Tuesday, October 31, 2006

african rains

it is raining. no light sprinkle. no drizzling. no shower. rain. and i think i will be drying out until about the time i have to turn around and walk back home after today's morning commute. i am pretty sure that the red mud will stain my cute stripey capris and i will most likely be too cold all day as i sit at my desk, feeling rather soggy. at least i had an umbrella and didn't have to tie a plastic bag on my head like some of the people i saw walking to work this morning. but that didn't do much to stop the matatus and buses from splashing me with dirty road puddle water as they sped by.

last night i had a true post-colonial experience although it could have been 50 years ago and i don't think much would have been different. i went to a gorgeous house in a totally landscaped and secluded neighbourhood and ate THE best indian food i have EVER had and watched Liverpool beat Bordeux 3-0 while a house man (what do you call them - steward, butler, house help...?!) made us a fire to keep warm on a chilly kenyan night and served us the aforementioned delicious food as we sat under the stars and drank Tusker beer. it was a pretty strange feeling, being served by a kenyan man while listening to accents that would be more familiar in the halls of oxford or king's college than nairobi. but all in all, it was a nice time and i met some rather interesting people.

Friday, October 27, 2006


i think i ate goat skin yesterday. i am still undecided and it is probably best that i am not sure. but my first nyoma choma (roasted meat) experience was not as eventful as one would hope. the chips were good though.

for those lonely planeters out there: i went to the original Thorn Tree Cafe in the Stanley hotel yesterday. it is a new tree now and is quite tiny but the notice board is still there. the funniest thing about the fancy hotel was the photo of Lancaster Castle on the wall. funny how my worlds combine sometimes.

in more inspirational news, i met a hero today. the kind that should be on oprah.* she has set up two clinics in the slums of eastleigh in nairobi that provide services to the somali and oromo refugees (who cannot access services in goverment clinics for a number of reasons), has provided counselling services to rape victims and HIV + men and women, delivers babies, vaccinates children, campaigns against female genital mutilation, and helps commercial sex workers stay safe and access treatment and counselling. but she does not have enough money. the organisation i am working for is going to try and get her more money, but it amazes me that with the rickety equipment they have and the lack of resources, they manage to deliver about 50 babies a month and provide 24 hour care. so safe yourself the dollar and instead of buying a Make Poverty History white wristband, give your money to her so it can actually be used.

the feelings of compassion and sympathy and outrage i had almost brought me to tears, but i managed to portray a professional image and i hope that i get to work more on this emerging project, it could be as rewarding for me as for the people who will hopefully benefit from increased funding.

and if i get any fantastic ideas on how to raise funds or develop partnerships, i will let you know. and of course, i invite you to do the same.

*if oprah's show was any sort of inspirational marker, which i would argue it is in north america

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

askari named sam

i came to work from my NEW house this morning which is truly fantastic. it is a 4 bedroom flat and all brand new and so cozy! i have only met one of my roommates and she is super kind and friendly, although she will be leaving for a few days and i will have all the space to myself. the funniest thing about this area of nairobi are things are named Pine Forest and Aspen Park and Riverside, all obvious colonial left-overs, but there are amazing birds and plants around this area too, which makes it a beautiful conundrum.

and about the house for those of you who were worried, it has 24 hour askaris (guards) who were hesitant to let me in when i first arrived to see the place, so they seem to do a good job at askari-ing. wow, i think i just butchered kiswahili there. we also have a maid who comes 3 times per week and does laundry. i feel a bit spoiled. but then everyone seems to have a maid around here, i bet even some of the maids have maids.

i also took my first matatu this morning, although it was only for about 2 minutes. i probably could have walked. but it was not nearly as exciting or exhilirating as crossing the highway and climbing into a dillapitated minibus. imagine - 3 lanes each way, wild kenyan driving, and me just trying to get to work!

i love the names for the ever-present minibus transporter in all developing countries. in south africa they called them creatively 'taxis' and in ghana 'tro tros' and now 'matatu.'

i made it to work early (i wonder how long that will last) and am here at my office in a chair that i am going to have to exchange and a desk i am going to have to rearrange.

and so it begins

(october 23, 2006)

ahhh… first days of work. how i missed the feeling of knowing nothing compared to the other people you work with. i realise it happens in any new job in any city, but to sit around and talk about the security situation in somalia and what it is like to work with all the local governments and who the us is currently giving money to, is fascinating and somewhat exhilarating. i will employ my strongest conceptions of humility and try and absorb as much information and experience as i can in these months that i am sure will pass more quickly than i anticipate.

