Africa Journal

The following are taken from email messages I sent home to family and friends while I was in Kenya. They don’t do justice to the wonderful conference, or meeting. And the don’t even touch on the incredible, amazing, audacious work of Nonviolent Peaceforce, but for those who have asked me to put something up about the trip…. here is something.

9/20/07

Hello Friends,I am emailing you from the airport.  Well… I got a bit of a late start on the trip. Or, more accurately an on time start.  Since I had picked up extra facilitation jobs, and wanted to be “fresh” for an early AM regional meeting I tried to change my flight to fly out 2 days earlier. Sayrah is arriving a day early and I also thought it would give us time to catch up as well as talk about best ways to represent MPT. Ha. It was a good theory. Apparently I am on “airport control” and while no one is able or willing to tell me exactly what that means it does mean I am not allowed to change any my ticket. And it seems to mean I get to dump my bags at every possible security check. Oh well… I’m on my way to AFRICA – I can hardly complain too much about anything.

9/?26//07

Hello friends,I am sorry not to be in touch sooner. I’m not sure what day it is, as is often the case at such an intense event they have all sort of blurred together. Anyhow, internet access is almost impossible from the conference. Not only are there only 2 computers for all 100+ conference participants, but they rarely work and when they do, they are sooooo slow. This is actually the first time I’ve been able to access yahoo. Last few times I tried it shut everything down.  And needless to say that did not go over well. 

Anyhow, it was another wonderful, exhausting, tearful and joyful day. I am here with some of the most amazing people I have ever hoped to meet. It has been wonderful to see NP friends from the IGC and even from the convening event in India 5ish years ago.   Sayrah and I have had the chance to hang out with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead MacGuire – she is not only an amazing speaker and great activist but an incredibly warm and personable woman. And (how cool is this?) she remembered MPT folks from Bi’lin.  We are also here with citizens of Burma. They are currently living in exile outside of Burma. I cannot begin to describe what it has been like to be here w/ them as we watch the events in Burma unfold:  The joy and hope and sadness and tragedy.  There is also a man here who is the only one I his family to survive the Rwandan genocide, and while his stories break my heart, his courage and tenacity, and unbelievable openness give me hope.  

A man from Uganda tells the story about a woman who gets up very very early and takes the only pot they have for many miles to collect water. She leaves her children alone and by the time she returns the sun is high in the sky… she has walked miles and she is hot and tired and thirsty. Her children have been waiting thirsty and they rush around her begging for her attention, and the water – scared and demanding. She lifts the heavy pot from her head, but there is no one there to help and at this most critical moment when she needs the help she drops the pot. The water spills on the ground and every drop is lost into the dry earth. And the pot – the only one and that which has allowed her family to get the water they need to survive is broken. He says – Uganda is that woman. We are at the most critical point. We need help to take the heavy pot from our heads. We are and weary and there is too much chance for it to drop. 

And, of course, there are the stories of resistance and hope both from NP’s “field team” and from so many around the world!  And these are just the conversations that happen during meal breaks and before bed! The speakers at the conference have been wonderful and have given lots to think about.  I cannot wait to share these stories when I return.  

I am also here w/ an extended family of baboons who help to ease the sadness and seriousness by climbing the on the roofs, sliding down the gutters, raiding the dumpster and yelling at me if my eagerness for a photo brings me too close; a couple of dogs who have clearly figured I am an easy mark for belly rubs and ear scratches, a cat or 2, and several wart-hogs – all who peacefully and easily share the grounds of the conference center w/ the staff and visitors. Well, mostly easily — I did hear a story from the kitchen staff about how the baboons will sometimes get into the kitchen. I am especially fascinated by the warthogs, or “wart-pigs” as the KCCT refer to them.  They almost pose for their photo to be taken. They get down on their knees to eat, and after chomping down on their fill they just flop over on the spot for a post-meal nap. And who knew they are so cute!

