Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Ah, the things traveling will do to you! It's a different environment, a different way of life... sometimes a different language and in this case, a different continent and a different worldview!

Coming home from Africa was quite an eye-opener, and I don't mean all the time I spent in the plane or waiting in airports!

The trip as a whole didn't impact me too much while I was there. It was when I came back and compared the reality I was just in with my everyday reality that I realized how fortunate we really are. Then again, there is also poverty here in North America... it's just not as painstakingly obvious.

Here are some of the flashbacks that I noted during my first two days back from Kenya. These are things that happened exactly like in the movies... Someone said something or I saw something that brought me back to my Kenyan experience.

* First and foremost, how weird is it to wake up in your own room, in your own bed, and not knowing where you are? It's very confusing, trust me. It took a good while to remember that I was home... and this didn't happen to me in any of the hotels I stayed in, or ever before!

* When I first brushed my teeth, I felt like something was missing... Water. Or more specifically, a water bottle. In Kenya, as per the travel clinic's orders, I used a water bottle to wet my toothbrush as well as to rinse my mouth after cleaning my teeth.

* More water woes... I'm so used to taking a sip or two of water when I was my face or in the shower. It was very hard for me to remember NOT to do that while I was in Kenya. Again, the travel clinic instilled fears of getting sick from the tap water deep down into my core. Good job!

* What about water pressure? There are places here where your water pressure isn't that great... namely cheap hotels or apartments. Luckily, the hotel was pretty good about strong shower streams, though there were times when the water would randomly stop, and sometimes you had to turn the tap completely to get a decent flow. Some places, even that didn't solve the problem. It made me wonder how people feel clean, especially when you have to wash that red Nairobi soil off the soles of your feet.

* Hey, guess what! I can plug my laptop directly into the wall! Yes, after 2 weeks of using adapters "African-style", as someone put it, it came as a bit of a surprise to me to be able to just plug it in. The "African-style" comment came after the porter helped us with my so-called universal adapter. Unfortunately, all the plugs at the hotel were UK, and my adapter was stuck on Europe. Cheap plastic! After trying to find us a spare adapter somewhere in the hotel, he took one look at mine, grabbed a pen cap, and pressed down the trigger in the top hole before inserting my European adapter into the UK plug. Fantastic! Only in Africa...

* My mom and I were lounging in the backyard when she said something about one of her plant attracting bees. I flashed back to the bee-keeping project we visited in rural Mombasa... I promise to tell you all about it later.

* I went for a drive a couple of days after I got back, or possibly even the day after I got back. I was at a stop sign and trying to figure out what the car opposite to me was going to do: go straight or turn. You know Montreal drivers. They rarely signal, especially on suburban streets! I tried to make eye contact with the driver and it took a few seconds before I understood why I wasn't reading any signals... I was staring at the passenger! Note to self: Drivers sit on the right in North America, not on the left.

I'm sure there were other moments that reminded me of life in Africa, but these are the fun that I noted. Spending time away from your reality also makes you realize what's important to you and what's not. Sorry, Perez. You didn't make the cut!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's all coming back to me now

I had been meaning to blog more about Africa earlier, but working Rogers Cup tennis for 7 straight days basically took up all my time. It was eat, work, sleep, and lots of transit. But, I did manage to make some professional gains. It was my first gig as a bug operator for CBC, which means I was responsible for putting the scoreboard and stats in... and updating it too! This means I really needed to understand tennis, and after 4 days of actively watching it, I managed to figure it out :)

But back to the topic of the day: Africa.

I've already given you an overview of the trip, and I do plan on going into more details about some of our visits, but I think it's also important to understand how different the worldview is, or, as it turns out, how similar life in Kenya is to life in Canada.

Things that are the same... but not

* Slowpoke! *

Ya know how when you're driving, and the car in front of you is driving at a snail's pace and you just wish they'd change lanes and let you pass? You're gonna flash your high beams, aren't you? Well, in Kenya, they do that too! It's not a big realization, but it definitely showed me that some things we believe apply only to our culture are actually more universal than we think! And in East Africa, you don't get deer or moose crossings, but cow crossings. One time, our matatu nearly hit a cow to try to get it to cross faster. It wasn't impressed. It moo-ed at us and hit back!

* The stars *

Well, they're not the same because we're in different hemispheres, but they are just as beautiful. The difference is that in North America, you see stars lower on the horizon, while in Kenya, you really have to look straight up. I had a blast hanging out at the outdoor lounge at the Serena Mombasa, lying back and watch these natural gems sparkle. One night, three of us even saw a shooting star! My first confirmed sighting, and what a sight it was!

