kenya, day five: on feed the future, and an unexpected pride

Vipi, friends!

Today was our last full day in Kenya, and on this day, we were focusing on agriculture and food security.  Unsurprisingly, agriculture is key to livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, employing nearly 2/3 of the population and accounting for about 1/3 of the region's gross domestic product.  And so, needless to say, agriculture is one of the quickest ways to combat poverty:  studies show that agricultural growth is two to four times as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other economic sectors.

And so, we drove several hours outside of Nairobi to Nakuru, to visit two farms:  a dairy farm, and an Irish potato farm.  These farms are protected by President Barack Obama's "Feed the Future Initiative," a groundbreaking strategy to make smart investments in farming, infrastructure and training so people from developing countries can lift themselves out of poverty by growing and selling food.

The drive was long and brutal, but once we arrived, we were greeted by -- you guessed it -- joyful song and dance.

 

 

Seriously, why doesn't the whole world start meetings like this?

Once we'd settled down, we learned that the first farm, the potato farm, was run by a collective of several farmers with the aim of marketing Irish potatoes.  The presentation was incredibly informative, including a review of their mission, a description of how the potatoes were grown and quality controlled, and even a demonstration on how the potatoes were peeled.

Turns out I've been doing it wrong.

Then, the farmers shared with us a great meal, featuring several dishes made from potatoes.

It was a great learning experience, as was the visit to the dairy farm.  And happily, the trips included viewings of several livestock.

 

 

Finally, after saying our goodbyes and thank-yous, we were able to board our bus again, in search of some lunch. 

As we were driving along -- you know, just minding our own business -- the driver suddenly cried out.  We followed his pointing finger.

Lying about, showing very little interest in us, in a field right next to the road, were these:

Are. you. kidding. me??

After I got over the shock (and believe me, it took a while), I suddenly realized these beauties epitomized exactly what this trip to Kenya was like:  around ever corner, there was a happy surprise.  It was such an honor to travel with ONE to see how the organizations for which they advocate -- organizations like Feed the Future, CDC/KEMRI, USAID, Carolina for Kibera and more -- are doing incredible work supporting the people of Kenya has the country overcomes its challenges and flourishes.  This was a trip of a lifetime, and one that I will never, ever forget.

However, of course, all good things must come to an end, and tomorrow I begin making my way back to the Lone Star State, and my beautiful Marcus and Alex.  The trip will take twenty-four hours, so I likely will land in Houston extremely jetlagged -- all this to ask for your patience as I re-acclimate to Houston time, with the understanding that my blog post will come a little late.

And of course, if you've enjoyed any of the images and stories this week, I invite you to become a member of ONE, below.  Besides the fact that ONE organized a virtually flawless trip for us to see first-hand the beauty, hope and potential of Kenya, they are truly a class act.  You can sign up below.  And please, spread the word.

With that, see you stateside, friends.

 

To read previous posts, be sure to check out:

Day 1:  On health home visits & being a life-changer

Day 2:  On new life and joyous song

Day 3:  There is hope in perseverance

Day 4:  On community and shedding light

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

(In addition, for fun, if you'd like to follow along on our trip and help by performing a "daily action" while we're here, be sure to check out the ONE Mom trip page.)

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.

 


kenya, day four: on community and shedding light

Today, we visited Kibera, a huge slum located in Nairobi, and the largest slum in Kenya.  In preparation for this trip, I did considerable online research about Kibera, and much of the information that I found was contradictory:  I heard that Kibera is the second-largest slum in Africa, and third-largest in the world, but I'm not sure if either of those statistics are true.  I've read information that states the population of Kibera is 250,000, but I've also read that it tops 1,000,000 people, so who knows what the real number is.  I do know that the geographical area of Kibera is about 3 kilometers by 3 kilometers, so no matter how you slice it, it's a lot of people in a small area.  I also learned that Kibera is heavily polluted, with "human refuse, garbage, soot, dust, and other wastes."  It is, in short, in dire straits.

This site visit was the one for which I held the most apprehension.  I wasn't concerned about seeing the poverty -- I've certainly seen poverty before -- but I was mindful of a TED talk I had seen by a brilliant writer, Chimamanda Adichie, speaking about "The Danger of a Single Story."  In her speech, she touches on how people outside of Africa often frame their opinions of the continent based on the single story the media brings them, and that single story often skews to certain topics, like poverty or corruption, while ignoring all the other stories that exist, without which an accurate picture of Africa can't be imagined.  I was afraid that when I took photographs of Kibera, I would not be able to convey anything but the poverty with my images, without capturing the full character of the neighbourhood.  I didn't want my images to contribute to an incomplete picture.

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, last week I received an email from my friend Mark:

Have you ever been to a slum like Kibera before?  I will be very curious about your thoughts.  I've been to several ... the human resourcefulness.  Man, oh man.  And the ability for people to carry on living and loving and really doing pretty much what you and I do on a day-to-day basis (though in a different way) is quite astounding.  You are going to see a lot of different, and you are going to see a lot of beauty.

