Mogra Star and Mathare slum

Today we had our last day of classes at Nairobi U med school. We had three guest lectures back to back to back. The first lecturer was a man who works with USAID. He pretty much just told us what they do in Kenya and we asked a ton of questions. It seems like they are making a pretty big difference in a lot of aspects life for Kenyans. The second was an awfully boring and poorly prepared lecture about micro-finance in Kenya Lia and Jen knew more about it than the lecturers and it was kind of embarrassing for them. The third was an informative talk about land and resource allocation by the government. I’ll definitely be able to work some of that presentation into my paper about the problems with governance here. He also made me think a lot about whether democracy is good or bad in Kenya. In a lot of situations, certain groups get marginalized and neglected because they are not the majority in the country and therefore do not win elections. The key problem with this is the culture of tribalism in the country but it made me think a lot. It is an interesting topic and I’d like to maybe research it in the fall and right a report on when democracy is good and when it is bad with different country examples.

Anyways, after class we drove to Mogra Star which is an organization that works just outside of the Mathare slum in Nairobi. They take in orphans from the slum and give them a place to sleep and feed them 365 days/ year. The kids also go to the school that Mogra Star has in the slum. We visited the school and walked through part of the slum after seeing the orphanage.

The school was four or five stories tall, old, leaky, and crammed with 900 kids.The hallways were about 3 feet wide so I can’t imagine how they manage getting from one class to another when class ends. We went in to each class from first grade to high school. Every time we were treated as celebrities. It was awkward and goofy. Some of the kids would just rub my arm so that they could touch me and as we left each classroom they would reach out the door to touch us again.

We pretty much just went into each class, said our names, and then left. It felt a little strange, we had no purpose in being there it was as if we were a show for them and they were a museum display for us. We just looked at each other, said very little and then walked away.

When we went to the slum I felt some of the same feelings. We waked through without much a purpose but to look around. It was dirty for sure,  there was feces on the ground, trash everywhere, and kids running through the trash with bare feet and runny noses. Poverty was the museum exhibit and we were all allowed to look but not touch. It was very similar to Kibera in that there were shops and businesses all around. There definitely were not as many NGOs however. A volunteer at the orphanage pointed how much Kibera enjoys its celebrity status as the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a 30:1 people to NGO ratio in Kibera which is unfathomable for a place that is still famous for the poverty that people live in. The truth is, is that many people in Kibera enjoy living there and want to raise their children there. Many of them work and make income, have TVs and pay rent as high as 3000 shillings a month. The people of Mathare seemed like they were not getting quite as much outside help as the people of Kibera and their standard of living appeared to be a little lower.

One thing that I am noticing is that you hear so much about these slums before coming to Africa, Kibera is painted as such a miserable place where in fact it seems to me that the rural people like the Maasai are struggling more than the slum dwellers. All they have is their land and their animals, some don’t even wear clothes. They are so isolated from society that they get neglected by the government and aid organizations where as Kibera, filthy as it is, has a network of organizations that help to provide health care, security, food, and many other necessities of life for the people that live there.

Basically every house in Kibera has a TV, most people get vaccinations, and other medical services, they can afford to pay high rent in comparison to other slums (3000ksh in Kibera vs. 400ksh in Mathare) and when you drive towards Kibera in the early evening the sidewalks are full with people in suits and business clothes walking from their day jobs back to their homes in Kibera. It is interesting that this is the place that people all over the world think of as the worst of the worst in terms of poverty, yet this is how they live. Definitely something to think about. Instead of living in the slum to enjoy the perks that come with the fame of Kibera, how can these people start to move out of the slums and into cleaner environments? It does not seem to be a goal of many people who live there, and in a sense you can’t blame them because of the attention they get on a daily basis from the thousands of aid organizations that work in the world famous slum.

Mogra Star and Mathare slum

Mt. Longonot climb

These posts are a little out of order but I am trying to get all the cool stuff in here so hopefully its not too confusing. Yesterday, the day after the visit to the Maasai village, we climbed Mt. Longonot, a dormant volcano. We drove about an hour and a half to the mountain and on the way we could see it in the distance and it looked menacing! Huge! Once again, like a big ski mountain in NH or VT. We started the climb and only about ten minutes in I could already see giraffes on the side of the mountain to my left. They were really far away, probably 1,000 feet or more but it was still really cool to see wild giraffes. We climbed all the way to the top and I took my time going up so that I could take in the view of the Rift Valley and the other mountains in the distance. It was really steep and much more of a workout than the Ngong hills. I used my walking stick that I got from my Maasai friend and that actually did help a lot. By the time I got to the top I was exhausted but it was all worth it  because just as I came over the peak the mountain opened up into a huge crater (the original top of the volcano). It was absolutely breathtaking. The circumfrence of the crater was 10km around and our guide said it would take 4 hours to walk around the top because of all the peaks that we would have to climb up and down. There was smoke coming out of the side of the inside of the volcano and I did walk about 25 minutes over to check that out from the top.

