Monday, April 26, 2010

Mombasa news, Fort Jesus, GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi

Hamjambo? (‘You all have no issues?’ Appropriate response: ‘Hatujambo!’ meaning ‘We have no issues! Meaning you are good. This applies reagardless of whether or not you actually have any issues to report.) I hope you all are doing well! I am still in Mombasa (I am actually in Nairobi now, but wrote this blog a few weeks ago . . .) and am looking at my last week here before returning to Nairobi this coming Saturday (24th).

Habari familia yangu (my family news)

I am continuing to enjoy my wonderful family here in Mombasa! Last weekend, my sister, Mbombo and I took our six cousins to the beach. It was nice to be back at the beach again and I had fun with the kids. We swam and played games. I taught the kids the game “Red Light, Green Light,” and they taught me a police, thief game that they knew. We went to the beach again today to sit by the water.

Other than going to the beach, every weekday evening, Mbombo and I watch Love Spell together, a Mexican soap opera dubbed into English featuring a very dramatic storyline! Currently, the main character is stranded on an uninhabited island with his best friend, who cannot walk due to some shrapnel in his leg (their boat blew up and they jumped off just in time, but the friend got injured!). His best friend is in love with the main character’s mother and the main character’s brother is out to kill the main character, steal his money and marry his wife! It is all very dramatic . . . it’s definitely one of those, ‘it’s so bad (poorly written, unrealistic, actors selected for their appearance), but oh so good (actors selected for their appearance, ridiculous but shocking and exciting events every episode!)’ indulgences.

I mention this not just because it is something I do here, but also because many Kenyan families enjoy watching these nightly soap operas. One of my friend’s families in Nairobi actually waited until the commercial break to pray before dinner! One of the lecturers that I saw in Nairobi hypothesized that this is because romantic love in particular, and some other emotions, are suppressed much of the time in Kenyan culture and the soap operas are a way for people to explore these emotions. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do know that Love Spell is quite entertaining and often is the cause of some laughter during the day, which is always welcome!

Pic: So, this picture is the bathroom wall in my Mombasa home. The paint is chipped . . . but doesn't it look like a map of Africa/Asia!!?? England is even way up at the top! Hmmm . . . I just showed one of my friends . . . I might be alone in this, but I still thought it was cool!


My internship continues to be amazing! My boss had me over at her house as a guest two weekends ago and we went out and heard live African music, saw live Luo dance, and danced ourselves! The next day we went to the beach together. At work, I have been working on going through the new Constitution as Coast Women in Development will be part of the civic education effort to teach people about the Constitution in the coming month.

Pic: This pic is of me and my boss and her son, Johnny on Easter morning (I stayed at their house the night before).

Pic: My boss took this picture of me on the beach with a camel!!

I guess I haven’t updated on the Constitution process in a while. The Constitution was approved with no amendments in the Parliament recently. Next, the Attorney General has 60 days from when the Constitution was passed by Parliament to officially publish the draft (he can only make grammar/format corrections) and then there are 30 days before the public referendum set aside for ‘civic education’ before the public will vote yes or no on the draft! Different organizations are assigned districts by the government in which they can carry out civic education. The debate is still going strong between the yes and no camps, which are covered in the news here every night, although now the no camp is switching its strategy and instead wants to amend the Constitution before the referendum instead of just voting against the referendum. This is an unrealistic strategy unless the timeline that I mentioned above changes.

People in favor of the Constitution include the Prime Minister and President of Kenya who would like Kenya to move forward with a new Constitution that they have worked for 20 years to write (reminder- Kenya’s current Constitution was written for Kenya by the British at independence). The current Constitution does not reflect Kenyan values and Kenya’s diversity at all, so the yes camp believes that the Constitution will be the beginning of Kenya finding its own identity as a nation as well as accomplish other reforms that Kenya has been waiting for.

