Welcome to my "everything" blog where I write about my musings, and post pictures, links and videos that inspire me.

Business school student at UBC. Digs a good laugh, a good read and all things pretty. An economics nerd and a fashion junkie. Obsessed with travel, architecture and design. There's nothing wrong with a little indulgence.

Lives in Vancouver, Canada but currently located in Nairobi, Kenya.

My name is Cecilia, enjoy your visit.
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Encounters with the wild

I’m so excited to be going on a safari at Masaai Mara from the 18th to the 20th with another American intern called Brandon. The safari operator I’ll be using is Mara Explorers, recommended to me by my friend Sarah. They have a 3 day/2 night package that’s very reasonably priced since their target market is backpackers and budget travelers. Not to mention my Kenyan work permit gives me amazing perks like residence (“local”) rates for parks. I’m looking forward to seeing and taking pictures of the Big Five - elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and buffaloes, identified by colonial hunters as the five most difficult animals to hunt and kill. 

I’ve gotten a chance to get close with some wildlife these past few weeks in Kenya - through the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Nairobi Safari Walk and the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Here are some of the most exciting pictures from those encounters. 

Our vehicle with the awesome pop-open roof. 

Warthogs and female impalas

Black rhinos and monkeys

Zebras!

Feeding (and petting) a blind northern white rhino called Barraka at Ol Pejeta, a last resort for these animals to reproduce and be reintroduced in the wild. They are critically endangered/extinct in the wild and Barraka is supposedly only one of seven remaining of his species. 

Spotted: a female and male lion

A beautiful giraffe!

Feeding an ostrich

Some monkeys (most likely) escaped their habitat and were relaxing on a bridge

Look at this little cutie pie!

Orphaned baby elephants drinking water

Thoughts on slum entrepreneurship as a viable income-generating activity*

In Kibera, micro enterprises are the backbone of the community. The streets are filled with small businesses - hairdressers, food stalls, restaurants, grocers, pharmacies, internet cafes, the list goes on… One could spend months living here without needing to set foot in the outside world. The things that are sold in slums are so perfectly catered to the people’s needs and purchasing power that slums are often referred to as hotbeds for innovation. Consider the mother in Kibera who cannot afford diapers for her newborn but a shopkeeper will sell them to her by the unit. Consider the child who wants to play video games but cannot afford to spend money at an arcade. However, the makeshift arcade in the neighbourhood will charge him 10 KSH ($ 0.12) to play in 10 minutes increments. These are some examples of adapting products and services initially created for middle-class consumers into low-cost alternatives that the local market can afford. These small adjustments may not conform to our traditional interpretation of innovation, but they start to make sense when we think of the process as ‘reverse-innovation’, or even market adaptation. 

With all these businesses crammed into 2 square-kilometers, I naturally began to wonder how profitable they were and in turn, how effective they were at lifting people out of extreme poverty. What I realized was that I held a too-hopeful view of entrepreneurship and the more I read, the more it seemed like livelihood improvements were marginal at best. Owning a business may not turn around someone’s life significantly, but it may help smooth out their income and reduce the likelihood of huge shocks. 

In another instance, I sat in on a work readiness lesson aimed at preparing young people for either work or entrepreneurship. The participants were able to go to college to study different things, from hairdressing to hotel management to social work, and complete an internship. A number of them wanted to study and work two different things, like study social work but open a hotel (in Kibera, hotels are like small cafes). I asked myself why people would not want to focus all their efforts in one endeavor, and I learned that it was a way of distributing the risk, since new businesses have such high failure rates. Still, I was not entirely convinced that they had the burning desire to become business owners. I began to wonder if the message of starting your own business is communicated simply because there is no better alternative - either you do it or you deal with the absurdly high unemployment rate in the formal labour market. Thus, with all the businesses saturating the market selling commodity items at low profit margins, can it be still be a viable income-generating activity? Is entrepreneurship seen as a ‘need’ here rather than a ‘want’? And in this sense, do people have the passion it takes for businesses to succeed? 

These are the questions I’ve been struggling with during my time here, and in the near future I hope to collect enough stories to help me dispel these concerns.

