Thursday, November 29, 2007

October 30, 2007

Today was our last day in Mombasa. We left for Nairobi, where we checked into the The Stanley Hotel. The first hour or so was hectic. Jennifer, Mama E and BJ had already been through Nairobi on the way to Mombasa, and most of their luggage was at the travel agency, which was just around the corner from the hotel. They had to leave it there because domestic flights in Kenya has maximum allowed baggage weight of 20kg (45 lbs). While they got luggage, I went to the room. It’s a good thing that we arrived at the Stanley during the daylight hours, I spent the five or so minutes I was in the room alone flipping the switches up and down, too embarrassed to call the front desk to ask how to turn on the light. BJ finally arrived and told me how it worked – there was a slot next to the light switches for the room key – that’s what powered the electricity in the room. As I mentioned earlier, Kenya is very eco-conscious. Not only does the key operated light prevent hotel patrons from leaving the lights on when out of the room, but the Stanley, like the hotel where BJ, Mama E and Jennifer stayed in the Mara was solar powered. Therefore, between midnight-4am, the electricity was turned off – key activation or no. Anyway, once we settled in the room, we went back to the lobby.
Mama E has been coming to Kenya since 1985, and Jennifer and BJ almost as long. In one of their early visits they met then small children Serah, Keith and Jean, who are now all in their late twenties. After an excited reunion, Serah and Keith took BJ and me down to the Maasai market, a weekly outdoor market about four blocks from the hotel. The market was absolutely insane – packed with tourists, no walkway, and people coming from all directions trying to sell any and everything. We probably walked a total of one city block in about an hour, but were completely worn out at the end. After sitting to relax for a few minutes, Mama E joined us at the market. I then did a second tour – walking with Mama E in a failed attempt to find anklets to take back home as gifts. We spent most of the rest of the day chatting in the lobby; Jean talked about her three children, Keith taught me a few phrases in Samburu. October 30th is my sister’s birthday, so I took minute to call her (left a message – school wasn’t out yet). Later, Jennifer, who was out visiting a friend, joined us in the lobby so we could all say goodbye. She flew back to Houston that evening.
Even though the Stanley is part of the same chain as the Whitesands, dinner wasn’t included with the price of the room. The buffet was $23USD! Ouch!

* In Mombasa, we were way out in the sticks. The resorts are safe but the city is not. Nairobi is a large city (the capitol) and easy to walk around. Obviously you have to exercise caution, but there is no need to be completely reliant on a driver.
*Improve your vocabulary, change the world.


Mama E and Said say goodbye

Mama E and Said say goodbye

Leaving Mombasa

Leaving Mombasa

On the way from the Nairobi airport into town

On the way from the Nairobi airport into down. Just a random building.

Hello Moto


Downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi

Keith, BJ and Serah

Keith, BJ and Serah resting after braving the market

Keith and Serah near Maasai Market

Monday, November 26, 2007

October 29, 2007

Said, Mama E and I spent about three hours cruising around Mombasa trying to find a converter. We worked our way from one end of downtown to the others, and most store owners told us to go to Top Time Electronics. When we finally arrived there, I showed the store clerk the broken converter, and asked if he had one that converted American electronics to Kenyan ones. He barely looked at me, rolled his eyes and said no.
I returned to the hotel, with serious trepidation about telling Jennifer that I had come up empty; she had a paper due the next day. When I got back to the room, she was about to call Top Time, but I told her not to waste her minutes; I was just there and they didn’t have one. She insisted on calling the store, and after about five minutes, explaining what she needed, the owner said they had a one. I interrupted her and said I showed them the converter in person – there wasn’t one there. She double checked with the owner, who put her on hold to talk to the clerk. The owner told her the clerk told me that he told me the converter was there, and that he thought I was “confused.” I was livid. Jennifer insisted on going with Said to pick up the converter herself – I wanted to go to cuss out talk to the clerk myself.
Anyway, I relaxed on the balcony while Jennifer was gone, and, after seeing “Do not feed the monkeys” signs all over the hotel grounds, I finally saw a troop of monkeys jumping from tree to tree right outside of my room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera out.

That’s it. We otherwise didn’t do anything that day.

*Aforementioned clerk at Top Time was behind security bars with his back turned to the door. All merchandise was behind the bars as well. In short, he would have to get the converter himself. Since the boss wasn’t around, he had no intention of working. Fine, but don’t go lying on me.


