African baby).

Next, the orphanages. I won't deny that there are those who do wonderful things. Some are genuine and provide a loving haven for children with truly no place to go. At the same time, an article from The Guardian (found here) shows how many of these orphanages prey on these missionaries by deliberately exploiting the children. Often times, they'll take children away from families and trick them with the promise of better lives for the children. Then, they'll keep them in deliberately squalid conditions so that Westerners, wracked with guilt, will donate lots of money as they pity these children. So, the staff makes bank and these children languish. What a nice, loving, Christian concept. Not to mention that strangers end up with complete access to them. Would you want someone having access to and touching YOUR child without your permission/consent?

This brings me to other points of exploitation. Street children will come up to a white person and ask for money. Usually, theses children are exploited by adults who, again, want to make bank off the Westerners' emotions. Many times, these children are told that the white man or woman is a generous person. Of course, this leaves them vulnerable to another cruel form of exploitation: human trafficking. People will traffic children from all over the world for sex or forced labor. So, by giving them money or tricking parents to give you their child, you may be either perpetuating a bad situation or leave other children vulnerable to a worse one.

If you really want to help the children, here are my suggestions. Donate to a local organization (after researching the hell out of it and making sure it's legit) that provides for the education of children, economic empowerment of women (usually, a child is not far from their mother), employment development for teens and increased legal protection for street children/survivors of trafficking (a great international organization for that is IJM). Help children in a sustainable way, providing them with the tools to build their own lives as they grow up. Learn about and advocate for the rights of children (check out the Convention for the Rights of the Child while you're at it). Finally, appreciate the rights of all children, not just the ones who are cute, exotic, and "tragic". Children everywhere need help. They don't need to be accessories to the Westerners' needs to feel like heroes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Money is SO Complicated..........

Every day, it feels like, I will have someone ask me for money. Children on the streets try and ask (but we avoid them since giving them money can actually be child exploitation-they're often used to beg). Families will ask for sponsorship or for a school uniform for one of their kids (even though public primary education is free, it's up to the family to provide the uniform). Others will ask for tuition, visas, and other things. Because I'm white and foreign, it's assumed I have millions of Kenyan shillings waiting to be spent. It's difficult, because most people are not malicious. Many of them are merely desperate, trying to provide for families on less than a dollar a day. They know Americans and Europeans make more money, so why shouldn't they try when they have the chance?

The thing is, it really is complicated because I know that giving someone money won't solve anything. First, it's not sustainable, the money will be gone and I don't believe people should depend on handouts from me to survive. Second, if I give money to one person, everyone will hear about it and try and get some. If you don't give an equal amount to everyone, a fight could start (for real, there was an issue with stipends at work the past two days). Third, if I give all my money away, I am of no use to anyone. Fourth, I'd be fostering the ideal of "The White Man's Burden", of proving that it's our duty to save people. No, people need to be taught to save themselves, though they may need access to resources in order to do that.

Another reason why it's so complicated is because people here have no comprehension of what life is like in the U.S. How could they? All they see are the magazines and movies that show fabulous white people wearing designer clothes, drinking champagne, and hanging out with beautiful people. They see Barack Obama, a man they consider their own, become President simply because he had the good fortune of being born in America. They hear that Americans make tons of money, much more than they'll ever see. Naturally, when they see an mzungu, they think, "Oh, she's loaded! Maybe she can help me!"

As a result, I've ended up in so many conversations about how, actually, I am a student and only have enough money this semester to eat and do some things I may want to do (travel, bring things back for family, all of which they encourage me to do). They become very shocked to hear how much things in the U.S. actually cost, how a teacher's salary in Kenya is my rent for a month. Or how, due to the economic crisis, it's now difficult to get jobs and there are those in the U.S. who live in poverty. How university education is now so expensive, families go in debt to put a child through and students themselves spend years paying it off. How I myself have to work as a waitress during the academic year to pay for things like my rent and my groceries. They don't believe it because they've never experienced.

Americans can't really comprehend the level of poverty here until they see it. One dollar a day is just words on a paper until you see people living in their own filth. Likewise, when faced with so much poverty and knowing that Americans will make more money (in numbers), it's hard for quite a few Kenyans I've met to understand the situations Americans face. The problem is, it's difficult to fix economic disparities simply because we have these misunderstandings.

Why money is complicated........

American Prejudice

While commuting to work this morning, I listened to the news on the radio. Apparently, a British couple was released from Somali pirates after a long period of captivity. Over the summer, when it came to Somalia, we all heard about how warlords threatened harsh punishments for all who watched the World Cup. In addition, everything we hear about Islam, the religion of the majority of Somalis, is about terrorism. There was even question about whether President Obama, thought to be a Muslim, would make a good President. What does this have to do with my work? Everything. Why? Most of my colleagues are Muslim and my supervisor is a Kenyan Somali, as are many members of the community I have come to love.

I'm writing this because I want to make one thing clear. These Muslim Somalis I know are not the "fanatics" you see on the news. They are not committing acts of terrorism and many find it abhorrent to support it. In fact, the people at my organization worked on peace building efforts in the wake of post-election violence. What are they doing instead? They are dedicated teachers, working to educate the children of the community (some of whom are orphans). They are administrators, overseeing the work of the organization and allowing it to run smoothly. They are youth mobilizers, recruiting young people to take action in positive ways, such as learning entrepreneurship skills, speaking out on HIV testing and prevention, working for female equality in terms of reproductive health and good governance, continuing education. They are good parents, working to instill values of hard work and education in their children.

In addition, while Alta'awon is Muslim in origin, our staff is diverse. I am a Catholic, as is one of my colleagues. Another is Baptist. Many are Muslim, but some of the teachers are Christian. Some of the students at the primary school are Christian and many community members who take part in Alta'awon's services are of differing religious and ethnic backgrounds. Alta'awon does not seek to proselytize ANYONE. Rather, they would like to translate their faith's principles of charity into action, to create change and empowerment for the community.

Sadly, I often hear so much anti-Muslim sentiment back home. I hope Americans realize that the majority of Muslims are like any other person, of faith and of no faith. They simply want to live their lives, pray as they wish, raise their families, aspire for better, celebrate their holidays, and, for those strong ones, enact change throughout their communities. Many DO speak out against terrorism occurring in various parts of the world and proclaim shame at sharing faith or ancestry with them.

Let's not give ammo to those who wish to destroy us. Let's not allow them to divide and conquer. Instead, let us embrace each other as brothers and work to bring justice on this earth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Word of Advice

If you go to an equatorial country (unless you're in the mountains), you may have the impression that it's always hot.

Not always. First, at least in my experience, our short rainy season means it can be quite chilly. Second, nights are cold, especially because there's no heater. Third, it may be hot during the day, but cold during the early morning, when you're leaving.

Advice? Bring a sweatshirt for nights, when you're in the house. Buy some cute shawls for during the day. That way, you can wear shorter sleeves but still keep yourself warm in the morning. This also works for modesty, as it is unacceptable to show your knees and shoulders most places (even in places where it may be acceptable, you may attract double attention if you're white). Also, you'll have something cute from Kenya.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Everybody's Got a Hungry Heart

Of course I'm referencing Bruce, when do I not? Though U2 is my favorite, I grew up with Bruce. He was my first inspiration and I find myself playing with his style in terms of music (started by inverting the rhythm and chords of "Atlantic City"). He's what I revert to when I need to feel adventurous, like I did riding in my dad's car at seven years old, going fast, listening to "Thunder Road." I also relate to him quite a bit, particularly with this particular line, "Everybody's got a hungry heart." Because you know something? I have one. Like my stomach, my heart likes being full. The problem? Mine feels like it's never full enough.

I never am satisfied. Not with easy answers, not with a stable, comfortable, never-changing life, not with papal documents, and not with myself. I always feel I'm pursuing something. I just can't put my finger on what it is. Once I go after one adventure, I'm already after another one. You tell me to run a mile, I'll run ten. "You give it all and I want more."

Kenya is making me realize this in some big ways. I am busy during the week. Busy as in, a four hour commute each day (two each way) to either USIU on Thika Road or to Alta'awon in Korogocho). Most of my week is tied up with commuting, class, homework, internship work (which is fun, but I can't be as involved as I want to be) and then the weekends, I've been trying to go out and do things, then catch up on sleep and school work. Right now, I have a grant proposal draft due Wednesday, a project due in less than a month, a short paper and a quiz coming up, two term papers, the final grant proposal, then all of my finals. And then, I'm trying to plan some final trips (like one more to the Maasai Mara, since a friend of mine hasn't been yet and also to see some friends I made while up there). Then, we have a final trip to Mombasa and we're gone!!!

I feel like my time in Kenya is too brief and I've rarely had a break to consider what all of it means. Working with the kids and youth of Korogocho is rewarding but, at the same time, I'm sad that I can't get to know them better or get more involved with the really cool youth groups in the area (by the way, check out Blue Cross and Miss Koch on Facebook). I wish I could consider going to Uganda, like a bunch of my classmates did this weekend. I wish I could hang out with my Kenyan friends more but we're all so busy. I wish I wasn't limited by time.

