Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cultura in Africa

Checking out regional poets and musicians in Kenya became an obession for me while I was in Nairobi. Though the instruments and styles of dancing differed from what I was used to, the rhythmic cadences and messages behind the spoken word were universal.

During a concert hosted by the World Social Forum, an African group began playing what my friends and I
thought resembled our beloved cumbia, salsa and merengue beats. As our hips began shaking, we noticed some Kenyans take a second look. A local Kenyan sports broadcaster who had joined our group, quickly pointed out, "This is African jazz."

I tried mimicking his back and forth dancing motions, concentrating on swaying the shoulders and neck instead of my hips. But, alas, my hips rebelled. Even in Africa I guess you can't take the Latina out of me! When we finally sat down to take a break, some Nairobi women said we danced beautifully. I guess it doesn't matter how you move as long as you allow the energy to seep into you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Faces of the Forum

Faces from all around the globe in one place seemed like the perfect opportunity to interview diverse persons and collect different viewpoints. I asked them all the same question: What do you think is the biggest struggle facing your community? Here's what they had to say.

Rose Mulyungi, 42, (right), woman's rights organizer in KENYA
"The women in our community are not given a chance to speak out, to organize, to represent. Men are still dictating lives. There must be education and empowerment. The women must educate their husbands and sons."

Kisio Kimanzi, (left), woman's rights organizer in KENYA
"The access to education is still a grave problem in our community."

Filmmaker, 41, WESTERN AUSTRALIA, is currently working on a documentary on Nairobi slums
"There's a lack of community, no sense of a movement happening, no unity."

Azubike Nwokoye, 29, development activist in NIGERIA
"Government accountability is a major problem in my community. Citizens are supposed to be the rightholders but that's not so. The government must show responsiveness to issues. Also the EU's trade agreement with Africa will basically put each development into slavery."

Marco Fantechi, 46, Refundacion Comunista political party organizer in ITALIA
"Italians have to be more open to work with and build alliances with immigrants that come to Italy. Also, Italians need to reduce their amount of consumption."

Abla Mahdi, 50, director of women's organization in SUDAN
"We are having many conflicts within our tribes that we must solve through peace negotiations. But the USA is trying to intervene with acts of militarization. If this happens, we will become another Iraq. Therefore we don't want troops, only a push in the peace process."

Esther Penunia, 48, secretary general for Asian Farmers Association in the PHILIPPINES
"In Southeast Asia farmers are feeling neglect from the government. Their rights to land, municipal water and seas are being violated. There is low production and lack of access to markets."

Erika Chen, 25 of TAIWAN
"Indigenous people and tribes of Taiwan are struggling right now. Agricultural goods are not sold for good prices anymore. Many are leaving to other cities in the island."

Special Thanks to Newton Marikio, 22, a computer technology instructor in NAIROBI who offered to be my Swahili translator during my interview with Rose and Kisio of Kenya!!

I also asked him what he thought were the struggles of young people in Nairobi. Here's what he said:
"We are getting educated, but there is a lack of employment. Most places ask for at least five years of experience, but where are we supposed to get that if someone doesn't give us a chance to work."

Mexico lindo y querido

I'm back on Mexican soil. I still feel in a daze--not exactly sure where I am or what time it is. The journey back home has been full of reflection. During my stay in Kenya and especially during the last days of the trip I met some amazing Kenyans who have opened my eyes and heart. The children are pure love, and I can't count the number of times that locals made it a point to say "Welcome to Kenya." I was blessed to make some deep friendships with people there who have shown me as poet Maya Angelou says, "we are more alike than unalike."

It was interesting to hear some of the ideas that Kenyans had about the US and Mexico. Some thought Mexico City was in the US, others quickly identified mariachi music and films such as Desperado. Some saw my conference name tag which read, "Nancy Flores--Mexico" and immediately asked if I was catholic. The catholic community in Kenya is strong, in fact, next to our hotel there was a huge catholic bookstore the size of any Barnes and Noble. Some thought that college graduates in the US had a job in their field was lined up for them. But perhaps the most surprising was that Mexican novelas air on Kenyan television. Kenyans often identified soap operas such as "Camila" and "Esmeralda." I kept trying to assure them that we are really not as dramatic as those soaps make us out to be!

Issues of poverty, crime and HIV still plague the country, but I met so many hardworking and dedicated community organizers working within the movement toward social change. Homosexuality in Nairobi is illegal, and couples can be arrested for any public displays of affection. I met some gay/lesbian organizers who had to name their advocacy groups something generic to avoid any unwanted attention from the authorities. Advocates from Uganda told me this had led to many suicides, especially among young people. They told the story of a girl whose classmates began spreading rumors about her sexuality. She had come to talk to the organization about what it meant to be lesbian and was trying to understand how to handle the situation. But rumors at her school became vicious and one by one her friends were abandoning her. Eventually she decided to overdose, leaving a sad note behind about coming to terms with her sexuality.

I'm not sure that conferences such as the World Social Forum offer answers to the struggles of peoples. But I know that it definitely sparked discussions that are necessary in order to take a first step toward solidarity.

