Despite the fact that I haven’t posted in over two months, I am alive and well in Nairobi. The last two months have been packed with some adventures and new initiatives starting at AWARD. Because so much has happened, I don’t think I can write a cohesive blog post to capture everything that’s happened so I’ll just list out the major events and throw in a couple of photos.
A Visit to Nanyuki
The weekend of October 6-8 I visited Kate and Anchal, other PiAf Fellows, and Kate’s friends Allie and Jess in Nanyuki, a small market-town three hours north of Nairobi best known for Mount Kenya. My trip to Nanyuki was very much needed–around my 6th week in Nairobi, I was starting to get restless. Nairobi was starting to feel claustrophobic and the charm of living in a new city was rapidly fading. Visiting Kate, Jess, and Allie was the perfect recharge I needed, plus I got to look at the majestic (and miraculously cloudless!) Mount Kenya.
The Nanyuki Ladies showed me a great time, and I made it to two of the three night spots. At Gerry’s, the ‘Irish pub’, I played my first game of darts and hit a bulls-eye. After Gerry’s our group migrated to the local casino which also has a club upstairs. I attempted to learn the steps to the African songs, but I couldn’t keep up with the local Nanyukians.
In addition to the Nanyuki Nightlife, the Nanyuki Ladies also introduced me to Nanyuki nature vis-a-vis Ngare Ndare, a conservation park. Our guide Jeremy led us on a 2km hike to paradise. We ended up at this crystal blue lagoon and waterfall within the forest. Even though the water was ice cold, it was too beautiful to not get in and pose for the ‘gram. The other Nanyuki Ladies were braver than me (and knew how to swim) so they jumped from the top of the waterfall.
My visit to Nanyuki was absolutely perfect and gave me the recharge I needed to return to my urban life back in Nairobi.
Mushujaa Day Weekend
While all of the other fellows went to Uganda to meet up with other PiAf fellows, (I had to stay and complete projects at work in anticipation of a program launch), I was on a mission to have fun in Nairobi during the long weekend. I’d say overall my weekend was a success.
I went to the Nairobi National Museum with my roommate and one of his friends. Two of the exhibits gave me a deeper appreciation for Kenya. One exhibit discussed the evolution of humans and documented the story of finding the fossils of the human race’s earliest ancestors. In my experience, the science of these discoveries is often separated from where they were actually found. I learned the role that Kenyans and other East Africans played in making these discoveries.
The other exhibit that left an impression was on the history of Kenya. Visitors had the opportunity to walk through Kenya’s pre-colonial history all the way to modern day. There was also a series of documentaries that interviewed Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (the first president of Kenya) and other freedom fighters and the tactics they used to gain independence. Watching these documentaries hit home the fact that Kenya gained independence just over fifty years ago. While Kenya does have more work
to do, it has surely come a long way since British Colonialism.
The following day, I went on a day trip to Kiambethu Farm in Limuru, Kenya. Limuru, much cooler and moist than Nairobi, is home to many tea and coffee plantations. Kiambethu Farm was founded in 1910 and was one of the first commercial team farms in Kenya. Fiona, the great-granddaughter of the founder, and her staff were amazing hosts. While on the farm, we got to tour through the tea fields and learn the tedious process of picking leaves. We also received a tour of the indigenous forest still on the property–so many medicines could be made from the plants!
Kitengela Hot Glass Factory
I spend a day being a tourist and joined a Kenyan tour group to visit the Kitengela Hot Glass Factory and Oleetepes Park right outside of Ngong Hills. The best think about the tour group was that everyone except for my friends Faith and Ben was Kenyan. It was awesome seeking more of the country with people who were born and raised there.
The road to Kitengela was *horrible*, but once we arrived at the eclectic collection of glass scultpures, the bumpy ride was worth it. There were so many creations that seemed like something out of a children’s fantasy novel. While everyone else who didn’t have a fear of heights crossed the rope bridge, I explored the Kitengela property. Animals, your regular farm animals and some more exotic specimens, darted in between the massive glass sculptures.
All of the creations at the glass factory were created from recycled glass all around Kenya, and the designs were created by local Kenyan artisans. One of the artists took pity on me and showed me around the shops and his speciality of transforming wine bottles into new objects as everyone else was across the bridge.
After we were done at Kitengela, we went to Oleetepes Family park right outside of Ngong Hills. Our tour group shared lots of laughs over a sumptuous nyama choma (roasted goat) dinner.
The rest of October went by pretty quickly and the countdown to Election Day was ticking by quickly. In all honesty, I was SO excited for election day. Not only did I think I was getting a female president, but I would also get to see Hillary’s victory from a swanky watch party at the US Ambassador’s Residence. Only one of those things happened–the Ambassador’s watch party was AMAZING (even though I had to be there at 5am to watch the votes come in from America). I, along with dignitaries from other embassies and other Kenyan elite, watched (in growing horror) the Electoral College votes slide in for Trump.
I had to leave the party around 7:30am in order to make it to work on time–AWARD was launching the same week America was falling a part. In between getting materials prepared and designing flyers, I had a news stream running in the background so I could keep up with the tally. My co-workers (who are all Kenyan or Ugandan) kept asking if I voted and whether or not I voted for Clinton. ‘DUHHHHH’ was my internal response.
