Thursday, September 16, 2010

Addendum: Videos

I shot some videos while I was in Kenya and Egypt, but I didn't get to post most of them because I had slow internet connections. So, I've finally uploaded them to YouTube, and would like to share them here. Below are two video playlists - one from Kenya and one from Egypt. Enjoy!



Monday, August 9, 2010


Just a few things in order to properly put an end to "A Guy in Kenya."

THANK YOU's are in order to the following:

1. The Clinton School of Public Service, for first of all accepting me as a student at their school and thus giving me the opportunity and means to do the important work I did this summer and to have the incredible experience of personal growth that it gave me. I am profoundly proud to call myself a "Student of Bill," and I have immense amount of gratitude to the school for the value they place on field service. I don't know of any other school in the country that essentially says to its students: "Here's some money - go out and do some good on the other side of the world." Their International Public Service Project has no match in higher education. Thank you Dean Rutherford and to Joe Ballard for organizing the IPSP program.

2. To Jim Cummings and Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative, for partnering with me on my project and continuing to show me unlimited faith and support as I have continued to develop from a young man into a slightly older young man. I have now seen first-hand the amazing impact Kijana is having in Kenya, and if I wasn't already, I am certainly now your partner for life.

3. To Patrick, for taking the journey alongside me and trusting that Kijana was a worthwhile partner.

4. To the Kutai family, my Kenyan family, for showing me unlimited love, hospitality, and spreading their warm hearts to mine.

5. And to my American family, for their love and support and allowing me to travel off to distant lands for ten weeks. I'm lucky to have you all.

And lastly, thank YOU for joining on my journey this summer by reading along from where ever you are in the world. I was telling Patrick the other day that I'm glad I blogged this summer because I'll enjoy looking back on these entries in the years to come as if looking back on the pages of a journal. I've never been good at keeping a journal throughout my life, so I think what's made keeping a blog easier is the fact that I know I'm writing for an audience - people that can share in the journey with me. I guess I'm self-centered - I need people's attention to be motivated to write apparently. So thanks for joining me and giving me motivation to keep on writing - I've loved receiving comments and hearing shared ideas and experiences brought up from readers.

I'll close by asking you for one more thing. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, and have the means to do so, please consider making a donation to Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative. You can visit them at and figure out how to make a contribution. I can tell you with complete faith that your contribution would be meaningfully spent and make a significant impact in the lives of the students in western Kenya. The students I encountered there are so remarkably intelligent and on average, significantly more motivated and dedicated to their education than American students. They truly value the ability to learn and will study as hard as possible to achieve their dreams and escape their environment's cycle of poverty. They have the brains and the heart - they just need the resources. That's why Kijana's work is so important. You have the power in your hands (and bank account) to have a humongous impact on a student who wants so badly to succeed and make a good living for him or herself and their family. The world has a lot of money in it - mostly in our American hands. It's up to us to share it. Before leaving, I gave Franklin's family $200 towards his college education. Because of the donation, he'll be able to enroll in an aviation school next month and will be the first child in his family to attend college. His mother is poor and his father is deceased. It was a tough decision, but I have faith that it will pay off. Additionally, his mother will sell her livestock and Franklin will get a part-time job in Eldoret to earn the extra money needed to pay tuition. My sacrifice is so small in comparison to theirs*. Will you join me in making a small sacrifice for the lasting empowerment of Kenyan students? Even if it is as small as $10, I hope you'll consider it. Money comes and goes, but an education lasts forever.

And with that, I leave you. You can help make the story continue on at

*I tell this story not to brag of my generosity, but to perhaps inspire you to give as well. I don't believe in not sharing good news. I know it's always helped me to make a commitment if I've seen someone else make their own commitment.

Together in Spirit

I returned back to America yesterday afternoon. Patrick and I landed at JFK International Airport in NYC and parted ways. It felt strange being separate, and newly independent for the first time in ten weeks, as he walked away. I couldn't have asked for a better partner-in-service than him this summer. He caught a connecting flight to St. Louis and I am staying in the NYC for a few days to spend time with friends before flying home to Florida. It feels good to be back in the U.S., but I'm already missing Kenya incredibly much.

On the night before we departed, we exchanged gifts with Welliminah and family. After ten weeks of amazingly generous hospitality, Patrick and I were surprised to receive a gift from them as well. We were each given our very own beautiful African kikoi shirt and konga fabric to give to our mothers. They were moving gifts - whenever I wear the shirt I will think of my Kenyan family, their beautiful country, and their warm hearts.

