Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Going to Work


Sunday and Emily Carrying Water Home

Neighborhood Coal Seller

All Smiles

Neighborhood Sticker Girl

Main Street in Obunga

Playing Checkers with Bottle Caps

Kisumu Bloig 2

February 17, 2010

Jambo – Hi,

It is a bit rare that I find myself with some time to write this, but I am not complaining. I have been working pretty hard, and long hours, but it is temporary, and I can deal with it.

I forgot to tell you in the last blog, that a snake got into one of the offices. All of a sudden we heard screaming, and we all came running. The snake came in the door, and crawled under the chair and between the legs of the woman working there. No one could find it for a long time, and finally, the new building superintendant burned some rubber which the snake didn’t like, and out it came from behind a cabinet choking and struggling to breather, and now it is in snake heaven. Turns out it was a harmless garden snake, but who knew.

First, something about work. Most of you know that I have been helping to complete the building that KMET started last March, and since I was here last year, it has come a long way. It is really quite a feat. Thus far, all of the money has come from individual donors: a couple of larger contributions, but mostly small ones, and for the most part, from people who by any standard are pretty poor. But, this is a community endeavor in every sense of the word. It is being done kidogo kidogo, (little by little) by a lot of community members and it will serve the community, primarily, the several slum communities that KMET works in.

One of my recent successes was to have the power company finally hook up power to the building, and now I am waiting for the electric meter. Can you believe that the power company has run out of power meters? So in order to get power connected, get a meter, etc., one has to go daily to the power company and “lobby”. For once in my life I have some stature: I am a “mzungu” – a white man, and the power company doesn’t really know how much power I have or don’t have, so I am using what I have: my color. Kind of like a pretty women who flashes her eyes and shows a little leg. It works, and the proof is in the pudding. By next week, we should have the meter, and I will not leave here until there are lights in the building. The power company here is no different than any other government office. You just have to show up early, get to the right people and eventually you get what you want.

When we were here last year, on our way to work every morning, we met a candy seller who sold candy to the school kids near our house. He is still there on the same corner, and it was nice to see each other again.. He makes a small living, but seems to be doing OK, and at least has some income. His name is Richard and if I don’t see him every day he calls to see if I am alright. All of the people are very nice as I have told you before. It would be hard for me to get into trouble, since everyone is looking out for me, including the candy man

I have told you before about some of the cultural traditions like FGM (female genital mutilation, the less than equal status of women, and other things).

One of the traditions that is still around, but less and less so, especially in urban areas is wife inheritance. It is more prevalent in the rural areas. When a man dies, his wife become the wife of a male in the husband’s family, or even a husband is chosen by the elders in the village. While it is becoming more usual for a women to refuse the new husband, it is not only the case. If the dead husband takes all of her possessions, she is left with little choice except to go along with that tradition. Another example of women being unequal and not having a voice. But, it is going away, slowly, perhaps, but surely. And one day, here in Kenya, women will enjoy all of their human rights, That is what KMET is working for and they are achieving it.

At the same time that they are working to empower men, they are also working to educate men about their roles and women’s rights. KMET has been training men as “Male Champions”. They go through an intensive several day training, examine their traditional roles, and more modern roles, and then are expected to go out and train other male champions. It is “each one teach one” - a good way of doing things.

Some people have interesting names, interesting to me at least because they are different than what I am used to. I have met a “Philadelphia”, and yesterday, a baby boy named “Fidel Castro”. You know who that is, right?

I am living in a slum quite near the office: Obunga. It is very very poor. I have been told that most people there are living on less than $1 a day. In fact, there are lots of people in Kenya that are living on less than $1 per day. The streets are mud, no running water, no indoor plumbing, lots of standing water, sewage every where. It is supposed to be a pretty tough area, but other than being hassled by some drunks, (from home made moonshine (changaa), no one has bothered me.

Each work I ride to work on a motorbike – there are 4 us on it: In the front on the fuel tank a 3 year old from our house; the driver; a young woman also from our house, and me on the back. These are very small motorbikes, not big Harley’s or the like. I will send a photo and you will laugh.

Also here, you can bank money with a mobile phone provider and then go to one of their agents and withdraw it. Quite convenient, and not expensive to transact. Also if you have money in you M-Pesa account, (Mobile Money), you can transfer to air time to your phone. So, you don’t have to go to an ATM or bank, just to one of the many many M-Pesa agents all over the place. It would be good to have back home. The young woman who lives in my house is an M-Pesa agent, so I just need to “M-Pesa” her, and she brings home the money I need for the next day – cool? So, there are lots of things that we can learn from others. Learning is not a one way street.

I have a new antidote for low blood sugar: just chew on some sugar cane. “ A little dab will do ya” That is some really sweet stuff. No wonder everyone loves it.

Since I have a lot of skills negotiating and I am a “mzungu”, I have been given the task of negotiating all of the bids for the building, and I am saving money – a fair amount, and I enjoy negotiating and bargaining, and at the end of the day, the best part is that is good for KMET. Remember what Ben Franklin said: “A penny saved is a penny earned”..

I had the unfortunate opportunity to pay a visit to the local hospital and see a doctor. Fortunately, both were very positive experiences. So between Hinda and me in the last few years we have had medical experiences in Thailand, India, Uganda, and now Kenya.

The other unfortunate experience was to have the piki piki (motorbike) I was riding with 2 other people tip over going up a very steep hill. We all fell off, in kind of slow motion, but no one was hurt, not even the motorbike. Lots of people came to see what happened and there was a lot of laughing. I just needed to return home to change my clothes. All’s well that ends well!

Well I see that this is getting a little lengthy, so I will stop here. Sorry that I didn’t get this off to you before Valentine’s Day, so a belated Valentine’s Day to all of you.

Hope to do one more blog before I leave here just one month from today.