Monday, 26 April 2010

Plastic Indian Mafia African Four Leaf Clover

Since this weekend I didn't have any big excursion ( although I did cook 26 cheeseburgers for my room mate Patrick's birthday, filmed a two and a half hour play in Swahili and found my very first four leaf clover!), I thought maybe it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about work. I think from the way I have been posting on this blogedeedoo that we are always taking it easy and livin it up (well maybe we are living it up but we are definitely not taking it easy).

Since I started working here a little over three months ago, we calculated that for these centres to make profit, they need to be buying and selling about 4 tons of plastic a month. I'm willing to bet none of you actually have the slightest clue what 4 tons of plastic looks like, so let me tell you it's enough to fill your house.

(Farouk, who is a muscle machine and one of the strongest and hardest working people I've ever met in my life. He runs one of the centres.)

Trying to acquire 4 tons of plastic is enough work. Finding a youth group who has collected enough to make it worth our while for us to rent a truck and go and pick it up, or to buy from some crooked middle man who has stuffed metal inside of the plastic (to add weight), so when we put it in the machine it brakes and we have to hire someone to come and fix it. Loading the plastic into the truck is a gruesome job. If the plastic has been out in the rain you will be sure to get some of the funkiest smells East Africa has to offer and you will be covered up and down in the juice of garbagio all the while surrounded by rats whose homes you are destroying.

(Some of the recycling team posing for a group shot. Or more like an album cover)

Once you have enough plastic in the centre you need to shred it as fast as you can. Sometimes it takes a while to get that done since everyone has a crazy schedule or there is no electricity (sometimes for days on end) or people say they want to listen to the soccer game and can't hear it with the machine running. The days of shredding in the centre are hard work. The air is hot and stagnant. When the machine is running it's like a marathon trying to get as much done as possible, running around like a worker ant sweating to sweet hell.

The biggest problem we've been having is infiltrating the buying market. It has come to our knowledge that this plastic market is run by a racist Indian mafia. Until I came, these companies refused to buy from youth from slums. Once they saw me they opened their doors. They operate in the dark corners of Nairobi's industrial area with out any licenses from city council or signs on their doors. Trying to set up a buy with them is sketchy affair. Most of them refuse to do any cash transaction with Africans and say none of them aren't trustworthy. These guys make me so fucking sick it's ridiculous. So they have been giving us shit prices for the plastic which has been really hurting the businesses financially. Of course we are persevering and hoping if we can hook on to one buyer to trust us and build a relationship, then they can start to give better prices. Unless anyone has any better ideas.

(Nairobi's biggest G's Patto Buddah and Kaka)

I'm so impressed with the guys I've been working with. They work so hard and have so much dedication it really touches me. It drives me to work even harder and I think we fuel off of each other. We really enjoy working with one another and that I think is such a crucial element to having a successful business. No one is ordering anyone around ( except for the other NGO's who like to show up once every few weeks to try and tell us what to do and then disappear once again) and everyone works equally as hard.

We always say to each other "You have to love this work" because if you don't you won't last day working here. We've had volunteers come and go, most only can handle one day in the centre. The hard work has it's high points, like riding all over Nairobi on top of a truck in the hot sun with the wind in your face, or getting to know everyone in one of the most vibrant communities on this planet. I don't want to sound like Deepak Chopra or whoever but I really love my life.

This is Kaka and Stacy. I think I've mentioned Stacy on here before. She is the daughter of my dreams. Her mom calls me Baba Stacy 2 (Father of Stacy #2)

Photos courtesy of Rob Chursinoff. Thanks Rob.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Sunday morning lying in bed, staring at my cellphone ringing for the 6th time in twenty minutes, optioning whether or not to ignore it like all the other calls before. I had gotten home well after the sun had come to say hello. It's Kaka calling...
"We are going to Machakos, our soccer team has a game, leaving in one hour. Want to come? Meet us at 11."

Of course I couldn't say no, and with in an hour I'd had my coffee and sandwich and was packing into a car too small to fit the 6 of us well sized men. The rest of the team were in a larger van they had rented.

Our driver was a guy my age who drove like he had gotten his licsence the day before. Eevrytime a car passed he put on the brakes and wiggled the steering wheel. I put all my focus on the breathtaking country side.

Eventually we turned off the main road to go towards the field heading down a next to non existent road in between two mountains.
"They made a field here?" guys were asking. I couldn't imagine it myself.

A few hours after leaving Nairobi and many times to stop to ask for directions later we finally arrived in a village called Tawa. The whole village was at the game. I stumbled out of the car and couldn't believe my eyes. The pitch was perched on top of a hill underneath a huge lush mountain over looking the hilly horizon, by far the most beautiful spot for a field I'd ever seen. I stand around for a while watching the game lying around on the grass. Even the field's grass hadn't been cut and was knee high(apparently the school sells the grass to farmers for their cows to graze).

The next thing I know I'm having a jersey and boots thrown at me while being told I have no choice. I have to play.

I gear up and run on the pitch with the entire village watching (about 400 people). They all brake into hysteria. I heard everyone telling eachother "the white man is playing!". The kids had never seen a white person before. It was too much. I played my heart out or else I would have looked like a joke.

