Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Profile: Kaka (umoja ni nguvu ya mskini)

I would like to introduce to you Kaka. You should consider yourself lucky if you ever get to meet him. I figure the majority of the people reading this won’t ever meet him, so I decided to write about Kaka, my colleague and friend.

Kaka, who’s real name is Isaac but is known through out his community as Kaka (Swahili for brother), is a community leader, entrepreneur and an athlete. He has lived his whole life in the Mathare slums, home to what people say is now almost one million. He has endured more than any of us could ever imagine and in the environment he lives in you can be almost certain there will be a lot more to go through.

Mathare is not your usual community. Police show up in droves to beat women and children. Thieves are dealt with by the community, usually stoned to death, and the machete is something every grown man knows how to use. Five years ago Mathare was run by a tribal sect of gangsters (Mungiki) who made it difficult to breath with out paying for it. The police came in and rounded up the Mungiki, to a near by forest and executed hundreds of them.

Kaka is the one guy who has been working day and night in the recycling centre we built. Through this I’ve learned a lot about Kaka’s life and has made me learn an unbelievable amount about my own.

Both of Kaka’s best friends were murdered by the police for petty crimes a couple years ago. He tells me that the pain stays the same and never goes away. He has even seen police execute people as they lie face down in the dirt. I can see there is a raging inferno inside of him from all thats happened. The part that I love the most about him is that he takes the fire and rage and puts it into his ambition to make life better for the people of his community. I can honestly say that I’m nowhere near as strong as he is since my life has been like a duvet blanket compared to his. If half the stuff that’s happened to him ever happened to me I would snap and go awol. That’s not to say Kaka doesn’t ever let people know he is not on any terms one to be messed with. He has God inside of him and believes people are good so everyone should be loved and respected, that’s until they start robbing in his neighborhood.

Kaka has achieved a lot in his short life, he’s been a part of a street theater group to raise awareness about HIV, he started doing garbage collection in his community, and now he runs a recycling centre and a community hall, employs street kids, mobilizes criminals to put down their guns and puts them to work, the list goes on.

Kaka is what I consider to be a true leader. He tells me “Umoja ni nguvu ya mskini“ Togetherness is the weapon of the poor. The rest of the community who loves him wants him to run for area councillor, but he hates politicians and politics. It’s the unfortunate story for most of the world, the real leaders who believe they can get more accomplished on the ground than with the corrupt government.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Ring around the rosie pocket full of shredded plastic

Today I was supposed to wake up and go to work at 730. I didn't. I stayed in bed and listened to music. When I woke up and heard the thunderous rain beating against the corugated tin roofs I got on my cell phone and started texting that today was a no go for me today. I think I'm allowed. It's saturday and I don't know the last time I spent the day just collecting my thoughts by myself. During nights I have enough energy to cook something, drink tea and watch Al Jazeera (if it wasn't here I would explode). I've inhaled enough black smoke and carried around enough plastic for one week.

The last two weeks or so I have been "marketing" the centres. This is not your usual business meeting where you can call ahead and schedule appoinments for a meet and greet. It's no use calling companies to ask if they buy our stuff because they need samples of our plastic and that's if they understand what you are talking about, therefor I have been walking around Nairobi's massive industrial area with a bag of this shredded plastic asking any company that seems to deal with plastic products if they buy it. Most of the time dealing with apathetic secretaries who just give a blank stare. It's definetely been the shittiest part of this job so far. Walking down long dusty roads besides huge semi trucks blowing smoke and dust in your face for hours under the hot sun only to find the place your looking for is back the other way where you started (almost makes me wish I could drive). Thankfully my efforts were fruitful and yesterday we sold over a ton of shredded plastic to some plastic processing company. I rode on top of the pick up truck (check the video below this) piled with plastic facing forward riding it like it was a horse drawn carriage getting the wind in the face driving all around Nairobi, and that is my reward for the hard work.

So I added two writers on this blog. One is Up With Hope volunteer Rob Chursinoff ( in the video) and the other is Patrick Ominde A.K.A the man behind it all, and now my roomate after two years of working together. He hasn't written anything yet but I will force him to do something.

I don't take a lot of photos but I thought this was a nice one, look at the nice passion fruit hanging.
Patrick serving me up some Nyama Choma

Friday, 19 February 2010

Industrial Zone Hangin'

Remember that time we were waiting to sell 1 tonne of plastic?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

How To Stop Being So Canadian In Kenya

"Me and the rest of this city of 4 million play a dangerous game of Frogger, with traffic who WILL NOT STOP FOR ANY REASON other than they've already hit you."

I've now been in Kenya for two weeks. On my first sleep deprived day here, I was thrown into the chaos of Nairobi traffic, I was shown what life consists of in the impoverished communities (slums), and I was introduced to a new take on what passes for clean. Needless to say, I've had to adjust my privileged North American standards very rapidly.
Aiding in this effort has been my colleague Nathaniel, a fellow Canadian in Up With Hope, who, having been here many times before, has demonstrated what it takes to get down with the people.

1. I've had to adjust my internal thermometer. Kenyans are warm and polite. No more can I do what people do in Vancouver, where we run into our friends on the street and feel it okay to utter a mere "what's up?" with our hands still firmly in our pockets. When introduced to strangers like myself, Kenyans take my hand, introduce themselves and welcome me warmly. The other day I was lost. A young lady was kind enough to walk out of her way with me to the area I needed to go to. And she stayed there until my friends showed up. Apparently this is the norm here.