I need to remember that I have had some truly amazing experiences. I've done things I didn't expect to do before 30, much less before graduating from college. I've hung out at the UN complex, smoking a cigarette with a dear friend of mine. I've spoken with UN evaluators on various projects. I visited a school run by a Maasai Catholic priest for nomadic children and learned a bit about the Maasai culture. I went to a Hindu celebration. I lived in rural Kenya for a week, met a Gospel singer who lives in Nairobi, talked with an American missionary, and peed in the bushes. I spent the night in Huruma, another slum, with a friend and her family. I went to a site where the most ancient human fossils were found. I went to a music lounge to celebrate Heroes' Day and learned to dance like a Kenyan (albeit, I still can't). I met people from the German Foundation for World Population. I rode motorcycles to school, got hit by moving vehicles, met religious leaders, learned about Kenyan primary education, and played my guitar in random events. I questioned my faith and politics more than I thought I would and I made amazing friends.

Still, I want to do more, see more, and act more. I want to come back. I want to do more work with children and youth. I want to do more with music, not only as a musician but as someone fascinated from a cultural, economic, and social perspective. I want to do more with Africa, to learn more about the history and diverse cultures and nations that reside on this continent. I want to do more with economics and business, to figure out how to work with the market forces and give people access, so that they can improve their livelihoods. I want to learn how I can contribute to the world.

Kenya didn't quench my thirst. It put salt on my lips. I want more.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I know they need jobs, but........

I don't like having a housekeeper. Cleaning gives me a measure of sanity (something about cleaning kitchens is calming). Also, it's really awkward to be sitting in your PJ's at the computer when someone just comes in and starts cleaning.............Like what's going on right now.

I know these women need jobs. I know that unemployment is high in Kenya. I know some of them have been through horrible things and need a respectable way to earn a livelihood. Or they have babies to feed. At the same time, I don't know about giving someone that access to my life.

It could also be that the culture's different. Even though people have maids in America, it's usually for the very rich. While I am considered one of the "very rich" here, I'm certainly not in the U.S., so that's an aspect that takes getting used to. In America, we tend to grow up with our mothers telling us, "This isn't a restaurant," or, "I'm not the maid," to encourage us to be responsible for our messes. In addition, I tend to be EXTREMELY independent, so I take pride in cleaning my own house, taking care of myself, getting myself to where I need to be (which is why I find it a huge turnoff when a guy calls me Cinderella and tries to romance me by playing a hero. Dude, I'm my own hero. Shut up). I guess the housekeeper thing is another aspect of my own personality. To me, having a maid makes me feel spoiled in a bad way. Like, I need to be coddled with kids' gloves. As a white person, as a female, people always treat me like that and it's one aspect that I will never really like.

I like that people are willing to watch out for you. I just hate being babied. To me, it feels like people think I don't work, that I'm not strong, etc. It just makes me feel very impotent. Maybe it's selfish. But I think that's why I'm so adverse to having a housekeeper. I know they need it. I know all of what I've written probably has nothing to do with my initial statement. It's just what I feel and how I feel.

It's. A. Slum.

I love academia. At the same time, academics fight over useless shit. We can't say, "Third World" anymore, let's say "developing world" (though, in my opinion, the West is still "developing." We certainly don't have all the answers). We can't say "tribe", it's "ethnic group" (though I notice the people who want to ban the word most are rich white people?). Now, it's not a "slum", it's an "informal settlement" (bullshit, even the UN calls it a slum. I mean, c'mon!).

OK, guys. Can we get real? I'm all for not sounded racist or condescending but is fighting over a word going to save people? Is calling it an informal settlement going to erase the fact that there's shit everywhere you put your foot down? Or the fact that you can have eight people in one house with two rooms and typhoid-water, if there's water at all? Or the fact that they're at risk for cholera and they very likely will mourn the death of at least one child? Or the fact that people have no claim to their land and that their government does not give a rat's ass about securing their rights? Or that women will find themselves pregnant and desperate enough to OD on toxic chemicals or perforate their cervices because they have no way to feed themselves, let alone a baby? Or that, even for those fortunate enough to earn a university degree, their future may still lie in selling fruit on the road side because they lack political connections to get a good job? Or that, if something bad happens, you have no recourse to go to the police because you're pretty much an illegal resident? Or that corruption hurts them the most?

Why are we worried about how nice or PC the word sounds? Shouldn't we be more worried that people have to live in their own excrement and that their government treats them like the refuse that fills their neighborhoods?

I mean, get real.


In Kenya, we see intense poverty that just does not compare to the U.S. The government provides very little in terms of public services (lack of good roads, access to secondary education, sanitation, a justice system that's actually functional and ethical, I could go on). Moreover, due to corruption (a level that would make the Mafia blush), most private companies do not want to risk investing in Kenya. As a result, 66% of Nairobians live in slums and a good portion make less than a dollar a day. Unemployment is high, especially among young people. Guess what? Young people make up 70% of Kenya's population. In addition, the government uses ethnic tension to its advantage and even sponsors massacres on various populations. Yes, you guessed it. Kenya is actually pretty violent.

Before you worry about my safety, remember a few things. First, I am a mzungu, a white person, so people leave me out of various ethnic difficulties. Second, I live in Westlands, a wealthy and high security neighborhood in Nairobi, where all the diplomats, business people, and other expats live, so they have every reason to keep violence away from us. Third, my program has strict rules about us traveling at night and, if we want to leave the city or spend the night away from our apartment, we have to text our country director. Fourth, even though we work in slums, our program monitors the areas we're in. They'd never put us in Dandora, for example (Dandora being the most violent of the slums, with high rates of Mungiki activity, Mungiki being a local terrorist group). In addition, I live in a high crime city in the U.S. and have managed to stay away from most of it. So, I'm OK.

At the same time, Kenya has rates of violence that are extremely disturbing. Those who speak out on corruption or for the rights of the people have a rate of "disappearing", of being found dead in mysterious, yet brutal circumstances. In addition, the government will play a role in covering up the crime, in hosting investigations that are slow moving if at all, in inciting violence across ethnic lines, and in ensuring that memories are silenced from the national consciousness. Many acts of violence, such as ethnic massacres (due to protests over land rights, for example), usually take place upcountry, away from the city so that they can go virtually unnoticed. The corruption I mentioned earlier aids in the silence, as Kenyans know that the police are not to be trusted. Because of this, Kenyans will also deal with crime via mob justice. For example, if someone is caught stealing a cell phone, a mob will go after that person and beat him to death. Violence permeates much of the society.

It seems almost contradictory. Losing your temper in public is much more taboo than in the U.S. and Kenyans place a high value on greeting people, smiling, and showing politeness. Their ties to their families are strong and, if they love you, they give you everything-literally, everything-to convey this. Religious faith is perceived as strong and even students in public schools receive not only religious education but pastoral instruction (depending on which clergy they need) on how to be a moral and upright person. At the same time, there is intense competition for power, for money, for survival and, in some cases, life actually is not valued as much. Friends one week can instantly turn into foes, should something happen. Rather than secure the rights of the people, the government violates them, divides them, and uses their corpses as pawns for political gain. It's disgusting.

Now, we have a population of youth who are idle, unemployed, and have a government that completely screws them over and runs on ruthless ambition. Many are educated and have the potential to turn the tide. However, if things continue as they are, I fear that one strike of a match could send this country up in flames.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"No, Really! I'm OK" and Other Cultural Misunderstandings

I mentioned earlier that most Kenyans I know are extremely generous people. Due to the issues they face, both agricultural, urban, and ethnic, they tend to be more community minded. In fact, the motto of Kenya is Harambee or "Let's pull together" and this became the rallying cry for the start of self-help groups and business cooperatives that formed post-independence under Kenyatta's regime. I find it wonderful. However, at times, it takes getting used to.

Like food. When I stayed in rural Kenya, I got fed a LOT. Of course, I could never finish my plate, which would provoke concern about my "fear of eating" (of course, any American who knows me knows that this is patently untrue). Or statements about how skinny I am, which, due to some body image hangups from my childhood, I find more than a little bit annoying (at least they're not like some Americans who told me my body would break if I attempted to have children. Don't worry, Dante and I had a talk. They're going to the twelfth circle). It's really sweet but sometimes, it feels a little forceful. "No, really! Eat more! Can I add you? Why not?" I swear, they give the Italians a run for their money (and I thought we were food pushers). Or when people offer to buy you a soda or milk. When you refuse, they always tell you it's no issue and that Africans are big on generosity. It doesn't occur to them that you really don't want either and are cool with your water. You still are made to feel bad if you say no thank you. Or you have to go into an explanation about how your doctors told you NOT to drink soda or whole milk and, even if it's true, you still feel like it's just an excuse.

Or compliments. In America, you tell someone you like their shoes and it's just a compliment, a way of saying, "You look nice today." In Kenya, you tell someone you like their shoes and they take them off and give them to you. Or they buy you a pair. It's awkward because you weren't asking for the shoes, you just wanted to be nice. And, if you wanted them, it wouldn't have been an issue to just buy them yourself. At the same time, it's rude to refuse, like you're rejecting their generosity. I've had to learn to not say, "I want xyz" or "wow, that's a really nice xyz" just so I wouldn't be put in that position.

