Kwaheri Kenya

Alex and I have decided to move up our flight home, because of recent events on the Somali-Kenya boarder. It was a tough decision to leave Kenya abruptly, but we were able to say goodbye to everyone and see the lasting impact our time here has created.

Basically….. Al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization linked to Al-Qaeda in Somalia, has kidnapped European tourists and aid workers over the past few months in northern Kenya. Kenya’s economy is dependent upon tourism, so the Kenyan military  invaded Somalia last month to hold Al-Shabaab responsible for the violence. Since the invasion, Al-Shabaab has mobilized within Kenya and is procuring weapons, while several African countries mobilize to fight this terrorist network. Seeing as the US and Ethiopia have failed to bring Somalia peace in the past 20 years, it is doubtful that the untrained Kenya military and African Union troops will bring Al-Shabaab to justice. We live in southern Kenya and our day-to-day life has been undisturbed, but as tensions escalate, we feel its better to leave now. Better safe than sorry.

Last week, we were in Zimbabwe watching the news report grenade attacks in a Nairobi night club and bus stop in response to the invasion. Immediately, the US Embassy (and family) sent us emails requesting for us to return to America. It has been extremely difficult saying good-bye to everyone in Kayafungo, but above all else they want us to be safe. It is difficult leaving not knowing when I will return. Mavela and I both cried and hugged as I left,but I am confident she will lead our project without me. Alex and I took a motorbike all around Kayafungo to see our mamas and let them know that although we won’t be here, they have all the tools to succeed without us.

Mama Kuku has flourished since the training in September. Many of the women have begun constructing coops, saving for vaccinations, and even training other women’s groups. Our mamas are motivated and dedicated to the success of the project. As I was telling Selina good-bye, she was even talking about doing monitoring and evaluation over the next few months! The original business I envisioned launching has completely transformed, but the central idea is the same. Mama Kuku’s mission has always been to use poultry farming as a poverty alleviation tool, and through trainings and networking this past three months, we have shown families a path to financial stability. Now it is up to these amazing women to run with it.

Yesterday, we spent our last day with our friend Masika. She is 24 years old, from Kayafungo, and one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She works 6 days a week for a nonprofit that helps rural farmers, owns a shop in south coast, and has a passion for helping young girls in the community. I gave her a starfish necklace with a copy of “The Starfish Story”….

“A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.”

Masika looked up from reading it and told us of her plans to provide clean drinking water in Kayafungo and adopt another orphan. Then she said that since she met us last year we changed how she thought about herself. “A woman is not just for marriage, we can do anything. That is what I learned since meeting you two last year. I want to teach that to the girls in Kayafungo.”

The instability in Kenya has made me unsure of when exactly I will return, but I know I will come back. These women are my family and have taught me more about myself and life than I could ever hope teach them. I will always come back because they are a part of me. The best part of me.

Tutaonana Kenya…. (Until we see each other again Kenya)….


Somethin’ bout the South

Each time I get ready to leave Florida for an adventure, my mom and I stand looking out over the water. While we watch the sunset, I wait for her to ask her favorite question: “Why would you ever want to leave? We live in the most beautiful place in the world!” I usually reply by laughing, rolling my eyes, and making some sarcastic remark. Contrary to what she may think, I actually love our home and especially our southern roots. This week, as Alex and I traveled southern Africa, everyone new immediately we were American. They were endlessly amused by my “thick southern accent” and even asked if I was a hillbilly. The South Africans we met were warm, welcoming people who are always looking to have a good time in what they say is the most beautiful place in the world. So you can see why the southern girl in me recognized, and fell in love with a new south.

Alex and I left on the 21st for South Africa’s capitol, Johannesburg. I expected it to be like every other African capitol I’ve been to: huge, polluted, confusing, and overcrowded. We were pleasantly suprised to be greeted by crisp, clean air and a well planned city. We spent the day walking around, visiting the apartaid museum, and standing in awe of Nelson Mandela. I read his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom,” before going and geeked out the entire time. Side note: everyone should read this book immediately its incredible.

