Did you know that I love the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo?

Did you know that I love the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo?  I can’t wait to read the book!

I’ve been thinking of this scene a lot lately.  You can see it played out in the trailer here.

Priest: In return for your help in digging this tunnel, I offer you something priceless.  Edmond: My freedom? Priest: No, freedom can be taken away, as you well know. I offer you my knowledge.

I absolutely can’t wait to read the book.  Never mind that it incorporates so much of my sport!  (Which I am really missing!  I need to find someone here that I can fence with…)  Anyway, I know already that  Alexandre Dumas will be one of my favourite authors.  Maybe I will try to read it in French.

It’s Friday!  Week 2 is now behind me.  I can’t believe how fast the time is going.  Every Friday we get security updates on the country and region for the weekend and upcoming week.  September already?  It doesn’t feel like it at all.

At work I am involved in capacity development and the transfer of learning, among a few other things.  Given that, I thought the following quotes were quite fitting so I’d like to share them.

I have two favourites. The first is one of them.

To look is one thing.    To see what you look at is another.  To understand what you see is a third.  To learn from what you understand is still something else.   But to act on what you learn is all that really matters.     -Michael LeBoeuf

I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.      -Confucius     (Or Confucious – Does anyone know the proper spelling?)

…And of course, because I am also engaged in training at work…

First you tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em;  You tell ‘em;  And then, you tell ‘em;  What you told ‘em.     -Anonymous

…And my other favourite…

Think as the wise men do, but speak as the common people do.   -Aristotle

It’s so amazing to be working somewhere where people switch languages between French and English depending on who walks down the hall.  I so want to continue improving my French.  This is definitely a good place for motivation.  Then again, it is supposedly easy to learn Swahili or Kiswahili and let’s admit it – that would be pretty cool too!

I had an amazing conversation with my roommate, Kerstin, last night.  It’s crazy how people from completely different countries, cultures and lives can have so much in common.  To all of you who were praying that I would find solid friends, thank you!  Unfortunately she leaves in a couple weeks but I have been so thankful for her friendship, especially for her kindness in helping me adapt to life here in Nairobi.

So now I am all set for the weekend.  Some time to relax is definitely welcomed.  As are the adventures I have lined up – exploring the city and some of the outskirts! This weekend started with a Friday afternoon Skype home (or Friday morning, depending where you are).  I loved it!  I am so so so thankful for technology!  Just to think that a couple years ago, 2007-2008 to be precise, I was in Ghana and there Skype did not exist is crazy!  It makes me realize how fast our world is changing!  For those of you who have Skype, but have not connected with me yet, here is my Skype Id: laura.gthomas

Until next time, with love from Nairobi!

Settling In… (and in search of a creative title)

So it’s official.  In September I’m moving to a place called Slum Gardens.  Don’t worry.  Its looks nothing like the image the name projects.  There are about 14 people living on the compound, all split between about 4 houses.  Here I will have my own bedroom and bathroom.  While I really like my current roommate, it always goes without saying that having your own place is some sort of special.  Most of the other people at Slum Gardens are about my age and are there for 3 months – 6 months with the odd person staying longer.  It’ll be nice to meet some other people that really want to maximize their off-work hours and see the country too.

I forgot to mention earlier that there are monkeys who come to work with us!  I am fortunate to be in the new offices and apparently the monkey sightings these last few weeks (I’ve only heard of 2 monkeys) means that they are finally getting used to the new buildings.  The buildings have been built with a variety of self-sustaining/energy-saving technologies.  In the center there is an open-air atrium and the path is lined with tropical vegetation.  My initial thought was along the lines of ‘I am working in a building oddly similar to that in the movie Paycheck – so cool. I never guessed it would be like this.’  I suppose it makes sense when you have the environmental program and human settlements programme, all for sustainability and eco-friendly, in the same building.  We also have geckos in the office, which I don’t mind so much.  I’m just glad there are no spiders or cockroaches – not even coming up the drain when it rains!   Such a nice difference from Ghana.  On the topic of critters, I just fixed my bug net above my bed.  I was woken out of a deep slumber the other night by a sharp stinging on the back of my neck. Eww… there was no way I could sleep after that.  My mind racing a mile a minute all night means that,  yes, I have officially needed to try the coffee.  All in all, I still prefer tea, which I should; after all, I am in Kenya.

Friday was International Humanitarian Day so way to go to all my friends and fellow humanitarians out there, especially those working behind the scenes.  I celebrated Friday night (because every reason for a celebration is a good one) with another Canadian, Kyle, who started work the same day I did, and his Kenyan friends.  It was quite nice for a change to spend some time with people who grew up here.  Then Saturday we two Canucks explored the city some more and later headed to a restaurant for dinner with live jazz where I ran into some people from work and a co-worker was singing.  I guess this really is a small world; living in the expatriate bubble.

