The 2017 Kenya Elections & Us

This is our second elections that we have been through living in Kenya. Last time we stocked up on food and fuel for a month as it was the first time after the 2007 elections which ended up being hugely violent. 2012 was minimal violence.

Now in 2017 everyone was so unsure of what would eventuate. We decided to stay in Nairobi because we’ve travelled a lot this year and we wanted to be here for our team in case it all went cactus. We’ve actually ended up with extras at our place. First we had an Aussie friend who lives in Uganda staying. When she left a friend and her son who live in the Kibera Slum have come to stay for a few days until the elections are over.

Here’s the lowdown on how it affected not just us but the public.

 

Beforehand

Usually in an election year there’s lots of upgrades on the roads, improvements in communities and better access to water. This year there was absolutely nothing. So things are more rundown than ever.

Nairobi is known to be an apartment city and there’s lots of building going on. However, for the past 6 months I haven’t seen as many busy sites. They’re there but not active. Maybe it’s because investors have pulled out but also businesses aren’t sure if they will get paid.

We’ve talked with a lot of business people and that’s their biggest problem. There’s plenty of work but people are not paying their bills. It’s usually a problem here but it’s blown up this year.

The elections were held on August 8th. That meant on 5th and 6th the shops were jam packed. Imagine what it’s like in your country leading up to Christmas when every man and his dog decides to visit the mall. Here people shopped like it was the end of the world. Everything was meant to be closed on election day but it was more than that. It was the uncertainty of what would happen afterwards.

That was the biggest thing that hung in the air all year – a sense of uncertainty.

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Will things flare up, will there be peace, will everything flare up?

It looks like half of Nairobi has emptied out. Many people have gone to their home village or to resorts. It’s deathly quiet, a bit like it is during the Christmas break. In our apartment block only half the people are here and it seems to be the norm across the city.

 

During

I went for a walk about 8.30am on the day of elections. Mainly it was because I was totally nosy as there was a polling booth just up the road from our apartment and I wanted to see what the turnout was like. I was really pleased to see it jam packed with people.

The roads themselves were empty and have been ever since. There is also an eerie quiet over the city. It made me a bit nervous because we are used to the noise of Nairobi.

After visiting some friends of ours in the morning we decided to venture out to see if there was a café open. We knew that the movie theatre was open and also a sports pub up the road but I thought Pete needed to get out. I was surprised to find that all of the eateries were open and packed with people.

 

After

The last three days have felt the longest ever. While I’ve enjoyed the lack of cars on the road what we really need is for people to get back to their normal lives. If people aren’t working, they’re not making money. That means school fees and bills won’t be paid when the term starts again in a few weeks. I was really pleased to hear the noise coming off the building site yesterday. These guys are earning minimal wages so it’s important for them to be able to feed their families.

The fact is if unemployment was lower than 65% in the under 25’s we would have a lot less trouble. It’s these ones who struggle daily and when a politician stirs them up or they feel like they’re not being listened to, it’s easy to stir them up. They’ll be the ones who will throw stones, set tyres alight and march up streets directly into tear gas thrown by police.

If a person is employed they are able to feed their family, pay school fees, buy clothes and pay the rent. When you’re employed you have a responsibility to turn up to work the next day. You don’t have time to get yourself in trouble and spend your nights stirring things up.

Now we play the waiting game. As soon as it is officially announced (hopefully today) then we will wait once again to see what flareups will happen because of it.

One thing I can say. The Kenyan elections have pretty much put the whole country on hold. Productivity has gone down the toilet and all we want to do is get on with our lives.

elections

Essentials on the Plane

If you’re like me and do long haul flights maybe over a couple of days and anywhere from 10 – 16 hours, it’s important to take a few essentials with you to make it comfortable.

If you would much rather watch the video of this rather than reading it, check it out HERE.

