Tuesday, January 30, 2007

mombasa

we all have horribly uneven sunburns.

my stomach hurts.

it is f-ing hot and f-ing humid.

tuk tuks are the best transportation ever.

mombasa looks and feels more like what i imagine morocco is like than what the rest of kenya is like.

liz, the kids and i are sitting in a stuffy internet place to pass time before we head back to nairobi via the sketchy ass train with no electricity and bandits climbing through windows tonight.

i have visited a tropical paradise, two hindu temples and several mombasa markets in thge last several days.

it is hard to find vegetarian food in a mostly muslim city.

however, it is easy to find vegetarian food in the hindu neighborhoods.

the water runs brown at first from the fancy hotel faucets where we were staying until this orning.

xenia wants to convert to islam so she can dress in tradition muslim dress for school when we get home.

train tonight, nairobi tomorrow, dubai the next day, then nyc, then the train to cal until monday night.

i miss my bed.
so much to tell you all.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

the rains down in africa

it hasn't rained in about a week and i am thankful for the clothes i have washed that have been allowed to dry in the scorching sun. i am also thankful for the deficit in puddles of standing water- i haven't been bitten by a mosquito in over a week! and i am super tan.

we leave tonight (friday) by train to mombasa. the irish couple we have been with since day 3, the 15 french-canadian students and the two spanish guys who shared their rosemary cheese with us will all be heading there with us. i can't wait.

the bulldozers came again on wednesday night. this time, they took down EVERYTHING in the settlement across the fence and even re-bulldozed the first batch of homes in order to break up the metal and wood to prevent people from rebuilding. they arrived with a truck of about 16 people with guns and sticks, who beat residents down from the entrance to get in. they then stood on buildings with their giant guns and people had no choice but to leave. the most consistent estimate of the span of inhabiting this plot of land is 20 years. twenty years of building a community and 1000 people are displaced. unbelievable. the woman i spoke to the night of the infamous teargassing was there in the morning yesterday when i walked over with reporters from the bbc. i, along with several independent journalists and a housing advocate from the national lawyers guild in seattle interviewed her and a handful of others and this is the story we got:
the people living there were PAYING RENT. yes, they were living there LEGALLY. apparently, the owner is some elderly woman whose children have been managing the property for her. when the property sold to the new owner, he gave them 30 days to vacate... and sent the police in with bulldozers the next day. some women were threatened with arrest when they returned to gather belongings for their children, who can no longer go to school because they have been displaced, dispersed, seperated from their community. several people are still staying in the rubble because they have nowhere else to go.

i visited again last night and was invited into one of the few remaining and more permanent homes. i met a young girl's sick aunt (i later found out the woman was the original owner of the property)who was bed-ridden and could not be moved because of her illness. they are all worried that the bulldozers will be back and thet they will not have time to get friends to help move the old woman out of the home before the bulldozers get to her. heartbreaking, sickening and outrageous.

there is so much more going on here than i even have time to process or write about. most of it good but some of it obviously horrible. the people in kenya are amazingly wonderful to us (except for one of the cooks at the hostel who hates all of the vegetarians that the forum brought to town). matatu rides are the most frightening and fabulous thing in the world. the pineapple here is the best thing i have eaten in my entire life. candy is cheap. about 80% of kenyan women want to keep ava. exhaust fumes from deisel buses hurt your feet. giant tortoises can eat through nylon tents. the power goes out a lot. police carry huge guns. everything can be bargained down- even taxis.

i need to get out and start my day (it is about 6:30am here). i heard more bulldozers last night and want to go check on my friend flozy before i leave town. we are also visiting kibera today- the biggest slum in kenya which houses over 1 million people. it was made 'famous' by "The Constant Gardener" and we are going to check out some projects they have going there.
sorry this is so disjointed. i am sleeeepy and anxious to be on the beach.

xo

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

nairobi after dark

the forum has been both amazing and disappointing.

after i last wrote, the 20+ of us activists who witnessed the madness just over the fence we all call our temporary home, headed to the forum with naive hopes about gaining massive publicity for the destruction of the neighborhood next door. surely, as the world fricking social forum is being held in nairobi, the attendees would be interested in hearing of this horrible situation and would be motivated to do something to help, right? over and over again we were told that "this happens all of the time here." well, isn't this issue painfully similar to nearly everything else we 100,000 people are discussing here? isn't the purpose of this venue to work together to change these issues? some folks from independent media outlets were interested, and footage from someone stying here (the daughter of the woman from mill valley) was handed over to a media source who is supposed to air it sometime today (wednesday).

