WAREMBO NI YES!

Look at these beautiful Kenyan women in green who took the streets last Friday to support YES for the Kenyan Constitutional Referendum coming up tomorrow, Wednesday, August 4th 2010.

I have seen and photographed many protests and rallys, though because of the difficulties in Kenya of actually getting permission to hold a rally, the controversy over this referendum,  and the potential for violence tomorrow,  it was a very special moment when hundreds of women walked from Uhuru Park (downtown Nairobi) to the Kenyatta International Conference Center dancing, laughing, smiling and empowered!

Even the security, as you can see by the shirts below, was done by women the entire day!

‘Warembo Ni Yes!’ is a movement of young and diverse women supporting the proposed Constitution of Kenya.

They are non‐partisan and represent different economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, races and abilities.

What does Warembo Ni Yes” mean?

Warembomeans beautiful people.  Beautiful people are for YES!  And as you can see by these photos, these women are truly beautiful and it was a pleasure getting to know some of them last Friday.

For more inspiration, please visit their website at: http://www.waremboniyes.org

Good luck tomorrow ladies:)

The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation

(*Please note that the new website of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation was launched on January 31, 2011. Do visit the site at http://nairobisynagogue.org/ )

b’h

Shalom from Kenya.

To those of who are wondering, yes, I am safe and sound considering what has recently happened in neighboring Uganda.

I am currently with the HIAS Delegation from New York and we are supposed to travel to Kampala on Thursday, though this is still to be determined.

In other news, today I would like to share with you some photographs of the Nairobi Synagogue, and highlight the Szlapak Family, one of the oldest Jewish families in Kenya (and  owner of the beautiful Fairview Hotel here in Nairobi-http://www.fairviewkenya.com/).

The Jewish community in Kenya was established in 1904, and the community is a microcosm of the Jewish Diaspora. Some of the members are newcomers living temporarily in Kenya, while others have lived here for many years.

The synagogue grounds are magnificent with lush gardens and a Communal Hall for social and cultural events.

It is also the only place to buy kosher meat in Nairobi.

The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation numbers have gone up and down, and is currently quite low.

I am impressed how a few members of the community continue to come every Shabbat just to make sure there is a minyan and to keep the Synagogue alive.

There has not been an active Rabbi since 1987, though I was lucky enough this past Shabbat to meet the last acting Rabbi Ze’ev Amit, active from 1983-1987.

The picture below is of Rabbi Ze’ev Amit and Charles Szlapak meeting with our delegation on Monday, July 12th.

—–

The Szlapak family arrived in Kenya from Poland in 1938 and has been here ever since. For a dozen years, Charles was Rosh Kehila, the name given to the Nairobi Congregation’s president.

Early this morning,  Tuesday July 13th,  Charles’s son, Aitan Szlapak, gives the HIAS delegation a tour of the Synagogue.

As you can see, there was a strong British colonial influence on the early days of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation.

Again, I truly commend and personally thank the members of this congregation who keep the synagogue alive and allow me the honor to pray there every Shabbat.

If you find yourself in Nairobi, please do make sure you plan a visit.

Their website has not been updated in quite sometime, so I hope to help the congregation build a new website throughout my stay here in Nairobi and will be in touch with the updated details.

Karibu to Kenya, Part Duex.

Karibu to Kenya once again!

I have been quite busy the past few weeks helping plan our HIAS Board of Directors Mission to Kenya and Uganda, which commences this Sunday.  We have 10 delegates from HIAS HQ in New York attending and the itinerary includes meetings with Jewish Leaders in Kenya, meetings with the UNHCR and the Department of Refugee Affairs, a cocktail reception with all HRTK’s partner organizations, a full Shabbat with the Abayudaya Community in Mbale, Uganda, visiting Jinja (the source of the Nile), meetings in Kampala, and much more….a full report on many parts of the trip to come.

In the meantime I want to share with you a video featuring all HRTK staff welcoming our board this upcoming Sunday.

Enjoy!

The Dream Flat Tire. A Story of Brotherly Love.


What: An innocent trip to Lake Nakuru National Park yields a flat tire in Lion’s Gate

Where: Nakuru, Kenya. Rift Valley Province

When: June 2010

How: A 4-Wheel-Drive belongs on safari.

Result: Brotherly love.

Karibu to Lake Nakuru National Park


Lonely Planet Guide describes, “Just a couple of kilometers from the hustle of central Nakuru an army of flamingos turn a sky-blue lake bright pink and pre-historic looking horned mammals crash through a landscape of euphoric trees and acacia forests”

And as you can see we saw zebras, rhinos, buffalo…

But what really happened on this weekend in June?