Or needing to pamper the mzungu, especially if she's a woman. "Wow, are you sure you're OK with walking this far?" as we walk the five blocks from one matatu stage to another. "Dude, I walk much further in the U.S.!" Or worrying about me because my pants got stained in muck. "Look, it's a STAIN! I'll be FINE!" Or the need to escort me all the way to my hotel room (which feels even more awkward because, to me, it looks very improper if I'm not "with you" with you). I'll admit, this one isn't just awkward or a little strange, it's frustrating. I have always prided myself on my independence, on my ability to carry heavy things, take care of myself, bring myself home, walk long distances (by the way, I'm in VERY good shape, if I do say so myself) and never wanted to be treated differently because I have boobs. I do appreciate concern if I seriously need it. But worrying about me because I get a little dirty or have to walk from a sidewalk to a door ten feet away? After paying my own rent, doing 30 hours of manual labor a week while going to school full time (and still making awesome grades), not to mention flying here by myself, I think I'll be OK with a little shit on my shoe (yes, it's actual shit, not making that one up).

Really, I do like the generosity and I find a lot of kindness in my friends here, a willingness to share that puts me to shame. At the same time, I'm really not used to it. I've been such an independent individualist all of my life that I'm just not used to being helped with the tiniest things. And, in America, if someone offers you something, you're supposed to say no out of courtesy. So I'm not used to people insisting so much on treating you to things. It's just not what I'm used to. And yes, some of it does annoy me, simply because I don't like being babied and I never have.

Nevertheless, everyone can use some cultural awkwardness. It's good for the soul. It means you've learned something about someone and about yourself. So, even though it does frustrate me at times, I'm glad because it means I'm learning.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ideology Questions-Obituaries of Young Girls

Many who know me may recall some strict pro-life convictions on my part. For the most part, I still believe human life begins at conception. I believe that pregnancy is not a measure of character and that motherhood should not determine a woman's employment or reputation. I believe that all should be done to allow babies and mothers to thrive and I never really liked the idea of abortion. At the same time, a few troubling questions have come up, especially since my stay here.

Abortion is actually legal in Kenya under the old Constitution. However, it's legal under strict circumstances and guidelines. In addition, stigma is still attached to the procedure and it remains extremely inaccessible to most Kenyan women. Even though the new Constitution was merely clarifying, NOT adding new policy, the Catholic bishops of Kenya still felt the slightest mention an outrage and urged others to vote no, despite the multitude of other positive changes (that fall more in line with Catholic values than how the government is currently run) present. Basic health care still remains out of reach for many so, even if abortion was not so heavily stigmatized, it would still be inaccessible.

What does this have to do with my viewpoint? I started realizing the problems lack of access can cause. What really catalyzed this was the presence of obituaries in The Standard. Some of them were for young girls who passed away from illegal, back alley abortions. One in particular had procured one (by OD'ing on drugs) after becoming pregnant by her secondary school teacher. I never felt so angry.

Because of a man's abuse, a young girl is dead! By the way, so is her baby. Rather than save both lives, both were extinguished. Both extinguished before they ever really began.

I don't think abortion should be birth control. I think every effort should be made to reduce the need for one. This includes giving young women and men education and resources. This includes removing stigma of unwed pregnancy, of women in the work force, and of young motherhood. This includes providing opportunities for job training, connections with employers, and chances for education. This includes providing family friendly policies that allow women to earn a living while taking care of children. This includes making sure men and fathers are accountable and responsible for the children they beget and the women they are with. This includes making health care a priority. Finally, it includes making sure any abortion is done in a doctor's office, with qualified supervision and sanitation.

I don't like abortion. I'd like to see it rare. I'd like to see a need for it reduced. However, I must also value the mother's life. No teenage girl should have to die alone with her child due to some man's greed. No woman should have to leave little ones behind because she can't afford another one. No mother should feel she has nothing left to lose if a pregnancy puts her life in jeopardy and her child is unlikely to be viable.

Restricting abortion to this extent isn't saving anyone. Rather, two lives are lost at once. For what?

I wonder what those bishops would say if they had daughters.

A Week in Rural Kenya and Thoughts as a Youth

As part of our program, we took a week to go upcountry, specifically in Western/Nyanza provinces, to learn about rural issues. One of the major themes in our studies is the phenomena of urban migration. Nairobi is not only Kenya's capital city, it is the hub of Kenya and many people move to search for economic opportunities. As a result, due to issues of rent and other factors, slums pop up everywhere. Around two thirds of the city live in slums. You can imagine the resulting issues with this. This week, we were out to see the rural side. As part of our final projects, we were assigned to choose a topic relating to urban issues and, while in the rural areas, were supposed to ask questions.

I stayed in a small village near Kisumu. My host mother is a lovely woman who lives with her three youngest children (she has eight in total) and her grandson. The three boys were in school and her littlest one, an adorable two year old girl, stayed at home during the day. My mama's husband lives in Nairobi (in the slum of Kibera) and works for the Kenyan police, in order to support the family. Three of her eldest children work in Nairobi and two others live in neighboring villages. Unfortunately, one of her sons chose drugs and crime as his path. According to her, he's one of many idle young men in the village. Her estimate is that fifty percent of the young men are involved with serious crimes (including burglary and murder) due to idleness, lack of employment, weakness of local law enforcement, and easy access to opium. There is actually a registered gang in that area and my mama forbade me from going outside at night. Robbery is common and my mama's house was burned down last year. Due to security issues, if I needed the toilet at night, I had to use a bucket.

I was able to talk to many people during my week. In a twist of fate, I met an American missionary on one of my walks. Later, she and a Kenyan gospel singer found me playing guitar at my mama's house. They invited me to an event at the local primary school. I brought my guitar and ended up winging it. Later, I was able to talk to the singer, ask her questions about youth and music (my issue, as I know others partnered with an organization that helps youth turn music into a livelihood, so that they can improve their economic situation and stay away from temptations like drug abuse) and ultimately ended up with her contact information. My mother is right, I am Forrest Gump.

I also talked with students, a pastor, and my mama. Everyone mentioned the lack of youth opportunities. Think about this. About 70% of Kenya's population is under the age of 35. Unemployment is a serious problem. Many Kenyans may not have the choice to enter secondary school (due to cost) and those who may even make it to university find themselves without the necessary experience or connections to make it into a profession. They may not have access to credit. In addition, corruption is common and land/property rights are not always secure. So, you have these youth who have little opportunity and nothing to do. What results from this? Street gangs, like the ones in my mama's village. Terrorist organizations, like the Mungiki near the area I work in. Robbery. Drug addiction. Remember too, these young people have easy access to tools like machetes.

It really struck me because I learned about this through my interfaith work. Terrorist organizations like Al Quaeda work in the same way. Those parts of the world also have a booming youth population, as well as high rates of unemployment and poverty. How do you think those terrorists recruit? By promising glory, money, a living, meaning in their lives, attention. All the things young people need and crave! Yet, politicians and leaders are so quick to dismiss us, no matter what country we live in. It's easy to treat us at best as if we know nothing and at worst as if we're nothing but troublemakers, smartasses and criminals. It's easier for media to focus on issues such as teen pregnancy in the U.S. and young suicide bombers elsewhere, while they ignore the stories of young people who fight to the death for their rights and work to give something to their communities.

Young people are not always angels. They may still choose to forsake education, regardless of how accessible it is. They may choose to break the law, regardless of how good law enforcement is. At the same time, they need the opportunities to make a true choice about their lives and future. Should they choose to still follow a destructive path, every effort must be made to help them get back on track and prevent them from contributing negatively to society. I'm not saying that they should be coddled and that we should expect all to swim. At the same time, they need an equal chance to start life with.

The old adage "Children are the future" is no mere cliche. Youth will inherit their nations as they grow older. However, the choices they make and the opportunities they have while young are what determine the destiny of that nation. Would you like to see your nation bask in the sun's glory? Or would you rather it go up in flames? How a nation provides for its youth will determine the answer to that question. I hope Kenya chooses to shine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Nairobi? Why not Paris or Rome?

I feel like people have asked me these questions quite a bit before I left. I told people I was studying in Nairobi for my semester abroad and they would ask, "Why? I get Europe, it's much more academic. What will you do in Africa?" Before pointing out that Africa is a vast and diverse continent (trust me, DRC is EXTREMELY different from Kenya, in terms of culture, former colonial powers, geography and national security), I would say that my reasons were unique to Kenya. I wanted what I could not find anywhere in Europe.

First, let's look at my passions. From my academics, resume, and conversations, poverty eradication comes up quite a bit. From a common sense perspective, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense to study in Western Europe. Yes, the Western powers have their own issues (see it every day in DC), but you don't go to Europe to study poverty eradication. Nairobi, it's almost a business (sadly, there are several unscrupulous NGO's who make money off of Kenyans' misery and Westerners' checkbooks). Development comes after tourism. Whether people are employees or beneficiaries, everyone wants a piece of it. Quite simply, it makes much more sense to study these issues in a place where you face them head on, rather than study them in class at AU and go to Europe, where most of these are irrelevant (not bashing my friends who took the Europe/ID route in SIS, they have their own reasons. These are just my thoughts).

