Holidays, in Snow and in Kibera

The snow has been falling steadily outside in Chicago, bringing the pleasures of snow shoveling: a little Sisyphean circulation in an overfed and over-rested body. That body has too gladly fell into near hibernation on our holiday return from Kenya. I can’t help thinking of Kenyans here, this unimaginable climate, people who even turn down iced drinks on hot days in fear of catching cold. Their relationship with holiday foods is a lot more healthy and real than what’s happened here, unless you’re a vegetarian like me (again nearly inconceivable back in Kenya).

For me, the icey temperature and the holidays have forced us to do absolutely nothing, after two of the most intense, rewarding, difficult, successful, frustrating months ever. I’ve been so tired I’ve totally missed the pleasure of reverse culture shock; it’s been just like a dream. There’s hardly been time for reflection and writing. Erica somehow managed to record her experiences and thoughts, the dedication of a professional. I hope I can recapture this incredible time in retrospect. Time to rejuvenate in 2010. We feel the strong pull to get back there, and we’re landing in Nairobi towards the end of the month.


Two weeks ago we left Nairobi. And we had to squeeze in one more conference before leaving, TedXKibera #2, very much the best meeting of the entire trip. Every presentation and conversation was lit with such excitement and optimism … of doing some genuinely innovative and impactful and astonishing.

Our friends from the Kibera Film School presented, their positive attitude, technical mastery, and connection to the wider world, an inspiration in the toughest moments of mapping in November. Organic farms are harvesting right in Kibera, built on the site of old dumping grounds, building local food security … the kind of land reuse and consumption issues challenging the status quo everywhere. PeePoople are introducing innovation to water and sanitation, a flying toilet that actually breaks down waste to safe fertilizer, and considering work on green roofs to harvest rain water and reduce heat in metal roofed homes … in addition to other group’s incredible work in sanitation, like the biolatrines. The excellent venue for TedXKibera, Mchanganyiko Women Self-Help Group, was itself built on a former dumping site, and entirely driven by women empowering themselves.

All these things need mapping … the organic farms are already on the map, and the map can be used to locate more. The stories of Togetherness Supreme, the locations where it was shot, those can be mapped for promotion and for advising on locations with Hot Sun clients. Sanitation facilities, of course are mapped … some mappers even complaining that toilets are littering the map (a good thing!). The Map Kibera group, they fully represented at TedX, and have been meeting in our absence to plan how to institutionalize the work we’ve started.

Working in Kibera is important to innovation everywhere. Working in Africa is important to innovation. Necessities are driving incredible creativity, a creativity the rest of the world needs to pay attention to for tomorrow’s challenges in urban and rural living … sanitation, food, water, and how to peacefully live together. Even the design challenges tomorrow’s technologies, augmented reality, have everything to learn from how space is negotiated in off the grid, on the edge places. Kibera is innovation.

That’s why I’m very excited about the TedXKibera Fellowship program, announced last month … there are so many enthusiastic people, that only need advice and connections and pathways. Before I get back, I’ll practice clearing paths on the snowy Chicago sidewalks.

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