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):

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Public Service tip of the day: Go create some non-zero-sumness

I have been tearing through some great books this summer! Last week I finished reading the Bill Clinton-approved Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. I had started reading it back in December, but when Christmas and then spring semester came along, it got put back on the shelf. I'm glad I took it with me to read in Kenya though - it's easily one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

The author Robert Wright looks at human history as a process of cultural evolution, just as our biological development as a species is a process of organic evolution. Like the genes in our bodies, Wright says our cultures are built on "memes," small units of ideas or information that get improved on every time they are transmitted to a new person. For instance, a song melody is a meme that enters my brain and whether I am aware of it or not, it influences the next melody or idea that I put back out into the universe. The idea of memes is actually what I think Malcolm Gladwell was getting at in his book The Tipping Point. Gladwell tells of how a small group of people in Greenwich Village started wearing Hush Puppies again in the 1990s; soon other people saw them doing it, thought it was a cool look, and then millions of people were wearing Hush Puppies again. This was a "Hush Puppy meme" that got spread throughout the world like an epidemic.

The books that I'll never forget are the ones that make me change the way I look at and think about the world. Nonzero has joined a few books that have done that for me - Earth in Mind, Bowling Alone, and The Tao of Pooh. In fact, Nonzero is one big fat meme in itself - the presentation of a profound idea that will influence the way I think about my role as a public servant and human being moving forward in this life. The book ends with a call to action for us all to go out into the world and create more of what he calls "non-zero-sumness" Non-zero-sumness is his adapted term from game theory, meaning situations where there is a win-win for all parties involved (amusingly, Wright actually wanted to title the book "Non-zero-sumness" but his publishing company thought it was a little too goofy, hence the sleek title, Nonzero).

Among the most intriguing questions he ponders is this: Will there one day be a single global government? His points about the non-zero-sumness that has been created by current international governing bodies such as the World Trade Organization, European Union, United Nations, and others has me extremely intrigued...

Go read this book!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Berklee in Kenya

This was in Kenya's Sunday Nation newspaper yesterday:

My alma mater, Berklee College of Music came to Nairobi at the end of June to hold auditions for aspiring African musicians who hope to gain a scholarship to study there. They've been doing this for a few years now, and musicians from all over Africa fly to Nairobi for a shot at a scholarship - they come from South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Egpyt, and Tanzania to name just a few, simply for the opportunity to be heard.

And the best ones really do end up with oftentimes a full-ride scholarship to the best music school in the world. This is just another reason why Berklee is so awesome - it's a school that truly celebrates music from all cultures and traditions from all over the world, and gives its students the opportunity to jam with top-notch musicians from all over this great big planet. When I was there, I met amazing musicians/people from South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I would estimate that at least a fourth of its student body is from outside the U.S. Consider this for instance: my freshman dorm roommate was from Ecuador.

At the top of the article above, it proclaims, "Berklee is to budding musicians what Harvard is to business execs." As an alum, I'll gladly take that analogy. Kudos to Berklee President Roger Brown and his wife Linda Mason for setting up the Africa scholarship program and expanding the school's brand globally. I was happy to hear from my classmate Kate Raum (who is in Tanzania this summer) that she recently saw a guy riding on a bus with his Berklee College of Music t-shirt flapping in the wind. Here's to international public service, Berklee. :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I am just here.

One of my favorite phrases that Kenyans are prone to saying is, "I am just here." I have heard this (or "We are just here," or "You are just here") over a hundred times over the past seven weeks that I've been in Kenya. I've heard it in so many situations - such as when Ben takes a seat on the sofa in Welliminah's living room after being welcomed in ("So David, I am just here"), or running into our driver Okwemba while walking in the Luanda marketplace ("So, we are just here"). The statement is always accompanied by a large, satisfied smile and direct, prolonged eye contact - I suppose, in order to savor the moment that the person is "just here" in.

The first time hearing this expression - like I imagine Americans reading this right now - I found it a bit funny. When I would hear the phrase, I would think to myself, "Yes clearly, I can see you." Yet, it seems to have grown on me. I have begun finding myself echoing the expression in return to my Kenyan counterparts ("Yes, we are here"). Despite the fact that the phrase is a statement of the obvious, there's some beauty in the acknowledgment of the moment at hand - the space that is being occupied, the people occupying it, and the simple joy in being "here," wherever that may be. It makes me realize how seldom I stop to appreciate each unique moment in time in my daily life in the United States (and how much our culture seems to discourage it).

