Day two in Nairobi started off nicely with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I also had taro root, served boiled and washed down with my coffee. It is very dry in one’s mouth, like a boiled potato without garnish of any kind, and it has a faint taste of tapioca. It’s not unpleasant, but I can’t say that I was thrilled to hear that it is a staple for breakfast.

Jamii Bora had an important meeting this morning with the Central Bank of Kenya. We stopped on the way in to pick up a World Bank researcher from the Fairview hotel. This is one of the nicer hotels around and is very safe since it is located next to the Israeli embassy. That place is like a bunker and, in fact, the public road outside has these “friendly roadblocks” around which drivers have to swerve.

The woman from the World Bank was greeted with singing as I was yesterday and I got swept up in the process. This time I didn’t hesitate to start clapping along. Singing is a whole other story.  I think the words are the three slogans of Jamii Bora Kwa Mokao Bora, Kwa Afya Bora and Kwa Maisha Bora (making housing better, making health better and making life better), but I can’t really tell. I need some lessons.

Getting swept away by this tide of hospitality brought me face to face with Ingrid Munro for the first time since my arrival. We shook hands and we said a quick hello, but the singing still continued. I wasn’t supposed to be in this meeting, so I ducked out shortly after for a tour of the branch office downstairs. I would see Ingrid again later that morning and she asked if I were settling in all right.

Ingrid Munro
Ingrid Munro and a schoolgirl
Ingrid is more than just a pioneer in the field of microfinance. She is a woman full of love. She had been working with the African Housing Fund while at the same time helping out some women who were beggars in the street. She came to realize that she could never sustain them all forever; charity could not change their lives in the end, only offer a temporary respite from discomfort. When she told them that she could not go on, these beggar women told her that she could not simply give up on them, So, she started with an idea that for every shilling they could save, she would find someone who would give them two.

Thanks to some early benefactors, the plan succeeded. Soon, Ingrid progressed to a more regular form of microfinance. Thus, Jamii Bora was born and began to grow. Since then she has strived to find ways to make the program have a lasting effect on the members. As an architect by training she has naturally come to focus on suitable housing for the members. From this has come the Kaputei town project, a 293-acre housing development strictly for Jamii Bora members.

In addition to the microcredit and all of those side programs that I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the main difference between Jamii Bora and other MFIs that I know of is that it is based on the idea of a family. This family is composed of all the members of Jamii Bora and Ingrid is their mother.

She has fought for them as a mother would. She has worked tirelessly to not simply sustain them, but to prepare them to be self-sustaining. I think that is why she is truly like a mother, because she knows that her children must leave her at some point, and she wants them to be ready. She expects nothing but the best from her staff and the members of Jamii Bora. Because of this, she often gets remarkable results.

From what I have seen, she strikes me as a very determined woman. She speaks often about not accepting excuses. I have seen a video where she says that she sometimes worries that she cannot help and I think this is what keeps her resolute.

Matatus

One quintessential experience in Kenya, and especially Nairobi, are the mini-buses known as matatus racing around full of people. A helper jumps out collects people and with two bangs on the frame, hops back in, bills folded between his fingers. There’s a code so that the driver knows when to stop and when to takeoff again. Inside, blaring music and mismatched decorations. Today it was stickers that said things like, Problems are part of life. Some have music blaring with lyrics that speak to the common man. Lyrics like, “life is serious, cantankerous and dangerous.” (wait, life is grumpy?) The drivers, who have no timetable to keep, race around like madmen. They vie for positions in roundabouts and wedge themselves between trucks and go over sidewalks. (well, there aren’t really sidewalks, just packed dirt by the roadside

It is neither comfortable nor safe. Recently they have been cracking down on them, however. So, the days of chickens and goats inside the matatu are seemingly over. Even overcrowding is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, though, Nairobi is facing a real crisis in terms of transportation. There are not enough roads to support the number of cars and the number of cars isn’t sufficient for the number of people who need them. Public transportaiton is the only answer. If ever a city needed a light rail, it’s Nairobi.

I have seen people riding bicycles, but I think, due to the great danger posed by the road traffic, most people are too scared to ride one around. I have heard, however, that one form of microbusiness is to buy a bicycle and cycle people from place to place like a taxi, which I thought was rather cool.

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