Monday, 20 December 2010

green light on life

It's not everyday you get to referee a woman's soccer game. I actually was forced to do it since I was prefectly happy sitting in the shade under a tree feeling like a bag of mucus (thats what I actually was) as I was suffering from the climax of my sinus infection. See the happiness on my face for more detail. Highlights included hysterical laughter everytime the woman on my right would jump up and slap the ball out of mid-air so dramatically as it passed her and also when I gave a red card to my friend Memory before the game had even started.

I'm not in Kenya right now. I'm somewhere else visiting family for christmas. But when I return I'll be back with a serious recycling, video making and overall get sh*t done attitude for 2011.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


I like my life because I get to meet amazing people doing amazing things. Meeting the people at BROSIS was no exception. Watch more incredible people and how they take control of their own communities.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Victorious Youth Group

So I have talked about Mobile Movement on here a few times.
anyways I'm doing videos highlighting the groups that are working with MM. Some of these people are amazing. Here is the first of many to come. I think filming the intro was the funnest part.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Armageddon for breakfast

The feeling you get when you stand next to your friend and watch their house burn down is a bad one. Fires love slums. It's a perfect place for them to turn into an uncontrollable tower of sun heat, grabbing on to all the little shacks dry brittle wooden frames. And the Nairobi breeze that is salvation in the hot days is a fires best friend. I watched as one small electrical fire suddenly transformed in to a twisted inferno in the time of 20 minutes, engulfing massive plots of land sending entire families running up the hill with nothing but their mattress and a pile of clothes wrapped up in a bed sheet. Some people acted as though this was the millionth time they've had to deal with their places burning down, and some acted as if it was the apocalypse. We waited while the fire trucks got lost in the maze of Mathare's shanty town and when they did arrive, most of the residents had to take over the fire fighters jobs because they showed up drunk. I was told two children died but it's hard to know if it's true or not.

(A few minutes into the fire)

I handed my twenty-two year old friend Bernard a cigarette right after we watched everything he owned go up in smoke. He could barely light the smoke with his shaky hands. Bernard helps us in the recycling centre and is a jack of all trades. He dreams of being an electrician but can't afford the school. He used to have a job in a fish market until someone wanted their friend to get hired and told the boss that Bernard was stealing from the job.

I hope I never have to experience what it is like to lose everything in the flash of an eye. If I do, I will remember the strength of the people that day and how when the next day I saw them, things were being rebuilt and Bernard was running around laughing as usual.

The past few weeks have been extremely extreme for me. I was diagnosed with a sinus infection. I'll spare the details but thanks to the advice of my great mother back in Canada, I was left with no other option (besides going to a doctor, always a last resort for me) but to lie upside down while my friend poured hot salt water down my nose. It felt like a battery acid inside my brain but I was cured almost immediately which left me with a conundrum, do moms know everything?

The other events that transpired are not something I would want to write about on here because I know some people would never want to come here to read again. Not that they are things that I have done, rather more things I have seen that will be singed into my memory probably for as long as I will live. If you do like twisted stuff, drop me a line and I'll tell you a Rated R story.

Here are some other things I have learned this week.

Zambians are the coolest.

BBQ'd goat ribs are totally delicious.

If everyone yells and screams at a DJ, you can actually make him cry and go home.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Down Things Up Things

For some reason I decided to go out and party friday night with a vicious cold. It was an amazing venue that I couldn't believe I had never been to before. "Carnivore" holds monthly concerts for all the different tribes and I was invited by a bunch of Luhyas for "Luhya Night" . I didn't want to miss out on some fun dancing so I went even though I had already started yawning nonstop around dinner time. 5 minutes after arriving at around midnight and being forced to go into the middle of the audience which was easily three thousand people all standing shoulder to shoulder dancing like mad (I like to stand on the side lines and enjoy space) I went to put my phone in the pouch that I wear around my neck because it was too full to not take the precaution and it had already been snatched. So basically I'm telling this story because I won't be posting photos on here for a while. The replacement phone I got takes horrible pictures.

These are the last photos I'll be able to upload. This is a project I worked on renovating Mama Stacey's restaurante. It was really fun and it has really brought a lot of color into the neighborhood. I've seen some crazy transformations happen in Mlango Kubwa since I started hanging out there. I told Kaka that soon it will turn into a place like East Vancouver, where it becomes so popular that the rent no longer is affordable for the people who grew up there. It still has a long way to go before that happens.
So here are some before and after photos I took while working with friends.

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Friday, 22 October 2010

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.