Sunday I met Danika for breakfast and we shared much laughter.  She completed the same post-graduate program I did and is here working in the shelter sector also, but with completely different work.  We planned out the following weekend, which I am so looking forward to!  This Sunday we plan to go, with three others, and ride bicycles through Hell’s Gate National Park.  You can ride alongside the buffalos, gazelles, zebras and giraffes without having to worry about lions, cheetahs or leopards.  Apparently the only thing to really watch out for is the massive lammergeyers (­or bearded vultures) that like to drop bones from high heights to crack them open for the marrow within.

The plan for Saturday is to visit the host family and organization my roommate used to live and work with in Kibera.  I’m looking forward to learning more about what she has been up to and also to better understand the context of urban developments.  I’ll have to share some stats with you on urban growth, particularly in developing countries.  It is quite astounding.

I will also share some really cool quotes I happened across that are quite related to my work.  Unfortunately however, that will also have to wait as I don’t have them with me now.  In the meantime I can honestly say that I still really like work, which is great!  I was at a Capacity Development workshop on Monday; Tuesday my boss took the time to sit down with me and sincerely ask what my objectives working here are; Wednesday (today) the work started piling; Thursday (tomorrow) some of the others in the office will show me what exactly they do.  We have a small branch – there are only about 10 of us, maybe, so I’m looking forward to knowing each person’s role/contribution.

Also, new to the German School Boarding House this weekend was a guy from Sweden who has been out in the field on a fellowship working for the World Food Programme.  He doesn’t know how long he’ll be here, as it sounds they’re going to ship him out to the field again, but I have a million-and-one questions for him so hopefully he doesn’t go too soon.

Today there was a ceremony as the world’s youngest nation, The Republic of South Sudan, was recognized with by flag raising.  Now their flag stands tall and proud in the procession of flags lining the still surreal, walkway.

Unfortunately I have to end this here.  There is still so much to say, so little time.  I will write again soon.  In the meantime, please forgive any grammatical errors as I am utterly exhausted.

Bon nuit  tout le monde!

And So It Begins

My first day, first week, first experiences here will come throughout the week however I thought I would start by sharing some of my first day…

Picked up by taxi and off to work on my own.

I must present my letter of acceptance and passport, while others flash their ID cards.  Then we are filed inside and through a metal detector while our bags go through an airport-like x-ray security device.

I was directed to another building where I was given a temporary ID and my passport was taken for processing.  I’ll receive it once I receive my actual ID.  Then I must show my temporary ID to another security guard as I pass through the rotating metal barred doors.  He directs me to follow the path lined with the flags of the world.  So awesome.  This is really happening.

It’s a long winding path and I follow those ahead of me until we arrive at the main open-air lobby.  There another security guard directs me to my first appointment at the Staff Training and Development Unit, where I am told to take some time for a coffee and return at 1000hrs.

So here I am sitting in a cafe amidst a lush tropical garden, listening to the world’s languages as they walk by, watching for dress codes, while people sweep the delegate drop-off driveway area nearby, enjoying a tea and croissant all to myself my first morning here at work… writing what will become this blog entry.  I take it things are quite laid back; after all, I am still in Africa.

I notice there are ‘no smoking’ signs everywhere.  This must be quite difficult for the Europeans.  Two men sit at a table near me and I am overhearing a discussion about shaping the way forward with one of them ensuring each element, including logistics, security, participation, budgets and the shaping of the new structure, are designed with the perspective of a certain population involved (or whom he represents) at heart.  Very interesting…

I return to the room where my appointment is and who do I find?  Another Canadian just sitting there waiting for the meeting to start, who is also working for 6 months in the same branch.  Soon we are joined by 5 Kenyans and then the introduction formally beings.  After a self-directed tour of the compound we’ve discovered the medical clinic, post office, library and have received our passports back in exchange for our own new blue and white security ID cards that we must use to get in and out of certain areas and buildings.

I meet my supervisor and we are off to lunch where we meet an English lady who is holding a Capacity Development workshop on next Monday which I will get to participate in.  My supervisor really likes her and much of our work here is influenced by her lifetime of work.  We talk development all lunch (or rather they do) and I learn so much just by listening to them talk about important affairs.

Flooded with thoughts…

Apart from surviving a rough turbulence-filled landing on the second flight (although barely), I managed to make all my connections, including the one in Istanbul where I was forced to quickly adopt the slight pushiness required (because lines do not indicate order) to receive my boarding pass, get through security, be stopped by a random police check, and manage to find the boarding gate just in time see that the gate had been changed. Given this, I am not only thankful that all my luggage arrived (a first for me in Africa), but also that I made it here myself. Apart from this I was able to sleep on the planes, felt the time go by relatively fast and enjoy relatively decent ‘airplane’ food. I couldn’t have asked for more… except for maybe for an airport pickup as expected. My flight arrived at 0120hrs and by the time I got through customs, found a reliable taxi driver who knew where I was going (to the best of my knowledge), and drove (relatively slowly at first to avoid hitting any zebras), I made it to the correct entrance of my accommodation at 0330hrs. Long couple days.

