Food sovereignty in her back “yard”

Urban development + food security

Today is World Food Day, a day noted by food sovereignty+security+justice organizations from the U.N. FAO down to the smallest community co-op. It’s one of these international “days” when we’re all supposed to pay attention to the plight of the millions upon millions of people across the world (and yes, in the U.S., too) whose lives are poorer for their lack of ready access to good, healthy food.

Of course, in the U.S., most of us, myself included, let such days pass without notice. And in reality, a “day” of recognition is a rather artificial way of tackling a problem.

But nonetheless, the grad school hippy in me finds the exercise worthwhile. So I’ve been pondering the above photo, of a mother from Kibera, a sprawling slum of Nairobi. I met her October 15, 2009, when I spent a few weeks in Kenya talking to people about water and environment and health (and also lions and zebras). That’s her youngest on her back, her family’s clothes on the line, and importantly, her primary source of fresh greens growing out of a gunny sack on the ground behind her.

The soil in Kibera is compacted and often toxic from waste/chemical leeching. And space is at a premium, so any kind of local ag has to adapt. Yet in back “yards” across the slum people have taken to growing basic roots and greens in makeshift gardens.

In the face of a globalizing world food system that delivers grocery stores full of processed foodstuffs to us in the Global North, here a marginalized peasantry (displaced to megacities) still manages to respond with their own alternatives. Contained within this picture is a powerful and yet humbling critique of industrialized food that we who have plenty need to hear.

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A year-in-review

2009 kinda kicked ass

2009 kinda kicked ass

This past year pretty much rocked. And the New Year came in fine manner.  No kisses, but a bonfire amid the palm trees (above), new friends, lobster, a decent cigar (thanks, C!), champagne and even the Harry Connick, Jr., band playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight (never leave home without the iPod).

I meant to post this sooner, but here’s a little look back at my new life (as chronicled on this blog):

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Protected: Adam Jadhav and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bank

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Things Africa taught me

I’ve now arrived in India and am getting settled and spending a little time with family in Pune. I’ve also been coming up with a list of lessons learned from seven weeks in Africa. In no particular order, here goes:

  • French, that language I really thought was useless, is so not useless. Especially if you’re in Madagascar in non-tourist towns, trying to report and the only people you meet competent enough in English to be a translator are either employees of the company you’re writing about or  activists in the community.
  • mudReef flip flops are awesome. Seriously. Reef. Write it down. Best sandal I’ve ever worn. Damn near the best thing I’ve ever put on my foot. For example, when I accidentally stepped into two and a half feet of quick mud and lost a flip flop (again, thanks Sara from London, for a great laugh), I immediately paid the local who pulled me out another 500 shillings (a little more than $7, probably his weekly wage) to get back in the mud and retrieve my flip flop. (Dear Reef, I’m hoping for an endorsement deal. “Backpack journalist in Third World swears by Reef sandals.” Sounds good, no?)
  • I like parentheses.
  • Eat bananas. Leg cramps suck.
  • Save some bananas for the lemurs.

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Taxi cab confessions in Nairobi

"You must live up to your name."

Masha Mwangi: "You must live up to your name."

The following what I get for singing along with old church hymns randomly in a cab.

I would like to introduce you to Masha Mwangi, a 29-year-old born-again Christian cabbie, new-found friend and available driver, should anyone be in Nairobi.

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Nairobi in bloom

Nairobi's version of magnolia

Nairobi's version of magnolia

Nairobi can be an ugly dirty place. But right now, as a short rainy season approaches, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom. The blossoms constantly fall, not unlike magnolias back home.

And it’s beautiful.

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Kenyans to Obama: Stick it to our idiotic government

I fully expected Kenya’s honeymoon affair with America to end when the Obama administration dropped the threat of a travel ban on numerous Kenyan politicians alleging they had stood in the way of reform. Here was the superpower trying to dictate local politics.

Instead, according to most of the locals I spoke to, Obama had won points, rather than lost them.

Kenyans for decades have labored under corrupt regime after corrupt regime since independence from the British in 1963. Even the country’s celebrated first leader, Jomo Kenyatta, is considered to have been corrupt. And don’t get me started on Daniel arap Moi. His legacy of gutting the constitution lingers today; so does his plundering the treasury (and really the economy).

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Goodbye Kenya, hello Madagascar

Headed to the airport at sunrise

Headed to the airport at sunrise

After 26 days in Kenya, I’m headed to Madagascar. I’ll be reporting at a large titanium mine Fort Dauphin in the south of the country — one that a conservationist boldly told me was “on balance, better for the environment.” I’m also hoping to check out some biological preserves with St. Louis ties.

In the downtime, I’ll be chilling on the beach, maybe kite surfing, definitely fishing and playing with a lemur or two.

And probably not speaking much English. Madagascar is a francophone country, so while Malagasy is the official language, French is the Western choice. (If broken e-mails from my hotel in the capital Antananarivo are any indication, English isn’t exactly popular.)

S’il vous plait, I might be screwed. Or it will make for more entertaining adventures.

My plane departs in 67 minutes. Catch you on the flip side.

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Gumballs in the toilet?

Gumball toilet cakes? Genius.

Gumball toilet cakes? Genius.

Nairobi has its quirks, no doubt.

Of course, equally amusing (I’m sure) was the sight of me taking pictures of the urinals in a club toilet. As I took this photo, a gentleman stepped out of the stall behind me and basically gave me a “WTF” glare. I had no explanation other than I thought it was funny.

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Maasai face hard times with drought

Maasai pastoralists

Maasai pastoralists

The Maasai, perhaps the most famous of the Kenyan tribes, live in southwestern Kenya, mostly herding cattle and making what they can from the tourists. They largely still live in traditional villages — mud and dung huts and fences made of forest brush.

(A minority have integrated into more modern societies, but they almost always wear the traditional red patterned shawl.)

However, given East Africa’s prolonged drought, the Maasai are having an increasingly difficult time feeding their cows and goats — the lifeblood of their tradition. The grasses they own communally are mostly exhausted, driving more and more Maasai into the game reserves for grazing pastures, which are protected for the benefit of tourists.

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