Thought I would put more photos instead of text. I love having a camera on my phone because I hate carrying around alot of technology in my pocket. Even though the quality isn't top of the line, it's better than nothing and I know that most people who buy big expensive cameras never even print anything anyways so what is the point of having some monstrosity hanging around your neck? I love seeing tourists walking around holding their cameras white knuckled with their backpacks on their front and when I say love I mean makes me sick. Here are some flicks of stuff while just hanging around.

Hiding from the rain that felt like it was tearing off your skin.

African Pimp my ride. The posters of the guy on the vehicle is Mike Sonko, our new MP for Makadara which is the constituency we live in. He drives around in a hummer with gucci suits and gold rings on every finger. He is very generous with his money though, although no one really knows how he has so much of it.

We had a picnic under that tree, it was nice. Look at how the only place the light is touching is my beautiful friend.

The frontline soldiers in the battle against Nairobi dust. My face is perpetually exploding.

The world famous Kibera. Sometimes I can't believe it's my phone that takes these pictures.

Back Alley Gynos don't seem like the best idea. Bingo House girls on the other hand...

Click on the photo to see the wire that snapped and started shooting sparks everywhere while we were just standing there talking. You could hear this old drunk guy yelling "PROBLEM PROBLEM PROBLEM!" "NOMA NOMA NOMA!"

I like to stare at the roses in my garden and learning how to trim them so they turn like this.

I made 4 wheel barrows from stuff I saved from the Garbage

Paradise Lost under the water fall. I want to live here.

Taking Stacey for swimming. She can walk very fast now.

A sweet day for swimming

Kaka + Stacey 4 eva

Stacey Loves Water. She cried when we pulled her out. I on the other hand have some weird blood problem and can only jump in the water for one minute and then feel like I'm turning into ice. I have to lie on the hot cement while convulsing for a few minutes. This is why I live in Kenya because I hate cold with an intense passion.

Walking home with the buddies. That Yellow sickly looking cow named "beefy Bob" on the billboard freaks me out big time.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


STAKEN Recycling Company was awarded the Number one Environmental Conservationists in Nairobi from the Ministry of Youth. Apart from this shiny trophy we don't get anything else, which doesn't suprise me but I still think it's a cool thing to be titled.

I'm not really crazy about the fact that I usually write about myself on here. Especially since I am now realizing that I don't even know most of the people that read this. This thing started out for our friends back home to keep up with what we are doing. But for those of you that read this who don't even know me and enjoy it and share it with other people, I don't think you realize how great that is.

So our businesses have taken a short break to look for ways of up scaling. This basically means looking for money so that we can buy and shred more plastic. We have locked in funding from OXFAM and they are going to be giving us a nice injection of cash to pump into the businesses so that we can pay bills, buy more plastic, and pay wages (Kaka and the workers have been volunteering since 2007!). Any money that the business has made since it started has just gone right back in to the company meaning that all the workers have sacrificed their wages to keep the business alive. I would like anyone to find a group of youth in Nairobi and tell them "Hey we have this idea but you have to put your blood and sweat into it and you won't get paid for years" and see how long they stick around... It's impossible.

For some reason I have been lucky enough to work with young people who have sacrificed so much for a business for nothing in return. I can't stress how fucking rare this is. And the craziest part is that they say their lives are boring when the business isn't running. I'd have to agree. Riding on top of trucks around the city, swimming around in mountains of plastic, long days in the centre throwing plastic around, welding, grinding, laughing, screaming is what makes this business the best thing in our lives.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Do you know where I can get a leg?

I wouldn’t attend burials here if they were somber affairs. Burials have turned into a way for me to see a whole lot of the Kenyan countryside. Often when people pass away in Nairobi, the tradition is to bury them where their family originates. Usually in a beautiful valley on the lush knolls that spread across the country. The one I attended a few days ago was probably the most beautiful celebration of life I have ever been a part of. It was on the flat plains of Juja, attended by hundreds of family and friends who lost the 23 year old girl, sister of my good friend Steven. The crowd of hundreds around the grave sang beautiful gospel songs in their mother tongue. At one point I even found myself with a shovel filling the grave back up sharing turns with all the other men sweating under the hot sun. If I ever die, I hope people would celebrate that way.
Basically I’ll take whatever opportunities I can get to have a brake from the daily grind of dust and traffic jams in Nairobi. It’s such a nice way to really get to know what normal Kenyan life is like, because life in Nairobi is not anything remotely close to “Normal”. But I won’t even get started with how blown away I am by the peace and beauty that exists in rural Africa.

I got a call from Kaka on Saturday night who was in Nakuru town (a few hours north-west of Nairobi) as an exhibitor for World Habitat Day.

“Oh man you should just come here.”