The view from both sides was absolutely amazing… We spent about 45 minutes hanging out on top, taking pictures and eating lunch. When we all went to trek back down, me and Wamai were the last two on top and Wamai went an opposite way then everybody else and pulled me along. All the sudden he was running down the mountain! jumping off cliffs and avoiding boulders it was crazy. He is nuts! He told me to come run with him so I did for a while, almost breaking my ankle twice and then when we got to a really steep slope I stopped and watched him fly down the rest of the mountain. Me and Emily, who started running with Wamai and I as we ran by her, struggled down this steep slope as Wamai shuffled down it and then kept on sprinting. She went ahead and I stopped to sit on a rock and look at the view. I was searching the side of the mountain for more giraffes but I couldn’t see any. There was such a  peaceful silence up there. I was all by myself on a mountain over looking the Great Rift Valley in Kenya! I tried to let that sink in while I listened to the silence that has been such a rarity on this trip.

It was broken by the sound of Asha and Sara-Kay laughing as they slid on their butts down this steep slope. I got the whole thing on video it was hilarious. After they passed I started climbing down with the last group that passed me. We took our time going down and noticed a pack of about ten giraffes all eating leaves off of the trees on our left. It was so cool, I got some pretty good shots of them and Avery got some awesome pictures.

We finished the climb to Wamai filming us as we emerged at the bottom. He had been down there for about an hour waiting for us. The climb was incredible and the views are truly once in a lifetime sights. I’m glad I captured them on camera so everybody at home can see what I was able to. These two climbs have motivated me to hike and climb more. I want to come back and do Kilimanjaro some day because I heard it is long but not that difficult and I also want to hike in the US now. Aunt Kathy if you are reading this, Katie and I are definitely coming to hike that mountain that you can see from your house I’m so excited! Mom, Dad, Erin, and Julie we should go up to Attitash or some mountain in NH in the summer and climb it I think it would be awesome. Maybe we could stay with uncle Tom or something. Chile will be awesome too, I wonder if I’ll be able to do any climbs in the Andes.

Alright I have to go wash my clothes now. Night everybody!

Mt. Longonot climb

Flying Kites

Two days ago, a day before we went to visit the Maasai, we went to visit a school in Naivasha. Most of the students who go to school there are orphans and stay near the school all the time. The acting country director for this program called Flying Kites is a kid named Mike who is a Northeastern student. He has worked at this school once before for four months and was on his second term there working at the school.

When we got to the town that the school was in we met Mike and ate lunch at Hotel Lebanon, it is known to be the best place in town to eat. It was bigger than I thought, I only expected a few tables but I walked in the door and there were actually two rooms full of tables. We got chapati, beans, ugali, some meat samosas, and goat (which they cooked and then chopped up in front of us on the table. The goat was fatty and kind of gross. I ate some of the intestines and they weren’t all that bad, the thought of them was gross but they were really crunchy and didn’t taste too much like anything. I swallowed them with the ugali.

After the meal we went outside and were encouraged by Mike to take a dirt bike ride to the school which was five kilometers away. They were guys with bikes waiting to take us for a ride for a hundred shillings. I hopped on and it was so fun! It was a beautiful day and we were riding through such a beautiful green landscape.

Flying Kites

Maasai village

Yesterday we drove about five hours to visit a Maasai village in the Great Rift Valley. On the way we picked up one of Dr. Wamai’s friends who knew the tribe but was not living with them. She had just had a baby girl and Katie I know you would’ve thought she was so cute. After picking her up we drove further west through some mountains and then plunged into the Rift Valley. It was an amazing view… Driving over the top of the mountains we were able to overlook the valley and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The longer I am here and the more I see I am realizing that Kenya has to be one of the most natural beautiful countries in the world. We drove down into the valley and stayed on this one paved road for about two hours, crossing paths with packs of baboons, cattle, donkeys, goats, gazelle, and a few big snakes that only our bus driver Charles saw as they slithered across the road. Once we were hailed by two kids motioning with their hands as if they were drinking water and we stopped and Wamai gave them a few bottles as they rushed the bus. One of them was wearing some cloth covering his body and the other was naked, they were probably about 8-10 years old.