Around 10am, my gut took a a major punch. ‘Hillary Clinton Called Donald Trump to Concede’ ticked along the bottom of the live feed. I just lost it. What America’s decision meant for those I love and care about and the world horrified me–the fact that everything had gone red was devastating. I felt so defeated and heartbroken. A sobbing, heaving mess, my supervisor Kevin walked me outside and took me to his retreat on ICRAF’s campus. What I felt was immense grief–America lost so much on Election Day. I can’t even imagine what we’ll lose over these next four years.
Kevin let me vent and spew and cry. He also got real with me. He told me how he felt during Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 elections. Though it was not his intention, I got a privilege check. The feelings this election produced mirror the many other disappointing and scary elections that happen around the world–and less peacefully as well.
Kevin told me that because I was so upset, because I was hurting so much for my country, I needed to keep fighting, to keep pushing for progress. Despite how much harder it will be, now is not the time to give up. At the same time I must support the elected officials who will fight for my values and values of human rights and compassion, I need to fight on the ground. One of my biggest fears (a fear that is coming true), is that this election will increase the -isms and -phobias between Americans. I need to fight the hatred and bigoted vitriol with love and compassion.
It’s been about two weeks since the election and it still hurts. Getting on Facebook is dangerous–story after story of ‘White Nationalism Rising’, ‘Trump appoints XYZ Bigot’, (insert marginalized group here) attacked–and gives me conflicting feelings of being in Kenya while all this is happening. On the one hand, I feel lonely because my core people aren’t with me to process what’s happening and it’s frustrating having to explain this election to non-Americans. On the other hand, being in Kenya has been an escape to care for myself mentally and emotionally. I can take more space to process and be more intentional in how I offer support. I also feel less like an Other in Kenya. Yeah, I’m not Kenyan and I have many differences from those around me, but it’s still affirming to be surrounded by so many amazing people who look like me.
The Aberdares: An Escape
The weekend of November 11-13, my roommates invited me to join them and their friends in the Aberdares, a tea village about three hours north of Nairobi. We went to a fishing lodge to celebrate one of their friend’s birthday. It was a wonderful retreat from the depressing election results and the stress at work.
Our guide John took us on a hike along the river that runs through the area. Every so often we would settle on the bank and try our hands at fishing. While I didn’t catch anything, my roommate Tilly caught a trout for dinner. Sitting along the river and taking in the lush greenery of the surrounding tea farms put me at peace.
Perhaps the best part of the weekend getaway was smashing the Donald Trump pinata my roommate Nathan and another friend Gabby made. While the pinata was originally meant to be an extra stomp on the Trump, it became an effigy that would offer a release of anger. There were two other Americans on the trip and we got to smash the pinata first–even though my whacks didn’t reverse the election results, it was still cathartic to release my anger in such a physical way.
I go to work, too
In between all of these adventures, I go to work. The month of November was an incredibly busy time for AWARD: we had a steering committee meeting, the launch of a new agribusiness initiative, a staff retreat, and all of the other daily tasks that must get done.
November was kind of a baptism by fire. Everything that I’d learned in the previous two months was put to the test and I had to quickly learn new skills to meet the needs of the organization.
During the first week of November, AWARD hosted it’s 9th Steering Committee (SC) meeting at ICRAF. The SC is kind of like AWARD’s board of directors; they guide us and help us create our strategic priorities. Even though I didn’t get to interact much with the SC members, I did learn a lot about the history of AWARD and had renewed excitement for the projects we will take on as we move into our third phase.
The following week, AWARD launched Gender in Agribusiness Investments in Africa (GAIA), a program that seeks to close the gender disparity across the entire agricultural value chain and streamline the process of research becoming an agribusiness. For the launch, AWARD gathered 31 of East Africa’s top innovators for a boot camp and investor showcase. My unit, communications, was in charge of creating all of the flyers and branding for the event. I basically learned InDesign in a week. Also, if you go to the website, you can see all of the GAIA images I created (humble brag).
Last week, my office had a staff retreat at Lake Nakuru National Park. After such an intense two weeks, I think everyone appreciated having the chance to reconnect with each other and prepare for 2017. This retreat wasn’t a typical work retreat–nobody had their computer and we didn’t have any pending deadlines. Our facilitator instead gave us the space to share our personal and AWARD stories. One of my favorite activities we did was collectively share the Story of AWARD. Sneakily, Akaya gathered our start dates and made us round-robin explain what has happening at AWARD when we first joined. My staff has people who have been with AWARD since Day 1 and and people who started two weeks before the retreat. Hearing how everything came together and that passion and dedication were consistent themes made me feel finally like a true part of the team.
I do think that the true bonding came when my co-workers and I went on game drives throughout the park together. I will never be able to go to a zoo again after visiting a game park. I SAW FIVE LIONS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITATS!!! It was unreal seeing water buffalo, zebras, giraffes, etc surrounded by open lands and open skies. Now that my resident status has been approved, I’m going to allllllll the game parks I can while in Kenya. It was such a privilege to see the animals just doing their animal thing.
You’re gonna be incredibly jealous, but I’m spending my Thanksgiving in Zanzibar, a slice of paradise right off the coast of Tanzania. I’m so excited because 1) duh, I’m spending Thanksgiving on a beach, and 2) I’m visiting my second African country.
I’m still looking for Christmas plans, so if you have East African suggestions, hit ya girl up. Anywhere is a possibility, especially because I have my residency card so I can actually afford fun now.