Monday, February 27, 2012

An Open Letter... the laundry thief in my building.

It was not ok when Ali's shirt disappeared, and it was not ok when my coveted 'Canada' tee went missing either. It is especially not ok that 1 of my only 2 pairs of jeans are gone now as well.

Kayla Woodruff, Disgruntled Tenant.

I have an idea to catch them, but it involves propping a box up with a stick which has a string tied to it...and that might only be for mice. Other Suggestions?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Enough food to last me a week...

I really, really hope that by posting this I am not one of those crazy (thrifty? frugal?) people from that extreme couponing show, but I thought I'd share how much some food items just cost me at the market and supermarket...

Handful of Baby Bananas: 60 cents
5 apples: $1.50
10 potatoes: 48 cents
3 onions: 22 cents
Head of lettuce: 72 cents
1 Kg of Beans: 96 cents
Small bag of green maize: $1.00
Small bag of peas: $1.00
Yogurt: $2.90
Bread: 47 cents
1 Kg of Rice: $1.83
3 Roma Tomatoes: 24 cents
Packet of Milk: 42 cents
2 packets of Peanuts: 48 cents

I had some leftover pasta, mushrooms and cucumber from last week, which would probably end up being around a dollar. And some condiments of course, so I'll be able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner all week without eating out...for under $15. I am proud.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My week, In sentence form.

Sorry for the lack of updates, I've been busy this week with life in general. I'll give a more substantial post later, but for now (to keep it simple) here is my life this week, in sentence form:

-Started with regular work at Lea Toto, whereby Juliet and I went many home visits in Kibera and my swahili improved, however marginally.

-Had a couple uncomfortable situations which turned into one, larger positive situation--I counted my blessings.

-Was sent on an adventure downtown to get quotations for school uniforms, which I took to be a very exciting break from filing.

-Discovered how good it is to be a woman in Canada vs. a woman in Kenya (A large generalization, but still.)

-Discovered why I so love sociology--we are individuals, yet products of our culture and society as well.

-Took the day off yesterday to figure out visa stuff, only to find that I had messed up in such a major way that it turned back into a positive thing again(Counted my blessings a second time).

-Today, my plan is to do laundry, go to the market, and find some mandazi somewhere.

-As an extension of the last point, I hope to find an appropriate way to address the mango seller at the market who, each time I walk by, tries to propose and tells me that he loves me (Last time he tried to use a custard apple as a ring, and has said 'I love you' more than any guy I've there potential here? Ha.)

-I am thankful for my roommate Irene, and am sad that she is leaving for Dubai--but am also really excited that she was scouted and got a job offer to work in Dubai!

-I realised how much in fact I would miss her when she said 'Kayla, I'm going to get a drink of milk, like a cat...would you like some?' Myself: 'No thank you'. Irene: 'Meow'.

-I have discovered a new found interest in personal finance, courtesy of Krystal Yee @ (She is like a welcome financial slap in the face). I read her entire 480+ page blog in a week and a half.

-I am also thankful for my roommate Emmanuel, who usually helps catch all the bugs I encounter.

-A while ago I purchased 16 cupcakes from a Kenyan deal website, and the deal runs out Monday--so I have 16 cupcakes to deal with Monday night + a stomachache to contend with Tuesday morning. Help.

-For the past couple of days I have been trying to properly articulate a post on slum tourism. It is a kind of serious/argumentative topic, so I want to do it right.

-I heard from my Mom! Through a second hand source, but still. It was nice to hear from her and know she is thinking of me.

-Hakuna maji, again. Both a blessing and a curse, because while it sucks to have no water, it also provides a convenient way for me to procrastinate on doing my laundry. Whoops.

And now, for a photo I didn't take myself. These are Mandazi, and they are delicious. At only 5 cents each, they'll be the reason I : 1. Get a stomachache from eating too many, and 2: Look unrecognizably large upon my return to Canada.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kidogo Kiswahili

Translation : A Little Swahili.

If you know me, you know that I always want to improve, and be the best I can be at whichever. Sometimes this is horribly detrimental. But in the professional/social work aspect of things, I always try to learn something new so that I can be the most constructive version of myself.

