I have a vision board back home in the states. Aside from “normal” goals like places I want to travel to in my lifetime or artistic endeavors I want to accomplish, I also wrote down things I want to change about myself. One such thing is for me to see myself in the larger context of the world. I have spent much of my energy just on me the past few years. And you know? Honestly? Being self-absorbed isn’t always as bad as you think. It allows you to reflect, to self-analyze, to heal whatever wounds you may have, or appreciate the battle scars you have accumulated along the way. I believe me-time to be a good thing, especially when recovering from small or big emotional trauma.
But then comes a moment, when all this alone time, when solitude and inner silence plateaus. Me-time becomes a self pitying sob fest, and the comfort of it almost forces you to want to stay in this rut. I felt myself nearing that spot, so instead of anchoring myself there, I decided to stop looking only at my immediate surroundings, and to step outside my comfort zone. The result of that decision was Kenya.
Here is a passage by writer Malcom Gladwell from his book “Blink” that I’ve been pondering:
“Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions – we can alter the way we thin slice – by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions. If you are a white person who would like to treat black people as equals in every way – who would like to have a set of associations with blacks that are as positive as those that you have with whites – it requires more than a simple commitment to equality. It requires that you change your life so that you are exposed to minorities on a regular basis and become comfortable with them and familiar with the best of their culture, so that when you meet, hire, date, or talk with a member of a minority, you aren’t betrayed by your hesitation or discomfort”
I’m not sure that one has to make it a point to hang out with a particular group on a daily basis, but i can feel my own perceptions changing. And I like it. I’ve been spending much of my time mulling things that don’t involve my own personal battles, but that of others. And they are battles that have nothing to do with race, and everything to do with just being human. My heart aches in different ways, but my mind doesn’t allow the demons of my past to cloud these thoughts. What’s mine is mine. What’s the world’s is the world’s. I like finally having learned that distinction. Everything needs to be seen in its context.
So here I am. Nadine in the context of Kibera slums, Nairobi/Kenya. Through artsy fartsy filters to keep me entertained until I get to edit my documentary pictures.
[Nadine with Faith and Stacy. I visited them today again. We are becoming rather good friends. Faith (the HIV positive little one year old) is still feeling very week from her ARV meds. Her Kibera doctor is working on getting her seen by a specialist next week. I'll be taking them, if all goes well, to help watch the kids.
My friend Carol spearheads one of the programs that I have really come to love. It provides assistance in with food, school tuition, medical bills and vocational training. Another woman was supposed to join the program yesterday, but before she could come on… before we could even go visit her for the first time, she passed away. She had a combination of HIV, TB and diabetes. That really put a damper on the whole evening last night, so today we went and immediately saw another potential candidate for the program: 19 year old beautiful Quinta, also HIV positive and weak from her meds, but incredibly beautiful, spirited and ambitious. She made me promise to come back on Monday, when Carol goes to see her mother. Excited to get to know Quinta. Such a sweet girl. Her smile and her demeanor are so delightful, I could stare at her all day.
You see, the whole experience might be very sad, if you didn’t know the whole context. Today was one of those really awesome days, even though it quietly brought tears to my eyes.
Three weeks of Kenya already. This trip is everything I thought it would it would be: Amazing and difficult at once. I am getting into the groove of things. As of a few days ago, I finally know how to get to school on my own. Kibera is a maze. Been making new and awesome friends along the way. I’ve noticed that I don’t feel entirely happy or satisfied, unless I’ve spent a few hours there getting to know people. The regular house visits have been particularly gratifying. Been getting more attached to my little girl “Faith”, the HIV positive one year old. I spoke to her doctor, who said that Faith only has a 50% chance of survival. Now I’m trying to find Faith better all around care. Her doctor is waiting on an orphanage that specializes in HIV babies, and will get me some more organizations on Tuesday to approach. The last time I saw Faith, she seemed soooo tired and exhausted. She’s been having respiratory problems from the ARV meds. I just really hate the thought of a little baby, who can’t speak up, feeling so ill. Babies don’t ask to be born. Let alone be born into illness.