The next day we caught a flight to Zimbabwe to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. As we drove away from the airport, Alex and I didnt see any houses, water, or crops, just endless desert. When we began to walk towards the falls, we suddenly found ourselves in a beautiful oasis looking at the world’s largest waterfall. It was like discovering Atlantis with endless rainbows, wildlife, and white people in cargo pants. We hiked the trails for a few hours and took 100 pictures soaking in the falls enormity and beauty. The next day, we went white water rafting down the roaring Zambezi River, which turned into a suprising, but much needed, total body workout. The day began and ended with a 3km hike down and up the completely vertical gorge, which sandwiched the upper body paddle workout. The class five rapids were intense and exhilerating, and were totally worth the three days of sore legs! Our Zimbabwean adventure ended with a free bump up to first class where we cruised to our final stop, Cape Town.

I didn’t believe in love-at-first-sight until landing in Cape Town. Everything beautiful in the world can be found in and around this city. Just on the tour of the cape peninsula we saw huge mountains, turquoise water, white beaches, and jackass penguins. The tour of the wine lands contained breath taking views and vino that would make George Estess’ list of favorites. The nightlife was a blast on Long Street, which could give Bourbon St and Duval St a run for their money. My favorite excursion was our journey into the Atlantic Ocean to say hello to jaws. Climbing into the steel cage and seeing a 7ft great white shark 6in from my face was enough to make me pee my wetsuit!

While Cape Town was mesmerizing, we were confronted with the sobering reality of the income gap that exists just outside the city limits. Next to a city with it all, are townships that like Kayafungo lack basic necessties including running water and electricty. Although South Africa has completely transformed politically, like most African countries, they do have a long road ahead in order to bridge the gaps socio economically.

But in summary, our trip was an eye opening experience filled with exhilerating adventures and people. I was introduced to this strange yet somehow familiar south, that I can definitely see one day calling home.

Pictures coming soon!

When It Rains, It Pours

You know that scene in “The Lion King” when Simba returns to Pride Rock? There is no food and no water, and then suddenly it rains and everything is green and restored. Well that is exactly what came to mind this past week in Kayafungo. (If you are unfamiliar with this reference please watch The Lion King immediately)

After planting maize, three weeks went by without rain. The crops began to die and I was concerned that the short rains were over. But now, it has rained for 4 days non-stop in Kayafungo. At first, everyone was thrilled because the crops were greener, the dams were full, and there was water left to store. I was shocked out how quickly everything returned to the beautiful, vibrant colors I remembered from last summer.

After the fourth day of rain, the fields began to flood and my room even caved in. Mavela and I stood looking out at our drowning maize and she said, “The rain has come back with a vengeance.” That is an understatement. It took us four hours to get back to Mombasa (vs the usual hour drive) because the roads were partially flooded. Apparently, the weather is never in moderation here. We will see how the maize copes with all of these extreme elements!

Luckily, my chicken roommates hatched last weekend and were not harmed in the collapse of our window. Mavela is in the middle of constructing their new home/coop so the hen and her 12 chics will be moving out soon. She bought wooden poles that will stand rain or shine, and wants to finish building by the end of the month. Other women in the group have also started construction, so they are on track to have coops built by the new year.

Patrick, Alex, and I are going to try and vaccinate around 500 chickens this week, but our plans depend on the rain. We take motorbikes out to the village, and it is EXTREMELY difficult to travel in the mud. I wanted rain, and I got! Note to self: Be careful what you wish for.

Article: “In New Sub-Saharan Leader, Hints of an African Spring”

Newly elected Zambian President Michael Sata is bringing populism and technocratic management to a part of the world that rarely sees either but badly needs both.

This article was originally published in The Atlantic.