The other day, I asked Juliet (the social worker I shadow at Lea Toto) what she feels I could improve on, or what she feels might be holding me back. She said it was the language barrier, since many of our clients don't speak English. She is constantly translating for me while I try to pick out words from the conversations. I get the general idea of what they are saying (As in they are talking about children, food, school, water, drugs) but I can never tell what they are saying about those things. I want to do more while I'm here, so I am finally cracking down and pushing myself to learn swahili.

Many travellers here I feel don't make the effort to learn the language. I even met a friend who was seeking an NGO job yet when I asked her, she said she didn't really care to learn to speak swahili. I can't think of any better way to connect with others than being able to speak their language. Depending on how life goes, maybe I'll try to learn a little Kikuyu or Luo (tribal languages) too.

I got all of my weekend chores done today, so that tomorrow (Sunday) I can dedicate to learning some swahili. My hope is that within a couple of months I will be fluent, but we will see how that goes. It will all come down to hard work and dedication. I think I've got that.

My Swahili learning supplies. I've got the lesson book, the swahili-english dictionary, the phrasebook, the online course to accompany the lessons, and a book (however, in English) on African political history. I'm counting it as part of the learning because it'll add some much needed background and perspective on both the language and life here in general. And of course, post-its :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

From Kibera to Muthaiga

Yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to go check out the 'Village Market'. Contrary to what it sounds like, the Village Market is actually a luxurious shopping complex with over 150 stores, along with a food court that caters to a variety of international cuisines. It is located in Muthaiga, arguably the fanciest part of Nairobi--the president's home and the United Nations compound are located here, and many expatriates working for the UN and foreign embassies alike also call it home. It is often said this shopping centre is for Nairobi's elite, and people joke that its full of wazungu (white people).

Upon arrival, I found these claims to have a grain of truth. In Kibera, I am among the few white people within the slum. In the Village Market, I was hard pressed to find anyone who was not a foreigner, carrying bags of shopping. So along we went, exploring the indoor/outdoor maze concept that is this shopping mall. They had a health food store, an art gallery, a hair salon that caters to foreign people (not joking, they had a 'European/Asian' price list and an 'Afro' price list), and some art galleries. It was fancier than any mall I had been to in Canada. Nicer than Metrotown, for any of you who have been there.

Initially, my intention was just to have a little day trip, do some exploring, relax, and show Joram some of the funny things that Canadians eat (The Nakumatt there sells McCain superfries - the smile ones!).

I had just spent my week in Kibera. I had visited homes half the size of your living room (and with twice as many family members), discussed adherence to ARVs, talked about solutions for children who were unable to attend school due to lack of school fees. I conversed with a woman whose only option lately to feed her 6 children was to sleep with a man who would give her 50 shillings (about 60 cents) for ugali flour. I measured and distributed food rations for the World Food Program. And while I do love what I do, none of this seemed fair. At all.

I passed a furniture gallery, and in the window was a couch for 300,000 shillings. That is about $3500 Canadian, or enough for a family to move out of the slum. For a year. And eat nutritious food all the while. I started to well up. How unfair that 45 minutes away, a third of Nairobi's population (1 m.) lived in a space the size of Stanley Park and was unable to afford even the most basic necessities. And here everyone was, spending 2 months rent in Kibera on a hair cut or the equivalent of a childs lifetime of school fees, from K to 12, on a couch.

It was difficult for me to decide whether or not I should be there at all, and I felt kind of hypocritical. How could I, who came here under the pretense of assisting others, justify just checking out of that for the day and going to the Village Market? I felt lucky to have the luxury. To have the option to come across town and look around the mall, to eat a variety to nutritious foods of my choice, to have a latte if I did so feel to. To fly back to Canada to a loving, healthy (relatively) family and friends, a refrigerator and pantry full of food and a washing machine that did all the work for me. And to a house without holes in the roof, or to a country with free, quality healthcare.

In reality, I have that option, but for others, it is a struggle to find enough shillings to eat, for rent, or to print out a resume if you want to apply for a better job. And even that is dependent upon if you are able to read, type, and speak English.

The rent in Kibera can range anywhere from $3 to $30. At most, $50. Enough food to feed a large family would be under a dollar, for a packet of ugali flour. It could last 3 days.

At the Village Market, you can buy fancy granola at the health food store, buy a $3500 couch, go to the waterpark, see a movie, go bowling, or buy Prada.

