August 8, 2007

What's up with all the wazungu...?

I'm sitting in London now. I've left Kenya. There was no time to write any futher updates.

In short, the power connection and some basic restoration was a great success. As it was noted by one of my coworkers and friend Ceso, "Ben, you've done in months what would have taken years. We feel very good about what has happened and we want to keep working as a team in the future."

I will be doing further work with the House of Courage to set up fundraising possibilities through U.S. avenues. More on that too come, how you will be able to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

For now I'm in London...and I think I'm starting to get some culture shock. I haven't seen so many Westerners in over 2 months. As the title suggests what is up with all the wazungu?

It's also to clean here. I need a burning trash heap for comfort.

July 28, 2007

Yo Yo now everything is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The title? Yeah... it would take too long to explain. Ask me in person but for now just realize that things are very good.

We’ve had a very productive week at the House of Courage Initiative. For a while we’ve had to go through bureaucratic paper work and letters of approval from different stake holders in the Kisauni Youth Center in our attempt to get reconnected to power. This has been my main focus for my internship and with approval of funding nearly a month ago by FSD it seemed a done deal. At the beginning of the week however it seemed that we may miss our window of opportunity. Kenya Power Lighting Company (KPLC) was telling us that it was going to take another month to get an electrician out to hook up the power. Through FSD policy the hook up needs to be completed before I leave at the beginning of August.

Things looked bad.

It’s amazing though what a little smart preplanning with funds and knowing the right people can do in Kenya. HOCI had previously received a seed grant that was not enough to complete the power installation project. We sat on that money waiting for an opportunity to arise to use it. We needed the quotations from KPLC to get money from FSD but we needed to get money to an electrician to get the quotes from KPLC.

Don’t ask me to explain it right now…it’s Kenya.

So with the seed grant money we partially prepaid a trusted electrician the administrative people of HOCI were familiar at the beginning of the week. He then expedited the process so we could get all the quotations from the power company and begin work on the installation on Friday. Since we were able to get the quotes, FSD released the appropriate funds to us and the rest of the equipment and labor bills were addressed.

We’ll see the final product at the end of next week and I believe it will be better than I had previously hoped. KNOCK ON WOOD

July 23, 2007

No really, if I see you in those shorts again I will spit on you

Let me begin with apologies for not updating in the last two weeks. Over the time much has happened along with some subjects I can't print on the web but would be happy to discuss in person with dear family and friends.

For this entry allow me the liberty to go in a bullet point style:

• Title: The title of this entry may seem a bit crude but it comes from genuine frustration. We are now in the “high? season or tourist season when European and other Western visitors travel to Mombasa to enjoy the holiday. Other interns and I have begun to classify tourists as good or bad depending on behavior the exhibit when we see them. Fashion is a key give away to a bad tourist. If you are a woman and decide to come to a predominantly Muslim area, please do not wear short shorts and strapless tops when walking by the downtown mosques. My white female friends get spit on because of your misunderstanding of cultural indecency. When you also choose to display arrogance as an excuse of your ignorance, well then let me refer you to the title.
• Work: We’re still going slow at the HOCI. We did some major cleaning of the centre two weeks ago and were preparing for an assessment from KPLC (Kenya Power Lighting Company). Because of it’s frequency of blackout throughout Mombasa I affectionately refer to it as KPLD (Kenya Power Lighting Darkness). However the owner of the building the Center is situated in needed to sign off on an assessment and convincing him took quite a bit of time and persuasion. Today we are supposed to have an assessment. In other areas of work we have been refocusing a massive $13,000 grant that we hope to present to different funders in the U.S. It’s a slow process as the particulars have not been totally explored.
• Family: More and more I’m becoming connected with my host family. As I learn more Kiswahili the language wall crumbles more and more. I’ve become quite popular with the kids in the family. The other day I walked home with my nephew Mohammed from his primary school, which is near the centre where I work. Usually he takes the matatu home with friends but he looked at me his friends and I forked with him in the middle. I looked back at him and said “Twende? (Come on) and he rushed after waving by to his friends. A young male mzungu and seven year old Kenyan boy walking together through Mtopanga, quite a sight for people to stare at.
• Free time: Mostly I spend my free time writing more extensive journal entries in my personal log. Other times I work with another youth group from Mtopanga called Dream Achievers. Over the last week we’ve had two outreaches in which I’ve performed on stage to the stun crowd of on lookers wondering “Anafanya nini ila wazimu mzungu?? What is that crazy white guy doing? I also have begun learning how to cook traditional coast dishes which I will be happy to share when I return.