Global political pundits are waiting in vain for an “African spring,” in which the forces of mass, grassroots democracy course through sub-Saharan Africa, a region arguably in as much need of genuine political reform and civic participation as the Arab world. Ever since the North African countries of Tunisia and Egypt exploded in protest, observers of sub-Saharan politics have observed with envy the seemingly revolutionary activities taking place in the north of the continent.

While the Arab Spring may be moving to another season altogether — with Syria’s violence and Egypt’s drift — the point remains that what’s commonly called “black Africa” deserves a prolonged encounter with the sort of extreme-makeover politics that has upended long-term tyrannies in the Arab world. There are plenty of entrenched presidents in sub-Saharan Africa that could give good impersonations of recently deposed Arab dictators. Zimbabawe’s Robert Mugabe is surely a match for Libya’s Qaddafi in terms of stubborn self-destruction and bizarre narcissism. Cameroon’s Paul Biya, who has so rarely actually governed during his 30 years in power that he sports the nickname “the ghost of Africa,” could give Mubarak a decent competition in the realm of complacency and corruption. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni is no less the wily autocrat the Yemen’s embattled Ali Abdullah Saleh. And yet none of these African autocrats seem threatened by dissent in their own countries. Nor do a passel of other African presidents — the heads of Congo, Togo and Gabon, for instance — whose positions and power flow directly from their own deceased fathers.

Despite the paucity of protest indicators in black Africa, the region has seen important, quiet victories by democrats and progressives. The latest shy triumph came this past week in Zambia, where a sitting president was defeated by an opposition party leader. If that’s not impressive enough, it was the second time in a decade that a Zambian president lost power through peaceful, democratic elections. Such orderly changes in power are a hallmark of maturing democracies, and in Zambia, an economic powerhouse in southern Africa, there are other reasons to rejoice as well.

A former British colony once called “Northern Rhodesia,” Zambia is copper-rich country that has long been among the most urbanized in black Africa. Recently, according to The World Bank, Zambia’s economy “graduated” from the ranks of the poorest countries into the “middle-income” category. Large cities in Africa have often incubated opposition politics; in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, this has been especially true, as Danielle Resnick, an American scholar based in a United Nations university in Helsinki, observes in a perceptive new article in the Journal of Modern African Studies.

“[Sata] is probably the most effective all-round executive that Africa has ever seen holding the office of president”

“Urban centers have frequently represented the locus of political contention and change in sub-Saharan Africa,” Resnick writes. But transforming urban dissent into meaningful political transformation has been difficult in the region. That makes Zambia’s multiple peaceful transfers of presidential power even more striking. And in the latest case — the election of longtime opposition leader Michael Sata to Zambia’s presidency — the outlines of new African populism are clearly visible.

In understanding the significance of Sata’s victory — and emergence on the world’s political stage — I rely heavily on the insights assembled by my dear colleague in Lusaka, Chanda Chisala, a former fellow at the Hoover Institution and the editor and founder of Zambia Online, one of the most important digital publications in the sub-Saharan. A longtime resident of Lusaka, Chisala has watched Sata closely for decades, and has in the past been a strident critic of the new president. Yet as Sata has grown so has Chisala’s view of him. In an essay published immediately after Sata’s victory last week, Chisala identified two of Sata’s traits — his effective management skills and his genuine populism — as setting him apart for most African presidents.

Sata is indeed both hands-on and a man of the people. He formed his own opposition party after some successful turns as a government minister where he gained a reputation — almost unheard of in African politics — for getting things done, and quickly. Chisala, whom I first met in Lusaka several year ago, considers Sata a pragmatic radical who literally cleaned up Lusaka, completed complex housing projects, and even got the right roads built on time and on budget. “I have no doubt,” writes Chisala, that Sata “is probably the most effective all-round executive that Africa has ever seen holding the office of president.”

Most African presidents bring special meaning to the word “aloof.” Even those who are not stubbornly out of touch with their own people and places are often condescending, elitist, and unabashed in their admiration of British, French, or American manners and society. Not Sata. Writes Chisala, “Whereas most political leaders fail to communicate easily to the poor uneducated masses,” Chisala observes, “Sata was able [in the campaign] to effectively communicate all his ideas to everyone who listened to him.”
Sata has a knack, virtually unknown among leading African politicians, for coining catchy phrases and promoting straight-forward ideas of justice and equality. “More money in your pockets” is among his latest.