The no camp is made up of mainly Christian church members who mistakenly believe that the Constitution legalizes abortion and protest the inclusion of the Kadhis courts (Muslim courts), which they believe means that the Constitution does not equally respect both Christianity and Islam. Kadhis courts exist currently in Kenya and have existed as part of the legal system in Kenya since independence. News sources and others have commented that it is ironic that the church should advocate for the deletion of the abortion clause in the Constitution on religious grounds, but then protest the inclusion of the Kadhis courts, this time arguing that religion should be separate from the Constitution. However, most people that I have talked to, even Catholics, are voting for the Constitution anyway. Even some catholic priests are coming out in the yes camp- on the news, one priest commented that, “I have read the Constitution well and nowhere does it legalize abortion.” The news I watch (KTN) has identified the church as the biggest stumbling block in creating a new Constitution as their efforts also in part caused the failure of the 2005 draft Constitutional process (reminder: Kenya went through a very similar Constitutional drafting process in 2005, but the public referendum failed in the end, meaning that Kenya did not get a new Constitution- this is round two in recent years for trying to establish a new Constitution in Kenya!).

For the record, the Constitution says the following on the right to life: “(1) Every person has the right to life; (2) The life of a person begins at conception; . . . (4) Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” Until there is a law legalizing abortion in Kenya, abortion will remain illegal after the passage of the Constitution according to the yes camp. The no camp claims that this clause legalizes abortion. It is interesting how two different interpretations of the law can be so opposite!

Lastly on the Constitution, although one news station conducted a poll that showed 67% of Kenyans had not read the current draft, most people I’ve asked seem to want to vote yes and think that the Constitution will pass. However, I’ve noticed that one thing the Constitution might not change is Kenyans’ hope for their government. Other than the people I’ve talked to who are voting yes, there are a number of people who will refuse to vote in the referendum because they just don’t think anything will change because of it; the government has not done a thing for many Kenyans and people don’t think a new Constitution will change anything. It’s not that non-voters are boycotting as a statement or anything; the new Constitution is just not anything that they’re interested in or anything they think will change their life in any way. People have made their lives without the help of the government and so these people will never include the government as a possible place to access resources when they’re down on their luck . . . why should they participate in a government that has not affected their lives at all?

Lastly on my internship, this past week I met with survivors of gender based violence whose cases CWID was working on. When I get home, remind me to tell you more about this.

Other than working at CWID, I have worked at the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya for the past two weeks. I go to FIDA on Mondays and Tuesdays when FIDA sees clients. The majority of the cases are maintenance cases where the father is not paying school fees for his children and the mother is commonly (not always) unemployed and has to provide for the child/ren. There are also cases of succession where the widow (who is usually not working) is left without any inheritance after her husband dies because the husband’s family has taken his properties and money, which is consistent with some customary law in Kenya. Lots of customary (local) law in Kenya discriminates against women and the current Constitution actually declares that customary law is superior to the Constitution. The new Constitution does not allow discrimination against women and many people are saying that women are one of the largest beneficiaries of the new Constitution.

Anyway, FIDA tries mediation with all clients first and if that fails, then FIDA will help the woman file a court case and eventually represent herself in court! FIDA used to act as pro-bono lawyers for women, representing the women instead of the women representing themselves, but because of the number of women who began to ask for services, FIDA began teaching women to represent themselves, which they also realized is a more empowering thing to do. Two Kenyan legal interns at FIDA have been showing me the ropes with the clinic (where new clients come in to FIDA) and the experience has definitely shown me the power of law in accessing rights. It is clear that without FIDA these women would have no access to the court system and therefore questionable access to any justice system that recognized their rights.

Other things

Today I went to Fort Jesus in Mombasa, a Fort that used to protect the bay around the island of Mombasa. Fort Jesus was created by Vasco de Gama when he lived in Mombasa and later the English colonizers took it over. The fort is in the shape of Jesus laying down- there are two arms, two legs and his head which are part of the structure, which was all carved out of the coral reef, not built up from the ground!! I found the fact that Fort Jesus was carved and not built to be amazing- look at the pictures below and see what you think. My guide also took me through ‘old town’ Mombasa, which is inhabited mainly by Muslims and the Swahili people. The Swahili people are indigenous to Mombasa. They are the parent group of the language spoken in all of Kenya, Kiswahili (Swahili are the people, Kiswahili is the language). Part of the reason Kiswahili was chosen as one of the official languages of Kenya (along with English) is because the Swahili people are a smaller group of people so this decision wasn’t political and the language was also the language of trade as Mombasa has been the center of East African trade with Asia since something like the 9th century. Today, Mombasa is still the biggest port in all of the East African Coast.

