Wednesday, 23 December 2009

An Early Christmas Present from Edinburgh

Yesterday morning I was looking at photos of beautiful snowy Edinburgh and feeling very jealous that I was going to have to spend christmas in the sunshine. Poor me! Nairobi decided to teach me a lesson, and so the heavens opened.....

This is the wee courtyard outside my flat, to the left you can just see my front door, and as you can see from the photo at the top, the water was ankle deep and rising quickly.

A friend of mine told me it was the heaviest rain for 2 years! These two photos are from the supermarket along the street from my flat, which is where I was when the rain started. It wasn't getting any lighter so I decided I would just run home rather than wait for it to stop. It took me no more than 2 minutes to get home but I was totally soaked through and the final run up the lane to my building was completely flooded. Ahhhh, it felt like home!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Things I see every day...

I can't believe it's almost Christmas! I spoke to my lovely friend Kim from California about this many times before I left (and about a million times in the last few weeks)- Christmas in the sunshine is so weird! Despite the decorations, Christmas music, and the rather warm looking Santa in the Yaya Centre (my local shopping centre), it really hasn't sunk in that it's Christmas. It should be cold and dark, and I should be looking forward to spending a day eating too much and wearing snuggly pyjamas! But no, I'm pouncing all over an increasingly hot Nairobi which is enjoying (or not for those hoping for rain that never came) an extra warm start to summer. As it is both summer and Christmas, many people are taking fairly long holidays, with many leaving Nairobi to join family in other parts of the country. This has meant a bit of a slow turn for my research in the last few days, but I've been finding plenty to keep me busy! I've been so hectic trying to learn Kiswahili and Somali, while meeting with NGOs and UN agencies, and fitting in some bureaucratic fun on the side, that it's been nice to slow down a wee bit!
So I thought I would share a few of my favourite sights in Nairobi so far...

I spotted this bin on my very first adventure into the city centre and I pass it frequently on the bus. Although there is quite a bit of graffiti in Nairobi, this stencil was the first I saw and I'd heard so many tales about big, bad, scary Nairobi that seeing this wee declaration of love made me smile, and it still does every time I see it. Oh and a white girl taking a photo of a bin attracts a fair amount of attention and giggles.

I took this picture from Uhuru Park on Jamhuri Day, Kenya's Independence Day. It's a massive park with a giant pond where you can rent those wee peddle boat things. It was a lovely sunny day with loads of people out and about enjoying the celebrations, listening to live music, having picnics, and going on camel rides. This photo is of the back of All Saints Cathedral, which you can just see poking out of the top. I thought it looked really funny the way this beautiful cathedral (which you can't see, but trust me it is beautiful, I'll add a photo of it soon) and the mass of gorgeous plants were fronted by this security guard with a very large gun. Coming from the lovely safe city and country that I do, the sight of guns every day has taken a bit of getting used to, especially when they're in a place like this, where I'm still surprised to see them.

This is a beautiful mosque in the city centre which is surrounded by lots of interesting wee shops. It's a far more beautiful sight than this picture would suggest. There's also a mosque just up the street from where I live, and I've started to love the very, very loud call to prayer that is belted out of enormous speakers. Because so much of my research is with muslim women, that sound makes me feel like I'm working, even when I'm just pottering about! There's a coffee shop where I like to read and write notes sandwiched between my nearby mosque and a gym, and at certain times of the day I am treated to the very bizarre aural combination of the call to prayer from one and house music (surely a gym's own call to prayer?!) from the other. If my thesis was to have a soundtrack, I would want it to be that!

This is an enormous monument in Central Park, just across the road from the cathedral you can almost see in the photo above. Again, my photography skills don't do it justice (I think I need to hire a professional...), the bit poking out the top is a fist holding a torch (?) and it's an impressively bold statement of Kenyan independence.

These images are from the University Of Nairobi which is brilliant for at least 2 reasons to me. Firstly, the anthropology department is super cool! And I don't use those words lightly! They've been so kind and accomodating to me and have gone out of their way to be helpful. There's a pretty big focus on gender and development in the department, so my research feels right at home! Secondly, there's a really nice vibe to the central campus where these were taken. It's got a big grassy square and a fountain in the middle of it, and it feels like a lovely calm wee sanctuary in the insane hustle of the city centre.

Finally, these are some photos of the National Museum which sits in the botanic gardens. I seem to be saying it a lot in this post, but it's such a beautiful place! Like the University, they are a wee spot of calm in the middle of the city. The museum is fascinating and definitely worth a visit if you're in Nairobi, and the garden is lovely too- my Mum will love it!

It's hard to believe when you're standing at this spot that you're so close to the city centre and a constant mass of traffic jams!

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year! Lots of love xxx.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

White Ribbons, Sore Feet and Pink Cheeks.

