View From the Top

19 Oct

Don’t fret – this post isn’t about the forgettable romantic comedy – it’s about viewing Nairobi from 30-stories up!

What better day to update you on my Kenyan experiences than the day wild, exotic animals are on the loose in the countryside of Ohio? Looks like I didn’t need to come to Africa to go on a safari – could’ve just stayed home!

First, an update on news here. Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2004, passed away. She was a visionary for women’s rights, democracy, and environmental conservation.

Two aid workers were kidnapped near the Kenya-Somalia border last week. This is the fourth time in just five weeks that Somali pirate gangs have attacked Europeans. In response, Kenya has sent troops into Somalia to push Al-Shabab (an Islamist insurgent group) presence out of the Kenya-Somalia border area. Troops are under orders to protect the area within 100 kilometers of the border inside Somalia.

A quick note to family & friends – I’m in no danger, as I live very far from the border, and have no plans to go there.

I’m skeptical of the impact of Kenya’s military action. Sending troops into Somalia has never fared well. I think the better way is to ramp up defense near the border and especially at nearby Kenyan port cities.

Al-Shabab has reacted to the troop deployment – spokesperson Ali Mohamud Rage told the BBC Somali service: “We will defend ourselves. Kenya doesn’t know war. We know war. The tall buildings in Nairobi will be destroyed.”

Well, that’s surely a bluff, but good thing I visited the top of the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) Building last week!

That’s Tricia on the left and Amelia on the right. They are some of my best Mzungu friends here and we have started a bit of a “Tourist Saturday” tradition, during which we don touristy attire and see the sights of Nairobi!

The view from the top was breathtaking. Here’s a panoramic video I shot.

We had an intelligent, informative, and clear-spoken tour guide – Peter.

The KICC Building is the second-tallest building in Kenya (344ft), with the Times Tower (459ft, pictured here) being the tallest. On a clear day (this was not), you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro in this direction.

Downtown Nairobi –

I wasn’t kidding when I said we had a great tour guide – he won the “Manager of the Year Award” in 2010!

Lastly, here’s a pic of Uhuru park. Beyond the park about 4 miles is where I live.

After our trip to the top, we visited Maasi Market, a traveling market that sets up shop in a different Nairobi location each day. The Maasi are a tribe of nomadic herders in Kenya & Tanzania, known for their tribal dances during which the men jump as high as they can.

This particular market is geared towards foreigners. Price gouging is rampant. I purchased a T-Shirt, 2 pairs of earrings, and a bottle opener. The initial offer – $98!!! I was able to bargain down to $35, utilizing the walk-away technique thrice. Unfortunately, $35 is still a lot for what I bought. Also, later that day, I saw the exact same T-Shirt I paid $15 for on sale for $10 in a supermarket. Gotta love buyer’s remorse.

This past weekend, I attended a couple of dance shows. The first was a mixture of contemporary African dance with Spanish flamenco, sponsored by the Embassy of Spain. It was quite powerful at times and I enjoyed. The concert took place in a school. And the school had a bar – I’m guessing school kids aren’t allowed to opt to have study hall there.

The second dance show was called “Bomas of Kenya” – it’s a weekly show put on in Langata, an area near Nairobi National Park. The show consisted of 12 different tribal dances. It was really cool to see all the different styles and hear all the different beats.

Included in the program was the “Luo Drinking Dance” – at the end a “drunk” Luo man had to be escorted off the stage by his wife! He shook hands with spectators as he made his exit.

Dancers wore a wide array of colorful garb.

Many schoolchildren had taken field trips to the show.

The best part of the show was the acrobats!

In addition to flips & jumps, one dancer stuck a torch of fire down his pants, egged on by boisterous chants from the schoolchildren!

A dancer did a flame limbo too – check out this video – hard to believe!

