mardi 28 juin 2011


I spend most of my time at work and I’m pretty interested by what I’m doing, so hopefully it will make a decent post.

I’m working for UNEP-REDD+. REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. The “+” is meant to signify afforestation activities. About 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Almost all of the forest loss is in developing world countries: Indonesia and SE Asia, the Congo Basin and the Amazon Basin. It’s not realistic to ask these countries to give up a major source of income without compensation, so REDD+ is a project to pay countries if they reduce their deforestation rates. There is an initial small investment by the UN and the World Bank, but almost all the money comes after the countries have proven they have protected their forests. It’s called payment for environmental services: these nations are providing a service (carbon sequestration) and the developed world is paying them for it.

There’s lots of difficulties with this idea, however. Timber and agriculture (a major cause of deforestation) are two large sources of revenues for these poor countries. They have to be adequately compensated for this sacrifice. Another problem is control over the forested lands. If the government of Guyana declares that an area is off limits for forestry activities, what happens to the people who have lived in the forests for millennia and depend on it for their livelihood? Will they receive REDD+ funds? Or will those funds stay at the top of the government? REDD+ is also assuming that the government has control over their lands…illegal logging is rampant in many of these countries. Another problem is the governance in some of these forest countries. Democratic Republic of the Congo has the 3rd biggest forest in the world…it’s also one of the most corrupt governments in the world. And the site of terrible war and conflict. What will the effects of giving their government millions and millions of dollars be?

UNEP is interested in investing in a “green economy.” The idea is that Indonesia, Brazil and these other countries can develop without depleting their natural capital (forests). There is to be a transformation of their economies to knowledge and service-based activities. It’s basically the main selling point of REDD+: that REDD+ funds can help them develop in exchange for forest protection.

My report is about how this transformation can happen. I’ve been reading a lot about the underlying causes of deforestation and how they could be addressed. Another big idea is “innovation systems.” What are the norms and institutions that encourage innovation and would allow forest countries to transform their economies?

This transformation is partially based on forest transition theory. The theory goes that, as countries develop, they cut down their forests. However, once they reach a certain per capita income, forest activities are no longer as economically attractive as service and other activities, so deforestation stops and forests regenerate. The REDD+ idea is to allow these developing forest nations to skip this degrading period and go right to high development and low levels of deforestation.

That’s what I’m writing about. It’s interesting and I’m learning a lot.

This weekend I went to Mombasa, which is on the coast. We stayed in a small town south of Mombasa. It was sooo nice down there. The Indian Ocean is much warmer than any other ocean I’ve swam in. The beach was beautiful. Loved it.

mardi 21 juin 2011

Transportation in Nairobi

Getting around this city is my least favorite part of living here. As the city has grown and incomes have increased, more and more cars are on the streets. Infrastructure development has failed to keep up. Nairobi is growing fast and it’s only going to get worse.

My commute from home to work is about 4 or 5 miles. If there is no traffic it takes less than 15 minutes. But when I go home at 5 or 6 pm, it can take more than an hour. Almost all the streets are one lane both ways and they’re unable to handle peak hours. If there is an accident, it can bring traffic to a complete stop until the road is cleared. My first weekend in the city, we went out for dinner. It took us 2.5 hours to get home…no more than five miles.

Most of the problem is the complete lack of traffic laws. There are no lanes, stop signs or traffic lights (I have seen one set of traffic lights, but no one obeyed them). Cars will drive on the sidewalk. At intersections, cars inch their way into the streets, stopping traffic in both directions. At 4-way intersections, this quickly turns into a knot of cars where no one can move anywhere. There are really no “lanes” for people to drive in. Just space on the road for cars to fill.

Public transportation in the city is a type of van/bus called matatus. They have been hollowed out and there are five rows three people wide. It’s actually more comfortable than the transport that I took in Morocco. The matatus have a complicated system of routes throughout the city; I only know a few routes so far. The price is dependent on how far you are going and how bad traffic is. My 4 mile commute is normally 20-30 shillings ($0.22-$0.33). Most cars drive pretty crazy in Nairobi, but matatus are the worst. They love to cut people off and play chicken on the road. They are the reason that I decided against buying a bike for commuting. Not too many people have their own cars here; matatus are probably 30% of the vehicles on the road.