I thoroughly enjoy visiting the other people in the program as well. Some are just so warm and welcoming. One of my favorites is Peter.
He’s a really sweet man. 85 years old, which is quite the age here. He’s lived in Kibera for 36 years! He’s got nine grandchildren, and takes care of three of them as their parents are deceased. You can barely see his eyes through his insanely thick glasses, but he’s always smiling. A real character. And he loves to have his portrait taken. Can’t wait to get back to my computer station at home to process all the pictures.
In the meantime, here’s another one of my favorites. Mr. Monkey and me. That’s from last week, but I really miss the animals, when I’m working. Nature in Kenya… breathtaking to say the least.
Thus, I’ve decided to treat myself on a safari for my birthday in two weeks. Can’t wait. And after that, I’ll most likely leave the urban area of Nairobi and stay in a rural village further west, where there is no electricity or running water. One of my new friends is actually constructing a girls boarding school there, and I hopefully will be able to help her out setting up a new curriculum. My wheels are turning already.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I miss home a bit. But I’m counting my blessings. Every day.
Though on the decline, HIV has been a rampant problem in many African countries, including Kenya. The government provides free testing kits, but there isn’t enough manpower to administer these tests, and not enough HIV/Aids education going around to lift the stigma attached to get tested in the first place.
A “muzungu” (a non-derogatory term for “foreigner”) will inevitably cause a stir when walking around at the market in the Kawangware district. It’s a congested area. Lots of vendors and stands. Garbage everywhere of course. The other day, a team of four of us walked around there. I was sort of just visiting for the day. It was very much a walking clinic on foot: HIV testing, handing out vitamins, de-worming meds, and condoms. All supplies packed into backpacks. Every once in a while, we encountered some mentally ill people as well. One guy in particular, kept insisting that we shake his really dirty hands. I was very glad to have brought hand sanitizer with me. I’m fairly certain, I’ll be finishing my big refill bottle by the time I return home.
There was a group of young men, around 20 of them, who were congregating around a matatu (busses and mini-busses) stop. None of them wanted to get tested. Instead, all of them gave out marriage proposals. My friend alone must have gotten like 7 of them. I got a lot of “China” and martial arts references. At some point, I just got used to saying that I was already married, but to some it didn’t matter. “Only when you have a child, are you in a real marriage.” I admit, I kind of felt like my personal space was being intruded on, but it was all worth it when suddenly an older gentleman decided to get tested. “Do it out here, right on the street, so everyone can see. Everyone should do this.” So then he sat down, had his blood drawn for everyone to see, and before you knew it, the entire crowd of guys asked for their HIV test.
That day, 30 people got tested: 27 men, 3 women.
Of these 30, two tested positive. One man and one woman. The woman, had already known she was positive, but wanted to confirm. For the guy however, it was first time news.
I think for a good ten minutes, I had a knot in my stomach. I kept my face as neutral as possible, but internally I just wanted to cry at the sight of a young man realizing how his reckless or thoughtless behavīor has affected his health. He was perhaps 25. He has two wives. And a girlfriend. (Yes, polygamy is allowed here, but homosexuality is not.) And three young children. All of whom are now urged to come in for testing. And hopefully, he will follow up, because nowadays HIV is no longer a death sentence. With the right kind of medication, it becomes a chronic condition. But people need to be treated. And people need to practice safe sex to keep it from spreading.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all that easy even if you do get anti-retro viral medication. I went back to Kibera slums today and made some home visits with some folks from the United for Parity program. There is a young lovely 31 year old woman, who is a widow and mother of three beautiful girls. Her name is Nancie and she is completely delightful to be with. Nancie is HIV positive and also suffers from TB. Her older girls, Bridget and Stacy, are healthy. But Nancie’s one year old girl recently tested positive for HIV as well. That little girl’s name is “Faith”. Never ever has that name made more sense to me than today. Faith doesn’t take too well to the HIV meds, so she gets sick very frequently. Nancie too has been too ill to work, so she is bedridden most of the time. Even after having met Nancie in her surroundings, I can’t even begin to fathom how a single mother of three does this. I plan on hanging out with all of them some more. It’s so hard to truly assess the situation after only meeting them for such a short amount of time, so I look forward to getting to know this family on a more personal level. She seemed keen to make new friends.