I haven't really used this blog to reflect on my personal thoughts, so I wanted to briefly share how I have fared in Kenya, and to share some reflections on what I have personally gained over the past seven weeks.  Over the first twenty-plus years of my life, I have come to understand that I have a strong tendency to constantly look forward. I'm always looking ahead (what's next? where am I going? what's happening tomorrow?). This is my fourth trip abroad in my life, and each time, I have found myself constantly thinking about what I would do when I get back to the States and back to "normal life." Each time, I would get back and reflect on my trip and often find myself wishing I had appreciated my time overseas more, and not spent so much time thinking about what I would do when I got home.

This trip has been different though. Perhaps my past regrets of not staying "in the moment" has caused me to be more conscious about it this time around. But I also think I have matured and become a wiser person since the last time I traveled abroad. I seem to be appreciating each moment more. For instance, I believe the work I'm doing for Kijana is important, but I would also have to say that many seemingly mundane moments from the past seven weeks have been equally important. Moments like lying on the grass under the shade of an avocado tree with Juliette's baby Vincent sitting on my stomach for an hour at a time. Moments like walking with Ben at sunset - soft, warm sunlight from the horizon, beautiful lush green plants in every direction, the smell of smoke in the air as families cook dinner - as I come to the realization that I feel more alive than I have ever felt in my life.

That feeling of being alive is what being a human is supposed to feel like. I believe that that feeling is the fulfillment of the human spirit's highest potential. It's the feeling of having a warm heart - spread to me like a contagious virus by the smiles and genuine spirit of virtually every person I have met here. I have been infected by the warmest hearts I have ever encountered, and I intend to bring it home with me.

I have three more weeks of staying in the moment here in Es'saba village. I am truly going to miss my Kenyan family - Welliminah, Juliette, Ann, Sam, Ben, Divo, Moraa, Vincent, and others - and I am truly going to miss the beauty and peacefulness that permeates throughout this paradise. This is sincerely the happiest I have been in my life. I could stay here forever.

But let me stop myself from looking too far into the future, lest I forget: I am just here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jammin' with Flat Bill

My dream of jamming with Bill Clinton - me on piano, him on sax - lives on. One day it will just has to (especially now that the Clinton School has not one but two former music majors!). In preparation for that moment, I've been jamming with Flat Bill here in Kenya (see picture to left). It will suffice for now.

What's a musician to do when he's got a sweet melody in his head but no piano or keyboard readily available to pluck it out? The answer: search Google for "java piano".

At five weeks and counting, this is the longest I have gone without touching a piano/keyboard since I started playing piano in second grade at age seven (surpassing the previous high of four weeks). I try not to be as melodramatic about my need to play piano as some of the people I met at Berklee College of Music ("I can't live without music, bro!"), but I'm honestly beginning to hanker for the opportunity to lay my fingers on ivorite (fake ivory - the ethical way to go!) keys once again. Making music just makes life more fun.

Patrick and I have begun co-writing a song that I am going to finish when I get back to the States. I first had the idea when I was in Kenya in 2007, but I never followed up on it, but Patrick has helped breathe some new life into it. It's going to be called, "How Are You, Mzungu?" You may recall from a previous blog post that "mzungu" is the Swahili word for "white person," which I hear regularly around here being shouted by surprised children as they take notice of me. But I failed to mention in that previous post that the word is also inevitably accompanied by the greeting "How are you?", which seems to be the first bit of English that every Kenyan child learns (and I have reason to believe that most of them don't even know what the phrase means, based on my attempts at returning the question to them).

But what is most interesting about their greeting is the way they say it. The kids - all of them, meaning I literally haven't heard a kid here stray from this rule - put the three words to separate pitches, making a little melody out of it. They say it very quickly, putting a little dip in the "are," sandwiched in between two higher pitches for "how," and "you" (for my musician friends out there, the solfège is Mi-Do-Re for How-Are-You).