there was some very brief talk of me possibly going to tanzania, which is rather exciting. not that i know my way around kenya yet and i probably shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but the possibility is rather exciting.

i also spoke to my potential future roommate today and she sounds incredibly friendly and welcoming and i hope to see the house tomorrow. i might be bed surfing for a few weeks as the others move out, but i am sure it will be a lot more uncomfortable and less lurid than it sounds.

expats in the face of danger

(october 21, 2006)

i arrived in jomo kenyatta international airport rather exhausted from having been sat between a rather large irish catholic missionary and permanent resident of kenya and the daughter of a dutch diplomat returning home to dar es salaam (i learned this from being nosy as she filled out her visa application form), which did not allow for much meaningful sleep. normally, i pride myself on my ability to sleep in confined areas and to be sleeping before a plan takes off, but not this time. with a stroke of luck, i began getting sleepy about ¾ of the way through the da vinci code so i turned it off and tried not to touch the man who was by this point spilling over into my seat space as i closed my eyes and tried to prevent my head from falling every time i approached sleep sitting upright.

and this was after a small delay at heathrow where they were not sure that i was going to get a seat as they had oversold the flight and were trying to squeeze 11 people in while reassuring us left-overs that on average 20% of people do not show up for flights. now who can afford to be paying this kind of money for intercontinental flights and then not show up? i believe it was this little kink that was responsible for my trying seating arrangement. but more than the uncomfort of having someone in my space while i am trying to sleep (or watch the da vinci code – and by the way, what is with me sitting next to a catholic priest on a flight where i chose to bring the book to read and then this time next to a catholic missionary where i decide to watch that movie?), was the inconvenience and lack of duty free shopping time that this hiccup caused me. i had a serious shopping list to tackle whilst at heathrow that included a travel hair dryer with a uk plug and Birkenstocks for only £25. i am still without either. damned british airways.

a friendly driver from the organisation i am working with was there to greet me with my name (albeit missing a few Rs) on his sign negating my fears as i was terrified i would have to navigate the mean streets of africa’s most dangerous city alone at 7:30am on a national holiday. i must admit that it was quite nice being picked up rather officially in a range rover with the organisation’s logo on the side. before we headed into the city, i noticed that the areas surrounding nairobi look exactly like photos, flat with hills in the distance, everything a dry-looking yellow with baobob trees dotting the horizon. pretty amazing.

i came to the apartment of a co-worker’s flat (whom i have never met and who is away on vacation for the long weekend) and promptly slept for 7 hours. i woke up, and as it was getting dark, was terrified. of what, i don’t know, but enough people warned me about going outside after dark that i figured i was in just as much danger being inside. besides what sounded like a monsoon rain (although i suppose nairobi is much too high for the monsoons to reach us), a few fireworks nearby, and the guard dogs in the apartment complex periodically barking like mad, i survived my first night.

today, a rather nice belgian fellow from the office called me and asked if i wanted to come out with him to do some shopping, which i of course said yes to, because there is no possible way that any excuse to stay inside for fear of all that awaited outside the front door would fly as there was no way i could possibly have had any other plans. and, well, i did want to leave the house and was happy to have some company in doing so.

i learned today that the expat lifestyle is a good one. we had lunch at an american-run restaurant that served fantastic coffee and delicious guacamole, bought some cheap groceries and seasonal fruit that would make anyone’s mouth water at home, and returned to my new friend’s house, which is really more like a mansion. well, not quite, but it is located on a compound full of southern californian-like houses, jacaranda and bougainvillea trees, a swimming pool, a playground, a gym, and is chockablock full of diplomatic license plates on vehicles.

it was obvious after one day out and about in my neighbourhood that there are many different nationalities living and working together. i was even invited to a party in the complex by a neighbour who was trying to sell the idea on there being some italians and some americans in attendance, an invitation i politely declined as i need to read about what the hell my job is all about tonight and tomorrow before i start on monday. i did see the office today and i didn’t realise that it is actually a refugee processing site as well as the regional office. my office looks very workable and i have a lunch date for monday, which will hopefully take away all the awkwardness of having to find a place to sit amongst people who know one another. i have always hated lunch hours at new jobs.

ottawaean (??) observations

(october 20th, 2006)

