Friday, April 25, 2008


BORN in the USA

Well, I do appreciate being an American. I don’t have as many American friends in Nairobi any more – people have moved on, Nairobi being a transient city – and pretty much the only Americans I am around are when I occasionally see other MCCers, which doesn’t happen terribly often. But there were Americans in Accra for UNCTAD and for the Civil Society Forum, and I found that I Really Enjoyed Being Around Them. I didn’t actually spend much time with Americans, but I really got into embracing my American Identity. I said “Dude!” a lot more than I usually do; I actually said “Bless You” when a colleague sneezed (NOT something I’ve done in a long time); I was really feeling happy to be an American on the cusp of a regime change (Obama! Obama! Pennsylvania? How could you let me down?).

Maybe also it was that I had the added ‘glamour’ of being around a bunch of white people (which was weird in and of itself) and being the One Who Lives in “Africa”. Yes, I let myself fall into the trap of just accepting the looks that some folks who work for NGOs in Europe or North America give when I say I live in Nairobi….it’s this look that involves admiration and curiosity and maybe envy…as opposed to nipping that in the bud. After all, there is nothing intrinsically noble about living in Kenya as an ex-pat working for an NGO; I think it’s rather hard to live in Nairobi as an ex-pat and not have one’s life be rather ignoble. But no, instead of trying to somehow express that and wipe that look off anyone’s face, I just accepted it.

How exactly does one work off penance for that?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Written on Saturday (April 12): Kibaki and Raila had stopped talks and were both grandstanding, threatening to drop out of the “Grand Coalition” government

Everyone is annoyed and frustrated. I think I can say that with a high degree of confidence, unfortunately. Lots of folk are frustrated with the Politicians – the ‘hardliners’ on both side who are refusing to take what could have been at least a short-term solution and make it work.

I think everyone recognized that the February “coalition government” solution was a short-term solution. It wasn’t going to work the way that it does in Germany or other places where coalitions rule together. But still, I didn’t think it was going to be this short.

In the meantime, there are still THOUSANDS of people in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps who are convinced that they cannot go back to their homes, their farms, their jobs, their schools, or their lives.

Written on Sunday (April 13): Kibaki and Raila announce that they have come to an agreement, and they name a 40 member cabinet. That’s right – 40 ministries, with 40 ministers. Also, a Prime Minister (Raila).

Well, it’s amazing how grateful one can be for a bad deal, when the day before it seemed like there would be no deal at all. I guess it’s a good tactic – make everyone worry that the leaders are going to whip their respective populaces into a frenzy again….and then agree to something everyone knows is a huge waste of money but which is a lot better than civil war.

Twenty four new ministries have been pulled out of…anatomically correct but impolite places to mention here. I mean, some of them are potentially good ideas...sure, northeast Kenya needs more attention, but I have serious doubts that the new Ministry for NorthEast Kenya will do much to help that area. I guess we’ll see.

Written on Monday (April 14): Mungiki members block many of the major roads in and around Nairobi, burning cars and protesting the death of the jailed Mungiki leader’s wife and her driver. Police shoot 12 suspected Mungiki; others are killed in the cross-fire.

Okay. First of all, man, it is discouraging to wake up the day after the government has named a 40 member cabinet with the argument that it has to be that big in order to appease all of the parts of Kenya, to wake up from that to an SMS from the US Embassy that ‘gangs of youth are clashing with police’ and blocking roads in Nairobi. Sigh.

So the Mungiki. They are a “sect” – because they were originally focused around reviving Kikuyu religious beliefs and practices. As a way to reclaim heritage, as a way to shake off the cloak of colonial repression…pretty much good stuff, as far as my post-colonial white sensibilities are concerned. Fast forward to today, and the Mungiki is a Gang. A Gang that controls a lot of the matatu routes, that provides most of the basic services of the Kikuyu slums, that holds initiation ceremonies and that depends a lot less on their traditional spiritual beliefs than it does on the fear of what will happen to you and your family if you cross them.

The Mungiki mobilized big time during the elections, and in the post-election mayhem they did a lot more ‘recruiting’ – in some areas, young Kikuyu men who refused to join were killed. All of the militia were being pumped with money from politicians and big men during this time also. Now we are back to a time of ‘peace’ in which we have a Grand Coalition, but we’ve also got Grand Militia. This is going to be a problem for a while...

Thursday, April 03, 2008


In Memory of Stephen Otieng

Stephen was a part of the African civil society movement striving for economic justice. He worked for SEATINI Uganda, working on EPAs, on the connection between the environment and human rights, on trade policies…He was smart and funny, and now he is dead.

He was found in his locked apartment on Tuesday, dead from multiple stab wounds. His old laptop was missing, and his phone. We don’t know what happened. The police are looking into it, but so far this seems to primarily involve asking the family and work colleagues for payments.

I was in Kampala when they found Stephen. SEATINI had planned with us a regional meeting for groups involved in the Stop EPA movement, to strategize for the rest of 2008. We had to go ahead with the meeting – there were 50 participants already there from 10 countries in the region. Because we took up a lot of SEATINI’s responsibilities for the meeting, I didn’t attend the funeral. So in my mind, Stephen is still Whole.