It was exactly the words I needed to hear, and I clung to them as our bus rolled up to the outskirts of Kibera.

I'm not going to lie to you:  the first impression can be a bit of a shock.

But I quickly discovered that Mark was absolutely right.

Our first stop was to Carolina for Kibera, a nongovernmental organization that "exists to develop local leaders, catalyze positive change and alleviate poverty" in Kibera.  It was co-founded by a former US Marine, Rye Barcott, who wrote about the experience in his new book It Happened on the Way To War, a fascinating page-turner that I couldn't put down when I read it a few weeks ago -- in fact, I've been recommending it to everyone who will listen ever since.

Carolina for Kibera is a collaborative network of programs designed to advance health, education, ethnic (read: inter-tribal) cooperation, gender equality and economic empowerment, and equip leaders with the tools to strengthen the community.  Their dream is for the leaders who go through their programs to ultimately be able to do the same on their own, without the need of CFK's assistance.

It just so happens that when we arrived, Rye was in town visiting from his home in North Carolina, to celebrate the organization's tenth year.

Rye is a stunningly charismatic leader, and it was such an incredible honour to meet him.  He told us about the organization, his new 26-day challenge to the world (which you can read about here), and especially about the Daughters United program, giving special focus to the needs of adolescent girls and young women, providing the resources to explore and discuss the issues most affecting them in Kibera.  They meet in a separate structure from the CFK offices, one where men are not allowed to enter, so that they can feel emotionally and physically safe to freely discuss anything.  The women are also trained in skills that can help them become financially independent, and able to provide for their families.

After Rye's brief, we were invited to visit the home of one of the young women who was active in the Daughter's United program, Beti.  So we set out through Kibera, on the 15-minute walk to her home.

 

Once we arrived at Beti's home, she invited us in to her tidy space, where she lives with her father, and her three young daughters.

 

Beti is an incredibly charming young women, and a devoted mother.  We shared stories about her daily life in Kibera, and our daily lives in our own homes in the United States.  We talked about how raising children can be difficult -- she's a single mother of three -- how tired we can get trying to keep up with them, and helpless we feel if our children are ill.  As she was talking, I was taken by the beautiful bracelet on her arm -- one she made as part of her learnings in the Daughters United Program.

 

During our visit, I asked her about her participation in the program, and her eyes lit up.  "It's so good," she said.  "I've learned so much, and I try to get other girls in the program.  I'm a hairdresser -- I braid hair -- but now I can make jewelry as well.  It helps me get what I need for my girls, you know?  And it's so important to be committed to your children.  It is what it means to be a mother."

I asked her what she'd like for herself in the future, and she said, "I'd really love to have my own place.  One where it's just me and my girls living together."

"Here in Kibera?"

"Oh, yes, definitely.  Near my father.  Kibera is my community.  It is my home."

 

 

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

(In addition, for fun, if you'd like to follow along on our trip and help by performing a "daily action" while we're here, be sure to check out the ONE Mom trip page.)

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.

 


kenya, day three: there is hope in perseverence

Jambo, friends!

Day 3 of our trip found us back in Nairobi, for the purpose of focusing on the educational challenges faced in urban areas of Kenya.  Despite the fact that the Kenyan government has taken significant steps to prioritize education in recent years, educational quality has suffered.  One reason is due to the dramatic rise in enrollment, stressing Kenya's teaching force and physical infrastructure:  for example, the primary school student/teacher ratio has been increased from 34:1 in 2002 to 45:1 in 2008, with ratios as high as 62:1 in some areas of the country.  To say that providing quality education to all areas of Kenya is a challenge would be an understatement.

Today however, we visited the Mwangaza Tumaini School, located in the informal settlement community (or slum) of Mukuru.  This amazing school was founded by the church and community members of Mukuru: in 2003, several parents were concerned about the education their children were receiving in the nearby government schools, and approached the staff at their local Tumaini Church to ask if there was anything that could be done to help their kids to learn.  And so, the school was formed.  Most of the teachers come from the community and nearby, and all of them have no formal training; and yet, through their dedication and passion for teaching the kids and getting them off the street (as well as receiving assistance from USAID's Education for Marginalized Children of Kenya program), the kids are performing to a considerably higher standard than the government schools.

We were given the opportunity to watch the classrooms in action, and I must say I was struck by how incredibly well-behaved the children were, and how focused the teacher was.  At one point, I stepped out, and was met by Rachael Wanjiku, the Head Teacher of the school.

"These are some of the sweetest children I have ever seen," I gushed to her.

She laughed.  "They truly are.  I'm getting married next week, and my fiancé said he was worried that they were all going to show up at our wedding.  But I don't mind, I hope they all come. They're so lovely."

"And they're so well-behaved!  You're doing such a great job."

"Thank you."  She smiled.

"Are you from the community?"

"Yes.  I've been teaching here for several years, and became the head teacher a few months ago.  It's so important that we get these kids off the streets and learning while they're young.  I've seen what happens when they stay on the streets -- what happens if they start sniffing glue or doing drugs -- it's hard to get them back.  My sister tried to turn to the streets, it wasn't good.  It's important that we help these kids learn, and keep them safe."

