He’s Alive!

13 Nov

Well, well, well…let’s just say I plead guilty to the charge of blog neglect. I’ve been remiss for over two months now, and have exhausted all possible excuses for procrastinating any further, so here goes!

Of course, sometimes silence can be a good thing  – a month ago I was dead set on the idea of buying a motorbike to ride around the dangerous streets of Nairobi, but since then I moved to a new apartment within walking distance of work, so I didn’t implement that idea. Bottom line – I saved my friends & family from a few sleepless nights, as they have never heard of this idea until, well, now!

So, an update is in order. I’ve been back in Kenya since early September – been on the new job for 8 weeks. There are only two staff including myself in the entire East & Southern Africa office, so there is plenty of work to do. That is one aspect I like about the experience so far – the days go by fast and I feel productive as there isn’t time to waste. The work environment is fast-paced, focused, and organized, and it is very clear what my responsibilities are.

My primary responsibility is data collection for MicroFinance Transparency (MFTransparency), who partnered with Planet Rating in July this summer. MFTransparency is an org with the mission of making microfinance pricing transparent. A lot of times, an MFI advertises a loan for say 20% a year when in reality with added fees and different interest rate calculations can turn out to be 30%, 40%, or 100% APR per year! On their website, you can compare various MFIs to see who really has the lowest rate. So, enough with the blah blah blah – I am the data collection guy for Uganda, Rwanda and most recently Malawi. I need to collect a magical thing called a ‘Data Collection Tool’ (which is used to calculate APRs) and some sample loan documentation. I do that via e-mails, phone calls, and the occasional skype. After receiving the data, I ‘treat’ it, checking to see if all we need is there (note: it usually never is, as it takes a lot of follow-ups to entirely complete the collection).  It’s a lot of work but rewarding, as the process contributes to making microloan pricing more transparent, for both clients and donors/investors. Mention ‘enabling macros’ to me sometime and I will laugh or cry.

I hope that last paragraph wasn’t a blur. Some other responsibilities I have include:

  • Country Report – helping to write a report on Kenya’s socioeconomic/political environment, as well as the status of the microfinance industry and access to financial services.
  • Administrative Stuff – submitting expense sheets to HQ in Paris, get quotes on office supplies and other services, proofreading English documents prepared by Paris staff, etc.
  • Rating Mission – most recently, I have started to prepare for my first rating mission – I am traveling to Ethiopia in early December for this. This will be my first hands-on experience with the rating part of Planet Rating!

I am still a complete newbie when it comes to most of this, and I have tried to turn the brain onto sponge mode to absorb all the new information, procedures, etc. that I’m learning. I have a helpful co-worker who is not too proud to offer advice and always welcomes questions. The staff at HQ is also very supportive and knowledgable.

OK, enough about work. What about life?

This year, my daily experiences are less of an exciting barrage of completely new and different happenings, like they were in the past. That’s probably part of the reason I haven’t blogged in so long! Kenya has normalized somewhat – parts of that are good but it’s also a challenge. I am finding that my trust levels have decreased…I’ve heard enough close-to-home stories of robberies and what not that my default position recently has been to withhold trust….hope I’m not becoming too skeptical.

One of the few downsides so far this year has been having fewer friends. Last year, I had an awesome group of friends (Amy, David, Tricia, Amelia, that’s YOU), but they have all returned to the US and I have yet to replace them 😉 I have, however, been in touch with my co-workers from last year, and it has been nice to reconnect. Last year, I would literally meet someone on a bus and end up going out to a bar with them that night, but this year I am finding myself a little less down-for-anything.

I’m travelling less too. Last year, I acted as if I would never set foot on the great African continent again, but now that I’m back I’ve been spending more weekends just relaxing in Nairobi. That said, I have made two notable weekend getaways so far – one to a new destination on the Coast – Tiwi Beach (see picture) –

And the other a road trip through the central highlands – Kikuyu land, including Nyeri and Nyahururu. Here is a picture of a cloud-covered Mount Kenya, the 2nd tallest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro:

Nyahururu (don’t worry, I’ve said it 100 times and still can’t pronounce it correctly) is Kenya’s highest town, with an altitude of 7,556 feet. Here is a picture of the town’s main attraction, Thomson’s Falls – named after some white guy that had the idea to name it. That’s me being a tourist, taking a pic with Kenyans in traditional Kikuyu attire:

The town attracts runners training for marathons due to the high altitude. Speaking of marathons, the Nairobi Marathon was run last month, and just like last year I didn’t manage to kick myself into gear to prepare for it. I have started stair-running recently…ready in time for 2013?

Generally, it has been great being back in Kenya. Examples? Today, I woke up late for work, so I called a motorcycle taxi to take me there for $1. For lunch, I ate a filling meal of lentils, chapati, and sukuma wiki for $1. On my walk home from work, I bought a pirated DVD set containing 8 James Bond movies (Skyfall not included, but I saw it here in theaters last week) for, you guessed it, $1. But Kenya is so much more than a glorified Dollar General. Last night, I had a conversation with a Kenyan friend about the coming presidential elections in March (and how much they will sadly be influenced by tribal favoritism). Right now, an Indian family was setting off surprisingly powerful fireworks outside of my apartment celebrating Diwali. I’m happy to be here, and I hope to get to know Kenya on a deeper level throughout this year.

If you get a chance to see it, watch Nairobi Half Life. It’s a movie based in Nairobi (duh) and has been showing all over Africa and Europe, and may get a nod as Kenya’s first Oscar nomination. It’s an eye-opening movie, beautifully shot, that exposes the harsh realities of life in Nairobi for rural newcomers and the innocent motivations behind so much of Nairobi’s crime. Here’s a recent CNN article about it.

I’ll leave you with some surprising news – our (re-elected) President really is from Kenya after all! And, a Kenyan mother from Obama’s father’s village Kogelo has named her newborn twins Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I bet they’ll fight growing up 😉

Until next time, stay groovy.

Oh…almost forgot, here’s some pics…enjoy. The office –

Construction outside of the office (everyday 8am-5pm, Chinese contractors screaming at Kenyan workers) –

Da Jackhammer. The bane of my existence for the past 8 weeks – it totally disrupts concentration OR gives a nice ‘rhythm’ to the workday, depending on one’s mood –



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