Thursday, July 22, 2010

Music Festival Prep!

Date: Monday July 12 to Thursday July 22
Day 42 to 52
Quote of the week: TIA. This is Africa

The big day for our marketing event, the Fiti Yogurt Music Festival, was supposed to be Friday July 16th. Jackel, Kinleigh, and Emily came back from safari on Monday and we had 4 days left to finish organizing everything. But...on Tuesday we found out that there was going to be a YES campaign for the August 4th constitutional referendum on the same day and at the same location as our event! We only had one option. We had to change the date of our event. We couldn't change the location because there was no way that we could compete with a political event. The YES campaign would draw much more attention than anything else.

The proposed new constitution is a big step for Kenya and I am so happy that I was there for such an important and memorable historic event :) All across Kenya there were YES and NO campaigns leading up to the big day with people wearing red and green everywhere! In Oyugis, everyone was in support of the new constitution decked out in green YES t-shirts and hats. Almost all Kenyans from the Luo tribe were in support of the constitution partly because the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, is Luo. Most of the senior figures in the coalition government were supporters of the YES campaign including Prime Minister Raila, President Mwai Kibaki, the Vice President and both deputy Prime Ministers. On the other end, the Minister for Higher Education and former president Moi led the NO campaign. Many people wondered whether or not violence would break out throughout the country like in 2008 after the disputed December 2007 Presidential election which left 1,500 people dead and more than 300,000 homeless.

We received an email from the Government of Canada warning us about potential violence that may occur. They advised us to avoid wearing red or green and avoid all gatherings - even peaceful demonstrations. The vote will take place in 2 weeks on August 4th!

I know I've mentioned this a million times but I LOVE SPEAKING LUO! I speak like the locals now, its hilarious. Everyone knows I speak Luo too so they don't even greet me in English anymore. Some guys even yell "omera!" at me which means "dude". A ridiculous amount of people know my name also.

Victor, Part 2:
I hadn't seen Victor, the 8-year old boy from the hospital who I wrote about in the blog Life is not easy, for three weeks until the evening of Monday July 19. There was a young boy who was following Emily and I for a while on our way home from the market but I didn't think anything of it. Eventually I turned around and saw that it was Victor. I couldn't believe it. I felt terrible that I hadn't been by his house to check up on him yet. Luckily two friends of mine were nearby and could translate so that I could talk to him. They helped me ask Victor what was going on which was when he told us that he forgot something at the market and his grandmother had kicked him out of the house threatening to kill him if he returned.

I had no idea what to do. I couldn't leave him alone on the streets for the night. I wanted to give him food and shelter for the night but I also didn't want to take him back to the hotel either, a place completely different from the home he knows. I got my local friends to give me advice and one of them kindly offered up his place for the night for Victor to stay. Victor didn't want to leave me and go home with a complete stranger but my friend encouraged him that he would be well taken care of and he was :) I was shook up about everything that had happened and I was terrified of sending Victor home. I didn't know what to do.

The following day I had my good friend Morris help me figure out a solution. Morris, Victor, and I sat outside on the grass behind the hotel talking for about 30 minutes about the situation and what to do. I was getting emotional when Victor told us that he never wanted to return home, he wanted a new family and to go to boarding school. Victor was quiet and soft spoken and he stared at the ground the entire time. His family could not provide for him and it seemed like he had been neglected by his parents. It was hard for me to deal with the fact that there are so many children that are in Victor's situation or worse.

After a long day Morris and I eventually spoke with a chief in town and Victor's grandmother to find a solution. Morris' mother had found out from a relative of Victor's that his family was in a poor situation after the post-election violence in 2008. Everything changed when we heard the grandmother's side of the story and learned that Victor's story was not entirely true. Victor had seen me in the market and come to me knowing that I would take good care of him and provide for him. I felt terrible that I had partly created this by helping him at the hospital a couple weeks ago but I also couldn't just leave the boy when he was that sick and needed help. I didn't know who to believe because Victor seemed so honest. What if he was telling the truth? Eventually we brought him home but I was terrified and so conflicted between the two stories. Even if the grandmother told the truth Victor had still told us that he wanted a new family and that was hard to deal with also. His father is away and only visits once a year, his mother is not mentally stable, and the family is living in poverty.

