Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bridges - Organic Restaurant in Nairobi

Wow, is it Tuesday already? Loads of great things happening here in Nairobi. One of them happened a week ago; I was introduced to a pleasant find: this fantastic organic restaurant place called Bridges! I was so impressed that I'll have to make it a priority to come here as much as possible during my stay here. I had a fresh tilapia with a side of sweet mango-ey sauce, bed of rice and salad. All for less than $4. Oh, organic fresh fruit juice included!

I finally saw that movie, Blood Diamonds, with Leo, actually incredibly impressed by the dramatic and stunningly beautiful backdrops of beach, then hellish dirty city to then majestic forests of Sierre Leone. I remember the rumours of his presence in Maputo during the filming of parts of the film. I swear some of the beach scenes look so familiar to Maputo or Mozambican beaches but I could be wrong. Some of the dialogue also reminds me of the film, Hotel Rwanda, when asked if the West will help now that the reporters write stories or take photos of their strife and the bluntness of "no" and "unlikely" kind of puts a jab at your heart... because there is some truth to the apathy that is referenced. The movie also takes a few strikes at development workers, Peace Corps, and consultants who come in trying to do good with their fancy laptops when their governments may well be funding the arms for the wars or the extremist militia taking place today.

The director also did a great job of leading the watcher through Daniel Archer and him dealing with his demons or inherent goodness in people... of course the discussion goes, "people are just people; it's the action they take chich determines if they are good or bad" He takes us through survival, TIA (this is africa) and that he could never abandon his continent.

Anything else: I saw a small concert at the Alliance Francaise last Thursday: the Ingosi Stars. They were rocking out , some in traditional wear, and singing to the sounds of the drums, guitar and other percussion instruments. The highlight was the actual band starter, Ingosi, was this old man who comes out with his traditional string instrument and taking his small moves like the two-step. Good times.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Book Release - The Media and the Rwanda Genocide

Here in Nairobi office, we have Allan Thompson doing his book release, "The Media and the Rwanda Genocide", and is available online to download or to purchase. Professor at Canada's renowned journalism school, Carleton University, Professor Thompson delivers a collection of writings that display how Rwanda waas infitrated by hate media during the genocide which instigated much of the fighting and how the international media chose to turn a blind eye to the situation and how the presents of media could have changed the results of the horrific events that took place in 1994. In one of the writings, it talks about how censorship is still strong today within government with leaders once in charge of propaganda and military intelligence and this is not just talking about Rwanda. This book describes how even today editors, reporters and those who produce any opposing views to the government is classified as "genocial ideology". Many have been exiled, killed, or persecuted in prison... the same was happening in Mozambique when a reporter was mysteriously murdered after reporting on certain stories implicating governmental officials to misuse of donor funding.

It's happening in the world and I give kudos to those reporters who have been willing to risk their lives to report the truth and even more respect to those who take action.

Motif Records and Tumi Molekane - South Africa

Just been forwarded the information about the new independent label in South Africa, Motif Records and artist Tumi Moelkane. Please click here to listen to his song, Maria or more of his 3 sample tracks on his myspace page.

Saw the film - The Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore gives his climate change speech on video for all to see and understand the real dramatic affects of global warming. Definitely a film worth checking out and see the relevant facts of climate change. However, in terms of suggestions of stopping climate change could be further expanded, well worth the time.

What gets us into trouble
is not what we don't know,

it's what we know for sure
that just ain't so.

-Mark Twain (from the Inconvenient Truth)

Marching for Swaziland's Democracy

Here's another clip of the events that took place at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya for the 2007 World Social Forum. These marchers are seeking for justice in democracy as they are currently ruled by one of the last existing monarchies in Africa.

The World Social Forum was an opportunity to meet groups particularly those working in Africa in building a more fair society. I met with youth group leaders, members of church congregations, activists, graphic designers, you name it. In the local papers, there was positive and negative press on the forum, saying that there are never any concrete plans made towards development. While I only briefly attended one planning meeting on how to implement goals from the WSF, I see the determination and passion for many delegates in fighting for a world where water and air is still available to people as a human right and where farmers can continue their traditional ways of farming from generations before and not be forced to buy patented seed that had belonged to the traditional farmers in the first place. It should not be illegal to harvest and keep your seed as one has done years ago. But it's happening...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Friday Night in Nairobi - WSF 2007 Cultural Events!