 

  1. Noise Reducing Headphones

I would suggest going all out and purchasing a pair of Bose headphones. Some people have got the cheaper ones but according to travel buddies, they are nowhere near as good as Bose. You can buy wireless ones, but for $100 less you can get the ones with a cord. I’ve done a lot of trips with mine and found the AAA batteries last longer than what I was told.

heads.jpg

  1. Neck Pillow

Don’t go and buy the cheap ones, go for the memory phone neck pillow. They last longer and you won’t regret the investment. The pillows on the planes just don’t do the trick and are never thick enough.

neck pillow

  1. Eye Mask

You can get freebies when you do long hauls on airlines such as Emirates, or you can spend a few dollars at the airport. They block out the light and help with the much needed sleep.

mask

  1. Contact Lenses

I hate wearing glasses, but it’s much more comfortable than your eyes drying out on a flight when you wear contacts. You can always put your contacts in at the airport toilets. Make sure you fill your contact lens case with lots of solution as it tends to leak on flights. Take a small bottle of solution with you on the plane, it doesn’t count towards your liquid take ons.

lens

  1. Socks

Kick your shoes off as soon as your flight takes off, it will help with keeping the swelling down. I tend to wear ballet flats on a plane and put on a pair of cheap socks for the flight. That way when I go to the dreaded toilets I just wear my socks, which I leave on the plane or put in the garbage after the flight. I find that my feet tend to get really cold on a flight so even if it’s hot outside, I wear my socks on the plane.

 

  1. Jumper

Call it a sweater, hoodie or jumper but definitely take something to keep warm on a flight. On one of our long flights from Abu Dhabi to Sydney it was so cold on the 14 hour flight that people had blankets over their heads and around them. For the life of me I don’t know why they didn’t turn up the air conditioning but it was the worst flight ever. From now on I’m even taking one of my Masai blankets as an extra precaution.

 

  1. Little Items

Hairbrush, hair tie, toothbrush, toothpaste. They all make a difference to your flight. At the airport you can buy (if you don’t get one on the flight) in the toilets a small toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s well worth the $2 investment. Most airplane toilets have hand moisturizer in them – use it. At least after a long haul flight you can walk off the plane feeling a little refreshed.

tooth

 

What essentials do you take on your long haul flights?

You Probably Won’t Like This

This week I saw online a video about a well known musician who visited Western Africa and was shocked when he saw young boys sleeping outside in a canoe like boat. He was so shocked his first reaction was to put them up in a hotel that night. The video at the end stated ‘these boys are safe for tonight, millions aren’t.’

The comments that came in after this was posted included words like ‘amazing, wonderful, we should be like him’. However, since I’m working on the ground in such areas I had a totally different reaction and got berated for it, so thought I would write about what actually works and why short term solutions are not the best.

What people don’t understand is that when a famous person appears in a developing country as a spokesperson or ambassador for a large organization, they are getting paid for it. The average person receives between $20 – 50,000 dollars for an appearance fee. That’s on top of their first class ticket, staying in a five star hotel etc. Very few self fund their appearances. They don’t just ‘happen’ to be in Liberia or Sudan in between a gig.

Unless it’s an emergency situation, like a famine, short term is not an answer. Famine or war situations don’t happen overnight. The famine happening in South Sudan for example, has been warned about for years.

Large NGO’s spend A LOT (some up to 90%) of their income on administration, private planes and paying their top managers more than a CEO in Aussie gets. ‘Project Costs’ can easily be hidden, but these include getaway weekends for staff, safaris (team building), conflict resolution meetings (staying at a spa can resolve a lot you know!). Meanwhile on the ground the team are working with limited resources in dangerous places and often don’t have what they need in crisis situations.

I’m not saying these things to point at certain groups but when you’ve been doing it as long as me, you see things as they really are, not how they are portrayed in the media.

So what actually does work?

