downtherabbitshole.com

Adventures from Here and There

Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project February 25, 2014

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 12:53 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Advertisements
 

Kwaheri Kenya May 12, 2013

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 5:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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!

 

2 Years in a Nutshell, Part I December 16, 2012

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 9:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The posts over the next couple of weeks will be in no apparent order, but it will document my memories of the last 2 years, specifically related to my work and travels.

I think that I have seen just too much sometimes, that things that might phase the ordinary person, do not always get to me. I mean, I have had my fair share of interesting sagas- I was almost locked in a restaurant on hotel grounds, with the music being turned up so loud that I could not even hear myself. Then 3 men walked into the restaurant from the back entrance…good thing my instincts told me to bolt out of there. I learned, that in some countries, you should never be the last person dining, especially the last woman. In some hotels, people come into your room when the do not disturb sign is up! Men will shake your hand and hold it for a few seconds too long. I sat next to a woman on a plane, chanting loudly and making tsk tsk sounds every few seconds. Oh and yes, how about the man who was clearly having too much fun under the blanket on a 9 hour plane ride! No joke.

Never mind the cockroaches, ants in my hotel bed and mice I’ve had to battle. Oh yes, I cannot forget the 2 children who massacred the plane, as their parents watched. The best in flight video ever….different types of cutlery are shown on the screen above the toilet with a big red X on them. Seriously, how many people take their meal trays in the bathroom with them? This lady cried once because she wasn’t allowed on the plane. It was about to take off and she was too busy shopping. Apparently, it wasn’t her fault that the gate was so far away. She screamed to let her on the plane while it was in taxi. Then she made the person at the desk walk her back to the main terminal to pick her bags up. I watched all of this as i waited for my delayed flight. And yes,I have missed 3 flights this year alone.

A bachelor party took place on the plane from Majorca to Geneva. They were a fun bunch though, dressed in pink. In front of me sat a little boy, about 2 years old. He was traveling with his father, who left him alone twice to go to the bathroom, unbuckled and who then fell asleep before we were even all the way up in the air. The poor boy was so bored, tearing up a magazine and crawling under the seat. At one point, I got up, reached over the father, and brought the child back to sit with me. At least we could entertain one another. His father didn’t even blink. We played games on the iPad and took funny pictures with the iphone booth app. It was great fun. It wasn’t until the pilot announced that we would be landing shortly, that the dad awoke and panicked. I tapped him on his shoulder to tell him the little one was with me. He just said ok and closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Of course, sometimes the journeys are chilling. Like when the helicopter had to land in the middle of nowhere in Kyrgyzstan. There were about 11 of us if I recall correctly. How would 11 ppl find their way to the city while in the middle of the mountains? A trailer type thing drove by. An Australian and New Zealand couple were on a road trip. They were on their way to Afghanistan. Imagine they had exactly 11 seats left in the vehicle. Divine intervention.

I was forgotten once at 3am when I landed in Islamabad, Pakistan and recovered my lost luggage, which was dropped on the runway and later found. Instead of doing the obvious and heading to the Serena with one of their cars which would have been the safest thing to do, I found ‘mommy’. He claimed to know where the hotel was that I had to go to. I told him there were two with the same name and I needed the guest house. He said he’d been living there all of his life and he knew where he had to take me. To make the story short, we ended up at the wrong place, got lost going to where we were supposed to after he got directions to the right one and ran out of gas. I was left alone at 430am in the middle of the road, while he went to find a cab, which he didnt get. He called a friend to get us…yes, I know, mad thing to do. I finally insisted he take me to the Serena and I’d sort things out the next day. Lucky for me he was a nice man. Honest. And he really did make sure I felt comfortable. He actually made his friend stay behind on the road and watch his car while he dropped me.

I must say that anyone that I know that has been to India has had a nightmare story. I was rather lucky to have met great people for the most part. No rickshaw drivers took me for a ride- well a joyride! Once one got lost but it was my fault because I didnt realize there was more than one Taj hotel, and he was super apologetic. I then decided to walk at 11pm, having no clue where I was and not knowing that Delhi was one of the unsafest places in India to be romping around, let alone. After all these years of living alone, I rented an apartment in Delhi, well a room. The other room was empty and I honestly did not think after a month of being there by myself, that someone would move in. Yes indeed, Hugo from Paris. A 20 something year old who was there on an internship….to party! Beer bottles lay around and chip wrappers were left here and there, along with the countless number of pizza boxes. But leaving the doors unlocked and the iron on….gees. He fell in love with a Russian model and soon I saw Hugo less. She had a 10pm curfew so they tried to make the most of the evening. He was a nice boy though, always offering me his pasta with ketchup or trying to get me to come out and party.

Of course, there was Josephine from Uganda who journeyed with me from Dokollo, Uganda to Kampala. She shared her tragic but inspiring life story- a woman who had fought all odds. However, about 6 months ago she emailed me to say that her caregiver had gotten her pregnant. Sometimes, life is made too difficult for people. However, her baby is negative as Josephine was infected with HIV.

I have been asked to climb on the back of motorbikes without a helmet and almost attacked by baboons. I have had to sly away from stray dogs. Walked with keys in my hand just in case I needed to poke someone’s eyes out. Been spat on. Sunken into mud. Hugged and been hugged. High fived. Been adorned. Laughed so hard it hurt. Danced in the rain. Been drugged. Been eaten alive by bed bugs. Thrown up on an airplane. Seen flight attendants throw up because the turbulence was so bad. Shared intimate conversations with strangers. Fallen a few times. Had nice, strong strangers help me with my bags. Had some of the best, unhealthy foods. Loitered at the grandest hotels. Smiled with glee. Loved. Been peed on….

