Saturday, 30 May 2009

getting blogged

  Now that the construction of both centres has finished, we have been working with the different youth groups on how the centres will be governed. Some of these meetings are really hilarious as some of the discussions that can go on and on about wether or not the employees should be provided tea during the shifts or wether or not they should start at 830 or 9. We are attempting to set these centres up as a recycling co-operative within the community. All the youth groups in the constituency of Makadara will work to keep the centre running. On tuesday the business simulation training will start. This is where people selected from the 14 youth groups are given business training which will ultimately teach them on how to succesfully run the centre as a proper business. Im super excited to see where this is going and have a really good feeling about it. 
  The days have been a lot slower since the construction stopped. No more 12-13 hour days. I'm happy to not have to wake up at 530 every morning but I definetely miss spending everyday in the crazy neighborhoods. To celebrate the completion I bought myself a bottle of Jameson. 

Here are some photos of us hanging out with friends in Kibera.

The man next to me in this photo is one of my biggest heroes. Jacob a.k.a Rasta is one cool cat.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Celine Dion and Plastic Fires

 Yesterday was the last day of construction in Mathare. There are a few more things to finish up but yesterday was the last day that we would be working with the full crew. Friday was a full 13 hour day that really knocked me out. By the end of the day Sean and I were hustling ultra hard to get the last bit of cement poured while about 100 community members made of babies to old men and women surrounded us staring and giving us orders. Sean and I were at wits end. As random locals were yelling out to us that we missed a spot Sean would yell "I DONT WANT ANY MORE PEANUT GALLERY!"
and I would follow up with "SHUT UP! WE DON'T CARE! WHO ARE YOU?!". 
It was more than insane. We are always calm and collected until random people start surrounding us trying to tell us things we don't know. 
It was a race to finish that we didnt win. We spent friday from dawn till dusk building but we have to go back soon at the beginning of this week to finish up some of the walls and put in some steps. The past five weeks, waking up at 530 with the hour and half commute plus 12 hour days have taken their toll. Sleeping in, waking up and making a huge breakfast with sausage hashbrowns, eggs and coffee was a beautiful thing today. 
Here are the photos from the Mathare construction. Ill post the finished product when its done. I'm seriously sad the building is over. I grew really attached to the crew. 

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Dem Hafe Geta Beatin

 For the past two and a half weeks, we have been working close to twelve-hour days in Mathare, trying to finish the construction. It is an hour and a half commute from our house to the site and the same going home. Traffic in Nairobi is disgusting. The city is over populated and during rush hour you can count on spending two hours on the bus to get anywhere. It’s so hot you have to open a window, but with every other car idling on the road waiting to move forward, you can literally see the exhaust fumes filling up the bus. That mixed with the garbage fires that are constantly burning all over the city, make for a supreme headache. I can often loose my temper on the bus as well. I hate it when the drivers are wheeling around like a bat out of hell during the hours when school kids are walking to or from school in their nice uniforms often having to jump out of the way of these gas guzzling beasts.

 There is never a dull moment in Mathare. The community is vibrant and together. I could write a dozen stories of the things we’ve seen over the past few weeks but that would get tedious. One thing that really stands out in Mathare is the community justice that I have witnessed a few times now. On Tuesday there was an accused thief who was placed on a step and surrounded by angered residents. The accused pleaded and cried, denying any responsibility in the crime. A few men started beating him with there fists until a few other men came with a gigantic wooden club that looked like it was made for what it was about to be used for. The men took turns smashing the living daylight out of the screaming man. The noise of each smack against the skin rung out and I could see the eyes of the criminal which looked terrified and tortured. After more interrogation and a few more slaps to the face the man limped away. Some of the workers on the site told me that usually these people are killed if they don’t admit to the crime. But they can also be banished from the area. I was told that if someone is a victim of a robbery, instead of going to the police, they go to a local youth group and request justice. It’s not hat hard to get a group of idle youth to go beat on a scummy criminal. The police just take the criminals money and send him on his way. My favourite part of the whole thing was when the police walked up to the situation and inquired why they were beating the man. The locals answered indignantly that he was a thief. The police shrugged and kept walking at a slow pace.

The centre and youth hall that we are building is awesome. It’s been my favourite project yet. I think the reason for that is that Sean and I have been way more hands on with the building. Him and I did the entire two cement floors of the hall and centre and they look so good. Honestly we are proud of ourselves. I wish I could post photos of it right now but I need the photos from Sean’s camera and he is at work.

 I took the day off work today because last night after work I had a malaria scare. I took a nap and could barely move out of bed. I’m feeling better today but I didn’t have enough energy to get to Mathare. I am very doubtful that I have anything worse than a small stomach bug. I’m not surprised considering the things I eat and ingest.


Saturday, 16 May 2009

Getting your shillings worth.