last night, after another full day of being reminded over and over again that the usa is involved with every single horrible thing going on in the world (either directly, or by modeling for others or supporting others who are oppressing people), and also being inspired by 3 women nobel peace laureates, we all congregate like we always do and share tea, chocolates or beer after the kids go to bed. a couple of american girls who had been filming and interviewing come back and explain that another slum is going through the eviction process and the people who are now homeless because of the destruction across our fence, have somehow aquired an attorney to help stop the bulldozing from demolishing the few homes left and to seek damages from the property owner for losing everything they owned. apparently, the property was sold to some asshole who wants to build a big hotel... surely to house western tourists behind a big fence.

at some point, the usual laughter and joking between the french canadians, us and our new spanish friends switched and we were informed that the bulldozers were returning again... and that this time, the people were being supported by their lawyer in blockading the street. about 10+ of us head outside our massive gate into nairobi after dark- something westerners are instructed NEVER to do. we had all been staying so long here, that the locals new a lot of us by name- especially ava's- and we had all grown to feel safe around here inlight of the police presence.

so folks head down the street about a block, to where the entrance to the 'informal settlement' is and the street was full of people discussing whether to help one another move their belongings out, or to stand together and block the entrance. within moments, the crowd began cheering and word spread that they had decided to block the streets. the lawyer informed us that he had instructed people to start big bonfires at the entrances, to keep the police out and people started getting really excited, regardless of the truckloads of police just across the street from where people were all gathered. they just wanted to buy time while their papers went through and it was great to see them working together.

i was back down the street talking the rest of our friends in front of the hostel. surely, the more white, western tourists i could send down to them, the more supported they would feel and the less likely the police would be to cross the line with force because of all of the cameras flashing away (one of my favorite people here is an italian guy who is a journalist living in columbia for the last 4 years). i am standing at the entrance of the hostel talking to the fench-canadians when i hear what sound like a gunshot. naturally, i panic because liz and all of our other friends are down at the end of the street and when i look in their direction, i see a clound of teargas crawling down the street.

everyone (including liz, who is safe) starts running our direction. one girl in her late 20's approached us coughing and rubbing her eyes so we got her some water and had her sit down to talk to us. she had lived in the neighborhood for 6 years and was lucky enough to have a friend to stay with. many were not so lucky- including many of the families, who had to leave their kids to sleep between the neighborhood bar/prostitute hang-out and the rubble of ther old homes, while they looked for a new place to live.

this is the most awful thing i have ever witnessed. the police set up camp just across the fence and several people had to move their tents because of the flying debris and the lound smashing of property that carried on all night. the usually lazy and sweet hostel dog was even so wound up that it bit a newcomer last night and would not stop barking.

i don't know what else to say other than that i am disappointed by the lack of media attention and concern by the people attending the forum. i am sure maybe we just have coincidentaly talked to the handful of random people that are too preoccupied with other things than to come out here and see the devestation themselves, but it is upsetting. i will let you know if anything makes it to the news... i keep trying to post on indymedia but the system is swamped... i found out where their tent is last night and will contact them today and update you all soon.

in other news, we are heading to mombasa on friday with about 20 other people from the forum and i can't wait to just sit in the sand.
xo

Sunday, January 21, 2007

sweet jesus
i have been pondering in my head through the busy busy days of the last week, thinking about some witty and clever hideaous kinky-esque blog i should write about how my luggage was lost and how xenia had a fever so high for two days that her face rashed out bright red and we had to go to the clinic up the street (which, by the way, was better than ANY clinic i have EVER seen in the USA). i wanted to tell you all about the massai villages i saw and the massai beer i drank right outside the mara the day we headed back to civilization from our safari (where masai warriors with spears and bows and arrows guarded our camp and had to scare hyenas and lions away). it is hot as hell here, with amazingly delicious bananas and refreshing rain at night.

then the forum was kicked off yesterday, after unorganzied and hectic check-ins in downtown nairobi. there was a march from kibera (the 2nd largest slum in all of africa- over 1 million people living in extreme poverty) to uhuru park where a concert with amazing african mucic and cultural events and speakers inspired me and made me start to feel good about the world again. we walked back to the hostel where we have downsized to a tent (because of rats infesting our walls) and fell fast asleep after a cold beer and some yummy vegetables.

at about 10:15pm, i started waking to crazy sounds of women and chldren screaming and what i thought were fireworks. there was a late concert last night and i assumed people were partying out in the streets. within moments, our friend claire, from ireland came to our tent and explained that police were bulldozing the entire neighborhood just over the fence from our hostel. apparently, nearly 1000 people, mostly families with small businesess who have lived there for many years, were "squatting" on private property. the police came the day before and said to get out. they had nowhere to go, so they came for them after dark.

