Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015
Location: Narok, Kenya
We started the day today by visiting the home of Hussein Anderson in Narok, Kenya. Anderson is a graduated Asante Africa Scholar and a three-time attendee at the Asante Leadership Academy (and it shows). Anderson is interning at Asante in his “gap year” as he prepares to compete and get into a University program. Anderson lives in a small home on the hill overlooking Narok (a very nice location). He lives with him Mother, Brother, Sister in law, their 3 kids and 5 orphans taken in my Anderson’s mother. Anderson’s mother had earned money to support the family since the death of Anderson’s father by washing clothes for the neighboring families. After returning from the 2nd leadership academy session, Anderson set his mother up in business running a small hair salon in town sharing the space with his brother’s tailor business.
The Anderson stories are amazing and many. Anderson had several failed ventures of his own (learning experiences) such as a Playstation coop with 5 of his friends and an insurance plan for kids for their uniforms and school supplies. (both apparently lost money). He has now formed a football club with 20 friends (some whose lives were headed in the wrong direction). They get together on a makeshift football field about 5 km from town (we got stuck on the road out to the field and had to push the car out of the mud) and play soccer and strategize about their futures. Anderson is their leader! Such potential. Several of these guys now running Budabudas (motorcycle taxis) around town for a little income. Way better then drinking and sniffing glue. Anderson set up one of his friends with a shoe shinning “business” in the downtown area of Narok. In Africa, people care how they look: clothes, hair and shoes are important. (I look like a bum in my safari clothing compared to the three piece suits you see almost everywhere.)
After a few quick portrait sessions with the Asante Africa staff in Kenya we headed out of town to visit a school in Suswa.
The school in Suswa is a few km north of the road between Narok and Nairobi in the Rift valley. We managed a project to bring desks (very nice ones) to the school. We were there on the delivery date! The desks were sitting in the school yard (in the hot dry sun) until we arrived. They would not use them until we officially gave them the desks. This project was funded by the Orion elementary school in Palo Alto, Ca. The US school kids raised money for desks and began a pen-pal relationship with the Suswa students.
Did I mention how extremely dry and dusty it was. Everything in the valley was dying. No grass in the fields. They are on the edge with no supporting lifelines to speak of. Very scary. (yet the kids are happy and excited to see us).
After some grilled goat at the local Choma we headed “home”.
A couple of firsts today:
We were greeted upon our return to Narok with an awesome dinner at Mary’s house. This was really good for at least 4 reasons:
The day ended with some portraits of Mary, Mary’s son Zuri, and Peninah. I protested the lighting conditions and Erna shut me down. The pictures turned out great (I love it when I’m wrong!)
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Location: Narok, Kenya
No one laughed at my “your shoe’s untied” joke here! Just like being at home.
I was awakened twice in the middle of the night – once by the need to pee (normal) and once by the 4am wakeup call from the mosque next to the Chambai Hotel (soon to be normal). Other than that – I slept just exactly like I hadn’t slept in almost 3 days.
Several small “1st world disasters” struck first thing in the morning.
All this falls in the “Life is mostly good” category. On s scale from 1-10 with 1 being “formatting a document in Microsoft word” and 10 being “can’t mention that in a PG-rated blog”. I would give this morning a 5. Things were about to really improve.
Our morning trip was to Altan Maasai school about an hour west of Narok. This school has a very interesting history and is illustrative of the challenges of surviving, raising a family and supporting education in East Africa. This area is a vast Savannah bordering the National Parks of Maasai Mara and as such are on the edge of real wildlife. The Maasai homesteads are spread out and the children walk up to 10 km each way to and from school every day. (this is not the same 10 km our parents and grandparents walked to and from school in the US (barefoot, uphill both ways). This is a real journey.) The community had lost a child to a lion attack while walking to school and two young children had drowned in a “dry” riverbed during a rainstorm. The community – led by the women – rallied and convinced the men to act. One of the fathers with two wives and 14 children donated the first 5 acres for a site to build a school. Others joined and with the support of Asante Africa Foundation they have built a primary school. There are now 160 children attending a primary feeder school (ages 4-7) with 3 classrooms, 4 teachers and about 20 total desks. Asante Africa Foundation teamed with (DIG something) to put in toilets and they have a very nice rainfall collection and storage system (now they need rainfall). The school is built high on a hill overlooking the riverbed (I’m not as sure about the lions).
After spending an hour or so with the kids and teachers, we attended a community meeting with the local parents and tribal leaders in one of the classrooms. Fred Lesakale (the head of our Tanzania team) did a spectacular job leading the community meeting. (This is a very willing community). Fred told the story in Maa (Native Maasai tougue ) about three stones holding up the pot of water. One stone is the student, one is the teacher and one is the parent. If any single stone is removed – the pot spills its water.