The next time we stopped was to meet up with two warriors from the tribe that we were going to visit. They were wearing colorful cloth that looked like a few sheets covering their bodies and plenty of beautiful jewelry all over. One of them, Nicholas, spoke english very well, and the other knew a few words. They had some water and mundazi as they directed us through the trees towards where they live. Mundazi is a sweet ball of bread that is kind of like a plain doughnut in the US but more densely filled with dough. They never eat food like this and we had to stop the bus for one of them so he could throw-up. Just from a little piece of bread! All they eat is goat, cows milk, beef, and maize meal so just this little piece of bread was so unrecognizable to his stomach that he got sick in about thirty seconds. Something so normal for all of the Kenyans in Nairobi was so unfamiliar to these people. Anyways, we drove through the valley, with no road in sight for about an hour until we got to their village.

When we got there we saw the young people dancing and shouting in a circle in the middle of their round settlement. Wamai told us to line up behind him and we did, entering the settlement in single file fashion. We lined up side by side and they danced and hummed in a line, bouncing over to us and then going down the line greeting us individually. Most of the time they would just say “fine” assuming that we said “how are you” even when we didn’t.

They then continued to hop and sing over to where they were dancing before. We followed them and were encouraged to join in with their dance. They young men were humming deep sounds and rocking their bodies and heads back and forth, bending forwards at the waist. It was kind of a tricky thing to do but  you could get the hang of it watching them for a little. The girls would sway their heads back and forth gracefully, so that their necklaces (which stuck out from their necks parallel to the ground) rocked up and down. Then the guys started going into the circle in pairs and would jump up about four of five times continuously and at the end would kind of bump in to one another and make a sound like  a hyena. I joined in and it was wicked fun! Obviously I couldn’t make the hyena sound though. After dancing we went to the bus to get them sugar and tea that we brought them and then I went to talk to some of he elders who were sitting under a tree.

One of them was obsessed with my watch and he had me take it off so he could try it on. He couldn’t speak english but he told me through another man who interpreted that he had many goats and would trade one for my watch. I was cracking up. I had no use for a goat but I told him maybe for something else, like his knife and leather knife holder. I don’t think he understood me but he wanted it really bad and he said he would give me a bunch of jewelry that he made. I didn’t really want jewelry for it but I ended up trading my watch for his walking stick and the bracelet he was wearing on his wrist.

After we traded, it was like we had just gotten married. His brother interpreted for us while he said in Maasai that we are now friends, we must communicate after I leave and I must come back again to see him. He said when I come back I would be given a goat and many other gifts. For the rest of the day he wanted me to do everything too and kept coming up to me to give me a handshake and pose for pictures.

They killed a goat and in a flap of skin they pooled its blood. Everybody drank the blood out of this dead goat’s skin! It was disgusting! First all but me and a few of the girls in our group did it and then the kids from the tribe did. I couldn’t believe that almost everybody in our group wanted to suck a goat’s blood. The guy who I traded with wanted me to be the first one but there was no way I was doing that. after the goat was slaughtered I tried to make a fire with sticks but was unsuccessful and handed to two sticks off to one of the tribesmen. As the goat cooked over the fire I helped build up the walls of the “boma” (the word for village, I think) by dragging thorn bushes and stacking them up.

Dr. Wamai, Johnothan and I then walked with the chief to see were they got their water. It was a pond about 20×20 feet and it was not deep at all. They are having a drought right now so we were actually standing within the pond, where the water would have risen to during a fruitful rainy season. The pond was covered in green pond scum and the chief was telling us how they have a problem with getting enough clean water. As we were there girls wearing black (meant that hey were recently circumcised) came to gather water in jugs.

We then walked down to see the water tank that a church group had helped them build. It was their back up for when the pond dried out completely. when rain came it was funneled down the slope of the hill into this water tank. The view from the hill above the water tank was incredible and the chief sat with me pointing out and telling me the names of the mountains at the edge of the valley.

We then went back and ate the goat. We all got a strip of meat. I didn’t like it it was too fatty but I forced some of it down and gave the rest to my friend who I traded with.

On the way home we saw a cheetah on the road which was pretty awesome and the driver Charles and our logistics guy Ben seemed very alarmed. They pulled over to tell a guy biking down the road that there was a cheetah ahead. I never knew cheetahs were such threats to eat humans.