Throughout our stay in Mombasa, no matter the ragged/desolate/"Christian Children's Fund" condition of the villages we drove past, they all had spas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

October 28, 2007

Today was a fun day. Joyce invited Mama E and me to her house for afternoon tea. There we met her husband, her daughter Evelyn, and two of her husband’s friends who “wanted to see the Americans.” We had a great time – Evelyn’s a sweet and very quiet girl and Joyce is an excellent cook. Joyce was also kind enough to give farewell gifts to the entire traveling party.

We wouldn’t visit the YWCA again, so I left Joyce most of the clothes that I had brought to Kenya to donate to the Y, as well as the items I bought for the Enlightened Support Group. Even though Joyce lives in the outskirts of Mombasa, she came with us downtown to help me with my last bit of shopping. I had told her the day before that I loved the dress she had on and wondered where to buy fabric. The only place she knew of was in a “locals only” market (i.e. too dangerous for foreigners), so I gave her $3000KSH to use her own discretion with what patters to buy.

To elaborate on the “dangerous for foreigners” part. Said parked in the alley near the store while Joyce shopped. I use the word “store” loosely. It was on a dirt side street straight out of a Christian Children’s Fund commercial. Actually the area was a thriving community of restaurants, shops and homes – just with tin roofs, tag board walls and no plumbing and, if any electricity, supplied by gasoline-powered generators. All of this floating in about one inch of dirty water and ankle deep trash. None of this is their fault; instead of paying to properly dump their waste at a landfill, many hotels and large businesses simply dump their trash for free in little shantytowns. Shame. (The constant dumping-in-communities issue was all over the local news – probably because it was nearing presidential elections.) After about 15 minutes, Joyce returned, with the perfect batch of fabric (I forgot what the Swahili word is for it.)

The other thing I was in town to shop for was a new converter to replace the one I broke. We looked all over town; however, it being Sunday, no one was open.


* In the shops, nothing has an actual price. Everything is determined by bargaining. Joyce said, “I was speaking all the Swahili I know.”

* Yet another photo on the road and self-photo.



In Joyce’s living room

Joyce's family

Joyce’s husband and two of his friends

Smile Joyce




Joyce’s 20-year-old daughter Evelyn


Delicious! I ate about half of that cake.

Joyce and Evelyn

We had to protect the food from flies

Mama E with Joyce and the family

With Joyce's family

I’m wearing the skirt Joyce gave me

Monday, November 19, 2007

October 27, 2007

When Jennifer spoke to Joyce, a YWCA director, to ask what we would be doing that day, she said we would be “meeting the people.” Since it was election season and the YWCA had had visits from foreign ambassadors, I dressed nicely. This would prove to be a mistake later.After picking up Joyce at the Y, we drove out to the Likoni Friends Church-Galana Project. Galana should be about a 2 hour drive from Mombasa – 1 hour on the freeway and 1 hour on dry riverbeds. The freeway drive was smooth. As we made the transition onto the riverbed we picked up two church members, and were followed to Galana by a taxi matatu. For about thirty minutes we thrashed about in the matatu driving through the rugged terrain. Then, a little less than halfway to the top, we got stuck in the mud. Enter my sartorial mistake: my skirt and wedges were not the best “push a four ton vehicle out of the mud” attire. Fortunately, the men in the matatu helped push us out. After about 20 minutes of pushing, we were free. About 10 minutes later, we were stuck again. This time we were free in about 15 minutes. Everyone except for Jennifer got back in, just before we had to speed through a shallow river. Jennifer was intrepid enough to cross it on foot, but rode the rest of the way up. The riverbed from there on was much smoother. When we arrived at the church, there were about a dozen chairs in the front. This was the only seating in the church – as the guests we were asked to sit, the 100 or so members of the congregation stood throughout the service – which lasted about an hour. The sermon was conducted in English (a courtesy us), but translated into Swahili. Jennifer, Mama E and I were invited up front to say a few words, and then the church collected offering. In this very impoverished area, everything was accepted as an offering, e.g. eggs. Joyce donated $1000 KSH (Kenyan Shillings, $65KSH = $1USD) to the church to buy a bench. Afterward, the church prepared food for us, which we politely declined (Joyce translated this for us. We didn’t because of food safety concerns, but she put this much more gently.) When the food was brought out for us, all of the church members left, I assumed to go on with their days, and only the senior church members stayed behind with us to eat.
When we went outside, the entire congregation was, in fact, standing patiently right outside the church. It turns out that the feast was for everyone, but the congregation was to eat after the clergy, and the children last.
As we prepared to leave Galana, Jennifer and Mama E talked to some of the church leaders and I took in the scenery. One thing I noticed was that there were no houses. Our first time getting stuck in the mud was directly in front of a house, and we passed a few on the way to the church. However, those were several miles away. When I mentioned that to one of the church staff members, Joyce (who had to translate) explained that Galana has no school or medical clinic, and that the people are scattered all over the country side, and no one close to anything. (I guess the American equivalent of Galana would be remote Alaska – only with better weather.)
We couldn’t stay long because the trip back was so long, and we had to err on the side of caution due to the treacherous roads. However, navigating the roads downhill proved easier than going uphill, and we got to the freeway uneventfully.
On the way back I made yet another stop at Nakumatt and bought a few things for the Enlightened Support Group.
We returned to the hotel so early I thought I’d go to the gym. That was until I realized it was as sanitary as your average latrine. Instead I went back to the room to download my photos off my camera. Unfortunately, when I tried to balance Jennifer’s converter (which weighed about two pounds) on the table so that it wouldn’t fall out of the socket, it – surprise – fell out the socket and broke. Jennifer needed the converter to juice her computer; she had missed a few of our outings studying for a course. Things did not bode well for the next couple days… (*cue horror music*)

