Everything good must come to an end. After four months, I must pack my bags, say goodbye and head to the sterile airport to embark on the next chapter of my life. It will not be easy because I finally feel as though Kampala is my home filled with inspiring and beautiful people. Yet, this is my path and I must continue with renewed hope and trust that everything will work out as it must.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit my friend, Grace in Nairobi, Kenya and finally meet the incredible folks of the Africa Yoga Project. On my first day, Grace arranged for her friend Benjamin to take me around Kibera slums: the largest slum in Africa with an estimated population of one million. Kibera is also where post-election violence broke out in 2008 and destabilized the area and whole country. There is another election in March, so everyone is concerned about how to ensure that it remains peaceful and non-violent.
I usually don’t like these sorts of tours because I feel that I am intruding in people’s lives, as though they are animals in the zoo to “ooh and ahh” at. But, it was relieving to be with Ben, who lives in Kibera and knows many people. He took me around to different NGOs and led me through the confusing streets of the slums. We first visited Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA- www.kcoda.org) where he is a volunteer and where we spoke with the administrative assistant about their programs. I realized then that I could be of assistance with grantwriting and drafting ideas for their women’s rights project so we are in contact now.
Then, we visited Power Women Group, an organisation run by HIV positive women that promotes economic empowerment and health education. They are intelligent and strong women who make beautiful bags and jewelry. They just opened up a salon and I became their first customer! I got some braids and beads Jamaican style. But, unfortunately, most of the beads have already fallen out.
We continued walking cautiously through small pathways full of trash, stale water, and half-naked children playing.
Ben showed me his one-bedroom shack made of mud, which was a nice relaxing place to sit and talk. He explained to me what it was like to be in Kibera in 2008. He was living alone, only 15 years old. This is how he explained it to me:
“I was sitting right here on the couch watching the results of the election on TV. It had already been three days since we voted and there was still no news of the final results, so we knew something was going on. Then, the electricity went off. Next thing I knew, I heard shouting and noises outside my house. I went out and joined the crowds moving through Kibera. At first, it was exciting and fun, but then it turned violent. Some people started going to the houses of our Kikuyu neighbours, taking them out, and beating them up. This lasted for weeks so I discovered that in order to stay safe I had to always travel in a crowd. I was lucky because I am Luo.”
I could go into all the details of reasons why the violence broke out, but I don’t want to bore the ones who aren’t so interested. If you are interested in learning more: click here.
Basically, even though Kenya is a “democracy” each party is closely aligned to a specific tribe. So, when the opposition party that was predominately Luo lost a close presidential race to the winner, a Kikuyu, people took their anger out at their neighbours. We all just hope that there will not be violence come March.
I also had the chance to take a class at the Shine Center of the Africa Yoga Project.
I have been following this organisation in awe for the past two years. They have trained over 50 Kenyans as yoga instructors and offer community classes and outreach classes in prisons, schools, hospitals, etc. Grace and I attended a packed yoga class full of laughter and positive energy! I miss the yoga community back in San Francisco, so it was nice to be around yogis again. I also delivered 15 used yoga mats that were donated by Yoga to the People in San Francisco (my second home in SF). Thank you Chandra, Heather, and mom and dad for making the delivery possible! It was a special moment and I hope to continue working with them in the future!
I am full of ideas and possibilities for the future, but I am taking one day at a time. I taught my last yoga class last night outside among the noises of Kampala: birds, bugs, matatus, music, and our breathe. Relaxing and stretching into the rhythm of life. Monica and I are also still working on the Girl-Up Initiative. Today, we went back to the slums to meet with ten girls, six with children, to introduce the initiative and hear their ideas, challenges, and hopes. I will post more about this later in the week, with photos of the young women.
What I have learned from my time in Kampala: Enjoy yourself wherever you are at this moment because that is exactly where you are supposed to be. Never give up on your dreams and what your heart tells you! It can be difficult, but definitely worth it!