For Zambians, economic equity remains an elusive ideal. Because of sky-high copper prices, the country’s economy is booming; GDP growth exceeded 6 percent annually over the past three years. Mining is supplemented by a solid agricultural sector, giving this country of about 13 million an economy worth $13 billion (or$1,000 per person, impressive for the region). But inequality is rife in Zambia and rising. The rights to mine and sell copper are dominated by Chinese investors and many small retailers are Chinese-run and owned. In a smart political move, Sata has complained about foreign investors for years, risking approbation from the international community while at the same time raising the reasonable point that more of Zambia’s economic power should be in the hands of Zambians. While in Latin America such a political position would be viewed as routine, even boring, in African politics — where leaders fear upsetting foreign investors — Sata’s position is singular, even incendiary.

There’s something else of Sata’s populism that has echoes in the Arab Spring. “Don’t kubeba,” a phrase taken from a popular song that literally means “don’t tell them,” became Sata’s signature phrase, encouraging his followers to accept the ruling party’s pay-outs for votes — but to then vote against the ruling party anyway. Sata managed to convince the urban dispossessed that the bribes were the people’s money anyway, so “they could feel no guilt in pretending” to support the ruling party. In showing ingratitude for government handouts, Zambians displayed something similar to what Arabs in oil-rich Libya did in turning against their own bribe-happy governments.

After losing a number of past presidential elections, Sata’s victory came as shock to Zambia’s elites, who generally opposed him. Chisala and many of Sata’s supporters, while proud of another peaceful transfer power in his country, know well that his success in governance is hardly assured. Sata has the chance to be, Chisala writes, either “the worst President Africa has ever seen or the best.”

I am less worried about a failed Sata presidency. Already, he has stimulated a useful and overdue debate over race in sub-Saharan Africa by indicating he may appoint as vice president Guy Scott, a Zambian-born son of white immigrants who came to the country while it was still the British colony of Northern Rhodesia. Scott, already an elected official in Zambia, is vice president of Sata’s Patriotic Front party; he would become the highest-ranking white elected politician in sub-Saharan Africa. A longtime political ally of Sata, Scott is both a crony of the new president and a symbol of his penchant for out-of-the-box thinking. While Sata sometimes rails against the excessive influence that Chinese investors appear to have in his country, he also seems to truly believe that Zambia will benefit from attracting and retaining foreign talent — even if that talent is white, an often unpopular color in a southern Africa still hurting from the twin legacies of colonialism and racial segregation. By choosing Scott, Sata may be the improbably troubadour of a new, multiracial model for African society.

For all his charms, Sata is the latest African political leader who belongs the oldest generation. Sata, 74 today, would be nearly 80 by the end of his term. Too many African political leaders are similarly old, and generationally unsuited to lead or understand countries where, almost without exception, 50 percent of the populations are under 20. The continued political power of men born and raised while their countries were still colonies sidelines a more dynamic and fluent generation of potential leaders: men and women in their 40s and 50s who were educated in a more open, equal and progressive era. The Zambian election, for all its signals of a potentially new era in African politics, is also a reminder of one of the most serious challenges to politics there. A true African (political) spring will be unlikely to occur until a younger generation of leaders emerge with real power, at least in civil society if not in electoral politics, closing black Africa’s generation gap and making men and women like Sata less of an exception and more of a norm.

Muungano Mama Kuku Training

Muungano Mama Kuku Group

Last weekend, the Mama Kuku Women and Alex’s soap group called Kayafungo Muungano Women’s Group came together for poultry training! Muungano means “united” in Kiswahili and is the perfect group name for these 14 women who share a vision to change their own lives and community.

