Montreal, Amsterdam, Nairobi

May was a whirlwind month for me, in part because I was finishing up my final semester of grad school and in part because we were traveling every weekend. Then, of course, there was that looming trip to East Africa to plan for…

Which brings me to the here and now. It’s a lovely, sunny day in Nairobi and rooming with a British engineer, even for only a few days, already has me saying things like “it’s a wee bit wonky” and “do you fancy a drink?”. Louisa, the Brit, leaves in a few days and will soon be replaced by an American, so I’m sure the expiration date for these phrases is coming up soon.

I’ve reunited with all the KDI Kenya staff and enjoyed my first few versions of “How Are You”, as sung by Kiberan children. Perhaps the coolest part about returning to Nairobi is seeing the project that I worked on last summer in it’s nearly-completed form.

Before we get to that stuff, though, I want to share just a few pictures from some recent excursions. The Auerbach clan was busy graduating in May – Eric with his second masters and Ben with a PhD. Then of course there was me with my (first) masters and Ben’s wife, Sam, graduated with her NP. To celebrate, we all made our way to Montreal to eat and explore.

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And now for the story about getting to Kenya… Upon trying to check into my flight on KLM, I realized that I had booked my flight out of JFK for Thursday, May 30, at 11pm. However, I booked a flight from Chicago to New York to catch this flight on Wednesday, May 29, in the afternoon. That meant I had a full day and a half to bum around New York. This was annoying in that I really could have used that extra day at home; nonetheless, I enjoyed my day in New York fitting in some last minute exercise prior to sitting in a narrow airplane seat for the next 20 hours.

BUT THEN… upon actually checking into my flight on KLM, I also discovered that I had a 9-hour layover in Amsterdam. Score one for me! This meant I had plenty of time to explore, which is exactly what I did. See below.

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And now, of course, I am in Nairobi, half-settled into a fully-furnished and serviced apartment and jumping straight into my mile-long to-do list. The apartment is cleaned everyday. They even do our dishes – quite a luxury! And my first few visits to Kibera were met with lots of adorable children.

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Kibera Photo Walk

Last week, a fellow intern and I, along with two KDI staff members – Amos and Abdallah – spent an afternoon walking around Kibera, cameras in tow. The point was to capture water quality at different points along the river, but it was also a great excuse to capture some of the things we experience daily in Kibera. Amos and Abdallah are both awesome photographers, so I have included several of their photos below (as noted). It was a fun day.

photo by Abdallah: construction workers taking a break

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children playing in their parents’ vegetable stand

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colorful fences

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photo by Abdallah: the makings of a flavorful stock

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photo by Abdallah: fish for sale

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Amos taking pictures

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Wilson is always hard at work in the KDI office

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cute kids everywhere

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the railroad tracks in Kibera

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photo by Abdallah: charcoal for sale

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“take a picture of me being free” – man smoking a joint

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photo by Amos: children chanting – probably something between “take my picture” or “give me sweets”

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puppy in a trash pile

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Jack, fellow intern

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My Work in Kibera

It occurred to me today that many of you probably have no idea what I am doing in Kenya, so I thought I’d share a bit about the work I am doing here.

To start, I am interning for a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). You can learn a lot more about them and what they do on their website, but in brief, they build Productive Public Spaces. These public spaces are places that can address the many needs of slum-dwellers: economic development, sanitation, clean water, playgrounds for children, schools, clinics, and even simply spaces for people to mingle. So they are spaces that the entire community can use and enjoy, but they are also productive in that they provide many needed services to residents.

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Toilet facilities at Kibera Public Space Project Site 02

KDI partners with local community groups in the informal settlement of Kibera (aka, slum) to work on projects that improve quality of life and help to alleviate poverty. They provide funding and technical support (from engineers, architects, landscape architects, and planners, like me) through a process called community-driven design. The community itself provides all the necessary feedback and information in designing the site, and they assume responsibility for running and maintaining the project when it is complete. KDI has built two productive public spaces in Kibera, a third is in construction, and three more are in the works.

My role here is (mostly) two-fold.

1: I will be planning for, designing, and running public meetings to gather input from the community for a new public space project – Site 04. These community workshops will focus both on the physical design – architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering (ie, how they want the site to look and what structures they want there) – and the programmatic details of generating income for the site, maintaining it, managing it, etc.