All for now, I hope to write again soon munguakipenda (God willing)

July 6, 2007

A victory...and now we wait

On Tuesday I received word that the FSD Competition Grant Proposal I wrote was accepted and the Youth Centre the House of Corage Initiative operates will be getting funds for a new power connection. We'll be able to have lights for the Centre to stay open later, fans for some air circulation and be able to show video programming on health and social issues affecting Kenyan youth. In the long term we can set up the computers we have in storage, contact an NGO partner for internet connection and begin a cyber cafe as an income generating activity for the House of Courage Initiative. We'll be providing affordable education, business and communication opportunities to an area of Mombasa where the nearest cyber cafe is nearly 6 km away and for the average Kenyan costs nearly half a day's pay for ten minutes of time.

But as with all things in Kenya, the work is pole pole (SLOW). We have to wait for the power company to come out and give us an assesment and then go through paper work and the actual hook up. This could take the next week or so to go through. In the mean time work is slow because of many meetings my supervisor and co-worker have been called away on at the very last minute. Today we had a full schedule ready to go but some of the funding NGOs called people away at the last moment to discuss some issues about assessing success of the magnet theatre program the organization has. These last minute notices of meetings take away from the groups time to develop their own initiatives and tasks as well as throw off everyone's schedule.

This weekend should be good for completing some profiles we are working on since the entire group will be working an outreach on Saturday. Weekends are actually ideal for work since we know where people will be to get information: at home. At a moments notice you have to be ready to go and move on to the next piece of the project you can the mean time you wait.

July 1, 2007

Half Way

I've just returned from the FSD retreat in which I and the other interns had an opportunity to rest and reflect on the first month of our work in Mombasa.

My assessment of the situation is very positive. I'm working in different capacities within the range of experience with youth theatre groups. With the House of Courage Initiative, I have a group of older experienced artists who are sound on their theatre work. They are professionals in the areas of performance and public relations. The challenge remains preparing them for becoming a more well rounded organization and getting them on track for reaching their goal of becoming an NGO. This is the expectation the reality of being a Non Governmental Organization is something that takes a different form of discipline that members of the group have yet to develop. My role with the organization is to create an environment that will not just help them learn this discipline but force them to. With the recent completion of the FSD Competition Grant, it is my hope the group will soon get funds for installation of a new power connection and be able to open the youth centre they own and operate to its fullest capacity. In the long term, we hope to finalize a sustainable business plan for an internet cafe, that can help generate income for the members of HOCI and the organization as a whole as well as give members of the community of Kisauni, who have no immediate public access to the internet for 4 miles, new opportunities for business, education, and communication throught the world wide web.

The other group I work with in my free time is called Dream Achiever which is a relatively new youth group in my village. They started up just over a year ago and are learning the pieces of how to be an effective low range group. This includes dealing with the basics group politics among the executive board, realizing how to do effective outreaches, and understanding the basics of stage performance. In a sense I'm acting as a medium between this group and HOCI, which does more monitoring of younger youth groups to make sure they are doing their work effectively.

This work keeps me busy for almost 8-9hrs a day and is quite a shift going between the two. Still it is what has kept me focussed and not doubtful like some of my other colleagues. I am very fortunate.

June 29, 2007

Ninaenda Wazi

I go running. In my efforts to train for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 7th, I have stuck to a loose schedule of running for the last two weeks. I get up early in the morning and run through the villages up toward the power house company of Kenya, Bamburi Cement.

Running in these conditions are some of the most treacherous I have ever experienced. Unlike Nairobi, and my experience in Montana last summer, the elevation is not as high creating an extreme training for the lungs. No, Mombasa is very near sea level, but my lungs are getting a new type of excruciating work out.

I like to call it The Burning.

