Change Yourself…Change The World.

Slums & Decadence, all in one day
February 5, 2011, 2:01 am
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

Continuing my trend of writing about Kenya, I wanted to go back in time a little bit and talk about a day of complete and utter contrast: one bright and hot day sometime in October when my Kiva fellowship was nearing to a close, I decided to visit the Kibera slums, a literal 10 minute walk away from where I was staying at Wildebeest. Kibera is the second largest slum in all of Africa. Throughout my three months of traveling to a lot of rural areas in Nairobi to meet with Kiva clients, I had never had the opportunity to visit Kibera, and so I decided that the time had come.

For those readers who are unaware of what slums are, they are generally an extremely densely populated area with sub-standard housing (most houses consist of small rooms with dirt floors, made by scrap pieces of corrugated iron), and are a type of informal settlement. According to the United Nations, slums are usually characterized by high rates of illiteracy, poverty, and  unemployment. Slums can also be defined as unhygienic, rampant with disease and some without proper access to toilets (or sharing one with many other neighbors), running water, and full of garbage.

Yet while a lot of affluent people balk at the thought of houses with dirt floors and tin roofs, many people that live in slums love their lifestyle and fondly call it their home, opting to live there by choice rather than move into a nicer dwelling. Their neighbors are friends who watch out for each other, their children grow up right next to each other, and many feel quite safe and secure living within such a tight-knight community.

I spent the morning walking through Kibera, which are chock full of narrow alleyways paved by trash piled on top of each other until they turned as muddy and as brown as dirt. Women and men peeped their heads around doorways, yelling ‘mzungu!’ (white person) as I passed, and half-naked children in torn clothing followed me around chanting over and over again the only English phrase they knew: “How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?” I found this downright hilarious.

After walking around Kibera in the morning, one of the poorest areas in Nairobi, I then ascended upon the most dissimilar and expensive area of the city, Gigiri: home to the United Nations, a variety of embassies, and the nicest and largest mall in East Africa, The Village Market.

A friend of mine liked to call it ‘a little slice of the USA,’ but some malls in the US don’t even compare to how extravagant this mall is. This is the thing about Kenya that really threw me off. Growing up, all I knew about Africa was what I saw from ads on television: severely malnourished and starving children in torn and ragged clothes. When I grew older and started reading books on development, I spent a lot of time learning about the problems of Africa: war, poverty, HIV/AIDs, disease, starvation. I knew from travel experience that this was not the entire picture of what Africa as a continent was- but with that being said, I was completely unprepared for the decadence of Nairobi. Huge and lavishly decorated malls boasting movie theaters, food courts, coffee chains, and massive grocery stores the size of Walmart. Top-notch restaurants that served a huge variety of cuisine, whether French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Morrocan, Indian- even Tibetan?! Huge nightclubs, luxurious apartments- all surrounded by this poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Co-existing completely peacefully, right next to each other. Yes, Nairobi definitely threw me through a loop.

So I had decided to go to the Village Market because every Friday until 6:00 PM there is a huge market for traditional Kenyan artifacts, clothing, jewelry, paintings, and pretty much every single conceivably Swahili thing you can imagine. There are a variety of markets in Nairobi every week that sell these items, but the Village Market is by far the largest. And since I was in the way for Christmas gifts, I decided that this would be the best place to visit. Beforehand, I decided to treat myself to a fancy lunch at an Italian restaurant in the mall (conveniently two times the price of what it would cost in the USA- another thing about Nairobi? There are a LOT of conveniences from back home- but expect to pay anywhere from 3-10 times more for it here), and I pulled out my Kindle to read a book, marveling at the extreme polarity of my morning and afternoon. From trekking through garbage to reading from an electronic device and sipping sparkling water in an extravagant restaurant.

It’s hard not to feel guilt, sitting at a lavish table with a spotlessly clean white tablecloth while a waiter presents you with fresh ground pepper for homemade pasta. It’s hard to justify witnessing areas of extreme poverty where people don’t have access to water, toilets, or electricity, and then afterwards spending more money on one meal than another person makes in weeks. It’s becomes even harder to justify these ‘treats’ when you work in development and interact with people who have exceptionally less than you on a daily basis.