Friday night was my first taste of Nairobi’s night life, venturing outside of the radius of my safe Y. At 7:15pm, Veronique, Hoodo and I jumped into a cab for 200 ksh and cruised over to the Alliance Francaise, between Utalii and Monrovia Street near Loita. It felt like you had to manoveur into a little side street to get there and in front were loads of guests gathered at the front. It is a nice window-laden buildling and inside you find a small gallery of local sculptures (wood and metal) and some paintings by African artists. On the second floor, one will find a fairly extensive bibliotheque (library) and a display of World Press photography from around Africa. We walked back down to enter the area of the concert stage to see Eric Wainaina, Kenyan musician, now there for his CD release. The stage was set up in the AF’s garden with the steps now made as sitting area. We found a place on the ground near the stage. Eric seems to have formed quite the following with Kenyans singing to his lyrics and getting the crowd into the physical actions to the song, “Sawa sawa” from his first album. Various musicians would also join Eric on stage such as the German ambassador on piano and a the wonderful sounds of Sarah. Not only stunning voice and white dress to dazzle the all-embracing crowd. Just as Eric’s band took over for a few more upbeat sounds, the rain started to pour and those not under the coverage were dancing and smiling in the rain. It did not seem to damper their spirits at all; in fact, it may be re-energizing for many looking for some dancing room. The packed crowd, stoked atmosphere, and well-staged concert gives Eric and Alliance Francaise a wonderful build blocks to the future for culture and the arts in the Nairobi scene.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"A world without AIDS is possible"

Action packed weekend with the World Social Forum starting this past Saturday, January 20, 2007. I was walking into town when we crossed paths with some of the people participating in the opening march from the slums of Kibera all the way to the city centre's Uhuru Park. I heard the park means freedom which makes sense in this case as people organize to speak of the freedoms they have been denied - speech, basic services, health, and life. Loads of people from around the world walking around with their participant or volunteer name tags and confused faces of where events where taking place. Kasarani stadium is a massive football field where groups have stands surrounding the outside of the stadium for information on their organization or selling their wares. I attended a workshop on participatory video and saw people actually pick up a camera for the first time in their lives. Empowering experience.

Friday, January 19, 2007

UBC Business school in Africa

Looks like my old faculty is catching up with the development times and trends and have initiated some programs right here in Nairobi last July/August 2006 under the title, "Social Entrepreneurship 101". Why wasn't this course offered when I was around? Take a look at their blogged history of the project while in Africa and the concept behind the project.

World Social Forum registration tent

Well, I arrived at the tents on the Kenya International Conference Centre grounds at 8am and found myself sitting around reading the Nation (to see the other WSF events happening around town) until about 9am. A guy behind me asked if I wanted to register and I said, of course! Luckily I registered online and paid online so actually I was supposed to be there solely to confirm and pick up the registration package. What registration package and wrist band? Registration package? nope, still hasn't arrived and all festivities begin tomorrow. If this is a sign for the next week, I better pack 3 newspapers and a lunch and embrace the positive energetic chaos that will be here in Nairobi!

Tonight, there are several events taking place; Poetry Slam with possibly Dennis Brutus speaking at the Go Down Art Centre at 7pm, another artist performing at the Alliance Francaise (500 ksh) and then the big fundraising (??) concert with Oliver Mtukudzi and friends at 7pm at the KICC hall but its 1000 ksh (2000 ksh for VIP???) general admission. I think it's a bit out of the price range for many people to attend particularly for locals so like other overpriced events I have attended in Africa, I'm sure I'll be within a tiny crowd of foreigners and lots of Kenyan volunteers, which is not what the event should really be about. I hope that the organizing committee of WSF can prove me wrong.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

World Social Forum arrives on Saturday!