Long term solutions for people to help themselves out of poverty. You have to look at it holistically. For these boys sleeping outside, putting them up somewhere for a night or two actually puts them in a worse predicament. If the famous musician wanted to do something, he would find an organization he has a trusted relationship with. They in turn would be able to come up with an action plan that would include reconciliation within their home community and find one family member that would be able to take them in. The family would need ongoing support from a community worker to make sure donations are spent where they should be (food, clothing, housing, education, medical) and not at the local bar up the road. That child will need financial support until they are at least 18 years of age. Then they need support in starting a business and going on to tertiary education.

Let’s rethink child sponsorship.

I’ve been to events where there’s a hard push after a pull in the heartstrings video presentation for the thousands in the crowd. Then the presenter talks about how bad the situation is, then they get people to put up their hands if they will sponsor a child for X amount of dollars. You’re instantly given a photo to put on the fridge and ‘wallah’ you have a new child in your family.

We need to become intelligent givers and start asking the hard questions. How much of that money gets through to the project? What child protection policies does the organization implement? Where are the annual reports? What happens when that child finishes secondary school, what is the plan?

Now I’m not discouraging child sponsorship, I do it myself.

 

What I want people to realize is:

  1. It’s not your child – they belong to someone else. You are simply assisting a community.
  2. The money doesn’t go to them – it gets pooled together to cover project costs.
  3. There is no point in sponsoring for a year or two, it’s a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
  4. Don’t send them gifts. Most of the time it won’t get there, and the money you spend on postage and the gift, could be used in a more impacting way within country.
  5. The word ‘sponsor’ in the developing world actually has negative connotations connected to it. It’s like saying someone has a sugar daddy. The money isn’t free, there are strings attached.

 

If we want to get more kids sponsored we need to be telling the success stories not just the sob stories.

My last rant is about the huge waste I see in transporting goods from your home country to a developing country. Often you can buy or get made the chairs, desks, pencils, sport gear, underwear, babies clothes, any clothes and furniture in the needy country. It costs on average $10,000 to get a container shipped over with goodies. Then, you spend up to another $5,000 to get it off the wharf with bribery money. Often when organisations sort through what is in that container, they throw half of it away (especially clothes) as they are unusable. People think giving their junk is an honourable thing. Trust me – you can keep it.

We should be encouraging manufacturing in developing countries, buying from within where possible. While we see the nice smiling faces of a kid in Africa or Asia opening a shoe box at Christmas time, it doesn’t have lasting impact. The money spent on the effort could start small businesses who employ parents and give them business training –  who could then feed their families, pay school fees, buy clothes from the market more than once a year and make sure their kids have a future. Yes, they would even buy their kids a toy.

So, did the famous musician waste his time? I hope he got to see some organisations working on the ground being a part of the solution and not cause more problems. I hope he invests into these organisations long term and gets more involved.

I hope the adults in the video don’t beat those boys up or worse because some white foreigner with a camera crew came into their ‘home’ and therefore thought the boys were getting paid for being on camera.

My hope is that we become more intelligent givers who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions.

Organisations in developing country need partnerships that cause them to become self sustainable, they need long term solutions through development and not aid.

Go ahead and sponsor a child, it does change their lives. But also send them a letter a few times a year. Build a friendship with them, not a reliance on you as a Westerner and therefore their funder. Most of all, sacrifice your income and go and visit them at least once in your life. You will find your life will be changed forever.

You are not a donor – you are a partner. Build good partnerships.

Peperuka

Peperuka – ‘to soar’ in Swahili.

I met the founder of this company a couple of years ago at a Christmas market in Nairobi. I had seen their tee shirts around town and was rapt to be able to get Liz a tee shirt that said ‘I love Nairobi’. The shirt has done her well but since Liz has lost weight, it’s time to downsize.

pillow

Wherever I go, I’m always grabbing business cards of interesting people, because you never know when you’ll need them. I’m constantly on the lookout for guest speakers at a program I’m involved in called The Girl Project. While my team does the majority of work, my role is to make sure there is an interesting speaker to inspire the girls. To say they are from disadvantaged situations is an understatement.

