normal day

ok so i wrote this to a lady doing an article about my work here…well actually i wrote it for her but decided that i will never send it. so i didnt wanna waste it and posted it here (she wanted to know how my day went).

now, theres stuff in it about what i do that’s already been said, but meh, editing schmediting.

i need to write her a less terrifying more professional account of a day.

Normal day:

6:30 prayer with friends
7:15 run then breakfast
9:00 work in the campus IT lab—I write web content for their new site. Love the laid back Kenyan mindset and endless tea.
l-2 or so, lunch
5:00 finish, go home and work on other projects.
Online classes late late at night.

But that never really happens. It’s the plan, but it always changes.

Today for example:

Woke up around 6:15 (on a Saturday!) Since I was awake already, I made coffee and worked on a new website for Family Focus Foundation, a children’s ministry I am helping a Kenyan man start in the Mwiki slums (outside Nairobi). I spent time noodling with WordPress while the internet was fast enough to use it—6AM on a Saturday there are no other people awake using my bandwidth!

I had a more leisurely morning than usual as I wasn’t volunteering in the IT lab today—Saturdays are my day off! Well, they should be.

I determined there simply was no time today for a day off as all the children in our new Mwiki project would be meeting today for games and a lesson while their guardians met to discuss ways to find sustainable income. It’d be a great chance to go to the other side of the city and take photos for the site.

I was on my way out by mid-morning, and after attempting to find a shortcut through a muddy neighboring village, (didn’t happen) I boarded a matatu (these are public minivans that should seat 14 and are driven by men known for their unsafe driving habits.) I have been warned by every other American here not to take those “wild vans”, which often drive on the wrong side of the road, always blast music videos at a deafening level and pass on curves, but I usually take at least 3-4 a day to get to class (I teach).

Used to the mania by now, I sat up front and watched in horror as our poorly running matatu (it could go 20MPH tops up the hill) attempted to pass a truck on a hill but couldn’t go fast enough. A large SUV was flying over the top on the other side and I was convinced it would hit us. I braced myself and we managed to miss it by an inch. Honestly, I was shaking for 10 minutes. I’m usually not concerned and downplay the danger, but today’s ride was terrifying.

I managed to get lost for a while (and had a second near-death experience trying to cross streets) looking for my connecting matatu in downtown Nairobi. I saw new sites, heard new sounds, witnessed a new outdoor market I had no time for, and smelled new smells (always). The dust has actually taken away my voice—since I came here in January it’s been gone. I had been walking up to 20 km a day and the roads just fill with dust. Walking has pros and cons I suppose!

My second matatu was not legal as the government requires a maximum of 14 inside and we had well over 20 at one point, stopping every few feet to fit more people inside. Needlesstosay, I was ready to get out when we arrived in Mwiki, and walked to my friend’s (henry’s) family’s home to meet them before the afternoon kids’ program.

After a quick meeting and spaghetti and ndengu (lentil) stew (im learning to eat hot food even when its very hot out so I don’t offend families or go hungry) we went to the school to host the program.

I help organize programs and raise money for the ones that are clearly self-sustainable after the startup. We are still in the process of forming the project today, and needed to photograph each orphan or single-parent child for our records and the site. I can usually get each child to smile, either by smiling a toothy grin or by making a GRUMPY face at them. One girl wouldn’t smile no matter what and I was complaining and asking about her. The founder told me her mother died less than a month ago (she was sick a long time, meaning it was likely AIDS). I felt terrible for the way I had been clicking and flashing my camera and complaining about her frown. Her two sisters tried to smile but also couldn’t manage.

I often do a lot of visiting potential sponsors, volunteers and other locals who may help with the projects and worked on that today after the afternoon activities commenced. While I was walking, a man grabbed my arm and refused to let go until I started yelling and pulling his fingers off my hand. These sorts of things normally do NOT escalate to prying fingers off, but I think the man, who offered me a marriage proposal, was a special case. I’ve also been robbed (wallet and cell phone) and as much as I love Nairo”bbery”, it does get old walking around the city on edge.

Around 6, I did some shopping in the supermarket and took two more wild rides back to my apartment. As I walked down the road towards home, I was greeted by a chorus of small voices yelling, “MZUNGU!” (white person!). I made the mistake of giving one child candy. I was swarmed and managed to give away some of the groceries I had just bought. ☺

Tonight I had two students over—one from Kenya and the other from Somalia. We played board games and drank tea. It’s great living on a university campus.

Remembering the little girl and my unusual insensitivity today is still haunting me—and remembering the dangerous events that happened also is disconcerting to say the least. A few things I’ve realized while doing my own thing here in Nairobi:

1.) I had been frowning upon the lofty overhead costs in several NGOs in the area—the white people working for them have brand new beautiful cars and homes in gated communities. But today’s travel was both unsafe and time-consuming..it took over 3 hrs to get to Mwiki from my home in Rongai (a 20 mile distance). Some of these costs are necessary to run an effective ministry. It can be a waste of time to take public transport, even though I save money.
2.) Its easy to network here if you work for an NGO—most of us want to help, not compete-so we share info on doable programs, etc…whether water and sanitation, faithbased, kids programs, etc. and networking here is a great way to get a new job.
3.) I need to be thankful. I always realize this after a day in the slums but today especially, I cant complain about missing my family. At least I have one.
4.) This one is big. The saddest part about all these orphans isn’t that the parents died, its just as much about how many there are so no one offers sympathy. Theres very little sympathy (in all our hearts, Americans, Africans, etc.) we do feel bad and know we’ve become accustomed and its very sad, but we don’t let them know that its ok to be upset and that we think its terrible and want to love them. Many kids whose parents die end up on the streets rather than in great care as theyd receive in the states. Unimagineable. Our kids aren’t more entitled than these ones, who often spent their early years taking CARE of the parents.

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