A Travellerspoint blog

Africa and Asia

don't try to compare them

sunny 25 °C

Before I came to Kenya, I was told that Africa and Asia were incomparable. And it’s true: they are totally different; yet I can’t help comparing (and contrasting?) them. I know that, having only spent a couple of months in Nairobi and slightly more time in Sri Lanka and India, I am not in a position to analyse anything properly, but I can comment on my initial impressions.

One of the first differences I noticed was the people… not that they’re black… but the subservience. I was quite surprised (stupidly) when the driver or the porter in the hotel took the initiative to ask me who I was, where I was from, why I had come here. In India, that does not happen; I would probably exchange similar information but at my initiative. One wealthy Asian told me the lower classes there should ‘know their place’.

Another thing that jumped out when I first arrived was the food. In Asia, the street stalls and the cafes are overflowing with delicious and interesting foods. In Kenya there is almost no street food and the local dishes in the restaurants are not so interesting. Normal food here is Chicken or Beef stew or barbequed meet with maize, rice or chips as the accompanying starch.

Kenyans also express their sexualities much more explicitly than does your average Asian I’ve met. Sri Lankan women are likely to dress modestly and be unlikely to strike up a conversation with a tourist male. In Kenya, the women and men seem very aware of and comfortable with their bodies. They love to boogie and even ones that aren’t that pretty are very sexy when they get on the dance floor.

Of course the religions are different, the poverty is more extreme in Africa and, although Kenya, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia were all in the British Empire, Kenya feels like its been much more thoroughly colonised than the Asian territories I’ve visited. But what I like to ponder is whether the differences are due to the difference of Africa and how much due to colonialism experienced in the two continents.

Why do I think Kenya was more colonised?
Well, the Asians were allowed to keep their own home grown religions.
The subservience of Indians is, I’m told, something to do with the caste system and the religions… which also seems to allow so many people to be living on top of each other, without too much strife and war that has tormented Africa since independence.

The boring food of Kenya sounds similar to boring British food… with Maize (the staple food) being an indigenous crop to the Americas. Cattle with Aberdeen Angus and Frisian genetic background. Chips being an indigenous crop to Scotland. Interestingly, Ethiopia (the only African country that wasn’t colonised) has got much more flavourful food.

I don’t think the increased sensuality and sexuality of Africa comes from the Brits, but an Indian friend of mine tells me that the prudishness I observed in India is due to the import of Victorian values… from Britain.

In language, I took a bus here in the company ‘Citti Hoppa’ (some corruption of a Cockney way of speaking) and I paid my fair to the bus conductor ‘Duncan’ with 20 ‘bob’ (abbreviation for the official currency of Shillings) before ‘alighting’ at my destination.

Another huge difference between Asia and Kenya is that the colonialism in Kenya seems to remain very strong today in economic terms. As I write this, I’m sitting opposite Barclays bank, within 2 minutes walk of a BP, a Shell and a Mobil petrol station. I can see an advert across the road for Michelin tyres.

Most of the music and pop stars I hear on the radio or see on TV (or in churches) are from UK or our richest former colony (USA) and all the TV’s, radios and cars here seem to be of brands from the global North.

In the supermarket, all the brands are ones from home. Macvities Digestives, Campbells soup, Delmonte juice, Lea and Perrins Worcester Sauce to name but a few.

In India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia you see local banks, petrol companies, music, film industry, computers, TV’s and brands in supermarkets.

This all makes me question, how much the increased colonialism is responsible for increased poverty in Africa still today. How much of every Shilling I spend here on most of my purchases here in Kenya ends up in the pockets of shareholders in the global north. Are the high rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa in part due to conservative Christian values on contraception? How much of the slow pace of development is due to the hand-out culture that our previous developmental/economic policies have nurtured?

I also want to rant about attitudes towards technology and agricultural development that Africa has adopted from The West… but I think that can wait for another time.

Posted by happydaves 15:12 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (1)

Am I having fun?

don't worry matt

sunny 24 °C

My dearest twin, Matt, commented to me the other day that he likes my blog and finds it quite interesting, but he can’t tell whether I’m enjoying myself here in Africa.

Recently, I suppose I’ve been commenting more on things I’ve seen and how they’ve challenged me, rather than focussing on the fun stuff.

But, I think its quite safe to say that although its not everything I’d wanted, YES, I am enjoying myself in Nairobi.

Why is it not everything I’d wanted?

