Boda-Bodas & Tuk-Tuks

4 Oct

Two weeks has passed since my last post – here’s an update on the life of a Nairobian.

I’ll start with my work update this time round. I’ve taken on mostly communications and business-related projects during my time working at the Maono Initiative. I do a lot with managing social networking sites. Last week, I converted the existing Facebook page from an individual profile to a group page that you can “like.”  This kind of page fits an organization’s needs much more than an individual profile and is more user-friendly as well. Feel free to “like” it yourself! Also, I started a YouTube account and uploaded this 5-minute video explaining what Maono does and why it can lead to sustainable poverty reduction. It quickly became the #1 Daily Top-Rated Nonprofit video in Kenya, admittedly because I myself rated it with my two existing personal YouTube accounts! Muhaha.

In other work news, I’ve undertaken the responsibility of formulating a business plan for Maono.  This is no small task, but Rusty McClure’s Entrepreneurship class at Ohio Wesleyan has prepared me – that course required me to write a 40-page business plan with a team of two other classmates. At the end of the class, we presented our plan in front of a panel of judges including real-life entrepreneurs and bankers. Sure, that business was a make-believe organic energy drink company (Mana Organics, if you’re interested in investing), but the basics of preparing a business plan are the same.

Another project on the horizon is a monitoring and evaluation of the organization.  This process allows an organization to assess the quality and impact of their work. It answers the question, “Are we fulfilling our mission and solving the problem we aim to solve?” A very important question indeed. Sadly, a monitoring and evaluation is often done just because a donor demands it. With the Maono Initiative almost three years old, it seems proper time to evaluate our impact. Are savings and loans accompanied with business and life skill training making the difference in people’s lives that we strive to see?

OK, enough with work stuff. This week, I attended the Nairobi International Trade Fair. This is an annual event with the theme this year being “Driving Agribusiness in Attaining Food Sufficiency and Vision 2030.” Vision 2030 is Kenya’s plan to become a middle-income country and achieve social, political, and economic goals by 2030. There were a wide array of stands, including the Central Bank of Kenya and stands about malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention. I collected many a pamphlet and ate a tasty 50-cent hot dog. Also, it was not a touristy event – I was the lone Mzungu in a crowd of at least 1,000 people.

Note that I broke out my khaki shorts and flip-flops for the first time in public – it was a hot hot sunny day!

This picture looks like it was taken at the Huron County fair in Ohio. Reminds me of how much I miss deep-fried Snickers bars. JK.

One of the booths I visited had a collection of narcotic drugs on display. The intent was to help visitors gain awareness of what the drugs look like. Good thing they didn’t offer free samples! Note to Dad: Don’t tell the Kenyan government to deport me back home, I returned this bottle of cocaine to the table right after this pic, I swear 😉

You ever heard of these things called trash cans? There were no public ones at the entire fair.  The scene at the entrance – a week’s aggregation of admittance tickets, caked on the ground.

On the way to the fair, I rode in a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) and on the way home I rode in a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled cabin motorcycle). Both were fun, sometimes frightening, and bumpy! In the tuk-tuk, the driver fit five people in the cabin – a place in which I expected two or maybe three people tops could ever fit. On that note, have I ever mentioned the lack of deodorant I’ve experienced here? Things can get quite smelly in matatus, buses, and other forms of crowded public transit. I must say though, if I was poor and living in a slum, I think personal hygiene would take low priority under life-sustaining activities like buying food and clean water.

I attended a concert last week sponsored by Safaricom, Kenya’s leading cell phone service provider. The concert, “Classical Fushion,” included performances by the Nairobi Orchestra and many different groups performing tribal music. I loved all I heard – there is a lot of musical talent in Kenya.  The crowd at the event was very diverse and people wore trendy dress, like this dude in tighty-whitey pants. I don’t know how he was even able to put them on in the first place!

My family also came to the concert, and there were plenty of activities for children – including free camel rides!

I know I posted a picture of my cute brother last week, but I can’t resist – take two!

On to some news from the past week. Daily Nation, Nairobi’s most-read newspaper, reported on increased car accidents. The culprit? Not dangerous matatu drivers. Not drunk drivers. Not lack of traffic laws. Not lack of enforcement of traffic laws. Not crowded streets due to lack of infrastructure. Don’t know what the answer is? C’mon…isn’t it obvious? Ghosts are the culprit. Prayers are being held at “black spots” to decrease traffic accidents. Now, I’ll take Daily Nation off the hook here – it’s the matatu drivers in the article making the ludicrous claim that only divine intervention can decrease car accidents. Who knows, there are so many accidents in Nairobi maybe ghosts are the cause. If pigs can fly, surely ghosts can cause accidents. Wait. Pigs can’t fly. Hmmm.

On the topic of traffic – sometimes in a jam, drivers selfishly take up all the lanes of a road. In this picture, five lanes of traffic have completely stopped movement from the other direction!

I realized this past week that I don’t know any foreigners here. All of my friends are Kenyans and Scott is some kind of hybrid Kenyan foreigner. Upon reflection I realized I would much rather have it this way than the other way around – living in a foreign bubble instead of experiencing the Kenyan culture.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking of how to overcome this problem, and a solution came my way! It just so happens that a childhood friend of mine, Amy, has been living in Nairobi for about a month and will also be here for around a year! Amy’s Mom & my Mom were best friends from college.  Amy is here with her husband and they are both volunteering for Young Adult Volunteers. She has a blog – check it out.

