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Adventures from Here and There

Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project February 25, 2014

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 12:53 am
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While I briefly wrote about this project in earlier posts (projects in countries), I realized that I had not written a full account of the activities that had transpired. Thank you to all who supported the shoe drive.

Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project

It’s a matter of food or footwear for thousands of people around the world. A choice must be made between putting food on the table and buying a pair of shoes. This is especially true in many areas of Kenya and Uganda. Living in poverty means having to think about the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. To most of us, shoes are a basic need to protect oneself from the harsh environment which could lead to foot diseases and other long-term effects on the body, but to others, the need for shoes is not a priority.

My colleague and I drove through the bumpy, dirt roads within the Kinango and Kwale districts, just outside of Mombasa, on a day trip to the field. We were heading to 3 villages that day, in order to learn more about an early grade reading initiative that we were both involved in. Along the way, I witnessed numerous individuals – men, women and children – without any shoes. I had travelled to many remote villages in several countries before but this was the first time that I had noticed a great number of shoeless people. I asked my colleague if there was another reason, other than not having enough money to afford a pair, but in the end, it came down to affordability.

Later that same evening, I wondered how feasible it was to provide people in Kinango and Kwale with a pair of shoes that were good enough to protect them while they walked the several miles that they did each day. Sometimes, as foreigners we think that our ideas make sense and perhaps what we view as simple solutions, may not be really simple at all.

I woke up the next morning, with the same thoughts that I had fallen asleep to the night before. When my colleague picked me up the next day in the company pick-up truck, I buckled myself in and before he could even ask me how my evening was, I was already sharing my most recent idea with him. Growing up and working in Kenya gave him a better sense of the cultural nuances in those areas. The idea was well received by him, and by the end of the day, I had a better sense of what to do. I plugged in my Safaricom modem and sent a message out to friends in different parts of the world. I provided them with a brief background on how the idea came about and informed them that I was prepared to hand deliver the shoes to people in Kinango and Kwale myself. I requested that people give donations so that I could purchase the shoes locally. The response was delightful. Donations continued to flow in over the next 2 weeks. This is how the Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project began.

I was based in Mombasa town while on this particular trip, and through my conversations with my colleague, I had already identified areas in which I could purchase shoes for our shoe drive. There were several independent shoemakers lined up in the narrow alleyways throughout the city centre. Flat shoes seemed the most sensible to distribute, but not all that I tried on, felt comfortable. I bought a few pairs from those vendors during my first afternoon of shoe buying. The following day I ventured to some smaller, independent stores but they had a very limited selection of flat shoes for women, and the shoes for men seemed too dressy. I came across shoes for children that were reasonably priced but they were made with a plastic-type material and so I opted to buy only a few pairs to test them out first. As the days passed, I realized that it was more difficult to find comfortable shoes at a price point which would allow for the purchase of many pairs. And while my intention was to support independent shoemakers, this proved to be somewhat difficult. I had to go into a larger retail store. Here, I was able to find shoes for the whole family. They felt comfortable and looked like they would last a long time. I decided to buy a hundred pairs, in various colours, styles and sizes.

As we drove back through the familiar territory of Kinango the following week, my colleague and I paid attention to people’s feet. We had come up with a strategy the day before. Since my colleague speaks Swahili, he would do most of the talking, as my Swahili would probably scare people off even before they tried the shoes on! This way, people would feel more comfortable and open to speaking in a language more familiar to them.

A young lady wearing a colourful Kitenge, balancing a large sack on her head looked into the pick-up as we slowed down to get her attention. She walked up to the passenger side where my colleague had been seated. After some light conversation, which I could barely understand, my colleague asked her in English where her shoes were. She giggled as she looked down at her feet. She was not the only one who found our questions amusing. This reaction was shared by many people along the journey. Perhaps they felt it was absurd for strangers to be asking them about their shoe whereabouts? Maybe it made them a bit uncomfortable? A few people told us that they had left them at home, finding it easier to work in the fields barefoot. But most of the responses we received were consistent with the fact that they could not afford them. We never indicated ahead of time that we were handing out shoes, so the responses all seemed genuine.

