Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Made It

So despite my worries, I made it safely to Nairobi last night. The trip was long, but not so bad. The flight from New York to Amsterdam was uneventful and boring - no movies! But the second leg, Amsterdam to Nairobi, was great. KLM gives you ice cream and had a great movie selection.

Clarice, the woman I who founded the NGO I'm working for this summer, met me at the airport, right after customs. Customs in Kenya is way less formal than in the U.S. And also much quicker. We drove through the center of the city and she took me to the hostel where I am staying. There are often hostels at universities here, so I'm staying at one at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The room is nice, and today we drove around for a while so I could get money, a SIM card for my phone, and a router so I can have internet at the hostel. Clarice was nice enough to get a friend of hers to loan it to her for a month, so now I'm able to stay in touch a bit better.

Errands were slow due to the traffic in the city that is pretty constant. The main forms of transportation are walking and matatus, which are vans that they cram tons of people into and they work kind of like a cross between a taxi and a bus. The stops work like buses, but they drive even worse than New York taxis. Nonetheless, we got everything done, and then went to Clarice's house for a while. I met her daughter, Alice, who is 20 and goes to URI, as well as her husband.

Clarice and I spent the afternoon talking about the plan for this summer. The gist is I'll be living at Maseno University, outside of Kisumu and conducting a lot of fieldwork. I'll be collecting all kinds of baseline data about the farms, families, and income levels in the area. The goal is to identify tafget communities and several specific projects by the end of the summer. We'll be working with Maseno University as well, hopefully involving students and professors in some of the projects. This week I'm hoping to get adjusted to the country, ask lots of questions about the area where I'll be doing fieldwork, and do some research on Tithonia, a nitrogen-fixing crop, and Moringa trees, which have very nutritious leaves.

Nairobi is a very busy place but also one of great contrast. The poshest area of the city is just across the highway from the slums. All day people are walking, mostly those who cannot afford to ride in matatus. A ride is about $1. Matatus that are leaving the city also tend to carry a lot of cargo, including water jugs, containers of cooking oil, and various other wares to be sold outside of the city. As far as I can tell, Nairobi is basically the commerce center, where the manufacturing is done and then materials and goods are transported to other areas. The city is very colorful and so far the people have been friendly and helpful. I'm still adjusting to the fact that people drive on the other side of the road, but overall, the city is fascinating and I'm excited to learn more about the culture and history this week.

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