So seeing how they have naturally constructed a melody out of the line, I'm really just pilfering it to make a song out of the only two things they say to me as I pass by them: "How are you?" and "mzungu." And isn't it convenient that these two things rhyme?

Here's the vision for the song - a typical African pop sound with beautiful, clean electric guitar, simple harmony, and groove-inducing drums/percussion. Patrick helped round out the lyrics in the chorus, which will be sung by some kijanas (kids): "How are you, mzungu? / I hope you're having a very nice day / How are you, mzungu? / I know you came from so far away."

A future Kenyan pop hit? Bill on sax?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The World Cup - I enjoyed it!

I just wanted to drop a quick note on here to say that I really enjoyed the World Cup. I've never paid attention to it before, or to soccer for that matter, but after watching the last month's worth of games, I think I have a new appreciation for the world's most popular sport.

In fact, I think the World Cup is more exciting and internationally-inspiring than the Summer Olympics. I'll definitely never miss another tournament again.

The picture here is of the television in Welliminah's living room that Patrick, Ben, and I watched almost all of the games on.

Looking forward to Brazil 2014! :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Food Inc.redible!

The picture to the right is what a typical dinner looks like for Patrick and me every night here. The house-help cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us every day - we are seriously spoiled. The food is brought out in the containers that you see in the picture. It's a surprise every night to open up the lids and see what's inside them. We can usually count on a few things: rice or spaghetti, beef or chicken, a broth made from the meat, some form of potatoes, greens called sukuma wiki (which literally translates as "push the week," because the dish is a cheap way to fill up a week's worth of meals), and a cornbread-ish side dish called ugali, which is an East African staple for every lunch and dinner (Kenyans say it's not a meal unless you have ugali).

Put it all together, add a Coke, and you've got a delicious meal! As a side comment, a few things about our meals here:

1. Patrick and I eat alone. One-on-one, two men, talking about men stuff at the end of each long day of public service.

2. The women all eat in the kitchen, which is located in the small hut in the back of the house. I've asked them if we can all eat together, but they don't seem too "in to it." I think they like being separate from us (I can hear them laughing and having a good ol' time  back there every night). I asked them if they usually eat inside at the dining table where Patrick and I eat when they don't have visitors, and they said no. They always eat at the kitchen table. This makes sense to me, as Americans often simply eat at the kitchen table instead of the more formal dining table on an average night. It's just easier and more comfortable, right?

3. Patrick and I have good conversations nonetheless though. 

4. Toothpicks or floss are essential after each meal...I'll explain why a little later.

Tasty food is all well and good, but as someone who knows me, you may be aware that earlier this year I became an organic/local/ethical food disciple after seeing the documentary Food Inc. (which has led me to become a Whole Foods shopper under the tutelage of David Monteith, and to reject fast food from my diet - a pretty big shift from a year ago when I worked at McDonald's headquarters and ate their food everyday!). So much like Food Inc. takes you behind the scenes of the food we eat in the U.S., this blog post, "Food Inc.redible!" aims to give you a behind the scenes look at where this amazing food that winds up on my plate every night comes from. Hint: You don't have to look far.

Let's start with the staple food: corn, or as Kenyans call it, maize. Walking around the village here, it is easy to notice that corn is grown on every plot of land (as I pass by the tall, leafy green stalks, I keep on half-expecting Shoeless Joe Jackson to appear, or at least a Kenyan version of him, but it hasn't happened yet...). Kenyans plant (and harvest) their crops twice a year - in March and September. It's currently harvest time in Es'saba, hence the picture to your right. I walked out of the house one day and came upon this sight - hundreds of cobs of corn sprawled out on the ground of the compound. I was utterly confused and intrigued. I hadn't seen anyone put the corn there, so it was unexpected. I found out that this was the first step in a whole process for cultivating each maize harvest. After removing each cob from the stalk, Welliminah hired some help to spread out all the corn on the ground in order to dry all the kernels out. After a few days of this, they started removing all of the kernels from the cobs, putting them in sacks and continuing to let them dry out every afternoon under the sun. Finally, they will take the sacks of dried kernels up to the marketplace to have them ground into flour, or maize/cornmeal called unga or posho. This flour is the stuff that ugali is made from, and served at every meal (I've seen ugali being made - it's basically identical to how you make instant mashed potatoes - you boil water and start stirring the flour in until it starts absorbing the moisture and firms up). 