So here is the video I promised yesterday. I'm suprised I got it done when I did, but honestly I love editing these things so working on them is no chore at all. Here I have tried to show how exactly construction works over here, especially on a grass roots level. Most structures in poor neighborhoods are thrown together with whatever one can find and are usually comprised of scrap wood, old metal and mud. 
The centre is not much to look at, but try to remember that the structure itself doesn't have to be amazing, after all it's for garbage. This is also to show how you go about building something without any electricty whatsoever. We are now doing it for a third time in Mathare and I don't even think about it anymore. Before I used to think "this would be so much easier with a drill" or "why can't I just have a skill saw" but now I can use a hand saw like nobodies business and never really think about how much easier everything is back home. Another really positive aspect to these centres being built is the lack of garbage being produced. As most of us know, construction sites produce infinite amounts of waste, as where here, the only garbage we make is the bags the cement comes in, and even then the youth groups use them as heavy duty garbage bags. We use every inch of material and nothing goes to waste. I love it. That was my biggest peev working on sites at home, was the amount of shit that I had to throw out. Check it out. 

Friday, 15 May 2009

no more cow stomach please

  The project in Mathare is by far our biggest one to date. Not only are we constructing a recycling centre, we are renovating the connecting youth hall, and by renovating it, I mean tearing it down and rebuilding it. The size of it was a little intimidating at first, especially when we started tearing everything down. Now as we have been working on it for the past week, everything is taking shape and everyone is feeling good.

  The site we are building on is my favourite so far. It is situated in a core area where there is lots of human traffic and surrounded by apartment blocks. All day long we are watched by mothers doing laundry, selling vegetables and taking their kids for walks. By vagabonds and street kids with glue bottles hanging from their mouths and by people my age and older with no work in sight and nothing better to do than to sit in the shade and stare. Kids are constantly running around playing, often with just a tire or a piece of string pulled from a garbage heap and stopping every now and then to watch. As much as the people of Mathare like to watch us, I like to watch them. I feel as though my understanding of poverty is something that has no limit. I’ve been in this country for some time and still I find myself astonished at some of the conditions people have to live through. Mathare’s condition disturbing and the garbage is similarly overwhelming than that of Kibera’s. The smell we work in everyday can sometimes bring a tear to your eye

 The crew of people we have working are vibrant and hard working. In Makadara we hired two females and can honestly say were very disappointed by their effort. In Mathare we have three females and they are all fantastic. One woman, Joyce is a powerhouse and is more hard working than many men on the crew. It’s really strange having to give orders to people. Sometimes the language barrier is a major headache but I try hard to make sure that everyone knows I’m their friend, because after all I’m in their hood and none of this would be happening if it weren’t for them.

Today was especially brutal. Sean and I dug a trench for about 6 hours in a place which not only used to be a dumping site but a place for pooing. As I was sweating all over my body under the intense sun, hurling the pick into the “dirt”, the soil would fly back and hit me in the face, at one point I licked my lips and the taste I felt on my tongue was the same taste as the smell I had been smelling all morning.

  We hire a lunch spot across the way for the crew everyday and usually it is very enjoyable. Except for today. Sean and I were equally dying of hunger but much to our chagrin the daily special was “Matumbo” or what we would call cow stomach. Our hunger presided and we went for it. I’m not sure what was worse, the smell of the dish or the taste. The scent was like a rotten petting zoo and the taste was like a chewy garbage soaked piece of leather. Never again.

Our days are long and hard, waking up at 530 and usually arriving home at six or seven, with an hour and a half commute each way. That’s when Sean’s alarm clock isn’t waking us up at 3 am so we think its time for work, up until we’re making coffee and I look at my phone and see the real time. We slave all day throwing rocks, dirt and cement around and our hands are sore from the skin being shaved down. When we’re done, my body is fatigued and aching, we are covered in dirt, feces and sweat. but I can’t say that at the end of the day I have ever felt a better feeling.

I should be posting a new video soon and some photos of the construction in Mathare. For now here are some photos of the youth centre we pulled down and what garbage collection looks like in the slums.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Long Week. Longer Weekend.

Finished up with all of the major construction in Makadara on Thursday. Everyone was completely exhausted by the end of the whole thing. Luckily it was labour day weekend here in Kenya so the workers got to enjoy their wages and get some rest while we went for a much needed mini vacation on the coast.

We were invited to join a group of other foreigners working in Kenya that had rented an amazing villa on Dianni Beach. There was a pretty great crew of NGO workers, private sector people, volunteers and the lot. Everyone was doing some kind of incredible work and they were all a blast. We basically spent the entire time swimming in gorgeous water, eating ridiculously good food, going on catamaran trips and enjoying the odd beverage or two. It seemed a bit surreal going from piles of garbage in the slums to a beach vacation, but hey, it’s not against the rules to have some care free fun now and then!

Now that we’re rested up Nathaniel and Sean are going to be moving their efforts over to Mathare for about two weeks to renovate the existing structure and convert it into a youth centre/ waste management centre. We’re still not 100% on the plan yet, but it looks like we’ll be using part of the area to store plastics and other recyclable from collections, the rest of the building will be upgraded to a community hall where the group uses the space to show soccer matches for a small fee and also rents it out for functions.

I’m going to continue to work with the Kibera group from last year at developing their door to door garbage collection business. Myself and some members from the NGO WorldBike have been working with the guys and girls from Kibera to make a solid business plan for the group to use as a guiding tool. The plan is almost done, next step is to do a pilot phase to see what works in reality and what doesn’t. We’ve made some good progress and the group has learned quite a deal about marketing, financial forecasts, staffing and all the other fun stuff you need to know when running a real business. It’s pretty awesome to keep working with these guys and see all of the familiar faces.

Time’s flying over here, we’re a third done already.

Il faut bouger bouger.