Sunday, 1 July 2012

Karibu! (Welcome!)

Greetings from Nairobi, Kenya! At the request of friends and family I have decided to take a stab at writing a blog. I can't promise that it will be all that interesting entertaining, but I'll do my best to at least give a taste of what we're up to over here. So here goes nothing!

Where to begin? As I write this I am seated in our new home for the summer - an apartment in the residential neighborhood of Kilimani... and I expect our living conditions are not what one would imagine when they think of Nairobi. The apartment big and furnished, complete with cable, wireless, hot showers and a balcony... bigger (and perhaps nicer) than where I was living in Denver! There are 5 of us in total - our fearless leader Renee (a DU professor), Ben, Ellen and Nate (fellow students) and myself. We are a short walk from shopping centers and markets, as well as matatu (local bus) routes. From what I've seen of Nairobi so far - which isn't much, it's a big place and it's only been a week! - it's an interesting city in a state of transition. Construction is everywhere and fancy malls pop up in the midst of shoddy buildings on streets that lack sidewalks. I am looking forward to experiencing the downtown area and getting a better sense of just how many people live here.

The project we are working on is called Global Washes, which partners with a local organization called Maji na Ufanisi, to improve community health through the provision of clean water and sanitation services. The community we work in is called Silanga - a small village that is part Kibera, of one of the largest slums in the world. It is impossible that my words here could even attempt to capture Kibera. The poverty is unimaginable - open sewers, trash everywhere, people and animals and houses and businesses literally piled on top of one and other - and yet life still exists and continues, day after day. As we spent the week touring our sanitation facilities (basically small buildings with bucket flush toilets and showers) and seeing what work needs to be done for the summer, we really got a sense for the community. Silanga is at the very bottom of Kibera - you won't even find UN groups working down here. 'It's too complicated". You can tell mizungas (white people) don't make it to Silanga very often. We are followed by stares from the adults - who seem to warm up once you greet them with a friendly habari (how are you) - but I cannot blame them for their skepticism. The best part of it all is the chant-like chorus of "how are you? how are you?" from the local children, who follow us around, squealing with delight at the chance to practice their English greetings. That said, obviously it is not safe for us to walk alone through Kibera, but luckily we have great friends here. A few guys from the community, right around my age, are with us at all times to serve as body guards. Our informal water supplier Chris (a water mafia to some... more on that in a later post) is well respected in the community... and from what I understand, most people will leave us be if they know we are connected to him.

The team in front of one of our facilities.

Tomorrow starts the real work. We are headed back into Kibera to run a training with the community business organizations who run the sanitation facilities on a daily basis. The goal for the day is to get everyone on board with record keeping protocol, and to start a conversation on how better to engage the community with the facilities... but more on the details later.

That's all I have for now... hopefully I didn't ramble too much. A lot to say and explain about the work we are doing here and the complexities that come along with it - which I am just beginning to understand myself - but luckily we have 9 more weeks and many more blog posts to come!

Until next time... Kwaheri!

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