These students live in a 3 by 3 metre tin shack in the Kibera Slum. Their parents (mostly single mums) struggle to earn $5 a day. The girls often leave home at 5.30 in the morning for school and don’t get home until 7pm. We created The Girl Project not only to make sure they get sanitary products, but leadership and mentoring by Kenyan businesswomen.

Hence – Peperuka.

Why I love their work, is that they are proudly Kenyan – Africa is their home and want to show the inspirational side of it through design and clothing. I also like how they don’t compromise on quality. Too many times here I’ve seen second class quality on goods and it frustrates me, because it doesn’t have to be this way. I heard someone run a quote that went something along the lines of ‘We won’t see change until we as Kenyans stop accepting that we are worthy of only being second class’.

wangari

I agree. I’m always telling our students ‘if you want to be treated first class, you have to be thinking first class, cause our actions come out of our thoughts’.

Just last weekend we have the founder of Peperuka, Wangari and one of her team, Mary come and speak to our girls. I think it was the most impacting message the students had heard for a long time. It wasn’t just about the design and clothing industry, it was about lessons they had learnt in their own personal lives. Making the right choices can have a HUGE impact on our lives.

gp-mary

I wish people in the West could get a real picture of some of the amazing people we have here in Kenya. Unfortunately, good news doesn’t sell. I am privileged to be able to meet these people and I am proud to share about them.

When you see me this year, you’ll see me wearing some of the tee shirts made by Peperuka. I love their work and I think you should too!

We Made A Mistake (a few of them actually)

In February this year I went to New Zealand NZ) and Australia on a 7 week speaking tour in schools, Rotary Clubs and churches. While I was there I had the honour of spending time talking to the pastors who oversaw our wedding ceremony nearly 27 years ago.

Mick & Colleen Marshall were my pastors (Pete went to another church) and over the years they have served both internationally and locally. They’ve now got a brood of grandchildren and instead of retirement are looking at refirement.

Here's Mick leading us through our vows.

Here’s Mick leading us through our vows.

It was so special catching up with them and there were a couple of things they said to me which they were dead serious about:

  1. When you return just be aware that people will put up with you ‘Africa stories’ for a few minutes but after that, they really don’t care.
  1. Whatever you do, don’t get so overworked that you burn yourself out.
Colleen and Mick this year.

Colleen and Mick this year.

I listened to them on Number One. It’s true, the world we live in Kenya is so foreign to even try and understand or explain, it’s just too much for people to hear and understand. When you talk about a traffic jam in Nairobi it is vastly different to that in Sydney. I’ve read where people in NZ complain because they have to get security checked before going into WINZ. Here, we have to avoid shopping centres because of bomb threats. Yep, it’s a bit different here.

Number Two, that’s a really hard one here. It’s not unusual to be chatting with someone overseas at 10pm, doing radio interviews at 2am or working 12 hour days, three weeks in a row. All this leads to burning out.

Here’s a definition of burnout:

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload).

We’re not burnt out, but we did come close to it a little while back. Physically and mentally run down we took stock of where we were at and where we wanted to be.

So here’s where we’ve made some big mistakes:

1. Not taking holidays

In the two years we’ve been here we’ve only taken off a week. How dumb is that!! We bought Liz a camping bed for her birthday in December last year and the only time it’s been used is as a spare bed when we have visitors.

A lot of that was because we didn’t have the money. Our plan for 2015 is to take a week off every 3 months just to renew our batteries. Even if we have to camp in the middle of nowhere, leave our laptops behind and sit with the zebras, we will take a break.

We’ve lived here for 2 years and travelling here since 2007 and in all that time we’ve never been to Mombasa on the coast nor Masai Mara. Next year baby, next year.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

2. Working too many weekends

There’s nothing wrong with working through a weekend if you get a day off some time during the week. However, if you end up working 3 weeks in a row, you’re setting yourself up for an emotional breakdown and big family arguments because of tiredness. We found that we were working three weekends a month. Now, we’ve got it down to two.

