Thursday, April 3, 2008

April 3, 2008 - Working (for free) and Paying Bills

Happy April and Happy 7th Birthday to my nephew, Michael. I called him for his birthday and he asked me if I was coming home for his party. When I choked back tears to tell him that I was too far away to come to his party, he was like "Ok. Bye." Clearly 7-year olds have bigger fish to fry than aunties who live in Africa!
Since my last blog some interesting things have happened. First of all, it hasn’t rained once in Nairobi since I wrote the all about the “long rains”, mutant-sized pot holes and my rain bug enemies. So weird! The weather has been alternately cold and hot this week so I almost feel like I am in New England! Other parts of the country, though, are having serious floods which are really bad.

Yesterday my boss brought me with her to a really important meeting; in fact, I would say it is one of two supremely important meetings for education in the country. It is a three-day budget workshop for Kenya’s public education system (K-university) for 2008-2009, attended by government officials, development partners (such as UN agencies, USAID and the development organizations of other countries like England, Canada, Switzerland, and Japan), and other education stakeholders like the teacher’s union. There were close to 200 people there, not including the press, and the Minister of Education opened with a lengthy speech about Kenya’s achievements in recent years, such as increasing the number of children enrolled in primary school, as well as its upcoming challenges, such as the fact that there are 1 million Kenyan children who do not attend school at all. All Kenyan speeches are lengthy, by the way. I learned a lot about the system and the fiscal policies supporting it here. Specifically, the country faces the challenge of quickly rebuilding 38 schools that were burned to the ground during the recent violence, 65 schools that were completely looted/devastatingly vandalized, and over 40 educational offices that were looted! That is in addition to the fact that over 100,000 children and 1,350 are displaced, living in camps, and in desperate need of support. By the end of the conference tomorrow, the budget will be tightened up and expanded to meet these needs.

I met some really interesting people and got some political “gossip” during my lunch with a UNICEF colleauge and two people from the Ministry of Education. They were discussing the stalemate over Cabinet positions for the Coaltion and which members of government funded the post-election violence. The Cabinet dilemma was subsequently resolved today after Kofi Annan - “Kenya’s Daddy” – lectured the President and Prime Minister to make decisions like adults. I was interested to learn that my colleague, who is Somalian-Kenyan, is married to a Harvard-educated lawyer (also Somalian-Kenyan) who was just elected to Parliament for the first time in this past election – a very interesting time to be a newcomer! It was a little bit hard to follow the conversation in a noisy cafeteria because Kenyans talk so softly and have very thick accents to which I am still tuning my ears, but I did my best and found myself understanding some of what they were talking about. After my political orientation at lunch, the conference was broken down into groups. Unbeknownst to me, my boss had signed me up to keep minutes and produce a final document for one of the them. This would have been fine if she had told me that she signed me up for this job…but she didn’t! So, I didn’t know that I was supposed to be doing anything for the group and this led to a very awkward misunderstanding between me (lowly UNICEF volunteer) and a high ranking government official from the Ministry of Education. Whoops! While I appreciate that she has a lot of confidence in me and trusts me, I did ask my boss not to secretly sign me up for anything again! The conference continued today but I had work to do for her back at the office so I did not attend. I did really appreciate the opportunity she gave me though; it was both a professional and a cultural experience for me.

As for today, before going to work I had to pay our bills. This may sound strange to you, but here in Kenya we don’t get a bill in the mail and then send a check back to the company or have the funds electronically taken out of our account. Oh no, the country is not quite there yet. Some people go to the post office and pay there where they have an electronic way of transferring funds to different companies. But since we all know how I feel about the post office, Kristoffer and I usually go door-to-door to the electric company, water company, and cable company to pay our bills (luckily, the internet company will come to us to receive payment) as most Kenyans do. Even though Kristoffer is away this week the bills are still due! So I called a taxi this morning and went door-to-door paying bills for 90 minutes before going to work. I even paid for next month in advance just to save us a Saturday morning of sitting in traffic to pay bills! It is so annoying!

Because I use the same taxi company all the time, all of the drivers know be my name. Every time I call for a cab the guy answers the phone with “Good Morning Lisa! How are you?” This morning there was some kind a mix up and 3 taxis showed up at our apartment at the same time to pick me up! It was really funny and I have no idea how they figured out which driver “got me” because they were speaking in very fast Kiswahili. Anyway, I thought it was really funny that my driver really likes Kenny Rogers and we listened to a Kenny Rogers tape as we drove around paying my bills before going to the UN. He rewound the tape three times to listen to the song “Lucille”, which I didn’t realize was such a popular hit over here in Kenya (considering I have never heard in the US!). He didn't seem to like "The Gambler", my personal favorite, that much.

I had a really busy morning and attended my second meeting for UN Spouses (aka “the wives club”). I tried to recruit more people for Book Club and everyone seemed to just love the idea, but we’ll see how many of them actually read the next book! Then the meeting sort of took a dive for me because the topic was MENOPAUSE, which is not something I can really identify with just yet. They even brought in a nurse to make a presentation and some of the women shared their menopause stories. I am sure this was useful to many 40+ year-olds in the large group of 26 women, but I was also relieved that there were more non-menopausal faces in the crowd than at the last meeting and they also seemed at odds with the presentation.

I am really happy that tomorrow is Friday! I am attending a different meeting on behalf of my boss where I will give a brief report on the state of post-election violence education in the country. I will be supported by two colleagues from Save the Children (United Kingdom) who will report on their activities in the field. Should be interesting! I am trying to make myself indispensable to my boss, so as to secure my future at UNICEF for as long as I want one. At least I hope that is what I am doing!

The best news is that Kristoffer comes home from his amazing week in Rome on Saturday night. I can’t even remember the last time we went an entire week without talking on the phone, but this week we did it. Thank God for email! And I am sorry that we’re still having problems uploading picture but someday you will see our Easter Elephants – I promise!


1 comment:

_journey said...

Hi Ms. Mueller! or Mrs. Wielsen! Hmm..let's just stick to Lisa. lol. I just wanted to drop a comment to tell you that I really enjoy reading your blog. Especially when you describe a "day in the life..", it makes me think about all the things people take advantage of here.

But it sounds like you're really enjoying yourself. I read a few posts back that you were trying to put a video on to your blog. It's really easy, set up a Youtube account, upload the video on to Youtube and they will generate the proper html codes for you. And then you just copy and paste the codes on to your posts!

Anyways, I hope you and Kristoffer are doing great- you must have a killer tan! =D

-Love, Nadia. (leadership)