There are also taxis, but they are too expensive to take on a regular basis. They are 200-1,200 shillings ($2.22-$13.33) depending on how far you’re going. But matatus aren’t safe to take late at night so sometimes the taxis are necessary.

Transportation is also indicative of the huge wealth differences in the city. There are many luxury vehicles with tinted vehicles and chauffeurs. On the other hand there are always people walking miles and miles to and from work because they can’t even afford the matatus.

Apparently there are regulations on exhaust for cars purchased. But no such regulations exist for matatus or trucks. Walking along the road, it’s very common to be bathed in black exhaust. I was sick with a cold for the first two weeks I was here and I think the air quality played a large part of that.

In American cities, I think the biggest causes of traffic problems are lack of good public transportation and urban sprawl. Here it’s the absence of traffic laws. Enforcing laws would make a huge difference.

Everything else:
Work is improving as I’m figuring out what I’m doing. I think I’ll write my next post trying to explain my work. This weekend I’m taking the train to Mombasa, which is on the coast. Should be a blast! Hope all is well!

mardi 14 juin 2011

Dear Morocco,

Dear Morocco,

I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think I’m falling in love with Kenya. I know I told you that you were the only one for me, but I can’t deny how I’m feeling. It’s not you, it’s me. Actually, it’s Kenya. Kenya is just so amazing and great that I can’t help myself. This doesn’t mean that my feelings about you have changed; you’ll always be my first love and there is always a place in my heart for you. But I’ve realized that I can love both of you. I hope you understand.


I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve fallen for Kenya. I realized how well this place suits me when I was on a matatu (mini public transportation bus) to Lake Naivasha this past weekend. We’re driving past an amazing overlook of a valley and the green and red earth are flying by. My group of friends and I are having nice conversation with a woman on the matatu. The joy of the place is contagious. I texted Rose (one of my (Kenyan) roommates) “I love Kenya.”

I think Kenyans are the warmest people that I’ve ever met. My sample size is very small so far, but there is something about Kenyan mannerisms that makes me feel comfortable. In Morocco, I hated it when some volunteers made (negative) generalizations about Moroccans. Nonetheless, I find myself making similarly broad (but positive) characterizations of Kenyans.

It’s also such a beautiful country. This weekend we went to Lake Naivasha, which is about 60 miles from Nairobi. Once we were settled, we took a boat tour at sunset. Beer in hand, our driver took us over to where pelicans were feeding. The group must have been over 500 birds; as we would get close to them they would take to the air and fly over our boat. Even though pelicans are not new to me, it was great to see them so close and in such number. Next we went over to the hippo hang out. I’ve seen hippos in the zoo before, but this was much cooler. They opened their mouths wide at us and moved towards us aggressively. Hippos are known to capsize boats, so we couldn’t get too close to them. We spent the rest of the night having a nice dinner and drinking beers by a campfire.

The next morning we got up, rented bikes, and road to Hell’s Gate national park. We road our bikes into the park, which was dry grasslands with red rock mountains shooting straight out of the ground. We first came upon a group of warthogs at a watering hole. Then a large group of zebras. Next was a pair of giraffes, a juvenile and presumably its mother. We got off our bikes and walked along the road. They started walking in our generalization and crossed the road quite close to us. The juvenile got spooked and ran. Giraffes are the most awkward runners; I couldn’t believe it didn’t fall over. This park was different than most every other one because there were no carnivores. Although this deprived us of seeing lions, it meant we could be on bikes instead of in a car. It made the experience much more intimate.

Once at the other edge of the park, we entered Masai lands. There is a little ranger station where Masai take you on a walking tour of nearby gorges. We got off our bikes and walked with our guide Patrick into two deep gorges. The rock was worn away smooth and the gorge was often very narrow. It was probably 50-100 feet deep. After the heat of the sun on the plains, the coolness of the gorges was a welcome relief. The hike finished at a high point with a view of the whole park. We had lunch and got back on our bikes and headed home.