Second, after living here for nearly two months, I don't think I would have gotten as much out of Europe. Yes, European languages and cultures are different but not on the same drastic level. Americans still experience similarities. Kenyans not only have a completely different understanding of life and much different realities, it's a place where you have to prove yourself. I had to make my bones with Nairobi. If you remember posts from the beginning, I was very frustrated: at being ripped off, hit on, groped, begged for money, stared at, etc, just because I was white. I had to learn not to take it personally, but to learn from it. Since then, I've learned to put on a neutral face, made friends with Kenyans, learned more Kiswahili/Sheng/cultural idioms/Kenyan English, and developed more of a sense of humor. I don't seem as much like a clueless tourist who doesn't know what she's doing. Rather, I have more confidence in myself than I ever did in my entire life and I've started to see beauty in the culture and the people. I've also humbled quite a bit, realizing that I'm going to make mistakes, handle things wrongly, and accidentally offend people. It's up to me to learn from it, apologize when needed, laugh at myself, and move on.

Nairobi has a certain raw beauty to it. I liken it to Bruce's "Thunder Road," when he croons, "You ain't a beauty but hey you're all right!" No, his girl isn't the beauty you find in magazines or on billboards, just like Nairobi isn't Rome. At the same time, Bruce compares Mary to a vision as her dress sways. Likewise, Nairobi has a quality and charm to it you can't find in Europe. Whether it's the purple jacarandas and green palms alongside dirt roads and big buildings, people walking in their suits and high heels as matatu touts are screaming, "Mbao! Mbao! Mbao! Kariobangi!" (Mbao is Sheng for 20 shillings, comes from the British pound and Kariobangi is a slum in Nairobi, near where I work), the mix of Swahili, English and Sheng and the smell of smoke, samosas and sausages, it's got something. No, Kenya is not Italy. It's not France. I wouldn't want it to be. It's Kenya. It's different, it's beautiful, and it's special.

I hope poverty and politics improve here and that these determined people I know can find solutions to their situations. At the same time, there are some things I wouldn't have any other way. I feel like I've been through a lot. I wouldn't change a thing. People think I've gone to teach people. No. They've all taught me more than I could ever hope to learn in a lifetime. For this, I am filled with gratitude.

Asante sana, Kenya :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Poverty Isn't Romantic

I don't understand how so many people in International Development (myself included for awhile) have come away with the idea that poverty is so romantic. Every discussion I heard was, "Well Americans (especially along either coast) have the money but these people (in developing countries) are so happy and value life so much more! Their lives are so uncomplicated!" Um, really?

First of all, most Kenyans I have spoken with lament that they have not the money to come to the U.S. I've spoken with teachers, secondary school students, leaders of youth groups, and others, many of whom are wonderful, joyous, lovely people. At the same time, they want the opportunities the U.S. has. From my conversations with coworkers at a restaurant back in the States, even a dishwasher making less than minimum wage can make more money in a day than they'll see in a month in their home countries. This is money they can send to families, save for a house (hey, the ones I know are extremely frugal and there are those who have done it, even on low wages), send for loved ones, etc. They can send their kids to school for free and not have to buy uniforms or books. They'll have more access to things such as running water, a functioning toilet, electricity, food. They know that Americans have a relatively stable political system. Yes, they want it too.

There's nothing romantic about extreme poverty. Nothing romantic about having your child die in your arms because you can't afford the hospital. There's nothing romantic about having your parents oust you and completion of your education denied to you because you found out you were pregnant at thirteen. There's nothing romantic about having to drop out of school because your family can no longer afford school fees. There's nothing romantic about living in your own muck because there's no sanitation. There's nothing romantic about having to live in illegal housing because you can't afford to live anywhere else. There's nothing romantic about having to take care of relatives with serious maladies because the water's dirty.

You know something? As lovely as many of the Kenyans I know are, their lives are not uncomplicated. "Value of life" is a relative term and I've seen fiercer levels of competition here than in the U.S. (considering that 66% of Nairobi lives on less than $1 a day, that's not highly inaccurate to believe). While we should not believe money is everything, it does help. It helps if you can gain steady employment to support yourself and your family. It helps if you can get sturdy housing with a functioning bathroom. It helps if you can afford nutritious food and feed your family. It helps if you can gain access to medical care and education. Having money, the basics, and some nice things does not make you a good or bad person. However, while man does not live on bread alone, man cannot live without bread. As much as these same people say they want to help, their attitudes about poverty give little incentive to end it.

I also wish to point out the hypocrisy of those who look down on "materialism." These same people are the ones who will gladly indulge on beautiful clothing and jewelry from Kenya, who love to have nice clothing back in the States, who would not care to live anywhere other than midtown Manhattan or near the Hill in Washington, who eat only at nice restaurants and look down on people who live in small towns and take their families to McDonald's. I'll admit, I do want to live in those places as well (though I'm content with living in the Bronx or in Northeast, if it was what I could afford)and I love me some good food and pretty clothes. But I'm a materialist and I can't pretend that I'm not. Yes, I want people in Kenya and in the U.S. to get jobs that enable them to support themselves and I believe their wage levels should be concurrent with their work. I want all children to be able to finish secondary school, without having to worry about school fees. I believe everyone should have access to health care and that insurance companies shouldn't act like oil companies. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with a little materialism. Not if it helps us improve our own lives and better the situation of others by providing them with employment and a market.

Ending poverty starts with the knowledge that poverty is not a good thing. If we keep acting like it is, many people will still experience social injustice every day. If we keep romanticizing the struggle, we will never help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and end it. By contributing to this attitude, we're denying people their dignity and their right to do everything to improve their situation. We rely on the hand out when we should be giving a hand up. People need not just money but a sustainable way of earning it. Yes, this involves competition and hard work. Who said they had to be intrinsic evils?

Piki-Pikis and an ounce of courage

I've spoken of matatus as a crazy Kenyan adventure. However, I don't think I've mentioned piki-pikis, also known as boda-bodas. Why? Because piki-piki is a Kiswahili word for motorcycle and I was afraid of never hearing the end of my riding on a motorcycle on unpredictable roads. As you can see, I've since gotten over my fear of chastisement because I am too much in love with the feeling of freedom.

Piki-pikis are often used to shuttle people from one place to another. I have taken them from the matatu stage (stop) on my way to USIU, not because I'm running late, but because they're fun. Same with my work at Alta'awon. Sometimes, I just want to ride to work. Each time, I feel a rush of adrenaline so exhilarating, I wonder why my body hasn't yet sprouted wings. In that moment, I am free.

Riding piki-pikis have taught me that, while I should use common sense, I cannot prevent life from happening. There are speed bumps, oncoming cars and pedestrians, rocks, dirt, and sometimes horrific accidents. At the same time, there is the feeling of the wind on your cheeks, the rush that comes with the speed of the wheels and the hum of the engine. There is that split second when everything stops and you're flying.

Embrace life. Don't live recklessly but live as if it's your only shot. Embrace the crazy opportunities that come, no matter how scary they sound. I'm not afraid of these guys on motorbikes. If anything, I'd rather die in a motorcycle crash while experiencing Kenya rather than live a long life only to find that I haven't gone anywhere or done anything. I don't look for death, mind you. I just don't let it stop me.

"My best friend gave me the best advice. He said today's a gift and not a given right." Funny, a friend has tried for years to impart this to me. My friend, with many others, should know that I'm finally taking it.

On another note, my extreme apologies for the lack of pictures. My Internet's been shady. I will put some up in good time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I went to lunch at one of the teacher's houses today. She is a lovely woman and an amazing cook. She made pilau, a rice and meat delicacy that's become one of my favorites. Afterward, I went with a friend to a music event at a local Catholic church. The event was awesome, the music was great and I felt like I was really connecting with people. However, I realized something today. I am stingy.

A couple people kept asking to borrow my pen. I would lend it but always ask for it back........not so much because I thought people would steal but because I have a tendency to leave things behind (scatter-brained, absent minded person that I am) and I'm really paranoid about losing things. However, I realized the messages my reluctance conveyed: that I'm cheap, stingy, selfish and distrustful. In the end, I freely gave it, simply because I realized the mistake of my attitude.

It did make me think about something. Here in Kenya, yes, people do ask for money. Yes, we all have been ripped off at the market place. Yes, Nairobi has nicknames like Nairobbery. At the same time, that doesn't begin to convey the truth I have found here, in that most Kenyans I know are disarmingly generous. Children who had nothing and were trying to sell jewelry gave me one for free as a gift, without expecting me to purchase anything in return. A lady I work with cooked me the most delicious lunch and consistently shares everything she has with me. People here have given me time, food, gifts, and warm welcomes just for the fact that they are hospitable people. They trust me with everything, including their children (this one worries me a lot, actually. More later).

Who am I to hold back the smallest and most insignificant of my possessions?

I tend to keep up a wall when there's no reason for one. I hope this will always remind me that I don't need such heavy armor.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

So, what are you doing in Kenya?

Some of you may wonder exactly this. Here goes.

I take two classes through AU, at the office we have in my corner of Nairobi (Westlands). I take Elementary Kiswahili (also known as Swahili and the national language of Kenya. English is official) and Politics of Culture in Kenya. The former I've taken to pretty quickly, but I love languages (of course, this is the first non-Romance language I'm learning). The latter is intense and all encompassing. Politics of Culture in Kenya is meant for us to take a closer look at the issues of developmentItalic (as in, issues with informal settlements, past colonialism, government sector, interactions with people, and especially urban issues). At the same time, most of us have never been to Kenya before and our general knowledge is a bit lacking, so we're getting up to speed on Kenyan history and culture. This one is rigorous and I really enjoy it.