The city of Nairobi should be bustling in activity as the World Social Forum (WSF)
kicks off this Saturday January 20! It will be the first time that I will be at such a gathering of social activists, academics, development people and artists. I still recall the South African group organizing many months ago in preparation of themes and activities that they wish to present on behalf of the underprivileged, the shack dwellers, the unionists, the voiceless, and the poor. UKZN should be bringing it a few of the students from the Centre for Civil Society so look forward to meeting up with some familiar faces. Those who are not able to attend the event, you can also participate online with your comments or thoughts at www.wsfprocess.net. This website is supposed to engage debate and share ideas of the groups attending and further push the agenda for change for civil society.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Visit to the University of Nairobi

Yesterday, I took most of the morning to spend time at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Nairobi. I brieflly met with Mary Omosa, a research fellow at the institute and met some of the alumni and current students of the Masters' programme. Apparently the intake for the two-year programme is around six-seven students per year and classes are taught for the first 1 1/2 years. To follow is the research component where students conduct work for their dissertation. I hope that I can use this opportunity to start collaboration between UKZN and UON in terms of a student network. The other part of my visit was to see how the research team was doing for the ICT and Poverty project in Kenya. I spent 2 1/2 hours with Lynet and Obidia flushing out the questions so that they were in Kenyan country context and raise issues to bring forward to the management team at the end of the week. It was great spending time with the two bouncing ideas off of each other about the research tool and learning a few Kenyan terms for food items and ICT products. When we finished off the tea and samosas, I made my one hour walk back to the office...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Polite Notice - No Parking

Polite Notice - No Parking
Originally uploaded by make_change.
The thing is, Kenyas are so friendly and polite that they even have signs, "Polite Notice: No Parking". I think this is what has made my first week in Nairobi quite adjustable. Not only have I been provided with incredible resources through the office, people are happy to help you, and the office is very "open door" policy where you can chat and collaborate ideas at any moment. To give you an idea of my mornings, I get up around 6:30am, head from breakfast around 7:30am (which consists of a mandazi bread, coffee and papaya or pinapple slice for 1$ CAD) and then 15-20 minute walk to the office. Yesterday, I walked by this man roasting corn in his little corner and bought a half piece for 5 Kenyan shillings (10 cents).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The capital city of Nairobi

the Drive through Boane
Originally uploaded by make_change.
This photo is certainly not Nairobi - it is absolutely the opposite. Nairobi is a busy congested city with skyscrapers in the downtown core and all the businesses you little heart will ever need in a limited brand fashion. I found a local gym today with stairclimbers, weights and aerobics studio for around $3 a day if I sign up for 3 months. That's fairly comparable to back home. I have fallen for the Nakumatt - the superstore of Kenya - and found everything that I need - umbrella, hangers and an extension cord and fruit juice boxes! Certainly less garbage around the streets and they have green-suited cleaners spraying down the sidewalks in the morning. So far, very comfortable working in this city for the IDRC.

Living only 15 minutes from the office is utterly convenient which is why I'm in the office this afternoon. Actually, I think this is one of the special aspects about working for this institution. Flexible hours for a researcher as ideas don't necessarily develop from a 9-5 fashion. They have incredible research resources at my disposal. Full-on online library, sattelite high-speed internet connection (coming from Canada, crazy!), a driver who does a weekly run for staff to town for any necessities... and they provide French language training for the staff. I'm thinking about cleaning up the French a bit myself. I should look into that.

Only real downside is not being near the ocean that I have grown to love. Even after I left Belgium, I vowed not to return to a landlock, mountainless place. However, things change, and Nairobi is a place where it can happen - Mombasa is near by (beach!), the national park with animals is less than an hour outside and I am still in the place I love, Africa.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Spier Cheetah Outreach

Spier Cheetah Outreach
Originally uploaded by make_change.
I have uploaded some new photos from my October and November trips to Mozambique and girl-road trip South Africa. You can check it out on my Flickr page by clicking on the photo. Back in November, the girls and I were driving into Stellenbosch (near Cape Town) to take in the country's reputation of incredible wine. One winery had the cheetahs so we made it our first stop. Click the photo for a further story.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Happy 2007 New Year in Nairobi

So many people... are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have and endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

- Alex McCandless (Into the Wild)

Thanks, Emily (Scotchy) for this quote in Krakauer's book (soon to be Sean Penn directed movie, what?)

I'm slowly settling into my new life here in Nairobi, mainly trying to get all my supplies and thoughts together for the next few months as I truck through the remnants of my dissertation (I need to finish) and be trained by Edith and IDRC team in the Acadia division. Acadia is representing the "Communities and the Information Society in Africa Program Initiative". I'm still trying really under the extent of the information society here in Eastern Africa and hope that I can share more about it in the next few months.

In the meanwhile, I am biting the frugal bullet and sticking around the YWCA for $5 a night for this month until the first paycheque comes in...