Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kenya Travel, Part III

DAY 6 – Lamu town

After fruit, bagels and poached eggs Mich and Mads and I went to explore Lamu town with Chui, the local tour guide that had greeted us at the airport. The town is an historic mix of Portuguese, Arabic and British influence, with local culture infused throughout. The town was crowded with donkeys and people – but it was clean and relatively prosperous. There was an almost eerie lack of aggressive tourist vendors – whether due to the low season, or just the vibe of the place I’m not sure, but it was nice. Off the main road along the water we walked through the old square, which was packed with loud music playing. Then we walked back into another labyrinth of ‘streets’ just wide enough for two donkeys to pass.

The tall buildings exemplified “green design” by providing shade a cool breeze throughout the streets. They were made of coral reef, which absorbed and held the water after rains, keeping the walls cool to the touch. This practice has been banned to protect the reefs, which will probably die from global warming anyway – aided by the cement production they now use for buildings ;)

We returned to the house for a great lunch of calamari and fries and then took a walk down the beach, where we passed a group of camels sitting in the sand (probably part of a tourist camel-ride, but there were no tourists in site). After a few hundred meters of empty sandy beach, we turned the corner to see… a few thousand more meters of empty sandy beach. We decided that was good enough and took a swim. After the swim (blissfully ignorant of the shark population) a boy about 15 years old showed up with five donkeys and began saddling them up right next to us. I figured it was going to be some donkey ride pitch, and prepared to haggle, but he instead broke out a two-piece shovel, assembled it and began loading up the donkeys with sand. He must have thought we were absolutely crazy wazungus to be swimming in shark-infested waters and lying out on the sand pit.

We strolled back in time to catch a "sun-downer" cruise on one of the old dhow boats that anchored up & down the beach.

It was a beautiful, relaxing cruise and we got the run down from the crew about who owned (movie producers) & was building all of the houses (Kofi Annan), who rented them (princess of Monaco), etc. Lots of building happening, which is sad to see - but most of it pretty close to the beach, so they won't last long anyway.

We got home just in time for a decadent dinner of crab and lobster (which we saw get handed off the boat on the beach that afternoon) followed by another relaxing night of reading and conversation.

DAY 7 – reading & beach

The story starts to get a bit repetitive here… slept in, great breakfast, reading, beach with the babies, great lunch, beach, walk, read, great dinner…

Did I mention there were donkeys everywhere? Eeyores!!

that sinking Sunday feeling settles in, knowing we have to leave tomorrow.

DAY 8 – (Mon)

We took in all we could, hitting the beach in the morning, barely able to pull ourselves from the water (leading to a serious white-boy sunburn for me), in time for one last delicious seafood lunch. We got packed,

walked down to the beach

got back on the speed boat,

another ride in the luggage cart for the girl

through security

An uneventful flight home

where we packed and prepped for the Green Belt Movement before falling into bed

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Kenya Travel, Part II

DAY 3 – Nairobi

A weird day of African errands and rocking around the city with Bradley. First, we went airport for a futile attempt to see if by some miracle the jacket I had left in the overhead compartment had been picked up in the clean-up sweep, brought to the lost and found and kept safe for a couple of days… it hadn’t.

Next I delved head-long into a 3rd-world medical extravaganza. In jest my sister on her way to bring the kids to the doctor had said “if you need any doctor stuff done, they’re great and cheap here”… and as it just so happened my dentist had just told me I needed a bunch of work done, and I am about 3 years over-due on an eye exam. So we spent the mid-day hitting up Nairobi doctors in one of the most efficient and effective visits I’ve ever had.

So with a numb-mouth and freshly prescribed eyes, we rolled through town, with constant site-seeing knowledge being dropped by Bradley (this is the largest rotary in east Africa, that is Kenyatta’s grave, Uhuru means independence, you can’t trust the Maasai, if you run-over one of their goats they will beat you with their sticks…) to pick up a Swedish friend (small-world) who is here doing Phd research from Link√∂ping University. We took her out of the hectic downtown for a great Indian lunch and coffee in the peaceful backyard and heard about her Kenyan wetlands research.

(Check out the Jacarandas in full bloom - can't tell from the picture, but it was unreal)

DAY 4 – dentist, mall, work… vacation?

Another day around Nairobi – finishing up the dental work – and then across town to the Village Market, basically a big mall where some of the COP side-events are being held. Unfortunately there weren’t any there today, so we settled for lunch and a look around. Michelle and Em hit the spa to prepare for the coast and then we caught up on some work, as power had more or less returned to full service.