Early Friday morning, we met at Hotel Damview in a town just outside of Kayafungo, called Mariakani. Each woman took a motorbike from the village through the rain and settled in for a long day of learning. Our two facilitators, Patrick and Thomas, presented an extensive overview of poultry care and covered everything the women will need to do in order to be successful. Patrick drew diagrams of chicken coops, described diseases, and showed them how to vaccinate the birds. Thomas is the business man and taught bookkeeping and marketing. Apparently they were pretty hilarious too because the women were constantly laughing and smiling throughout the day.


Alex and I sat by and didnt understand a word of the training, so during breaks Teresia and Grace would race over to us and tell us all that they learned. It was amazing to see the power of education truly motivate and inspire them. After a full day of note taking and discussions, we all stayed at the Hotel for the night to give our mamas a little vacation. We ate a wonderful dinner and stayed up talking and dancing in true slumber party fashion!

Saturday morning we left to visit successful chicken farmers around the area. The first home we went to had hundreds of birds and an innovative box for hatching 100 eggs without a hen. It is made out of local materials and completely revolutionized this farmer’s business.  He started only two years ago with 12 birds, and now sells hundreds of chickens a year. Seeing is believing for this group, because they kept saying “I will build this” and “If he can so can I.”

Our last visit was to a family that has sent four children to secondary school with income from their chicken business. This family lived in the location next to Kayafungo and had a coop made of mud and sticks. We could see the women gaining confidence that they had the resources to build and be successful too. After our last visit, we returned to Hotel Damview for lunch and to create an Action Plan for the next few months. They divided into groups based on sub-location and began making goals for themselves. Over the next two weeks they will vaccinate all their birds, and in the next 100 days each have a coop built!

We thanked Patrick and Thomas, and piled into the Matatu to drop each women at home. They gave a new meaning to “Party Bus” as they danced and sang throughout the ride back! It was a wonderful weekend of learning and hope with the kuku, but my favorite part was just being in the presence of this group of women.

Mama Kuku meets Papa Kuku

Just re-read the title and it doesn’t mean I have a Kenyan boyfriend! It means I found two amazing guys, Patrick and Eddison, to lead the Mama Kuku poultry training sessions!

Last week, I met up with Patrick and Eddison and was completely blown away by our similar development strategies. They both work to empower rural women by training them to raise the local chickens, and connecting them to markets! They have trained many women in the area, and have even been hired to lead technical trainings in Ghana and Malawi. Their curriculum is easy to understand and covers vaccinations, sanitation, coop building, feed, and most importantly connects them to local buyers. Their success has been remarkable, and has allowed women to pay for secondary school (high school which isn’t free here) for multiple children! This weekend, Mama Kuku and Papa Kuku will work together to train 13 women and even introduce them to the women with successful chicken businesses.

I am using my Ashoka grant to pay for the training, including putting the women up in a nice hotel for a night. I am SO EXCITED to invest this money into the educational component, because it will lead to the success of their businesses!

In other news…

Alexandra and I went on safari to Masai Mara this weekend. We took a 8 hour bus ride to Nairobi for only $10, and then met up with Big Time Safari Company for our camping excursion. Usually during this time, thousands of wildebeests are migrating across the Mara River over to Tanzania during the “Great Migration.” Unfortunately, the drought hurried the migration along and we only saw a few slow pokes. BUT we did see every other animal! I have about 200 pictures of zebras, lions, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, gazelles, etc. It was amazing to drive around, appreciate nature, and pretend we were in The Lion King. After, we even went to a restaurant called “Carnivore” and sampled steak, lamb, chicken, crocodile, ox balls, camel, and turkey! It was an amazing three-days and by far the best safari I’ve ever been on.

We got back to Kayafungo today and are anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s training session! I will post again next week and let you all know how the it goes. Have a great weekend, and remember to email me so I can know what’s going on with you too!