At the beginning of the year we thought we could take Wednesday afternoons off. It worked for a while but too many things got in the way.

life3. Lack of sleep

It’s pretty noisy here. Anywhere from 5.30am there are people outside washing their bosses car. Also, no matter what we seem to do, there is at least one mosquito wanting to attack. Someone at the apartment above us seems to like moving furniture late at night. The best day to sleep past 5am is a Sunday – and it is most welcomed!!

Because there’s so much work to be done there’s not so much room for the odd nanny nap. I have to admit though, we’ve both fallen asleep on the sofa, there’s the Facebook photos to prove it.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

While we’ve made some mistakes, at least they’re all fixable. As we head into the start of our third year we expect to be working harder and at times, longer hours, we hope that if we change a few of our behaviours we will have even a better year. We’ve set some goals for where we want to head and have even planned a ’round Africa’ trip in 2018.

What about you, what ‘adjustments’ do you need to make to improve both your mental and physical health?

 

 

One Dollar At A Time

Here in Kenya we have plenty of opportunity to help people out. There are the beggars, the disabled sitting in wheelchairs and then those selling goods at the side of the road.

There are a couple of people who have stuck out here.

One of them is a man in a wheelchair who had his legs amputated from the knees down. He sits each day at the corner by a small shopping centre. He has children (we see them from time to time) and one of the world’s biggest smiles. He’s polite and doesn’t beg for cash but you can tell he’s in need.

Unfortunately there’s no disability support pension here for people like this man. They are totally reliant on having their families support them. Every now and then when we go past his spot we drop in 100 shillings, worth about $1. More than that though, we stop for a chat and ask him how he and is family is. It gives him respect that he is of value and not simply because he needs money.

A couple of weeks ago I met the most wonderful lady. Each day she stands by the road we take to work. She is there early in the morning till it starts to get dark. She has a baby strapped to her back. She holds out her right hand for the entire time, in it she has a bag of blue sweets for sale. I don’t know how much she sells them for but probably only for a shilling or two. I don’t know this lady’s name but I really admire her.

On either side of her stand men selling DVD’s, posters, flowers and the matatus (vans moving masses of people) and buses throwing out diesel fumes.

I admire her because she’s not waiting for her situation to change, she is changing her situation, one shilling at a time.

I am more than happy once a week to drop 100 shillings into her hand. I usually ask for a couple of sweets so it doesn’t look like I do it out of pity. No, I do it in admiration.

You might say that it’s only the odd dollar, what difference can it make? But to these 2 people it means they can buy some flour and make ugali that night. It means that they have something to put towards their rent. Or it may mean they can afford to buy one jerry can of water.

Even though our personal support level is short by about $1,000 per month, I’m not going to let it stop me being generous. These two people inspire me to keep going even when it all seems a bit much.

My next step is to get to know their names.

Tell me about someone who has inspired you lately.

There’ll be no sitting around here mate!

I was kind of shocked last week when someone we know was concerned that we would arrive in Kenya and be sitting round twiddling our thumbs.

That would be the biggest joke of the century!

So, what will we be up to you may ask?

Here’s a list of just some of the things we actually will be doing:

  • Monday morning meetings with the Afri-Lift team
  • Training of administration staff
  • Book writing
  • Photographing and videoing promotional material
  • Running youth camps
  • Hosting visitors from overseas
  • Taking teams to places such as Mount Kilimanjaro, safari parks, bike riding tours etc
  • Overseeing creation of buildings
  • Teaching agricultural trainees
  • School ministry trips
  • Facilitating the building of a boarding school
  • Involved in supporting all the different ministries of Afri-Lift
  • Two days a week working on water projects for BeyondWater
  • Last weekend of the month out in the field working with communities about water projects

Our main objective is to serve the ministry of Afri-Lift (www.afrilift.com). Part time we will continue our work with BeyondWater (www.beyondwater.org.au). It’s the perfect combination really.

So, while we will be having the odd coffee at the mall, there won’t be much time sitting around!