I'll be catching up on some blogs from the trip in future posts since I didn't have regualar Internet access during my last days in Nairobi.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Conflict within WSF

As I'm typing, we are hearing reports that there has been a hijacking in Sudan and that the plane is still in the air. Things become a little more real when you are in the same continent. We heard the news while a group of us were in a minibus on our way to the World Social Forum activities.

"I just pray that everyone here gets home safe," a woman on our bus said. And there was silence on the bus, perhaps everyone was thinking about their loved ones like I was.

Amidst the inspiring disscussions, networking and work towards global solidarity here at the WSF, we find internal conflict within our own forum. In order to attend the conference a registration fee must be paid. The fee is lower for Kenyans-500 shillings or approximately $6 USD. But that is still too much for many Kenyans to afford.

This week Kenyans organized a parallel World Social Forum that is free of charge and has become a symbol of protest. A group of Kenyans who did not pay the registration fee came burst through security yesterday, managed to get in and protested against the lack of Kenyan voices within the forum. Security guards pulled out their batons, but there was no violence. Erika was a witness to this confrontation and I hope to post her pictures soon as well as a guest commentary.

Another point of frustration is the way the some Kenyan government officials have pushed it's own local people out of the forum. Within the stadium where the conference is being held there is one restaurant for about 60,000 plus people. In the last couple of days we have learned that Kenya's Minister of Defense owns this restaurant and has forced all local food vendors to set up their stalls outside of the stadium (near the parking lot). For the first couple of days no one even knew those food stalls were out there, and so had no choice but to eat at the Minister's restaurant. Local Kenyans also protested this during the confrontation yesterday, which witnesses say got extremely intense.

A conference participant just told me that another intense demonstration occured just hours ago. She said that a group took over the restaurant and demanded they feed the local Kenyan children. Both locals and conference participants stormed the kitchen and began giving food away to the Kenyan children.

"We were literally serving the kids food in their hands, on their shirts...anyway they could carry it, she said."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The craziness begins

Today was the first World Social Forum day for workshops, panels, etc. There are so many people here from such diverse countries that I have been inspired to create a blog project interviewing people from as many different countries as I can asking one crucial question. Look for that in future blogs.

Erika and I are learning our way around the Moi International Sports Complex where the WSF is being held. We finding so many similarities between the Ethiopian and Mexican cultures. Really! The traditional clothing, food and even facial features are very similar. We are starting to feel at home.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The masses arrive

Today is the official first day of the World Social Forum. So far about 70,000 participants are here, and more are expected to register onsite. Local Kenyans marched through the streets of Nairobi, and WSF attendees met them at the Uhuru Park for the opening ceremonies. Though the group Erika and I were with left after listening to a few speakers, we stayed and enjoyed the amazing African reggae, hip-hop, soul, traditional music that lasted for hours. We danced through the night, and our little feet were hurting at the end. But we are not complaining.

Here are some shots I took of the opening ceremonies, as well our group practicing chants for the march. There are people from all over the world here. I am learning so much with every passing day. Viva Kenya!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Struggling Nairobi Slums

It's our second day in Kenya and everyone already seems to have lost track of what day/time it is since we are three time zones away from home. I'm proud to say that I have had no jetlag problems despite the many warnings I received before the 30-hour trip.

Today, I visited some of the largest slums of Nairobi--home to about 200,000 residents. Villages here have homes that are about 10 ft by 10 ft and house an average of seven people. Aside from lacking all the basic necessities like water, wastewater, etc., these residents also have to deal with living next to a dumpsite. All of Nairobi's trash is dumped next to the slums. Needless to say, their water is contaminated, cholera is a huge problem and illegal dump sites are sprouting throughout their community.

But the faces of the children who live there tell a different story. They look at you and their eyes widen. Toddlers immediately stick out their little hands to greet you and soon the kids saying "How are you?" sounded like a chorus throughout the Korogocho village.

Youth organizers in the slums are coordinating their own clean-up efforts and live off of the money they receive from collecting items that can be recycled. An organizer had a poster that read, "Waste is not waste until it is wasted." Community slum organizers have so much work to do and need so much, yet they are full of hope and optimism.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In Nairobi!

Erika and I finally made it to Kenya! I think my nalgas have flattened from the crazy travel schedule:

Mexico City to Austin
Austin to Chicago
Chicago to London
London to Nairobi

The World Social Forum begins in a few days and soon this already busy city will be filled with 150,000 activists, journalists, environmentalists, etc. Erika and I will be among them.

Nairobi in some ways reminds me of Mexico City. I spotted some broken glass on fences and some rooftops. Driving is crazy and people downtown are on the go. It's funny how small the world really is.

We were greeted in the hotel by Kenyan performers who danced and sung for us. Listening to the group of women harmonize made my eyes water. There's probably more of that to come.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Frida sends me off

There's no better way to start a new journey than to have Frida Kahlo wish you well. Actually, it was Mexican actress Ofelia Medina. In my last night in Mexico City--before I leave to Kenya--Jeremy and I checked out the vibrant performance of Cada Quien Su Frida. I managed to sneak a photo without having the camera confiscated.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Austin and meeting up with my comadre Erika. Together we'll start a 30-hour trip to Nairobi where we'll be attending the World Social Forum. There's bad weather reports in Austin, so I'm crossing my fingers the airport drama will be minimal. All we need is some Frida inspiration to keep us motivated: "Viva la Vida!"