I smiled at her.  "You must feel very proud."

She looked at me, a slight expression of surprise on her face.

"Well," she said, "I feel very blessed."

* * * * * * *

During the school's presentation, we learned that the school motto is "There is hope in perseverence."  I love this, and agree wholeheartedly.

But as I looked around, I found hope in other places, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the idea that one of these children might one day grow up to be a teacher at this school, a leader in their communities or even the President of Kenya.  With all that potentiality, there's always hope, yes?

 

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

(In addition, for fun, if you'd like to follow along on our trip and help by performing a "daily action" while we're here, be sure to check out the ONE Mom trip page.)

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.

 


kenya, day two: on new life and joyous song

Jambo from Kisumu!

After a first full day of learning about home healthcare visits and HIV testing, day 2 of our trip to Kisumu was dedicated to learning about maternal and newborn health in Kenya.  The stats:  Kenyan women and girls have a 1 in 38 chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth, compared to 1 in 4,300 in the United States.  Most of these deaths result from pregnancy complications which may occur before, during or after delivery, usually due to inadequate or improper care.  So bright and early Tuesday morning, Dr. Kayla Laserson, the director of the Kemri/CDC Field Research Station in Kisumu, accompanied us to Lwak Nutritional Centre, to meet with "village reporters" -- women and men who visit pregnant and immediately post-delivery mothers to check up on them and make sure that they are receiving adequate care and support; in addition, they monitor for the possible presentation of malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases which may compromise the health of the mother or the newborn.

Given the seriousness of the issues we were planning on attacking today, we all boarded the bus with an appropriately sober attitude.  Imagine our surprise then, when we rolled up the driveway of the Lwak Nutritional Centre, and were promptly greeted with this:

About 50 village reporters -- maybe more! -- met our bus with joyous singing and dancing.  We were stunned and really moved by their so generous reception, and they didn't stop after we'd all exited the vehicle.  We all wandered around with our mouths open, laughing with delight as they continued dancing, occasionally stopping to hug us, or exclaim Karibu! (welcome!)

 

When it was clear after a minute or two that they had no intention of stopping, we did the only thing we could do.

We joined them.

 

It was so wonderfully welcoming, and I think all of us were quite overcome.  Eventually, of course, we all settled down, and after they performed a song for us (!), a few of the village reporters addressed us all, describing how the work that they were doing was showing an undeniable decrease in infant mortality, directly attributed to their efforts.

 

These women delivered their speeches with unabashed passion -- they clearly loved the work they were doing in their communities.  It was so inspiring to watch.  And so, after they finished, to celebrate ...

... we sang and danced, of course!

 

 

(Incidentally, I'd like to go on record as saying that I believe if Corporate America followed the lead of these women and began and ended business meetings with singing and dancing, I think corporations would be much happier places to work.  Just sayin'.)

Eventually, of course, it was time to get down to some serious business.  First of all, we moved to a quieter corner of the Lwak campus to meet the incredibly regal Rael, a Traditional Birth Attendant, or "TBA":

Rael is 56 years old, and is someone who we in the west might call a "herbalist," or an "alternative holistic medical practitioner."  She makes her living by selling herbs which heal people, an art that was practiced by her mother, and her mother's mother before her.  She learned the practice from when she was a very young girl, around 15, when her mother and grandmother would send her out into the bush to gather herbs for their clients.  Nowadays, she also helps assist pregnant mothers deliver their children at home, and maintains that she has herbs that can help the baby turn into the proper position for childbirth, or even stop hemorrhaging.  She does admit, however, that at times she has referred mothers to the emergency room or medical clinic.

Here's what I loved about meeting Rael:  besides the fact that she was a fascinating person to listen to, I love that KEMRI and the CDC treat her with so much respect.  Clearly, as modern medical practitioners, they do not advocate or recommend the practices of Rael and those in her line of work; however, they work hard to treat these practitioners, who are highly regarded in their communities, with the utmost respect.  I love that instead of simply mowing down any idea which might fly in the face of modern medicine, they have figured out a way to work in parallel with them, thus gaining their support for the work KEMRI and the CDC are doing.  It was really inspiring.

After thanking Rael for sharing her stories, it was time to visit a new mother.  We split up into groups, and my travel companion for the day, Jyl Johnson, and I climbed into a car with a Village Reporter whose nickname was, illogically, Rat.

Rat was a very tall, handsome man with a loud, deep, basso voice (imagine if James Earl Jones were about 25 years old and loud, and you'll pretty much get the idea).  Rat has been doing the Village Reporter job for several years, visiting young mothers before and immediately after giving birth, to ensure that they are staying on their medications (if applicable), that they're getting adequate help and nutrition, and providing emotional support.  He loves his work, and talked about how his relationships with many of the families that he visits has transformed into a sort of "uncle" status.