The next morning we were up early to depart. I was proudly wearing my new kikoi shirt. Susan arrived with Okwemba to take us to the airport. In almost perfect symmetry, we ended our stay at Welliminah's house the same as we started - by bowing our heads in prayer. Welliminah said a touching prayer thanking us for our time together and wishing us safe travels until we return to Kenya in the future. I'll never forget what she said: "Our bodies are parting ways, but our spirits remain together." Sitting here in New York, I couldn't agree more, because I can still feel it. On the return flight across the Atlantic, I kept thinking back to our final goodbye in Welliminah's front yard, and I couldn't stop thinking to myself, "Why am I leaving Kenya?". That's how comfortable and natural and alive I felt there. I'm already anticipating the day that our bodies and spirits are reunited once again.

As bittersweet as it was being driven away from Es'saba village in Okwemba's car that morning, there was a large feeling of accomplishment as well. As I took one last look at the beautiful scenery surrounding Kisumu with a clear, sunny, blue sky all around, I knew that we were leaving Kenya better than we found it. And not nearly just because of the success of our projects, although I have great pride in what we accomplished. We were flying away from a new Kenya - a young democracy with a bright future ahead of it, with a new Constitution in tow. The country overwhelmingly passed the new constitution on August 4th, and did so peacefully. As Okwemba, the driver whose interest in politics I profiled in an earlier post, delivered us to the airport, he remarked, "You see, this country now is peaceful and happy because the people have been heard."

Their peace is my own. Their happiness is my own. I will continue to watch Kenya and stay in touch with my family there with much interest in their growth and progress. In the coming months, I will watch as 30 Kenyan students work with 15 American students to promote solutions to the global water crisis. And until the next time I return to Kenya, I will keep their spirit, and my own, alive deep inside my heart.

Myself, Ann, Divo, Welliminah, and Esther the day before I left

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Referendum Day

Today's the big day! August 4, 2010 could go down as an historic day in the development of Kenyan democracy. It's constitutional referendum day, with millions of Kenyans heading to the polls to cast a simple vote - Yes or No - on a new Proposed Constitution of Kenya. Here's a run-down of information on the referendum for anyone who is interested...

1. The text of the proposed constitution can be found here, or if you want the Cliff Notes version, you can scan the Wikipedia entry for it.

2. It would be SHOCKING if 'Yes' doesn't win. The polls over the past two months have been showing steadily increasing support for the proposed constitution. I think the most recent one I saw had something like 70% in favor, 20% against, 10% undecided. Which means that if somehow 'No' is announced as the outcome, you would be a fool not to conclude corruption is at play...

3. Because corruption ain't no joke in Kenya.

4. The people who are against the constitution are, generally speaking, motivated by religion. Although the constitution clearly defines life as beginning at conception, it also has a clause that provides for abortion in certain cases. It states: "Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law." People have been traveling the country assailing the constitution because it will permit the killing of babies. Sound like American politics? That's because it is. The 'No' campaign has been receiving thousands (if not millions) of dollars from evangelical Christians in America, and has even gotten support from a New Jersey Republican Congressman who serves on a sub-Saharan Africa committee. The Congressman (whose name I forget; I read it in the Daily Nation a few weeks ago), has held up the abortion clause in his condemnation of the Constitution, although my best guess is that he hasn't even glanced at the document. I wonder if a Republican politician would even care about the referendum if Obama's roots happened to be in another African country?

The other big religious (Christian) objective to the proposed constitution is the continued inclusion (from the original constitution) of Kadhi Muslim family courts, which would be a subordinate court under Kenya's superior courts (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court). In addition to having operated in Kenya since its independence in 1963, these Muslim family courts are found throughout the Islamic world. The proposed constitution states: "The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts." So to be clear, the courts are only for people who profess Muslim faith, and even then, it's up to them if they choose to submit to the jurisdiction of the court. And it's only related to familial matters - marriage, divorce, inheritance, personal status. And they are subordinate to higher courts. So what's the problem here? It's no doubt true that America is a big influence in Kenya, but unfortunately that includes the bad influences as well. From what I've read, discrimination against Muslims in Kenya - a group that makes up 25% of the country's population - has risen dramatically since the 9/11 terror attacks. This is just more fear mongering by the country's wannabe American evangelicals.

Ryan Ubuntu had a good blog post a few weeks ago that provides some great insight into the religious fervor against the constitution. Pretty scary stuff.

5. Really, the only sane way to use religion in this whole referendum process is to pray that there won't be any violence. Most of the world probably remembers the horrible violence and rioting that took place after the corrupt Presidential election of December 2007. Over 1,100 people died. Kisumu, the nearest city to me, was a hotbed of violence and rioting. I'm confident that there won't be any problems this time around though. First of all, Kisumu is a hotbed of Yes. Virtually everybody's Yes in Western and Nyanza Province. For the most part, the No folks are limited to the Rift Valley. Most of the rest of the country, as the polls are indicating, are strongly Yes. So, it's simply not as contested as the 2007 election was (unless a fast one is pulled and No is announced the winner....yikes).