The Irony of Rain

Two weeks ago…

Alex and I traveled to South Coast for the weekend to visit our friend Masika, who is orginally from Kayafungo.  She works for an organization called Frigoken which trains subsistence farmers to grow chillis and passion fruit for export to India and Europe. Most importantly, Frigoken provides farmers with a reliable source of income. South Coast is about an hour south of Mombasa and close to the Tanzania boarder. We spent time visiting Masika’s farmers and colleagues, then wanted to visit the beach. Ironically, everytime we tried to go to the beach it rained. I kept asking, “Why can’t it rain just a few kilometers north???”

TIA (This Is Africa) so the rain is not the only irony we discovered this weekend. While talking to Masika’s brother, Magongo, we discovered that parts of Kayafungo use to have running water and fresh water taps! Apparently, in 1993 a member of the Coast Water Service Board plugged one of the pipes so he could sell water from his home and make a profit. Then in 1994, when the government began constructing a road they found the blockage and discovered the pipes had all rusted from not being used. The government made plans to replace the piping and give all of Kayafungo water through a newly constructed tank, but ( Surprise Surprise) this was an utter failure due to corruption, lack of resources, and politics. Currently, the tank still sits empty in Kayafungo as politicians continually debate the water source and piping costs.

Last week…

I returned to Kayafungo on Monday to stay with my mama Teresia Mavela. When I got to her home, she had prepared a room for me since my last visit with a bed, curtains, and two unexpected roomates. Both a duck (Daisy) and a hen (still unnamed) decided my room was the perfect spot to lay their eggs and keep them warm until hatching.  So soon there will be over twenty of us in my new room! On Tuesday, Mavela and I visited our friend Selena who worked with us last year on developing the Mama Kuku project. Since my last visit, she constructed a small coop and started selling kuku to neighbors and secondary schools. Neither women have vaccinated their flocks, so next week a vet will come to vaccinate against New Castle Disease for 1ksh (about 1 cent) per chicken. I am providing them with vaccinations and meeting with a man to build them each bigger coops. I am excited that we are starting small with a group of dedicated, hard-working women! I am confident that each chicken business will be sustainable and provide income for the women rain or shine.

Speaking of rain, IT RAINED IN KAYAFUNGO! On Wednesday and Thursday, it rained all day and answered all of prayers. We collected water that drizzled off the tin roof and stored it for the week. As wonderful as the rain is, it ironically delays all productivity in the village. It took Mavela and I two hours to get to Kinagoni Primary School, which prevented her class from starting until 11am. The roads are all dirt, so getting around in the mud is difficult for locals and like a slip-n-slide for me! Usually this time of year “short rains” come through October, but we are not sure how long they will last this time. Everyone in the village is hopeful and is busy planting maize.  If the rains continue they will harvest the maize in mid-November and probably have enough food to get through the drought. If the drought continues, the maize used to plant with will be wasted food. Mavela, her kids, and I planted maize all Saturday morning so I’m hoping our work is worth it!

After planting, we travelled to Kizingo to attend the funeral of Mavela’s aunt. She was 42 and died of malaria. Malaria is completely treatable and preventable, but she didn’t reach the hospital in time to receive medicine. Death here is a constant part of life, so the burial had hundreds of traditional dancers and music. The native songs and dancing is a way for them to celebrate life instead of dwelling on the suffering.

I love spending Sundays in Kayafungo because you can always hear people singing and everyone has time at home relaxing with their families. I played with Mavela’s six children and they taught me more Swahili throughout the day. We all laughed and enjoyed each other’s company until the sun went down.

Life in Kayafungo is ironic, difficult, and random. There are many times when I ask myself what my purpose is here or if my small contributions will make a difference. I know the barriers I face, but at the end of the day it is worth being surrounded by the love and pure beauty of the people here. Their warmth, kindness, and stories  fill me with meaning and purpose.

Pictures coming soon xoxo

Anyone know a rain dance?

