Tag Archives: Lamu

A Cliched Connection…Or Is It?

Living thousands of miles away from those who hold my heart the tightest – the friends and family whom I never have to worry about connecting with because it comes automatically – my soul finds itself searching for another source of human connection. It’s as if something in my core is innately aware that I can’t do this things called life alone. So, here in east Africa, I’ve been working on finding new ways of connecting – repeatedly assessing my definition of human connection.

Maybe human connection is a topic you’ve talked about so much that it’s become that banal book report theme you had to write about all four years of High School English.

Maybe it has always seemed vague and intangible; to try to wrap your mind around it is far too reminiscent of your childhood attempts to sell cups of homemade lemonade in order to buy that shiny red bicycle from the toy-shop window – you were always just $100 short.

Maybe it’s always been packaged in fluff: laughter and love and relationships, rather than the raw edge with which you can empathize: insecurities and dependency and unmet expectations.

Maybe you feel like every time it’s brought up, it’s as if someone is trying to shove all things appreciation down your throat. And maybe this is something you want to consume on your own.

Maybe you’ve heard it too much. And now it’s boring. But, maybe you can’t hear it enough…

Maybe, in order to deepen and broaden and strengthen your relationship with yourself, others, and that something beyond you, it needs to be talked about. Over. And over.

I believe you care about humanity. And I believe you are aware of life outside of your world.

So maybe this blog post is more for me. Because I know that in the midst of my so-called ‘daily grind’, I become so distracted that the only connection taking place is the zapping of my brain waves – firing off at one another thousands of millions of times per minute. And, embarrassingly, these brain waves are often concentrated on me: my work, my food, my nails that need to be cut, and my sweaty walk home.

When I allow my mind spiral into itself – I clearly lose focus on anything other than, well…myself. I’m not able to see that which I can learn from, find peace in, connect to, be challenged be, seek solace in, and experience profound beauty.

Even looking up from my LED screen right now, I am struck by the fact that I have been sitting in my swirly chair in a square room with three other individuals – all of whom I have not even glanced at in over two hours!

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” – MLK, Jr.

If I’m continually re-learning one thing, it’s this: Human connection is more than living in close proximity or appreciating one another’s commonalities. It requires looking up, speaking out, grasping a hand, sharing a taxi ride, eating together…acting as if I believe that what I do and think is connected to something, and someone, outside of me – because, dear people, it really is.

“The only difference between man and man all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species.” – Gandhi

Below are photos from the past 11 months that remind me of the incalculable beauty found only in human connection. My hope is that you can take the time to find ways to personally connect to each image and/or individual. (And I’d love if you shared your stories of connection in the comment section below!)

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Lamu, Kenya.

Lamu, Kenya.

Mpiro, Kenya.

Mpiro, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Naroomoru, Kenya.

Naroomoru, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Goz Beida, Chad.

Goz Beida, Chad.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Wau, South Sudan.

Wau, South Sudan.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Kiambu, Kenya.

 

 

Shida Of The Past.

It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.

Ilova Kokoto, a translator, and myself move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. “I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.

Ilova

Ilova

We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.

“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.

Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”

Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.

Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba's residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

In the past three years, World Concern has partnered with the people of Basuba to install a large djabia (a clean water catchment pictured above) and 20 latrines.

Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”

It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, “The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.” 

Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?

Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”

[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.

[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.

Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”

Peter stands proudly in front of the Basuba primary school.

Peter stands proudly in front of the Basuba primary school.

A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”

Ilova's daughter, Ahaldo.

Ilova’s daughter, Ahaldo.

Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”

Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”

Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.

Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.

The [Is]Land of Narrow Alleyways and Cashew Nuts. // Lamu, Kenya

You know you grew up in southern California when…for the first 15 years of your life, Disneyland was the most magical place you had ever been.

You are reminded that you grew up in southern California when…you still compare legitimately magical places to Disneyland.

Lamu, Kenya is one of those places.

As dusk pushed the sun down below the deep blue ocean’s horizon, I was transported into a whole new world. One ten minute boat ride became a journey to an entirely different land (so much so that I was confused when I didn’t see a line for immigration upon flying back into Nairobi).

On Lamu island, there is one car (an ambulance, fortunately). Composed of a majority Muslim population, eerily dilapidated mosques haunt the island with their historical beauty.