The next question my colleague asked the young lady was ‘would you like a pair?’ She stared at him, wide eyed, but speechless. My colleague repeated the question, ‘would you like a pair of shoes?’ This time she nodded but looked away and giggled softly. I hopped out of the truck, pulled out one of the boxes that we had piled the shoes in, and assessed her foot size as I began to pull out a couple of pairs for her to try on. The first pair that she tried on fit perfectly. She had the most beautiful giggle and seemed truly happy. She thanked us and we said bye to her, without any other explanation, other than my colleague telling her that she should wear them and not worry about them getting dirty. They were there to protect her feet.

Our method of stopping people elicited many different reactions along the way in both Kinango and Kwale. Some people were confused and didn’t know how to respond to my colleague when he asked them about their shoe situation, so they just kept quiet. Others explained how they did not have any money on them to pay us if we were to give them a pair. We even had one elderly man ask us what we wanted in return. But many just smiled and said yes, they wanted some shoes! We came across two young boys that were so excited, they said they were going to run all the way home in their new shoes. The smiles were contagious and the laughter that echoed out of the many joyful people, were priceless. The hugs and high fives that were exchanged gave me a certain sense of happiness. A few days later my colleague and I headed to Uganda. We were able to find suitable shoes in the local market. The reactions were nearly the same as in Kenya when we stopped people. One woman danced and sang in the middle of the road, wishing us well and promising to pray for us. The most interesting run in was with a boy, around the age of 14, selling women’s shoes on the street. He himself, was not wearing any shoes! He was most delighted when we offered him a pair of new sandals and told him that he was not to sell them! Our final pair was left in the middle of one of the narrow but never ending dirt roads. We hoped that someone lucky would walk by and find a small surprise, making his or her day a happier one.

We did learn a few things along the way. It was interesting to note that there were many more women that did not own a pair of shoes, compared to men, especially in Uganda. Women’s feet were bigger than I had anticipated and so during our first drop off in Kenya, we had many small sizes that did not fit and could only offer men’s shoes to a few, which most women were happy with. Two ladies shared their concerns that their husbands would take the shoes away from them once they got home. In some villages, people did not speak the official language and on a couple of occasions, communicating was difficult. But in the end, the conversation was somehow understood.

2 men sporting their new shoes

2 men sporting their new shoes

It is easy to brighten somebody else’s day with something so small, like a pair of shoes – something that we take for granted. Of course, this does not solve the larger issue of poverty, but at least it will provide some protection to the feet and support to the body, as people set forth for their day’s activities, which for many includes walking miles and miles. My colleague continued purchasing and distributing shoes long after I had left Kenya.

Perhaps the next time I am back visiting those same villages, I will see more souls with soles.

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NYC Baby June 20, 2013

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 7:13 pm
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I have been in this city for a few weeks now. A little manic for me. Yes, perhaps I am getting old and all the commotion is more than even I can handle. There are days where I am so exhausted that I come home, fall flat on my face, and do not even have the energy to change my clothes. But then there are the energetic, blissful, Stargirl days! I have met some really interesting people on my train rides in the evenings – one girl who sat next to me lived so close to me in Geneva. Another 3 boys who were going to a concert and didn’t have train tickets, entertained me. We came up with a plan on how to not get them kicked off the train. Despite my efforts, they did have to leave in the end. One of those boys is friends with this girl who lives in Mombasa and has opened an orphanage. Of course, I found out the name and will have to stop by the next time that I am there.

Speaking of which, I really missed the water yesterday. After living by the water in both Mombasa and Geneva for years, the absence of it caused a feeling of panic in me. Well, perhaps not so much panic, but I needed peace. So, I headed to the waterfront – Hudson – and spent some time gallivanting and laying in the green grass. I saw the most interesting scene – one gay boy in an argument with 4 others. There were a lot of words being thrown around, none malicious or mean though, and definitely no physical violence. Lots of snapping fingers and tossing hands on the hips. The group of 4 than built an alliance which included about 10 teenage girls, whom perhaps most would label as ‘young thugs.’ I was very much intrigued and took a seat at a nearby bench to watch the production. I would have loved to have had a side meeting with the girls, to find out what sort of phase they were going through. How did they perceive this world with their coloured hair, piercings, very low pants and the need to lift up their tank tops every few seconds to show the world their sports bras? Where did they live? Did they sleep like that? After the drama was over, I walked into Chelsea, an area that I like wandering through and of course, came across a cute cupcake place. Well, they are pretty much everywhere in NYC. I do miss the 4 CHF wine after work though. That is probably the only thing that was less expensive in Geneva.