I also take classes at USIU. I take African Authors and Sustainable Resource Management. USIU is one of the best universities in Kenya (possibly East Africa but I'm rusty on that). The culture is very different here, as Kenyan education has a different set of standards. Our professors here are a bit taken aback by how much we question, though Kenyan students do too. However, Kenyan education tends to be more formal than American education and professors still wield the same authority that our high school teachers once did. I do love my African Authors class though. My professor is enjoyable and I really liked the book we're discussing this week (So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, read it if you get the chance).

Finally, I am completing an externship. More than an internship (which implies you're simply working for the organization), an externship requires that you look at it from an external, scholarly position. As in, you're analyzing this organization as a development organization. What works? What doesn't? What needs are they addressing? How successful have they been? For mine, I'm working at Al-Taawon, a Muslim organization located in Korogocho, a slum in Nairobi. Al-Taawon focuses on youth issues and hosts a school, a cyber cafe, and a brand new medical clinic. I'm working on their computer programs (ICT: Information, Communication, and Technology). I also volunteer with the kids there. I've made friends with Class 3 and Class 4 :)

So, that's my academic and professional life. I like the perspectives I get from each. The last one I find is strongly influencing career choices. More on that later.

Apologies and some thoughts

I realize that my post on helping the world may come off as a bit condescending. For that, I apologize. I understand that what I'm doing may confuse people a bit. I also have a huge tendency to underestimate everything about the things I do. So, forgive me for coming off as insensitive. I also apologize for not updating regularly. Now that I finally have good Internet and a routine, I'll make more of a habit of doing so.

OK, life in Nairobi. Nairobi's crazy! People are everywhere, but not like NYC everywhere. They're literally all over the streets (zigzagging through speeding cars is somewhat of an art form here). They're not afraid to get up in your face to get you to alight a matatu (take a minibus-matatus are basically fifteen passenger vans that are really loud, cheap, prevalent, and crazy) or in a taxi or in one of their shops. If you've been here a month and have not been hit by anything, you must have been St. Francis of Assisi in a past life. I won't go into all that I've been through, so as to not dispense coronaries. At the same time, I love it. I'll admit, the matatus are my preferred form of transport (so long as the touts-that is, the conductors-don't hit on me or act like jerks). I love the loud music and the general atmosphere. I'll admit, American public transport will make me cry when I come home. Why does it have to be so boring?

One thing I'm not used to: getting hit on a LOT. I had heard rumors from friends that this happens to wazungu (that is, white) women. Men are extremely forward here, to the point where I've had to physically fight people off (don't worry, it's always in daylight, in a public space and I make enough of a scene so that they leave me alone). I don't want to give the impression that all Kenyan men are like this, because they're not. The ones I associate with are very respectful guys. However, whiteness is perceived to be a good thing the point where your money or (if you're a woman and I'm going to be blunt here) your body are coveted. I will say that I don't tolerate it. Not because I believe I'm making a stand for women, nor do I believe men are pigs. I just don't tolerate it. If you're going to approach me, do it respectfully. I don't care about your race or culture, that gives you no permission to be inappropriate. I believe men are humans, not animals. Thus, I expect them to act like it. And, if you're touching me in a way I deem is unacceptable, I'm going to backhand you. Don't like it? Don't touch me. Mom always told me to keep my hands to myself.

You do have to be a bit abrasive at times. If you're too nice, people do find a way to use it to their advantage. I do find that people respect you more if you're blunt and you stand up for yourself. I am glad for that because that has been a past weakness of mine. Of course, I've made mistakes in the other extreme and taken things too personally. I am working on that. I will find the balance. However, I like that I'm finally developing that strength. It's very liberating.

I do love Nairobi. It's raw and edgy but there is something that pulls you to it. The energy excites me and, despite from previously mentioned characters, I do like the people a lot. It's a unique city and for that, it will always hold my heart.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


One question I hate is, “What will you EAT in Africa?” I understand if it’s asked in the way of, “Italians eat this, Chinese people eat this, what do Kenyans eat?” Unfortunately, people ask it with the impression that all of Africa is starving. I understand that, when it comes to the biggest continent in the world, people hear mostly about corruption, starvation, poverty, and ethnic violence. However, I’m here to say that this is not the case for everyone. When Kenyans feed you, they feed you. You can get a feast for under $2. Seriously, I can get a plate of rice, beans, and beef stew for about that much with at most a dollar extra for a bottle of either water or soda. Yes, there are people who go hungry (60% of the city just lives barely over $1 a day, if that, I’m afraid ). I can assure you that the wealthy American students are not included in those numbers.

OK, Katie, thanks for the update. Now, what do Kenyans eat? Lots of French fries. Chips are included with mostly everything (yes, I am using British terminology here). They are at least on the menu. Most places sell sandwiches, burgers, tacos (which aren’t bad, they do make decent guacamole here. I can get better avocados than in the States), pizza, pretty much fare you’d find in the U.S. Of course, there are quite a few local delicacies here. Matoke is boiled bananas and potatoes in some kind of sauce (can’t really recall what kind). Ndengu is crushed lentils mixed with spices and some other things and is absolutely delicious on chipati (a bread similar to Indian naan or Neapolitan pizza crust, but very thin and fried). Ugali is corn meal porridge with the consistency of polenta, just white instead of yellow. It will fill you up like nothing else. Pilau is a mixture of rice and beans and meat. I haven’t had it yet, but friends have. Kachambari is basically pico de gallo (chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro). Nyama choma is basically barbecue. They eat a lot of chicken, beef, goat, some fish, and pork. Seriously, we came on this trip with about six vegetarians. I think only three have held out in the week we’ve been here. In addition, you can get bananas, mangoes, passion fruit, papayas, avocados and a variety of other foods for much cheaper prices, because they’re local. I expect to not fit my clothes by the time we leave.

What to drink? Chai  Chai is actually the Kiswahili word for tea. Yes, they boil milk and water together and steep some black tea. They add real sugar (real as in, unprocessed). Chai masala is tea with spices. It’s incredible. Coffee also exists here (so you all LIED to me  :D :P). Fruit juice comes in all the fruits that I mentioned and it’s all NATURAL!!! It tastes so much better. For alcohol, I haven’t had that much yet (they paid for our meals the first week but if you wanted alcohol, you had to pay and I didn’t have cash till Thursday), but I have tried Tej, which is Ethiopian honey wine. That one, I’m a bit skeptical on but it seems to be an acquired taste. Personally, I think it’s too sweet. I want to try Tusker, which is the local beer. People said it tastes like Stella, which I don’t mind.

One thing I love about the food here is that it’s very natural. The idea of putting a bunch of chemicals in meat is foreign to Kenyans (though sadly it’s changing, at least with the chickens). It’s actually cheaper to buy food that’s not full of chemicals here. I understand, you’d have preservative issues, but if you prepare it right, they’d go away. Personally, I’m outraged that, in the U.S., that type of thing is a privilege. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten better than I have this week. What’s sad is that so many people (just in Nairobi alone) don’t have access. That’s what pisses me off.

Helping the World? Or Imperialism?

I get very uncomfortable when people tell me I’m going to “help the world” or how great of a person I am for daring to go to Africa. To me, that amounts to telling me that I’m going to “save the pagan babies” or that I, as an inexperienced twenty-one year old, have so much to teach Kenyans who are old enough to be my parents. Honestly, I find that arrogant. I do not think it does any good to come to any developing nation with that attitude. I think we all need to improve our communities and learn from each other. I think we all need to be good to each other. At the same time, we have no business putting ourselves into the role of Messiah.

I find that these sentiments come with the assumption that all Africans, all non-Western people, and all who live in poverty are children that need to depend on our enlightened ways to save them. I find that they neglect the positive changes coming to places like Kibera (Nairobi’s largest informal settlement), the people’s innovation and work to improve their communities (for example, the creation of eco-toilets to solve problems of sanitation, waste disposal, and pollution), their own intelligence and drive to change the issues in their country. These sentiments neglect the presence of Kenyan intellectuals, activists, community leaders, and professionals. They also neglect the hearts of the people, who simply want to be treated with dignity.

Yes, Kenya has issues. Corruption is rampant, Nairobi’s pollution is more of a threat to the lungs than cigarette smoke, and over two thirds of the city alone lives in poverty worse than I’ve seen in the States. However, to act like the Western kids need to save the Kenyans is to make the Kenyans dependent on us. These problems will never be solved until the Kenyans themselves rise up to demand change. Some of that is already happening. It’s a wonderful thing to see.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Now, for Round 2......

I made it to London!!! Even more, I made it through security :D Funny, this is only my second time flying. Funnier, I've only ever flown internationally and I managed to get spoiled both times (what can I say? The Swiss and the Brits take care of you!). I do have to say, I love flying. I have not yet found anything more exhilirating.

For some reason, I've never feared flying. Maybe I'm just lucky and happen to have good flights, maybe I just had to get over it (knowing I had to cross the ocean somehow), maybe I just have a sense of adventure, but I've never felt frightened by the prospect of flying. In all honesty, I love it. I love take off, I love landing and, dare I say, I find turbulence to be quite the adrenaline fix (who needs caffeine after THAT?). It just amazes me that we have created something that allows us to stay seven miles above the ground without completely disintegrating. Sometimes, it's like sailing in the arms of God.