Two Africans, a Kenyan and an Egyptian truly bonded over a tire. Yes, a flat tire.

Day 1:

So I told Edwin, my co-worker (a native of Nakuru) and one of the smiling faces in my last blog post, that I had a friend coming into town and we wanted to check out Lake Nakuru and I needed a driver. The words safe and 4-wheel drive didn’t come to my head. I am Jewish and on a budget—a good price, please!  Okay, so he made some calls and it ends up his childhood friend Daniel would take us around the park.

So sure enough, 7am rolls around and we are ready for SAFARI. A regular, small Toyota sedan rolls up …okay, great…yalla! Let’s go!

So we drive around, checking out the animals…the usual thing. I do realize immediately, starting with my curiosity a few hours before seeing the prompt 6:30AM 4-Wheel Drive picking up the chain-smoking Italians staying at our guesthouse, that EVERY other car on the road is these super safari trucks where you can peak outside the top.

Okay, I am on a budget here! I can’t afford these fancy trips. And I am not a tourist…I live here in Kenya now!

Though, already peeking my camera through the window that doesn’t roll down all the way was posing a humorous annoyance.

First animal we see, b’h a lion! SCORE! One of the big five mammals of Kenya!  What luck!

Ahmed (the Egyptian in our story) is immediately about to get out of the car to take photos and Daniel says NO! “What are you doing, my brother, you can not leave the car!” Ahmed, very disappointed, retracts.

It must be a thrill for men to get an extra foot closer to a predator and confront death?

Anyway, we enjoy the day, wandering around the park, and we see this and that. A Baboon here, a Warthog there. Good times. Good times. We can’t seem to find the only leopard in the park, but that is okay…we saw a lion!

We leave the park, head up to see another important site in Nakuru, the Menengai Crater. (Lonely Planet describes: While lush vegetation is now proliferating on the harsh crater floor, some 480 km below the violent and dramatic volcanic history is easily seen; a cauldron of convoluted black lava flows. )

Ascending to the summit, we stall a few times. Oops! But hey this is Africa. No worries.

After a lovely lunch on the top of the crater, we start to head down the road and Boom! Flat Tire #1.  If you know me, when it comes to car mechanics, I am confused.  I do not know what a flat tire sounds like. I would have probably kept driving. Ahmed and Daniel seem to know what is going on, so they fix it together.

Meanwhile Ahmed is secretly wishing we had the flat tire in the park near the lions. He wanted to be next to the lions, g-d dammit it! If a flat tire is the only way….SO BE IT! And after seeing all those spare tires on back of the fancy safari trucks…it was rubbing it in his face.

So we make it on our way back to the park. First a pit stop in Nakuru proper—to get the tire fixed. We buy some African sugar cane, I give high fives to all the kids hanging around with nothing to do, and we are on our way. Its already 4pm and I am so sleepy. Maybe it was from the malaria pills, but I needed a NAP.

We enter the park, driving towards the guest house, and sure enough booom! I actually didn’t hear it, but even before Daniel could say, Can you check outside? Ahmed eyes light up like a little kid….this can’t be, this can’t be!

”Amy”, Daniel says, trying to hide his worry already, “Can you check the tire?” (It was on my side)…I look out ,but because we don’t have a fancy safari truck I can’t see anything!… Ahmed quickly looks over me and checks. Yes, Yes it is!

He asks Daniel, smirking, ”Aren’t we in the same spot where we saw the lion this morning? Muffling under his breath, Daniel says, “umm yes”.

Keep in mind its 4pm. Lion hunting time. A 60% chance they are right near us. Hungry. Hidden in the bush.

Daniel calls the park warden and they don’t care. Fix the tire they say.

Ain’t no Triple A service here.

Now another thing—drivers are NEVER supposed to let their guests out of the car. Drivers are supposed take care of their guests before themselves, and their safety is their main concern.

Before I could realize what is happening, as I am so sleepy… and again, confused! Didn’t we just get the tire fixed? Ahmed jumps out of the car to help Daniel, ignoring the rules of no guests leaving the car. Amy, they both say, you are on LION Watch Duty. Me? I can’t take this responsibility! But I guess I have no choice? And those dam windows, don’t roll down all the way, I can’t see! I look left and look right….

Within 15 minutes, including texts to all Ahmed’s friends of this infamous tire and the situation we were in, its fixed! We made it!! RELIEF! We aren’t game meat. I will make it back to Nairobi, let alone New York. B’h! Good Team work.