Yes, The Burning consists of several different types of burns occurring in the morning hours. You have your diesel burning coming off of the exhaust of cars, matatus and heavy trucks that pass you by. There is the wood burning that comes off of the many morning fires that are lit on the side of the road for cooking the morning’s mahambri for breakfast. And, of course if you’re really lucky, there are your classic tire burnings. I don’t know why the tires are burning, they just are.

I thought the dirt and gravel road was treacherous in Montana, but that was nothing compared to the Old Malindi road. The vehicles and bikes are cutthroat and will pass each other on either side with disregard for possible on coming traffic, much less people. The sides of the road have no discernable walk and are even worse terrain than the road.

Keeping footing and dodging human and live stock traffic is a delicate balance. The other day I nearly had my first collision with a kid (not the goat variety, usually they make better efforts to get out of the way). I was running along on of the only pieces of sidewalk (put together by our good Bamburi Cement Company) with a small girl walking to school ten feet in front of me. I took a brief second to look down to make sure my feet were moving on solid ground and when I looked up she had walked five feet back and was now looking straight down at her shoes. I don’t remember much but that I did a quick side step, slipped in some mud and crashed skinning my left knee and forearm.

I quickly got up and kept running with the bloody scabs. It’s already a big enough spectacle to see the white man running in the villages of Mombasa: best not to see the white man down in the mud griping in pain. The little stared at me in complete horror as I kept going. I turned back and smiled.

This was the worst incident. There have been many more positive ones. From people yelling, “go mzungu go!? and “Bravo Bravo!? to my excursions to the beach where the Kenyans join me and keep a stronger pace that keeps me going.

Today I ran ten miles and was on the beach to see the early sunrise over the Indian Ocean. It was good.

June 25, 2007

Allahu Akbar....mic test...1,2,...1,2,3

As I may have mentioned before, I live directly behind a mosque. At times I do experience the spiritual sensation of hearing the takbir "allahu akbar" (God is the greatest) at the numerous calls to prayer throughout the day over the loudspeaker. It is especially fantastic late in the evening as I sit in the hall of the house with only a few kerosene lamps lighting the hall. The house is built with an open roof in the kitchen area at the end of a hall. It creates a tunnel of easy wind drifting through, making the colored sheets, in front of the doors to the multiple rooms, dance in golden luminescence as the imam sings the prayers of Islam.

But every so often that song goes to static. The loudspeaker cracks and the imam does the world renowned call of audio assessment, “Mic test….test….1,2…. 1,2,3….check, check…..?

So for every amazing experience there are some things that are universal. Let me give you another example more work related.

This last Saturday, the House of Courage Initiative performed for a VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) outreach in the heart of Mombasa town along Kenyatta Avenue. With International Center for Reproductive Health administering health tests in the main building, the group acted as the MCs of the day going from 10:00AM until 4:00PM in the front courtyard. With sound equipment and Swahili Coast Music blasting we danced, we did banter back and forth, and performed for the crowd stopped along the street. I estimate that over 200 people at one time were stopped from their weekend activities and watching the hilarity of these great performers. The spectacle is something I have never seen in America.

Yet at the end of the day how do you assess the outcome of an outreach? Ahhhh the quantitative versus qualitative studies of public policy rear their ugly heads. Is it the number of few people that came through the front doors of the building to get tested as a numeral figure of progress? Are all of the people watching the performance touched by the message of responsible health practices or were they just there to get some free entertainment.

My supervisor and I had a shouting match the other day about how the HOCIs funders are changing the parameters of assessment of outreaches. If you do two outreaches, two days in a row, in the same place, 150 attendance on the first day and 170 on the second day, what was your total number of audience reached?

320 (total audience of the two days)? 170 (off the assumption that 150 of the people on the second day are the same people that were there on the first day)? Number of referrals for testing? Number of condoms given out?

“Benja! How the hell do you know who we’re reaching??

“Yusuf,? I yell. “How the hell do you know who you’re reaching??

“I don’t know!? Yusuf says.

“Me either!? I say. A moment of silence. “Well I’m glad we figured that out?

Yusuf, “Me too?

We just don’t know…

June 15, 2007

The South Will Rise Again!

A quick entry on the sometimes sad and sometimes funny irony of Mombasa, perhaps all of Kenya, and perhaps the developing world.