I tend to find this attitude manifesting in other areas of my life. I've never been one to run from adventure in favor of the predictable. Quite the opposite, actually. I believe we should all take chances at what we want, despite how the rest of the world thinks we should feel about them. If I had listened to the rest of the world, I would not be en route to Kenya, now would I?

Halfway there.........It's never felt so incredible. It feels good to be alive.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Days...........and I have no clue.....

So, I have about 46.5 hours till I fly (but who's counting, right?). You know what I just realized? I have no clue at all what's happening when I land...or even in between, for that matter. I, Ms. Regimented, Must-Plan-Every-Minute, have no idea what's going on. And for once, I don't seem to mind.

You see, I have only flown once. I flew to Europe on a guided tour three years ago. I didn't need to know what was going on. People told me where I needed to go, what to do, and I did it. Now, I'm flying solo, from NY to London, then maybe I'll meet up with some Kenya mates and fly out to Nairobi. Unlike Europe, I'll spend 18 hours total trying to get across the Earth's diameter. So just going from airport to airport will be an adventure.

I've also never had to apply for a visa. Of course, this time, I'll be going through customs with $50 in my hand to apply for it. I'll be going through customs by myself, which is a little intimidating. Then, I'll be meeting my country director, who will bring me back to my apartment, somehow......Did I mention I also have no idea who I'm rooming with?

Oh yeah, then we have orientation. Which "may be" out of the city. I have no idea where we're going, what we're doing, what's to be expected. I don't even know if I need to be on my malaria pills yet (oops............). Did I mention I have no idea what's going on?

This will be a good thing. If life was entirely planned, there'd be no adventure, no excitement, and no happiness. This is what Kenya is, it's an adventure. One I will enjoy every second of.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three Days and High School Memories

So, three days, two crises and a suitcase to go. Thankfully, technology crises have been averted, though I'm marveling at the truth of Murphy's Law in regard to life changes. Suitcase still needs to be packed but at least most of what I need is together. The truly important stuff (passport, visa money, traveler's medicine) is already packed and most of my clothes are at least out. Finally, a moment to reflect on some memories, namely the memories I have of traveling with my parish youth group in high school. I found that many of these experiences helped shape the path I have chosen. This is not meant to proselytize, but just some thoughts and experiences I've had.

When I was in high school, I was a very new Catholic, trying to find ways to implement my faith. I knew that service was at the core but I was not sure how to apply that. Our parish had been involved with Group Workcamp Foundations, an ecumenical Christian organization that provides opportunities for teenagers to get involved in service. What we did was we went as a parish to complete a project that could be finished within the span of a week. For example, we may be painting someone's house or building a wheelchair ramp. To accomplish this, we were placed in work crews of other teens from different churches, backgrounds, regions of the country, you name it. In addition, we were immersed in our faith. Prayer/praise and worship in both morning and evening, devotions at lunch, and, for all of us Catholics, Mass at least three times that week (not including Sunday, provided our priest came with us. Yeah, that was a lot of church ;-)). The point of the trip was not necessarily to completely restore a broken neighborhood, but to learn how our values and beliefs translated into action.

Despite the heavy immersion of our faith, we never proselytized. It was completely contrary to our values to force people to pray, even suggest conversion or make passing out Bibles as our primary mission. Really, more than our religion, more than construction, we were supposed to get to know people, to see them as nothing less than human beings like ourselves, despite the obstacles they faced in life, despite the presence of money or how readily they accepted us. That went for both our residents and our work crews. The point of the week was to open our eyes to people's realities, to come to new understandings, and to learn who we are outside of markers such as social status and privilege.

Looking back, I am eternally grateful for the three years I participated. Those lessons, experiences, memories, and emotions have remained with me in ways I could not begin to comprehend. As I examine issues of poverty, privilege, values (Christian or non-Christian, Global North vs. Global South), I will take these with me. I think we all need to constantly examine our motives and values, to realize what truly helps rather than make ourselves out to be saviors (and thus hurt more than help). The world is not the white man's burden, it is everyone's blessing and one all must fight for to see that it is truly cherished and valued. We have this common duty, this privilege. Let's take advantage of it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Foreign Aid-A Debate With the Doctor

OK, I didn't actually debate my doctor. There was no time. However, while vaccinating me, he noticed my copy of William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. I read this book for my International Development class, alongside Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, and found Easterly's arguments more compelling. He argues that, while foreign aid is a necessity, the West has been donating so much on an agenda that hasn't really proven beneficial to most of the developing world and has prevented a participatory approach for countries to solve their own problems.

Yet, a glance at the title prompted my doctor to ask me the following question.

"What burden?"

"Oh, just a critique on failures with foreign aid."

"You mean, the burden of saving people?"

His question gave me a moment of pause. Though my visit was quick and my doctor was all business, I got the sense that he was a deeply compassionate man who cared enough to make a difference. That's probably what prompted him to enter medical school and make health care his life. Yet I notice the argument constantly, that we need more aid, that we can save so many people from poverty if we just give more, that it's our nation's duty to give more in aid.

That's not Easterly's argument at all. While he is not against foreign aid in general (and, when asked, said he absolutely supported emergency aid to Haiti and other countries), he's finding that our policies with aid have pushed nations deeper into a cycle of poverty and dependence. For example, one policy the U.S. holds is that governments must use aid vouchers to purchase supplies from U.S. companies. While it may provide technology and food in the short run, this prevents countries from developing industries in those areas and keeps them dependent on coupons. Another example is the free bed nets for malaria. He said that what usually happened was they ended up on the black market or used as fishing nets and wedding veils. However, when sold at health clinics for modest prices in small villages and more expensive prices for richer folks in the cities, it assured that they would not only be used properly, but that they'd be in stock and that people could generate income for other needs. He said that we need to invest in A) simple, cheap preventative measures against widespread diseases, B) participatory measures that allow communities to prioritize needs, and C) investments in countries' markets rather than keeping them and their governments (benevolent and not) in a cycle of dependency reminiscent of colonialism.

I find myself agreeing with Easterly's premise, simply because it allows people to have a hand in their own destinies. I shouldn't be telling another country, "You have to spend money on this," rather, if a country asks for assistance, we should be asking, "What are the needs here?", "What do the people want?", "What actually works?" We need to keep in mind that money does not necessarily solve problems, that their are political, cultural, and historical contexts we need to keep in mind. Finally, we should not go in with the attempt to save people, building on a Messiah complex that has plagued the aid industry for so long. We should work on helping each other to build our own societies and design our destinies. Will it be a quick fix? Absolutely not. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will failures and mistakes happen? Yes, but we're all human and we learn through trial and error. All I know is that the parent-child model of foreign aid has to stop if we hope to make any progress. To me, that's development.

I do wonder how Kenya will impact my views on this. What does "development" look like? What does aid look like? How does it help or hinder the country's progress? Where do I fit in among this debate?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Adventures to the Travel Clinic

I am pleased to announce that, as of today, I am vaccinated against yellow fever and polio and will be completely vaccinated against typhoid fever by the end of next week (oral vaccine, which is currently hanging out in my refrigerator). In addition, I received the second shot in a chicken pox series, the first in a Hep A series, and a DPT booster a couple weeks ago and picked up prescriptions for Cipro (antibiotic for traveler's diarrhea) and Malarone (anti-malarial prophylaxis).

It was a quick visit, just a brief consultation in the doctor's office where he looked up requirements and administered the vaccines. He gave me basic precautions and prescriptions, told me what to look out for, and affirmed my desire to travel (he emigrated to America at a time when young people had no idea about the rest of the world).

I'm so stoked. It's even more real, more than the ticket. $350 for shots and preventative medications. $350 toward an investment for the rest of my life. It's crazy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Interfaith Issues in Kenya

As a practicing Catholic, I found it interesting that Kenya had as high a percentage of Catholics as it does. According to CIA World Factbook, 33% of the people are Catholic, eight percent higher than in the U.S. In addition, 45% of people identify as Protestant (mostly Anglican, due to British influence), leading to an overwhelming Christian majority. CIA World Factbook also mentions a 10% Muslim minority, with a disclaimer that these numbers can be disputed. I didn't think much about that last statistic until I read this article here.

The article in question talks about a proposition that would ban sharia courts from Kenya. For those who do not know, sharia is the legal system adherents of Islam follow. When implemented within a national framework, Muslims will handle legal disputes within their own communities rather than through a secular court system (unless, of course, the secular courts are under sharia law). In Kenya, these courts are protected by the constitution and only apply to the Muslim communities. However, this vote would overturn that ruling, stating that sharia law has no place in a secular nation like Kenya. This proposition is backed by many Christian groups in both Kenya and the U.S., groups that see Islam as a violent faith in opposition to their own.

While I believe religious courts of any kind should be accountable to the State in order to ensure basic human rights protections, I also find it appalling that self-proclaimed Christians would use this as an excuse to persecute people for believing differently. For a religion founded specifically to stand for the rights of the poor and oppressed (of which Muslims in Kenya are), this is astounding. In addition, as someone who supports human rights, I believe people should have the right to choose how to run their own communities, how to resolve disputes between members of these communities, and how to implement practice of their faith in their lives. In my opinion, with regard to certain aspects of sharia law (Muslim marriage, divorce, etc), the Kenyan government, as a secular nation, has no business interfering.