On this day, Rat took us to meet a young mother named Lydia, who had given birth to twin boys about 9 days ago: 

 

The boys' names are Valencia:

 

and Shem Emmanuel:

Lydia actually spoke nearly flawless English (she had comparatively high secondary education before having to drop out of school because of lack of funds), so at Rat's prompting, Lydia told her story without the need for a translator:  her pregnancy was relatively uneventful (although she didn't know she was having twins until she was 7 months along!), but her delivery was quite complicated.  She didn't deliver the second baby until five hours after the first.  Bless her heart.  But because of Rat's visits during her pregnancy, she knew that if she felt ill at any time (and knows that if her children don't seem to be well), she should go straight to the hospital or the nearby clinic for treatment. 

Toward the end of our visit, Shem decided that he was very, very hungry, and so as Lydia began to feed him (with her mother holding Valencia), we took our leave.

Beautiful girl.

Now, what's amazing?  This post only takes you up to mid-morning today -- we did so much more.  There were visits to fishing communities and tuberculosis testing centers and... well.  Suffice to say that I could keep going, but this post is long enough.  So I'll have to save some of these stories for when I return to Houston.  Right now, however, I'm exhausted, and am going to call Marcus and Alex before turning in to bed. 

See you tomorrow friends.  And thanks so much for following along.

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

(In addition, for fun, if you'd like to follow along on our trip and help by performing a "daily action" while we're here, be sure to check out the ONE Mom trip page.)

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.

 


kenya, day one: on health home visits & being a life-changer

Karibu Kenya!

After 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Nairobi late Sunday evening, and made a beeline for our beds to get some rest before hitting the ground running bright and early on Monday morning. We made our way back to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 7 a.m. to take an early domestic flight to Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city, on the shores of Lake Victoria.  Though I didn't know this before, Kisumu and its surrounding Nyanza province is Ground Zero when it comes to infectious diseases:  HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, among others, are endemic in the area, and the highest prevalence in Kenya is found in this region.  It also happens to be one of the poorest regions in the country.

We were here specifically to witness the work that the United States Center for Disease Control is doing in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (also known as KEMRI), the scientific research arm of Kenya's Ministry of Health.  On this particular day, we split up into groups of two, to shadow HIV home health care workers:  KEMRI's representatives who travel throughout the region, testing families for HIV, and counseling them on how to reduce the spread of the disease.  Because many of the families in the region live in relatively remote rural areas, it can be difficult (and somewhat discouraging) to travel the long distances on foot to get to the clinics to determine their status -- and so instead, KEMRI and the CDC come to them.

My travel companion for the day, Amy Graff, and I were quickly paired with two health care counselors who were consummate professionals:  Sam, and jovial and passionate young man with a great smile, and Grace, his more reserved, no-nonsense counterpart.  After they briefed us on what we were about to experience, we set out.

 

As we were walking, I fell in step with Sam, who was carrying a large plastic container filled with testing equipment on his shoulder.  We talked a bit about how he became interested in home health care testing.

"Do you like your job?"  I asked.

"Oh, yes, definitely."

"What's the best part?"

"Managing other counselors."

"Really?  How many do you manage?"

"Eight.  I love it.  I love helping them give a great service to our clients, you know? I hope one day that I can run a program like this in other parts of Kenya."

We continued talking and walking, before at last arriving to a small structure made of mud walls and an intricately thatched roof.  "This is the family," Sam said.

He introduced us to a father, his wife, and their two small children, before they invited us inside to their home.

 

Once we got situated, Sam made more formal introductions of Amy and me.  He explained to us that the family knew that we would be visiting their home today, and consented to us both watching Sam and Grace demonstrate how the test is conducted, and allowing us to write about our experiences online.  He also assured us that the family actually already knew their status having been tested about a month earlier, but were willing to undergo the test again so we could see exactly how the procedure was done.  Since the family spoke very little English, Grace was there to conduct the testing and counseling session in Swahili, and Sam was to act as translator for the benefit of Amy and me.

So then, Grace got to work.

 

 

The test itself consists of a pin prick on the finger, where a small amount of blood is collected, and placed on two test strips (two, that is, for double-checking purposes).  The test itself takes only about 15 minutes to complete, and is similar to a pregnancy test:  if one line appears on the strip, the test is negative.  If two lines appear, the test is positive.

In situations such as this one, where the mother is positive, the home counselors conduct further tests on the children, with consent of the parents.

(An aside: these two kids are the bravest kids I have ever seen in my entire life.  Remember, now -- they'd already been tested before.  But did they cringe when they saw Grace coming at them with the needle again?  No sirree, they just offered up their fingers like pros.  The only whimpering noise that came from the room was from me, as I watched it happen.)

Here's the best part:  once the family knew their status, they were counseled on ways to protect themselves (for example, as in the case of this family, ensuring that they took precautions to ensure that the HIV+ partner didn't infect the HIV- one).  The parents were given condoms, showed how to use them (using wooden models), and the HIV+ members of the family were given referrals to a clinic where they can receive medications free from the Ministry of Health.  Since 2008, this home health program has recruited and treained 150 counselors who continue to go door-to-door to provide this type of counseling, testing and household education.  In addition, through this program, USAID provides a care package, which includes a jerry can for collecting water in a nearby river, a straining cloth to strain the collected water and drops to purify it, and mosquito nets to help prevent malaria (a huge risk, since the suppressed immune system of someone who is HIV+ makes malaria that much more dangerous).  To date, 130,000 people have been counseled and tested, and there is an 85% acceptance rate for the services.  In addition, 50% of those testing positive have sought care and treatment. 