*Edit 10/7/14 I learned that there’s a small difference between income-generating activities (IGAs) and micro and small enterprises (MSEs). According to Haan (2006), IGAs are the predominant type of MSEs, especially in rural areas. They refer essentially to pre-entrepreneurial activities with low barriers to entry that serve as a last resort for survival, including under-employed hawkers and vendors, subsistence farmers and many women’s household activities. Micro-enterprises are mostly family firms with one single worker  although others have some regular workers. They usually use traditional technologies based on widely existing technical knowledge, existing labour skills and existing raw material supplies and typically serve local markets; MEs are typically located in the house of the owner. Finally, small enterprises employ roughly 10 to 50 workers and use non-traditional or ‘modern’ technology in some aspect of transformation process. Their products are services range from simple to complex, and similarly span a range of consumer types. Some SEs are on the margin of formal, paying some taxes and registered with municipality. The vast majority of ‘businesses’ in Kibera are IGAs and MEs.

Door-to-door HIV testing and dealing with drunken Kenyan men in Kibera

Last week I accompanied the sexual and reproductive health team on some field work. On Tuesday, I went with YPP (youth peer provider) volunteers into the heart of Kibera to test adults for HIV. Other than that, the YPPs also give out free condoms (donated by UK Aid) and offer information on family planning/birth control. First of all, I had no idea that these instant HIV tests even existed. After disinfecting the person’s finger, the counselor pricks the fingertip and draws a tiny sample of blood into a small vial which then goes into a little kit. One line mean negative and two lines means positive. If positive, the counselor will then write the person a referral to CFK’s Tabitha clinic for follow-up procedures.

Sounds like a great way to tackle HIV in the slums? By the way, it is estimated that 9% of people in Kibera are HIV+. There were several issues that I learned while tagging along on this really amazing walk. Each team is composed of one HTC (HIV Testing and Counselling) counselor, who is the only one able to do the actual testing, and several volunteers who help. The daily quota is 20 so I’m told, but almost every time they exceed this number. I ask what percentage of people test positive for HIV, hoping to hear some reasonably conservative number like 1 or 2 out of 20. I’m told that they will almost never find anyone HIV+ because those who are confident about their status will insist on being tested to prove it to themselves. We cannot force anyone to be tested, so those who are unsure about their status or who may be HIV+ refuse the test. Secondly, because we are testing a very poor area of Nairobi and because they know that we’re an NGO, a number of people will demand food or money first. How do we even begin to help these people when some of their basic needs aren’t even met? Additionally, even condom distribution can be misleading. You may think, “Hey, so many people are taking condoms today!” but a volunteer told me that Kiberans just like free stuff.

We navigated the winding and narrow alleys of Kianda village in Kibera, talking to adults who looked cooperating. They talked, I just observed. At first, it was relatively easy-going, and we were slowly inching towards our target. I was holding a box of 100 condoms when a lady we had just tested came over and grabbed the box out of my hands and put its entire content in a black plastic bag. We didn’t know if she planned on keeping the condoms for herself or if she wanted to distribute them to the group of men we had also tested. I was confused by what had just happened, but the volunteers didn’t seem to care.

My interesting encounter with a group of drunken Kiberans will definitely be one for the books. We stumbled upon a household and the lady saw us first. She was speaking things to us in Swahili, being very loud. Apparently, she wanted me to buy her a drink first so she can be prepared for her result. I’m not sure if she was annoyed at us for disturbing the gathering. A few other men came out of the house to see what was going on, but the last one to come out was the most eccentric. He first wanted all of us to listen to his music and put his ear buds in all of our ears. An older gentlemen asked me what country I was from, so I told him I was Canadian but of Chinese descent. He said, “I like China. When China comes, we get roads.” He was referring to the many Chinese contractors that come to Kenya to build highways and buildings. Apparently, Mr. Walkman took a liking to me. I didn’t know what he was saying most of the time but I was told that he said he wanted to take me home with him and give me a child. Creepy sana. The volunteers quickly made up a story about how I was married to one of their brothers and that I had two children, all while laughing their asses off. Of course the dude didn’t believe the story because they kept changing the number of kids I had. When it was his turn, he also wanted me to come with him but it was not allowed due to patient-tester confidentiality. When we were leaving, he even tried to kiss me! But I dodged it in time and his lips ended up kissing my chin. It was an experience we could only laugh about.

I had to leave early to get back to the office for a meeting but when I later found the group again, they told me they had once again exceed their daily target. I mentioned earlier that the results are quite susceptible to bias but when considering the big picture, this is actually huge step in the right direction. It gets people talking about the problem, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, which I’m told happens often in Kenya with hot button issues like corruption and human trafficking. In 2010, almost nobody would agree to even be tested, but in only four years, the organization has gotten people interested in safe sex and contraception. There needs to be a gradual shift in public opinion before change can happen – and we’re on that path right now.

