My New Family

25 Aug

I’m going to try my best to keep this post brief, but bear with me – it’s been over a week since I last blogged!

I’ve been living with my new family for 10 days now.  Here’s a pic of them – from left to right, Gloria (a visiting cousin), Kendi, Kabura, Daisy, and Justus.

Not pictured above is their so-cute-it-should-be-illegal baby boy (and my roommate), Kiama –

They are such a joy to be around! The (my) parents are very easygoing and have fun-loving personalities. The kids provide a constant source of energy and excitement, especially 5-year-old Kendi. And as Daisy explained to me, they sure do watch a lot of the Disney channel. I’ve watched Kadet Kelly twice in the last week. All the kids can quote almost any program on the show – it’s quite impressive. It’s been an adjustment getting used to living in this high-energy atmosphere in which attention is an unlimited want but a scarce resource. I’ve set up boundaries with the kids so I can, for example, eat my breakfast in peace! On the whole, I absolutely love my new family – and I’ve found out something about myself (although I know it has only been 10 days) – I like kids.

Daisy has really been looking out for me. She is taking up the planning of where I will spend the rest of my home stays in Nairobi and is trying hard to find a good fit for me – flexible, not overbearing, and fun!

Here are pictures of the outside of the apartment building and my room –

Over the weekend, I traveled to Embu, a village upcountry (upcountry simply means a village outside of Nairobi) to attend a wedding ceremony. The wedding started at 11am and we left the house at 11:30am (the fam is chronically late, just like me) with a 2-hr drive ahead of us! Due to construction diversions and resulting congested traffic, the drive took 5 hours! We made it in time for the reception. It was a lot of fun – a conservative estimate on the attendance count? Over 500. When there is a wedding in a village, word gets around and it becomes the highlight event of the weekend. Of those 500 people, I was the only white guy – but I happened to wear purple, the color of the wedding, so I fit in! The wedding party was situated in the center of a large circle of people sitting in plastic chairs. Here’s a pic of the cutting of the cake –

After the bride and groom fed each other, they went out into the crowd to feed friends and family –

Similar to a wedding reception in the states, members of the wedding party and family gave speeches, but unlike its Western counterpart, at a Kenyan wedding reception, all gifts other than money are brought out to the center of the crowd –

And then presented individually to the new bride and groom!

After the reception, we ate supper and relaxed at Daisy’s parents’ home, where she lived until moving to Nairobi to attend college after high school. We decided to push back our return to Nairobi until the next day since it was getting late and a 5-hr drive did not sound appealing. We stayed at a guesthouse owned by the church Daisy’s parents attend, so it was free of charge! Here’s a pic of it in the morning –

The drive back was less than 3hrs, due to no traffic jams. Gotta love the unpredictability of Nairobi traffic .

Over the weekend I also attended my first Kenyan birthday party! In short, it was a fun celebration and I ate 4 slices of cake. In that same vein, my belly has been steadily increasing in size since my arrival in Nairobi – it would be a shame to return from Kenya not being able to see my feet! I’ll opt to run more instead of eating less I think.

On the work front, I spent my final two weeks in the slums visiting borrower groups. Here are some highlights –

Last week, my co-workers and I oversaw a yearly election of new officers for a borrowing group in the Mukuru slum. Even though all the members were notified of the elections in advance, many did not attend the meeting. So, that means that they have forfeited their right to vote, yes? No. Each of the absent members (9 of them) were called on their cell phones to vote for President, Treasurer, etc. Elections took over two hours! Afterwards, we were rewarded for our time with a filling meal of beef, ugali, and cabbage.

Here’s a picture of Maisha Poa – a borrowing group meaning “Life is Cool” – some of the women are shy so they don’t like looking directly at a camera!

After a long day of work on Wednesday last week, we decided to take a train back home! The railway line took us from Nairobi to Kibera, and it was quite an experience! The train is not electric and had an old-fashioned feel. At some points in the journey, the train came within 2 feet of shacks in the Kibera slum. Amazing that people live that close to a dangerous railroad! The journey also offered expansive views of Kibera – it is Nairobi’s largest slum and the second-largest in Africa. Here’s a pic of me boarding the train –

On Mondays, little work is done in the office. There is an optional bible study time in the morning and then everyone eats lunch together, followed by hours of socializing! Last week, we went to Ezekiel’s house, where we had good times playing mind games (like Black Magic) – I will forgo the explanation of these games to save a couple of confusing paragraphs – but we had a lovely time passing time playing them.

I had great conversations at work throughout the week. One of Maono’s struggles is the same as many other microfinance institutions – how do we ensure that loan funds are being used for income-generating purposes? This is an important question to address as the goal is to lift the poor out of poverty instead of provide them with some aid money to help with everyday expenses. Since Maono’s number one goal isn’t necessarily profit (interest rate is relatively low and loans are given at 3 times the amount the borrower is willing to save), this question needs an answer. We’re going to take a closer look at the loans we administer.

One of my co-workers, Betty, is taking an intro ECON class at Daystar University in Nairobi – I tagged along to see how different the class would be in Kenya! Turns out, it wasn’t that different. Same material, same fallacious assumptions – rationality, perfect markets, etc. The prof did a nice job of pointing out that there’s a difference between economic theory and what happens in the real world. Here’s a pic of the class –

I’m over 1000 words so I’m going to cut it off there. This weekend, I am traveling to Mombasa with Scott & his assistants! Mombasa is a city on the coast of the Indian Ocean in Kenya. This destination is on my list of places I want to visit during my time here. It’s a 6-7hr trip, and I’m going to help with the driving! This will be a hair-raising experience I’m sure. Wish me luck!

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2 Responses to “My New Family”

  1. macmcnair August 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Hey Ben, Great catching up on life in Nairobi. You do a good job of describing what your life has been like. Thank you too for the update on Maono and it is our prayer that you will be a real asset to them as well as assist them as they endeavor to build in more accountability. Your description of the wedding was fun and gave some interesting insights into the culture. Lord Bless You Brother! Mac

    • Ben August 29, 2011 at 8:59 am #

      Mac – thanks for the feedback, I try to describe things as clearly as I can. I’m about to write a post about my time in Mombasa…we stayed at the same guesthouse on the beach that you, Martha, Kevin, and Scott did!

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