Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Kiss from a Giraffe

Growing up, I was privileged to live in a couple of National Parks in Uganda. This was so, because my dad was a Sr. member of staff at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). This meant that for every work transfer, we moved along with him as a family.  We lived in some of the best National parks in Uganda like the Murchsion falls, Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori National Park among others. We often went for game drives, Safaris and camping and learnt a lot about flora and fauna with training to preserve and conserve nature from a very young age.

I remember my dad telling my siblings and I endless stories about the park and how animals are beautiful ‘people’ and that if we didn’t interfere with the ecosystem, we could live in peace and harmony with all creatures.  We were never allowed to tamper with any creature by destroying its habitat or killing it for no reason. Over the years, I have learnt to respect other creatures and appreciate their role and value in the ecosystem. For me, nature has always been part of my life.

During  a recent  Thomson Reuters  media training on "Sustainable development in a changing environment" which took place in Nairobi,While discussing the Sustainable development Goals that are to replace the MDGS, I learnt that for anything to be sustainable, it ought to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising those of  the future generation to meet their own needs. I am afraid that in the wake of a changing Climate, characterized by deforestation, destruction of wetlands, human settlement in national parks and poaching, a lot of the future needs have been compromised.  And something has to be done.

As I plan to embark on an afforestation project in Uganda, I have decided to travel around Kenya visiting parks and reserves to appreciate the fauna. My first trips were to the David Shedirck Wildlife trust found within the Nairobi National Park, dedicated to saving baby elephants and taking them back to the wild once mature and the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi dedicated to Giraffes. In the video below, I was feeding a Giraffe as I learnt more about its life and value within the ecosystem. What you observe is the famous “Giraffe Kiss” received by lucky and courageous visitors to the centre.




I also did visit the Orphaned Elephants and learnt about their sad stories and how they ended up at the centre. It is mainly as a result of Ivory Poaching. A human activity endangering African elephants for their tusks.  Read more here 

A baby Elephant being fed at the David Shedrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.



How can we move from being addicted to “breaking news” and focus more on sustainable development issues in a changing climate?  Maybe we could start by being kissed by a giraffe so that we can appreciate the value of our flora and fauna. Human beings need to stop being greedy. Just because animals cannot speak they get hurt and when they do, humanity is endangered. This piece was not about being kissed by a Giraffe but rather about the dangers of compromising the needs of the future generations through our selfish acts of destroying flora and fauna. You can do something to change this. What are you going to do today to stop further destruction of our environment? Plant a tree? Report deforestation to save birds? stop reclamation of land for wrong reasons? save those flowers to bring the bees back? what action will you take today? The ball is in your court!

Monday, June 15, 2015

My experience as a trainer in Sudan

Web 2.0 & social media training, an initiative by CTA in ACP countries, provides practical training for practitioners of information and communications for development and other agricultural stakeholders on how to use Web 2.0 technologies in their work and lives. And the learning process is made enjoyable and memorable through the use of practical sessions, a process that allows learners to engage and interact with the different tools.
I have had the privilege of conducting a couple of Web 2.0 and social media trainings on behalf of CTA in Africa, and I must admit that each country that I have been to has come with its own experiences. My most recent training was in the republic of Sudan, at the University of Gezira , Wad Medani, about 200 km from Khartoum, the capital city.
Going to Sudan came with a mixture of feelings, both excitement and uncertainty. I had questions like: Wasn’t it too hot in Sudan? (Considering that I come from Uganda where the weather is just ‘okay’.); Would I be forced to dress like the local women there? How about the language? I had no idea how I was going to communicate in a country where Arabic is the main and predominantly spoken language. As a matter of fact, the only word I knew in Arabic was shukran, meaning ‘thank you’.
The exciting part of it all was the fact that I was going to train men and women from academia. It was also the first time I would be travelling to Sudan to experience a new culture and, most important, to share knowledge.
I arrived in Khartoum on 9 May 2015, together with a team from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), with whom the training was to be conducted. Straight away, we set off for Wad Medani to prepare for the event. Of course it was very hot and the people were very warm and friendly.
The next day, a Sunday, our training began. I had to adjust to the new ‘Monday’. In Sudan, Sunday is not a holiday like it is in Uganda, and the working week starts on Sunday. During day 1 of the training, we were reminded that we needed to include time for prayers in our agenda for all the training days. This is something I had personally never experienced but the reason was obvious.
Then came the language. Since the participants where mainly from the University of Gezira, an academic institution, they had a fair command of English and that made it possible for the training to be given in English. However, we had to speak a bit slower and very clearly and use lots of gestures. It was amazing how effective the learning process was. The level of enthusiasm and commitment that the trainees showed was overwhelming.
Even though the training generally went well, it came with a couple of challenges beyond our control. For example, Sudan is on a US blacklist concerning Internet access, which means that some websites are not accessible from Sudan. For instance, when registering on Twitter the user has to confirm his/her phone number and ‘Sudan’ is not among the drop-down list of options. Also Picasa, an image organiser and image viewer used for organising and editing digital photos, is blocked in Sudan. However, this did not stop us from going ahead with the training, but it did mean that we had to look for some alternative platforms.
Overall, for me as a trainer it was a totally new learning experience. It made it possible for me to compare experiences with my previous trainings and highlighted the need to always be prepared when conducting training in a new country.
Are you a trainer? What are some of the unique experiences you have encountered that you would like other trainers to learn from? Please share them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Read and Learn