Secondly, the government has done a good job of taking security precautions. For instance, the government has forced the cell phone companies (Safaricom, Zain, and Orange) to require every single one of the customers to register their phone number in person with photo identification. Every single phone number in Kenya has a name attached to it now. Even mine. I had to go into the Zain store in Kisumu, wait in a long line, and then show them my passport and fill out a form as they registered my number and name in their computer. If I hadn't registered by July 30th, my phone would have been shut off. We even had to register our Safaricom internet modem as well.

As a side note, this precaution would be looked upon approvingly by author Robert Wright as a "non-zero-sum" game. Yes, it's forcing citizens to surrender some personal liberties, but the purpose is to keep them safe. This is the part of Nonzero that I struggled with most - I've been hard-line against the Patriot Act following 9/11, but Wright, even though he wrote the book before 9/11, seemed to be promoting the sacrifice of such personal liberties for the safety of the human race in a nuclear world.

6. The two sides have chosen colors. Green for Yes, Red for No. I was wondering if these colors had larger ideological significance like Blue and Red have in the U.S., but apparently this is the first time they have been used in a prominent national election to represent head-to-head interests. I have a feeling that this could be the birth of an ongoing Green-Red competition in Kenyan politics with each color having an over-generalized meaning. Again, America is not always a good influence.

7. Nonetheless, like Ben, I'm wearing a green shirt today. Stay tuned for the result.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Go Trojans!

First I found my undergrad school in Kenya, and now I've found my grad school in Kenya. Way to go, Trojans.

P.S. This reminds me of another story to tell. When Ryan Ubuntu visited us, our conversation somehow got on to the subject of the difference in condom brand names between the U.S. and Kenya. Trojan is the major brand in the U.S., and Trust is the big brand in Kenya. Ryan had the good insight of how ridiculously different these two names are. While Kenyans are associating safe-sex as a matter of trust between two partners, apparently American men prefer to think of themselves as "trojans," sneaking in and tricking their partners.... Honestly, what's the deal with naming a condom Trojan? Discuss?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reaching the Summit

Three years ago, I climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. But yesterday, I reached a far more rewarding summit. After a nine week climb creating a summit - the Global Student Summit program for Kijana - I reached the top. The picture to the right is what it looked like.

It was a room at Es'saba Secondary School, containing thirty students - ten each from Es'saba, Ebusiloli, and Mwituha Secondary Schools - who have been selected to participate in the program's pilot campaign, "Water Sustainability: Finding Solutions to Fresh Water Scarcity," starting in September and running through May 2011.

The meeting in the picture above was their Student Orientation, where they familiarized themselves with each other and received training to prepare them for the journey they are about to begin. While my nine-week climb to develop the program has just ended, their nine-month climb as participants in the program has just begun. Along with fifteen students from my high school, The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, these students will become experts on the global water crisis and work together to promote some serious solutions within their communities, nations, and world. But their summit will reach a much higher peak than mine; they are taking their ideas to the top of the world - to two Presidents, a Prime Minister, two Members of Parliament, two Senators, one Congressman, and to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Together, these 45 students on opposite sides of the world will shine a very bright light on one of the most pressing - and most ignored - problems facing our global village in the 21st century.

During the orientation, each of the students received their own Participant Guide for the Water Sustainability campaign - beautifully printed in full color and spiral-bound - containing readings, reflection questions, and quotations to provoke their imaginations and inspire them to action.

One of those quotations I put in the guide is a favorite of mine from Robert F. Kennedy:

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
- Robert F. Kennedy

Kijana President and Founder (and my high school teacher) Jim Cummings was also present at the orientation and he made sure to point that quotation out to the students. He asked one of the girls to stand up and read it out loud, and as I listened to her read those words for the first time - with her unique Kenyan pronunciations and occasional reading struggles filling the silent room - I got goosebumps. To hear a young person encounter the words that I have cherished as a sort of Bible verse for public servants was like hearing it again for the first time myself. And somewhere, I know that RFK - the ultimate advocate and believer in the power of young people and the idea of "youth" - was smiling. 