We miss Stephen. We already miss his contributions to the Stop EPAs campaign, and I know that within Uganda his contributions are being sorely missed among the activist and research communities. I am angry – angry at the killers and primarily at the police. On the whole, though, I and others are very deeply sad to lose Stephen in such a fashion.


Food, continued

More good food.

Kampala, Uganda

- Starches – I LOVE Kampala. It’s the perfect sized city (about the side of Pittsburgh or Portland). Probably if I lived in Uganda the sheer politeness of everyone would drive me totally crazy, but it is such a welcome relief from Nairobi. It’s slower and quieter, a bit dustier and less electricity, but they make up for it with beautiful green hills and a wider variety of starches than in Kenya. There is a lot of matoke – a variety of bananas that are boiled or fried, often the boiled version is mashed. Mmm. And then there is a lot more ‘brown’ ugali than you’ll find in most parts of Kenya (other than western Kenya). This is ugali made from other grains, usually finger millet. More protein, more vitamins, more tasty.
- Groundnut sauce – Somehow they make it fluffy kind of. And usually the peanuts are pounded with the red skins still on them, so that makes the sauce sort of pink. So good with matoke.
- Bananas – I hate bananas in the US. I love bananas in East Africa. They might be different, or I might just have a different attitude.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

- All of the food (except the raw meat) – so….good…..
- Tejj – Honey wine. Drinking it makes you feel like a greek god (well, yes, it is potent. But I’ve never drunk very much, so I can’t say whether or not one would eventually feel that one has power to intervene in the lives of mortals. It’s more the fact that it is honey wine, and tasty honey wine, that makes me feel that way)
- Coffee – I reckon Ethiopians have drunk coffee longer than anyone else in the world, seeing as it originated in Ethiopia. Up country they have coffee ceremonies three times a day. These are a people who take coffee seriously, and well they should.

Accra, Ghana.

You know how West Africans tend to be really tall and big? It might be because they have the best food in Africa.

- Red Red – Fried plantain, bean and tomato sauce, fish. The whole thing as spicy as you can take it.
- Jollof Rice – Chicken, rice, vegetables, the whole thing as spicy as you can take it.
- Shiroo – the chili sauce that makes everything so very good.


FOOD - Kenya

(sorry - had computer problems where i couldn't cut and paste, so couldn't blog for a while..)

I do like food. And, happily, I have eaten a LOT of good food in the past 2+ years as an MCCer.


- Passionfruit Avocado juice – As previously mentioned, this is a divine combination. Okay, yes, for the benefit of my gourmet relatives (hi Karen!) it’s probably a puree from the avocado. But whatever you call it, it is dang tasty. Passionfruit – known as ‘passion’ in these parts - is a tangy fruit, and it balances nicely with the smooth avocado. If you ever find yourself in the Jomo Kenyatta airport, go all the way down past Gate 14 and you’ll find a Java House that usually has it. Enjoy!

- Indian Food – In plenty, relatively cheap, and extremely tasty. Kenya has a large population of “Indians” / “Asians”. I insist on referring to them as Kenyan Indians – I mean, a lot of them are 3rd or 4th generation Kenyans. Well, that’s a topic for another blog. For now, let’s talk about Diamond Plaza - an open-air square surrounded by dozens of Indian restaurants that are cheap and tasty, and fun because everyone in Nairobi comes to Diamond Plaza – the Kenyans, the Kenyan Indians, the wazungu, the Somalis, the Ethiopians… is a good time.

- Irio / Mokimo – in my opinion, the best of the limited starch options in Kenya. Potatoes, mashed up with beans and something green (up country it would be pumpkin leaves, in town it is usually peas) and add maize.

North Rift Valley

- Ugali - I’m not a huge fan of ugali, the basic starch of Kenya. It’s maize flour, boiled with water and cooked and stirred until it is very very thick. You eat with your right hand – pinch off a bunch, squish in your palm, eat. Very filling, but not very much protein or anything else. The best ugali I’ve ever had – maybe one of the few times I can say that I’ve really enjoyed ugali – was at Naomi’s place. She is one of the farmers in the leadership of the Uasin Gishu SmallScale Farmer’s Group, and she lives on a farm that is about 1 ½ ha if I remember correctly. That is not big. She had a separate cooking hut, with a stove built where the fire was up off the ground, and underneath she would incubate eggs or, in this case, let the ugali sit, so that it kind of baked in the pot. Man, that was some really good ugali – all crusty on the outside. Mmm.

- Ghee – Well, most people don’t have refrigerators once you leave Nairobi (and for that matter, lots don’t have them in Nairobi), which explains in part the rarity of butter and the commonality of Blue Band, a palm oil margarine. So dairy farmers tend not to make butter, but one time when I was staying at Hellen’s we made ghee. It involves making butter and then cooking it over a fire, stirring very very briskly the whole time until it separate into clear oil (ghee) and little pellets kind of that can also be used for cooking. Tasty, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

- Honey – Kenyan bees are still alive, and they are producing great honey.

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