* What to support the Likoni Friends Church?
Mailing Address: Community of Matuga Self Reliant Christians, PO Box 96583, Mombasa, Kenya
Bank Account: Likoni Friends Church-Galana Project, A/C No. 1101147600, Bank of India Mombasa Branch
* One of the congregants was holding a shopping bag from the bookstore at Lakewood Church - Mama E’s home church. It turns out he had worked in Houston.
* Speaking of the weather, since we were south of the Equator, it was late spring. It was actually about 65-70°F the entire time with sporadic rainbursts and wind. Both times I’ve been to Africa (Dakar, Senegal, Feb 1998), I’ve been on the coast and spared and brutal heat.


More photos

On the way to Galana

More of Likoni

More photos of town

Turning off the freeway to Galana

On the way to Galana. Self portrait

On the way to Galana. Self portrait.

Joyce on the way to Galana

Joyce on the way to Galana…

Mama E on the way to Galana

…and Mama E

The dry riverbed

The dry riverbed. In this blurry photo, you can’t appreciate how soft the clay looks.

Galana countryside 2

A view of the Galana country side, about three minutes before…

Jennifer stuck in the mud

…the first time we got stuck.

Galana countryside 1

A view from the first jam.

Stuck in the mud

Stuck in Galana

Waiting for backup.

Give us free!

Getting free.

Mama E after the breakdown

Mama E cheers us on.

The Galana Church 1

Inside the Likoni Friends Church – Galana Project

Preaching in Galana

The clergy. The man with his arm extended is holding the Lakewood bag.

children of Galana

the Galana congregation

Jennifer, Mama E and Joyce at Galana

Jennifer, Mama E and Joyce

the Galana children's choir 2

The children’s choir

the Galana children's choir 1

The dinner at Galana

The dinner

the Galana children's choir

Right after service

With the Galana congregation

Joyce, me and Mama E with the congregation

Outside the Likoni Friends Church - Galana Project

A child in the Galana countryside

The view from the top of Galana

Children and cattle in Galana

A cattle farm in Galana. The smoke in the background is land being burned to create farms.

Clergy, Mama E, church members and me

A church pastor, a church staff member, Mama E and me with church members.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