The island-dwellers are masters of the ocean – fresh seafood fills the markets, restaurants, and carts that nearly run you over when making their way through the two-person wide streets (if a donkey is coming, don’t even think about trying to pass). One-room shops display shelves stacked with local honey, coconut oil in old water bottles, and elaborate spices, Children ride rickety bikes freely along the coastal walkways and dive from docked boats into warm waters.

Women sit on crooked steps frying shrimp, next to them emptied coconut shells lay in piles on the ground. Girls walk by me smiling coyly, their perfectly painted on makeup outlining eyes that protrude from their hijabs.

Life on Lamu island is vibrant and lively. Take a single ten minute boat ride across choppy waters, back to Kenya’s coast, and you quickly forget such a place exists nearly within plain sight.

A long car ride up the coast on the main road toward Somalia, filled with views of the Indian Ocean and army trucks traveling to and fro, and you find yourself in Lamu East.

Though statistically considered to be one of the wealthiest counties in Kenya, these stated facts are a distraction from reality. Lamu county is clearly dichotomic. The disparity of wealth between the east and west is so vast that the east often goes overlooked – “Why are you working in Lamu? They are wealthy, right?”

Lamu East is home to numerous settlements of hunter-gatherers.  Facing recent hunting regulations by the Kenyan government, circumstances have forced most communities to turn to farming. This alternative source of livelihood has proved to be a generally unsuccessful venture, mainly due to environmental challenges (droughts/ water scarcity), animals, and a lack of experience.

Separated by forests, rough roads, and wild animals, the trade market is practically non-existent. Thus, for the few farmers who’s harvest proves plentiful, the nearest market is an inconvenient journey to Lamu West or Lamu island itself.

Even Lamu East’s usual honey market has seen a turn for the worst – late droughts have caused the bees to migrate to more amicable locations.

Here is where World Concern is at work. Here is where we are partnering with communities to empower farmers, educate locals, and uplift water and hygiene standards. Here is where lives are being transformed.

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“There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

We hop out of the Land Cruiser and step into a lush compound, tastefully landscaped so that pruned bushes and exotic flowers frame the house, kitchen, and storage room. An ocean-scented late afternoon breeze rustles through the thick forest of trees, chasing the heat away as it grazes the back of our necks.

After a successful day spent at the launch ceremony for World Concern’s newest Lamu project, empowering cashew nut farmers and potentially connecting them to the Fair Trade market, we were ready to move outside and visit with the locals.

Sporting an endearing gap-toothed grin, 70-year-old Elijah Wakafa shuffles across the compound to greet us, vigorously shaking each of our hands.

Since 1980, Elijah has been a cashew nut farmer in Mpeketoni, a settlement within Lamu East. He has grown over 130 cashew nut trees, all of which he prunes himself.

“Right from the beginning, farming has been very challenging – especially because this was once a jungle. There were very many trees and wild animals – buffalo, baboons, even elephants.”

Elijah, as well as other local settlers, has worked hard to clear and cultivate the land, “Slowly it became easier as many farmers cultivated and the animals began to leave.”

Due to his tenacity and experience, Elijah’s farm quickly expanded and produced a bounteous harvest. Each season, he harvests 3 sacks, or 500 kilograms, of nuts every three days. Unlike some farmers who are struggling to yield enough crops, Elijah faces other issues.

He informed me, “There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

Today the story is still the same. Every season Elijah brings in hundreds of kilograms of cashews, but has no profitable market in which to sell. The product is there, but the income return is not.

For many years, Elijah has been a member of the local farmer’s cooperative. Though the cooperative continues to struggle to reach its full potential, Elijah has remained a loyal member, believing that, “When the cooperative is empowered, any farmer will be able to get the fertilizer to take care of their plants. This and the unstable market are our main issues.”

Elijah looks forward to a day when the local farmers will have access to a stable market – one where the prices are both fair and consistent.

World Concern is partnering with farmers such as Elijah toward an empowered local cooperative, available quality fertilizer, further cashew nut training, and, most importantly, a connection to the Fair Trade market. Beginning this month (September), the Lamu farmers will begin their training to be certified as the first Fair Trade cashew nut farmers in Kenya 

World Concern will connect farmers to extensive cashew nut farming education and introduce them to new breeds of the nut that will mature faster, yield more crops and take up less land.

With this two and a half year project in the picture, the future for farmers like Elijah will inevitably progress.

Revealing that endearing, toothy smile, Elijah tells me,
“I am very excited about this new project. I am confident that this area can produce the best cashew nuts around!”

*** Be on the lookout for more Lamu stories as well as delicious Lamu Fair Trade cashews, coming soon to a market near you!