I'm happy to report that since this family learned their status, they have taken Sam and Grace's counsel to heart, and have already begun to receive treatment.  It was amazing and wonderful to witness how, by going and giving this simple test to this family, they were now fully informed and able to take the necessary steps to ensure that they all -- each member -- was able to continue living full, productive lives.

After Grace had finished her work, the father wanted to take us on a tour of his property, showing us the patch where he grows vegetables to feed his family, and taking us for the 10 minute hike to show us the river where his family collects the water they use for drinking and their washing.  As we walked, I caught up with Grace and complimented her on her professionalism.

"You're wonderful, Grace," I said.

"Thanks," she replied thoughtfully.

"Do you enjoy your job?" I asked.

At this, her face broke into a wide smile.  "I really do," she said emphatically.  "I mean, why wouldn't I? I'm a life-changer!"

 

Grace, honey, you certainly are.

 

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.


kenya bound (and an explanation of what ONE is all about)

"... it is good, particularly for a young person, to enjoy the sun and gaze at the clouds as they move and change shape."

~  Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, from her memoir, Unbowed.

* * * * * * *

Tomorrow, I leave for my long-anticipated trip to Kenya with ONE.  I'm all packed and I'm more excited than I can express.  It will take me about 24 hours to get to Nairobi, so I won't arrive until Sunday; then, our schedule (which you'll see at the bottom of this post) is positively jam-packed.  There's going to be just so much that I'm going have the opportunity to experience, and I absolutely cannot wait to share it with you.  I promise to do everything I can to capture the images and stories so that you'll feel like you're right next to me as I experience them.

Before I leave, however, I wanted to take a moment to explain exactly how ONE works, mostly because I know that when I first started learning about them, I didn't really understand it.  I mean, I knew that ONE was co-founded by Bono, the lead singer of U2, and I knew that it was somehow tangentially related to the (RED) campaign that I'd seen at Gap stores; however, where I was completely and utterly wrong was my inaccurate belief that ONE was a charity.

So, to be absolutely, perfectly clear: ONE is not a charity.

In their words, ONE is a "nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa."  What this means is that ONE is all about working to convince governments (primarily the U.S. government, but also others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate extreme poverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  Furthermore, it doesn't raise money or grants:  ONE is almost completely funded by its board members and by foundations (like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example) -- and therefore, it never, ever asks for money from the general public. 

Ever.

What they do ask for, however, is your voice.  The way ONE does this is by using its budget to amplify the stories of the organizations that are doing all the heavy lifting on the ground on the continent, making sure that governments see all the good change that is happening in Africa in the fight against extreme poverty and diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, so that they are encouraged to continue to help.  In addition, ONE works to make sure the general public (both in the US and internationally) also hears these stories, so they are moved to become members of ONE.  The more members ONE has, the louder ONE's voice is, and the more governments sit up and pay attention.  And in turn, hopefully, the more good happens on the ground.

And this, therefore, is where I and my travel companions come in. ONE is taking us to Africa to help tell these stories, to help provide concrete evidence of how the organizations on the ground are using the governments' support to effect real and identifiable change for the better.   And so, my goal is to use my photographs and my words to do just that.  And, no lie, ever since I found out, I've been fervently praying -- praying, I say -- that I do ONE, the organizations for which it advocates, and the people of Kenya justice.

All this to say that my plan is to blog every day that I'm there, starting Monday and going through Friday, as usual.  Understand of course that my days will be full, and so I won't be able to blog until the evenings; in addition, there's an 8-hour time difference between Kenya and Texas, so my blogging schedule will be quite off.  Also, I've already been told that there are a few nights, at the beginning and at the end of our trip, where it's likely that the internet connection will be a bit dodgy, so don't be surprised if I'm forced to skip a day or two; nonetheless, I will do my damnedest to get words and images up every day (and twice, if I have to, to make up for skipped days). So please keep checking in.

And then, if you like what you see, and are so moved, I'd love if you'd do the following:

1)  If you haven't already, please consider becoming a member of ONE. Starting today, and every day next week, at the very bottom of every post I'll have a widget that you can fill out, click and immediately become a member (wherever you're located in the world) -- it takes very little time, and it helps so much.  I promise, by becoming a member, you won't get spammed:  ONE is very circumspect about the emails they send (and when they do send them, they're always chock-full of good information); in addition, they'll never give away or sell your information to anyone.  And again, by becoming a member (and therefore sharing your voice), you help ONE do a lot of good.

2)  Once you've become a member, if something I've written to you inspires you to want to do more, it would be wonderful if you could share that particular post with whoever you can:  blog it, Facebook it, Tweet it, Google+ it, or even just email the article to a friend who you think it will speak to -- whatever works for you. 

It would mean the world to me if you do.