As you walk through Mombasa Town (the main island city center of Mombasa District) or most of anywhere else in Mombasa, you will notice not only traditional Swahili, and Muslim dress is prevalent but also quite a lot of clothing that is obviously from the identified "West." This clothing is the donated through aid agencies and sold on the streets of Mombasa to any and all. You'll see advertising on t-shirts for 1987 UNC Tar-Heels volleyball and hats promoting Midas Brakes. This last weekend I was walking through the village of Miritini to hilled area with arid vegetation. As my small group came over the hill, I witnessed a breath taking view of the west coast of the island where the fresh water river of meets the Indian Ocean.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small mud hut on the side of a hill. Hanging on the clothes line was a turquoise green Jacksonville Jaguars Fred Taylor jersey.

The most amusing incident happened as I was walking down the heavy traffic of Moi Avenue and coming to a corner to turn onto Digo road a tall, muscular, dark skinned Kenyan came around the corner. He was wearing a cut off t-shirt with the Confederate Jack running down the torso with a skeleton riding a motorcycle in the middle. Printed on the shirt was the inscription, "The South Will Rise Again."

Welcome to Kenya.

June 12, 2007


Kazi is kiswahili for work.

My work at the House of Courage Initiative (it’s full title as registered under the Ministry of Social Services of Kenya) is challenging. It's not a challenge in the sense one might think of western work that can overwhelm an individual with multiple tasks and cause one to keep long hours. The challenge is finding a place within an organization that has established itself as well as my organization has.

I believe one of the common misconceptions about organizations in what one would determine as developing countries is that they don't have the knowledge or expertise to communicate messages to people of the area. This is far from the truth. Many of the organizations I have observed along with the House of Courage are exceptional at creating engaging presentations of information on such issues as HIV/AIDS, and have first rate information on addressing community concerns and questions about content. I was fortunate my first week with the House of Courage to watch them perform at an Islamic primary school called Qubaa Academy. The group was very professional in its preparation, going through nearly 20 minutes of verbal and physical warm-ups in which I participated. The group put on a show of fantastic revelry and relative simplicity. For an hour and a half the combination of actors and puppets kept nearly 400 children entertained and informed.

Along with the performance aspect of the full group, the members also train people across Mombasa on reproductive health and safe health practices. For this purpose there are multiple programs in place that are funded by numerous NGOs and government entities of Kenya.

Coming into that situation, I am impressed but also pushed to explore what options are there for me to create an impact. I believe I have found that through looking at some organizational structure of the organization. As they have grown the House of Courage Initiative has had to keep up with the demands of growing as an organization. Finding sources of funding to keep up with growth and even creating income-generating activities (IGAs) are difficult in an economically depressed area.

This could perhaps be best illustrated by the current situation at the community center the group owns and operates. Up until last November the facility maintained electrical power connection through an agreement with another partner in the community. When that partnership dissolved, the center was without power and unable to continue activities in which it used technology such as TV/Video programs and computer tutorials for youth. To get a new power connection would cost 35,000 Kenyan shillings or rough $540 US. This money is not easily available for the organization as they focus most of their money into sustaining current projects and compensating members. Even if the group were to look at saving money for an extended period it would be several months, perhaps years before they could arrange that amount of money.

For my part, I am going to focus on an FSD challenge grant that is available in the next few weeks. With this new power connection we, House of Courage members and I, hope to recreate an atmosphere at the center that was present before the loss of power as well as create new sustainable programs that could create income for the group to establish greater independence and not rely on foundation grants in order to maintain its programs.

June 5, 2007



This is the negative conjugated verb of "to know" as to say-"I don't know."

I don't know where to begin with this entry as over the last week I have moved from the very nice, "hotel" as it is called, of the YWCA to my home across the city in the village of Mtopanga with my host family. I live in a house that is part mud hut, part concrete with an open area in the middle to catch rain water for washing clothes, dishes, and one's own self.

I live with number of people. This number is constantly in flux as some are out working or going to other homes within the village. To give a rough estimate, I have one mama who is in her late 50s, four brothers (one who is the father figure as being the eldest male in the family) two sisters and two sisters-in-law one uncle and two to three nephews. I have the exact layout on paper in front of me but to give an exact description would take more time than I have at the moment.

