Thursday, November 29, 2007


Just so you know, I didn't freak out like a little girl, I only *almost* hyperventilated just a tiny, tiny bit. This morning, I visited Kibera which is I believe the 2nd largest slum in Nairobi. It's big, really big.

And scary to be a little bit honest.

We visited with a community group of women who are rebuilding their lives by educating themselves, starting business with micro-loans of less than $300 and banding together to save money as a community. The strength of these women is incredible and I was honored to have an opportunity to meet with them and learn a little about their lives in the slum and the business they are running.

From Africa 2007

We met in little more than a shack that serves as a "hotel." Hotels being nothing more than a coffee shop with many flies, they were able to sell coffee and other food in the community. Afterwards, we walked towards the market.

It's quite hard for me to capture how I felt, walking through one of the poorest slums on earth dressed in a sport coat and khakis. I couldn't have been more out of place. Aden and the group of IRC staffers who were with me kept asking me if I could believe what I was seeing. I could not.

From Africa 2007

I asked if it was OK to take a photo as we entered the open marketplace - the scene opened up in front of me - hundreds of goats in large groups with men pushing and pulling them in every direction. I pulled out my camera and snapped two photos when I first heard the yelling. Men were rushing at us yelling for me to stop taking photos. What happened next was a blur.

We headed to the other side of the market to find the woman in charge, who would give us permission to take photos. When we found her, she immediately got a call on her cell phone and brushed us off to take the call. Men started yelling at each other and at us. I asked Aden what they were saying and he said everything was OK. I was breathing hard and trying to stay calm.

A man introduced himself to me as Mohammad and shook my hand, asking if I was with an NGO. He had never heard of the IRC (that darn brand awareness!). He wanted my help and would later give me a note (wait til you see it!) with his information. Things weren't out of hand, but I was really confused and getting nervous.

We headed back to the car pretty quickly and were followed by a large group of the men who were still yelling, but what about I have no idea. We got back to the car and got in and locked the door. After a few minutes, we pulled out and left the area. We all had good laugh as I wondered how white this white guy must have gotten. I do believe all the blood must have rushed out of my head at one point.

Oh yea, you can buy a goat at the market for as little as $1,500 ksh, if you are ever in town.

Here is the photo that kicked it all off:

From Africa 2007

Afterwards, we visited another community program, this time in Eastleigh, Nairobi's version of the worst parts of the Bronx and Harlem. This time however, there was no drama. We met with another women's group, studying math and English and also starting a business with a small micro-grant. While we were there , their freezer was delivered by UNHRC and I helped pull it off the truck and carried it into their small office/room/building.

After a nice lunch with a few regional and country staffers, I made my "Global Marketing" presentation, which I hope went over well. I think it did.

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