I was up at 0830hrs, (since I couldn’t sleep it was so cold) and was off to breakfast and to buy a sim card for my phone. The weather here is sweater or jacket weather. I knew it would be cool but after the last few hot months in Canada I forgot what anything between 18-10 degrees Celsius feels like!

The best news – windows sealed with screens, no insects (not even in the bathroom when it rains, with nothing coming up the drains), internet and running HOT water! I knew I should have expected these, especially hot water, but you can never be sure in Africa and all I kept thinking of was those times in Ghana when I’d had cold water bucket baths in the morning, and at night always had a shoe-in-hand armed against the insects.

Later Friday I met with my supervisor: dress shirt, dress pants, briefcase, smile, coffee, development theories and work experiences, all using the lingo and acronyms, such as RBM. Perfect. I know I will be challenged and learning lots while contributing what I may. I am excited for Monday and to meet the rest of the team, extra thanks due to the nice warm welcome. I went home with homework; not what I expected as I don’t start until Monday, although I was glad to feel more prepared and have something restful to do as I try to get over jetlag.

There are many other young ladies my age staying here. Most are from Germany (working at NGOs), some are from Austria (working at their embassy), and from Italy (working at the UN). It is quite an interesting group and I am getting my fill of German. Everyone here can speak it and many of them are trying to learn Arabic. At first I was surprised at their interest in Arabic, but a surprising number of them have been to Istanbul and have shared stories about the large Turkish population in Berlin. I supposed where we learn Chinese and the US learns Spanish for trade and demographic reasons, they are learning the languages which best reflects their geography and changing migration patterns.

I managed to stay up all day Friday and Saturday by visiting with Gillian, a friend from home who has been here since February. It’s true, I encouraged her to come saying I’d be joining her soon but with the delays in my start date, it’s nice that we have been able to meet at all since she leaves this Wednesday. She introduced me to a Minty Pineade which you must all try to make at home. It is made of a LOT of mint (because the drink is green) and pineapple juice. Interesting taste; very good. There were also some others there from the IOM and another who had studied at Humber College the year after Gillian and I. On Saturday, after a nice solid sleep, I met with Gillian again and we took a matatu (mini buses, filled to the brim with people) to ‘town’ (aka. downtown Nairobi). She showed me which one I would need to get home (look for Village Market or UNEP), pointed out parliament, city hall, Jomo Kenyatta Mausoleum, climbed to the top of the KICC (Kenya International Conference Center) to look out over the city, and wander through the city market where Gillian helped me get my bargaining skills back in use as she bought souvenirs for family and friends. It was a great day which ended by getting get caught in the rain.

Another personal surprise – I’ve had both pizza and pasta since I’ve been here. Two things that I again, probably could have expected living in a city, but I had said goodbye to thinking I’d have to go out of my way to get Italian food. It was a welcomed surprise.

Overall, while I knew my experience in Kenya would be very different from Ghana, I can’t help but realize how very different Nairobi and Accra are.  Friday I only saw similarities and Saturday I only saw differences.  Accra had the Ghanaian flag and colours everywhere.  People wearing the Ghanaian materials and colours were constantly moving, singing, or humming to the loud Ghanaian beats coming from every car and store.  It was not uncommon to see people carrying things of all sorts and sizes on their heads and selling in the streets, after all, this was how we bought our t-roll (aka. toilet paper).  In Nairobi, people tend to dress, by comparison, in western styled clothing of less bright colours, and I only saw one person carrying something small on their head, and only one person selling on the street (although I now hear that selling on the street is permitted in Nairobi on only street in particular).  Not to mention here there are a disappointingly small number of motos (motorcycles).  Just as well, taxis are probably safer.  It is very interesting and I am beginning to understand why my supervisor was curious to know what differences I would find between here and West Africa.  So far both are nice, just very different.  I wonder what it is like here outside of the city and in the rural areas.

Hope you are all doing well.  I can’t wait to start and share my first week at work.

New Horizons

Everyone is different.  No two people are alike.  Yet I am always surprised by how similar people are.  People around the world everywhere, for the most part, share the same relational values, laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, rejoice and mourn at the same things.  No matter how different we are, these similarities serve to remind me that people everywhere have more in common than the red fluid pumping beneath our skin.

I am about to learn and experience new things, take new opportunities, and grow in new ways, as always when traveling to a new place.

My trip to Kenya has started quite unlike any of my others.  The airlines had to reschedule my return flight and for the inconvenience of delaying my time of arrival back home in February, they have decided to bump me up to first class – for all six flights!  With 22 hours and 55 minutes of traveling, I’m most thankful.

Before this blog gets full swing into my Nairobi life, I just want to say ‘thank you.’  Thank you to all my family and friends who have looked forward to this opportunity with me, sharing all the bittersweet moments of parting with encouragement, best wishes and prayers.  I will do my best to keep this blog updated and share my experiences with all of you.  You are so special to me.

With 6 months ahead of me, I know the time will fly.  I am completely overwhelmed with how natural this feels and looking forward to seeing this path unroll before me.

Canada today, somewhere over Europe tomorrow, Kenya on Friday.  I’m ready!  Let’s go!