07 December 2010

JB and Zanzibar

Greetings, dear reader! I hope with this blog post to share updates from work and holiday, and perhaps a passing thought or two.

The work situation at Jamii Bora is a cause of much reflection for me. Earlier this year, the microfinance operations of JB went commercial, and this has had a ripple effect across the whole organization. The reason for commercialization is complex but, essentially, some members became such successful business people that they required banking services the previous non-commercial structure could not provide. Instead of telling those women to move on, JB restructured to accommodate their expanding needs. So now the Kenyan government is involved in regulating the activities of the bank, and this presents problems for those still suffering in poverty who cannot access the commercial bank. Naturally, JB does not want to abandon those members squeezed out by the bank, but there are certain complications with operating both a commercial and a non-commercial bank. Every day since I started working here, there have been board meetings to discuss how the organization will proceed. I admire the leadership’s commitment to serving the members and making well-considered decisions. However, all the people I would be working for are present in those meetings, and I have had very few tasks. In the meantime, I have become friends with some of the other JB employees, and I continue to learn about the organization and how it serves. But often I feel frustrated sitting at my desk, no work to do, reading news article after news article, making myself wait until a certain time before I take my lunch. There is real promise of work, but as long as those board meetings continue, I will have to sit, read, and drink my tea.

The few times I have been able to get out from behind my desk have been very rewarding. One day, I sat in a meeting with representatives from some development organizations learning about Jamii Bora. It was my second or third day at work but it was very cool to introduce myself as being a part of the hosting organization. JB members have access to an awesome health insurance plan, and one Friday I got to visit our main partner hospital and talk with some patients. Another day I accompanied two donors on a trip to a field office in Muthare slum. The coolest extracurricular activity so far, though, has been visiting JB’s housing development called Kaputiei (KAPT-tay). The community has been built from the ground up and includes low-cost, high-quality homes, primary and secondary schools, and eventually business areas, health facilities, everything a self-sufficient town would need. Kaputiei is a bit far for frequent visits but I hope to go back soon and talk to those people again and see the construction progress.

In the midst of all this activity (?) at Jamii Bora, the YAV group went on holiday to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. We spent Thanksgiving Day on a bus from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, experiencing the small joys of travel, including the turkey sandwiches and pumpkin bread Phyllis fixed for us. The next morning, we took a ferry to Zanzibar and explored Stone Town with its winding streets and unique pace of life. After a few days, we drove to a beach resort and spent a few more days relaxing in hammocks by the beach. Nice. On the way back, we spent another day in Dar to recover before the all-day trip home to Nairobi. (There will be pictures from this trip in the album when I have chance to upload big files, i.e. not using my cell phone modem.)

Right now I am listening to The Ceilidh Symphony Orchestra’s Celtic Christmas CD, trying my best to bring a bit of what I know to be holiday spirit to Nairobi. Some packages and letters are in-transit from all over the globe and I eagerly await what I am to receive. 

Thank you all for thinking of and caring about me! I think of and care about you, too.