    

Conference and meeting sessions have been a mix of academic like papers on theory and best practice, stories from the field, and our business as member organizations and IGC reps — strategic planning, budgets, by-laws etc. The days are long and full, and for those of us with additional responsibilities as ICG they often start even earlier and go even later.  I love it. I will miss the work at that level as I step down. Step down from that role and jumping into another. I’ve cleverly already volunteered for several things and picked up lots of work.

 9/28/07

Hi again. I’m finding it is hard to convey in these reports the importance or the excitement of it all. I end up telling you about baboons and “wartpigs” because meetings are meetings. Much like the meetings we have at MPT or in any group:  endless negotiating of language, budgets that make my eyes and head hurt as I push myself to understand them, long term plans, by-laws and blah blah blah… it sound so dull on paper.  But the work it allows us to do is so incredible.

And if I was at all uncertain about that -just talking to the team members confirms the incredibleness of it all. It’s just so – audacious.  And being around people who not only have the audacity to dream this up, but the talent and commitment to make it real is such a gift.  

I am also just fascinated by all the group dynamics and all the issues of power, privilege and such that come in to play — and how we as people committed to justice attempt to be sensitive to all this as we come from such a variety of cultures and traditions. We keep learning.  

 I have another 2 days of meetings and then a final day where the Member Organization delegates leave and the old IGC and new IGC meet. After that I am very very excited to spend some time PLAYING in Kenya.  I will try to email again, but remember no news is good news… It just means can’t I get to internet.  And for those who are interested I will type up a more official report when I get back. Peace, Love, and warthog hugs, Sheri

10/1/07

Hello everyone, Well – the conference and meeting are over. It was a wonderful experience and I am beyond grateful for it. Sayrah and I are now at the Mennonite Guest House in the west lands part of Nairobi. She heads out tonight and I will have several more days to play.  The guest house is very nice, the staff are so kind and helpful – plus yummy meals are included. (I can get used to this “tea time” twice a day!)  There is a beautiful garden to relax in between frantic sightseeing, internet access that is reasonably priced, and a set up w/ a cooperative taxi service so that we know we are getting safe, reliable, and honest transportation. I know I will especially appreciate that when Sayrah leaves and I am traveling alone. 

There are folks here from several parts of the world, many of whom seem to stay on and off here as they work in and around Kenya. Most are doing some type of “mission work” – building a clinic, distributing food, AIDS orphanage. The conversation can get a bit Jesus focused for a buddhisty, quakery pagan like me – but in spite of that they all seem to be really good people doing good and interesting work. And it seems a good place to have as “home base” when I’m here on my own. 

Today Sayrah and I went to a market with fair trade products. All are locally/regionally made by cooperatives working for self empowerment. (A group for individuals w/ autism, a women’s collective etc.) There were some beautiful things…. don’t I wish I could afford a big ol’ shopping trip. :-D. The shop owners and artists were all so kind and happy to tell you the story behind any product and about the artist and cooperative that made it. 

After several days of meetings and workshops – days starting at 6 AM and going long past dark- we are having a relaxed “slow paced” day. The gardens here are beautiful, and the weather perfect so we worked on our financial report. (That was important for me, so that I am clear about not using MPT money for my stuff!!) We also started our MPT report.  I’ll see Sayrah off tonight and then do some touristy stuff in the next few days. I’m not sure what yet, I’ll just have to see where the spirit leads me. Well, I think I’ll end here and see where folks are heading off to for the evening.  Hugs, Sher

10/3/07

Hello again friends, Yesterday was an amazing day! Now that my work is over (at least ’till I get home and Sayrah and I fill out and complete our report) I’m getting a chance to talk more w/ the other guests here at the Mennonite Guest House and hearing some great stories about amazing work.

