Too Busy To Blog

It has been an eventful 10 days to say the least.

The team all arrived in Nairobi in the evening on June 21st and shuttled to the hostel for a late night dinner and bed. The next day we had our “chill day” the plan was to wake up late take it easy do a few chores in town and make up for lost sleep in the 2 days of travel it took to get here. TOO BAD. About half the team got up for a run at 7 am and learned quickly that running in a place where none of the cars abide by emissions standards is a whole new ball game.

Nairobi is a bustling stinking raging city and “chores” were a whole day affair. the team walked all over the city and even spent 2 hours meandering through a market where they got the full mzungu (white person in swahili) treatment. The team made their way back to the hostel and practically fell into into their beds. So much exploration for Day 1.

Day 2 we went to Kibera which is the 2nd largest slum in East Africa and holds over 10% of Kenya’s popultation in semipermenant housing made of mud and corregated metal. It would be easy to go through this place and shake our heads wispering “the horror the horror” But what is OG about that?

We met up with a man named Solo7 who is an artist who originally hails from Western Kenya. He moved to the slum becuase he saw an oppurtunity in Nairobi to pursue fine art full time. He soon linked up with an artists cooperative called Massai Mbili (literally 2 Massai’s) where he now paints full time. Solo is a staple of his community. During post election violence he took to the street not with a machete but with a paintbrush instead. He painted PEACE WANTED ALIVE and KEEP PEACE FELLOW KENYANS all over the slum even on top of the soot on recently burnt buidlings. After the post election violence he and his fellow artists continued to use art to promote peace in the community by bringing children of different tribes together (at that time quite taboo) to paint murals.

Beyond thier community outreach work the artists of Massai Mbili are all unbelievably talented and they privilidged us by handpainting T shirts for the whole team. Should we frame them or wear them? The team broke into small groups to walk through Kibera and each group had a different experience based on the artists or community member who was showing them thier view of the slum. A ton to think about and a huge dose of reality. Is this really just day 2?

Nairobi is amazing it has so much energy and so much oppurtunity. It also had so much deseil fumes so much trash and so much desperation. It is a hell of a place to be introduced to Africa. After 4 days the team moved to a much different scene. We stayed in a campground on Lake Naivasha. There we cooked too much spaghetti (dont worry we ate it for breakfast the next day) Watched Ghana obliterate the US (Go Black Stars!) and oh yeah what was that other thing we did… SPEND 12 HOURS biking and hiking through the aptly named Hells Gate National Park!

Here we saw zebras girrafes buffalo warthogs baboons, and hiked through a massive sandstone gorge. Hells Gate Gorge is part of the East African Rift Valley and we saw the volcanic activity up close as we scrambled up rockfaces spewing steam heated by magma just below the surface. As if the day couldnt get any better we ended up in a massai village where we were warmly greeted with a massai song and dance and a very honest Q & A session. The team suported the villages local initiative by buying some of the beautiful jewelry they made as well as donating some of our fundraised funds to support thier school.

From Naivasha we took a long and scrunched up Matatu (14 seater van – yeah you did the math right we are 17 people) ride to Kisumu. Kisumu is the 3rd largest city in Kenya and is the main port on Lake Victoria although its glory days have passed. Here we are staying in an apartment near Mgosi which is a low rent area, Safe but by no means your typical expat lodging. We were greeted when we arrived by what seemed like every rambuctios kid in the neighborhood who were overjoyed by our arrival and showed it by jumping all over everyone and banging on our door for the next 3 hours. I wont lie they come back every evening to bang and laugh while we cook dinner, Its kind of annoying, kind of funny and 100% AFRICA.

Ryan our musical participant played them some jason mraz on his guitar which got all the little booties dancing and then calmed them right down. We have been cooking for ourselves and going out for a few snazzy meals (Pizza anyone?) It was the fist time ever for Luke one of our local participants and I am sure that he is hooked!

We started sinking our teeth into some volunteer work by partnering with a local youth group called Bluecross that does drug and HIV counseling as well as running a theatre troupe and several soccer teams. Together we created an even to be held in the Nyalenda slum of Kisumu. We had an open and neutral debate about the upcoming constitutional referendum. In a place where politicians usually come to bribe young people into violoently bullying opposition during political rallies it was a positive and refreshing opportunity for everyone involved. One local mental health activist and musician who attended said “This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this in the ghetto…usually its big rallies with politicians spitting propaganda and lots of chaos” What a great start!

The event ended in a big lunch and everyone in the area was invited for Ndegu ( its like lentel soup) and Chapati and rice which was cooked by a team of OG and Bluecross Ladies. Yummmmmm!

Today is day 10. We went on a 4 hour boatride (Hippos and birds Oh My!) on the lake and a bit of a dip to celebrate Canada day after which we met with a representative of the NGO Friends of Lake Victoria to talk water conservation for an hour. Now we are buying groceries for our last night in Kisumu and gearing up for 10 days in Maragoli where the team will see Luke and Emmanuals home and stay with mentors and enjoy the beauty and energy that can only be found in North Maragoliland.

The team is amazing and have all become fast friends. It seems as if we have been traveling together for months and yet every day we realize how the time flies.

There is so much more to say: Swahili lessons. Sunburns. Singing…More Singing. Talk of Development. Exploration of ourselves as well as of our environments. New Friends. Rachel said it best “everyday I go to sleep and say this was the best day of my life, and the next day I do the same.” More to come…

** Can’t get enough OGEA 2010? Check out blogs by Ryan Bommarito and Josh Layton