But one of my favorite passages from The Blue Sweater, a book by the wonderfully inspiring Jacqueline Novogratz, speaks to this and helps me keep some things in perspective:

“We lived with enormous privilege in all aspects of our lives. We had drunk fine wine at the French embassy’s parties and already had traveled the world. Most precious of all were our passports that would allow us to leave the country whenever we wanted and our sense of empowerment that led us to believe we could accomplish the impossible. The challenge wasn’t whether to buy a couple of bottles of champagne; it was instead not to take our privilege for granted and to use it in a way that served the world and our highest purpose.”

Check out Pictures here:
Pictures of Kibera Slums and Gigiri Opulence

Yep. I Rode An Ostrich In Kenya.
February 4, 2011, 12:28 am
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post, Video Post

Kenya feels more and more like a distant memory, but I still have so many unshared stories to tell on this blog. And so let’s start with perhaps the most exciting, ridiculous, and positively outrageous one: Contrary to popular belief, ostriches can in fact be ridden by humans. And yep- you guessed it- I rode one. Along with a ‘fellow Kiva fellow,’ Katie.

Many tourists and travelers who come through Nairobi are not aware that there is an awesome Ostrich Park about a 40 minute drive outside of the city. It’s great fun- you get a personalized tour of the surrounding farmland and a lesson on ostrich farming (including visiting ostriches from when they are adorable babies in their pens, to fully grown, scarily black-plumaged males 3 feet away from you with no barrier in between while they hiss at you threateningly. Don’t let this deter from visiting though, because being so close to such an interesting animal is breathtaking). You can chillax by their pool while you eat a delicious lunch of grilled ostrich leg, steamed ostrich meatballs, or smoked ostrich breast. And then finally, the main attraction for ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls alike:

A video of me riding an ostrich.

This was definitely one of the most unexpectedly fun experiences I have ever had while traveling. Check out more pictures below.

An Ostrich Farm in Nairobi

Goodbye Africa
October 23, 2010, 4:07 am
Filed under: Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand

Dear friends,

My fellowship with Kiva has ended, and I am currently sitting in the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport waiting to board a plane to Bangkok, Thailand. I have a day layover there before I head to Bali, Indonesia for three weeks.

This sudden change of plans was precipitated by an immense need to just get out of Africa. Truth be told, this experience was not what I had hoped it would be. In a nutshell, my experience in Africa was largely based around Nairobi. While I’m appreciative that I got to live in the city for three months, travel all around and really understand it, this was not what I had envisioned myself doing: living in one of the most super posh urban areas of Africa for three months. I had imagined that my experience here would have been similar to the one I had in India- living a very basic lifestyle and really experiencing the life of an average local. Living in Nairobi, which is littered with plush shopping malls, movie cinemas, spacious apartment complexes, and a huge variety of Western food, limited that experience for me. I have to partially lay some of the blame on myself: I of course, could have chosen to live a very different lifestyle if I had wanted, but it would have been grossly inconvenient in relation to where my work was every day. I also found myself turning to these creature comforts merely because it was there and easy.

I think this correlates to my perception of what I thought Africa was before arriving, versus what it is now. Studying development extensively through Asia and South America, I read all kinds of books about ‘the plight of Africa’- the AIDs epidemic, millions crowded together in slums, malnutrition, malaria– and every picture I saw were of starving Africa children. Part of me knew, from traveling to many places, that this could not be the whole picture of Africa- but I had imagined that it was much more severely underdeveloped than most other places I had been. Upon arriving in Nairobi, I was shocked to find that places such as Bangladesh and Panama were much more underdeveloped than Nairobi, a vast city chock full of modern conveniences. I understand that Nairobi is not an indication of what the rest of Africa is, by any means- in fact, Nairobi is the hot spot for aid agencies that carry out work in other countries, because it is such a convenient place- but it still really changed my perception of Africa as a continent, in both good and bad ways.

And so I feel like I’ve experienced Africa in a pretty unique way- not quite the one I had wanted, but it was an experience. And at this point, I am ready to move on from this experience. I know that I will return back to Africa someday, when I am older, a bit more wiser, and when I am can see and understand the dichotomy of the continent a bit better. So I decided that rather than travel around Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania for a month, that I return to Asia instead for a brief respite, an area of the world that I hold most dear to my heart and sorely miss.

This decision was also caused by a huge desire to stay for a period of time in Bali, a place I’ve always wanted to go to. I think that a 3 week stint in Bali is just what I need right about now. Then before heading home at the end of November, I’ll be heading to Thailand for a week to visit one of my best friends Mira and the CRC program at Global College.

Kenya: I did have some wonderful memories with you, and so I thank you for that. But it’s time to move on.

On to Asia.

