Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OCT '11 - Kenya Good & Bad

Woohoo! Termites! OK, so I'd never seen a termite mound in person before. Huge, to say the least. On a short walk from my lodging for exercise, I found this next to the roadway. People have to walk around it as they make their way to and from school, work, etc.

Speaking of school, I walked by a class meeting under a tree. The Ministry of Education says the national student/teacher ratio is 46/1. I've not seen classes that small. Our elementary school kids are in classes of 100-200 with one teacher.

In Kenya for work but hindered by broken ribs, I had a couple of days in bed followed by cautious mobility until I was able to fly home. I had a parade of visitors from the local community while I was laid up. I deeply regretted missing the work opportunity; good folks, good work, useful stuff.

Walking carefully, feeling my way along as the ribs let me know what my range of movement should be, I got a little fresh air in an attempt to stave off the boredom of bed rest and recuperation.

On the northeastern side of Mombasa, the Shanzu area is coastal and gets rain during a couple of seasons during the year. It's just enough to encourage gardening and small crops, but it's unreliable enough to preclude dependable harvests. Much of the produce sold in the area comes from the northern territories.

The beaches are gorgeous and there are numerous resorts and hotels along the way. Tourism is a large part of the local economy, and variations in the season are felt directly by the day workers. Political turmoil this summer has lowered the number of tourists, and local folks who depend on them are struggling to feed their families.

Christian and Muslim families live side by side and are proud of their ability to do so with tolerance and grace. They'll tell you about it if you're interested. 

Most folks are polite, gracious, and worth knowing.

The rich and the government seem to be more bizarrely corrupt than can really be grasped. Crooked as a dog's hind leg, my dad would have said.

The average middle-class Kenyan pays 17 bribes per month in the course of their normal affairs. Construction managers bribe government inspectors rather than provide safety equipment for their workers. Indigenous folks are evicted from land on which they've lived for generations (centuries) so the rich and influential can take the land for their own use.

Pirates from Somalia make people nervous, but related crimes span the gamut from human trafficking and drug smuggling to neighborhood violence, theft, and kidnapping. It's not a safe place if you're poor. The rich have walls and guards.

The gap between rich and poor is widening in Kenya, perhaps even more rapidly than in the developed world due to the youth of their constitution and democratic process. The photo (right) shows the city where wealth is centered and the countryside where the majority of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. The same moral dilemma that provoked the world market corruption in '07-8 pervades the Kenyan government and market place. For now, they can make themselves wealthy at the expense of others and do so without visible restraint.

Aid projects to improve education, governmental accountability, business process transparency, have spent billions with formally reported unsatisfactory result. Like many developing nations, Kenya has a long way to go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

OCT '11 - Ethiopia Contrasts

An African and Arab lineage makes for handsome boys and beautiful girls, as my eastern African friends have been happy to explain to me. 

Children in Addis Ababa greet and entertain the stranger in their neighborhood.  As is often the case, the poor are gracious and welcoming, the rich, not so much unless you're part of their rich world.

Children gather to greet me; one cheerful fellow invited me home to meet his family.

The boy's family, tolerant of their son (left) bringing home a tourist, tells me about the plants and trees nearby. They wont let me pay for the privilege of taking pictures.  The walls of their house are made from mud and straw; seems to work well. The boy is a natural leader/organizer. Wonder who he'll be in a decade.  Hope he gets a chance.

In the center of the city, slum areas are under pressure by the government.  Construction projects compete for space as the city grows. 

I'm told that virtually all the construction projects in the city are owned by 30 wealthy families.  The gap between rich and poor is huge.

Squatters living in traditional areas are systematically being forced to relocate to similar slum areas on the edge of the city.  If they can raise the money, they can move into government housing projects, but few do.

I have friends here, a precious family who welcomed me a couple of years ago.  We do our best to lend a hand, but it is difficult to do anything that makes a long-term difference.

I've been offered many children for adoption by parents who are struggling to give their kids a better future than the one they see.

Breakfast at my luxury hotel gives a startling contrast to the home I visited just a few minutes prior.  A day's stay here costs almost a year's income for the folks just across the street.  Conversations in the room are about business initiatives, international politics, and lavish living.

Just across the street from my hotel, a grandmother invites me home to meet her family.  Toddler holds on to my leg as we walk together.  She put her little foot on top of mine for a moment, perhaps to compare sandals and toes.  She pulled one of my toes experimentally and laughed.

At grandma's simple hut, and with the help of a university student who translated for me, she explains that she has seven children in her home.  Daughters have died, fathers have deserted, leaving her with the burden of caring for the children, one of whom is completely disabled.  She runs a little kiosk selling candy and some vegetables in order to survive.  We chip in to help things along.