Well, I still feel like I’m not really experiencing Africa. Nairobi is a town that is crowded with Aid and Development workers. It homes the headquarters of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), UN HABITAT (focussing on city issues), several big regional offices for other agencies, coordinating offices for emergency missions in Somalia and Sudan and lots of NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations – or in Britain, charities like Oxfam). I spend most of my spare time with the international community and still feel I don’t really know many Kenyans. Sure I work with them, but the work relationships have mostly stayed at work. I haven’t visited homes or really engaged with their lives… I wonder if it’s my fault for not trying enough… but in other countries I’ve managed much more easily. I think its something about Nairobi. Perhaps also the security in Nairobi – always having to be a bit more careful about giving banter on the street or inviting people home or accepting an invitation to go somewhere.

The fun is very fun though. Even though I’m frustrated by the slow pace of work and the beaurocracy of the UN agencies, I know I’m lucky.
Where else can I get up and leave at the end of the week and look at Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants? It is totally amazing!

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Two weekends ago I visited a Giraffe centre with two friends I met in Rome (Caitlin and Stefano who work with UNESCO) who have recently moved out here.

We walked along a nice country lane to get there

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Giraffe’s are amazing!

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We also walked around a nearby wood and found this guy in our way

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Last weekend on the Saturday I met up with an Irish friend, Hugh, and we took a Matatu (public transport minibus) an hour out of town to visit the Thika falls. I had imagined something special… it was actually pretty crap. But it was still an adventure. Just going out and finding a new place.

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Then Saturday night I got chatting with a couple of friends at Casablanca. They told me at 3 am that Sarah had rented a car and there was to be a trip starting at 9am tomorrow morning to visit Mount Longonot. So after few hours of sleep we got up, made hummous and drove off. We passed some stunning views of the rift valley which the camera really doesn’t do justice to. The ground suddenly falls away below you to a huge flat floor that goes on for … far.

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You can see Mount Longonot (a volcano crater) in the distance in the photo. The pointy one.

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So we drove to the bottom, climbed up the side and planned to walk around the crater

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However, it started raining very hard and we got a bit wet and cold and went down happy after just some jaunting on the crater rim.

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Sarah is the short blonde British girl who works in HIV/AIDS journalism. Kirsten is the tall blonde Canadian girl who I spent Christmas eve with. One of the guys plays for the Kenyan football team and is her boyfriend. He’s also a part-time model.

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The fourth guy sells clothes and reads 10 newspapers a day and filled me in about the complex political situation in Kenya as we walked.

This week I was out in Havanas (a Cuban bar) for the Birthday of a great Italian guy here called Vincenzo who makes documentaries. Thursday was the regular Salsa night at The Pavement, which is a big social event where you can meet everybody in the international community. Friday night I went out for dinner with some international scientists from the International Centre for Research in Semi-Arid and Tropical Crops (ICRISAT) before going back to Casablanca.

Then last night was the big bonanza.
We had about 70 people in our flat from at least 21 nationalities… many of them known. Many not. Like I said, it is a small international community here. Everybody knows everybody… so many people turned up who I knew who had been invited by a friend of a friend of someone and it was great.

The community is a bit like being University students who never quite grew up. Lots of people who aren’t ready to settle down with no or dysfunctional relationships. People from all over the world. Mostly interesting. Mostly fun. But being slightly older there isn’t so much agro, and nobody being sick from too much alcohol.

I don’t know if you can judge a party from the debris left over in the morning but

Red wine 10 bottles
White wine 3.5 bottles
Vodka 8 bottles
Gin 2.75 bottles
Famous Grouse 1 bottle
Tusker beer 103 cans + 7 bottles
Tusker Malt beer 7 bottles
Windhoek beer 1 bottle
Stella 1 bottle
Smirnoff ice 1 bottle
Red Bull 2 cans

Krest (bitter lemon) 1 bottle
Tonic 13 glass bottles (200ml)
Sprite 6 x 2 litres
Coke 6 x 2 litres
Plastic cups 100

Hummous (home-made) 3 empty bowles
Guacamole (home-made) 1 empty tub
Salsa (home-made) 1 empty vat
Cookies (home-made) 3 empty trays
Samosas (50 not there)

I think it was a good party.

Photos below were us clearing up this morning... the water has been off all day and I still haven't showered.. ugggh!

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Posted by happydaves 18:02 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Finished and some elephants

semi-overcast 22 °C

I've got some photos at the bottom of this on my visit to the elephant orphanage to cheer you up.

But first, I'll update you on our slum demolishion which Christina has likened to 'cleansing' activities in her country before world war 2.

Sunday things were quite as lots of people tried to salvage what they could.. either from the wreckage or from the houses which hadn't been knocked down. Sarah came and did our laundry. We gave her a little extra which she used to get a 'cube' in another slum 45 minutes away... until that one gets knocked down.