Poetry had for so long eluded me, it never made sense to me, and so had art and Jazz. I just didn’t understand any of them and didn’t pay so much attention either, until recently when I started reading books. I had for so long, never appreciated written literature until someone very close to me, whose life revolves around reading encouraged me to give it a try. He bought me “The Monk who sold his Ferari” to start with and I read it so fast that I asked for another with a similar style of writing. Then came “The Concubine” by Elechi Amadi and he dared me to complete the entire book. That was it for me.


Currently reading this book as one of my
March reads
Daring me was the only way I could prove that I could read a book and complete it. I later on learnt that the dare was deliberate to make sure I read the book. My desire for African Literature grew. I took to Facebook and asked my friends to recommend books by African writers. I was overwhelmed by the recommendations and I have since December 2014 read a total of 12 books and I am still amazed at how much I had missed because I didn’t read a lot. I am therefore trying to ‘catch up’ on the lost time.  It’s never too late

I am privileged because I am currently enrolled to a University and I do not have to buy all these books, I make good use of my student privileges to borrow as many books as I can. Because of school demands, I intend to read atleats 2 books a month. This has helped me reduce the amount of the time that I spend on social media and saved me lots of ‘small talk’. 

Having grown up in a family of readers, as a last borne, I always had my siblings narrate stories to me and my mum read bible stories, which I enjoyed so much. I was more of a listener than a reader. This didn’t change much when I grew older. I preferred listening and watching as opposed to reading. I watched video books and listened to audio books. I just didn’t understand the fun in reading over 400 pages of tiny words, yet I could listen to someone do that for me. I was wrong, So wrong because nothing beats the satisfaction that comes with holding a book in your arms and having your imagination go wild.

I have since purposed to learn as many new things as I can, read books about issues I never learnt at school, learn to interpret and understand art in all it’s forms;- music, drama, design, poetry etc and many more things that were perceived as impossible to learn or do. Reading has challenged me to explore, to question and appreciate diversity and respect differences.
This is my very first attempt to write a poem. And my first is about the power of Silence. Because my moments of solitude are some of my best life moments. Enjoy!!

SILENCE!!

