Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Impressions

We've made it to Nairobi and have successfully completed our first week! After 30 hours of travel and some much needed sleep Monday night, we got right to work on Tuesday morning. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with project partners, visiting our partnering NGO (Maji na Ufanisi), and making plans. I have to say, it's been very nice walking into a situation where relationships have already been developed and a working partnership is in place. After spending so much time in the Peace Corps trying to identify effective organizations, build partnerships, and get projects started, I have been almost shocked at how efficient and productive each meeting has been, with both the NGO and community members. I am very thankful to previous student groups and our professor Renee who have done the ground work, gone through the trial and error, and dealt with the frustrations of weeding out unsuccessful partners. Everyone we have met with so far has been very motivated, dedicated, and eager  to get to work. We spent Thursday and Friday in Kibera. With our team, accompanied by our project manager Anthony, the village water supplier Chris, and three community members who served as our "protection," we walked through nearly all of Kibera. We visited each of our eight existing sanitation facilities and 2 additional facilities that we will be working with this summer. Our role was to take notes on the state of the facilities. Were they functioning? How well? Are they being used? Is water being supplied? What repairs are needed? We found that some facilities had not even been unlocked in quite some time. Others were very dirty, without water, without functioning showers or toilets, or with serious structural damage. Then there were a couple that had full tanks of water, were very clean, with high rates of usage, and with few needed repairs. While there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of politics to be dealt with (in regard to the management of the facilities), with the commitment of our partners in Kibera, I think we can get a lot accomplished this summer. 

When we walk through Kibera, its almost like we are a parade. All of the kids - who are extremely cute - come running out to greet us with a chorus of "how are you's?" There are tons and tons of NGOs and other groups who come to through Kibera to do research or implement projects, and unfortunately, I don't think that the community sees the tangible outcomes or feels as if they receive any direct benefit. It's hard to be lumped into that category, have an idea of what people are thinking as we trek through their villages, and be viewed in the same light. Hopefully, at least in the village of Silanga where we do most of our work, the community will see us coming back on a regular basis and feel some sense of commitment. 

It's hard to describe Kibera. I don't have any pictures....for one, it would be impossible to truly capture our surroundings. Aside from potentially making us bigger targets, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking pictures as if everything was a 'spectacle.' I'm still struggling with the 'researcher'/'subject' dynamic, but I think as we get to know more people in the community, it will get better. What I can say is that about (and its impossible to know for sure) 1.3 million people live within (again, about) 1 square mile. Families are packed into huts made of mud and iron sheets. It's hard to maneuver the "roads" between houses. Not only are they very narrow, but slippery from rain and sewage and covered in trash. Next to one of our facilities, there was a hole dug about 8-10 feet deep, and we discovered that the slum is literally built upon 4-5 feet of pure trash. It's amazing that even in these conditions of extreme poverty, people always seem to have a smile on their face.

We haven't had much time to explore yet. We have been eating lots of delicious Kenyan food though. I am loving the chipati (tortilla-ish flatbread) and skumawiki (roasted kale with onion and tomato). We moved into our apartment yesterday, and it's luxurious. I'm sitting here on our balcony, overlooking the pool, using our wireless internet. We also have a nice big kitchen and a group who loves to cook!

Our list of "things to do" while in Kenya is getting longer and longer; our weekends should be filled with adventures. Next weekend we plan to head out to Mehru, a rural town about 5 hours outside of Nairobi where Anthony is from. He wants to take us to the Mehru National Park and to Mount Kenya. I'm looking forward to it! 

I'm enjoying every minute of my time so far. We have a wonderful group and every Kenyan I've met has greeted me with a huge smile, a hug, and welcoming words. I think I'll like it here :)

Okay, so Renee did get a couple of pictures. Here's our group with Anthony in front of one of our facilities. 


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