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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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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!

 

First Time on A Plane October 16, 2012

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 8:19 pm
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I arrived in Nairobi last Wednesday night. My first meal was eaten at Art Cafe. Then I headed to Nafisa’s, the friend from Tajikistan but has been working in Afghanistan but now in Kenya. I’ve written about her before.
Meetings in Nairobi went well and I stayed there over the weekend. It was so nice to see everyone again Thanks to those that made me feel like I was at home again. And omg, there are going to be so many babies soon!

Not much has changed otherwise, a few new buildings here and there. Tamambo, my favorite restaurant has shut down in Westlands. The expat scene has definitely grown since I was there last October. And the traffic is still madness!

I left for Mombasa on Sunday night and have been occupied by work since. I was out in the field yesterday, in Kinango looking at some of our literacy programmes. There were some good conversations with people in the communities and there seems to be a shift in perception on the importance of literacy and a greater sense of ownership of the libraries. Today, I engaged with staff from our different teams, in order to find out more about their early literacy initiatives, lessons learned to date, and the challenges they’ve experienced. As we expand this programme into the West Nile and Tanzania, it is important to document, share and discuss these elements, in order to go in with better insight.

One volunteer, an elderly man, shared a recent experience with me that I must write about. He lives in a village way inside Kinango. The drive was really rough this time in the pick up, as the roads are really bad, and then of course, as we got further in, there were no roads. Dirt and stone slates still embedded in the ground. My poor head and chest ached, as the seatbelt snapped against me a hundred times. Anyway, back to the older man. He was so energetic and lively, and a great leader to have in his village. He was given the opportunity to go to Nairobi by plane to talk about the literacy programme at a conference. It was his first time on a plane. When he and a few others traveling with him were in the air, he looked out the window, and he saw white everywhere. He asked his colleague what they were flying over, because whatever it was, had been covered with so much snow! He was referring to the clouds! What a great experience for him. At least he was able to sit on a plane once in this lifetime.

So usually, I am fine not having to release for hours…but yesterday in the field, I really had to go. There weren’t even any big trees, so I had to squat near a bush, watching out for any snakes, trying to make sure I didn’t spray my feet, and make sure that no one was within a few hundred metres of me…I’m sure someone saw me from a far! And to top it all off, I had forgotten my hand sanitizer.

Mombasa has definitely changed! New plazas, Java, Planet Yoghurt and many new apartments.

Back to the field tomorrow to do some home visits and chat with beneficiaries. Weather is beautiful right now. Not too hot. I don’t even need the ac on!

 

Back to the Motherland September 21, 2011

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 2:29 pm
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june 24

the glamour girls and laura and nadeem’s wedding party

 It has been some time. To my aunt’s who told my mom they had not heard from me at all…this is for you! Okay, not just for you!
 
I have had a fruitful visit to EA. Spent one week in Mombasa, traveling to Kingango and Kwale and had a bit of time of time to hang out in the evening with friends. The work on the ground was intense, with 4 hour drives each day, 3 hour school visits and 1 hour follow-up discussions. But all worth it. On the second last day I attended a meeting where I was thrown into an unexpected situation and ended up providing training to 41 individuals that are involved in the Reading to Learn programme- the programme that I was visiting. It was a great session. The last day was kept aside for meeting with government officials etc to discuss the way forward.
 
Uganda was even more hectic. Flew into Kampala and then drove straight to Soroti, about 5.5 hours. Small town. Small hotel with no hot water, etc. We were traveling to Dokollo and Alomotar each day, about 2.5 hours one way on bumpy, dirt roads in a pick up truck. I think I am still bruised. Kenya seems to be a bit more ahead in the plans than Uganda. But the visits there were also enlightening.
 
On my way to EA I stopped off in London for a friend’s stagette. We had a nice time…must say certain parts of that night were also very enlightening! I still love london.
 