It also enrages me that Christian groups in the U.S. have been fueling the fire of persecution in African politics (such as Uganda's homosexuality ruling or this recent tension in Kenya). To me, this is another facet of Western imperialism, just like our aid politics, our trade decisions, and our governmental inference. Rather than showing genuine Christian concern for the plight of different peoples (domestic and international), these groups are using Jesus as a puppet to spew their own personal agenda, one of domination and subjugation. The fact that someone twists the God I claim to follow, one who teaches compassion, mercy, and equality, makes me hurt for the people affected by this.

I hope and pray these disputes are resolved in a peaceful manner. I pray that the tension is reversed and that people can learn to live peacefully, Christian and Muslim. I also hope that people can realize the impact of their actions, whether globally, politically, or economically. To me, this is proof that we have a much larger impact than we realize. Let it be a good one.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Embracing the Unexpected

Six months ago (nearly to the day), I was with a group of dear friends, about to ring in the new year in New York City. I had a wonderful time, sipping sangria and tasting tapas with these amazing people, at a Spanish restaurant on 10th Avenue. We spent the night at one of their houses and went back into the city the next morning. During the drive back, everyone was talking about their trips to Africa (they all did the program I am doing and two ended up returning to the continent). I commented that I was the only one in our group who had not been and had no plans to be there any time soon.

Ha. Ha. HA! Yes, that was God laughing. What was it? Man plans, God laughs?

I did not expect to be planning a trip to Kenya a mere three weeks later.

To be perfectly honest, Kenya tugged at my heart for six months before I truly began to listen. However, I didn't because it didn't fit with The Plan. I planned to be done with school by this coming December. I planned to go to Mexico for the summer, to take advanced Spanish classes and immerse myself in Mexican culture. My academic career had not even included Africa. I had taken classes on Latin America, Europe, Spanish, and Italian. The closest class I had taken was a class on Islam (which is like taking a class on Catholicism to count for studying the Philippines). I also had finances to consider. After all, in addition to keeping me in school for a semester longer, I had program fees, a plane ticket, expensive shots and medications, and food to consider.

Yet, when I started school again, Kenya became more insistent. It just kept coming up, in classes, in conversations, in readings, in prayer, and in thoughts. I felt pursued, captured, sucked in, as if I had seen a beautiful person and needed to find why they captivated me so. Three weeks later, in a conversation with a fellow student, she mentioned how she intended to study in Nairobi. She was the one who gave me the final push (not to be confused with Sachs' Big Push, for all the ID geeks reading this ;-)), the push to not only acknowledge my burning desire, but to do something about it. A conversation with my mother encouraged me to take the plunge.

Throughout this process, I've learned to embrace the unexpected. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to go to Africa before I finished college. At the same time, I never expected to find such determination inside of myself, the willingness to sacrifice so much for an adventure. I also never expected to have so many people support me, for no other reason than they truly wanted me to go. I never thought I'd be standing, on the brink of womanhood, on the edge of my academic career, with an adventure in Africa to look forward to. Nor did I expect to be as humbled as I am already, with so many turning out, ready to help me make this a possibility.

To be quite frank, I have no clue what to expect in Kenya. Yes, I know what classes I'll be taking. I know the basic facts, thanks to State Department, the CIA and the CDC. I've heard countless stories, from these same friends and others. I know people from Kenya who give their own encouragement and stories. I know what my program offers. At the same time, I really don't know anything. I don't know how this experience will change me. I don't know how my perceptions of Kenya will change. I don't know how my path will change, how my thoughts on my field work will change. I don't know how my relationships with other people (including these three) will change. I don't know how my thoughts on my own culture, country and national/ethnic identities will change. I don't know how my faith will change.

At the same time, I see this as a chance to plunge into the unknown, to tear down my ego and need for control so that I can enjoy the spontaneous adventures. I see this as the opportunity to allow my brain to learn something new and be receptive to loving people in a different way. I see this as the path that leads me to new paths, to new ways of life and new forms of thought. I see this as the chance to truly grow in ways only an African adventure can allow you to grow. Finally, I see this as the chance for my soul to finally breathe.

Life's challenges are about embracing the unexpected. This entire process has helped me to do just that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Official

I got the ticket. I fly out of JFK at the end of August.

I'M GOING!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ethnic Identity

Another issue that's been coming up in my Kenya studies is ethnic identity. Funny, we've embraced the idea of the "nation-state" (the idea that a governing, geopolitical boundary (the state) encompasses one single people with a common heritage, history, and destiny (the nation)) so much, we've made assumptions about the people. The truth is, Kenya is a State that houses many nations. With forty different groups, languages, and ways of life, as well as the outside influence of colonialism and global society, there is no one way to be Kenyan. What's interesting is that we can say the same about America.

I've been finding this to be true for me. Ethnic and cultural studies have always fascinated me because, in some ways, I'm searching for my own culture. I've identified as Italian-American since I knew I had Italian ancestry, but I had no idea what that meant at the age of eight. All I knew was that A) my paternal grandfather was a Florentine and B) I liked pizza. Unlike most of my Italian-American friends, I didn't grow up with it. Like my Catholicism, it was something I grew up around but chose to identify with as an adult, especially when I moved away for school and felt the need to figure out who I was, outside of my old neighborhood. I've gotten some strange reactions because I'm not full blooded Italian, not even half blooded. I'm a quarter and, while that may be enough for the Sons of Italy, it's had people raise eyebrows. I've also gotten the, "Well, you're American! No need to hyphenate!" and, "Why does searching for your roots matter so much?"

Searching for your roots matters because there's no more ancient identification than the bloodline. In Somalia, children know theirs by heart, tracing back through generations of their paternal lines. That was what told you (and those around you) what kind of family you came from, what traditions you practiced, what trades, talents, and personalities you were known for. Yet, sadly, for many of us in America, many of those stories and traditions were lost, whether due to colonization, assimilation, "sea changes" or other factors. Even today, we struggle with culture, as evidenced by the insistence of Anglo ways over Latino ways, the "necessity" for immigrants to "become American" by forgetting their traditions and choosing the dominant culture. From the Native Americans, to the Africans brought over as slaves, to the Southern and Eastern Europeans who came for opportunity, this expectation has remained. At the same time, there are countless people searching through genealogies, resurrecting stories/rituals/recipes, reclaiming old family names, wondering, "What does this mean to me?" "What is it, to be Irish-American/Lakota/African-American/Chinese-American?" "Which do I keep and which do I lose?"

What does it mean to be Kenyan? What does it mean to be Kenyan and Kikuyu? Luo? Masai? Luyha? Do they deal with these same issues? How do they resolve ethnic tensions? How is there situation different? How is it similar? How does it impact daily life? Finally, how does it impact the way we, as humans, as family members, and as participants in culture, see ourselves and each other?

I search for my roots as I go the continent that houses the roots of humanity............

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Music in Kenya

My friends will say that I am a musical person. I remember being three and able to identify the Chili Peppers on the radio. Or seven and being entranced by "Thunder Road" and turning on the radio late at night, just so I could listen to the Eagles (I want Hotel California, Hell Freezes Over edition, at my wedding reception. Just sayin'). When I was old enough for music lessons, I was always playing something. From sixth grade to college, I sang in my school chorus, church choirs, and, for my last two years of high school, I took voice lessons. In addition, I'm always listening to something and, when a song comes on the radio, I try and match rhythm with the correct time signature (is it 4/4 or 6/8?). My computer, cheekbones, wrists, and hips have all served as drums and metronomes and I can identify my favorite songs within the first bar.

Yet I never really allowed myself to become good at it. Every instrument I played, I never played longer than two years. At church, people always tell me I have such a beautiful voice and, when going to weddings and first communions at other parishes, someone will try and recruit me for their choir (luckily, my own parish won me over in that regard). At the same time, I've always let my fear get the best of me and thus never made Regionals or anything like that. I've also been very inconsistent with practice, something necessary. It wasn't until I inherited my brother's small guitar and went to a music room to find that I forgot every vocal warm up I'd ever learned that I realized I needed to change. So I signed myself up for music lessons this semester, as elective credits.

OK, Katie, you're addicted to music. What the hell does any of this have to do with Kenya?

It's through exploring my love for music, both creating and appreciating, that I've realized how universal music is. Every culture has their own musical tradition, their songs, their dances, their instruments, their musical structure, their chants and their rhythms. People relate to it and bond over it. Like any other work of beauty, it's something that channels through the soul and helps people overcome boundaries (yet can also be used to create them). Music evokes emotions, tells stories, and allows the expression of ideas in ways that words cannot begin to suffice. Most teens will tell you it is their companion, even when it feels like no one else is.

Music can also be used in IR. A friend of mine, studying in Cairo, is a music major with an interest in the Middle East and peace and conflict. I can see her hosting a music camp for Israeli and Palestinian children, teaching them how to work together to create something beautiful. U2 uses their music to make others aware of social injustices. In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author talks about how his girlfriend taught women in Kiribati environmentally friendly agriculture techniques via their own song and dance. Encouraging musicians from different cultures and styles to share their creations could be a way to draw in tourism, educate others, bolster economies, and enable groups to preserve their traditions.