Life at home is continually an adjustment process. As a man there are certain roles which I do not traditionally take on (washing dishes, cleaning parts of the house or even bringing food in for meals or clearing it after dinner). I'm taking the process slowly and gradually introducing myself in to different aspects of life and becoming more than an honored guest and also trying to break some of the masculine roles that are understood in the culture.

My family is wonderful. My main contact in my family is my brother Omarr or as we call him Socrates (Soki for short after a great football mid-fielder of the 1980s). He's in his early 30s and has lived in the village his whole life. He He has shown me around the village, taken me out to the beaches of the Indian Ocean and will be teaching me how to cook this weekend. Today we got up at 6:30AM to run as part of my training for the marathon I am running in October. We went down the main road of Mtopanga through the neighboring village of Bamburi. We dodged morning matatu drivers, men pushing massive carts of goods and goats. Children heading to school were laughing to see an Mzungu and black man running so early. I'm very fortunate to have someone who has such good relations with people in the community as my comrade.

I will be updating again on Friday with more details of my work and home life.
Asante sana

May 28, 2007

Through the first week in Mombasa

We are nearly through the Orientation week the Foundation for Sustainable Development has created for the incoming interns for the Mombasa program. It began on the 23rd and will conclude on the 29th. I along with six other interns have been fortunate to not only have a very supportive site team to help us with the adjustment but were also treated to meeting Dr. Alicia Robb, the founder and President of FSD who was helping with the set up of the new permanent offices in Mombasa Town.
After less than a week in Mombasa, it seems a lifetime away from the setting of the United States even if our time among the community has been limited. Our days have been regimented with morning Kiswahili lessons and afternoons of culture orientation. Our, mwalimu (teacher) Penina has been a great guide and my language ability has greatly improved in the small span of time. Still, there is much to learn before I truly feel comfortable with my communication skills. It is a considerably easier language to learn than English. Combining African Bantu language with pieces from other languages coming to East Africa through historic trade routes.

Interesting note on Kiswahili: Verbs are formed from subject+tense+verb
Subject: ni (I), u (you), a (he/she), tu (we), m(you {pl}), wa(they); Tense: na (present), li (past), ta (future).
The verb "kujua" (to know) would be formed: ninajua (I know), nilijua (I knew), nitajua (I will know)

The latter part of the day has been devoted to areas of development, culture shock, security, safety, and health. We begin with breakfast in the morning at 7:30AM and end with dinner at 7:00PM. It's dark by that time as we are just south of the equator so one's mind begins to get tired and fall asleep at 9:00pm. This has been the arduous schedule over the last few days, but it is worth the payoff of being acclimated to the people of Mombasa.
In Mombasa, I am a mzungu. A mzungu (mmm zoon goo) is a white/ european/ American/ Westerner. It is said where ever my colleagues and I go as a reference to our group of caucasians. It is not necessarily a derogatory term but does differentiate you from others in a form that I have not experienced in America. A majority of people of Mombasa are good natured and friendly when approached but there is an anti-American sentiment in areas of the city. Our group experience one instance as we were walking through Old Town of Mombasa Town. As we passed a shop of a group of young men yelled after us, "Why do you come through a black neighborhood, we hate America." There are security issues in Kenya to be sure. It is recommended that we not go out at night and if we do to do so in groups. We're to avoid political rallies resist the urge to act as the European tourists. Obsessive picture taking will only attract people asking you to pay them for inadvertently taking their picture.
Overall I am well. Some days I shower myself in more mosquito repellent than with actual shower water. Hand sanitizer, mosquito repellent, sun screen, malarone (malaria prevention medicine), and multi-vitamens fill my daily routine. Don't drink the water and don't eat uncooked foods. As of the moment I have no problems while some of my intern colleagues are spending the day at the doctors with unidentified red dots and upset stomachs.
The spectrum of life in Mombasa is wide and dynamic. As of now I am living on the South coast of Likoni and take a ferry to Mombasa Town (an island in the center of the city). It is the only form of transit to Likoni and you will see pedestrians and autos together heading across. You can see rich Mzungus in Toyotas with morning coffee at one end and barefoot young men pushing a 9ft tall cart of vegetables you wouldn't dream of eating in middle class American at the other end. At the North coast across from the other side of the island you wil find a state of the art cinemax showing new Ameican and Bollywood releases. It is surrounded by contemporary Indian restaurants and a pizzeria catering to the tourists of Nyali Beach. Across the street is one of the largest slums in Kenya numbering in the thousands. People live in cardboard boxes which fall apart in the rain.
The first few days were overwhelming, One of the interns who arrived Wednesday left for the U.S. Friday mainly because of a family emergency but he was also extremely taken aback by the situtation of many people and, at times, felt powerless to work in his organization. This feeling arises in everyone now and again but the open atmosphere of FSD allows us to discuss these issues.
I will be leaving orientation Tuesday, beginning life with my host family and starting work Wednesday. More entries to come by this weekend. Thank you for your support.