Kayafungo last summer…

Kinagoni Dam, August 2010

Kayafungo after a year without a rainy season…

Kinagoni Dam, September 2011

Last week, I returned to the village of Kayafungo and was embraced by my Kenyan mamas and friends saying “karibu nyumbani,” meaning “welcome home.” In the Giriama tribe, visitors are given every comfort and honor, which even includes the responsibility of choosing and killing the dinner! Needless to say, I slaughtered my first chicken of the year and had a wonderful meal with old friends. I was overwhelmed by their love and kindness, but also by the home I no longer recognized. I stared at these pictures for an hour last night, shocked to see the obvious effects of the drought on the people I know and love. It is one thing to hear about the worst drought East Africa has seen in 60 years, but it is completely different to see it.

Normally, Kayafungo has heavy rainfall between May and July which irrigates their subsistence crops, fills the water pans, and supplies them with barely enough food for the year. Without a rainy season, community members have been unable to harvest any crops and the dams from which they collect water are already dry.

My business partner/mama, Teresia Mavela, and one of the other woman in our group have shockingly expanded their chicken flocks and have sold a few chickens at double the price because of rising food prices. I think Mama Kuku is still a viable business for sustainable development in Kayafungo, because the demand is present and the chickens require very little of the women’s resources and time. That being said, I can see that this community is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis in the coming months. Right now they are walking farther to dams and buying some food and water, but how long can they sustain?

After a few tears and soul searching with Alex, we have come to the obvious conclusion that neither of us can move forward with our business ventures without also addressing the water crisis. In the short-term, Kayafungo needs humanitarian assistance that we alone are ill-equipped to provide. But in the long-term, sustainable structural and entrepreneurial solutions are required to prevent this kind of vulnerability and potential famine in the future.

I spent the day researching and tapping into my network of social entrepreneurs and NGOs, who can provide us with guidance and next steps. We are looking at organizations that are currently working in Northern Kenya and Somalia to see how they distribute humanitarian aid and what long term solutions they are implementing. We have not identified our exact approach in helping in this crisis, but we know that with our relationships in the community and access to capital we can do something significant.

I know that the challenges that I originally faced are incomparable to the challenges ahead, but I still believe that we have the power to create sustainable change in this community. Yesterday, I saw an article in the New York Times about the drought in central Texas and began reading an article about how it is so severe that people can’t even water their lawns. As crazy as it sounds, I smiled and regained my optimism from this article. A drought does not have to become a famine, which is a disaster, not of nature, but of a lack of good governance and planning. Droughts occur worldwide, even in the US, but they do not become famines unless vulnerability exists.  Kayafungo does not always have to be this susceptible to disaster.

I will keep you all up-to-date on the road ahead, but for now please let me know if you have any ideas or connections to help! Thanks for all of the love and support.

Goodbye Lagos, Hello Mombasa

The first week in Nigeria was completely different then the second one. Cynthia came home from Rwanda on Saturday night and we went to a very ritzy hotel for brunch on Sunday morning with the whole family. The restaurant was on the water and the food was amazing with complimentary wine…obviously right down my ally! Living the first class Nigerian lifestyle ended right there though.

On Monday, we moved out of Emeka’s suburban home into Cynthia’s office/apartment and made plans for the rest of the week. Cynthia wanted to take us to Benin (a neighboring country) on Tuesday to see a village chicken project, but it turned into chaos before we even got going. We went to the Benin Embassy to get visas and they required a $50 fee and a passport size picture. We found a man on the side of the road with a camera and a blue sheet to take the picture (TIA- This is Africa)! It felt like I was getting a fake ID made haha. Then we realized that my Nigerian visa was only single entry and to get it changed to multiple entry would cost $200. So after 6 hours of driving around Lagos in traffic, and to avoid spending $250 on a day trip, we decided to not go.