(Simba - a very good dog)

DAY 5 – Depart for Lamu

Up for a quick run, some last minute work, picked up groceries, packed, and headed for the airport. Wilson airport was pretty low-impact – not exactly the hub that Kenyatta International is. Still, they’ve somehow picked up on the “water bottle” scare and made us drain any liquids – absurd.

A four-prop Dash-7 (I think) lifted us quickly up above Nairobi National park and we were on our way. After all of the rains the usually arid terrain to the coast was covered in green. The landing was classic. The runway was paved, but just a strip amidst the bush. They kept the props on the non-debarking side going as we scurried off they sorted through to find the luggage of those not continuing on. The house we rented had a boat waiting, and the staff loaded the luggage and Liv into a wheel-barrow.

We piled into a small motor boat and zipped across the channel to the island of Lamu, with babies and little girls taking cover. We got a good view of Lamu town on our way south to Sheila.

A brief walk through a labyrinth filled with dark windows, donkeys and stray cats brought us to the Palm House – a beautiful 3-story open-air building with full grown palm tree inside the front entrance. The heavy tropical heat was a welcome change from the chill of Nairobi. After dropping our bags and changing, we ran down for a quick dip in the warm crystal blue ocean. The chefs for these houses are almost-famous in Kenya, and for good reason – the first night we had fish and veggies and we quickly realized we hadn’t brought enough wine (the area is 90% Muslim and hence void of liquor stores).

With the kids asleep we all unwound a bit more, explored the house – which is nearly impossible to describe – lots of decks with views of green jungle and blue ocean, all clean plaster, flowing forms of walls, stairs and railings, thatch roofs, sparse wooden furniture – well suited to relaxing.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kenya Travel Log, Part I

As many of you know, Michelle and I are in Nairobi, Kenya for three weeks – so while I can’t help but write through the lens of sustainability, below is a bit more self-indulgent, for the family type of post…

Originally, the main purpose of the trip was two-fold: to visit my sister’s family and be “outside observers” at the Conference of the Parties (COP). COP is the annual climate change negotiations that have been taking place since the earth summit in 1992. In 1997, the COP was in Kyoto, and produced the now famous Protocol. Unfortunately, our connection to get outside observer status fell through at the last minute, leaving us in the happy position of being able to focus on the first purpose of visiting family.

The internet access has been patchy here – ironically because the power consumption from the COP has been causing blackouts – so I’m planning on trying to keep up with short daily posts, which I can put online all at once later.

Getting there

Early Saturday morning we boarded the train to Copenhagen, and after a long, but smooth day of travel we arrived in Zurich for an overnight layover. Thanks to Swiss efficiency, we hopped a train downstairs in the airport (why don’t all US cities have this??) and were in the central station in 15 minutes. Michelle’s friend Eric hooked us up with the royal treatment, walking us 5 minutes to his styled-up apartment in the old-town part of the city – every European city has one of these, and they’re all awesome, this one was no exception. Right into drinks & appetizers, and after a few more friends came over we headed out to a great Spanish restaurant.

The crew was fun, and very interesting to talk to as many of them worked for the largest (physical) commodities trading firm in the world – lots of implications regarding SPs # 1 & 3 moving around most of the world’s coal, oil, grains, etc – and so a lot of interest in strategic sustainability, and how a company like that could lead the way, as opposed to hindering progress. As they’re essentially a middle man, it’s easy to see how they could still do great business in biofuels, recycled materials, sustainably-managed renewable raw materials, etc.

All in all it made for a great night, a new city, and much appreciated hospitality. We were up early Sunday morning back on the train, and flying to Nairobi. It was a long but smooth ride with great views of Italy, Greece, & Egypt on the way. My sister’s family has a driver they hire regularly who was there to pick us up at the airport – which was incredibly smooth through customs, etc.

His name is Bradley, and he gave us the run-down on Nairobi as we sped through it in the dark. He is Luo, a tribe from the area around Lake Victoria, but grew up in Nairobi, went to school here and studied art, but because it’s tough to be an artist (even here in Kenya!) he’s been a driver for years – first driving a matatu, which is what they call the minibuses here, which are basically hell-on-wheels minivans that drive regular bus routes stopping more or less at random. Now he’s managed to get in the taxi businesses, and does hire-by-day gigs. He’s a great guy, knows everyone in the city and is hooking us up with many insights.

So we arrived at the house around 8 through an armed guard gate, into a neighborhood, through another gate into the drive way, where two night guards and Simba (they didn’t pick the name, she was adopted), the watchdog greeted us. The kids were asleep, unfortunately, but Em had a full-spread dinner ready to go which was great, and so good of course to have some time to catch up after over a year. The house is beautiful – not too big, but not too small. Em’s office became our bedroom, complete with a big bouquet of orange roses (and apologies from Em that they are probably partly responsible for the drying of Lake Naivasha).