I want to learn of the music in Kenya. I want to learn not only who's popular, what instruments are used, what songs, but how it's used, what kinds for which times, how it's composed. I want to learn what the Kenyans have to teach me about music, how we're united by it, even as we're divided by it. Finally, I want to learn how to channel this medium, this hobby, this gift of mine, in a practical way to fulfilling my duty to this planet.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


In addition to applying for (and receiving) a scholarship, cooking paella and sending letters requesting donations, I've also made a Facebook event, mentioning my time frame (hoping to have money at least for vaccines and airfare by the first of July), my address and facts about my semester. I'll admit, I don't always pay attention to the groups on Facebook or the mass emails people typically send. At the same time, I figured that it was worth a shot. I know that I need to reach everyone possible. I really want to go. I need money. I need to do all I can (morally) in order to raise it.

I'll admit, I've had issues asking for money. I don't want to seem like I'm bumming off people, mooching their support. I don't want to be the kind who asks for money, especially considering that I have a job and I should be grateful for the money I do make, given this economy. I don't want to ask for one more sacrifice from people who may already be struggling, whether to cut extras or to keep a roof over their heads.

At the same time, I realize that it is an act of humility. In essence, I'm telling people, "I can't do this without you. I need your support. Whether it's financial or emotional, it doesn't matter! Just let me know you're on my side, one way or another!" Of course, this includes thanking them, not just by words, but by action, and using the money they do send responsibly, carefully earmarking it for Kenya. This includes making the most of this experience, knowing that this is an investment. Finally, it means accepting that we were meant to help each other, that, as much as we are obligated to help, we must enable others to help us and give them a chance to do something good (of course, this does not mean taking advantage of them).

We were put on this earth to aid each other, to make our own unique contributions and aid others in making theirs. Funny how a business-oriented act can become so philosophical.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Class......

Funny, I never mentioned the class that spurred me to go. Truly, I have wanted to go to Kenya since I was little and had been seriously considering it since last summer (first vocalizing it in a conversation with a dear family friend). Yet, a couple things were standing in my way. Money was one (and my resulting desire to graduate a semester early). The second was my belief that, because I had taken Spanish, I should go somewhere in Latin America or Europe. I kept these things in mind until I took International Environmental Politics.

I credit this as the class that changed my life. All of my beliefs and passions in food security, human rights, female/indigenous rights, corporate responsibility, good governance, fiscal and consumer responsibility, fertility awareness and consistent pro-life ethics seemed to be rooted in care and concern for the planet. In addition to indicting me on my unsustainable habits, this class also provided a semester long country case study. Before I knew it, I signed up for Kenya.

The two girls I studied with are amazing, compassionate, intelligent women committed to making a difference. As it turned out, one of them mentioned that she would be studying in Nairobi this fall. I finally realized that I needed to go. I said that I had a year left and I really wanted to make the most of it. She said to me, "Girl, if it's what you want, do it!" I had no idea how I would make this work but, from that point on, I was committed.

As we learned of Kenya's environmental issues, many symptomatic of an unscrupulous government and desperate poverty, leaving people with little options, I felt the need to get my hands dirty. What does lack of sanitation look like? What is it like to have to either purify my own water (carelessness being fatal) or having to buy bottled (knowing some issues with privatized water, in addition to possibly not having the option to recycle)? What does the wilderness in Kenya look like and how is it being impacted? How are the lifestyles of Americans affecting the lifestyles of Kenyans, for good or for ill? Finally, knowing that Kenya is a strategic security point and anti-terrorist ally, how does our foreign policy contribute to either problems or solutions to Kenya's development?

How can we all, rich and poor, black and white, Global North and Global South, come together to truly make this world a better place? How can we learn to put agendas aside and learn to help each other, to help this planet? This is what I'm hoping to learn this fall.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I'm not departing yet. AU makes us go to a meeting to learn basic logistics of the program. I promise, dear readers, I will not bore you too much with these details.

Bottom line: Yellow fever is my only legally required shot but, considering Kenya has horrible water, I should get a typhoid shot. AU has had to evacuate students who've contracted typhoid so I'm going to get the shot (in addition to bringing my boiling pot, a Brita filter, and my stainless steel water bottles). I am going to take malaria pills so that I can travel and not worry. I also may get a rabies shot, considering the dogs aren't friendly and people hawk kittens in the streets. I don't intend to touch any animals, but I just want to be careful, in case any decide to go renegade.

I do need medical evacuation insurance, as well as repatriation of remains insurance. This is only a precaution. Kenya is very safe, as long as you're smart about your health and personal security (really, that's anywhere, developed and developing). If there is any political strife, it doesn't affect Westerners too much (more to do with in-country ethnic issues and corruption). However, it was a grim reminder that, even with my youth, strength, and health (considering how much work I do, I have been blessed with strength and stamina), I am still mortal. Of course, as a Catholic, this has spiritual dimensions for me and reminded me that I will need to go to Confession before I get on the plane (I always go to Confession before a long trip, but that's just me).

I did find out that my program fee is $3000, not $5000 and I did receive $1000 in scholarship funds, in addition to my own savings and generous donations from friends and family. My mom says it means I truly am meant to go. Doors are opening.

I'm feeling so much all at once. I know this trip is going to change me. I can't believe I'm one step closer. I can't believe all I really need to do is register, send my resume to an internship organization, get my shots, my credit card, my ticket and go. It's the end of the semester. Summer is going to fly. Then, I shall spread my own wings.

So close.......

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I know I haven't been up to date, but finals are upon us. I have been preparing outlines for final papers, studying for tests, and taking care of other business. There has also been little to report. I have my pre-departure meeting this Monday, to go over basics for the trip.

I've been thinking about Development, about economics (my minor), about how it relates to Kenya and I've been getting philosophical. I've been thinking about how this relates to my faith, my belief in a loving and merciful God (while people can be unjust, unloving, and unmerciful) and where I fit into all of this. What all these economists and politicians are saying and who's actually right, who has authority to say these. What is right vs. what is popular or convenient.

It all makes me cry. I never thought school would have me cry. I never thought I'd throw books against the wall. I never thought I'd have emotional debates with friends and spiritual leaders over numbers and statistics. I never thought politics would have an emotional, spiritual side to them. I never thought I'd have to stand for and defend my major, my desired profession, and my dreams to people who honestly don't get it.

I entered ID because I wanted to help people. I still do. My faith commands it and I find this field is my outlet. I wanted to change the world and make a difference. I want to change myself, to become more appreciative, kinder, more aware of the world, less selfish, less prejudiced, and less rude. I want to grow in my faith and bring new perspectives into my life.

I want to learn why I fight for this so much.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mounds of Paperwork

Studying abroad demands mounds of paperwork. After completing my deposit, the study abroad office fixed my online portal so that I can now access pre-departure materials. I read through a good amount of them last night and I'm amazed at the amount of tasks I have to accomplish within the next four months. I have to take care of health insurance, apply for a visa, buy a plane ticket, see a tropical disease specialist, and do a variety of other things. I also have to register for classes at the U.S. International University, where I will be studying. I have to take Kenyan Politics and Culture as well as Elementary Kiswahili. I will be able to take two more classes in International Relations and complete an internship for credit.

I was surprised by some of the rules of the program. I am not allowed to leave East Africa (consisting of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi or Tanzania) and I'm required to let my director know about travel plans outside of field excursions. In addition, I am forbidden to travel on foot after dark and I have to sign a document saying I will abide by this. What a contrast! My friends who studied in Europe did not seem to have as much restriction. At the same time, I do understand that safety is paramount and my university cannot be liable if something should happen to me. Further, most of us taking part have never been to Kenya (or any developing nation, for that matter) and you have to learn the way of the land from someone who knows it. This is true, especially when you're living there for four months.

I find myself grateful for small things. I am glad that my mother bought me some knee-length skirts. In some of my documents, there were reminders for girls to keep modesty in mind and that, for some occasions, knee-length skirts are strongly recommended, if not required. Shorts are only for school boys in some areas and Kenyans take pride in their dress. Further, there are different gender expectations, so skirts for women are a necessity. However, there are exceptions for clubbing, a pastime for American and Kenyan students alike. I've only gone clubbing once and didn't particularly enjoy it. Maybe I'll find it fun over there?

I also found some of the rules obvious. I had to promise that I wouldn't drive a car in Kenya. First, where would I even gain access to a vehicle? Second, from living in one major city and within the bounds of another, I know not to drive a car in any major city. People are crazy! Third, I can't drive, period. As independent as I am, I am ashamed to say that I do not have a U.S. driver's license. Project to be completed after I return to the States.

I'll admit, I was disappointed to hear that I couldn't travel outside of East Africa. Not that I would mind staying in Kenya and getting to know the country as well as I can, with maybe a side trip to some of those other countries, but there is one exception. A dear friend of mine is getting married next week and they are leaving for Egypt very soon after (hubby is an armed services officer). I was hoping I'd be able to visit her in Egypt, but it seems like it's not meant to be. Hopefully, she can visit me in Kenya.

I am excited. I just have to get through the bureaucratic/financial aspect and finish this semester well before I can get there.

My countdown begins:)