Tuesday night the demolishers came back. This time the slum-dwellers were ready for them and built a fire in the driveway up to the slum between two walls so nobody could pass. The fire was at least 10 feet high. Some shouting. Some things thrown. The demolishers left.

Wednesday, I got home from work and saw some Black guys in Suits and Indian/White guys in T-shirts standing in the middle together. I went down to see what was going on and the World Social Forum organisers were holding a press conference. A guy was talking quietly to the journalists, saying that there were clear international guidelines on how these things should be done and they had not been followed... and he would be making this clear to the Kenyan government in his report. I found out later he was the UN special Raporteur for The Right to Adequate Housing. It was good to know that people were taking an interest and trying to help (even if it was only because thousands of activists were in town for the world social forum). They were going to court the next morning to get an injunction to get it stopped.

Then about 11pm last night we heard noises again. Looking out the window, the fire was back. People were throwing things again.. but this time the demolishers thugs got through. Lots of men with big sticks. More shouting. More screaming. An american started yelling insults out of his hotel window. Then the lights came from the other side of the slum. The bulldozer had found another entrance. It was crushing the remaining houses. The battle for their homes was over. The land cleared. 500 people homeless. The court hearing useless.

Why do they come at night? ....darkness hides bad things
Why did they want it demolished .. had somebody bought the land? Was it because its an election year and the government doesn't want people living in squalour close to the city centre?
Was it because the slum was close to the President's house?
Nobody seems to know.

It is true that the land did not belong to the slum dwellers, but to somebody else. What should that person do with the land that they have spent money on purchasing? If he/she wants to develop or use their land then people will lose their homes, but they shouldn't have to lose them like this.

It brings back to me some comments from the activists at the World Social Forum last weekend. In Indian lady, Vandana... something... said that capitlism and commercialism are destroying our world and preventing development for the poor. Now there are many people who believe that the private sector can help development in African countries. And perhaps, yes, there is a role.. you believe this when you see how government officials or civil servants have no interest in doing their job effectively to help people because they don't personally gain anything from it.

However, Vandana ranted about how the policy of putting a dollar price to everything- be it land, water, air, food, grazing rights, fishing rights, right to pollute (carbon trading) damages poor communities. Now you're considered poor if you live on less than a dollar a day. But 40 years ago, you could live on 50 cents but get your water, housing and feed your cattle on common land. Not any longer. You may have 2 or 3 or 10 dollars a day and be far worse off.

Should the land on which these people live have ever had a price attached to it? Should it have belonged to the owner? Can there be justice in a capitalist world?
Perhaps... Perhaps not.

Ok, enough thinking. Time for photos!

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Posted by happydaves 01:09 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (1)

Despair

Why are people so cruel?

sunny 22 °C

21st January 2007

It’s 1 am and I feel despair for those around me combined with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach that I can sit here in the comfort of my apartment and write about it.

I’ve had such a range of experiences the last few days, each of which worthy of a blog entry, that I don’t really know where to begin.

I would start with my high powered meeting at the US embassy on Wednesday, rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful who ‘seem’ to want to do good in this country. Then there is the a posh press conference breakfast at the Intercontinental Hotel on Friday, again meeting the US players, and also directors of important agriculture NGO’s, journalists, MP’s, The Minister for Education, Science and Technology.

But those memories become very quickly eclipsed by four happenings that all occurred today. First, the opening of the World Social Forum: an event bringing people together from far and wide under the banner ‘Another World is Possible’. Gazillions of NGO’s, charities, left-wing groups and interested people dancing about before a stage that hosted charismatic speeches interspersed with sensual and exciting music.

Had to leave the party early for experience number 2: to attend my German flatmate’s farewell bash. Her project had been mapping the pit latrines in Africa’s largest slum (Kibera) so she wanted her party to include those friends and a few of us travelled down to the slum to drink beer and eat Nyama Choma (roasted goat meat). I had not seen an African slum before, close up, and only now got to see the very edge of this place which is home to over 1 million people. The dirt; the rubbish heaps; the foul smelling ditch with what might have been sewerage running down the middle of the track; the people looking up to smile as we walked by; the community all living on top of each other. Banter was fun in our part room and Patrick (secretary to the local resident’s committee) explained to us something of what life was like. Crime was almost non-existent. Community life was too strong to allow theft. Two middle class African girls laughed at their naivety as teenagers. Not knowing, properly, till their twenties about the facts of life. Children in the slums apparently grow up knowing these from an early age since there is no privacy, but they still don’t know real facts. Nor get good HIV education. He told us enthusiastically of how David Miliband (UK Environment Secretary and wildly tipped to become Prime Minister one day) had visited him in November. Patrick thought that he had been very sensitive and sharp, asking clever questions and seeming to genuinely care.

