Sunday, 18 September 2011

Departure, Interlude, Arrival, Trepidation, Retreat!

Finally, after long preparations, I have arrived in Nairobi!  Here’s a quick recap of the last two weeks:

Immediately prior to leaving, I went on a glorious hiking trip in the Rockies.  It was a wonderful way of decompressing after a busy year, and a great way to get rejuvenated before a new adventure.  And, as it happened, a perfect time to get engaged! But that is a story for another time.

I flew out of Canada on Sep. 9th, 2011.  Instead of heading directly to Kenya, however, I was able to meet up with my family, who were visiting Poland.  It was a short trip – 3 days – but it was great to spend a little bit of time in Europe visiting with family, and it was also a good way of dealing with the first few days of jet lag.  A beautiful day in the Royal Park in Warsaw, listening to a live performance of Chopin in Chopin’s birthplace was just the type of relaxation that was needed to break up the long journey from North America to Europe, and Europe to Kenya.

I headed down to Nairobi on a red-eye flight that arrived on Sep. 14th, 2011, at 6:30am.  I had been informed by ICJ Kenya that their driver was unavailable to pick me upfrom the airport, but that taxis were ‘mostly safe’.  In fact, I did not notice any safety problems at all, although I’m certain that I paid at least double of what it should cost for a taxi from the airport.  My haggling skills are non-existent, especially after a 9 hour flight.  Oh well.

Initial observations of Nairobi, on the drive in:
  • I love the red earth here – I feel like it has a particular smell (apart from the various smells of the city – garbage, diesel,sweat, food, asphalt, perfumes) that is somehow heavy, spicy and slightly burnt, and generally very inviting.
  • There are people everywhere – not necessarily in huge groups, but that everywhere you look, there are two people walking here, a person napping under a tree there, etc. From the fringes of the city by the airport, to the bustle of the city centre, there are no empty streets (just busier and quieter ones).  A sharp contrast from driving from the airport into, say, Edmonton or Victoria.
  • Traffic is CONGESTED.  But relatively orderly.

The drive took about an hour.  I have no pictures because the cab driver and I were talking non-stop about what makes a successful marriage (it was on a radio program, and was not a topic choice I would have chosen, but there you go).  I went directly to ICJ Kenya, because (a) that’s what I wanted to do, and (b) I had no idea what the address of my apartment was.  Turns out it was a good decision, because ICJ Kenya was in the midst of going on a 3 day retreat to Brackenhurst, a resort near Limuru.

Just before we headed out to the retreat, though, the office was bustling with work – turns out that the Secretariat from the International Criminal Court was paying a visit to ICJ Kenya to host a meeting with Civil Society Organizations.  They were discussing the upcoming decisions on the“Ocampo 6” case, which was investigating the roles of 6 major members of the government in their involvement in the Post-Election Violence from the December 2007 elections, which were marred in election fraud, massive amounts of rioting, and where many people died, more were injured and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. (Read more about the PEV here and about the ICC investigation and trial here and here).  I was in no condition to participate in this meeting, unfortunately, so I cannot report directly on what happened – from the sounds of it, the meeting was a nice opportunity to meet with the ICC, and for the CSOs to voice a few of their questions and concerns associated with the investigations and trials.

Right after that, we head out to the resort in a van.  The retreat was planned to be first, a way of relaxing and bonding between employees, and second, a review of ICJ Kenya’s 2011 Strategic Plan, complete with Program reviews and reports, and lively discussion about current and future projects. Can you imagine a better introduction to an organization than (a) learning about exactly everything that they have been doing and what they hope to be doing, (b) meeting the entire office in one fell swoop, (c) participating in team-building games every day, and (d) relaxing under the sun, in a resort, with tea and good chats?  I can’t.  The only part that was slightly awkward was the impromptu bonfire dance competition. I really, really lost.
When we were finished, we drove back to Nairobi, where I met up with a fellow CBA intern, Chelsea Thomas (her blog), and wound up the night watching movies about samurais and cowboys.

So, in summary, there was a LOT of relaxation and general goodness over the last two weeks, sprinkled with exciting times.  I highly recommend it.

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