I’ve also made more of a chance to talk with the staff who have been so welcoming and kind and happy to give help with just about anything. It’s been nice to have some time to really talk to them about their own lives. There are the two caretakers from PA, who I have spoke a bit more with, but mostly I have been talking with the Kenyan staff Ruth – who works at the front desk, Sarah who is one of the cooks (and makes the best chocolate cookies!) and the many folks who care for the amazing gardens, and keep the place so nice. 

Anyhow… back to yesterday’s adventures. I had planned to go to the National Museum. I was told it was still closed for renovations, and then told it was open so I decided to chance it. I went early right after bkfst—it was a rather expensive cab ride since traveling alone I was not sharing the fare with anyone. But the driver was honest, kind, and told me to pay him when he came to get me, which we arranged for him to do just before dinner (7:30 PMish).  

Off the cab drives and I walk up to the museum only to find…yep, it was closed.  

So, being stranded in an area w/ not much else around for tourists I walked over to the University. (I didn’t want to leave because I wanted to be sure to be there for the cab at the end of the day since I owed him money.) It was great!!! I spent time just talking to people and learning about their lives here in Kenya.  Then I met this guy who is a student and doing work at the museum. When I told him why I was here he decided I should get to see the museum so he snuck me in and gave me a private tour! 

It was amazing! I couldn’t take any photos or anything because anything I would do that “looked touristy” would get him in trouble. But, it was soooo amazing and so nice of him.    The gardens are beautiful and full of cool sculptures, I saw this huge (life size) fiberglass model  of Ahmed – the elephant that was a symbol of Kenya during the big Ivory poaching crisis in the 1980’s Ahmed was place under 24 hour guard by Jomo Kenyatta. There are lots of cool portraits showing the different tribes of Kenya. My private tour guide told me that people here are very proud of their tribal heritage and of Kenya’s cultural diversity. There were tons of stuffed (what is that taxidermy) birds and other animals, rock art, etc. Plus, (of course!)  I saw the amazing hominid fossils etc etc.  

And what does it say about me that I enjoyed the tour that much more since I wasn’t really s’posed to be there.  

O. (the guy giving me the tour), his friends and I also spent lots of time talking about third party nonviolent intervention, civilian protection etc. and what it means to them in the context of Africa. He is from Sierre Leone and was sent to Kenya during the war there. His brother was abducted as a soldier and his parents feared for his safety. He had class and was worried that I had not had lunch so he called his friend) and she took me to her home for lunch. It was great to just spend the afternoon with her family.   

Then last night I went with O and several other students to a club, Gypsy’s Bar. At least they called it Gypsy’s bar… it actually seemed to be several bars and I saw several names – none of them Gypsy’s. It was great fun and we danced like crazy to a mix of African and Western music w/ a few Latin American beats tossed in at random. 

Today I am thinking animals: the Nairobi national park, the animal orphanage and maybe the Giraffe center if I can cram it all in. In all I am well: tired and happy…. and gonna come home very broke… but it is all so worth it. Hugs, Sheri

10-4-07

Hello, Wow – it has been an expensive but amazing and well worth it day! This AM I got up and right after breakfast went to the Nairobi National Park for a “mini safari”. Nairobi National Park is about 115 square kilometers of national park w/in the city limits. (It’s from here that the monkeys and warthogs would come to visit us at KCCT during the conference and meeting.) It’s wacky you see all these wild animals against a backdrop of savanna with sky scrapers in the background and an occasional plane flying overhead.  For me one of the highlights of this was seeing the spot where in 1989 the then president of Kenya publicly burned several million dollars of poached Ivory to start off an incredibly successful anit-poaching campaign. And although I didn’t see any “Lions, and tigers and bears – oh my” I did see zebras, and ostriches and buffaloes – oh my” Plus more monkeys, baboons, and warthogs, and more variety of birds than I could have imagined. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that my camera battery was dead and so I got no pictures. Leave it to me to not have the camera on this of all outings! UG! 