I've been told that all the corn (and the posho it produces) you see in these pictures will last Welliminah six months, which happens to be exactly when the next harvest comes in. Not a bad system, eh? However, apparently not everybody's harvest turns out as well as Welliminah's. In addition to practicing good crop rotation and soil tilling, she's also able to afford some good fertilizer. Ben has pointed out several less successful harvests on our walks. 

Lastly - the best part: This corn is for human consumption only!!! No cows, chickens, goats, or terrible turkeys get their paws or hooves or claws on this good stuff. They eat fresh, delicious green napier grass. And they love it. Speaking of cows...

Unlike the misleading cartoon drawings of smiling cows grazing green pastures that you see on American food packaging, these cows really are happy. Trust me - I hung out with them for like fifteen minutes one day in their shed in the back of the house...they have a good time back there, and they really enjoy having their picture taken. Cows in Kenya typically live a decently long life, and they are able to grow naturally with out any funky hormones. Welliminah gets fresh milk everyday from the cows, straight from her backyard. Patrick and I had originally taken the milk in our tea the first week we were here, but we soon switched to consumer-packaged milk after we had stomach problems from it. It may not be pasteurized, but it works for Welliminah and her family. 

Now, on the issue of turning cows into "beef" (or "nyama"), to put it euphemistically. Typically, when the cow reaches old age and has reached the end of its usefulness in producing milk (or when it's time for a special celebration!), the owner will take the cow to the butcher to be slaughtered. Apparently, this consists of cutting off the cow's neck (hopefully with something sharp). Yeah, slaughter is never fun, but at least here I know that the cow is happy and has lived a natural life free from hormones that make it produce way more milk than is possibly safe. And most importantly what we call "grass-fed beef" in the U.S. is just called "beef" here. That's good.

Finally, cows are a bit of a status symbol here. They are an indication of wealth. Welliminah has three. A lot of people seem to have two, some only have one. Ben had an excellent analogy: Cows are like savings accounts. If you ever run low on money, you just take your cow up to the market, have it slaughtered, and sell the meat to the butcher. Fast, easy, good money. Check out that delicious slab of meat hanging out of the butcher shop in the Luanda marketplace in the photo to the left. Mmmm....(and right next to the clothing boutique shop - convenient location!). This is where the beef that Patrick and I eat comes from - obviously, they're not slaughtering cows for us (YET...I wouldn't put it past their hospitality). KSh200 ($2.67) per kilogram (1kg = 2.2lbs).

Now as for the original white meat: chicken (appropriately enough called "kuku" in Swahili; yes that's pronounced "cuckoo"). Chicken might be the food that we eat here most that is easiest to stay aware of, because we literally walk amongst the chickens that we eat everyday. They stay in a coop at night, but they roam around the compound during the day, pecking mindlessly at grass and interesting bugs all afternoon. Check out the picture to the right - 7am alarm clock today, delicious kuku tomorrow night!

The house-help, Juliette kills the chickens and then prepares them for us. Perhaps contributing to my reputation as a "soft man," I have not been willing to investigate this sight in person yet, even after they invited me to slit a chicken's neck myself (but Patrick hasn't either, so I feel justified). You'd think that we'd start noticing the chicken population around the compound begin to diminish, but apparently they keep on purchasing new chickens from the marketplace. I haven't seen any baby chicks yet, so I'm thinking that the roosters need to step up their game a little bit. I suppose we have been eating homegrown eggs for breakfast though, so maybe that's why.

Biting into a piece of chicken here, you are acutely aware that you aren't in America. This is the reason we need toothpicks after each meal. Because the meat is tougher here - the chickens and cows actually walk around and use their muscles. In fact, unlike in America, the chickens here are actually able to walk around all day with out falling down every three steps. I'm thinking I should shoot some video to take back and show to Tyson, since I'm sure they have forgotten what a walking chicken looks like. Really though, it's not hard to get used to the toughness. It's not that bad, and the chicken is still as tasty as ever. 