October 26, 2007

Today started slow and got...interesting. Said took Mama E and me to Nakumatt, where we bought our family T-shirts. Thinking my family would appreciate something a bit more authentic than a T-shirts (which, at least according to the tags, were made in Kenya. I’ve always found it funny buying souvenirs from Hawaii, Chicago or the French Quarter – all of which are made in China. I digress. And yes, punctuation police, I realize I’ve completely destroyed this sentence), I asked Said if there was a place where I could buy something that, unlike a T-shirt, could prove I had actually visited Kenya. He dropped me off at a market and told me to be out quickly. Here’s where things went awry. I walked in, saw nothing, and walked back out within two minutes, waiting for Said to pull up. And waited. And waited. And realized that we didn’t have a real plan. I figured he had to come back to where he dropped me off, but after 45 minutes or so, I happened to see a Whitesands matatu pull up at a bank. I hopped in and told the driver I was staying at Whitesands and asked him to bring me back. The driver, who obviously had friends at the hotel based on not only his inability to speak English but his barely grunting Swahili at the woman who actually hired him, finally relented when the woman insisted it was okay. (I offered to pay for the trip, she refused. I told her I’d tip the driver on her behalf even though he didn’t deserve it.) I got back to the room to find Jennifer on the phone with a hysterical Mama E. We all agreed not to split up again, then I headed to the YWCA for my AIDS presentation – a mere 2 hours late.

I knew I was supposed to be giving a talk on HIV/AIDS at the Y, but I didn’t know anything about who I would be speaking to. I learned it was the Enlightened Support Group – a support group for HIV positive mothers. I was a little disappointed that I was talking to a group that was HIV positive, since I was hoping that I could focus my talk on HIV prevention. Instead of giving a speech, I had a conversation with them, and here are a few things that I learned:

* Kenya requires all pregnant women get HIV tests
** Fortunately, one of the mothers was able to get a C–section because she found out her status during her pregnancy
** Another was not so fortunate, figuring out her status when her daughter became very sick.
* All HIV tests and drugs are free in Kenya
** Free ARVs don’t necessarily help everyone. Since many people are malnourished, they don’t take their medications because they need to be taken on a full stomach.
* Bottle feeding is acceptable
** I was curious because in some cultures bottle feeding is frowned upon
** The government does not supply free formula to mothers in Kenya. I bought formula at the Nakumatt afterward and it is very expensive.
* While domestic violence is illegal, men generally hold up the cases and they are very seldom prosecuted
* Desertion is common when wives reveal their HIV statuses to their husbands, but the village elders of one of the mothers forced him to take her back

I learned much more from the group than they taught me. Leah, their leader, is incredibly optimistic and driven, and determined to make the best world for herself and her sons. Her spirit is absolutely amazing. I was very inspired by all the mothers; the face that they were fearless about being open about their HIV positive status, and that they were not living as if they had been handed a death sentence. I gave them some seed money to open their own bank account so that they can do formal business. Since some of the women in the group are widows, they have dreams of starting businesses and finding other ways to support themselves.

After we left the Y we picked up BJ, who had spent the night at a convent down the road. We left just in time to miss the rain.

The night ended back at the hotel where it was soul food night. That’s right, American soul food. The banner above the buffet entrance read “Big Mama’s Kitchen.” Hilarity, once again, ensued.

* Eating Tex-Mex and soul food in Kenya is like eating Chinese food in America – inauthentic, but good nonetheless.
* One way that Leah is planning to become self sufficient is by getting her counseling certificate. There is a scholarship trust set up in her name at:
Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors, Branch-Nkrumah, A/C NO. 1249742, Bank-Barclays Bank. Swiftcode-BARCKENX.


The Enlightened support group 3

With the Enlightened Support Group

The Enlightened support group 2

Mama E with the Enlightened Support Group

The Enlightened support group 1

The Enlightened support group

With Leah, the group's leader

With Leah, the group’s leader

Mama E & The Enlightened support group

broken glass on the convent walls

Security outside the convent. Notice the broken glass on the top of the walls as added protection.

security at the convent

Said goes into the security gate

Sister Jennifer and BJ

Sister Jennifer and BJ

The convent

The convent

More of the view

The convent’s yard

outside of the convent

the view from the convent

The Indian Ocean

the convent courtyard

The courtyard. I’m not the best photographer.

BJ's bed

BJ’s room. About $20USD/night including meals

private sink

BJ's room

The inside of the convent

BJ and the sisters in the convent’s kitchen

I wish it were simpler to get a loan...

Amid the rundown buildings and beggars in downtown Mombasa, a billboard that reads, “I wish it was simpler to get a loan.” I found it ironic.

The unforgiving driveway grade

The ramp off the ferry dock. The grade so unforgiving I thought the undercarriage would rip out every time we got off the ferry.

The cargo dock at Likoni

The cargo dock

The Likoni Ferry Dock

The ferry

I couldn’t get this mosque photo to embed properly.