Kibera

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.

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Building destroyed in 2008 post-election violence

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Election posters EVERYWHERE

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.

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Francis and Ben in front of KCODA “Tree of Change”

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.

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Administrators of Power Women Group

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A happy customer!

We continued walking cautiously through small pathways full of trash, stale water, and half-naked children playing.

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View from the train tracks

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Making jewelry out of bones 🙂

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!

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Grace showing me her yoga moves

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Relaxing in savasana

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Delivering mats to Africa Yoga Project following class

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!

With love!

Dreams

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Dreaming that I am walking through Kampala with my friends from home. Excited to show them around my neighbourhood. Then, bodies, dead bodies, everywhere. Hanging in the trees, in the ditches, on the streets. Is this what living here and thinking and reading about civil wars and genocide has done to my unconscious? When I opened my eyes, I smiled to myself. Another beautiful day, waking up to the sun shining and feeling my body intact. Grateful for another day of comfort and relaxation.

I decided to take this week off to explore other projects that I have wanted to get involved with. My first idea was to conduct a yoga workshop for Sarah, my co-worker and friend, in the hopes that she would continue teaching MEMPROW staff and young women after I leave.  She came, we talked, I explained more about yoga philosophy and history, and we practiced yoga and meditated. I offered her to start teaching me, but she was not as interested. Instead, we decided to have fun together by making rolex (chapatti with egg), drinking tea, and walking the dogs. Learning to manage my expectations because I had too high of expectations for myself and her. I am not a yoga teacher trainer so I hope that in the future she has the opportunity to access a proper yoga-training program.

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Sarah making chapatti!

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Our final product: homemade rolex + listening to Bob Marley + in the garden =complete perfection

My second idea with another friend was to begin a girl’s empowerment project in the slum where her mother stays. We had a productive meeting with the Chairperson, Women’s Affairs Officer, and community leader of the zone to discuss the challenges faced by young women. The same story: unemployment, pregnancies at 15 or 16, sex work and dancing in strip clubs for money, and lack of school fees. The main thing they wanted to see in the community was an economic empowerment programme for the young girls so they don’t have to sell their bodies for food. Long story short, my friend and I have decided to begin a project called Girl-Up Initiative. She will start leading trainings there in February for 80 girls on sex and relationships, gender roles and patriarchy, communication skills, and human rights. From there we will create an economic empowerment programme. If you are interested in reading more, please let me know because I have already put together a project plan, which I can send you!

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Women’s Affairs Officer, Chairperson, and community leader

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Around the slum

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Filthy water

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Another day, I went with my friend Darby to the slum in Kisenyi where she has been working with an outreach centre for street children called Peace for Children Africa (PCA). She always told me stories about the boys she works with so I knew I wanted to meet them and see their living conditions. As we started walking through the narrow paths I could see children lying on the streets. One boy looked at me with bloodshot eyes, clearly on some sort of drug and looking so lifeless. Other boys started touching us and wanting money. We talked to a girl there who had broken her leg and was sitting by a fence eating her fries and asking us for water. Surrounding us were huge piles of trash with some children foraging through it in hopes of finding some scrap metal. The water running through was clearly polluted, yet people were cleaning and drinking from it. There were women washing and cooking as if everything was normal. And I just imagined what it must be like at night for these women, with these drunk and drugged men and nowhere to go. Sex work is rampant because there are very few business opportunities.

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PCA drop-in centre

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One of the street boys performing dancing moves for us 🙂

Kize’s Story

I started talking with one of the boys who came with us on the walk. He moved into the orphanage run by PCA just a couple months ago. As we walked through he would point out the different places he used to sleep: on that roof, on that street, in that hallowed building. He started to tell me about his life on the streets. “I was bad. I used to do drugs and not care about anyone.” He was 7 years old when he came to Kampala from the north. His stepmother constantly physically and emotionally abused him so he moved in with his grandmother who then passed away. He then travelled to Kampala and became one of the many street children. Yet, there is no comfort or stability on the streets.

The police often come by and pick up the boys and take them to jail, which is exactly what happened to Kize. He told me that because they never go to court, they are in there for life. Tons of street children living in crowded conditions. Barely getting enough food to survive. Each day they have to go to the forest to collect firewood. This was his chance to escape. As they lined up, he sprinted. The fastest he had ever moved before. Because they came running after him, and even the other prisoners because they would get a bag of sugar if they found him, he ran up a tree and stayed there for a day. At night, he ran to the street and jumped on the back of a truck to come back to Kampala. But, that wasn’t the end of his locked up life. Just a few months later, the police took him to another prison, one even worse than the first. He got one meal a day that was what he called “chicken feed” and was expected to dig a hole all day to clear the land for a big plant to be built. If he ever stopped, he was whipped and beaten. Luckily, he was only there for a few months because he actually had a court date.

From then on, he dreamed of a different future. When he met Paul, the founder of PCA, he knew that there was an alternate available. Kize is one of the sweetest 15 year-olds that I know, yet one that has lived through unimaginable horrors. He wants to play professional football (our soccer) and go back to school. He also told me that he hadn’t talked to his mother who had moved to Kenya, for over four years. He just got her number from an uncle. When I asked if he wanted to call her, he instantly said yes! I gave him my phone and as soon as he heard her voice he had the biggest smile. She wanted to talk to me. I could hear her excitement and she continued to praise and thank me. It was a beautiful and humbling moment.

As we bring in the New Year, let us not forget to be grateful for everyone and everything we have in our lives! Let us not get caught in the yearning for more and more, and instead rest in peaceful appreciation for the beauty of our lives.