I was photographing the event – and practicing my 1 or 2 Swahili phrases. At one point I stepped out to photograph the kids a little more and the meeting came to a stop. The women of the community demanded I come back in and continue photographing before the meeting restarted. They love to see their pictures! I wish I was that important back in the US.
Fred did an absolutely awesome job. Although he comes from the Tumburu tribe, he speaks both Swahili and Maa. Fred’s intellect, leadership capabilities and command of the spoken word in the Maasai Native language make him a very powerful community leader and a critical part of Asante Africa Foundation’s current and future ventures.
I also had the chance to photograph the local leader who had donated the land for the new school (and his two wives). I wanted to pose them with each kissing him on his cheeks at the same time…I resisted my western ways. Would have been a great shot!
We then traveled back through the riverbed where the two children had drowned. Luckily (for us and our car) there had not been much rain this season and the river was mainly dry. Rain is the first basic necessity of these people – without it their livestock die (and they soon follow). I pray for rain (after we get the car through the riverbed).
We traveled to Lengina Secondary school in the same region and met with 9 young women and their Mamas that are participating in our Girls program. This program teaches young girls the critical skills to stay in school. This knowledge helps protect them from sexual abuse and intimidation and the fear and embarrassments of their transition to young adulthood. The numbers are stunning! Dropout rates, early marriage, FGM, rape and early pregnancy in these rural areas for young women are stunning. Lengina is a great example of the success of our Girls program with only two young women dropping out of school last year.
You can see the growing cultural transition in the young women. They are seeing opportunity for girls in the world and their families are beginning to embrace the change and empowerment that comes with it. These Mamas (all illiterate) are very supportive of education for their girls. Things are changing from within. We’re just here to help.
Erna and I interviewed the young women with their mamas about the program. Interviews in the field are always challenging. Prepare to hear some interesting sounds in the background: kids playing, wind whipping down the plane, goats and cows and the occasional motorcycle in the distance. “It is what it is!” Life is too rich to edit.
Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
I arrived. Kenya Airways new 787 Dreamliner with built-in entertainment systems was very nice. The flight was packed and the seat spacing gave United Airlines a run for the money. The flight was on time and the process into Kenya (Visa and customs) only cost me $50. The agent looked at my aged $20 and $5 bills, frowned and stamped my passport. They prefer nice new crisp US currency. I have no idea if they would have made change.
For the first time overseas I bought a cell phone. $60 got me a nice new “dumb phone” and 2,000 minutes. I’m not sure how long 2,000 minutes is when talking to the states but I think Africa time is likely a factor of 10. I’ll find out.
Discovered another set of 1st world problems:
- can't type text on a dumb phone.
- 26 letters and only 10 numbers
- auto spell is no help if it gets it wrong.
- I can only seem to remember one cell phone number - my work phone. Finally remembered my wife's phone number
- don't know how to make an international call. US country code is 1 - lucky for us
- can only seem to get the phrase "I love you" typed into the phone for my first text back home.
- Laura thinks some strange guy from a foreign country is texting her (she's partly right).
My driver, Laurence, picked me up and took me to the Hampton House for a quick shower and a bite to eat with Erna Grasz (CEO of Asante Africa Foundation).
The British left a lasting legacy in Africa – the roundabout. More time is spent in Nairobi roundabouts than almost any other singular activity. God save the Queen!
After a full 30 minutes of rest in Nairobi we were off to the west to the town of Narok. To get there one must travel about 3 hours from Nairobi on a paved road (with Africa sized potholes and real speedbumps – not those little things we get in the mall parking lots). We crossed the great Rift Valley – a split in the earth’s crust that runs from Jordon to Mozambique.
Absolutely spectacular. This valley is widely thought to be the cradle of mankind. In Kenya (at least here in Kenya) it is filled with agriculture dispersed settlements. This is mainly Maasai country. The people are wonderful and curious whenever they see a Mazungu (White person). I look around and the only white person I see is in the car mirror.
Our first stop was St. Mary’s Primary school in Narok. St. Mary’s is a girl’s boarding school with about 600 students. We did an interview with a wonderful young lady named Teyia (Asante Scholar) and spent time photographing the kids and the school. It has been more than 18 months since my last trip to Africa and I immediately remembered what I really enjoyed about visiting – the smiles and eyes-full-of-life you see in almost every kid. Their eagerness to see us and the laughs and smiles when they see their faces on the backs of the camera are wondrous. Almost every kid can’t wait to shake your hand. They are also very intrigued by the hair on the backs of the hands (and arms) of white people. I was pretty sure I’d have no hair after all the pinching and pulling. (Thanks to my doctors for the neuropathy virtually eliminating any pain that such hair pulling might cause). I like to search the crowd and find that one or two kids that are to shake my hand. I love to make eye contact with them and, without saying a word that either of us understand, pull them in and shake their hand. It almost always gets a loud roar from the crowd – they know the shy ones. It just warms the heart to see them finally break into a big smile.