I spent last Friday night hanging out with Amy and her fellow Young Adult Volunteers. Much of my time was spent asking the question, “Amy, who knew the last time we said goodbye at Valley Beach (a waterpark in Norwalk, Ohio) that we would be saying ‘Jambo’ to each other in Kenya?!?” As they say, I suppose it’s a small world after all. It was refreshing to hang out with people both of my age and my culture. They even have a closet filled with American-themed things – including a red, white, and blue car air refreshener that they bought in Nairobi. Many a Tusker and good time were had. In the morning, I escorted them on their first matatu ride! It was a bit anti-climatic because the driver had no loud music blaring.

Accompanied with my desire to meet foreigners has been a desire to travel more. I’ve already made the essential trip to Mombasa, but I’m making plans to visit host family friends of mine in Rwanda and South Africa. I’m hoping to find a safari group sometime soon as well. Most Kenyans don’t go on safaris – this is mostly a foreign desire.

I finally got to experience a Nairobi market!  Lots of cheap secondhand clothing on sale, as long as you’re a Mwafrika.  My shop-mates contemplated having me walk away during some price negotiations so they could get a fair deal. During the negotiations, I would always say something like, “Listen, our skin is different colors but we all have the same heart and soul!” Hehe. A pic of Toi Market –

I took the kids to see a movie the other day. Nairobi has several modern movie theaters with stadium seating and the works. We saw “Zookeeper” for $5 and munched on popcorn 1/3 as expensive as popcorn in an American theater. Part of the story included a woman’s decision to remain working at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston or to travel to Kenya to work at the Nairobi Zoo! She chose to stay in Boston with her soon-to-be-husband – what a shame.

Now for an unnecessarily long-winded explanation of a frustrating interaction I had the other day – feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you’re short on time.  I drove a co-worker to a school where she had some business to do.  There is a gate at every school, housing complex, church, etc. in Nairobi and at the gate to this place, a guy with a real attitude annoyed me to no end. He wanted me to sign my name in a book and provide him with my ID number. I told him I didn’t have a Kenyan ID and he said my passport number would work. But, obviously, I don’t carry my passport on my person – I keep it locked up safe in my room! When I began explaining this to him, he interrupted me and shouted “White, white!” to me as he walked away. He brought back his Kenyan ID to show me what a Kenyan ID looks like – he thought I didn’t understand what an ID was. At the end of the day, my passport number was written down in his book as 123456789! A friend told me that the book is used in case a terrorist blows up a bomb on the school premises or something like that. But of course if you were carrying out a terrorist act you would write down a fake name and ID number since there is no verification that your information is correct! Apparently, none of this book-signing existed before 9/11. Another “security” technique I’ve seen is at Westgate mall – they check the boot (trunk) of your car for a bomb before letting you park. A real terrorist would definitely be aware of this and would install the bomb in the front trunk or glove compartment. At the same mall, metal detectors check every bag/purse that you bring in. But, when the detector makes a sound, the guards always say “It’s OK, go ahead.” Sigh….what’s the point?

Want to know what I eat for breakfast every morning? Two eggs and an original cereal concoction. The ingredients? Two Wheatibix bars, a cup of Cocoa Puffs cereal, a hunk of peanut butter, and a half-cup of warm milk.

Mix together and you get a sugary oatmeal-textured delicacy.

Now for a couple of random final notes to wrap this post up.

I’ve been running more lately and people frequently shout “Marathon!” at me, because the Nairobi Marathon is coming up on Oct. 30. Little do they know that I could only run about a 10K at this point. But I respond with a triumphant fist-pump nonetheless when someone encourages me like that!

My host family has a piano in the house now! My sister Kabura is currently taking lessons. Much to my delight, I still have Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata memorized.

It’s a bird!….it’s a plane!….no wait…it’s just a bird. A colorful bird got stuck in the house the other day. This one’s for you, Grandma, the expert birder!

Happy Birthday Dad! It was easy for me to give you an early-morning birthday greeting over the phone, since your 7am is my 2pm.

OK. That’s it for now – I’ve now doubled my self-imposed limit of 1,000 words. I’m so happy I decided to spend this time in Kenya and each day I wake up knowing I’ll experience and learn exciting new things. Until next time!


4 Responses to “Boda-Bodas & Tuk-Tuks”

  1. Nancy Clark October 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm #


    I love reading your blog. You are a great writer and do a wonderful job of sharing your fascinating experiences. I look forward to reading more!

    Nancy Clark

    • Ben October 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

      Hey Nancy! I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. Gives me motivation to keep the posts coming! Hope all is well.

  2. Alexa November 4, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    I love that you have tuk-tuks in Kenya, too – they’re all over Honduras, especially in my area. Most locals call them mototaxis, but some people say tuk-tuks – now I know why, I guess. It’s really interesting to hear about some of the things that are similar across different countries….even halfway around the world. Sounds like you’re having an awesome experience over there!

    • Ben November 4, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      Wow – there’s a lot of names for them – I just Wiki’d it – auto rickshaw, three-wheeler, tuk-tuk, trishaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, or baby taxi! I wish they had more in Nairobi, I love them. It is really cool that countries very different and far from each other share similarities. All the time I notice things that remind me of Bolivia or Nicaragua. Hope you had a very happy Honduras birthday!

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