Another interesting thing about chicken consumption here: they eat it all. Divo loves chicken feet (which I've heard of eating before), and Moraa loves eating the chicken head (which I have not heard of before, and which quite frankly really grosses me out - that's the chicken's brain, folks; sans eyeball and beak). Thankfully, they only give us the normal stuff - legs, thighs, wings...although I don't think we've ever been served the breast...the women must keep it for themselves since it's the best part!

And to round out this exposé on Kenyan village food - I'm taking you all the way back - to the back of the compound, behind the latrines. That's where Welliminah's banana trees are. They seem to flourish back there. I wonder if there's any correlation between their productivity and their proximity to the latrines, and its constantly renewing supply of natural fertilizer being placed deep into the ground beneath the banana trees (if you catch my drift...).

All there is to say about the bananas here is that they are unbelievably delicious. These are real organic bananas, friends - and you can taste the difference. It's almost like you've never tasted a real banana before eating these. 

I hope you enjoyed "Food Inc.redible!" and weren't too shocked by the behind-the-scenes look at food in Kenya. I know it's pretty astonishing, especially if you're used to Supermarket life in the U.S.A. Yet, this doesn't have to be completely foreign or shocking to Americans. If you are willing to go out on a limb and try shopping at your local farmer's market this weekend, you might find that it's not so different after all. The keyword is local.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sixty Cent Haircut


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating the Homeland from the Motherland

Today is my first Fourth of July away from America, but that's not stopping me from celebrating my beloved country. Patrick and I implored our hosts to break out the grill today so that we could give them a taste of how we celebrate our national birthday back home. So in the back of the house (much like an American is prone to do on the Fourth of July on the back patio/porch) we fired up the grill's wood coals (which made the food delicious), and we grilled up some kebabs with beef, chicken, green bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Check out the picture above to see the scrumptiousness (it was good), complete with improvised skewers made out of old clothes hangers.

Here's a couple shots of Patrick and I acting like real men at the grill (even though Willeminah's daughter Faith told me that I'm "soft"):

I donned my Obama "Vote for Change" shirt to commemorate the day. I love that man, Barack Obama. Even though he's done some stuff that has not pleased me (namely, escalating the war in Afghanistan, opening our coast lines to oil drilling, and most recently, doing a poor job responding to the BP oil spill and failing to swiftly seize it as an opportunity to push clean energy legislation), one has to admit that an Obama USA is much better than a Bush USA - and these last five weeks in Kenya has made me realize it even more.

When the food was ready to be served, Patrick and I turned the table a little bit and served the females at the house who usually serve us (we have tried to change this, but it just isn't happening). Since we were the hosts tonight - welcoming them to celebrate our American holiday alongside us - Patrick poured the water for them to wash their hands. In the picture below, you can see that he's pouring water for Faith, while Juliette, the housemaid who usually is in the position of cooking and pouring the water over our hands looks on with amusement.

It was a really fun time, and a unique way of celebrating America. They loved the food.

To round it out, since we didn't have any fireworks, Ben, Patrick, and I took this photo using the next best thing: our cell phones.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thanks for the help!

Ben opened up his email yesterday and found nine emails awaiting him from nine new friends! Thank you, classmates, for helping out - he was a little confused, but in the end, I would say EXCITED to have so many interesting messages to read from people all over the world!

Let's see if I can remember all the emails....we had Morrison, Sophia, Monteith, Becca, LaTrenia, Valerie, Hallie, Kim, and Cory, correct? I hope I haven't forgotten anyone  - if so, let me know.

As a disclaimer, just know that it will likely take at least a week, if not a whole month for him to reply to all of them! He's a beginner typist as well, so he's still memorizing where all the letters are on the keypad.

Valerie had the lucky privilege of getting the first reply! So funny - he read all the messages, and then I said, "Okay, who will you reply to first?" He looked over the list of names in his inbox, thought for a moment, and said, "Valerie Hendrix." I'm not completely sure why he picked her, but maybe it had to do with Valerie's sly trick of attaching my Christmas photo of me in the Santa Claus hat and holding a teddy bear in the message. He was definitely confused by that. Nice work Valerie, I hope you feel honored to have been the first one! For the rest of you, hold tight, more replies coming. :)

Lots of fun! If you haven't sent Ben a message yet, what are you waiting for? benasembo  @

Friday, July 2, 2010

Team Kenya Reunited!