* * * * * * *

Now, for next week's schedule.  Please note that the schedule is somewhat fluid and may change, depending on circumstances once we get there, but this will give you a general idea of all the amazing that we're about to experience:

Day 1 (Kisumu, a town on the shores of Lake Victoria): We'll be traveling with highly skilled home HIV community health workers, walking from home to home meeting, testing and counseling people on HIV/AIDS; also, visit Siaya Clinical Research Centre to learn about advances in vaccination programs, malaria treatments, and other advances in maternal and pediatric programs.

Day 2 (Kisumu): We'll meet with women undergoing pregnancy monitoring and birth attendants at the Lwak Nutritional Centre, to discuss access to maternal and child healthcare.

Day 3 (Nairobi): We'll be visiting a USAID education site, a primary school in Nairobi, where an early reading program focusing on learning outcomes has just begun.

Day 4 (Nairobi and Karen (!), a suburb of Nairobi): We'll be attending a roundtable with Kenyan women entrepreneurs, to discuss how the US Government plays a role in their business and trade.  We'll also be visiting Carolina for Kibera, a nonprofit based out of the Kibera slum in Nairobi.  CFK is a collaborative network of programs for the advancement of health, education, ethnic cooperation, gender equality and economic empowerment.

Day 5 (Lake Naivasha): Feed the Future, a US global hunger and food security initiative, helps countries transform their own agricultural sectors to grow enough food sustainably to feed their people.  We'll be visiting horticulture and dairy farms run by women farmers.

 

Seriously, isn't this astounding? 

And with that, off I go, into the wild blue yonder.  See you next week, friends.  From Kenya.

* * * * * * *

UPDATE, July 23, 2011:  A couple of things, before I go -- If you'd like to keep up with the trip other than here at Chookooloonks, there will also be updates on:

Also, if you'd like to keep up with what my travel companions are doing, be sure to check in to the ONE Week page.

And finally, some exciting news:  ABC News' anchor David Muir will be joining us on the trrip from Kenya for World News and Good Morning America, as part of the network's global health series.  How cool is that?  I'm going to have to be ready for my close-up...

Okay, time to finish last-minute packing, and get ready for the airport.  See you guys soon.

 

* * * * * * *

I'm traveling to Kenya at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate proverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way.  This week, along with 9 other bloggers, I'll be bringing you images and stories of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Kenya.  If you're moved by anything you read here and you'd like to help, please consider adding your voice and join ONE by simply filling out the form below.  Your information will remain confidential, I promise.  And if you're already a member, and would still like to help, I'd love if you'd spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

That's all there is to it.  Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice. 

As always, thanks so much, friends.

 

 

because giant heads and spoon cars apparently weren't enough

Well, this week has been just surreal.  As you remember, first, there were giant president heads.  Then there was a car made of spoons that growled.  And finally, yesterday?  There was Rusty the Singing Cowboy.

Earlier this week, I travelled to Davenport, Iowa, which is one of the five cities that make up the Quad Cities, an area which straddles the states of Illinois and Iowa.  (Yes, I know that "quad" means "four," and I said "five."  But I promise, I speak the truth.)  I was there to speak at a luncheon for The Women's Connection, a wonderful networking organization made up of what I can only assume are the winners of the Nicest Women in Iowa and Illinois Awards.  About 240 women braved the insane midday heat (seriously, this was like Houston heat) to come out and hear me speak, and they were so lovely and gracious that I would return for a visit to the Quad Cities in a heartbeat.

The talk was on Tuesday, but I ended up having to spend the night, and took the earliest flight out of the Moline/Quad Cities airport on Wednesday morning.  I arranged with my hotel to have a cab meet me at 5 a.m., and promptly at 4:55, a Lucky Cab rolled up to the front door, and a short, unshaven man with a ponytail and a missing front tooth hopped out of the car.

"Good morning!" he said cheerily.  "Are you Karen?"

"I am!" I responded.

He quickly put my bag in the trunk.  "You can come sit in the front, if you'd like. It's so hot, you probably want the air conditioner."

It was about 85 degrees, so not particularly hot; still, on impulse I took him up on his offer and got in the passenger seat.  He fiddled with some paperwork, called in to his dispatcher and then turned to me.

"So, how was your trip?"

"Great!"

"Well, if you ever return and you need a cab, be sure to call Lucky Cab and ask for Rusty the Singing Cowboy."

"Um... okay.  You're Rusty, I take it?

"Yes I am."

"And you're a ... singing cowboy?"

"Yes I am."

"Wow."

"Would you like to hear me sing?"

"Well, I'd be crazy not to, wouldn't I?"

"Okay, then!"  And he reached over to pop a CD into the player.

Now.

I have to tell you that I was very worried about what was about to happen. It was 5 o'clock in the morning, I was barely awake, and for all I knew I was about to be treated to some criminally bad singing.  The music began to play, and I did everything I could to prevent myself from visibly cringing, in preparation for the notes that were about to come out of Rusty's mouth.

"HeLLOOOOOOO...."  Rusty began at the top of his lungs, making me almost jump out of my skin. 