My old boss at the Financial Times, after an email to him explaining what happened noted… “A flat tire in Lion territory.  That’s right up there with running out of gas in Newark.”

Day 2:

The hangover and excitement wore off. Ahmed relived the moment many times in his head. We are ready for day 2.

Daniel picks us up at 9 AM.

This was not an ordinary day in Nakuru.  After the solidarity in tire repairs, we were truly his African brother and sister.

Day 2, Nakuru. Things are getting serious. We are meeting the family. We are no longer guests, but friends.

Here are Daniel’s lovely wife Elizabeth, his two sons, sister, mother and auntie.

One minute a flat tire, the next minute we are part of the family.

This is Africa:)

Thanks to Daniel for welcoming us into his home. Our experience in Nakuru would never have been so delightful.




And Daniel himself…If you ever decide on a Safari in Kenya we can put you in touch…

-THE END-

First weekend in Nairobi. Tusker Safari 7’s Rugby Tournament. June 6, 2010.

b’h

First Kenyan Rugby experience. Wait, no, first ever rugby experience:)

Last weekend I attended the Tusker Safari 7’s Rugby Tournament, Africa’s premier international 7-a-side rugby tournament. Teams included Uganda, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Namibia and France’s Grenoble.

If you know me well, I am not one to sit through an entire match of any sports game. Yes, I pretty much sold all my Penn State football student tickets throughout my four years at the university to buy ‘other things’.

Again, the rugby itself did not interest me too much, though the bright colors of the teams, the shining sun, and the seemingly cross-cultural moments of solidarity impressed me to start shooting.

Enjoy and more to come on the sports end as the World Cup has approached…Africa!



Dubai Part Duex. May 2010.

b’h

I used to live in Dubai three years ago and decided, exactly three years later, to make a quick stop over en-route to Nairobi. It will always continue to amaze me how luxury the life is there! Villas, the warm sea, endless shopping, just the fact that you can ski in 45°C heat, paying no tax, the list goes on & on…

Perhaps it stems from my Jewish past and history, but seeing the conditions of the workers coming in like cattle from India & Bangladesh always did and will continue to sadden and humble me. There was a moment at my friends villa, while drinking champagne by the pool I began to question myself, (not including that I could never truly practice Judaism freely in Dubai), “This is the life. Why am I even going to Nairobi?” In the far distance I could see a worker from India, mid-day, landscaping the villa’s front lawn and I remember that there is a moral price to pay for the luxury.

This is what Jumeriah Beach, right opposite the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel, looks like on a very early Sunday morning (8:30 AM). I came to get the early rays and a warm, salty swim before the sweltering heat kicked in. The workers are just starting their day. Temperature was approaching 40°C (Roughly 102°F).



New York’s Diverse Population Speaks Out. Feb-May 2010.

b’h

One reason (out of many) New York City will always be close to my heart is its innate ability to give everyone a chance at being a true New Yorker. Come to the city, live there for a few months, and poof! You are part of the energy.

Seeing people of various ethnicities, races, nationalities, and sexual orientations coming out to speak their mind on countless occasions all over the city confirms this statement. If they didn’t feel they were a New Yorker on some level, there would be no reason to take time out of their day to try to and create awareness for whatever might be on their mind. New York is an open forum to all, and only a few cities can compare on a macro-level.

Union Square Prayer Vigil organized by the Solidarity Committee for Advancement of Democracy in Iran.

February 20, 2010



A Bangladeshi woman supports International Women’s Day outside the United Nations.

March 8, 2010

Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade

In Irish culture, where being a LGBTQI is still extremely taboo, I was impressed to see these two men standing strong at the close of the parade.

March 17, 2010

Aids Activists Take the Streets when Obama Visits New York for a Fundraiser at the St Regis in Midtown Manhattan.

May 13, 2010

An early Friday morning protester outside the American Airlines Office on Lexington Avenue in central Manhattan.

May 21, 2010

Pro-Immigration Reform Rally in Washington D.C.-March 21, 2010

b’h

On March 21, 2010, before the current Arizona Law came into effect, over 200,000 immigrants, brave illegals, advocates, politicians and friends from all over the country marched to Capitol Hill to pressure Obama and Congress to continue to push for Comprehensive Immigration Reform this term! Recent events in Arizona have spearheaded the CIR debate to the forefront.

To those who have been to the ‘Mall’ in Washington, DC before I will tell you that the place was packed and unified! It was a special moment for those of us who have been advocating for CIR for the last few years. Also, this wonderful Sunday of solidarity happened to the biggest protest in D.C. since Obama took office.