I have been to some of ‘the places to go’. Last weekend a few gal pals from Toronto visited because it was the birthday of the girl that I am staying with. One of them connected with a friend of hers and he was kind enough to take all of us to a few of the hot spots, all in one night. And last Saturday, I sat near Meg Ryan at Mercer Kitchen. I am sure I walk past many ‘stars’ all the time, but I would never know, unless it was Bradley Cooper, whom I would recognize right away. That was an eventful day/evening too and Sunday was automatically declared as a do nothing day. Sometimes one just needs to do absolutely nothing. And sometimes one has no choice but to do nothing because they cannot do anything!

There is a lot to do here no doubt, but I am not really in a tourist mode. I think over the last few years I have had my fair share of travel and there is a world greater out there than NYC. One can definitely not get bored here though. There are a couple of ‘things to still do’ on my list and I will be getting around to them soon. This weekend is a planned weekend.

The weather here is a bit manic though and I never know what to expect from one day to the next. I seem to dress inappropriately each day, and have had to go out and buy a sweater or a short sleeved shirt. Oh well. New wardrobe. Oh yes, many bikes around here, but none like Blue Beauty. She will always have a soft spot in my heart.

“I can sail without wind. I can row without oars, but I cannot part from my friend without tears.”
Beautifully said.

And now I must go for a walk in Central Park.

 

Kwaheri Kenya May 12, 2013

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 5:04 pm
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I have landed in Cairo airport. Not much of a wait before I catch my flight to Geneva. After flying from Mombasa to Nairobi I had a 6 hour wait time. This is going to be one long journey. Why can I never seem to pack right? Maybe I need a personal packer. I had to ask the two men in front of me to keep their voices down. I’ve never had to do that before. I had requested an empty row during check in so that I could sleep and right before take off another man changed his seat and took the aisle seat in my row. Wonder how I looked sleeping between 2 seats. At least I didn’t wake up with drool sliding down the left side of my chin, as that has happened before.

Mombasa was great as usual. My second home. Major highlights included getting stuck out in the sea in a one woman kayak, current so strong that it was pushing me back. I had to find an alcove, grab a rope and pull myself in near a restaurant right before it started raining. It was a very interesting rescue mission. I had several local mean who were working at the restaurant come down to help pick up the kayak and bring both of us to safety. Feeding the giraffes at Haller Park was great. I’m not sure I like my hands being licked though. At least I’ve figured that one out. One quiet Sunday while I was in the home office with my friend Adrian, I heard a strange noise. I followed him into the kitchen and we realized that it was the water tank. The sound of boiling, sizzling water was coming through it. We began investigating, our faces right in there, when it got louder. Some sense knocked into me and I figured we shouldn’t be standing there. It took me some seconds to convince this guy, as he thought, like many men do, that he knew what the problem was. Literally 5 seconds later, the tank exploded. Massive steam came out and hot water poured out. We literally took cover. Actually he ran out of the apartment and some how I ended up n the side room, sort of like the laundry room, without an escape. We were lucky there was no fire. There’s a temple in a cave on a cliff, overlooking the sea. It was my first time there. I didn’t even realize I was standing under a gazillion sleeping bats. I didn’t venture completely in to see the gods/goddesses because I was wearing what my aunt refers to, as my chadee shorts. Bit disrespectful. I witnessed crocodiles eating piglets. I’ll miss my weekly one hour massages at home that’s for sure! Phoebe was my taxi driver while I was there. We connected instantly and had great chats during our rides to town and Nyali. Her daughter, very bright, received a full scholarship to attend the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. A great experience for her and the family.

I think Mombasa is the only place where I want to get out of bed at 6:30 every morning. How can one miss that time of day? The sun rising. Cup of coffee on the terrace. Watching the fishermen start their day on their dhow boats. There was a period of 6 days where it rained non stop, but otherwise the weather was great. I became a lot closer to the people that I met on an earlier trip in October. They were all really great and hospitable during my stay there. It’s nice to have friends that don’t want you to leave, even if you’ve been staying in their place for 6 weeks already! Sophia, my 2 year old friend with the sweetest blonde, curly hair could make me smile just by looking at her. She’s full of energy and can already speak in English, German, Spanish and Kiswahili. And those cheeks!