And then he proceeded to belt out a country song just as loud as he possibly could.

Thing is?  Rusty was awesome.  He had a good voice, but it was the enthusiasm and gusto with which he performed that made the experience fantastic.  He did all sorts of vocal gymnastics, his right hand flailing about in time with the music (and, apparently, helping him hit the high notes). After he finished (and I clapped wildly), he told me that he was raised by his mother and grandmother, who were both performers.

"They groomed me for the stage," he said proudly.

"I can see!" I exclaimed incredulously.  I couldn't get over how completely bizarre the scene was:  a cheery, toothless, ponytailed cab driver was serenading me to the airport.  Before dawn.  I mean, really, what are the odds?

He began singing another song.  I clapped after that one, prompting him to sing yet another.  By the time he finished the third song, we'd arrived at the airport.   I tipped him generously for the free concert. "Aw, thanks," he said sincerely.  "I don't often get to perform for nice ladies."

"The pleasure was mine," I smiled.  And even though I'm not a fan of country music, I meant every word.  His enthusiasm and joyful outlook on life was infectious, and his performance was better than coffee.

And with that, happy Love Thursday, everyone.  Here's hoping a total stranger shares a bit of his passion with you today -- or at the very least, allows you a glimpse of how his freak flag flies.

 

Image:  My new favourite portrait of Marcus & Alex, photographed with my Nikon D300, and Tamron 17-50mm lens.  aperture 2.8, shutter speed 1/100, ISO 640

 

SongWe'll burn that bridge by Brooks & Dunn.  This was the first song Rusty sang for me.  And honestly?  He sounded just like them.

birthday dinners & cedar creek

After having stared at giant heads and scary vehicles, it was time to wet our whistles.  So we met our friends Trish and Carl and their kids at Cedar Creek, one of our favourite watering holes in Houston.  This place has some of the best burgers in the state (no lie), everything on tap, and a completely relaxed atmosphere.  We don't visit this restaurant nearly enough -- which is truly embarrassing, because it's owned by a friend of ours.

Carl, in particular, likes the Frito Pies.

 

Carl loves him a Frito Pie.  In fact, I can't think of Frito Pies without thinking of Carl.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing.

 

After dinner, the blistering heat had finally eased up, so we went outside and played with the golden light.

 

I love this picture, above: Alex smiling so sweetly, and J looking at her like she just fell out of a tree.

Dude, I can't tell you how many times I've made that exact same face.

For example, I made that face about 20 minutes later, when I saw this:

 

"Um, Alex, what's going on over there?"

"Uncle Carl is BABYSITTING!"

Indeed.

 

Then Alex and S decided to attack Marcus:

He survived.

I've mentioned before that Trish and Carl are like family to us, so it was especially great to spend the end of my birthday with them.  Because whenever we're with them, there's always a whole lotta love.

 

 

 

Best. Birthday. Ever.

 

SongBaker's dozen by Galactic

weird houston, part 2: the art car museum

After having whet our appetite for the odd with giant president heads, we were on a roll.  "Let's go find something else to photograph," I said eagerly to Marcus.

"How about the Art Car Museum?"

"Perfect."

The Art Car Parade is one of my favourite things about Houston.  It is exactly has it sounds:  cars are transformed into art, and then one day every year, they are paraded through the streets of Houston (you can see my photos of the 2008 parade here).  The cars are wacky and weird, some of them are irreverent and impolitic, but they are generally all really, really impressive. 

At some point back in 1998, someone had the brilliant idea of opening a museum dedicated to the art cars, since Houston has the largest number of art cars in any city.  And so, the Art Car Museum was born.  It's located on a relatively unattractive and busy street, so while I've passed it many times, I've never really been drawn to come in.  Saturday, it seemed, was just the day to change that trend.

We walked in, and there was a docent and the curator sitting in the entryway. 

"Hi," I said, brandishing my camera.  "Am I allowed to take pictures here?"

"Please do!" they smiled.

"Excellent!"  I smiled back.  "How much is admission?"

"It's free."

Seriously?

Marcus put a fiver in the donation jar anyway, and we entered.  The first thing we passed was a taxidermied moose head, dressed in what could only be described as the outfit first used by The Gimp in Pulp Fiction ...

 

... except, you know, made of belts and roller blades and high heeled sandals. 

Of course.

 

The space itself is really impressive.

 

The current exhibit, which includes several cars from past Art Car Parades, also included original works of art by local musicians.  Some of the pieces were mindblowing.

I, however, was completely taken by a sparkly vehicle in one corner:

 

 

This is Spoonazoid, created by Mark Bradford (who actually made all of the other cars that were present at the exhibit that day).  The reason for the name becomes obvious the closer you get to the Spoonazoid, for the exterior is made entirely from spoons.

"You want to know where the spoons came from?" said a voice behind me.  I looked up to see the docent.

"Sure."

"American Airlines."

"Come again?"

"After September 11.  American Airlines needed to get rid of all their metal utensils, because there was a fear that someone could use them as a weapon on the flight.  So Mark was able to get a bunch of spoons from them to build the car."