After Morris spoke with Victor's older brother at their home he realized just how bad the family's situation was. They are living in dire poverty. No animals, no crops or fertile land, and the great grandmother is not earning enough to provide for all four children plus herself and the mother. Morris and I committed ourselves to helping this family and returned on Saturday to discuss what we could do to help.
Fiti Yogurt - Western Heads East:
• I strongly believe that Western Heads East is an incredible organization and that the success of the yogurt project relies entirely on the people. With the right people in place this project will grow successfully and sustainably to benefit many people in the world.
• We are in the process of getting communication boards (like cork boards) made for both kitchens so that we can post documents, notes, and other materials on them for all of the Mamas. This will definitely help with communication.

• Met with our MC and YOFAK (Youth Fighting AIDS In Kenya) to discuss the event and the key messages that we would like to send.
• Ran around everywhere to change the date on all of our posters and put up new ones. Kinleigh and I even put some posters on the tarmac road! It was awesome. At one point she was redirecting traffic to go around the posters on the road.

• Met with the mayor and other VIP at the Oyugis Town Council (OTC) and the police station to invite them to the Music Festival. It was an interesting experience. Everything was pretty informal but they were all extremely nice to us and being a mzungu definitely helps. There are lots of very important people that we needed to invite.
• The t-shirts we ordered didn't turn out so well... the majority of them were dirty, had oil stains, had holes in them, and/or the printing was smudged. They also were the wrong sizes. We tried to give our supplier constructive feedback to help him in the long run with his business but the t-shirts were pretty bad.
• The stage: we looked around everywhere for a stage but couldn't find anything affordable (of course most of the time there was a "mzungu mark-up" factored in). Solution....we built one! We also rented 2 tents, 50 chairs, and 4 tables
• Coordinated transportation for the Ongiya Disi Preparatory School children and the Kadongo Yogurt Mamas
• YOGURT PRODUCTION! I spent the majority of the day on Wednesday preparing to do production for Friday.
• I lead a meeting on my own with the Nyanam Women's group who is responsible for advocacy of the project. I had Morris, a translator, there which was extremely helpful. I was nervous doing the meeting alone without the other interns but it was a great experience and it went really well! I asked Mama Jessica to choose someone to start with a prayer and then we spoke for a while about the music festival and the message that we wanted to send. I was very impressed with everyone in the group as they started having their own discussion with Morris in Luo about what to say and what to do on the day of the event.
• Thursday July 22nd...the day before the music festival, and EVERYTHING goes wrong! :) O well.....we embraced it. The t-shirts and the packaging were not finished so Kinleigh worked with the supplier to finish them. The amount of milk we had ordered was a lot less because our supplier couldn't get as much as we had requested. Lastly, the stage turned out to be a disaster but everything was fixed in the end. The wood was very old and poor, it was overlapping with nails sticking out everywhere and it wasn't supportive at all. It was extremely dangerous for school children and other performers to be walking and dancing on. Ellena and the men constructing the stage were up until 1am with flashlights and headlamps on until it was complete.
• We made some posters with photos and details about the Mamas and the project. We included maps to the kitchens as well.
• One of my best friends Frank is DJing tomorrow!!!! CAN'T WAIT :)
• Funding. The long complicated process of transferring money from World Bank to Canada To Nairobi to Oyugis really slows things down at the kitchens and can create problems. Purchasing necessary equipment and supplies and paying suppliers is delayed sometimes which harms the business. We are trying really hard to communicate the importance of sustainability to the Mamas so that they understand that their sales will have to cover their expenses in the future when the funding stops.