I was supposed to leave Mombasa on May 3 but extended until May 26. And then left earlier because of a change in plans. I flew Egypt Air and I had to go to the bank and pay the change fee each time. One teller, and real pole pole (slow) styles. I could have bought a ticket and accommodation to Vegas with the amount of change fees I had to pay both times. On the way to Mombasa, even though no one believes me, the airline had a prayer/Quaranic citation playing for 2 hours in the early morning. And I don’t mean via headphones, I mean through the broken speakers of the plane. Isn’t this not allowed these days?

1.30 hours to go. It will be nice to see friends I made in Geneva and spend a day and a half catching up with them. Then I am off to North America. It has been some time since I have lived there and it will be interesting to see how long I stay.

Mentally preparing for the next adventure!

 

‘My Bike’ It’s more than just a fun ride! March 22, 2013

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 3:08 pm
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IMG-20130322-WA000It all began about a week ago when I wandered into the pillow section of one of the local department stores and saw this light blue beauty. It was love at first sight. I thought perhaps it was a display piece and so I sat on it, had a friend take a picture, and off we went. That night I dreamt of riding along the lake and into the clouds and over the moon. I had a popsicle in one hand and a balloon in the other.

I went back to the shop a couple of days later and learned that it was in fact for sale. I left the store again. You see, I only have about a week and a half left in Geneva. Did it make sense to buy it? I could ship it wherever I went next. But would I be able to ride it on the streets of Kenya, India or Haiti?

Yesterday was Navroz, the first day of spring, and the New Year. It was also late night Thursday, the only evening that shops are open until 9pm in Geneva. I had just left a function and while I was on the bus, I had this overwhelming urge to stop at the department store. It was on the way home. I hopped off 20 minutes before closing and went straight for the pillow section. It was still there. I took a look at it, it all seemed fine and it was mine within 5 minutes!

I rode it home along the dark, streets and past the lakeside, but decided I would wait until the following day to ride it along the water. Since I had just come back from a formal event, I was in a dress, pretty boots and had a small evening purse with me. I was an interesting sight to the few that witnessed my jubilation. When I got home I realized that the bike was not going to fit in the elevator. Of course it wouldn’t. 2 people can barely fit inside the elevator without having to smell each other’s breath. So now, I had no choice but to carry her up five flights of spiraling staircases. I had no clue how to do this. I lifted my dress up a bit, swung the purse handle over my shoulder, bent my knees and lifted her. I made my way up the never ending stairs, pausing on each floor along the way. By the time I hit the top floor, I was sweating like I had just been in a bike marathon and definitely had pulled a muscle or two in my back.

I found a nice spot for it by the balcony after having to re-arrange some furniture and sat there admiring it. While I was riding it home though, I noticed that the front wheel made some weird sound…clickety click. It was somewhat annoying to me and I needed to figure out what it was. So I asked a long, lost friend, who had also given me the push to buy the bike, despite my hesitations, if he was around to Skype, so he could tell me what the noise was. I have not seen him in about 20 years and nor had we spoken before he got the idea into my head. I just had this feeling that he knew about bikes. He was kind enough to take my call at 10:30pm, his local time. Well, we weren’t able to solve the mystery, but we did have a great catch up session.

There is a bike store around the corner from my place and I decided to take it over this afternoon. I got to the shop and it was closed until 2pm. The second shop that I went to was also closed. Who closes shop at noon? We aren’t in Spain! And so I hopped back on and rode it to the department store where I bought her from. Along the way, something weird happened and the brake felt funny and all of a sudden, it snapped! I couldn’t stop! My legs quickly reacted though and I was able to place them down on the ground to stop myself from hitting a lady with a bag of g I got off and then some sort or groceries. And then a screw fell off. This was not good. I walked it the rest of the way.

I got to the department store and the sales girl who sold me the bike was there. She didn’t speak English well and my French is…pretty much obsolete. So she called over a sales person who spoke English, somewhat. I explained the whole ordeal to him and he sort of understood but said he was going to call a colleague of his. And so this man, who somewhat resembled Sean Penn, arrived minutes later. He seemed to know all about bikes and put the brakes back together for me. Both men realized that the reflector lights were not working and so they fixed them and the bell, that was buggered too. They tightened a few screws and then told me there was not enough air in the bike. The whole time, people were walking by and smiling and admiring my blue beauty. A couple of passerbys wanted to know where they could find one. I was proud.