* Media *

During our visit of the Nation Media Group facilities, I came to a startling realization. The more I listened and looked around, the more I was certain that while the media values, facilities and equipment are the same in Kenya as in North America, the East African newsrooms are evolving at a quicker pace. I believe that's because they're learning from our mistakes and successes. Basically, they're skipping the middle step, the trials and errors we made trying to achieve better quality and smoother content. Kenya is going digital this year. They're not in HD yet, but that's the next step. While here in Canada, we're struggling with upgrading from analog to digital because of the cost of the equipment, East Africans are at a natural equipment-replacement point and are able to purchase high end HD equipment as part of the renewal process. We tried to do it all too fast... We're in HD, but not true HD: True HD means that shooting equipment is HD, Audio is 5.1, transmission is HD, cables/transmitters are HD-capable, receivers and watching equipment are HD... If even one element is in standard definition, it's not HD. In Africa, they love gadgets. It won't be a problem to get people to buy HD TV sets, especially given that most people would probably be getting them as their first sets.

*Gender balance*

Most of the Frigoken factory workers in Nairobi were female. However, this was done by choice, not because of gender bias. Sure, women are detail-oriented and good with veggies, but does that mean they should be the ones assigned to snap the tips off green beans? The reason Frigoken employs mostly women is because this job allows them to provide a secondary income to their families. In some cases, it is the only decent job a woman with relatively little education can get in the city. And they make it easy too... The plant offers a drop-off daycare service in one of the adjoining buildings, and if I understood correctly, it's free! How many North American plants can boast the same? Also, many of the farmers in the village were women, although their husbands may own the plots.

Things that really are different

*The buses*
You've already heard the stories... The matatus run on a completely different system than our North American transit. It's more of a taxi-like system, regulated by the government to some extent in that drivers have to register their vehicles and pay some sort of fee. It's also like taxis because the drivers are absolutely insane. That's where the similarities end, though. Matatus are little white Toyota minivans/SUVs, often covered in all kinds of slogans and celebrity names. The most popular ones? Tupac and Obama buses. The slogans sometimes don't make sense... Why would an East African matatu driver decorate his bus to the theme of the Minnesota Wolverines? (No, not Michigan) Or "The Game"? Matatus decide to patrol specific routes, but pick people up and drop them off anywhere along that road or in that neighbourhood... And at the rate that these buses pass, you can probably get anywhere on time! Sometimes, you could see multiple matatus pulled over alongside the highway, trying to get people on board for the 2 Kenyan Shillings fair, which more or less converts to 2 cents.

*What time is it?*

In Kenya, you really can set your clock to the sun. Every day, without fail, the sun rises between 6:30 and 6:45 and sets between 6:30 and 6:45. It's absolutely amazing! You figure that's how villagers go by their day... So very impressive.

Nairobi vs. Mombasa


Nairobi is like any other metropolis: busy, constantly moving, full of people crowding the streets. In fact, it reminded me a bit of NYC. The only difference, of course, is the predominant skin colour on the downtown streets. But they're all in suits and briefcases, going about their day.


Mombasa, on the other hand, is totally a beach resort... Until you get to the main part of the town. There, you can definitely see the different levels of poverty, which are much more obvious than in the Nairobi outskirts. It's not just the shantytowns... From the moment you leave the Mombasa airport and until you reach the touristy beach resort, you can see the true face of East African poverty.

Those are just some general observations about my trip to Kenya. Next post? Coming home, and realizing how different life truly is from one end to the world to another.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


It truly is a strange situation to wake up wondering where you are. It's even more confusing when you wake up in your own bed with that feeling.

On my first sleep at home after spending about 10 days in Kenya, one could say I needed an adaptation period. The landscape of my room looked pretty unfamiliar too... Though that could be because it was 3:45 AM and I had been more or less awake for 28 hours, traveling from Nairobi to London, London to Toronto, and being interminably delayed in Toronto before finally arriving in Montreal.

Remember the travel delay at the beginning of my trip? The train to Ottawa? Well, I guess it was just fate that my trip should end the same way. Told you it was an omen!

Luckily, the bulk of my trip, from Day 1 to... what day are we today? went more than smoothly. We visited multiple projects a day, spent a lot of time in matatu-like buses, often snoozing because many of the days had scattered schedules that made for not so much eating time. There were times when lunch was at 5pm, and breakfast had been at 7am!

All in all though, it was worth it. More than worth it! I've got loads of pictures and videos to sort through, stories to tell with all the knowledge I accumulated, and I met people, both AKFC Awareness buddies and those aided by the projects, that I will never forget.

It was a lot to take in and I'm not sure I've figured any of it out yet, so I might take a few days to put my thoughts in order. Good thing I took some notes!! The pictures will also be a great memory aid. Hopefully, I'll be able to enlighten you with more details on what we saw and experienced throughout this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

I promise to update soon, so stay tuned...


On a side note, and a very emotional one, the first news story I saw after coming home from Kenya was a report on the death of two men in a helicopter crash in Quebec. One of them was my buddy Hugh Haugland, longtime cameraman for CTV, who was a kind and inspiring person, funny and dedicated, and a mentor to me. I remember him saying he longed to go to Afghanistan, as dangerous stories were his specialty - he covered 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc - but was going to respect his family's wishes and stay out of seemingly unavoidable harm's way.

My condolences go out to anyone who ever had the good fortune to hang out with this great guy. It is a sad day for us all.

Hugh, you will be missed.