May 26, 2007

Orientation in Mombasa

I arrived Wednesday to Mombasa and there are inadequate words to describe the sights at this time. All is well with FSD orientation as 6 other interns and I learn about the culture and living in Mombasa. More information about the program to come later. For now I am rushed to get out of the internet cafe.

May 22, 2007

Lay Over in Heathrow

The flight to Mombasa is not short trip.

One must first fly a good 7 hr flight over the Atlantic to some destination of choice and then another 8 hr flight to Nairobi. The lay over periods between these flights can be somewhat long and if you are in a less than 12 hour period of lay over it is best not to leave the airport because who knows how long you'll have to get back to the terminal with going through security, customs, etc.

To pass the time I've been going through some basic Swahili to improve language skills upon arrival. Ndiyo! (it is true, or yes). There are so many interesting facets to Swahili coming together as a trade language from different areas of East Africa. To note: most of the emphasis within the words fall on the second to last syllable. Many nouns that indicate a person have an M/WA beginning to indicate a singular or plural form.


Along with the learning Swahili you can also pass the time by sleeping. Sleeping is good when you have lost the time going overseas.


May 8, 2007


This blog will serve as a professional and hopefully entertaining review of the work I do in Mombasa, Kenya through Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) and the House of Courage (HOC) from May 23rd 2007-August 7th, 2007.

About myself:

I, Ben Marcy, am a second year graduate student at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. I am a candidate for Master's of Public Policy (MPP). I am working on a self-design concentration of community development and civic engagement. Too often we think of development in economic terms of tangible product and traditional measured growth. My degree is focusing on understanding the distinctions of a community and finding common ground for change if it is desired among the people. Essentially, this is engaging the public in the policy formation.

This program has been a culmination of work and defining my self-interest for working in Kenya. I began the process of filing application forms with FSD in early February. I listed my interests in working with youth and new forms of education. I have worked in clerical work for the Positive Care Clinic (HIV/AIDS Clinic) of Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) for the last several years and have a personal interest in where the HIV/AIDS issues are moving. As well I am also a theatre enthusiast and have previously worked as a player in a sketch comedy group, LunchBox Voodoo, at Eastern Illinois University.

Currently, I work with a student group called Cedar Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement (CHANCE) at the Humphrey Institute. This group seeks to foster and promote community-building and civic engagement among Humphrey Institute students, staff, and faculty in order that the Institute forms positive, sustainable relationships with surrounding communities and those it affects. We mainly focus on Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood of Minneapolis, which has a very diverse community of populations including people from East Africa and South Asia.

With all this on my application papers I sent to FSD in early February, I was given a truly unique offer. I was offered an internship working with the HOC. In 2000, an outbreak of cholera in Kisauni led the Ministry of Health to mobilize local secondary school students to conduct outreaches within the community to prevent the spread of the disease. After the cholera was contained, the group of students decided to continue with their community outreach work and tackle other pressing issues such as HIV/AIDS. This led to the formation of House of Courage as a youth centered community group using participatory theater to improve public health in the Kisauni Division of Mombasa District. Recently, HOC recently attended training in Nairobi to conduct a Good Governance Puppetry program that raises awareness on issues of corruption, voter registration and the importance of voting, peace, security, conflict resolution and any other issues facing the community. HOC is also carrying out Abstinence for Youth Program to encourage students in primary and secondary schools to practice abstinence in lieu of the high level of sexual activity noted among youth.

As to my final placement and work I will be doing it is uncertain. I will have more details in the coming week about what project I will be taking on and the course of the work. Please, keep reading and checking for more to come.