2: I will be designing and implementing a watershed education program. The goal is to educate and empower the local community to reclaim the river and sustain environmental integrity.

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Dumping site along a river in Kibera

I have several other smaller tasks to accomplish, but that’s the quick and dirty of what I am doing here. I am working with 5 other interns who all have various roles in the process and a team of Kenyan staff who are helping to teach us the ropes. I share a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with Margaret, an architecture intern who just graduated from Cornell. We have cleaning service twice a week (which includes our laundry), and they change our sheets once a week. I am feeling really spoiled in that regard.

So, to end this post, I will leave you with a couple videos:

really nice apartments look out over Kibera:

school children ask how I am doing:

the river runs black in Kibera:

Tofu and Cucumber Salad + Africa Pictures

So this recipe is not at all African. It just so happens that I’ve made it twice since I have been here. I have not (and will not) stock a full pantry here for a mere two months, so I am trying to create some recipes with just a few basics. I have soy sauce, and oil and vinegar, and I bought a nice spice mixture called Pilau Masala, which is used for making a rice dish called – you guessed it – Pilau. So with just a few items, I have been throwing together this nice little salad.

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I never really wrote much about our 2-week pre-internship trip through Tanzania and Rwanda. It was yet another wildlife-centric trip for us, with just a bit of beach and city time on each end. I only have photos from Zanzibar and Rwanda uploaded to flickr right now, so safari photos will have to wait until next time, but here is a little preview of my favorite photos from those two places.

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Sunset at Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar

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The evening sun illuminates a building in Stone Town, Zanzibar

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Eric eating chapati while watching a local soccer match

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The red colobus monkey of Zanzibar

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A mass grave at Kigali’s genocide memorial, Rwanda

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Eric paying his respects to the victims buried in the mass graves

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Locals participate in gorilla conservation by entertaining hikers each morning

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Manicured streets of Kigali, Rwanda

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Rwandan countryside

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Silverback gorilla posing for the camera

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Female gorilla, contemplating

In other news, I have settled into a work routine here in Nairobi. Many days I will wake up and head to Kibera to meet up with the KDI Kenya team. Others I will work from home if I have to use internet or the computer. We have not had many days off yet – public meetings need to happen on weekends when people are home from work, so that means Saturdays and Sundays have so far been off limits for traveling.

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Soccer field in Kibera

It is striking to me what a different world Kibera is – especially compared to the wealth you see in other parts of Nairobi. You enter Kibera on foot because there are not really roads – just dirt paths that are steep and uneven. When you walk in, you see row after row of small businesses – a clothing shop or a butcher, a vegetable stand or a hair braiding salon, a tailor or a knife sharpener – each set up in its own little tin-roofed shack. Further in, you can start to smell the fragrance of Kibera. If it’s a warm or sunny day, the smell can be especially strong. Sewage, sweat, and animals (including farm animals such as goats and pigs) are the main scents I can identify. Trash collects at dumping grounds along the river and is scattered along the paths. The rivers are essentially open sewers, and in many places in Kibera, the stream runs black.

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Trash builds up along the river; there is no formal garbage collection system in Kibera

The extravagant wealth that you can find in other parts of Nairobi may not exist in Kibera, but you will still find well-dressed men and women, children attending school, eager entrepreneurs, and happy, friendly people. As I walk through – with my pale skin and blonde hair – children break into a sort-of song and dance, chanting “how are you” as they stomp their feet and run to shake my hand. High fives and fist pumps are huge with the kids. And if you respond to their “how are you” – if you say “I am fine, how are you?” back to them – they will often giggle and turn their head shyly. The younger children know few English words beyond that.

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School children love posing for the camera

Tofu and Cucumber Salad

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1 english cucumber, halved and sliced
1/2 medium sized daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 package tofu, cubed
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon vinegar (preferably rice vinegar, but I used red wine as I had none on hand)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Combined tofu, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and a sprinkling of vinegar in a container and marinate tofu for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and combined. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining soy sauce, water, vinegar, and honey. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and refrigerate.

When the tofu is done marinating, pour some oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu, making sure it is in a single layer. Let sit for a couple minutes until 1 side of the tofu has a crispy, golden edge. Stir around or flip the pieces and continue until most or all sides of each piece are crispy. Combine the warm tofu with the cold salad and mix well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.