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?