Mads was in Rwanda on business (for UNICEF) so we just had a chill night and went to sleep very excited for the African adventure to begin.

DAY 1 - Kitengela Glass

Rain. But still so beautiful out the window, the small house has a huge yard, framing a huge, full-in-bloom Jacaranda tree, which has scattered a purple carpet of flowers everywhere. A shy girl helped wake us up, and we got to know each other over a bowl of fresh mangos before taking her to school.

After the drop-off at a very cute little-kid school with cut-outs and collages hanging everywhere, a playground surrounded by bamboo, and a healthy mix of little Africans, Indians and Europeans running around – we went for a run ourselves to explore the neighborhood. We quickly remembered we were at 2500 meters, and didn’t explore a whole lot of the neighborhood. We got back to the house, greeted by the day guard, Evans, and of course the always-on-duty, Simba, took showers and got settled in, before grabbing lunch and hitting the road with Bradley.

Our first destination was the Kitengela Glass forge. It is only about 30 kms from Nairobi, but the drive took about an hour in the Land Rover, which we were happy to have given the condition of the roads.

This place is a total trip. After pulling off the paved road and winding our way through an area lined with tin-shack shops, and through a valley, up a big hill, passing Maasai in traditional dress (the long colorful robes, bald heads, beaded jewelry) to a mesa – clear grassland with a view back over the city’s skyline (surprisingly modest, less high-rises than I remember from my time in Harare, Zimbabwe) – and no real road. Bradley somehow navigated us to the glass shop following clues of funky 70s-esque art pieces by the side of the road.

We got a brief tour of the place, through the workshops where the artists were doing their thing (paying us little mind) – some beautiful work. The last room was connected to the forge and we stood and watched them toss the broken, recycled glass in the furnaces (oil run) and crank out a couple large vases and a couple glasses with ease. The forge was a dark, tall dome with stained glass windows about 20 feet up ventilating and letting in light. The blowers moved with a natural grace around one another, they seemed to not even look at each other, but manage to avoid hitting others as they swung the molten glass around and were right there for each other, just in time when more hands were needed to cut this or pinch that – it was mesmerizing.

We bought a few pieces and the long bumpy ride home seemed shorter than on the way out.

DAY 2 – Giraffe park & lunch, Karen Blixen style

We went to the Giraffe park in the town of Karen (named after Karen Blixen, the Danish woman the movie Out of Africa was based on). The park is like a zoo, but a really nice zoo where the giraffes have a huge savannah to roam around in. The main attraction is a raised circular building where you can feed the giraffe by hand. Of course it feels contrived (it is) but you still get a thrill of being so close and in contact with these huge graceful beasts.

The real attraction though was a different kind of beast – the Aussie- & Americano-tourist. We were joined by a busload of load tourists, who distracted much of our attention from the ‘wildlife’. Liv was helpful in showing us how it was done (this is part of her regular routine).

Next we went for a luxurious lunch at the Talisman restaurant – a mellow indoor-outdoor ex-pat hang out, where we sat by the fire, watched the Nairobi drizzle and read books with Liv. Lunch lasted most of the afternoon, and after some errands and work, it was dinner and bed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm Riiiiacch Biiaaach

Social sustainability can be a tricky concept. As the 4th Sustainability Principle says, in a sustainable society people worldwide are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

Now, this is very different from “no poor people” or to “be sustainable we must meet everyone’s needs” – and it represents only the bare minimum for sustainability, because if you have a situation where peoples’ capacity to meet their needs are systematically undermined – through abuses of power (political, economic, environmental, etc.) or other means – at some point you will have a breakdown of the social fabric.

It’s also always very important here to differentiate between basic human needs, and satisfiers of those needs – when we do this, it becomes clear that social sustainability is not just an issue of rich and poor, industrialized and developing, but a very real issue for all of us, because you can start to see how certain needs that are not met in rich places can be expressed as “poverties” and those poverties can then result in a variety of pathologies that we see all the time (eating disorders, depression, divorce, gun violence, etc.)

Currently, global society is unsustainable and violating this principle at a frightening rate – the results are all around us (though often difficult to see clearly, due to the complexity). This systematic deterioration represents a part of the funnel – and a particularly serious part of this is the widening gap between the rich and poor. This website is a cool & powerful way of conveying this idea:

Now donating and helping some people meet their needs does not necessarily address the underlying, fundamental mechanisms that cause the serious violations of SP 4, (but of course it is a nice a meaningful thing to do, so I recommend it!) - to address the underlying mechanisms, we really need to deeply evaluate our actions and those of our organizations and consider their full implications in an honest way – this is of course a huge part of the sustainability challenge. Stay going!