Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A recapitulation of 2011 in Kenya, inter alia.

I have finally managed to secure reliable internet access.  (Thanks L & T).  So, it behooves me to try my best to give a nice, pithy review of some things that have happened so far, and what I expect to happen, moving forward.

First, let me break down a little of the burglary, which was an entirely unwanted Christmas present.  It highlights at least one of the realities of living in Nairobi, and with a lot of situations that I've run into (some literally), there's a story lingering behind it.

Nairobi has the unfortunate nickname of 'nairobbery', as you'll read in virtually every guidebook to the city.  But, generally speaking, if you don't engage in risky behaviour (i.e. venturing into slum neighbourhoods after dusk, with all your jewelry hanging out), you won't encounter many problems.  Our misfortune wasn't the result of a poor, disenfranchised person, looking to make a quick buck.  It was, as the police officer commented, a 'constructive crime' - one that took careful preparation, was done by someone within (or in conjunction with a tenant/security guard) the apartment complex and was done by someone who either could afford to live in the apartment, or ran in the same circles.  They knew our movements, and they had easy access to our apartment (i.e. they didn't force the door open, so they must have had a key).

But the day of the burglary was an interesting day in itself.  Emily and I had planned a trip to Zanzibar leaving on Dec. 18th, but had to postpone it until the 21st because I was shortlisted for an interview at ICJ Kenya (!).  So, that morning, I suited up at went to the interview.  At the same time, Emily and ER, our friend who was visiting from Dar es Salaam, went to the Kibera slum, to check out a clinic that Emily will be volunteering at.

We reconvened in the afternoon, and debriefed.  I was stoked, because I thought the interview went well (one of the interviewers made a huge checkmark on his sheet, for je ne sais quoi).  The girls were stoked because they had had a really cool time in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Africa.  So, I tossed out the idea of celebrating, and having a bit of a farewell dinner (since we were slated to leave early the next morning) at a Japanese Restaurant.  And so, in that little 3 hour window while we were out having dinner (it was largely unsatisfying...imagine), the thieves struck and our plans changed.

But, despite that, the sting of the losses was tempered by, most importantly, the support and kindness of the friends and family, a nice, short trip to Jinja, Uganda to visit a good friend, and the news that I had been offered a job at ICJ!!!  So, there are a lot of positives to look forward to in 2012.

However, 2011 was definitely not defined by that one instance of criminal activity.  In fact, the past 3 months have been crammed full of amazing work, immersive experiences, and wonderful friends.  Here are my top three experiences so far:
  1. Workshop facilitation in Eldoret - Simultaneously the most embarrassing situation I've been in yet, and also the one that I probably learned the most from.  I had been told by the Programme Officer from the Access to Justice Program that I was to help another organization with a workshop for CSOs on the upcoming Vetting of Judges and Magistrates.  There was even a chance to appear on radio!  It sounded great, but early on it was cancelled and rescheduled to a time that I could not attend.  That was a bit disappointing.  Then, one day, while we are eating lunch, the PO comes to me and says 'Josh! Emergency!'  The workshop had been rescheduled to the following day.  Which meant that I had to fly to Eldoret at 630am.  It also meant that I had to prepare a presentation in less than 24 hours.  That was ok.  Then I was sent the itinerary.  While I had thought that I would make a presentation, turns out that I was to be the 'facilitator'.  Which meant that I was slated to give about 3 hours of presentations and discussions.  Whew.  I sure didn't sleep much that night - luckily I wasn't working from scratch, and could pull a lot of material from pre-existing work.

    I arrived in Eldoret, was ferried to the hotel and was the whole time going through my presentation in my mind.  As soon as I arrived at the conference room, I started to suspect that something was wrong.  There is a small but significant difference between 'CSO Workshop', and 'Grassroots CSO Workshop'.  I had just prepared 3 hours worth of academic, legalistic, technical material, only to find out that my audience were rural community members, who were involved in a multitude of advocacy work, including one that facilitated inter-tribal soccer matches.

    Not only that, but I also learned that a presentation in Kenya has an entirely different system than in Canada.  At home, a presentation is a lecture.  Here, I suppose you could call it an 'interactive teaching session'.  You tend to judge the success of your presentation based on how often people murmur in agreement with what you're saying.  Anyways, like any good mzungu would do, I soldiered on, and fired into my first presentation.  It soon became apparent that I was (shockingly) boring.  So I had to change tactics, rethink the entire rest of what I was going to present on, and just wing it.  There were flip charts, and group activities, and lots of interaction.  I was well-assisted by the hosting organization, who had taken a little pity on me after the way I started it off.

    In the end, I think it was helpful for the CSOs, and I know that I learned a lot.  I also felt quite professional, dressed in a suit and from to and from Eldoret in the same day.
  2. Lodwar - If you haven't read the blog post, it's HERE.  It's still one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had.  The land was hot and dry.  The was an intense drought and associated famine.  The TJRC hearings highlighted some of the historical and ongoing violence with the surrounding communities.  And the whole thing shifted my perspective of Kenya.
  3. Christmas in Jinja - After all the madness of the burglary subsided, I realized that, despite the fact that we had to cancel the trip to Zanzibar, I still had a massively important thing to do - leave Kenya, in order to renew my Visa.  So, on short notice, I contacted my friend (basically my surrogate Ugandan Mother), who was visiting her brother in Jinja, Uganda over the holidays.  Graciously, her brother invited us to stay in his house over Christmas, and celebrate the holiday with his family.  We accepted.

    Before that, though, we had to make it to Jinja.  Silly us - we trusted our guide book, which told us that a certain bus company (Akamba) had been in business for 50 years (true) and was one of the most reliable bus companies in East Africa (unfortunately false).  The guide book was written in 2009, so, from what we were told, things have slid in a huge way over the past 2 years.  The bus trip to Jinja was supposed to take around 10 hours.  20 hours, and 3 buses later, we arrived.  Yes - the first bus, after picking us up 5 hours late, broke down after 4 hours of driving.  This wasn't entirely surprising, since within minutes of picking us up, we stopped at the bus garage, and random welding and banging commenced, while we were still on the bus.  Also, the exhaust system somehow was directed to pump an extremely unhealthy amount of exhaust into the passenger carriage.  Yum.  After it broke down, we waited for an hour, for another bus to come.  This one was in better shape (somewhat).  Too bad they forgot to fill up the gas - it ran out of fuel after about an hour.  The third bus managed the trip, in the blistering hot noon-day sun, and we arrived in beautiful Jinja filthy, stinky and relieved.

    The visit itself was remarkable.  It turns out that Mr. Mutebe has 10 children, as well as around 4 other guests, in a (very) comfy bungalow house.  The fact that they cleaned out an entire room for us meant that all the children were double-bunking.  Yet, contrary to what probably would have happened in a North American household, the family told us that 'this was the best Christmas ever!!!' (probably high on the melted chocolate that we brought over), and really wanted us to stay longer.  Every guest is a blessing, they told us, and they treated us like royalty.  We had a wonderful, relaxing time, and got a first-hand look at some of the intricacies of a Ugandan household.  Although, perhaps they got the better end of the deal, since in the fit of an engrossing conversation, I may have promised them my first-born child.  We'll see how that pans out.
Obviously, there have been tons of other wonderful experiences over here (seeing baby elephants, feeding giraffes and climbing to a volcano being up there).  Mostly though, I'm thankful that the work has been engrossing, and that I have met so many interesting and inspiring people.  I hope you all, in your own way, had a nice, exciting/relaxing holiday, and are ready to start 2012 fresh and stoked for a good year.

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