they smashed windows and drug sleeping women and children from their homes and demolished several homes. when they ran out of fuel for their bulldozers, they began smashing windows and kicking in doors and tearing the metal/tin roof off of the homes with people inside. they re-fueled around 1am and carried on for more than 2 hours. i had moved my kids inside to a dorm room where a woman from mill valley was sleeping and spent the night talking and planning with the over 20 activists from italy, colombia, canada, ireland, usa, uk, australia, spain, etc about what to do to help. we sent out emails, took video footage of people being nearly run down by police bulldozers and photos and made phone calls to the media. i slept on the couch in the main room for about 2 hours and woke feeling beyond horrible.

before we left for the forum this morning, i went out for bananas at a fruit stand and walked around the alley to see the damage. it was beyond anything i have ever seen in my life. everyone from the hostel (which included a couple of journalists) were taking photos and talking to people. i spoke with a man who has lived there with his kids for over 3 years. he has no place to go. he also told me that the police only got to a small portion of the neighborhood and would be coming back tonight. there is a huge garbage truck with residents piling their belongings in before their houses get smashedm parked in front of the hostel right now. i am heading over there when i am done with this to see if i can help move their things out. i keep thinking that at least these families got a warning and that i won't hear screaming all night but it is still the most heartbreaking thing i have witnessed. the alcoholic, ex-uk military guy who owns and runs this place is out on safari for a week, so i may at least 'liberate' some blankets and hand them out over the fence.

i hope you all enjoyed my super uplifting update from me. i don't have time to check in on the web much, as there is only one computer here, with 75+ people/activists and it is hard to find time to actually write without some snotty brit breathing down your throat. i miss you all, but i do not miss home at all.

I hope you are all well. don't worry about me being in danger, i feel safe here and the kenyan people are amazing and kind. i'll update more later.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Heading out soon...

i am so sick. my head hurts, my throat is swollen, my body aches, my eyes are watering and i am warm and sensitive all across my skin. apparently, the flu shot the traveler's clinic suggested for my trip to kenya has given me the flu. i have been pounding tea, GSE, my infamous vinegar/ginger/garlic concoction, emergen-c, airborne and gallons of water to get this shit gone and thankfully, the malaria medication they gave me also serves as an anti-biotic... i just started popping the pills a few days early to help get rid of this funk before i leave in ONE WEEK. (lila was also kind enough to take ava to the store so i could nap... and she came back with hot soup and cornbread.)

one week. in one week i am getting on an airplane with my kids and a friend (who also hates flying) and heading to the birthplace of man. it is overwhelming to think of but i must say that through all of the insanity and curveballs i have been thrown over the last few months, i am excited beyond words. the forum is going to be intense. liz and i both agree that we will probably be spending the bulk of our flight looking over the myriad of options for workshops thet they are offering each day. it is immense. we are going to be meeting with a friend of harjit's in nairobi who is works with the palestinian freedom project, as well. it will be fun to meet him (and i am sure the several other folks who we'll share meals and drinks and stories with). he is planning a visit to one of the somali refugee camps in the north and i so wish we had time to go along. i keep imagining myself sitting through workshops and somehow being magically filled with the energy and inspiration that has been slowly draining from my life over the last few years.

the safari is going to blow my mind, too. i just spent the last two days sick on the couch watching 'out of africa' and some african wildlife dvds. amazing. and mombasa is apparently being taken over my monkeys and has white sand beaches that are going to be my home for a few days before we head back to capitalism-land. the girls and i are then taking the train from new york for 3-4 days. we'll visit mickey in chicago for a few hours, where he will hopefully bring us tacos and fruit and listen to the girls freak out about giraffes and elephants. then we'll be on our way again- me reading 'walden' and 'people's history' for the 10th time and xenia knitting and reading harry potter. ava has a million art pads that we sent out to nyc with abby and heidi yesterday (along with all of our winter clothes) and we will arrive in santa rosa on february 5th- tan, inspired, tired and hungry for mexican food.

it is going to be quite interesting, travelling around a relatively safe country as a priveleged white tourist, knowing that places like somalia, ethiopia, sudan and uganda are just outside its borders. i still can't quite wrap my mind around it, but i imagine i'll be sleepless some night at our hostel and will sneak into the internet cafe to write all about it.

so the meds must be working because i think i just actually wrote a few complete sentences up there! i am tired again and off to bed.

send me your addys if you want postcards.
love you all dearly. for real.
xo