Look for the invisible,
Listen to the Silences,
Touch your imagination.
Tomorrow is beyond here and now

The picture of thy self can’t be any clearer
In the moment of silence
Renewing the spirit
Giving a glimpse of truth

In that moment, you are a new being
So much noise, yet so silent
Opening your eyes to your deeds
Searching through the torrents of despair

Life seems like a futile uphill climb sometimes
In Silence, you Listen
Two ears, one mouth, lead you to new heights
Your will power sustains you in a moment of Silence
 Be SILENT, LISTEN

-Maureen Agena

Beyond this, I would like to open a public space where people come together to read, write and express themselves artistically. It could be a Library or simply an open space. I would like to see authors mentor potential writers such that we learn to tell our own stories in our own way as well as document our history and present situations. If you have ideas on how this can be achieved or would like to support this, your advice is most welcome.
Comment here or send me an email maureenagena@gmail.com

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Fake Facebook Comments



A story is told of a young man. Let’s call him Otim. Otim was to travel to the US for the very fast time and, out of excitement, updated his Facebook status. Sure, many of us do the same, only that our Otim here updated his status two weeks ahead of his trip. The comments were almost instant, with many congratulating him, some asking what he was going to do in the US and others asked which state it was that he was going to. Social media can be a downright silly place to be in so some of the comments bordered on the indescribable. One stood out: Otim’s old school friend demanded he checks on him while in the US. “Make sure you call me up when you get here, looking forward to seeing you again after so many year,” the comment read. 

Otim’s ‘generous’ friend who put this outstanding comment gave him his home address in the US and email address in case he needed any help. (By the way, the home address was one that existed). He then offered to continue with the chat off Otim’s timeline to the inbox.  Three days to his trip, as he went by doing some shopping in downtown Kampala, Otim bumped into his “US friend” trying to run some errands. Shocked at the sight of the guy who he thought was in the US, Otim tried to convince himself that this could either be his brother or a look alike. But the shock on his friend’s face at the sight of Otim gave him in faster than water soaks cotton. Otim’s hilarious narration of the event inspired this blog post.
I came to work in Nairobi a year-and-a-half ago from The Netherlands. Like Otim, I updated my Facebook status about how excited I was (not that I was that excited because I had my own crazy opinion of Nairobi). My excitement was from the fact that Nairobi is a couple of hours away from home and that I could easily go to Uganda to see my people and get back faster and cheaper than while I was in Europe. The reaction to my update was huge, with many of my Kenyan friends and Ugandan friends living in Kenya asking me to let them know when I arrived, if I needed any help, suggesting that we could go ‘do’ coffee or lunch and inquiring about where my next home in Nairobi would be. In Nairobi, just like Kampala, you are judged based on where you live. Places like Westelands, Lavington, Upperhill et cetera harbour a certain class of people, so do places like South C and  Langata. Same as in Kampala. Kololo, Muyenga, Buziga etc are places for those who have the money. I was so flattered but little did I know that one and half years down the road, I would never meet these people. I came to Nairobi, saw it, enjoyed it and found my way around it but I am yet to meet all those who commented on my status update that day, and continue to occasionally comment on many of my updates.

Now, I am not here to rant about my Kenyan Facebook friends, but to share some of my interesting experiences in Kenya, particularly Nairobi. My Facebook friends are too busy and I don’t blame them. I am glad that at least we are friends on Facebook. That’s good enough.
Beautiful Nairobi City. Photo Credit: www.nairobitoday.co.ke
Back in Uganda, I had heard all sorts of stories about Nairobi. Scary stories. Talk about car jerks in broad day light, shootings at residential gates as people drove in, jumping onto a speeding matatu and having to know how to speak “Sheng” (a blend of Swahili and English) in order to survive.
I don’t remember hearing anything positive save for the nice building and good roads. Sure, most of these things are not true. With all these at the back of my mind, I always prayed never to find myself in Nairobi for a long-term stay, especially employment or education. It’s ironical because these are the exact reasons I am now in Kenya—to work and study. But food comes first at any one time. Let’s whet the appetite.