Perhaps the high point for my few days in Addis Ababa (the city name means 'new flower'), was time with kids, just playing a little soccer, telling stories, meeting mom and dad.  Every smile in a difficult world is a treasure.

Kids here pose for one of many pictures they took with my camera.  I have multiple versions of this one as each one wanted a turn with the camera. 

A child's needs are simple.  Family, safety, health, food, shelter, clothes, and perhaps most importantly, an education that provides basic skills and equips them for decision making.  If we could find a way to do so, we'd love to help all these families to pursue just that.  My evangelical friends would include preaching the gospel.  They're right that the broken world can't be fixed without fixing our relationships with our Father and each other. 

Many of the folks here are serious Christians with whom I've been honored to pray.  They pray for me, they tell me.  Some are Muslim too, and have received me graciously.  Their needs are equally great, their parents equally appreciative of a helpful friend.

On a Skype call home, my wife asks me if it was worth it to make the not inexpensive side-trip here.  I don't know the answer yet; perhaps something will develop.

HA!!  This is the collection the kids took with my camera.  A momentary diversion from street soccer, I suppose.  Lots of laughing and jostling for position and posing involved.  Everybody wanted a turn.  Click on the photo to see the original size.

UPDATE:  MAR '12  A one day layover in Addis gave me a chance to return to this neighborhood and say hello.

It's Sunday and most are in their Sunday best.  I delivered prints of all the photos from October, got to chat with kids and parents.  Nice folks; treated me like an old friend.
These kids are the fortunate ones.  They live in a pretty safe village, they get to eat and to go to school.  They're blessed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Curious where you fit in the economic scheme?

Curious what life is like for 80% of the world?

An American at the US “poverty line” is among the richest 13 percent globally.  America's poor need help, for sure, and they're in better shape than most people.

How does that play out across the world? 

Photo left, kids in Kenya run off with my camera to take pictures of each other.  This is my buddy Anderson, age 3, by the family's cooking hut.  I couldn't survive, living as simply as he does.
  • A UN study reports that the richest 10% of adults own 85% of the world's total wealth. The bottom half of the world adult population owns 1% of global wealth,[10] and discouragingly, the gap between rich and poor is widening.

Photo right, just down the path from where Anderson lives, the kids photograph a fellow as he brings wood for the kitchen fire. 

This is Kenya's coastal region where they get some rain a couple of seasons each year.  Even so, clean water is difficult to come by.  The well in the photo background is brackish, and fresh water comes from just a few sources near here; often, you have to pay a vendor for it.

First World Heaven, Third World Hell:
  • The great majority of the world’s population live on under $2.50 a day.  Over 80 percent of humanity, more than 5 billion, live on less than $10 per day. 
  • The vast majority in the Third World live very differently than the working class of the First World. For example, the average working American lives on $87 a day. 
  • There are more people in India alone who make less than $0.80 a day than there are people in the United States.  That's 100 people living on what one American has daily.
Just two hours inland from Mombasa (photo left), the forests are failing, the fields are too dry to produce crops.  Villages are in decline as health issues and starvation take their toll.

We've been given a couple of acres here to build a church/pre-school/community center.  It's an opportunity to do a little work building up the community capabilities and resources.

There are so many opportunities to lend a hand, make a difference, be a brother to a fellow who's working so hard just to feed his family and perhaps give his kids a better future.  Curious?  Ask.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

OCT '11 - Djibouti Briefly

On the flight in to Djibouti, the miles of dry riverbeds filled with sand are all too obvious.  The drought is quite real here.

I have just a few days here before moving on to Kenya.  Work is good, complicated, and difficult, but with good folks.  Always a pleasure to work with them.  Except for the part where I broke three ribs.
Luxury accommodations for foreign travelers

Our hotel is chosen for us by the company.  It's embarrassing enough to live in such luxury, but even more so when my friends just minutes away struggle for food and clean water.  We've been through all this before.

The road to Doraleh (left) is a poignant reminder as I drive; the road goes for miles and miles through scruffy desert and ends at the sea where my friends live.  I've been here before several times; every time I've been here in Djibouti, actually. 

Kassim and his mom (right) are from a family I sort of know.  They've been gracious in the past, sitting me down and telling me about life in the desert.  Comfortable conversation, but not a lot of laughing.  I've brought a few gifts for the families which they receive graciously.  They appreciate the help, particularly now during the drought and famine in the region.

It's a particular pleasure to find this lady and her family (left).  We first met a couple of years ago through her adult son; nice folks.  Note the smudges on the second panel of the photo.  Those are kid fingerprints on the lens of my camera!  They took a few photos each.

Help is appreciated by folks here.  Times are too difficult to keep your family from suffering from hunger, from abandonment by government, from a sense of helplessness.  We do what we can, each of us.