Got to spend a weekend in nairobi on the way to uganda. quick trip. landed friday night and was off again on sunday morning. had friday night dinner, attended a pre wedding party and had a small brunch. went out on saturday night as well to the… usual.
 
I am back in kampala and off to geneva later tonight. Will have some time to recouperate over the weekend and then back to work on monday…i leave for portugal on thursday for 5 days. wedding. looking forward to that!


   Brunching at Art

  Great Time with Gal Pals (and boy pals).

  Chai!

Aliyah and Farouq got married in Cascais. I spent one night in Lisbon before that. It was nice to connect with old friends, and meet some new. We did maja!

Aliyah and Farouq's Wedding in Portugal, July 2& 3

  Munira, Saira and I have known each other since we were about 5 years old. Growing up in 2 different small towns, we met on Friday’s at the mosque. Munira left us when it was time, and heading to  U of T. Saira and I followed a year later, but we both decided on Western. Saira and I then heading to the same school in toronto, to do our post grad stuff – her in human resources and me in marketing management. Saira went on her path and me in mine, in the wonderful world of Saatchi & Saatchi. We both lived in toronto, but grew apart as the years went on. Now, we are back on track. It was great to re-connect with the Grimsby girls. Nice to have them around again. And of course, we have already planned a trip for December 2011! Trouble is about to begin…

 
 
 
 
the ex farrah sunderji, now farrah jamal and I
 

farrah…there is just too much to write about this strong and amazing woman. one lady i know that i can always count on. love you.

 

The Lost Underwear

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 8:01 am
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This is an old story, from Nairobi. It happened about a year and a half ago, during the Donyo Sabuk days.
 
Sunday was an early start, as I had an early night on Saturday. Still trying to fight my cold without any meds. As I was in the kitchen with Canadyen, we heard Madamemoiselle Francais and Blood Clot. The two of them were nearly breaking into Princess’ apartment. I opened the kitchen window, the sun still not completely out yet, enquring about their silly behaviour first thing in the morning. I needed my chai. I cannot function without it. But the two were so hysterical I wanted to know what was going on. Princess did not open his door. Either he had a ‘friend’ accompanying him from the night before, or he was too hung over.
  
The night before had been Fez and Barbie’s stag and doe. Cougar had made all the dinner preparations. The mad men and women all met at hers at 8pm. Prozac had bailed. Despite her ‘cold’ feeling, we thought she might have had another episode. Her buddy Valium did show up though, with Mr. Editor.
  
Getting back to M. Francais and Blood Clot, they told Canadyen and I that we must come down and see something. And so I slipped into my flip flops and ran down the stairs. Clothes were scattered all over the garden; underwear and shorts. A poor khaki was displaced in the gutter. Cougar stared out her first floor kitchen window, imprisoned by the blue bars, that protected her from the night before. They belonged to Crash. Crazy had thrown them out her window during their weekly domestic. We all suspected that Cougar was behind the fight, always trying to seduce Crash.
  
At 3am the night before the drama, we had heard the noise; drawers being thrown about, glass shattering, losts of cursing. I thought it was our Romanian boys, young and full of energy, at their usual Saturday nonsense.  
  
But we discovered later on in the morning, after following a trail of blood, that it was in Crazy’s place that the drama had occurred. After a few pictures, Canadyen was kind enough to pick up Crash’s underwear, not knowing whether they were clean or not. And before taking it away, he passed it on to Cougar for one final sniff. She caressed them close to her bossom. Princess finally awoke and joined us. Someone had left him another gift. This time they were yummy. Kenya stood from her balcony asking us what had happened. Drying her clothes on the balcony, she had first thought that the ones that had laid below her apartment belonged to her. She had missed all the action the night before, dancing away at some bar, not having a care.
  
The clothes were returned to the crime scene. I did not dare knock on the door, but left them outside. Maybe the pot stealing askari would find them and add them to his collection of things in the abandoned house. Cougar leaves in a week. We will be lost without her and all the drama that she has caused the last few months. But I am sure..there will be more.