- no one waits for the walk sign to cross streets, i would expect the law abiding citizens of the nation’s capital to abide the laws but in fact it is those rogue albertan renegade cowboys that actually wait even if no cars are in site for fear, perhaps, of a jay walking ticket or unexpected red light turners.
- a lot of men and women in their military get up (fatigues, uniform, camouflage… i am obviously not up on the proper military terminology) waiting for buses. should members of our military really have to depend on the public transit system? i mean, if it is an efficient and energy saving method of transport, good on’em, but shouldn’t they be paid enough to take taxis or afford automobiles?
- i love the parliament buildings and the new library which was covered in an unsightly white tarp the last time i visited ottawa.
- it rains. a lot. for october.
- but there are maple leaves on the ground. yellow ones and red ones, but most importantly, real ones. i was not the only one struck by this fact as one taxi driver that passed me on the street was holding a yellow one, waving it out of his window yelling proudly, ‘canada! canada!’ now there’s the spirit.
- the starbucks employees are uncharacteristically chipper and happy to be serving grumbly people lattes and locating bathroom keys. but then this could be due to the comparison I am making with the overworked, sometimes apathetic, employees of coffee shops in calgary where everyone and their maritimer dog could have a job working in a coffee shop if they so desired.
- there are a lot of spanish speakers in ottawa, the ones i heard were doing housekeeping/serving jobs in hotels. yet there are even more advertisements for spanish lessons on street corners. something tells me that it is not the hotel employees who are offering the lessons, a bit of a labour market dissonance and a touch of irony, if you ask me.
- i saw many a professional man or woman wandering about town and secretly wondered each time whether or not they were a diplomat or worked in an embassy. this is somewhat impressive to me, although i am sure their work would be rather dull and monotonous if i ever had the chance to observe it.
- the number of Government of Canada buildings is truly impressive and surprising. who knew it took that many buildings to house that many government departments to run a country? clearly, not this sometime resident of a non-capital city. but ask me the number of oil company offices needed to extract the delicious, thick, black substance from the ground and i could give you an educated guess.
- i like that the cbc broadcasts from right outside the building and you can watch the news on screens in their windows. i think i accidentally interrupted one of the tapings with my characteristic, and sometimes uncontrollable, laugh.

Monday, October 16, 2006

shock and awe

i am in ottawa. or as my friend once told me to call it, ottawow to make it sound fascinating and exciting. but truth be told, i actually find ottawa fascinating and exciting and perhaps that is just because i am a western canadian who feels isolated and disillusioned with our federal government. you be the judge.

i have met two new friends that will also be living in nairobi and am feeling a lot better about what it is that i have gotten myself into. it looks like i have found myself a place to live (at least temporarily) and i have the misfortune of having booked my plane ticket so that i arrive in nairobi on the morning of the first day of a long weekend. which means, a rather long and boring weekend for me spent inside reading books as i am not sure i will be brave enough to venture outside through the big, bad streets of nairobi (the african cited rated most dangerous on some polls). or at least only during high noon since i have been warned about going outside after dark.

i have kept pretty quiet about the internship and my next trip to africa on my blog, but prepared to be shocked and awed (oops, wrong international campaign...). or at least hopefully things get a little more interesting around here. and by interesting, i mean interesting cultural and professional experiences, not muggings and robberies.

so far, i have managed to safe on the streets of ottawa. tomorrow i visit the kenyan high commission to convince them to give me a visa (and by convince, i mean pay them the fee) and then more training and conference sessions and then out for dinner with my favourite ottawa resident (besides steve and his ill fitting vests, of course), k!

Monday, October 09, 2006

thanksgiving marathon

things i am thankful for:

1 - getting to celebrate thanksgiving at home for the first time in 3 years
2 - brussel sprouts
3 - the crops (haha)
4 - being offered this internship i am about to start
5 - watching Akeela and the Bee with my brothers and sister and cuddling on the couch
6 - all the help i received to finish my MA
7 - my health and the health of those around me
8 - another year of things i know
9 - the nurses being nice after i fainted last week
10 - a minority government
11 - international friends
12 - strep throat medicine
13 - visits with old friends
14 - time to hang out at home with the fam
15 - ralph retiring
16 - being able to go to the Bear Country Lodge this week with my sister
17 - a fridge full of food
18 - free time and a leisurely pace
19 - 2 turkey dinners with many families
20 - borrowing cars
21 - fall colours
22 - alberta happening to be plunked on top of oil reserves
23 - the opportunities to follow my goals that take me outside of the country
24 - the benefits of growing up in canada
25 - falling asleep on the couch
26 - the calm before the storm

happy thanksgiving!