That night, I attended a rap/hip-hop concert on the grounds of Carnivore. The headline act was Flavour, with his song Sawa Sawa Le. This song is currently the #1 played radio song in Kenya, and from what I hear it’s just as popular in the rest of East Africa and beyond. Some matatu drivers play it 3-4 times in a row! The concert was lots of fun, but ended on a sour note – two of my friends had their phones stolen and another had her purse taken. Gotta be careful being a white person in crowds here. Some people attend functions like this just for the robbing opportunities.

Now for a work update. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on Maono’s business plan and it’s starting to look good. We are in the midst of attracting a lot of investment, so long as we package it the right way. I really enjoy putting together business plans, except for the financials! Last week, I gave a business training presentation to a group of women in Kibera. It went well and I think I’ve learned the art of talking slowly, but it’s still hard to communicate with differing English accents.

Also, I’ve taken on some projects with a new organization – the Association of Microfinance Professionals of Kenya (AMPK). AMPK is a membership organization for – you guessed it – microfinance practitioners, researchers, and institutions in Kenya. They like my blogging style and I’ve joined their team to 1) manage a blog on their website and 2) manage their social networking sites. No pay, but my salary to me is the connections I’ll get through AMPK. I attend their board meetings and will attend functions that they have! I’ll add value to their communications and hope to figure out just how I’m going to make a career out of economic development.

A board member of AMPK and my connector-in-chief Scott Bellows is the Chief of Party (CEO basically) for the “Yes Youth Can!” Initiative. The initiative hit national press last week. Read on if interested. It’s a $13 Million USAID-funded project that is comprised of grants and loans. And guess what? The lending model for the initiative is based on Maono’s model! Youth groups are formed, money is saved, and loans are taken out and repaid. What makes Maono’s model different than traditional SACCOs (Savings And Credit Co-operatives) is that outside capital is infused into the group (in the form of loans).

Every day coming home from work, it is usually dark outside (sunset between 6-7pm year-round). I live at the bottom of a valley. It’s so steep that it makes sense momentum-wise to run down the hill. But I’m not doing it at night anymore! I tripped on a big hole (2ft by 4ft) on the sidewalk! Ripped my favorite dress shirt too. I’ll live, probably.

The other day, a man stole a purse from a woman near my apartment. She screamed “THEIF!!” and 5 dudes chased after the robber! Traffic stopped and a safari vehicle went off-road to chase after him as well. People tell me that especially in the past, when caught, these robbers were killed. Some friends tell me it still happens today. Makes me feel pretty safe out there.

Got a haircut yesterday. And it LOOKS GOOD. I found a place that cuts Mzungu hair – guess I don’t have to get a buzzcut after all! I told the guy once I’m a millionaire I’d fly back to Kenya just to get my hair cut at “A Touch of Class.”

A shout-out to my family – congrats Emily on being elected Bellevue’s Homecoming Queen! Always have to one-up your big bro – I only made the Prom Court & wasn’t elected King 😉 Also, congrats Dad on breaking 4 hours in the Chicago Marathon! The Nairobi Marathon is Oct. 30 & I’m running the 10k…join me?

Who loves Kenya? We do!


5 Responses to “View From the Top”

  1. Mghendi K amazing! October 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Hey this was fun reading 🙂 big up Ben

    • Ben October 21, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      “Big up” – adding to my Kenyan English, asante! Glad you enjoyed my post.

  2. Stephanie C November 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

    Wow this is Amazing!
    I’m a perspective Student, and I was researching about OWU, and starting to get a sense of what OWU is, and reading this blog has excited me about OWU.
    It amazing to read the experiences and imaginning myself that maybe one day I’ll be doing something as awesome as this.

    • Ben November 3, 2011 at 12:16 am #


      Hey there – glad you stumbled across my blog! OWU is a wealth of opportunity. The possibilities are endless and no matter what interest you define, the vast alumni network will make valuable connections. I know without OWU, I sure wouldn’t be in Kenya living the dream! Good luck with your future endeavors.


  3. Samuel Labarakwe October 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    hey Ben, this is soo interesting and i wanna do this, thank you soo much

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