Team Kenya - Patrick, Ryan Ubuntu, and myself, have finally been reunited for the first time since flying into Nairobi. Ryan has been touring the country giving human rights trainings, and during his stop in Kisumu, we were able to kidnap him for a night so that he can experience Es'saba village. We had an awesome time, and I know I definitely enjoyed the energy and great conversation he brought with him. I'm impressed by the work he's done too - he's got a great project and is making a real difference with marginalized populations in Kenya. Check out his blog:

The picture below is from our walk with (who else?) Ben earlier today:

Loving Kenya, loving life.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Help Needed!

Patrick and I have set up an email account for our good friend Ben Asembo, who takes us all around on walks. He is a 53 year old electrician and is new to computers and the Internet. If you've been following this blog, the chances are, you've already heard about him and seen many pictures of him.

Patrick and I have now been giving him daily email lessons, so that he'll be able to do it on his own by the time we leave Kenya in six more weeks. But email's not as much fun if you don't have very many people to exchange emails with!

We need your help! Will you please send Ben an email, just to say hello, and to welcome him to the Internet? It would be really cool if he suddenly opens up his email and has 10 messages to read. Tell him your name and where you're from, and feel free to ask him questions like, "What is Kenya like?" "How's the weather?" "How did your crops do this season?" etc....

His email is: benasembo  @

(Obviously, there are no spaces in it, but I don't want him to get random spam messages from me posting his address here).

Please give it a shot....have fun with it!

Ben's waiting for your emails....

Monday, June 28, 2010


Welliminah's mother passed away over the weekend. On Saturday, she got the call and hurried up to Kakamega (about an hour away) to go to the hospital. We found out later that she had passed.

Welliminah got back yesterday afternoon (Sunday), and Patrick and I were advised to clear the house for a few hours to allow for the "wailing process". So Ben took us on a long walk. Ben is an amazing family friend of the Kutai's, and this pretty much illustrates why.

My curiosity would have liked to see/hear the wailing process, but apparently it's a traditional way of notifying the neighborhood of the loss, and inviting them into your home to grieve with you. It's really a beautiful concept - that's real social capital and community, if you ask me.

The funeral is upcoming. I haven't heard of a date yet.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life is Good.

Inspired by my "Life is Good," water bottle that I drink out of, here are some pictures of the good life from the last four weeks here in Es'saba Village.

Crossing a stream on a walk with Ben

Patrick and Ben crossing the bridge

This was on the first day of the World Cup, June 11th. We went on a walk with Ben just before the first game between South Africa and Mexico, and brought a soccer ball along with us. As we were walking, these kids saw our soccer ball and came out of nowhere, sprinting towards us. So we stopped and played with them for about 30 minutes. They were reluctant to see us finally move on.

A scene of the Kenyan countryside while walking with Ben.

At home with Moraa, little Vincent, Divo, and neighbor Musa.

Divo now knows that "it's great to be a Florida Gator"

And he looks cool with it backwards too. (Also notice the mis-spellings on his shirt)

In the car with Okwemba. Patrick in the front seat.

That jerry can sitting on top of the chair is full of rain water. It's the water Patrick and I use to wash our hands, brush our teeth, and do other things of the sort.

Welliminah's beautiful home at sunset.

A freshly filled can of rainwater.

Neighborhood friends in the back of the house.

Peter (prounounced "Pita"), Divo, Boga.

Big little men at dusk.

Apparently the Terrible Turkey likes to hang out on top of the water tank sometimes. Little Vincent below.

Sitting in the front yard about to begin reading the final chapter of Three Cups of Tea. What an amazing book. So inspiring. One of the best written books I've ever read, as well.

Kitties in the house at the end of the day. Kenyans don't name their cats, so Patrick has named them "Lucky" (on the left, because she looks like his childhood cat, also named Lucky), and "Monkey" (on the right, for the annoying, monkey-like meow she makes). Lucky is Monkey's mother.

Hard at work late in the evening.