As some have told me, it is unfair to compare myself to others or to compare Kibera and Muthaiga. I know it is not wrong of me to have things like enough food to eat or proper shelter. I just need to find the balance between compassion and the ability to take care of myself as well. As a social work instructor might put it, the ability to practice self care. It doesn't mean stop caring, nor does it mean to overindulge. Balance is key. I will always count my blessings, and I'll try to use the education I have been blessed with to assist others in rising from poverty.

"Go now to make a difference in this perilous and broken world.
May you all hold each human life in the same regard as your own.
May you bring serenity and peace to the lives of others.
May God's Loving Spirit go with you and guide you this day and always.

- Convocation Benediction Given by The Rev. Brian Yealland,
Queen's University, 30 October 2003.
(Borrowed from the website of Gen. Romeo Dallaire).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Hakuna Maji"

English Translation: "No water"

My time spent here so far has taught me many things, but my Kiswahili skills are yet to be determined. One term I do know well is "Hakuna Maji". It is known among the people in my complex that water problems persist here. Usually however, the kitchen tap will stop and we can collect water from the tap in the washroom, or use our 100 litres of water we have set aside in a smaller kitchen tank for these things. Today, the kitchen tap has stopped, along with the bathroom sink and wash water tap. All the water is gone! Since there was also a water shortage yesterday (and usually it comes back within a few hours), our kitchen water tank is at most a third of capacity! Bad news for my Thursday night plans of washing my clothes, washing myself, and cooking dinner. Aren't I exciting?

I encourage anyone with a tap in their vicinity to go over, grab a glass, and get a drink of water! I'm definitely feeling sorry for all the times I've taken that lovely Sooke Reservoir for granted.

Fingers crossed that the maji comes back soon!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Karibu Kibera

After a few 'This is Africa' moments, I finally found my way to my first day in Kibera. I was feeling a bit anxious pre-arrival, but tried to put that off a bit. Luckily, I arrived quite early and that gave me some time to collect my thoughts.

And there were many of them. I arrived on the other side of Kibera (Technically, I live in Kibera, just not 'Kibera Slum'. It took 2 matatus to get there!) at around 7:30am--just in time for the sun to finish rising over the homes there. Some of the things running through my mind were : 'This is beautiful', 'This is unlike many of the stereotypes from home', and 'Finally, what I moved halfway across the world for'. All of these things are true. There is something so wonderful about Kibera, in contrast to the poverty that envelops its citizens. Like I've said before, it can be unlike the stereotypes of 'slum' or 'Africa' that the west is so accustomed to--No old man wandering the alleyways asking you to donate to World Vision, no Sarah McLachlan strumming the acoustic guitar from somewhere out of sight. Its a bustling place, where friends greet each other with a friendly 'Habari asubuhi?' (Whats the news this morning?) and a handshake, where small businesses dot the way to and from wherever your destination, selling nearly any thing you can think of (Knockoff Adidas and Gucci not exempt). Where I become acutely aware that 'Mimi ni Mzungu'(The greetings, stares, and handshakes from children tell me this).

But despite all these things, I was there to assist. Yes, Kibera is unlike many of the stereotypes that are common for westerners to hold. Yet many things ARE true--the piles of burning garbage polluting the air, the stench of open ditches, the high incidence of HIV/AIDS, orphaned children, tin roofed shacks, people suffering from hunger, and oftentimes, a lack of hope.

The day started with an impromptu meeting ('Meet Kayla!') and prayer. You'd be hard pressed to find an organization free of religious affiliation here, although I'm beginning to see this as an okay thing. More on this in some future post. The day saw me in the pharmacy, doing something I felt extremely unqualified for (Kayla the pharmacist? Go figure.). But 3000 pills later, the clinic was prepared for at least a week of children needing medication to combat infection. Wonderful.

Since the social worker I am going to be shadowing, Juliette, was still upcountry, I got to take tea with the staff and learn about the goings on of Nyumbani in a more relaxed atmosphere. The nurse told me they have a pharmacist only a select few days of the week, so he often goes back and forth between testing, diagnosing, prescribing, and then filling prescriptions. I was glad to have assisted him in some small way.

If you want to check out a bit more about where I'm at, visit:
In short, they are an awesome organization, funded by US AID, that cares for HIV + children in low income areas of Nairobi. The great thing is that in addition to that, they take care of malnutrition, housing, school, food, and medical issues. I think it's great they address all of these, as opposed to one specific thing--a total life enrichment.

More to come! Asante for reading.