On Wednesday we got to be normal tourists and went to an art gallery and the Lagos Market. I got a pretty Nigerian dress that I will most likely never wear in the US, but pranced around Nigerian in like a crazy tourist. Also, while sitting in traffic we randomly saw a police parade downtown, which was strange but entertaining. Thursday we went to Ilare, a rural village four hours outside of Lagos, and met the King and Queen of the community. Because we had been staying in the city, I didn’t realize how lush and fertile Nigeria is—I forgot to take pictures this day so you will just have to take my word for it! Cynthia wants us to work with her on community development projects for Ilare, so it was great to spend time with the people and see the differences between rural Nigeria and Kenya.  Ilare has electricity, running water, and cement homes making it extremely more developed then Kayafungo, but shares a lot of the market access problems.

Over the weekend, Cynthia had a BBQ for us with some of her friends to say goodbye. We went to a bar after and danced to Nigerian music, our favorite being Duncan Mighty. We had a great time meeting everyone and got some good contacts for our next visit.

Late last night Alex and I arrived in Mombasa after a long flight from Nigeria. We only had an hour layover in Nairobi and almost missed our flight to Mombasa waiting for our bags to clear customs. Thank goodness flights on Kenyan Airways run on African time and was late. We both have been anxious to get here to settle into our apartment and get out to the village of Kayafungo. Bryan, Alex’s friend in Mombasa, picked us up from the airport and is letting us stay with him in his amazing apartment. He conveniently has two empty bedrooms and one extra bathroom for us! Today we unpacked and settled into our new digs. The plan is to stay in the apartment when we need a break from the harsh living conditions in Kayafungo. In the next few days I hope to get to Kayafungo and assess how the drought has affected everybody. I created a Kenya Information page if you are interested in learning more about the area.

I uploaded pictures of Nigeria and I can’t wait to upload pictures of the apartment and the village! Until then, I miss and love everyone and hope you all send me email updates and can skype too!

And We’re Off!

On Monday, Alex and I left for Nigeria and arrived in Lagos Tuesday night to meet my friend Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru. I met Cynthia in May at a Pensacola Diplomacy Council party that was held for a group of female entrepreneurs from around the world. She has a very successful poultry business called farmshoppe in Lagos, and she invited me to come stay with her so she could act as my mentor over this next year during the development of Mama Kuku in Kenya. I wonder if she actually thought I would come? Cynthia and her business partner African Farmer (that’s his real name) picked us up at the airport and brought us home. Now we are staying with Cynthia’s family in Lagos for two weeks to learn about her business and tour the area before heading to Kenya.

Cynthia has been invited by the first lady of Rwanda to speak at an event this week, so until Saturday Alex and I are hanging out with her family.  It has been shocking to see the difference between the city of Lagos and the places I’ve been in Kenya. Lagos is a bustling metropolis with large highways, tall buildings, 8 million people, and an extremely wealthy upper class. I have never experienced this side of Africa before, and it has definitely been eye opening. The oil industry here has created a huge income gap between the wealthy and poor that is more apparent then I’ve ever seen. Cynthia’s dad works for Exxon Mobil and has created a life for himself here that is far different then any other I have experienced. The house we are staying in is in a gated suburbia- 40 identical houses, matching trash cans, and green lawns. I have never stayed in this nice of accommodations before in Africa! Needless to say it has been an easy transition.

The family I’m staying with reminds me so much of my own. First of all, uncles are the best. Uncle Dayo lives in an identical house right next door to the one we are staying in and he is always coming over and telling stories. Uncle Dayo and his niece Timmay gave us the grand tour of Lagos yesterday and I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. I was comforted by their familiar conversation over childhood stories and the generation gap. I thought I was going to keel over when Uncle Dayo said “I don’t understand why boys where their trousers past their butt now a days.” He drove us around Lagos Island, Victoria Island and Banana Island and shared the history of the area. We walked along the shore of the Gulf of Guinea, and it made me miss all my friends and family on the Gulf of Mexico. It is strange to realize how far away I truly am!

I have felt safe and loved over the past two days here and I cannot wait for Cynthia to return so I can start learning about her business. I am getting anxious to get to Kenya and get settled in, but I am enjoying the family, area, and culture immensely. I’ll post again next week with pictures of Nigeria! Love you all!

At the airport with all my gear!