One of the men felt that the seat was not leveled for my height and so he got to work. Julian arrived. He worked in the bike section on the first floor. They had called him down to inspect the bike. Julian was a young and energetic soul, but he needed to pull his pants up a bit. I went upstairs with him because apparently I had to buy a bike pump, since there was not air in both of the tires. Luckily, Julian was kind enough and told me to bring the bike to the back area where he would fill my tires up without me having to buy one.

So, I left the bike with Julian and asked him what the clickety click was too because the men downstairs were not sure. I ran downstairs to the chocolate shop and bought some Easter chocolates for my 3 friends downstairs who were soooo kind and fixed my blue beauty for me. There was an exchange of happiness. I ran back up to see Julian and he asked me what had happened to the bike. I was not sure what he meant bu that until he pointed to two long, deep scratches. What the…! How did those get there? And then another long scratch at the back. I was super confused. After further investigation he realized that when the seat was adjusted it had been done in an incorrect manner and that is what caused the deep scratches. I felt sad and Julian told me it was bad. He said he would accompany me downstairs and we would sort it out. I knew the only other bike that they had sold this morning Julian had fallen in love with blue beauty too. He had asked me how much it was, if there were more. He wanted one too. He did not seem the type at all to be riding a light blue bike. He would definitely need to pull his pants up though if he decided to ride a bike.

My 3 friends and Julian gathered around and Julian showed them the scratches. Alex, the only female threw her hand to her mouth in shock when she saw the scratches. You could tell that she felt terrible. The others did too. The manager came. Other shoppers surrounded us, making faces like they were looking at a dead body on the ground. There was a cloud of sadness above us all.

Alex ran to the arts and crafts section and brought back paint! Okay, this was going too far now. And then someone else brought a permanent marker! Another manager was called and he said that only 2 bikes had been ordered and they couldn’t get another. Then all of a sudden all 4 em employees got onto their fancy shop phones, and began talking really fast in French. I heard ‘Madagascar’ and a bunch of other words that I could not translate. Alex told me that they would call the ‘Chief’ and get me a discount if I wanted to keep her still. Did I want to keep a bike that had failed on me and that was now damaged? I felt that we had started off on the wrong foot. It was almost as though she was just not meant for me. Julian on the other hand was still admiring her.

One of the men got off his phone and told me he would get a new one by the 26th. Everyone sighed in relief. I was happy with the result. Julian decided he wanted to keep this blue beauty and I was happy for him.

I know that I could have probably got that bike for half the price and the opportunity to enjoy it for the next few days before packing it up. But I could see the happiness in Julian’s eyes. And I know how I am. I hate scratches on new things, even if I make them myself later on. It bothers me when magazine covers are slightly bent on the news stands. I don’t like it when handbags have scuffs on them even before I have had the chance to take them home. The decision to wait was a good one. And so my blue beauty has gone to someone else and I shall wait for another. I do hope that on the 26th when I go back to the store, that it is in fact there!

Maybe Julian and I can ride our blue bikes together. And so now I wait. It was an eventful afternoon, but a nice one in the end. The blue beauty brought smiles to many faces.

Oh and by the way, in the end…no one was able to figure out clickety click sound was!

 

Bathing Cookies March 7, 2013

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 8:59 pm
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Absolutely no control. While the cupcakes are in hiatus, the cookies were still an evil temptation. A box a day would disappear. The last open box had to go. But how? I knew throwing them away would not make them less reachable…they’re in a box…still good inside, even if in a bin! So they got a bath first. And then were discarded. Now…how to get rid of those evil croissants?

 

The Depths of A Person February 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — travelchokri @ 2:42 pm

The meeting, and even the beginnings of a relationship are merely a starting point of a journey of plumbing the depths of a person. Sometimes a life-long journey; but, nevertheless, if pursued honestly, an exciting journey. The innermost depths of a person (one’s personality) is not unveiled swiftly. The journey itself is the end. Humans are complex and personalities are revealed over time. Very similar to gold or diamond mining: some people are diamonds in the rough.

Author: My Dad

 
 

No Superbowl….agh! February 4, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — travelchokri @ 1:17 am

Cannot stream the Superbowl in Geneva. Not cool. It’s 215am, so instead, Private Practice and a chocolate muffin.