Pic: Here are some pictures of Fort Jesus- yes, this was carved out of coral!

Pics: Here are some pictures from the market- the top one is from the famous spice market in Mombasa!

Flashback: The GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi

Another experience from Nairobi that I feel it is absolutely essential that I blog about is my visit to the GoDown Arts Center on the edge of Nairobi. My friends and I were interested in the artistic scene in Nairobi, which isn’t present in a lot of the city, other than the handcrafted items at the markets that are made outside of the city and brought in to sell. But other than craft items that are mass produced for tourists, what are artists doing in Nairobi?

Pic: Here is the entrance to the Center.

GoDown is not really known to most Nairobiites- they may have heard of it, but our taxi driver could only guess where it was (luckily, he was right, but the fact that he had never driven there, only heard about it, was surprising to me). The Center is basically a group of organizations and studios in an L-shape based around an old warehouse bordering the city and the Industrial area of Nairobi. We went around to the organizations and talked to people who were networking around Africa to try to improve the contemporary art scene in East Africa as well as a group who was using music to train street children (most of the people we saw were teenagers) to make music so that they could make a living gathering tips while singing as opposed to selling drugs or being penniless their entire lives.

Pic: Here are some of the boys playing music. I was able to take video of them with my camera, so if you want to see them actually playing, let me know when I get home!

At the East African art center, we had an interesting conversation with the owner of the group. He asked us if we liked Obama and we of course said yes, to which he was surprisingly disappointed! This is shocking as most people here love Obama! However, he said that if Obama had completed three things in his first year, he would support him today. These things were (1) to close Guantanamo Bay; (2) to re-establish relations with Cuba, who was ex-communicated from the Western world for political reasons; and (3) to end the war in Congo. After this conversation, I knew that the GoDown Center was the place where idealists felt at home! At the next organization, we watched a full performance of four songs performed by the boys who were learning music to stay off the street. They each took turns introducing the songs to us in English and telling us what each piece was about- they were truly amazing performers and the only reason I could tell that they weren’t a professional company is their short pants and lack of shoes and shirts for many of the boys.

Pic: This picture is of me and artist Tom Mboya! When I first met Tom, I was shocked that this was his name because Tom Mboya is also the name of an important person in Kenyan history who was actually killed for political reasons. However, I learned later that many people actually have this name as it is common for people to have similar names (both first and last) in Kenya. Anyway, his art was beautiful! It reminded me of Degas, except with brighter colors- you can see them a little here.

Pic: This is Martin, one of the artists we met- I LOVED this painting! It is three musicians and the middle one has a huge cowboy hat! The hat was a theme that was in many of Martin's paintings! I thought the colors were amazing!

The GoDown had some beautiful graffiti art. Here are a few pictures- you might recognize some faces . . .


I almost forgot! In Nairobi, we went to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where they keep baby elephants whose parents have died from poachers or for other reasons. They were SO cute!!

Here are a few pics:

Update on schedule

As I said earlier, I am headed back to Nairobi in a week where I will take exams, turn in papers and finish my program officially. On May 5th, I am headed to Rwanda where I will be until May 11th. On the 11th, I will fly back to Nairobi and then fly back to the US beginning on the 11th and ending the 12th. I hope that the volcano in Iceland will be extinguished by then! My next blog will either be sitting in the airport or at home! See you soon and thanks for reading as usual!

*So, I wrote this blog a few weeks ago, but didn’t get a chance to post it until today. I am actually already back in Nairobi, as you can see from the dates!

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