It didn’t take much to convince me and I was on a bus the next morning. The night I was there, Kaka and I decided to see what Nakuru was about. We walked around with some old friends and found a smoky bar with one red light bulb (the main ingredient for a good dance party). We danced a hot little while getting to know the locals who were happy to have a white boy taking libations with them. Nakuru at night is a hot one.

I woke up with a nice little headache to a girl singing gospel songs at the top of her lungs followed by a banging on my door with her saying “Are you still here?” I realized everyone had already gone to the exhibition.
World Habitat day was like any Kenyan convention attended by mayors and MPs. The “VIPs” and MPs stay in a tent and don’t dare ever walk out under the sun alone to mingle with the mere citizens. They are quickly ushered in with their massive SUV’s and are just as quickly ushered out only after a symbolic walk around with their associates who ask ignorant questions to the groups who are told to stand upright while their presences are “graced”. MPs are like ghosts here. If you see one, it’s a supernatural experience. Meanwhile, the civil society groups on exhibit hold pissing matches to who has the most advanced and successful projects. It’s about as much fun as your second cousins graduation ceremony. The best image I witnessed was a big fat guy (and by the way he was white) smoking a long cigaro while beside him were a couple street kids begging the coordinators for ice cream. It was cartoonish.

One of my favourite parts of the ceremony (apart from the woman who walked around fraudulently billing each table for decorations subsequently disappearing, leaving a very confused and angry decorator) was when I was sitting on the grass and a man came up to me on a wheelchair. We talked for a couple minutes and then he very casually asked me if I could get him an artificial limb.

Either way it was nice to get out of Nairobi. And the whole trip cost me 20 dollars, because that’s how I roll.

Marching band music is so good for headaches in the am.

Kaka and friends at the exhibition table.

This thing was really interesting. You could pour in dirty water into the pot and it filtered the water then dripping into the blue bucket.

World Habitat Day 2010

I know this isn't a very good picture, but I just wanted to show what it looks like as the MP's and "VIPs" stay in the shade completely segregated as normal people walk around under the sun.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


I have a hard time finding books that keep me intrigued. One thing I love is finding a really good book. It's difficult sifting through all the Dan Browns and Danielle Steeles out there. Basically this is a call to anyone who has any attachment to Kenya or Africa to read this book.

Even if you don't know anything about Kenya, this is one of the best books that adequately describes the sometimes indescribable chaos of Nairobi and Kenya. Not only that but it is one of the most compelling stories about corruption to the highest degree, implicating the President with fatcs and records. It's the largest story of uncovering and publicizing political corruption in African history. This book was banned in Kenya when it was released and has recently started trickling into the country. I'm really happy I got my hands on a copy.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A conversation with a low level hustler

Setting: Uhuru Park, a large city park where people go to sleep, pray, and talk. I was sitting under a tree reading on a hot day.

“Oohh Hello my friend!” said as a thin twenty something year old boy walked up to me enthusiastically.

“Yeah Hi” I replied not so keenly, wanting to continue reading.

“So how do you see Kenya? What are you doing here?“ This is the lamest and most common greeting of degenerate hustlers trying to chitchat with tourists.

“It’s fine. I’m reading here.” This is apparently an invitation for him to sit down next to me.

“I see I see. My friend. I want to talk. To you. About something.” I could see he was nervous.

“Tell me.” I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of him until I indulged him.

“You really look like nice guy. I want to trust you. Can I trust you?” He said looking at my eyes. He looked like the antithesis of trust. His face was really sweaty. You could almost hear the sun roaring.

“It’s arguable.” You can say whatever you want and they just keep going. It’s like talking to a recorded message.

“I have something very really so special. I want to show you.” At this point he reaches into his pocket with two hands and fumbles about anxiously trying to open a little Velcro pouch. His shaky hands empty the contents of the pouch out into one hand where I see he has collected some things that are supposed to look like diamonds, but look more like broken glass.

“Are you seeing this?”

“Keep talking.” I knew this was going to be good.

“You really are nice man. So I want you to see this. Diamonds. Real. So nice man. I am lucky and I finded them. This is worth much money. I know. But my brother I have a very big problem.”
He was struggling so hard to get through his new repertoire. Either that or he was overly dehydrated. It was probably both.

“My problem. Big one. My brother in Cairo. I have to see him now. Today. Or tomorrow. I can not leave with diamonds. And here no one I can trust. But you looks like such nice man.”

After this was the part where he was supposed to tell me that in his desperate situation he wants to trust me and leave me with the “diamonds” while he goes to Cairo and pick them up when he returns back to Nairobi. Only after I give him some cash, negotiated at a crap price, thinking I’m going to make a killing cashing in the diamonds. But I wanted to get back to my book so I decided to cut in.

