Thursday, September 20, 2007

Generalizations from the middle of the trip

  1. My amazement at the population density, especially in the rural "up country" areas. In my home region, we too have corn growing absolutely everywhere. But once you drive a couple of miles out of any town center, the countryside is all but empty. In western Kenya, there is no "out of." Every roadway, every lane, everywhere you go, has as many people walking along as you'd see in most Chicago streets. You'd think you've gone to a remote country area, and still there are no spaces where there aren't people going about their business. Kakamega town center has hardly more structures than the 500-person country towns in Illinois, but there must be fifty times that many in the district. That being said, if you ever ask a Kenyan "how many people live here?" there is not even the faintest clue. It's not a class of statistics that Kenyans track.

  2. The ADLs -- activities of daily living -- absorb the day. Water management, especially -- obtaining it, storing it, moving it around your storage units. Food management without refrigeration, cupboards, leftovers. Transportation without cars takes a lot more time -- long walks between destinations. A local pointed out that these walks are the "shoulder to shoulder" interactions that get news spread.

  3. If you were getting electricity in your home for the first time, what would you use it for? Kenyans answered immediately: extending the day. Lights. Charging cell phones! And likely a TV.

  4. Getting the word out to people -- say, about AVP workshops or new churches -- is a challenge because of the illiteracy rate. Traditional media aren't effective. Word of mouth by way of communication nexus points (such as pastors) is the most effective.

  5. Lack of trash collection. See the observations below.

  6. Many eras in one. Kakamega town often looks like the American Old West, with its dusty streets and storefronts. Children live very much like Tom Sawyer -- no running water, no electricity, often no shoes, school and church are dominant cultural and social forces. Market days, like in medieval times. No stoplights! Buildings from the end of the colonial period (1960's) have a unique appearance, but the newer construction also can look run down to the western eye. On the other hand, there are several "cybers" -- office stores with computers for email and web at a dollar an hour, and copying services, etc. And a large percentage of the population has cell phones.

  7. Diesel, wood smoke, burning plastics, trash and sewage are frequent visitors. This area is a fertile paradise with a good supply of water, but the toxins will accumulate unless there are changes.

  8. On Sundays, it's a whole new look. People dress up for church, welcome you warmly, and take joy in their blessings. I noticed later in Dublin that the Africans could barely conceal their impatience with the Northern tendency to quiet immobility in worship -- they feel called to standing, singing, swaying and clapping. Amen.

  9. Malesi's dedication to her organizations (Uzima, women's federation, Friends in Peace & Community Development, AGLI, AVP) is remarkable, as enthusiastic as can be. AVP has kernels of the most constructive and basic recovery aspects of modern U.S. mental health theory, and has the potential to effect the same kinds of familial changes (in terms of patriarchy and violence) as we saw in the U.S. starting in the 50's and 60's. A population that can address the food & health of its children while learning not to brutalize and dominate them may find its creativity to improve life for all.

  10. However, corruption -- bribery, redirection of funds -- is like malaria on this society -- a parasite that spreads from host to host. Once one person plays that game, it is extremely difficult to change the rules, and others have to play along.

  11. It was reported to me by a Baptist missionary that most American missionaries [Baptist, perhaps] are bigots who come to tell these benighted people the right way to live. I didn't witness this, but the stories I heard were appalling. Ignorant American hubris persists.
Hope I don't sound preachy. I'm thinking that feeling like a 2-year-old was probably an asset in this adventure!

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