Jim and I helped them understand what RFK meant, explaining to them that they are each sending forth their own tiny ripples of hope into the universe. Ripples of hope that would inspire others and one day, after crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, create a powerful tidal wave of hope. Amusingly, Jim even went so far as to point out to the participants that I am a student at the Clinton School of Public Service - a place named after a U.S. President who was born in a place called Hope. I picked up on it and explained that I was inspired by the ripple of hope that President Clinton has sent forth in the world, and now I was passing it on to them, who I hope will then pass it on to others. At this point, the students were beginning to understand the ripple concept, so Jim drove it home by having the students say out loud: "I am a ripple of hope!," louder and louder until they couldn't help but burst out laughing. It was an incredible moment that I will never forget.

And although I used President Clinton in my ripple of hope example, the truth is that Jim is the greatest source of inspiration responsible for any ripples of hope that I have sent forth into the universe. I have known him for ten years now, and I can still remember the first time I met him at Cross Country practice a few days before I started ninth grade. I might not have been able to articulate it, but I knew from that first moment and from the way that he treated me as a young person that there was something different about him that other teachers and adults didn't possess. He has a true gift for teaching and a truly large heart for empowering youth and inspiring them to let their own light shine outward. I was reminded of that again yesterday as I watched him speak to the students at the Orientation, and seeing the smiles that spread across each of their faces. In particular, I have to share the picture above. Jim is pointing to his hat, and while apologizing for wearing it indoors, he explained that he chose to wear it to the Orientation for a good reason. The hat has a simple, but powerfully true message: "There is no Planet B." His point was clear; it's the responsibility of you young people to protect Planet A, our most beautiful, wonderful home, Earth. It's been ten years, and I'm still learning from Jim. And still catching his ripples. 

I was extremely pleased with how the Orientation went, and with how my entire project has gone, for that matter. After the session, I had the students go outside for some pictures. Each of them took an individual picture holding their name (see Everlyn's photo to the right), and then as a group. It was incredibly rewarding for me to see the camaraderie that was displayed as the students waited to take their pictures. Students from different schools who hadn't met each other until just two hours before were laughing and smiling and enjoying each others' presence. I'm hoping that a similar level of respect and friendship can be built between the Kenyan and American students when the videoconferences start in September. Although I won't be able to be there myself over the next nine months, I'll be following the students' progress with great interest and pride as they work on their own summit climb together. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life is Good Pt. 2

More pictures of the good life from the past four weeks in Kenya.

Boga poses with Flat Stanley

Photo shoot with the kids...

Riding my bike at sunset through Es'saba Village's narrow walkways. 

The wet season ended at the end of June, which means that there has been considerably less rain in July. Every night now, there is a line of people waiting to fill up their jerry cans with water from the stream.

These kids are sent out every night before dinner to go fetch some water for their family.

Then they haul the heavy water up the hill. If they're lucky, their family lives close to the spring, otherwise, some have to walk for upwards of a mile. 
I fetched some water one night myself, carrying it on my head like these girls. Luckily, Welliminah's house isn't terribly far from the stream. It was a workout though. I had a sore neck afterward. All the villagers laughed at the sight of me carrying water.

A beautiful view at sunset. See that large hill in the distance? We climbed that with Ben. Apparently the local story is that the rain Gods live there (although I don't think anybody around here actually still prays or believes in such Gods).

 Boats on Lake Victoria's shore in Kisumu. I was there to arrange a field trip for the students in the program I'm developing. They'll go there in October to learn about the lake, take a tour on these boats, and do community service. 

 Welliminah told Patrick one night that she wants us to return to the airport in America looking very "healthy" (read: fat), to show our parents how well we were taken care of. She had this hilarious quote: "When you come off the plane looking fat, your parents will be so proud." So Patrick stuffed his pillow under his shirt after dinner one night to show them how fat he's become. Laughter ensued.

Students at Ebusiloli taking down and folding up the flag at the end of the school day. 

Vincent receives a bath from Moraa. 

A beautiful road on a walk with Ben. 

Over the weekend, Patrick and I met our new classmate from Class 6, Shamim Okolloh. Shamim just so happens to be from Kenya - with family roots in the Bunyore area, where we are doing our projects. Although she's lived in Atlanta for several years now, she came back to her high school in Kaimosi to organize the school's very first alumni day. She invited us as well. The school is an all-girls boarding school and is nearly one hundred years old (the oldest alum present graduated in 1936!). Below is a picture of her addressing the over 1200 in attendance. First impressions of Shamim: impressive, confident, awesome. 

She also spun a fast one on us and had us address the humongous crowd of students, faculty, and alumni as well, without any preparation. Afterwards, the students bombarded us with questions and picture requests. See below. My favorite question from one of the students: "Do you hate being governed by a black man, Barack Obama?" Apparently she didn't notice I was wearing his t-shirt. My reply: "No, I love it!"

Lastly, I'll leave you with Richie, the subject of the greatest photo I have ever taken (it's now my desktop background):