After seventeen hours on airplanes and in airports, I finally arrived to Nairobi on Friday! Surprisingly, it actually wasn’t too bad of a travel journey. I finally got to catch up on some movies I’ve been meaning to watch (Argo! SO GOOD!)
When we arrived in Nairobi, something I immediately noticed was the prevalence of Western advertisements on my way out of the airport. Huge billboards lined the dirt roads as I was departing from the airport, most of them from Coca-Cola. Of course, this may be expected from its tourism industry. Yet, it was intriguing to see that there were White people on their billboards in addition to those of Kenyan ethnicity. Not sure what the significance of this is, though it may simply be a demonstration of the perpetual Western influence here, even if Kenya just marked its 50th anniversary of its nation’s independence and freedom from its former status as a British colony.
In the capital city, there were plazas and hotels/resorts that demonstrated industrial and infrastructure development, yet there were also homes and markets (oftentimes adjacent or nearby the swanky plazas) that were significantly less developed. These homes and shops are close together, crowded, extremely small, and made of scrap material. Out of respect, I have decided not to take pictures of these areas.
The students who are on the trip with me are pretty cool. Most are either rising sophomores or juniors at Harvard, though we do have a few rising seniors and a graduate student. In addition, a few people are from Brown, Emory, and Canadian universities. Our RAs and TAs are awesome and have diverse experiences in global health, public health, and medicine. They are too cool!
We flew to Kisumu two days ago and finally arrived at the apartment complex we’d be staying at. Kisumu reminds me a lot of Boston, in that it has a busy downtown with several new, industrialized areas. Similarly, Kisumu still retains a significant part of its culture in spite of its infrastructural development. (It’s important to keep in mind that “industrialized” in Kisumu cannot be compared to that of the United States!) There were also significantly less developed areas in town, similar to those in Nairobi. The city is lakeshore, adjacent to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world.
We’re living in the NGO (non-governmental organization aka non-profit) community here and are accommodated by relatively nice infrastructure – a complete contrast to the less developed areas of town. Very interesting to see how the NGOs working in Kisumu have built their own community separated from the rest of the city. I wonder how the locals feel about this. Anyway, perhaps what impressed me the most about our rooms was how decorative the mosquito bed nets were! It’s like my 5-year-old princess Rapunzel dream has finally come true… 13 years later!
For the past few days, we’ve been traveling in “tuk-tuks” all around town to buy additional amenities, groceries, and necessities. Most roads are simply dirt roads, so the trips to and from the market are really rocky. My tuk-tuk driver, Maurice, calls it the “dancing road”. Tuk-tuks are small vehicles that can take 3-4 people and will be my transportation to and from home, class, and our project sites!
As for food, I’ve had some really delicious meals including “Ugali”, their local corn starch staple food, with tilapia and some really good Indian curry (there’s a relatively large Indian population here). It’s only been a few days, so I can’t say much — but I’m looking forward to their fish and seafood since we’re right by the shore!
As for any further updates, today was our first day of class. We got to meet our professors, all of whom are really awesome, knowledgeable, and passionate about what they do. Our classes are held at KMET, one of the NGOs founded by one of the professors on our trip. Their NGO focuses on reproductive health outreach, advocacy, and innovation. What’s great about the NGO is that most of the organization’s leadership are actually locals of Kisumu. The programs are multi-dimensional, in that they acknowledge the various factors that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle, including microenterprise opportunities, education, and technology.
Some musings I’ve had regarding today’s discussion and readings on the Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights and my experience so far:
- The MDGs are fairly noteworthy for their high achieving goals, yet their success is largely centered on outcomes rather than the process of achieving these goals. For example, one of the MDGs is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in the world by half. This success, however, is largely based on numbers and outcome statistics, including a country’s proportion of people living under $1 and its poverty gap ratio. A country can claim that they reduced poverty by half, but this assertion can easily be flawed. For example, a country might simply want to be motivated to achieve these goals for international recognition and may merely concentrate its efforts in urban areas (where most people in developing countries are increasingly living), but neglect the poor in rural, hard to reach/access areas. On the same note, it is these areas where individuals are less likely to assert for their own health and human rights. MDG goals and the claim to achievement of these goals can significantly be contorted and flawed, so it is important that more detailed statistics are seen during the analysis of a country’s achievement of MDGs. This analysis can also be linked to how the MDGs may simply promote solution achievement in numbers rather than quality achievement.
- My views of what define poverty are somewhat changing. After reading Muhammad Yunus and his adamant belief in the use of microcredit and small business to help the poor rise from poverty, I am now hesitant to label people who live in the less developed areas of Kisumu as among those under extreme poverty. In fact, this now comes to me as a question that asks: what is poverty? The word seems to be ambiguous and dependent on the opinions of the beholder. While many in Kisumu live in rickety housing (or so as I perceive it), many of these people have their own businesses – ranging from cooking, selling various amounts of goods/clothing, performing auto repairs/construction, etc – outside of their homes. I wonder how people who live in these areas view their economic situation. I think the indicators that still allow me to believe that these people can live in poverty is the fact that their homes and markets are situated in unsanitary environments. However, poverty is officially associated by the UN to those who live under $1.25 USD per day, and it seems that many of these people live above this demarcation point due to the presence of small businesses. But even thinking about it… $1.25 is definitely not enough to sustain a proper livelihood either. I anticipate that this thinking will further develop as the course goes along.
- Health is used as a “litmus test” for human rights. It has been researched that a decline in health is oftentimes linked to a decline in the standard of living and a decline in other freedoms/rights. Might be an obvious thing, but I thought that the centrality of health as an indicator for human rights was interesting.
- 70% of Kenyans regularly use mobile technology! I know mobile technology has been used as an adherence mechanism for ARV treatment for HIV/AIDS. I don’t think it was as effective as predicted, though I do wonder if mobile technology can be used another way…
- Things I’m really excited for: learning more about reproductive health, interacting with more locals, and meeting Obama’s grandma next weekend (yep, you read that right!)
The weather is amazing, just like SoCal’s warm and breezy weather. Locals are also really friendly. Also, I am LOVING the Reggaeton & Gospel music that is heard in our neighborhood nearly 24/7 (though this music ain’t poppin when the locals are partying from 11 pm to 5 am and I’m sleeping…)
First Swahili lessons tomorrow! Exciting.