I don't even remember the score, i think we lost, but everyone had such a blast that no one even talked about the fact that we lost.

Even the way home was eventful when their van got a flat tire along the main highway in Kenya. No one was complaining during that either.
"It's always fun with us isn't it Nathaniel?" my friend Sigara asks.

They are organizing another trip to a different village. I'm being asked to join.

I dont have a camera right now so I couldn't take any pictures. But I have another video of me during my favorite past time and some photos of a typical day at work. Sorting, weighing and loading the truck with plastic.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Hands up 4 the real warriorz

It was a normal blistering saturday afternoon, feeling exceptionally tired after dancing til the stars had gone to bed the night before. I was at the centre in Mathare early to work with the team. After a couple of hours of sweating and swearing I heard a sound nearing by that sounded too familiar. It was the unmistakable sound of the earth rattling matatu (the local buses, decked out with widescreen TV's and huge sound systems) nearing the centre, blasting dancehall with bass that was trembling the corrugated tin roofed and walled shacks all around it as it passed. This one was particularly special, Bubble gum pink and blue with airbrushed portraits of Aaliyah, Mariah Carey and BeyoncĂ© with a stencil of “Baby Phat” written all over. Every matatu has a name on the windshield and this one was dubbed "PHAT".

"We are going to a memorial. It is one year today that my best friend was murdered by the police." Kaka told me.

I had been here at that time last year and remembered it.

"You should come. We are going up country." Said Kaka

He didn't have to ask me twice. If one spends too much time in this city with out seeing nature one can go batshit crazy (especially a Canadian). I jumped on the bus and was shown to the VIP section, the very back seat left window,which is always my favourite place to sit on a bus. All the girls and guys who are mostly around my age and who I have come to know and befriend crammed on board and in a few minutes we were off.

I thought it was going to be a sombre affair. A time for reflection and mourning. As soon as we hit the main highway, that notion was quickly dismissed. The driver put the pedal down and the music up. The bass felt like we were inside a battleship engine room. All the windows were open and everyone was dancing. Libations were flowing and the bright sun illuminated the smoke filled the bus. I kept my eye on the scenery we were passing outside. Kenya is beautiful and green and lush. Every half an hour someone would lean over and tell me the name of the village we were passing through. The best part was as we passed through the entire villages stopped in their tracks to gawk at the colorful monster blasting music, racing through their only road. The kids especially loved it. All of them stopping from their chores to dance to the music as it passed. Even a group of naked boys swimming in the river started running after the bus.

We stopped about 6 times to refill on water and other liquids. For me it was a little bit embarrassing sometimes when we would stop in a place with the music blasting profain language about body parts a while guys would started running around with their shirts off, smoking, in front old men and women who looked on in complete contemptuousness. We only stopped long enough for the dust to start settling before we were ripping down the road again leaving everyone behind covered in a thin layer of road.

After a few hours of driving and back country roads, idling down steep hills and knocking an old man and woman off a motorcycle and into a ditch (the roads are too thin) we finally arrived.

Everyone had donated money to buy a nice tombstone and it was brought over to be cemented in to the already existing tomb fabricated on the hillside of the families farm over looking the amazing Kenyan horizon. The drunken men argued for a good part of an hour as to how to install it. I walked around, sat on the grass and hid in the shade trying to inhale as much fresh country air as possible for most of the time. The village drunk took a liking to me and he practiced his broken english and I my broken Swahili.

" I want to walk behind you." He said.

"Pamoja" (as one) I answered.

The cementing had been done and everyone took out their phone cameras and took group shots of the family and friends. I was made to stand in the photos and I wasn't totally crazy about that idea but one friend from Mathare named Ibrahim said "You are one of us". I was touched. The date on the tombstone was 1985-2009. The same year I was born. It was emotional reflecting on the life these guys have to endure.

People paid their respects and a pastor said some prayers to another soldier lost to the streets.

This is Karanja, who most of the time is collecting garbage from residences in Mathare. Meaning most of the time he is covered head to toe in garbage juice. He is hard as nails and on this day is looking particularly Mick Jaggerish.

Mathare Youth.
Beautiful countryside

The sun started to go down and so we all crowded back on the party bus and made our way back to the noisy city to make it in time for the Barcelona vs Real Madrid game.

Jesus it was nice to leave the city.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Plant the herbz

I have some neighbors who are in a Youth Group named El elohe. I've been helping set up a community garden with them. They've wanted to plant some local plants and vegetables to sell so they can earn some money. The tank and irrigation was a grant from a different organization called Mobile Movement I did the installation of the tank and pipes so they could save ton of cash the company was trying to charge for the install. It was a fun day and I look forward to eating some tasty greens from the crops.

Otherwise life has been fun and stressful as usual. I went out for a friends birthday party two nights ago and danced until 3 and then got up for work at 630 am, so I got home after work and slept 13 hours. I wish I had photos of the night scene here, by far my favourite place to party in the world.

The group also has chickens which is income generating.

It's always fun when the whole neighborhood is staring at you, watching your every move, although I'm used to it by now.
This picture doesn't do the colour of the soil justice. The red dirt is such an amazing colour in real life.