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!

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