A New Home

19 Jan

Long time, no post! Hope 2012 is off to a good start for you.

First things first – I’ve moved into a new place.  Seeking a more diversified portfolio of experience in Kenya and a healthy dose of independence, I parted ways with the host family and began an apartment search. I’ll miss the fam and especially Kiama (the 2-year-old boy), but it’s time for the next step in my Kenyan life.  They were so kind and hospitable to host me for 5 months, and we had a lot of good times.

The apartment search was more difficult and frustrating than I could’ve ever imagined! Several times, agents/guards/acquaintances promised a vacant apartment when in fact it did not exist. It took about two weeks of long walks and investigating to find a real place at a reasonable price. I took the bait of a con artist as well. He was a ‘real estate agent’ who ‘found’ an apartment for me. After showing me a supposedly vacant apartment from the outside, he told me to call the owner to negotiate the price. Mysteriously, the owner would refuse to talk on the phone and would only engage in text conversations. Thing is, (as I found out later), the ‘owner’ was actually the agent on a different phone! I threatened to report him to the police, but that probably wouldn’t bring him to justice as police are pretty corrupt here. Plus, I’m only out $10.

I landed on an SQ (servant quarters) for $200 a month. It’s one room with my own bathroom and a shared kitchen/living room. Water, electricity, gas, and internet are included in the price. Best part, it’s less than five minutes walking distance to both the office and a matatu stage to the city. The owner first told me it would cost $375 a month. With many things in Kenya, the first price offered is more of a joke for the gullible than a serious offer.

My room is literally too small to photograph, so here’s a pic of the living room.

An Ethiopian family owns the house and rents out the SQ and two other larger bedrooms.

When I returned to Nairobi after my relaxing rural Christmas, I had another week before work began. I took some time to do some touristy things, including a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum. Author of Out of Africa and the namesake of Karen, a rich Nairobian suburb, she lived in the house in the background of this picture. And yes, that’s a fresh haircut.

Back at work, things are busy. At Maono, we are very close to unveiling our new website. It looks good and I’m hammering out the final touches with a web design team back in the US. I’ll post the link when it’s live! I’ve also undertaken a new project – to have a detailed database of all our members, I’ve designed a template for storing client information and have been out in the field collecting that information. Included is a picture of each member along with descriptions of their businesses and goals. The database will be used primarily for donors who are interested in adopting a group by lending money interest-free for a year to inject capital into a group.

Here’s a picture of Mathare Light, a group awaiting Maono loans.

In other work news, we’re busy implementing our organizational plan for the year. In order to pave the way for faster and more efficient expansion, we’re creating a new position to manage each of our three zones of activity – Zonal Manager – to oversee and evaluate field officer and group performance as well as manage expansion. Along with a re-structuring of group meeting times, we’ll be able to nearly double our number of groups within the year.

On to some exciting news – Mary Howard, a anthropology professor at my alma mater – Ohio Wesleyan – and OWU in Tanzania’s 2012 students are visiting Nairobi for a few days. Scott and I will show them around to a Maono group meeting and other stuff. What’s better, I may join them as they head back to Tanzania! After safari-ing and such, I would hop on a bus to Zambia to administer surveys for Durham University’s research down there. More on that as it happens…

A couple of quick notes before I sign off.

I’ve been meaning to share some music with you. I’ve been hearing a lot of new tunes, both Western and African. My favorite radio station is Classic 105. The station is a mix of UK (since the Brits colonized Kenya) hits from the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s and African soul, funk, and rock. Good songs I’ve discovered there? Pata Pata by South African artist Mariam Makeba and Casanova by Ultimate Kaos. Whenever I hear a song I like, I jot down some lyrics in my phone and download it later. Not counting Classic 105 stuff, my favorite song so far is Kigeugeu. The music video is shot in Nairobi. Also check out this song – Kwetu Pazuri – a Rwandan song that is being played everywhere in town now. Here’s another I enjoy if you’d like to hear more.

I’ve discovered a wealth of good British music, like Imagination’s Just An Illusion. An exception? Ever heard this song? Do They Know It’s Christmas. It’s kind of catchy, set a record for UK single sales in 1984 and that record remained until 1997. Produced to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia, it contains the lyrics “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you,” “The Christmas bells that ring [in Africa] are the clanging chimes of doom,” and “[Africa is] where nothing ever grows [and] no rain or rivers flow.” I know the single was produced with good intentions, but I find those lines particularly offensive. No rivers flow? Ever heard of the Nile, Band-Aid? I’m lookin’ at you, Phil Collins.

It’s occurring to me that I need to write a full post just on music sometime! One last note – when I heard this song – Mama Papa – it eerily reminded me of another song. After an hour of racking my brain, it dawned on me and I found the song it resembles so similarly.

Finally, an anecdote – the other day, I saw a police officer arguing with a matatu driver in the middle of the road. When he said something quite nasty to the officer, she took her club and smashed his side mirror as he sped off! Glass shattered everywhere and I’m surprised no one got seriously hurt.  Apparently, to the matatu driver, the broken window was worth avoiding a fine for whatever he had done wrong.

I’m over 1,000 words, so I’ll cut it off here. More to come!

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5 Responses to “A New Home”

  1. kamila goldin January 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Hey Ben, thanks for all the music and observations and everything. 🙂 I’m very proud of you for all your work! glad to hear you’re doing well, and thanks for blogging!

    -kami

    • Ben January 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      Kami,

      Good to hear from you and hope spring semester is off to a good start. I treat visitors well so come on over!

  2. Ethio queen ;) January 23, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    So you’re not going to Ethio anymore?? It was either Ethiopia or Zambia right? So you chose to live with with Ethiopians and go to Zambia? smh Ben! Have them invite you over when they have Injera and Doro wot for lunch or dinner sometime since you liked that a lot. 🙂

    • Ben January 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      Ahlam,

      The Ethiopia trip has been postponed until another date. I had a slow response from MFIs there, and the bus route to Addis Ababa is not safe as there is Al-Shabab conflict at the border crossing in Moyale. And I’m too cheap to fly!

      The wife of the Ethiopian family is out of town, so they’ve been eating meagerly – I have joined them for some Injera though 🙂

      • Ahlam January 30, 2012 at 7:18 am #

        You’d be crazy to take the bus to Addis from Nairobi. Well it would be a crazy adventure too I suppose and good luck getting out of it ALIVE man! Also, the problem with Ethiopians is that they’re usually not willing to collaborate unless there is a benefit for them, so that might be why you are not getting very many responses… but otherwise they’re great people. 🙂 Stop being cheap and check out online if they still have the late night flight 50 % off deal they had with Ethiopian Airlines.

        I hope you’re having a fabulous time in TZ. We drove by Arusha and Kili without getting a chance to climb it so enjoy that and the safari for me. I bet it will be amazing!

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