I have gotten lost plenty of times, including in the subway station in Moscow because I couldn’t find my way out amongst the hundreds of people in there and that made me a bit anxious. I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. I saw a bus driver in Delhi get beaten. That made my arm hands stand up. I’ve watched children play all sorts of outdoor games. Gotten rashes and DE. Seen some of the best beaches in the world. Listened to some of the loveliest tunes around. Lost things. Found things. Melted in the heat. Gone blue in the cold. Seen different kinds of wildlife. Gotten stuck in the most horrendous traffic jams. Shopped till I dropped.

It is true what people say….once you start, you can’t stop!

 

This is India! September 21, 2011

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 8:08 am
Tags: , ,

Vibrant, smoggy, individualistic and manic- this is India! If you land in Mumbai at an odd hour (530am) get into your pre-paid cab and head to juhu beach. Pick a hotel to gather your thoughts in. juhu hotel, with its friendly staff won’t mind if you drop your luggage off while you pace up and down the beach with hundreds of others, all on a mission to go…nowhere! How nice it is to begin the work day at 10am. Take a look around and notice the yoga-doers, the 2 or 3 white faces, the dried up seaweed, the rubbish and the gazillion birds being fed. Yes, the birds are being fed in a country that still has one of the highest poverty rates. What’s the source of income for them? The two minute stop while the traffic stops at a red. Little girls carrying girls even younger than them. Whose children are they anyway? At the same time, you just want to be left alone.

Too many rickshaws, cars and bicycles. Constant honking. There are days declared for no honking…but then it just wouldn’t be Mumbai! Why bother having any lanes and pedestrian walks? Whizzing on a moped in the streets is exhilarating. But hold on when those speed bumps arise, as you may land on your bare head. If you dare, take the public train and hang out the door from one station to the next. There are just too many people in this city. Yes, the entire population of Kenya is less than this one city alone!

One can get overwhelmed by all the shops and malls randomly spread out through the different districts. Pashminas in every colour and beads in various shapes and sizes can be found at one of the many stalls in the colaba area. Just around the corner, you have the Gate of India, under construction, and across, the grand Taj Palace Hotel. Stroll through and window shop at the only louis vuitton. Take a walk on the side streets and admire the old architecture and washed out buildings. After a while, colaba, juhu and bandra can all look the same…especially when the night falls. Chor bazaar is anarchic, especially on Fridays. If you don’t need a stereo or a car part, don’t bother!

Bhel puri, pani puri, you got it. But the deprived can relish in a maharajah mac or tandoori chicken pizza from pizza hut..everyday. tantalize your taste buds with fresh mango smoothies or a cold lassi. If spice is not your forte, do not forget to ask for mild butter chicken or yellow daal.

If you are lucky enough, you may see a movie shoot or meet up with people working in the industry of bollywood. Yes, it is larger than Hollywood! And make sure you get the low down. But where are those john Abraham look a likes and the gals that look like ashwariya? Definitely not gallivanting on the streets of Mumbai. Young lovers stroll down chowpatty beach, coyly, but hand in hand. Flocks of girls strut their stuff on the beach wearing the latest jeans from fashion street. On either side, high rises continue to go up; ones that only the real swanky can afford. Yes, for a million dollars, you too can breathe in the smog of Mumbai. Mumbai is definitely a city for walking about and discovering. You never know what you will see or who you will meet!

Bangalore, the silicon valley of India; pretty and much less hectic than Mumbai. This place shuts down at 11pm, including the bars. There isn’t a whole lot of sight seeing to do, but stroll through the streets of Brigade area and find man made parks, gardens rather, where residents do their walking exercises. check out the leela kempinski. Unless you have an exact address to where you would like to go, you will surely get lost, even if you take a rickshaw.

If you are looking for some peace of mind or enlightenment then find an ashram in the outskirts of Bangalore. The art of living centre provides and intro course that lasts about 3-4 days. Be prepared to get back to the basics and follow the 10pm curfew. Enjoy the harmonious bhajans at satsang, a celebration, every evening.

Be lazy in kerala. The best Indian food perhaps, comes from the south; colourful and delectable. Girls, don’t stay out past 11pm or you may get scolded by the police. The beaches in trivandrum are not much to brag about, but you can definitely lose time on the strip browsing for jewelry and sipping on interesting concoctions. Head to alleppey, about 2 hours away by car and rent a houseboat for 22 hours. They come in different shapes and sizes, some equipped with TVs and DVD players. Let your private chef serve you south Indian breakfasts, lunches and dinners as you float through the backwaters. Enjoy the sounds of the birds or take part in a photo shoot! Overnight, you will dock in a small village. Take a walk around the rice fields and remember to bring plenty of pens!

Do not forget to put your sunblock on. And bug spray, a necessity. People are generally friendly, though language differences can be a communication barrier. Watch out for cab drivers taking you on longer routes and then trying to overcharge you! If you have lots of time, then take the train at least once from one city to the next. If you are limited in time, there are plenty of domestic airlines to chose from, all reasonably priced. There is just too much to see and do! So pace yourself and make sure you have a good pair of shoes on!

Julia and I in Kerala

 

The World of Blogging Begins September 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — travelchokri @ 8:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have finally decided to begin blogging about my adventures, madness and just pure thoughts, that I feel like letting the world know about.