Ok, I’m playing catch up with some of my photos now... Just a few days after arriving in Kenya, I travelled to Tanzania to attend the White Ribbon Alliance AGM in Dar es Salaam. The fifteen and a half hour bus journey was an experience in itself... let’s just say it was character building. All the other delegates from Kenya gave an expression that was some sort of combination of shock, surprise, horror and amusement at my chosen mode of transport, and I was mildly jealous of their nice wee one hour flight. Ah well, I saw parts of two incredibly beautiful countries and met some lovely (and some less lovely but all fascinating) people!
The AGM was being held at a very fancy hotel that was just a wee bit out of my price range, so I stayed in a hotel about 30 minutes walk away. I am so glad I did, because there was so much going on around the AGM that it would have been easy to stay in the hotel and not see any of that beautiful city.
Luckily, I have a horrendous sense of direction, so when I ventured off from my hotel on my first morning I got completely and utterly lost. That might not sound lucky, but I just meandered around the streets of Dar, practicing my Kiswahili which had been pretty slack in the widely English speaking (at least to white folk) Nairobi, for 2 hours. Apparently that was my lucky day, because just as my accidental lost sightseeing was getting a wee bit tiresome, I was on the verge of being late for the AGM, and my pasty Scottish cheeks were getting a wee bit rosy from the increasingly hot Tanzanian sun, a very kind soul stopped me and asked if I might possibly be lost... another very long story cut short, and he ended up getting me to where I needed to be. And to think, I could have wasted that time lounging around in a bland air-conditioned hotel!
The AGM was incredible! I was happily surprised at the range of people who had travelled from so many parts of the globe to talk about maternal health. It was really fascinating seeing so many people, mostly working in low-resource settings, come together to talk and share experiences, and hopefully leave with something useful. All of those people faced so many of the same challenges, but the contexts that they work in were so varied. Having read so much about maternal health and the various organisations involved it was nice, and hugely inspiring, to meet some of the people who are working on the ground, trying to make a difference. It was an excellent way to begin my fieldwork, being dropped in a massive pool of people interested in and working on my research topic (including one guy from Tanzania who has a former student studying in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh- small world!).

On the first evening there was a cocktail party and fashion show hosted by Naomi Campbell, which to be honest was a little bizarre after a day of talking about maternal health and mortality. Really, there’s nothing that sums up a day of postpartum haemorrhage, fistula, and infection like a supermodel sashaying up a catwalk! Oooh I don’t want to be cynical because I’m sure the presence of Ms Campbell created some excellent, much needed, and well deserved press coverage for the AGM, and an (equally bizarre) auction of one of the dresses raised $10,000 for the WRA, and to be honest it was fun, which I think all those people working in maternal health, many of whom had travelled huge distances to be there, more than deserved. I just wondered if I was still high from all the fumes from my wacky races bus journey, there’s a possibility it was one long hallucination.

I was massively impressed by the way the WRA had put the event together, facilitating such fascinating networking and discussions. I hope I can do more with them during my research or at other points in the future. I also hope I can visit Dar again, because it was the most hectic visit ever, and I would love to see more of it as well as other parts of Tanzania.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Oh. Hi. There.

I feel like a bit of a nerd doing this, but that's nothing new. This is just a wee blog to keep folk up-to-date(ish) with what I'm up to. At the beginning of November I arrived in Nairobi to begin my research on maternal health among refugees. I'm really interested in how displacement and dependency on non-governmental organisations affect childbearing practices and beliefs. I'm also curious about if or how international policies on reproductive health, that are such a massive part of development programmes, impact on the delivery of services in the humanitarian context of a refugee camp.

At the moment though I'm in Nairobi, learning Kiswahili and Somali and hooking up with just a small fraction of the phenomenal number of NGOs based here. The number of local, national and international NGOs in Nairobi is pretty overwhelming. One of the first things my taxi driver said to me, before I told him anything about why I was in Kenya was, 'so which NGO do you work for?' Cannae really imagine your average cabbie in Edinburgh asking that! Then again, maybe I have some sort of NGO look about me...

Nairobi is a pretty insane city. It's massive, and I get the same tiny dot on a very large map feeling that I get when I'm in London, but there's an extra level of hustle here. Maybe, that's just because I'm new and everything is fresh and shiny (actually mostly grubby and a bit dusty, but you get my point), but if you've ever tried to drive through the roundabout at Kenyatta Ave and Uhuru Hwy, or tried to take a shortcut through a market (rookie mistake. But the phrase 'touching is free' is still funny, no matter how many times I hear it.) you know exactly what I'm talking about. There's also a really bizarre visual mash-up of obscene wealth and poverty. Massive shiny flashy cars with tinted windows snake down dusty potholed roads and enormous billboards advertising broadband, LG, and imported branded alcohol overshadow tin roofed markets selling secondhand clothes. It all looks like it's been photoshopped together.

So not much to report so far, just the joys of language learning and finding my feet! But I'll try to post any interesting thoughts and photos I have...

lots of love