Friday, October 06, 2006

hurts for a reason

today was an eventful day.

i had breakfast with a friend i had not seen in years. and screwed up when i was trying to order huevos rancheros. i speak one other language besides english and that is spanish. and i screw up the one single spanish thing on the menu and look like someone trying to sound cool when they pronounce the one spanish thing on the menu with the appropriate accent and pronunciation, but i screw it up disastrously. i don't even remember what i said but by the time i got it out properly, i was too far gone to redeem myself with appropriate pronunciation, let alone accent. the ranch eggs were tasty and the visit was even better.

i was interviewed by my high school's newspaper about, well, my life. which i don't think is terribly exciting as it is, well, my life. but the interviewer was great and excited about her own life after high school, which reminded me that i have seen and done a lot since i left those halls.

and speaking of those halls. i had to use the bathroom while i was there (because i love to stay hydrated, so much so that i have used bathrooms in the strangest of places) and i decided to stay out of the bathrooms frequented by students and use the ones at the front of the school. now i am pretty sure the last time i was in those bathrooms was when i was throwing up because i drank too much at a school dance and my then-boyfriend, who was equally inebriated, was peering over the stall to ask if i was ok as two girls (one wearing a pink feather boa) got in a fight behind me and the principal came in to break it up not seeming to notice me barfing in the toilet. talk about a full circle moment.

then i went to get a blood test. then i passed out (but my mom thinks it is nicer to say 'fainted'). i was sitting there, trying to breath deeply and do my best not to pass out and then i remember the nurse asking me to hold the cotton ball to my arm (never a good idea when the person charged with said activity is turning white and keeling over) then asking me if i was ok and i said no. then i woke up with two new (and it must be said, entirely more friendly than the first) nurses yelling at me. i had to lay down while they put cold clothes on my forehead and i tried not to cry. something about fainting and puking that both make me cry.

but then it was all worthwhile as i took myself for coffee (new maple macciato at starby's - meh), started reading a new book (Vinegar Hill, as i anxiously await the arrival of A Suitable Boy - it is about time that i conquer that beast), then went shopping with my sister. and let me tell you people, NOW is a good time to shop, lots of sales and pretty things that i do not need but purchased anyways. but what i did need was to price adjust my last two weeks worth of old navy purchases, for savings over $30 and pants for less than (<) $10. woo who. it almost made up for the passing out. but not quite.

the day was rounded out with a viewing of grey's anatomy and er. what is with me passing out whilst having blood taken then watching hospital shows? an enigma, i tell you. but maybe things do hurt for a reason. so cheesey, so clique, so primetime television, but i love it nonetheless.

Monday, October 02, 2006

weird and unpredictable

i just bought and drank a pumpkin spice latte from starby's (this being the second pumpkin spice latte i have ever had) and it tastes like cough medicine. i think this is due less to the latte maker (or should i say barista?) than to my lack of taste due to strep infection. disappointing to say the least.

there are now 4 liberal leadership hopefuls. all are men. this disappoints me. not because i am against having a male leader of the liberal party (that would just be silly) but because why do we lack the female talent in the upper ranks of the official opposition party that out of 4 who are left in the race, none are women? i liked hedy fry but without the back up and support (ahem, $$$), she couldn't make it any further than she did. and then the whole belinda thing... i liked her and can't figure out if i think she is now a home wrecking floosy or is still pretty cool, rocking the federal politics in stiletto pumps (i do not know if she in fact wears stiletto pumps, but i am making a huge assumption here to illustrate my point).

i booked my flights today and they will all become official when i have to pay for them this thursday. i am in a strange head space about this move. and i think i am avoiding dealing with all that needs dealing, which will leave me a procrastinated mess in a week when i realise all that i have to do before i go. today i will build a list (similar to when pedro builds a cake) on what i need to do and hopefully that will get me moving a little more quickly.

i got an email from a colleague of a friend who knows someone in nairobi who according to her 'is a little weird and unpredictable, but at least white.' - what?! AT LEAST HE IS WHITE? yet he is also weird and unpredicable, which are pretty alarming characteristics if you ask me and how being white redeems him, i have no idea. that comment is so blatantly racist, it shocks me that someone would type it in an email to someone they have never met, which means she has no idea whether or not i am white. i could be of kenyan descent, going back to find my roots for all she knows. but get in touch with the weird, unpredictable guy because at least he is white...