The Food 
My first shock came with the food. I love food and I love it in variety. Uganda has all the foods you can imagine. Fresh and tasty. Kenya being a neighbour, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem getting the food I loved. Wrong. So freaking cultural shock. On day one at work, I went out for lunch with a couple of colleagues from my Unit. At the eatery, they all made their orders on a reflection. “Ugali na Nyama”. I asked the waiter to give me five minutes to think through the menu. These guys didn’t have to look at the menu. As the waiter brought their orders, I was shocked to see ‘Posho’—the very white one every girl in boarding school lived to curse—with ‘Mchomo’ (roast meat) and collard greens, the very renowned ‘sukuma wiki’ (apparently, it is aptly named so to mean ‘pushing the week’ as it is a common dish that helped many peasant families live on back in the days).
At this point, everyone had a plate of food in front of them except me. I had to place my order. I asked for chicken and rice with soup. I repeated soup loudly incase he missed it. This amused my colleague, with one sarcastically joking that, “She is a typical Ugandan; they love soup! This statement would make lots of sense in the coming months.
To cut my food story short, I got to learn more about Kenyan foods and fell in love with ‘Mukimo’ and the fish but not with Ugali. I don’t even intend to. Since I am not a fun of red meat, I am happy to continue enjoying the fish. I found out the foods grown and eaten in different regions of Kenya and got rid of the stereotype about the “Ugali na Nyama” being the only food known to and loved by Kenyans. A thing which many Kenyans are yet get rid of, a similar stereotype about Matooke (mashed plantains) being loved and eaten by all Ugandans. My Kenyas friends, not all Ugandans eat matooke. Many of you travel and stop in Kampala and your opinion of Uganda is informed by the experiences in Kampala where the predominant tribe is Baganda. Yes, a muganda’s meal is incomplete without matooke, just like a Musoga man has no meal without boiled sweet potatoes, and my Northern connection people wouldn’t go without peanut. Uganda is a huge country. Oh, the other thing: while yams, sweet potatoes, cassava form part of the main course meal in Uganda, it is a different story in Kenyan—they are eaten for breakfast. Yes Breakfast!

The Matatu (s)
Whenever I travel to a new country, I enjoy trying out their public means of transport because it’s usually affordable and it helps me have an idea of the realities among the citizens, especially the common man from the chats, lamentation and jokes shared. It’s exactly what I did in Nairobi. My command of Swahili is not so good but I can communicate and engage in a simple discussion.  Well, for a Ugandan, the thought of using these buses or commuter taxis in Nairobi is enough torture. Many of my friends who have been to Nairobi and have attempted to use them complain about the loud music that they play, the speed and the fact that the conductors collect money as soon as the bus takes off. In Kenya, you’ve got to pay your fare whether you will reach your destination or not. In Uganda, the story is different. You stop the ‘taxi’  lazily with an attitude, get in as slowly as you can and only pay when you are close to your destination.
The clincher with Kampala is that you have the liberty to stop the taxi at any point on the road and yell at the conductor and the driver if the vehicle stopped a few inches past where you wanted to, regardless of whether the driver had a parking spot or no. I was told that the people from Mombasa are the ones who board matatus like Ugandans. I am yet to find out why and confirm this.
Now, this might sound ridiculous but I prefer the Kenyan Matatus, save for the two occasions that I almost broke my legs and specs while jumping off. The thing is, I thought that the matatu had stopped, only for it to move as I was putting my first leg on the ground. It was a gross experience but a learning one too. I am told that it’s necessary to go through it to learn the hard way and prevent future falls that could be fatal.
But if you are the time consummate, speed is everything with Kenyan matatus. They fill up so fast, the fare rarely changes. In Uganda, a light drizzle will see the fare triple and commuters have no business complaining. Kenyans also give a receipt when you pay. The best part of it all is that they do not stop anywhere, anyhow to drop off or pick passengers except at their designated bus stops. Now I like that kind of order. I am an ardent fan of Kenya Bus Service (KBS) buses and occasionally those from Westlands that play the coolest reggae music as they get into town. I do not mind the Kenyan matatus at all because unlike in my country where you must know “Luganda” to feel so comfortable in a taxi (Matatu), in Nairobi, you only have to know the bus number to your destination and make sure you have money. You don’t have to talk much. In Kenya, a taxi is an equivalent of “Special hire”. The taxis in Uganda are what are known as Matatu in Kenya or Daladala in Tanzania.