June 15 — Learning how to fit in when you stand out and initial impressions of Kibera/CFK

When it hits you, the smell is excruciating – it’s a mixture of garbage, toxic fumes from burning plastic, and diesel. It’s no wonder that there are so many health problems endemic to slums. It’s unfathomable just how many people, especially kids, live in Kibera. Half of the population is under 15 years old. 

Through experience, I’ve finally managed to avoid getting my pants muddy from walking on the dirt roads after the rain. I’m also getting more orientated with the area and can manage to find my way home without getting lost, which is a minor success considering how there are no street names. Here, I’m told people learn how to navigate themselves and give directions using landmarks.

My first day of work involved an orientation of all the facilities and initiatives my NGO operates, led by Daniel, a field worker for the Economic and Entrepreneurship Department. Our first stop was to a nutrition centre for children up to 5 years of age. The centre goes around homes in Kibera and screens children for malnutrition. Only the most severe cases are taken into the centre for treatment and monitoring all-day. The kids arrive in the morning and are fed four meals throughout the day. The most common malnutrition problem they see is stunting and low body weight. What concerned me though was that the centre fed the children mostly carbohydrates, with soy being the only protein I heard. They also administer Plumpy Nut and macronutrient packets. It was so fascinating seeing international nutrition in action.

Our next stop led us to Fruitful Talent Women’s Group, where Mama Beatrice leads a program focused on making jewelry from paper and art using banana fiber that they sell at the market. Part of the profits are used to fund a preschool program in the makeshift school next door, pictured below. 

We then met Frederick from Victorious at his workshop. This group makes jewelry and crafts from cow bones purchased at slaughterhouses at 2 shillings apiece. They wash, bleach, carve, polish and paint the bone pieces into all sorts of beautiful handcrafts, like necklaces, bracelets, earrings, key chains and bottle openers. He told me he also makes all-bone smoking pipes, which he claims is unique. The great thing is that all their workers are native to Kibera – that’s the “social” aspect of their social enterprise. They’ll train local young men in the art of jewelry-making and carving so they are able to acquire useful skills and escape unemployment. Frederick knows that competition is stiff yet he maintains that the quality of his products are always superior. He is a great man, and always willing to teach me useful Swahili phrases.

We were then handed off to Daniel, the manager of Agatha Clinic, the very first service that CFK birthed, and named after one of its co-founders. It is an outpatient clinic that provides basic medical services to Kibera residents free of change, and at a subsidized rate for others. The clinic has grown to an impressive three-story building with a lab, an x-ray room, and several examination rooms. They also have peer counselling for patients diagnosed with HIV and treat malnutrition.

The Trash is Cash recycling centre collects plastic containers and other plastic items from the community and resells the material to industries. Once the plastic is delivered to the recycling centre, workers sort out the different items by colour and they get pelleted by a large shredder into very small pieces. This is the value proposition of the recycling centre – industries are willing to pay a premium for pre-shredded plastic because it can be moulded directly into other things. I was told the plastic needs to weigh at least 2 tons before it can be put in the machine to cut. Unfortunately, they’re experiencing fierce competition by individuals who offer to pay a small fee to collect unwanted plastic. Although they can’t cut the plastic down into small pieces, they can still profit from selling the whole thing to companies. The city has no recycling program. In fact, in informal areas such as Kibera, the city provides no waste management service. All of it is handled by NGOs, the private sector or individual trash collectors.

Trash in abundance!

Our final stop was Zero Waste, a women’s group that meet weekly to turn cheap plastic bags into beautiful crochet bags that are durable and colourful, which they them sell in a nearby shop. They start off by cutting the handles of the regular plastic bags and then cut the rest into one long strip, which they then use. Last Thursday, I learned how to crochet with one of the women and I only managed to produce a circle about 2 inches in diameter.

I’m also slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never fit in here. Having that hope going into this experience was basically setting myself up for disappointment. I am at least five shades lighter than average and my oriental features stand out a mile away. But there is hope – I’m basically a regular at the café and gym near my home. Small things like that make me feel at home. The insecurity does frustrate me, but mostly because it means that I need to be extra cautious all the time. Whenever the sun is setting (every day at 6:30pm, thank you equator), it’s basically a rush to get home before dark. I definitely miss the freedom I had in Vancouver, to be able to go anywhere and stay out as late as I want. The problem is that I’m a foreigner, and I attract attention everywhere I go. When I come home late, I’m told that people may pay attention to where I live and this may also paint a target on my family’s back. But despite everything, I’ve been able to cope with being locked up past 7pm most evenings. Having a routine definitely helps and I’m becoming such an early riser. But funny enough, it’s always awesome to see a little reminder of home in Nairobi. Pictured below: me and Walter, a program volunteer. :)

