A Trip to Nakuru and a Tragedy in Nairobi

13 Sep

Hi all! I’ve had an exciting week coupled with news of a horrible accident.

Yesterday, an oil pipeline in the Nairobi slum Sinai (a slum I visited on my first full day here) ruptured and leaked. Slum-dwellers rushed to collect the spilling liquid gold. Then, reports say a cigarette butt triggered a massive explosion, starting a hellish fire. At least 75 people were burned alive and many others sustained serious burn injuries. Here are BBC and NY Times articles reporting on the tragic accident and some pictures – be advised, some are disturbing.

What an awful disaster. I can only imagine how many families have been affected by the explosion. Feelings of hopelessness and anger at Kenya Pipeline Company fill the air. Unfortunately, the oil company won’t bear any of the social cost of the accident because the residents of the area near the pipeline are illegal squatters. Most slum-dwellers are squatting on land owned by the government for use in public works – like an oil pipeline. These people are so poor, and with inadequate help from their government, it is the only place they can go to have a home. When an oil pipeline bursts, it might as well be Kenyan Schillings dripping out instead of oil – given the poverty in these areas, the sensible reaction is to scoop up as much oil as possible to sell it later. What pervades the feeling of hopelessness felt by many Kenyans is that this is not the first time hundreds have died/sustained injuries because of an oil pipeline burst – it’s happened many times before, most recently in Western Kenya in 2009.

On another somber note, I have been planning a trip to the Somali camps in Northern Kenya to act as an OWU Ambassador and deliver donated goods and financial contributions to the famine victims seeking refuge. However, the trip is currently on hold. Two British tourists were attacked (one killed, one missing) and the US Embassy has recommended no American travel to the Somali-Kenya border area. The NY Times picked up on the story and wrote this article about the attack. I’ll be continually re-assessing the situation but right now it is unwise to make the trip – dying at age 22 doesn’t sound appealing to me.

Now to switch gears to the happenings of last week. Over the weekend, I traveled to Nakuru in Western Kenya with my host family to attend a graduation party! The city is situated right on the Great Rift Valley and the drive provided beautiful views.

The road hugged the eastern side of the rift – here is a picture of it, standing at 8,000 ft. Part of the East African Rift, it extends from Syria to Mozambique and runs through Lake Turkana, Mount Kenya, and Mount Kilimanjaro.

Here’s another picture, snapped near Naivasha, a city halfway between Nairobi and Nakuru. The rift marks where the African Plate is in the process of splitting into two new plates.

It was such a boring drive. Psyche! We spotted wild zebras! Bad picture, but the best I could do at 110 km/hr.

These beautiful indigenous acacia trees with yellowish-green bark lined the road.

Also, there were organized lines of very non-indigenous cypress trees for paper production.

Once in Nakuru, we hit a train. Nakuru is the fourth-largest city in Kenya, and right in town there was no gate at the railroad crossing! Imagine driving in downtown Houston (the 4th-largest city in the US) and encountering this! Getting stuck at a train reminded me of my good ol’ hometown of Bellevue at least.

The party was in the countryside village of Rongai – where my host Dad grew up and where his parents currently live. The party was at a close neighbor’s house. We drove deep in the village to get there –

The party was so much fun. The attendees (about 50 in number) sat in plastic chairs under a tent. We ate a filling meal of goat stew, rice, mokimo (a delicious combo of mashed peas, potatoes, and corn), and kale. The party consisted of many individuals expressing their congratulations to the grad by getting up in front the crowd and saying a few (or many!) words. Included in the speakers were friends, family, and professors. The graduate, Perpetua, had just earned a B.A. in Chemistry at the University of Nairobi. She was all decked out in academic regalia. Here’s a picture of my host Dad’s sister speaking words of encouragement to her and presenting her with a gift.

After the speakers, the women in attendance got up to dance and to sing traditional songs – so much fun!

After the singing, Perpetua cut cake and fed the audience. After that, attendees presented their financial gifts by placing them in the back of the her hood all at once! Quite the scene – it was so exciting that I forgot to take a picture.

Just as we were entering Nairobi on the drive home from Nakuru, traffic came to a standstill. A crowd of 50ish people were gathered at the side of the road near a matatu (minibus). Civilians motioned to cars to make them stop. As we made our way to the origin of the jam, we could see an injured man lying on the ground – he had been riding a bike and was apparently struck by the matatu. A crazy-looking man came to the side of our car and asked us to transport the injured man to a hospital. We, having no empty spaces in the car, told him we could not. He responded by telling others to put huge rocks in front of our tires, and they did! Finally, Daisy convinced them to let us pass due to the fact that we had children in the car. Whew. Mob mentality can get pretty frightening – any rational explanation for why we could not transport the man was met with anger and incredulity.

Last Thursday, it was my host Dad’s (Justus) birthday! Many family and friends came over to celebrate. While we prepared the festivities, Justus was required to hang out alone in his bedroom. We made delicious pizzas for the dinner. Kenyan pizza doesn’t have much pasta sauce, but other than that it’s quite tasty. Here is a pic of three pizzas we made – from left to right – 1) spicy beef, 2) ham & pineapple 3) chicken & onion.

While I’m on the topic of pizza, I must tell you – in Kenya, beet is a popular pizza topping, and I recommend you pizza makers to try adding it sometime – mmmmmmmm.

In Kenyan culture, if it’s your birthday, you’d better look out – water is sometimes splashed on you! We hashed out a fail-proof plan to unleash a colossal amount of H20 on Justus. It included making 20 water balloons and utilizing Daisy’s (his wife) trusting relationship with her husband. She lead him out on to their balcony blind-folded and then we opened fire! The result (apologies, bad cell phone quality) –

His words following his dousing at the hands of his closest friends and family? “I’ll get my revenge!”