Much love,

Katie Morton does it again
October 21, 2010, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Kenya

Hi friends,

If my previous post on matatus wasn’t hilarious enough for you, then check out this way better rendition of what matatus are about, written my friend and kiva fellow Katie Morton.

A Post About Matatus: The Main Mode of Transport in Kenya
October 3, 2010, 10:58 am
Filed under: Kenya

Dear friends,

There are different types of transportation all over the world. In the US, people mostly drive cars. In Taiwan, EVERYONE takes motor bikes. In India, many people rely on rickshaws for transport.

In Kenya, everyone takes a matatu. And since the entire business involved in taking a matatu is always humorous, I thought it worthwhile to write a post about them.

A Nairobi matatu

Continue Reading

Giraffes and Zebras and Rhinos, Oh My
September 29, 2010, 6:52 am
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

My first Safari in Africa!!

I had a wonderful weekend at Hell’s Gate, Lake Naivasha, and the Nakuru Game Park. It was a trip organized by my hostel, Wildebeest, and I went with three other hostelers (Chuck, Dan, and Jess) who are all material engineers, and very fun to hang out with. We spent the first day at Hell’s Gate, a HUGE gorge where we went hiking in the canyons and hot springs, and then ended the afternoon on a boat ride on Lake Naivasha, where we were able to see all kinds of safari animals, including being able to walk in a field right next to zebras, giraffes, and wildbeests!

The next day we did a game drive in Nakuru National Park, where we had the opportunity to see even more animals. However, I was surprised at how boring a game drive can be. Most of it involves driving all around the park for hours on end for glimpses of animals that could be extremely far off in the distance. You aren’t allowed to get out of the safari car, but they do usually have raised roofs so you can stand to take pictures of the animals. Spending about 6 hours with my neck craning to get a picture of a rhino hundreds of feet away, or straining my eyesight as we passed along for glimpses of lions or leopards without any reward, was not my cup of tea. I easily got camera fatigue and spent the second half of the safari in a kind of stupor sitting in the car, only to arise when Jess or Dan’s shouts of different animals of interest alerted me back to standing. Suffice to say, I’m glad I only did a day-long safari.

However, overall it was a really relaxing weekend and a great experience (though unfortunately, I do need to go on another safari to at least be able to glimpse a lion! My requirement is to see my own ‘big five’ while I’m here (‘The Big Five’ usually refers to seeing a lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and water buffalo): my own ‘big five’ I want to see is the elephant, giraffe, zebra, hippo, and lion! I’ve seen four out of five. One more to go.

Please check out the hordes of pictures below (which includes zebras, giraffes, baboons, impalas, rhinos, and much more)!

Pictures of Hell’s Gate, Naivasha, and Nakuru

Mombasa (Old Town and Jesus Fort)
September 21, 2010, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

Mombasa is an absolutely gorgeous place. I highly recommend that you visit if you have the time. Check out the pictures below!

Pictures of Mombasa

September 17, 2010, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Kenya

Dear friends,

After six intense weeks, I am finally out of the city of Nairobi for a weekend vacation with my dear Africa Kiva fellows (Sarah, Ann, and Katie). We are relaxing in Mombasa (a city in Kenya right on the coast), soaking up the sun and the beach and absolutely relieved to have outlets to talk about ALL things related to Kiva (no one quite understands Kiva jargon like the Fellows) until we’re blue in the face. We are all feeling pretty burnt out from work, so to be able to have this blissful weekend on the beach is wonderful and sorely needed.

The BEACH in Mombasa is absolutely gorgeous- I have never seen sand so white. The four of us arrived at around 3 PM and stretched luxuriously on the sand, where Sarah and Ann took a brief respite by taking a camel ride (yes, the camel’s name was Obama), and Katie and I took a swim in the ocean, where we miraculously came upon a gospel music video being shot. About 20 Kenyan people wearing colorful polos and black pants/skirts danced in the waves, and Katie and I swam over to get a better look. Suffice to say, two mzungus (foreigners) in bikinis ended up dancing in the gospel music video.

It is wonderful to be hanging out in a laid-back beach town with a breeze and the smell of the sea. It is paradise here and I don’t want to leave!

Until then, you can find me at the beach,


September 14, 2010, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post

Last week I went with some fellow friends to Carnivore, arguably the most famous restaurant in Nairobi. Why? the restaurant title lives up to it’s name- it is the most meat you will ever eat in your life in one sitting.

Continue Reading