June 8, 2014 — First Days in Nairobi

Since I’ve arrived in Nairobi on the 5th, it’s been like entering into a whole new world. So much has happened but yet I feel like I’ve done so little. The first two nights, we actually stayed at a wildlife research centre in Nairobi National Park – the only national park in a capital city. You can see a lot of wild game from the centre like gazelles (photo above), buffalos (photo below), zebras, impalas and giraffes. I got picked up at the airport by Dr. Ibrahim, the founder of the research centre. Teacher by training and conservationist by trade, he currently sits on the constitutional committee on a contract basis, a job which he cannot wait for to end. The man is one of the most intelligent individuals I have ever met. What his job entails is reading through bills introduced to parliament and ensuring that everything complies with the constitution. With the constitutional reform in 2010, Kenya essentially replaced all old text with new text. This means all the existing bills had to be rechecked and rewritten (a work still in progress) – even the most basic ones like the marriage bill. Dr. Ibrahim is Muslim, and he comes from the Northeastern part of Kenya. On the car ride to the research centre from the airport, we had a very fascinating conversation about camels. The meat stays fresh longer and is leaner than beef. The milk supposedly acts as a detox (although it can be more of a laxative for the uninitiated) and can be drunken by those with lactose intolerance. We later learned that camels can “cry” like humans when they know they’re going to be slaughtered. What kind of monster would kill a crying animal?! Dr. Ibrahim actually kept his promise and brought over some camel meat for us to taste but that morning, my stomach was fairly upset from all the food we had eaten the previous day that the smell was enough to make me feel queasy. Speaking of overeating (is that a thing?), over at the National Park, the in-house cooks fed us so much that we dubbed it our very first First World Problem. Quite honestly, there wasn’t much to do besides talk, eat and maaaaaaybe a short walk around the compound to see the wild animals. By lunchtime, we were already begging them to stop feeding us so much.

The tea here is divine. People call it chai but it’s not like the kind we have back home. It is sort of like a black tea except you have to add the tea leaves in a boiling mixture of equal parts of water and whole milk. Once you have let the tea steep for a good 3-5 minutes, you pour the finished chai into a kettle or a thermos. There is a joke that Kenyans put tea in their sugar instead of the other way around to capture the ridiculous amounts of sugar they put in their tea. I found that coffee is not as prevalent as one may think, which is surprising given the reputation of Kenyan coffee overseas.

Salim also took us to a restaurant called Talisman in the Karen neighbourhood, which is known for being the expat hub and also home to Kenyan Cowboys, decedents of the British aristocratic settlers several generations ago. These people were born in Kenya and speak perfect Swahili, so they are considered just as Kenyan as the black Kenya population. They looked incredibly posh and spoke English with a refined British accent, switching to Swahili on occasion. It was a stunning contrast of the widespread poverty just across town. I swear the only black people at that restaurant were the wait staff.

Yesterday, we got sent to our homestay. My mum Mary is a retired schoolteacher and her husband is a retired government agent but I forget what he did exactly. She has two adult sons who have moved out, both engineers. Her younger son Alan lives in Windsor and his wife is in Detroit. Her older son Victor lives here and has a five year-old son, who I’ve been told to call Junior. They have a rural home about 8 hours away by bus from the capital, near where President Obama is from actually. They also have a bigger apartment which they currently rent out. The best way to explain her living situation is basically like having the nicest house in a bad neighbourhood. I’m fairly certain the school assigned me to the most well-off host family because I came across as the most entitled person of the group. Apparently the American interns at my work were given more upscale housing in a gated compound. I can appreciate that UBC insists on us not becoming part of the secluded “expat” bubble, but I would have preferred a choice. I found that living independently in my “safe” expat community was a better experience than living at home with my controlling relatives. This is also radically different from how my friend’s overseas internship program at Yale handled their Shanghai group. They all got rooms at a pretty fancy serviced apartment. But I’m aware that Kenya =/= China so I’ll stop trying to compare the two.

I love where I’m staying but I feel like my freedom is extremely constricted due to the insecure setting.  We’re not able to walk around freely after sunset and we must have a buddy wherever we go. As a fairly independent person, this will definitely cause some issues. What happens if I want to go to the gym after work and the cabs refuse to take me to my residence? What if I want to check out the markets and no one wants to go with me? I guess I will have find a way to keep myself entertained and slowly become a morning person.