The learning environment
I am enrolled at one of the Universities in Nairobi and it’s extremely interesting to be a foreign student in Kenya. When I mention that I am Ugandan, students smile and some whisper Museveni. I wonder what I have got to do with Museveni besides him being my president. But I realized that he has this weird popularity in Kenya. Many Kenyans laugh at his accent when speaking Swahili, others at his jokes of having his cows stolen by the pokot while others simply enjoy the jokes that the media makes of him. The learning is quite interesting because students identify me as the “Ugandan girl” and some ask if I personally know Anne Kansime.
This school environment has taught me how to differentiate Kenyans based on their tribes just by the way they speak. Not so different from Uganda. For instance, some Luo have challenges with “sh” and so they could say something like “fis” to means “fish”, some Kikuyu just like the Baganda of Uganda use  ‘L’ and ‘R’ interchangeable. For instance, saying “bring’ would instead become “bling” and the Kamba are as lavish with the letter “M” as a Nigerian would be with their age that they fix it almost every where ‘mboy’ for “moy", ‘mbig’  for “big." The some Luhya have “ko” which people make fun of and would say “Niambieko” instead of “Niambie” etc. I am amazed by the diversity and I respect their “normal”. I appreciate these differences and yearn to learn as much as I can from these people. School has made me realize the differences in speech among many Africans and made it easy for me to identify a Kenyan’s way of speech and connotation regardless of how polished their English may be. No wonder it’s also easy for Kenyans to tell a Ugandan from the accent.  Of course, I have also learnt that the word “imagine” can be placed anywhere in a sentence depending on how sad or interesting a conversation is. It’s used to express shock, excitement , anger, joy... name it.


The Tribal Jokes
Many of us only get to hear about Luos and Kikuyus as if Kenya is only made up of those two tribes. Well, I will not get into the nitty gritty of this, but will stick to the jokes that are made about them. The luo take up the bigger chunk of this, because they are said to be a proud lot of people. There is a funny joke that Luos do not drive Toyota Vitzs and that if someone driving a vitz hooted while on the road and a luo was driving next to them, The luo will lower their car window and say that this……. “people driving vitz are not supposed to hoot because unlike other cars that get log books when purchased, a receipt is given for a purchase of a vitz. So be patient and wait for the real cars to move, the follow in silence” Another silly joke is summarized in this picture below. About the Kikuyus, the jokes revolve around money and how they take up any opportunity to make money and that for one to prove that a Kikuyu is dead, you need to drop a coin on the floor. And if the corpse doesn’t show any signs of movement, then the person is indeed dead. Not funny but those are some of the jokes made to emphasise their love for money. Nothing is taken so seriously among the Kenyans, these are jokes that have found their was to high platforms manned by comedians like “ThechurchHill Show”.
Received via Whatsupp. If you know the source, please let me know so that I can give the credit.

My Cab guy

I could write about so many things other interesting things in Nairobi, but I will stop at this one because it’s one of the most interesting. I met this cab guy a few weeks after I settled into Nairobi. He was one of those cabs you call out randomly and then take his mobile number and keep calling him when you need to be dropped to places occasionally. This guy is the most hilarious man I have met in Nairobi. I do not need to buy news papers to know what’s going on in Nairobi. He will give me the latest updates with a sizzling touché to them and even add more details using his own theories. He is one of the most punctual cab guys I know and he keeps his word. I consult him when I have to travel somewhere within Kenya and he advices on the safety and expectations. He has recommended me to visit a couple of places and has taken me to some of them. Each trip comes with new stories and so much laughter. He has been in Nairobi for years and driven his taxi for years too, so he knows the entire city like his palm. His advice is, never bully a Taxi man in Nairobi or refuse to pay his fare and threaten him because when he takes you to police, without listening to what transpired, the Taxi man will be favoured and you will be fined heavily. The police are always on their side.  

Bottom line, this blog is to tell you never to get taken up or overly excited by comments that people make on your Facebook updates. Many write them just for the sake of writing, very few are honest. If you have to travel, make your own arrangements so that an invite from a friend is simply a bonus. You do not want to get a shock of your life in a foreign country. I know all my friends in Uganda would host me with Open arms :-). No doubt!! I thank you who would and those with the desire to but wouldn’t for your generosity and honesty. For now, I have so many Kenyan friends. I guess more than I really need. I am happy that I get to meet and talk to them often.