2. Back in Canada I sometimes feel claustrophobic if more than four people stand closer than three feet to me for more than two minutes. I consider this an affront to my individuality and personal freedom. That's why I drive everywhere. Here I ride in buses, known as Mutatus, that seat 10 but somehow squeeze in 20, that blast hip-hop out of crackling, over-taxed speakers, and at times reek of vomit, and always of body odour and diesel smoke. I rarely take a taxi. If I need a break I stay home or I choose to walk, some times for miles.

3. If I did drive here I wouldn't wait patiently for a red light to turn green at 2am when it's obvious there are no vehicles or pedestrians around like everyone does back home. In Nairobi there are a handful of street lights that are rarely obeyed in the first place. Me and the rest of this city of 4 million play a dangerous game of Frogger, with traffic that WILL NOT STOP FOR ANY REASON other than they've already hit you. At times one can be fooled into thinking there's a flow to this game, mostly though, negotiating traffic means you are one step closer to death. The way they drive is one of the few gripes I have with Kenyans.

4. I ask myself. What is ice hockey? Because I watch soccer now.

5. I've had one beer a week so far. You want Budweiser or Molson? Too bad. Sure there's Heineken but I'll stick with the Kenyan pisswater known as Tusker.

6. Back home I deliberate over whether I should spend $150 on a pair of Levis or $300 on organic cotton Loomstate jeans. In Kenya, the average annual income is less than $500.

7. I fall into option paralysis in a Canadian supermarket, and that's just in the cheese aisle. In Nairobi I settle for, and enjoy the one kind of cheese most abundant here–marginally flavourful cheddar.

8. Not that I ate fast food back home, but if I did I would probably go through withdrawl here. Kenya has no American fast food chains whatsoever. Chapatis, beans and rice bitches!

9. I fret when it rains too much in Vancouver, while lack of abundant water means weekly shortages, yellow lawns and death to thousands of Kenyans.

10. I have a hot shower once a day even when I haven't broken a sweat back in Canada. In Nairobi I choose to bath with lukewarm water scooped by a juice jug from a basin every other day.

11. I wouldn't buy Haagen-Dazs ice cream or double douchie lattes even if they were available. I don't have wine with my dinner, nor do I head out to spend $40 on a meal because I'm feeling too lazy to cook. If I've spent $5 on a meal out for myself and a much less fortunate Kenyan friend, I've splurged. Usually I eat one main meal a day.

12. If I'm in a garbage-strewn and poop-smelling slum and someone offers me a bite of their food, I take it.

13. No one, including myself, wears gloves here when performing our recycling jobs in which we wade through mountains of trash. As a result I've stopped chewing my nails.

The list goes on and on and sometimes when I think of what I've complained about back in Vancouver, I feel ashamed.

But. The one thing I have not yet compromised is the consumption of water. I still buy it in bottles. However, I have been brushing my teeth with tap water.
No runny bum as of yet. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Kill da Rat

For the past month I have been living in a preschool. We eat dinner at children's tables in the classroom. When I wake up I hear kids blood-curdling shrieks as they seperate from their mothers each day.

My job is awsome. In order for me to resolve some of the issues surrounding the centres I have been visiting some of the youth group leaders to talk one on one with them. This means visiting the slums all over Nairobi. I am invited into their tiny tin shanties and treated like an foreign diplomat while they cook some food and serve me tea. Most often having to yell over the reggae that is playing loud with the single dim light bulb hanging in the middle of the room flickering at every bass beat. Its so hot in tin shacks by the end of the meeting you have unbuttoned your whole shirt and are lying down sweating like a dog.

One of my favourite episodes that happened was a time when I was helping a youth group pick up some plastic for the centre. When we arrived in the back part of a house we stood looking at the pile of plastic bottles and jerry cans. As we were talking we noticed the plastic was moving on its own. All of the sudden the owner of the house yells "ITS A RAT.KILL ITTTTTT!" We isntantly start kicking through the plastic pile, bottles flying, I get a glimpse of this rat which was more like a mutated cat. It's by far the biggest rat I've ever seen, and it was running around the back yard frantically trying to save it's own life as we were kicking up an down after getting a glimpse of it here! then there! then over here! The diseased creature takes a right and runs out the back gate with three of us behind this racing rodent the size of Oprah's thigh. Now I find myself in the middle of a thriving slum market chasing this thing with two other guys, one of them manages to get close enough while running to give it a big kick, but he misses and his shoe goes flying up in the air 50 feet across moving at 60 kmh and hitting a very very old woman as she was bending down to look at a pair of slippers she was thinking of buying. The woman has no idea what happened. The rat keeps running full speed and now we're chasing it alongside a big cement wall. I'll never forget the image of the three of us running after this monstrosity down the dirt path, it's legs working on overtime. We finally caught up to it and before I could do anything, the two guys started kicking it all over the market, at one point one of them kicked it so hard, it went streaming through the air and just about decapitated a man sitting on a rock selling cigarrettes but luckily he put his hands up and blocked the flying rat from hitting his face. After a few solid kicks, we had vanquished the disease spreading vile vermin.
OK I have to go to work I'll post some more stuff later.

Taking a break in the shade
I carried this thing with a couple hundred pounds of plastic for 5 kilometers in the hot sun
Edwin while we were building a chicken coop

Building a chicken coop

Edwin chopping up plastic before it gets shredded. Look at the mountain.