“Look. You’re young. You’re obviously new. You need to practice your lines first. Say them over and over. Then put those rocks in something that looks classy. And if you are doing this you need to be wearing nice clothes.”

Long pause. The sweaty face breathing heavily.


“I’m reading.”

“Sorry sorry sorry” Most hustlers to swear up and down their problem is real as are their diamonds, gold, counterfeit money, etc. With out any persistance the haggard boy got up and walked away leaving me in the shade.

I got hustled once, in a different African country (not naming names). I lost 10 dollhairs. I bought a bottle of scotch off of a junkie. It looked like scotch anyways.

I looked across the park from under the tree where one can see the parliament buildings. That’s where the real hustlers are.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Lobel in the Global

My days off days like today are seldom, but they always are full of reflection, Al Jazeera and running around half naked in my backyard under the sun juggling the football. If I do have an off day I usually spend it at my favourite Somali cafĂ© reading the news and sharing stories with friends. In any case I haven’t written for a while so this is gonna be a long one. Take a deeeep breath.

Often people ask how long I’ll stay in Kenya, to which I have no answer. Nairobi has not only become home but a great place for me to grow into someone I never could have imagined. My wish is to stay here, but our lives are always on the edge of change and something so small could turn this life of mine in any direction. One thing that I love about life is its uncertainty; you can do as much as possible to live the way you want but still the future remains uncertain. I do miss my loved ones back home (you know who you are), but I can’t leave the life I have here just to have them back in my arms. My largest inspiration (my step father) Adel has moved back to Egypt and I can’t describe the pleasure I get from knowing that we are no longer a world apart. Although we are still divided by the Sahara desert, which isn’t the smallest distance. I’ll be hopping on the first camel out as soon as I have enough funds.

The truth is that I do love Nairobi but one has to look beyond all the horrible traits it’s stigmatized for. Nairobi is a festering pot of grease but it’s the ingredients that make me love it. I would love to know about another city that has a huge economy rich with Islamic culture, rastafari, and of course traditional Africa and where at one minute you can be smoking a joint in the slum and the next be in a massive air-conditioned mall. Lately Kaka, Peter and I have been showing up at the Ex Pat parties to raid the beer. I don’t have a lot to say about the Ex Pat community here but I will say they know how to throw nice big expensive parties. My favourite part is the spreads. I love it when Kaka and Peter stare at me curiously as I eat like I’ve been a POW for the past 6 months, inhaling massive chunks of humus and other exotic dishes they’ve never seen, and that I long for on days when local stew just isn’t hitting the spot. I yell across the room at them with my mouth full and face covered with nacho dip “DIG IN GUYS!!” (Yes my party etiquette has room for improvement) and then they slowly put a small morsel on their tongue as they look at me as if they’re about to be poisoned. I remember last year when Justin and I were at a UN dinner function for youth graduating from a entrepreneurial program. They were serving shrimps on the side of the dish to the youth who were all from the slums, who eat Boiled meat and Ugali everyday of their life. They all left the shrimp untouched so Justin and I frantically ran around the party picking the shrimps off of the empty dishes trying to eat them all before they were taken away. One of my old friends Sammy from Kibera asked in a very serious tone “Nathaniel… You are eating the snake?” Needless to say Nairobi isn’t known for its food and some times this is very difficult for me.

Last weekend I was given a role in a play by a group of friends from the “Galaxy Players” a local group of professional and amateur actors that put on plays for schools and communities and who I have mentioned a number of times on this blog. We competed in a AIDS awareness themed drama festival and took second place. I actually don’t like acting and much prefer to be behind the scenes but it was still a nice experience being on stage with a group of very talented people in front of a full auditorium. I had the opportunity to act alongside the beautiful Leah Okumu who took the award for best actress and piece of my heart. I have just been informed that we are performing again next Saturday at a different venue and I can’t decide how to feel about that.

One of my least favourite things beside plain boiled chicken is being idle. On a day like today when the only time I left the house was to buy a cigarette, I feel like I missed something. I will never be able to live alone. If there is a night when no one is here or we don’t have visitors (which is almost never, my home is a preschool by day and a rehearsal space by night), I actually feel sad. Working on the Up With Hope stuff can’t fill everyday so I take part in anything that sparks my interest, hoping to meet interesting people and for new experiences.

Thanks again for checking in on this random blog. Get tuned in, spaced out and enjoy life.

The Mlango Soldierz

Bob Marley and checking facebook

Mlango Kubwa Highrises

Fixing flat tires on highways in Kenya is pretty much asking for death

My best friend Stacey

Momma Stacey. Kaka and I painted the menu.