From there I headed to the   Sheldrick animal orphanage/wildlife trust. This was worth the days taxi fare in and of itself!  Here they raise orphan elephants.  It is only open for one hour each day where the public can come and watch them feed the baby elephants and watch them play. And they had a gift store so I got batteries!  This means I have like 8 zillion pictures of baby elephants!  “Look here is one from the left side, and here she is from the right. Now she is looking up… oh and here is that elephant with a friend and…. on and on…”    

Each elephant has a caretaker w/ them 24-7. They even follow them throughout the park w/ umbrellas to keep them from getting sunburn. They rotate the caretakers often so that the elephants don’t become attached. I won’t make you all crazy with the multitude of things I learned about elephants, but will just note they are incredibly social and playful. They are dependent on the milk for 2 years and after that they can begin to be reintegrated back to the wild, but the elephants choose when and sometimes it is closer to 5 years or more. It is remarkable work. It also strikes me as also being incredibly spiritual work. 

Then it was on to the Giraffe Center where I hand fed – and even kissed a Giraffe!  It is run by a center for endangered African wildlife and was started when one particular type of Giraffe (Rothschild Giraffe) was put on the endangered species list. In some ways it’s marketed to kids and they have a special program to go into the slum areas and schools for less well to do children. Not only do they come to the center to learn about conservation for Giraffe’s and other wildlife they have several environmental programs – from recycling to supporting the Green Belt initiative to a weeklong “environmental master/mistress” camp for kids. 

  Now I am back at Mennonite guest house for tea time and a bit of a rest. This afternoon I am feeling a bit under the weather (probably just tired, but maybe also the lingering result of my lunch w/ a local family yesterday or my late night dancing and not drinking enough water) so I am taking a break for a bit. Internet here at the Mennonite guest house is paid for by the day – so since I paid for it today I might as well spend a little time catching up w/ email and relaxing.  

After tea time I am going to the Shalom Center – an orphanage and school for children with HIV/AIDS – many of them former street children. I will also be visiting a small women’s center for rape victims. Then tonight maybe to another club – or group of clubs – I’m a bit confused – called Dagoretti corner. I’ve been told it’s the place locals go rather than just tourists.  Well, that about sums it up for now… Hugs, sher 

6 Oct. 2007

Hello again, This is likely to be my final email from Nairobi. I cannot believe I leave tomorrow. Internet being fairly expensive – and me being at the end of my budgeted funds – I will likely not bother tomorrow. Today was another full and wonderful day.  But first, yesterday I did go to the Shalom Center – an orphanage and school for children with HIV/AIDS – many of them former street children. I was unable to spend a great deal of time there, but did get a chance to visit with the children and teach some cooperative games.  They loved the idea of cooperative football (soccer) and it was great to see the young girls getting involved as well. They also got a big kick out of “cross the river”. 

I thought I would be visiting a small women’s center for rape victims. But I was confused. Actually what I did was even better. I was able to meet and talk w/ several women who have formed their own support group for rape survivors. . They wished to remain anonymous, but w/ assurances of keeping ideates confidential they honored me by sharing their stories.  They spoke of the stigma of rape in Kenya – that even if people don’t think of it as “your fault” you are seen as “damaged goods” (their words) and you will have a hard time finding a husband or respect.  These 2 things seemed to go hand in hand. For all but one of the women there the only people who knew of the rape outside of themselves and the perpetrator were the women in the room. 

They inquired about my own story – it was interesting how they just seemed to sense we had that in common – and were surprised and excited about the idea that rape could be talked about as something awful that happened, but not as a taboo that you must hide.

 Last night I did spend some time at a group of clubs called something like Dagoretti corner. Amazing drumming and dancing a just great fun.  