Most Memorable Moments
• I met some rappers/artists in Oyugis and went to check out their production studio one day. It was really cool to be there...I loved it! I did my best to encourage them and give them some friendly advice :) Work hard, don't give up, etc. They freestyled and filmed a music video, it was sweet!
• The YES campaign in Oyugis! Everyone in town was wearing green YES t-shirts and caps (paper cut-outs). It was an incredible day to experience :)
• Ellena's surprise goodbye party! She had been living in Oyugis for over 9 months and we wanted to throw her a little bash. It was Saturday afternoon and the Oyugis Yogurt Mamas, our good friends, and some of the hotel staff were all in attendance. It was really great to chat with everyone, dance, and have fun! I had another great conversation with one of the hotel staff about Canada and Kenya, and the high population growth rates which contribute to poverty. I really enjoy having those conversations with the locals.
○ I went shopping in the market on Friday which was really fun! My good friend (Morris), Jackel, and I purchased rice and beef with some spices to make a dish called "pilau" as well as some pineapple. It was really fun to actually shop for a full meal in the market.
• Playing football with kids during the beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing it as much as last year but it is my favourite thing to do in Africa. Ahero football, ahero kids (I love football, I love kids).
• Visiting the small town of Tabaka where the majority of soapstone carvings are produced. Soapstone is used to make gorgeous chess sets, vases, bowls & plates, sculptures, jewellery boxes and so many other things. The drive from Kisii to Tabaka is stunning and the town is so quiet and peaceful. I absolutely love all of the soapstone that Tabaka has...I wish I could take it all home with me!
• Riding a camel with Emily!!!! Monday afternoon we saw a camel in Oyugis for some agricultural show going on. After thinking about it for a long time we decided to ride it and it was AMAZING! It was so spontaneous and I loved it. I was laughing hysterically because Emily was falling off the back of the camel the entire time. A large group of kids ran after us on the camel while Em and I made a pact to do 1 spontaneous amazing thing like that every day for the rest of our time in Kenya.
• The Oyugis Mamas keep joking about Morris and I getting married. We are always together now since he is one of our main translators and he's helping me out with Victor. He's a great friend who has helped us tremendously with the project!
Life in Oyugis
• After school children spend their evenings fetching water and fire wood and helping their parents prepare dinner.
• One of the greatest toys for a child in Oyugis is a bicycle tire. They love running around and rolling it everywhere.
Life in Kenya
• These big marketing shows/events are the next big thing for companies in Kenya. Safaricom, one of the major telecommunications company, started it and now EVERYONE is doing it. There was a company called Panadol, like Advil, set up with a stage (i.e. a truck), a PA system, tarps, and a DJ in Raila Grounds on Tuesday so I went to check it out for a while with a friend. When the MCs noticed me in the crowd, which wasn't very hard since I was the only mzungu, they called me out in front of everyone. Of course I couldn't understand a word they were saying because they were speaking in Kiswahili. They tried to get me to go up on stage and participate (and by participate they meant dance in front of hundreds of people) but I wasn't going to go alone.
As I stood there I was observing everything carefully to get some ideas and insight for the music festival. I wanted to make sure that I knew what happened at these events and how they were organized. Competitions with audience members and skits are the most common type of performance. Skits are very popular because they are well liked by children and they can be understood by everyone including people who are illiterate. Skits are a very effective way of engaging the audience and getting the message across.

• Primary and Secondary School in Kenya is free for everyone however the public school system is not very good and no one wants to send their children there. One public school that I know in town has 1,300 students and only 24 teachers which means there is 1 teacher for every 54 students. Not to mention that some of these teachers are not very committed, honest, or well educated. It is the same way with public hospitals.
• I LOVE the trees :) They are so big and beautiful and perfect for climbing.


  1. Your description of my hometown makes me homesick. Some of my colleagues at Y.O.F.K kept talking about a mzungu called Amanda. Kenneth

  2. Hi Kenneth, Oyugis is a beautiful town and I miss it so much! I am homesick as well :( What is Y.O.F.K.? I hope you heard good things...send me an email if you like at so we can get in touch about Oyugis!