Faithful readers, you may have noticed that not only have we been posting at a prolific pace, but also that we have been back-dating our posts. Though it took us a few weeks to launch the blog, we wanted to be sure to share all of our stories with you in the order they happened. With all that has been going on since we arrived in Nairobi, it’s taken us some time to catch up to the present. In the process, a few interesting tidbits fell through the cracks and we’d like to share these with you.
The first night we went out with M&W (See out and about), W mentioned that his sister worked for the US Embassy but he did not quite know what she did. With over 1500 employees, Nairobi is the biggest US Embassy in sub-Saharan Africa. Three quarters of the employees are local hires, so D had no idea how he was going to track her down. Turns out that not only does she work in the Political section, but that she is also one of the most important employees at the mission. She literally knows (and has cell phone numbers for) everyone there is to know in Kenyan politics and the NGO sector. Under the previous Ambassador, she functioned as his right hand. At the 4th of July party (See red, white, and blue), she pulled D aside and in five minutes introduced him to half the people he needs to know in Kenya. This was a vast improvement on the aimless mingling in which D was engaged prior to her intervention.
On one of our outings with M&W, we got into a discussion on how brilliant safaricom’s m-pesa (short for mobile money) scheme is. With banking fees and interest rates prohibitively high, only the upper echelon of society can afford to keep a bank account or take out loans. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest cell phone provider, saw an opportunity and created a way for people all over the country to “loan” money via text message. For a nominal fee, one can send a text message to friends or family members that actually transfers money into their account. M-pesa can be used to pay one’s bills, purchase produce, and remunerate any number of services. Remote, rural areas do not have access to traditional banking systems, internet, or oftentimes even electricity. But even people who live in these areas have cell phones, some which can be charged with small, portable solar panels. Since its launch a few years ago, 14 million people – the vast majority of whom do not have access to traditional banking services or many of the amenities mentioned above – have used m-pesa. This is social entrepreneurship at its best.
From time to time, D has to go in to work on Saturday. Rather than sit at home alone, S took one such opportunity to go with a neighbor to the Kitengela glass factory, which is located within the Nairobi National Park at the end of some particularly rough and dusty roads. The brochure cartoon-like map includes driving directions that read something along the lines of, “turn left at the usual grazing grounds of the zebra.” S and friends most certainly did not see any zebras. They must have been feasting elsewhere, but thankfully our neighbor had been to the factory once before and managed to find the place again. The sheer oddity of the factory alone is worth the hour-and-a-half drive, even if one plans on leaving without making any purchases. Peppered with sculptures, animals and mosaic pathways that lead to niches of artisans transforming recycled glass and scraps of materials into home ware and jewelery, this hippie haven is a must-see. Like factory or outlet stores in the States, this one sells their less than perfect or less elaborate glass work at a discount. One can choose from items of all sizes – glass mosaic chairs and tables, glass bead work (started by the owner’s daughter), and hand blown glass items like water, wine, or martini glasses, vases, pitchers, etc. (started by the owner’s son, who has since trained others). The factory is a store and workshop in one and does not separate the craftsmanship from the boutique browsing, so one is able to see the newest item hot out of the kilns. S came home bearing a large box with 2 vases, a pitcher, and a decorate oil/vinegar flask. We were told before we came that one of the best and cheapest ways to decorate your home in Nairobi is with a plethora of vases and fresh flowers (roses cost less than $3 for a bouquet of 20) and since we do not have our HHE yet, we decided it was high time to purchase some locally made vases and bring some color into our lives.