We got back on the main road and shortly after we dropped of Wamai’s friend and her baby we got a flat tire. In the middle of Kenya, in the middle of terribly long drive, and in the middle of the night! Hakuna matata is our moto though so we stayed positive and Ben, Charles and the other three guys in our group (who are much more proactive than me) tried to change the tire. Our jack was broken so we had to borrow from another truck that had broken down about 100 yard up the road. We were there for about an hour and a half or so but we finally changed it and got home.

When we got back I was so excited to shower and get all the dirt of me from the day. I went in and it was hot for about two minutes until the electricity went off, an then on, and off again about six times. It didn’t bother me though because the ice cold water felt like a relief from the burning heat in the valley.

Maasai village


This morning we had swahili in the morning, a lecture from Wamai about the Kenyan Health Care System and another lecture from Prof. Won’gombe about health economics….. nothing too noteworthy.

In the afternoon we went to Kibera, the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa, and we met with Agneta Olurch who runs the organization Sita Kimya! in Kibera. Sita Kimya! means I won’t shut up! or I won’t stop yelling! and refers to the vow one should give to not stop yelling if they know sexual abuse is occurring around them. The organization is part of the Kibera Post Test Club Network which is made up of 40 cubs and has over 1400 members in Kibera. It is a group of organizations for people who have been tested for HIV/AIDS so that they can talk to others who have been tested. They provide daycare services, therapy for HIV positive people to help them battle the stigmas and challenges that come with being HIV positive, and they work to educate the public through street skits and classroom about HIV/AIDS. We were able to see one skit and it was awesome. The young men and women who acted were great actors and they were so dedicated to helping others even though they were living in such squalor. I will post a video of the skit tomorrow.

One of the actresses names was Lilian and I got to spend about an hour and a half walking through Kibera with her. She had grown up in Kibera and spent her whole life there. She told me everything about the slum.

She talked about the frequent rapes and molestations that take place, the corruption involved in the job market, the political and ethnic dynamics of the  slum, how they get water, food, and make a living, etc. She said the biggest challenge of life in Kibera is keeping the children in school. She said that if they weren’t in school, not only were they not getting an education, but they had idle time throughout the day, during which they could get vacuumed into lives of drugs, prostitution, or crime, all very common in Kibera.I asked her specifically about the rapes. I didn’t get it, why is it so common? She said men wait at night for women to go to the bathroom and then they rape or molest them. She said that it happens most often to young girls and talked with her friend about the recent molestation of a 1 year old and a 2 month old……. It was heartbreaking.

A few things in Kibera were as expected, there was trash literally everywhere, tons of people, tin houses, people without jobs, and a huge lack of resources for the 400,000 people who live there. But there were also some things that I did not expect. I did not know that there were so many shops and stores and I did not realize how many non-governmental orgs. there were in Kibera. I always pictured it as a huge, hot, crowded slum that only contained tin shacks where people slept. I never knew that people actually had businesses and organizations in Kibera.

Agneta’s organization was incredible and inspring. She started the organization after her husband died from AIDS in 1995 and now it is helping so many people. Lilian was disgusted at the need  for people from Kibera to bribe or sell your body in order to get a job in Kibera or in the city. I was too. I was also disgusted by the environment of the slum. Walking through it, you felt as though disease was sweating all around you, you stepped through mud and trash, and then more trash, and felt as though anything you touched would transmit to you some type of infectious bacteria.

I talked to Luo people about the potential for violence if Raila doesn’t win in 2012 and the consensus was that there will not be violence because people were scared of what could happen after seeing how bad the violence was in 2008. Nobody wants to see a repeat of that, they said.

When asked about corruption in the job market, the consensus response was that about 75% of the Kibera population (about 300,000) were not given a job because it was given to somebody else who bribed, or had sex with someone in order to get hired.

I learned a lot walking through the slum and was deeply inspired by the concern that many of its dwellers had for others even with their own quality of life being so low. I took video of the skit, two presentations by schoolchildren, and of the street entering and leaving Kibera. I will put them up tomorrow evening. Right now I am exhausted though and need to go to bed. Enjoy!