I guess to illustrate how chaotic the infrastructure can be in the Third World, I’ve not even been here for 24 hours and we’ve already lost power (got it back) and water (not back yet). I’ve already gotten used to not flushing every time I go pee and washing my hands with a small jug of water. I took a basin bath for the first time ever today and I think I got clean. Even managed to wash my hair and not use up all the water! My mama is super nice but I’m afraid my politeness and quietness will come across as rude. I’m definitely not as boisterous or as opinionated as the other girls in the program. I hope that it’s just a matter of time before I open up. 

As we were going for a walk around Ayany (our estate) yesterday, we got caught in a monsoon all of a sudden. Otto, the son of one of the homestay mums taught us the saying TIA, which means “This is Africa” and TINA, which means “This is New Africa,” an all-encompassing catchphrase to explain all the going-ons you simply don’t understand. It’s funny because last year in Shanghai, we would sometimes say TIC for “This is China”. I love how I’m getting to learn their country’s culture just as much as I’m sharing mine with them. For instance, mama and her niece were so surprised to hear that in the West, we don’t do dowries for marriages. 

Work will start soon and I’m looking forward to meeting the employees of my NGO. I’m feeling a mix of excitement and homesickness, with a splash of anxiety. I’ll keep updating this blog with my initial impressions of Kibera and my work. 

10 Things I Learned About London (in Only 3 Days)

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On my way to Nairobi, I booked myself three days in London because the way my dad redeemed his British Airways Avios points required him to book the flights separately. According to him, he could only redeem a certain amount of points per booking so that’s why he opted to separate the flights. For me, it was a great opportunity to see old friends and revisit a great city. Breaking up a 16-hour flight into two 8-hour chunks was also a bonus.

This was my third time in London and as it turned out, I became less fixated on checking off all the must-see attractions. Instead, I wandered more and discovered interesting places by simply passing by them. I got the idea for this list after my first day in city, when I started noticing repeated occurrences that I previously did not notice. Maybe I had more time to people watch since I was alone. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover and it’s true. But this list’s intention is to point out some of the unique facts about London some travelers may not have been aware of.

1. At busy stations during rush hour, the entrances to the tube gets congested like crazy. I’m talking unable to even get down the stairs! At Oxford-Circus, there was just a sea of people surrounding the entrances not even moving. At first I thought they had temporarily shut down the station and ended up walking 1 km to a less crowded station on the same line. When I asked my friend’s roommate, he said that it was just everything getting off work at the same time.

2. Three-quarters of the takeout options are Indian food. #Commonwealth

3. British working professionals like trench coats. They will change into running shoes after work. The look grows on you.

4. If you take the tube, you can never win with the temperature. Some trains are like furnaces but you have to wear a jacket because it’s not warm enough outside. Therefore people will just keep their jackets on in the hot train.

5. Heathrow is considered the rich-people airport. My British friends made fun of me for flying into LHR with British Airways every time it came up in conversation.

6. The twenty-pound note is probably the highest bill denomination that most people will usually see. As a result, they won’t go in the cashier’s till but in a lower drawer instead. Coming across a fifty-pound note is like seeing Bigfoot. You heard that it exists, but regular folks will never come across it in their life.

7. There are a lot of French imports in London – Laduree, Paul, Pret a Manger, etc. – but Sephora does not exist. What’s the deal with that? Boots just does not cut it.

8. British people are disproportionally beautiful, gender-wise. My friend Dimitar actually pointed this out and I started paying attention to the number of attractive men vs. attractive women in the city. Now, I appreciate beauty regardless of sex but surprisingly, the number of attractive women paled in comparison to attractive men. But maybe it’s the navy suits talking, I don’t know.

9. The area by the door outside pubs is really cool. Unlike Canada, there’s no law against open containers in public. I personally think smoking in front of bars is way worse than drinking in front of bars.

10. The Queen’s entrances and exits are like 20 minutes long because of her parade of guards. She eventually came through in her little horse-drawn carriage and the crowd went wild! It was a coincidence that I was at Westminster at the right time and caught her as she left the House of Parliaments.

Reblogged from iwanita  55 notes

iwanita:

Rameses B - Moonlight

We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world.

We give little thought of the machinery that generates the sunlight and makes life possible.

To the gravity that glues us to the earth that would otherwise send us spinning off into space.

Or to the atoms that which we are made.. and on who’s stability we fundamentally depend.

Few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is.

Where the cosmos came from.

Whether it was always there.

If time will one day flow backward.

Or whether there are ultimate limits to what humans can know.

What is the smallest piece of matter.

Why we remember the past and not the future.

And why there is a universe.

 

- Carl Sagan

(From an introduction to “A Brief History of Time”  by Stephen Hawking)