It was dark as we left the slum, but Patrick and friends had us under their official protection we weren’t worried or expecting experience number 3. We found our way back to the main road and started walking along to where our Taxi Driver was waiting. Then I heard screaming! Coming from somewhere… in front… right… down. Mita (my Dutch/Indonesian flatmate) had stepped off the tarmac and fallen down a 3 metre hole. I couldn’t even see her at the bottom in the dark, but Patrick and his friend Francis leapt down into the shit at the bottom to pick up the whimpering girl and drag her out. Shaking and wet we bundled her into a taxi and took her to Nairobi Hospital. After a few hours she was joking and laughing again but still delicate as we got her back in the taxi to arrive home shortly after midnight, not expecting experience number 4.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before but my flat is within the Kenya Comfort Hotel Suites that is literally spitting distance from a small slum. The slum has shops, businesses, a pub, a church and a very annoying cockerel that wakes us up at 5 am each morning. I’ve been meaning to venture into for weeks now. I know several people who live there including our laundry lady, Sarah, and the ladies who run our corner shops.

But when we arrived back home we could see something wasn’t right. Lots of people milling around on the main street. We went up to our flat and looking out the window could see a bulldozer ploughing through our neighbourhood slum! Just rolling through the corrugated iron contractions that people call home. Happily squashing everything in site. People could be seen ducking in and out of the rubble carrying chairs out of their houses. The city council have declared it an illegitimate settlement (complete with water and electricity) and it must go.

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See how close the slum is to our swimming pool.
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I just felt sick. What could I do? The middle class Brit inside me thought about running down and standing in solidarity with the slum dwellers, blocking the way of the bulldozer. I thought cynically about the World Social Forum and how at least 50 delegates were staying in our Comfort Hotel Suites. Probably looking out the window… doing nothing. But what could anybody do? Apparently the bulldozer had come with an armed escort. And you don’t want to mess with the police in this country

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They've rescued some belongings and all there is left to do is drink.
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I had to help Mita get to bed after returning from hospital and after a while the noise stopped. Looking out again, half the slum was in carnage, half remaining and the bulldozer stationary. A bit braver, I ventured down to enter my second African slum that day. I didn’t really know what to do. I wanted to offer support. I wanted to say something comforting. I didn’t want to invade a community in which I didn’t belong. I didn’t want to appear like a western voyeur of poverty. I got chatting to a group of guys. They said that the bulldozer had broken down. As Mr Obed Anjele Ochuacho took me over the ruins of what had been his small shop (a green grocers) we talked. The demolition had begun at 10 pm on Saturday night. Some families were in bed. Some people were out. He had not heard that this would happen although others said they were informed yesterday. He showed me where his still-standing house was. To be knocked down as soon as the City Council found a spare bulldozer. Some people were madly scrambling through the rubble trying to save things. Others were just standing there in bewilderment. Looking lost. “Why rescue things? Where will we take them? We have nowhere else to go.”

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I called Sarah, our laundry lady, and asked if she wanted some money. Not now, she said. She had to wait with her belongings. She could not leave them.

I’m back in my flat now; 2.15 am; the bulldozer has just begun again; and the shouting. I feel sick. Sad. Helpless.

My German flatmate, Christina, says

“You come here wanting to help, but you can’t.
Not when the government doesn’t care.
These people. They had nothing. And now even that has been taken away from them. It’s so cruel. People are losing their houses.
The place I got my cold tusker beer; it’s gone.
The place I got my veg; it’s gone.
The place I got my meat when I cooked; it’s gone.”

Posted by happydaves 14:29 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (3)

Newspaper Headline

US warplane rains death on Somalia

Subheading

27 People and several animals killed in raid on remote village

my italics.

Not sure whether to laugh or cry.
But I don't think that British newspapers would comment on the loss of animals. However, not many British people would lose their entire food supply if their animals died.

Over lunch today at the UN I was chatting with some of my colleagues and apparently a friend from a large powerful country was due to visit the area near the border of a local failed state in November but received many calls from her embassy telling her she musn't because it was unsafe.

She went anyway and saw huge numbers of marines from her country operating out of the village in the border town. No hiding them.

Really interesting that not a single national newspaper or television programme reported on their presence or activities.

I will say no more, for fear of ....

Posted by happydaves 04:23 Comments (0)

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