Some of these schools (the ones closer to the small cities) see white people reasonably frequently. St. Mary’s is only a few hundred yards off the road to Narok and I’m sure they get the occasional tourist or NGO visitor. Even so, they seem to love the attention (maybe it just gets them out of class to mess around).
The second stop was an adventure. Longisa is a village about an hour to the west of Narok (now remember – I started my journey in Livermore, California at 7 am on Sunday morning. It’s now 4 pm on Tuesday in Africa and I haven’t seen a bed yet.) The last 10 km were down a “road” that would have been closed to 4WD in the US. We were in a Toyota (car).
St Phillips School in Longisa is the highest performing school in the district and I had never seen anything like it. The facilities were basic buildings with a roof, dining hall, dorms, pit toilets). 600 kids, 5 cooks and a teaching staff that seemed different. The headmaster was an amazing guy. He was organized, focused and determined to make a difference! They had a collection of reading material that looked a little bit like “anything they could get their hands on.” The leader and the school were very unique in my limited experiences in East Africa. Both were very impressive considering the location and resources available. We have 3 Asante Africa Foundation scholars at this school. We interviewed each of them and took their portraits (a $250 value in the US – cheaper in Africa).
I fell asleep on the way back to Narok (as soon as we hit the tarmac). Lodging and dinner were at the Chambai hotel and conference facility. The “road” through town to the hotel makes me want to look up the definition of “road” on the internet (which I do not have access to). I guess I’ll have to survive without connectivity for a little longer.
By the time my Chicken stew arrived, my dining partners were finished with their meal. I should remember that at many of these places, the animal you order for dinner is still alive when they take your order (not kidding). Makes me want to order something lower down the food chain.
Bed – sleep – finally!
All prepped and ready for my return trip to Africa to Support Asante Africa Foundation. I find myself in a strange state of confidence (having been to East Africa once before). This trip will be different. First of all - I'm flying coach. SFO - Washington, Dulles - Geneva - Nairobi. Last time I was in the front seat of 1st class in a 747. This trip is a little less expensive having found an airfare of just a bit over $1000. Last trip I was the support photographer to the wonderful Heward Jue and Elley Ho. This year I'm on my own.
It's a beautiful morning in the Bay area (as always this year). Thanks to Curtis Clower and Ellen Tarwater for the 6am pickup and transport to SFO. I owe them another one.
I'm excited! Long flight ahead but and some short connections. United better be on time.
More when I get to Nairobi.
A quick post from Washington DC (stopover). Stuck in DC with mechanical problem. Delayed 2+ hours - . Now rerouted through London connecting to Kenyan Airways and arriving Tuesday morning instead of Monday late afternoon. Gotta roll with the punches! I'm rapidly approaching Africa time. ("Africa time" is not a time zone but a state of mind.) life is good.
Date: Monday, March 30, 2015
Location: London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4.
One of the remaining challenges with Africa is just getting there. I don’t presume to be Dr. Livingston but the ease with which we travel to Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas has skipped over Africa (for the most part). Maybe it’s just another in a long set of 1st world problems:
London Heathrow is always an interesting place. It seems to be the hub of the world’s airlines. The mix of people traveling is remarkable even if this is just the upper 10%.
It’s hard to complain so I won’t. I just wanna get there and get to work. A little restful sleep might be nice too – the benches in Heathrow are as comfortable as the new seats on United.
Life is good.
The Portal is one of my favorite places in California! I just discovered it about 3 years ago after 30+ years of not visiting Big Sur (in favor of Yosemite). During the winter, the sun sets far enough south to allow the setting sun to shine through this very unique hole in the rocks creating a spectacular light show. There are many challenges in capturing a great picture:
1) weather - desired upper level clouds with a clear view to the horizon
2) surf - heavy surf creates a great spray from the rocks in the foreground (also creates danger to the photographer and, more importantly, his camera)
3) crowds - there is often a congregation of many many photographers all wanting to stand in exactly the same spot (typically in the beam)
4) Dynamic range - the range of lights and darks in the scene is a very real challenge to capture
5) weather - wind and temperature and unpredictable along the coast - be prepared to be hot and cold (in the same visit)
6) Parking - we were recently turned away at the highway 1 turnoff because the parking lot was full
7) vision - Anyone can take pictures...the challenge is - what do you want in the image...(this is the fun part)
Below are a scattering of recent images from my trip in January of 2015. I will return (very soon).
Mike The Occasional (unexpected) big wave hitting the photographer. (Camera stayed dry!) I shot the rest of the shoot in my bare feet.