Kissing giraffes, climing Ngong hills, and first day of class

Three days have gone by since my last entry but since then I have had two mind-blowing days and one pretty awesome day. Today was the first day of class and it was pretty awesome… We walked 30 min to our classroom at the University of Nairobi Med School. We had Swahili in the morning where we learned how to say hello in a bunch of different ways and a few other things. We then had a lecture from a lawyer and political scientist about the political system of the country. It was pretty basic but definitely interesting. After the lecture ended I asked the lawyer to speak about the level of corruption in the courts and he laughed, saying that it is there and that is something that they have to live with. He was sorry to admit it but he did not seem to have any desire to change it. That was thought-provoking for sure.

The second lecture may have been the best academic presentation that I have ever heard. It was by a political scientist named Cyprian. He was so smart! He prepared a 21 page presentation for us in which he outlined the problems of governance in Kenya and hat is being done about them. He was so passionate about this topic it was hard not to be on the edge of my seat. I emailed him tonight hoping to get an interview with him tomorrow for my research projects. One of which is about the political culture around the 2012 elections and the potential for post-election violence and the other is about the inherent dynamics of Kenya that make the quality of life for Kenyans lower than the quality of life for people living in developed countries, and what is being done internally to improve the quality of life in the country. the first is 20 pages the other is 10… It is going to be a lot of work considering we have absolutely zero free time to read or study but I know I will learn a lot.

Yesterday was one of the mind-blowing days. We went to the ngong hills and climbed them, up one down it and up the next. I swear they were each the size of ski mountains. We climbed for 7 hours! We walked through vast sloping planes with thousands of grazing cattle, goats, and sheep, sometimes with somebody herding them, and other times with no people around at all. The views were breathtaking. On one side you could look back toward the city and see homes and towns and Nairobi, and on the other side you could see and endless valley surrounded by mountains. You could see farm plots and little bunches of white dots that were villages. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

About 6 hours into our climb Shannon, Nicole, Avery and I came across a group of boys playing soccer in a flat grassy area near the bottom of the last hill. We were going to walk by but I was like wait how many times will I be able to play soccer with Kenyans in the middle of the most beautiful place in the world? So I asked if we could play and Shannon, Avery and I did. Nicole got some great video of it. One of the kids faked Shannon out so bad went five-hole on her, ran around her and got the ball on the other side of her it was hilarious.

Two days ago was another touristy day. We visited an orphanage for elephants who were in the wild without a mother, a giraffe park, went to a rugby game, ate dinner about 30 feet away from the Prime Minister and went to Rafiki’s, a night club. Quite a day huh?

The elephants were really cool I never knew they were so hairy! I have some good pictures and video of them rolling around in the mud to take a bath. The giraffes were the coolest thing ever. They were gigantic and they had huge tongues! We got to to feed them as much as we wanted because they eat all day long and we put the food in between our lips so they kissed us in order to get it hahah. I kissed three giraffes, their huge tongues slobbering all over my face. It was definitely a once in a life time experience.

After the giraffe park we went to a rugby game in Nairobi. It was really fun to watch, the Cheetahs killed the Buffaloes and it was fun to be a part of the crowd. The guys were huge and wicked fast, really awesome athletes.

Then we went to dinner at a restaurant called Carnivore. It is a restaurant where they keep coming around the table carving meet onto your plate until you surrender and can’t eat anymore. I ate chicken, goat, beef, ostrich meat balls, camel, bulls balls (literally), crocodile, turkey, and probably a few others that I am forgetting. Dr. Wamai put on the greatest display of manhood I have ever seen, just constantly eating meet from 7 to 10…. constantly….. it was incredible. I guarantee he can eat more meat than Kobyashi. He is a crazy dude. He did our climb (7hrs) without having a sip of water all day… I don’t understand how. Sam, if you’re reading this this guy is the African version of Adam Welde I swear he was produced in a factory somewhere.

Anyways towards the end of dinner Raila Odinga showed up and ate a few tables away from us. I wanted to say hi but obviously didn’t want to interrupt his dinner but when our guide Carla insisted that her and I should try to say hi I went with her. He completely ignored her, it was quite uncomfortable. He just pretended like she wasn’t there when she said hello to him.

After dinner we went first to the bar next door where there was an Indian dancing competition that was a bit outlandish to say the least. We left there quickly and went to Rafiki’s, a night club. We danced for about an hour it was so fun. They played a bunch of American music and everybody had so much fun. Dr. Wamai was breaking it down! He’s hilarious.  A gay guy tried to hit on me too the whole group was laughing. It was pretty funny, he just persistently tried to dance right up next to me haha it was a riot.

Alright time for bed, hope everybody enjoys and it wasn’t  too long! Night.


Kissing giraffes, climing Ngong hills, and first day of class