Sorry I have been out of touch for several days. We (Tam, the public health director, and I) had to fly to Nairobi in order to straighten out our applications for work permits. It took two days, but we have gotten them submitted! It took two full days, two visits to NyayoHouse which contains the Immigration Department, and the services of Wangari to get it done. Wangari also got my work permit, and a slightly bent clerk in Immigration extended my visa all the way to November.
Wangari (she tells us the name means Daughter of the Leopard) is Henry’s wife, and of the two I think she does all the actual work for us. She is educated, fluent in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu, her mother tongue, and a charming and cheerful lady. Henry has another job managing a drilling rig which apparently digs wells for water. Together, they have a vision of improving water and sanitation for rural Kenyans by drilling wells as sources of clean water and building good latrines for private and clean ways to take care of the calls of nature.
While in Nairobi we stay at the Flora Hostel, a lovely Catholic Guesthouse for travelers from all over the world. The price includes three meals a day (If you can get here during the thirty minute window for each meal), free wi-fi when it is working, and hot showers in the morning. And while there are mosquitoes here, there are no lake flies so it is possible to leave the lights on and work in the evening, or to read in bed. This is real luxury for us. Also, their grounds are filled with lovely gardens and plants, with manicured lawns and groupings of potted plants. I am getting ideas for plants in the ex-pat housing areas of the Matoso compound.
We met another American here, an anthropology graduate student at Michigan State doing research into the diversity and “intersectionality” of Information Technology workers here. He explained that intersectionality has to do with multiple group identities residing in a single individual. So someone could be an IT worker, for example, and a member of the ruling class, and that intersection might have profound influences on the government, especially if it is true for many in the IT field. Like Tam, he is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and truly loves Kenya. He stays at the Flora for weeks at a time.
The big city is like cities everywhere, with pockets of horrible traffic and diesel exhaust, and lovely suburbs with huge houses or apartment buildings behind big walls and hedges. The sprawling slums, among the largest in the world, were pointed out to us as notable landmarks. I have managed to buy some of the medical supplies I wanted, including tourniquets, a Doppler for fetal heart tones, and a couple of thermometers for the lab. And I have managed NOT to buy, so far, any crafts or fabrics or scarves/wraps. I am trying to save my tourist dollars to buy crafts closer to home, at the Ochuna Craft Cooperative for instance. Ochuna Craft Coop Facebook Page And so far I gave only 100 shillings (about one dollar) each to two charming con-men—I am quite proud of this because I am such an easy mark.
Nairobi seems quite safe as long as one is reasonably alert. We are warned of robberies and to be careful with our cell phones when out on the street, and we don’t go out alone at night. People who know the city and the country feel that conditions are quite different than those that led to violence after the 2007/2008 elections. People are preparing for trouble, but are hoping there is little.