Of course.

"So, how does this work, exactly?"

"The top opens up," the docent explained, "and Mark gets in, and it's designed sort of like a recumbent bike, so he's leaning back, with the lid just slightly open so he can see. It's made of motorcycle parts, and he has controls in each hand.  The arms move and the jaw opens and shuts, and it growls."

 

"Yipes."

"Yeah, this one's mean.  He's not sweet and friendly, like the one over there in the corner."  She pointed to the far end of the room.

 

I looked at the docent.

"That one's friendly, is it?"

"Sure," she said, grinning.  "Look at the twinkle in his eye."

I looked at his eye, and did indeed see a blue twinkle.  But it certainly didn't look friendly.

"So, how does this one work?"

"Mark climbs in through the back, and then lies on a hammock-like thing on his stomach, so that he can look out from a space under the head," she explained.  "And then, he has controls in either hand so he can steer."

I walked closer to the huge contraption.  I looked inside, and it looked very hot and cramped.

"Hang on," I said, "the art car parade is usually in May.  It's, like, 90 degrees outside.  He must be dying in there!"

"Well, we all suffer for our art, don't we..." she smiled. 

Good point.

"How fast does it go?"

"About 30 miles an hour," she said.  How awesome is that?  I'd love to take this thing and come barrelling down our neighbourhood streets, scaring kids on their Big Wheels ....

 ... Marcus snapped me out of my reverie, to remind me that we'd promised our friends we'd meet them for dinner.  We thanked the docent, and signed up to be on the email list for invitations to gallery openings that they have throughout the year.  Because now that I've gone, how could I possibly resist going back?

Could you?

 

SongFast car by Tracy Chapman

 

weird houston, part 1: giant president heads

Thank you so much for your kind birthday wishes this weekend, friends.  I have to say that it was one of the best birthdays I've had in years, and given that there was absolutely no preparation for the day, I'm feeling pretty pleased about the whole thing.

On Saturday morning, after bringing me a cup of tea to me before I even get out of bed (score!), Marcus asked, "So, what do you want to do for your birthday?"

I thought about it. "I have no idea," I said, "but I think I want to photograph something."

"Ookay..." he responded slowly.  "Have something in mind?"

"No," I whined.  "I feel like I've photographed everything in this city. There's nothing left."

"Well, think about it," he said, smiling.  "If you think of something, we'll do it."  And then he left me alone to go make Alex breakfast.

I sat there in silence, sipping my tea.  All of a sudden, I remembered about 17 years ago, when I first got my camera, my friend Josef took me around Houston, and we accidentally stumbled upon the weirdest sight I'd ever seen in the city.  I called Marcus back into the room.

"Marcus!  I know what I want to do!"

"Tell me."

"I want to see the giant President heads."

He looked at me -- not unreasonably -- like I was addled in my advanced age.

"I'm sorry?"

"I want to see the giant President heads.  Somewhere in this city, there are 4 or 5 giant President heads.  Heads of United States presidents."  I grabbed my laptop.  "And I'm going to find them."

A quick Google search, and we were on our way.  I was a little worried that we wouldn't be able to find them easily, but they weren't that hard to spot ...

 

... also?  There are a few more than 4 or 5 now.

 

Unfortunately, most of them were in a large, asphalt lot behind a padlocked chain link fence, so it was hard to get any unobstructed close-ups.  But I suppose it didn't really matter, since I'm not sure I could've identified most of them anyway.

 

Like these ones.  I'm thinking the one on the left is President Taft?  And the guy in the front here is President Cleveland, maybe?

 

Okay, dude in the middle is definitely Bush Jr.  To his right -- Rutherford Hayes, I'm guessing?  Garfield, perhaps?  To Bush's left -- Jefferson, maybe?

 

Not all of them were behind the chain link fence -- some incomplete ones were right there in the parking lot, like Lincoln, for example (and God bless him for his identifiable beard).  The guy next to him (the one that isn't Marcus, I mean) is, I think, Andrew Jackson.  I originally would've guessed Thomas Jefferson (because I imagined him to be a looker), but apparently President Jackson had the jaunty hair.

 

Also, just to mix things up a bit, the Beatles were there.  And they were huge.

 

And of course, the current president, Barack Obama.

I didn't count them, but I think all 44 presidents are there and accounted for.  And as weird as these images look, they do not even begin to do justice to how completely surreal it is to come across giant president heads in an industrial, rather dodgy part of Houston, on a supremely hot summer day.  It was so incredibly awesome, and it totally made my birthday to photograph them.   I'm so glad Marcus humoured me.

And yet, believe it or not, this wasn't even the weirdest installation we saw on Saturday.  But I'll save that bit for tomorrow.

 

(Incidentally, if you're in Houston and you'd like to see the giant president heads for yourself, they're located at Adickes SculpturWorx Studio, at 2500 Summer Street.  They're really worth the trip.)

 

Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, and Tamron 17-50mm lens.  aperture 2.8, shutter speed 1/8000, ISO 500

 

SongPeaches by The Presidents of the United States of America.  Of course.