Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"The beauty of the world...has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder."

It is possible I just quoted Virginia Woolf. Again. (Sorry.)

I did think it was a fitting quote on Day 2 of my African sojourn. Malena thought it would be a good idea to have a day of acclimation before I ventured to the Thika village on Thursday and Friday.

(Have I told you about Malena? Malena Ruth is the body, mind and spirit behind the African Millennium Foundation. Truly an inspiration. She's been and will continue to be my guru and mentor throughout this experience.)

But back to Ms. Woolf. Today I had a day of laughter, so to speak.

Patrick, my contact in Nairobi, picked me up at my hotel for our day excursion. He was amused by my clutching of the passenger seat handle while he raced through the streets of Nairobi in his Land Cruiser. (I thought I was being subtle.) Driving in Nairobi is definitely an extreme sport and one that I am surely not qualified for. And, when we weren't racing through the streets we were stopped in "cow traffic" waiting for herds of cows to walk idly by.

That said, today I truly experienced Africa in all of its breath-taking beauty and wildlife. The Nairobi Safari Walk was the perfect way to spend my first full day here. Almost cliche really. I was surrounded by like-minded tourists and young shiny-faced and eager African tour guides. It was thrilling to see these amazing amimals up close and hear the bits of trivia from our knowledgeable guide.

-It takes two hours to boil an ostrich egg!

-Giraffes live up to 28 years!!

-Cheetahs don't need to drink water - their prey provides them all the moisture they need!!!

But I found this fact the most interesting and most relevant:

-The male lion (The King) sleeps 16 hours a day. The female lion goes and hunts for the food. She brings back the meal and the King eats first, followed by the cubs. Then, if there is remaining food, she eats.

It reminded me of something I read in "Half the Sky":

Some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes, but also by unwise spending – by men. It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 a week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses.

I have yet to see first hand the impact of the microcredit programs in Africa but I can already intuit and understand how these microcredit programs are literally changing and transforming these struggling villages. Transferring the balance of power is probably overstating it. But certainly, allowing women to be enterprisers and entrepreneurs with such minimal start up costs is genius. And is why the man, Muhummad Yunus, who conceived and first implemented this program, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Bangladesh.

I will be visiting a handful of villages this month and will be able to tell you firsthand how these microcredit/microloan programs are working and changing the lives of many. And, how the money we raised is going to add women to these programs.

As a proud American, I love seeing capitalism working and thriving. Giving these women a tiny bit of money to start a small business and seeing them thrive and save and contribute to the community is one of the things I'm most looking forward to seeing and helping with

Kofi Annan said it best in 2006:

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.

So today was one of laughter with Patrick and the wild animals in the luxury of the Nairobi Safari Walk; and, the two glasses of South African red wine I enjoyed at the hotel while writing this.

Tomorrow, I see the other edge.


  1. Beautiful.

  2. Also, I just found myself at lunch discussing how the majority of my female friends consistently out earn their male partners (sorry). It's really amazing. AND this on the heels of watching Zenyatta, a mare, win the Breeders Cup. She was the first mare to ever win in the 26 years of racing. She was the favorite going in but had never run against males. It was so emotional watching her go from last to first to winning...with more to give even after she finished.
    I think Kofi Annan is on to something...