So, it was a great weekend. Other than that….everything is great. I like Rose and Dan (my roommates) more every time we hang out. We laugh and joke a lot. It’s great to come home from work and just relax with them. Tonight we watched the Owen Wilson movie “Hall Pass.” Work is going fine. At this point I’m just doing a lot of background research. So I hunt for articles on Forest Transition Theory and the political economy of the Indonesian plywood industry. I’m reading all day and learning a lot. I’ve never had a computer/desk job before and staring at a computer screen for 8-9 hours a day is difficult to adjust to. But I like the people in my office and I’m happy to be there. I look forward to a few weeks from now when I start to write the report and put ideas down on paper instead of just absorbing them.

The only major complaint I have about Nairobi is the traffic. It’s pretty bad. I’ll devote a whole blog post to it at some point.

I hope everyone is well!

mardi 7 juin 2011

Week One in Nairobi

In Morocco, writing my weekly blog was one of my favorite things to do so I decided to do another one for my time in Nairobi. Hopefully I will update as regularly as I did in Morocco. Wednesday feels like a good post day, but that may change.

After just six days in Nairobi, it’s hard to know what to think of this crazy city. There is way too much to process at this point.

I stayed for a few days with a school friend (thanks Beth!) near a neighborhood called Kilimani. Although it was a nice place to stay, it was also too far from where I’m working, at UNEP. I had a couple leads on housing options from an ex-pat craigslist sort of thing, so I spent the weekend trying to find a decent place close enough to the UN. I ended up choosing a two-bedroom apartment in Parklands. I’m sharing the apartment with an unmarried Kenyan couple. The price is pretty good (<$300/month) and it is located very near a bus stop that takes me to work.

I was a little wary about moving in with people that I found online, but moving in with Rose and Dan was a total stroke of luck. They are really easy to spend time around and also extremely helpful. On Sunday, Dan walked me to the bus stop and we did a “practice” run on the bus to UNEP and back. Then he took me to the market and showed me how to bargain and which vendors he likes to buy from. People often call Dan “Dancan,” which is practically the same as my name. We are very similar in a lot of ways; both laid back. Dan works in marketing for a computer supply company. Rose is seven months pregnant, talkative, and sarcastic. She likes to joke. I tried to teach her what “TMI” meant (too much information), but she already knew. She works from home (because of her pregnancy) doing some kind of IT work. They are great to spend time with after work as we joke and they teach me basic Kiswahili. I was amazed by how liberal they are; one night they were criticizing government officials who are calling another politician’s sexual orientation into question. “This man’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with his ability to do his job.” Really I don’t think I could have found a better place.

The UN compound is MASSIVE and completely isolated from the rest of Nairobi. It’s across the road from the US Embassy and an international forestry institute; between the three of them they form a small city. All the negative stereotypes of UN bureaucracy were fulfilled on my first day, when some other new interns and I were sent on a scavenger hunt of signature collections so that we could get registered. The upside to this was that I got to see the whole UN campus, which is incredibly green and maintained by a small army of workers.

I am so far impressed with the people in my department (UNEP-REDD) and particularly with my boss. They seem like they believe in what they’re working on and that they work hard. My job description is pretty simple: I’m writing a report about how a transformation to a “green forest economy” can take place. Lots has been written about long term benefits of forest management, but I’m supposed to use case studies to suggest ways that developing countries (UNEP is most interested in Ecuador, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia) can reduce their deforestation while improving their standard of living. I’m sure I’ll have subsequent posts devoted entirely to trying to explain this more. It’s a hard topic to write about and one that I don’t know a lot about, but I have 10 weeks to focus mostly on this one task, so I think I can do it. My boss seems like he is good about asking for what he wants and giving feedback, so that will make it easier.

I’m feeling comfortable enough now that I like my house, I know my way around the neighborhood and public transportation system, and I think I can do what I’ve been asked to at work. My first night in country I had a sleepless night of panic as I realized I knew NOTHING about Kenya or Nairobi. Feeling so comfortable in Morocco after two years, I thought I could handle any foreign environment. I forgot how hard I had to work in Morocco to understand things and be at ease.

So far, I compare everything to Morocco and expect that things will be similar. I’m surprised about how liberal and open-minded Kenyans have been. I’ve got to stop letting my Moroccan expectations affect my thinking here; using Morocco as a standard to compare against is especially problematic given what a rural place I was living in there.

My health is good. I was sick for the first couple days because I was sick when I left America, I flew on a plane for 2 days with little sleep, Nairobi is at altitude, and Nairobi has terrible air pollution. But I’m good now. Don’t worry!