Then this afternoon I went to a screening of a film – Kibera Kid. It is about a 12 year old boy living in the Kibera slum who must choose between gang life and redemption. It was shown at Alliance Francais, and I met up w/ some NP friends.  The move was good, and the kids from it were there to answer questions and all.  They were great! It was wonderful to see how they all supported each other and all. The film is done by this group Hot Sun Foundation. They seem pretty cool. Afterwards I was waiting for a cab and met some folks who I may be able to hook up with tomorrow and go to Kibera love,sher  

7 Oct. 2007 

Today I went to Kibera. Kibera is Kenya’s largest slum. By some accounts it is the largest slum in Africa, but other accounts it is the 2nd largest. There are about a million people who live there. Some say a million and a half. Someone told me, half of the people who live there are under the age of 15.

The ground in many areas is literally made of trash. Houses and other buildings are literally built right on this. Obviously, this is not very stable and I was told a constant danger is from things collapsing. Another danger is the train that runs through the center of Kibera. The pollution is severe including soot, garbage and raw sewage running through areas.  Houses are one story, one room, tin roofs made mostly from mud and scraps.

We were asked not to take photos. Apparently there is anger and frustration over “people selling photos to those who just want to look at our misery.”  Yet, in spite of that anger and frustration I was welcomed warmly and with love. And I met so many people doing such great work: from educating their community about HIV and AIDS to women’s empowerment, to craft collectives, to youth organizations.

People are amazing. 

There is crime and violence, but we learned that there is less so than in the other slum areas of the country. When I asked why the children and adults gave a variety of answers, but a common thread among them seemed to be “because our stories are being told.”  

It was an emotional day and so last night I stayed around the guest house and visited with the other guests here. (A number of new folks had arrived, especially parents here to visits their children who are on midterm break.) Then made an attempt to get some packing done. 

This AM I went to the Maasai Market. This market rotates from place to place around the city. It is a huge — and I do mean huge — open air street market where you can buy handcrafts and souvenirs.  The Maasai are one of the tribes of Kenya, (often when you see pictures of Kenya you see pictures of the Maasai people — bright red colored cloth and lots of beads.) The Maasai and were traditionally nomadic herders of cattle and goats, and they have tried to stay out of the mainstream development of Kenya. As more and more of the land has been taken over for business and commercial ventures this way of life has become more and more threatened and many of the Maasai people make their livelihood selling crafts and such in these markets. 

All I can say is thank goodness I waited ’till the last day to go…. If I’d gone earlier I wouldn’t have been able to leave the guest house since I wouldn’t have had any money left. Ya’ll know I am not so good at bargaining under the best of circumstances. And when everyone is coming up to you at once “buy from me so my children can eat.” “I give you good deal; you bring me luck if you buy from me – first of the day.” “How much will you spend for it – it is good work – I make it myself.”  Very, very hard sell! It was a good thing to do – but a bit of sensory overload!  I spoke a bit with one of the Maasai elders and asked him what he thought of the tourists and the markets. He had mixed feelings basically saying it is good that people can feed their families when their other means of survival are taken away but that it is doing a lot of damage to the Maasai culture because now they are making “fake” things to suit the needs of the tourists. He also spoke of the traditional taboo against “capturing someone’s image for nothing” (photos) and was troubled that many take photos even without asking. So, now here I am again back at the guest house, I will have lunch here and then check out. Then I am in limbo for a few hours before I head to the airport. The folks here are kind enough to let me leave my things here, or even just hang out and relax in the garden since I cannot afford to catch a taxi anywhere else if I still want to pay to get one to the airport. So, I will probably just take a walk around the neighborhood and talk with some of the locals before heading out this evening. Thanks for listening to my ramblings and for your support of this trip Hugs, Sher   

 

2 responses to “Africa Journal

  1. Sher, thank you for taking the time to put these out to the world. While I had received some of them, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through them in this more cohesive fashion.

    love, jig

  2. Thanks jig, it was an amazing trip. i am so grateful for the opportunity. just be glad you aren’t so close i can show you all 4 million of the baby elephant photos!
    love,sher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s