Afterwards, like a birthday party I went to last week, we sat around the living room and everyone in the room took turns answering the question, “What do I like about Justus?” I just love this tradition – such a great way to reminisce on strong relationships! Then, the kids presented Justus with the “Best Dad in the World” award.

Speaking of birthdays, two of my co-workers who live in slums have never celebrated their birthdays before and don’t know the exact day or month anyway. The reason? The cost of celebrating a birthday – even just buying a card or cake – is too much.

A funny anecdote – last week it was a bit chilly, dipping into the 50s at night – still a moderate temperature to my body.  On Thursday, my co-worker Tracy was using a space heater to warm her feet. I googled the temperature on the spot, thinking wow, it must be pretty chilly today. The temp? 67 degrees!!! I want to invite every Kenyan I know to come to my house for Christmas to see what an Ohio winter is like, but I feel like some of them wouldn’t survive the trip!

On Sunday, I attended a church service at Nairobi Chapel with my host family. Upon entrance to the “sanctuary” which was actually a huge tent, it felt like a rock concert! A huge stage at the front had lights, cameras, and action! There was a lot of contemporary music and dancing. It lasted two hours and I found the sermon about parenting surprisingly practical. We arrived a couple of minutes late, and the tent was less than half full. But we must never forget the power of “Kenyan time.” By 45 minutes past the beginning of the service, the entire tent had filled up with about 3,000 people (this is NOT an exaggeration, I verified it with my host family!). Kenyans are so perpetually late, there was even a “late offering” box at the back of the tent! Outside the service, you could buy hot dogs, ice cream, and cupcakes! Looks like I didn’t miss out on the Ohio State Fair after all.

Sunday was also the first game of the Chicago Bears season, and after the service, I saw a man on a bike wearing a Bears hat! I called at him to tell him that 1) that is my favorite American football team and 2) they have their first game today, but he understood neither due to my lack of Swahili prowess. Oh well. But my point is this – I saw the Bears hat sighting as a sign that the Bears would prove victorious over the Falcons – and it happened, by a dominating score of 30-12 no less!

At the office, I continued work on business training manuals and started working on a newsletter for Maono. They have never sent out a newsletter to donors. I’m trying to spice it up with interviews, relevant articles, and and other cool stuff. In addition, I prepared materials to be used in the creation of Maono’s website, which Mac, one of the visitors who I met upon arrival to Kenya, has kindly offered to put together to design the website.

Usually, I wear a dress shirt and ditch the tie for work. But, on Wednesday last week, I was feeling zesty and put one on. My co-workers insist that this picture must make an appearance on my blog, so here it is –

I feel more adjusted to life in Kenya with each passing day. Looking forward to many more weeks in this amazing country!

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8 Responses to “A Trip to Nakuru and a Tragedy in Nairobi”

  1. macmcnair September 13, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    Ben, thank you for the update. It is always fun to read about all you are learning and doing. Please greet the staff for me there at Maono. You work with some of the Lord’s best there. We continue to lift the ministry up in our prayers. You all are doing good work there. I look forward to reading the newsletter. I too was saddened with the news about the explosion and fire. So much heartache and sadness already in that area and now this to deal with. My heart was broken with the news. Keep up the good work and thank you so much for keeping us up to date on what is going on. Are you keeping up on your Stoney count? Blessings, Mac

    • Ben September 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      Hi Mac – As usual, you’re welcome (or should I say karibu!) for the update – this blog has been a convenient and fun way to keep track of my learnings and doings. The staff here is great and I’ll pass along your greetings and we appreciate the thoughts & prayers. It’s such an awful tragedy – and so angering to me that Kenya Pipeline Company will be granted full impunity. Even more sad to realize that if the residents surrounding the pipeline were not so poverty-stricken, they would not have to resort to collecting spilled oil, and would have not been affected by the explosion. I have been keeping up on the Stoney count, but stiff competition with my other favorite – Coke – has lead to a deterioration of my progress. Count is at 17 – about one every three days, so the pace has slowed!
      Cheers,
      Ben

  2. grrreera September 14, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Well, you already know my thoughts about oil, corporations and poverty, so I just wanted to say:

    BEETS!! KALE!! You well-nourished boy, you.

    We just planted some beets in our new garden and my housemates labeled them mine. Home at last.

    • Ben September 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

      Hey Greer! You’ve been telling me you like teaching math to clients, so here’s an equation for you – Oil + Corporations + Poverty = Armageddon. Please try your labeled beets on a pizza sometime, it really is mucho deliciouso. Kale is the #1 consumed green here and sometimes it’s mixed with spinach to decrease the acidity, so yes, I do eat nutritiously here! Many Kenyans dread when kale is part of a meal, but I look forward to it! 🙂

  3. Laurie Webb September 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    I guess I was a week off on the pipeline disaster. How tragic Ben for so many people especially when they have such needs. Thanks for the updates. You are a wonderful writer-very descriptive and entertaining.

    • Ben September 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

      Laurie, you are so right in that the people living in Sinai already face so many challenges in everyday life – to have to deal with the loss of loved ones on top of the usual poverty struggles is just awful. Thanks for the compliment and I’ll keep the updates coming!

  4. Louann Snow September 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Ben – Greetings from Bellevue – Ohio, that is! I love following your blog. It’s so… Ben. ie: “I was feeling zesty, so I wore a tie”. Zesty. What wonderful experiences you are having. Thanks for sharing. You – and your work – are in my prayers. Louann Snow

    • Ben September 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      Hi Louann – I send greetings right back to you from the Bellevue area in Kenya! I’m happy you’re enjoying my blog. I wake up feeling zesty a lot here – so it seems only right that the word would appear in a post at some point! Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. Enjoy the fall season – I miss it a little!
      Best,
      Ben

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