And here is something really corny that crossed my mind today. My name “Nadine” means “Hope”. I like to think that Hope and Faith can go hand in hand. That baby is just so darn adorable, and I pray that she has as long and as happy of a life as possible.
Here is Nancie praying next to two of her three daughters:
I have started my photography project. Trying to photograph each kid at school is definitely not an easy thing to do, but I think I managed. Around 300 rascals of all ages. Went to get some quotes from labs and printing places around here and will hopefully get this done by the time easter break is over. The pastor and headmaster of the school are very excited about this, so I’m happy to be able to contribute a little bit and put some smiles on people’s faces. I’ll be giving all children a photograph of themselves. It’s unlikely they’ll get a “luxury item” like this again any time soon.
The school uniforms they wear, though torn and dirty, somehow still really deceived me on how bad the living conditions of their homes really are. A few days ago, I finally made my way deeper into the slums of Kibera (the school is a bit more on the outskirts), where I joined a volunteer on a donation run. Until that day, I just had no real concept of poverty. We spent some time in some of these homes, shacks built from metal corrugated sheets or wooden tablets. Each one must be maybe 50 square feet in size, plus or minus, depending on the size of the family. And somehow furniture are crammed in there. Every once in a while, an old TV is running in the background, if this particular part of the settlement has electricity. Not sure where it comes from. No running water. Everything is so tight and crowded, you can barely squeeze through the alley ways sometimes. And the one thing that stuck with me the most: Garbage everywhere you look. Plastic bags (some probably with human fecal matter) litter the ground wherever you look. And the amount of children of all ages playing there is astonishing. I think that’s when my heart hurts the most: When I realize that many of these kids will never actually go to school. When these young bright eyed little angels never even get a chance to fully explore their true potential simply because they will never get the same opportunities as other individuals in this world.
You can’t come to Kibera and not have it change your life.
Any documentary film on Kibera, no matter how badly done, would still be so fascinating for the viewer. There’s something very cinematic about the colors and the amount of detail you get there. I’m excited to be going back again this week with my team.
I’ve done some regular touristy stuff since then, to acclimate my mind to this daily exposure of poverty. Went to play with some elephants and giraffes and also spent some time nerding out at museums just learning about the general history of Kenya. How little we know about this part of the world. How much there really is to learn about humanity. Last night, while exploring the nightlife with some folks, I met two United Nations financial officers from Kosovo, a country I got to visit back in 2009. It’s funny how the minorities here are still the well to do ones. There really isn’t an equivalent here to the immigrant working class back in the states.
Here are just a few pics. I’ll have to wait to edit all the nice ones until I get back to the states, as I didn’t bring my fancy old laptop with me. Can’t backpack through Africa with so much weight!
Orientation was held at Hekima College: Institute of Peace Studies & International Relations this last monday. It was fun to meet all the Kenya volunteers. Most of them are placed all across the country in different towns and villages. I am based out of Nairobi. Housing is nice. I have 5 housemates plus two Kenyan ladies who take care of the cooking and general wellbeing of us. It’s nice to have running water, although right now as I’m typing this, the electricity is out. Not sure when we’ll get it back.
It’s been raining like crazy these past two days. Someone told us that we were the lucky ones who finally brought rain, because it had been so dry and hot.
Today, my placement started. I met with the headmaster of Olympic Education Centre in the Kibera slums, the second largest urban slum of Africa. We had a great conversation. I’ll be developing a photography project over the course of the next few weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to take portraits of all 300 students. My goal is to get prints of all of them and give them back to the students. Many of them don’t have a picture of themselves, so that’ll be nice. And the school can use the digital versions for their developing website.
The students are in the middle of exams right now, so most of my time was just spent getting to know the teachers, some students, though I did end up teaching English for two hours. The kids are so cute. I taught 5th graders. Did some reading comprehension exercises and some grammar stuff. This coming week is actually the Easter holiday, so I won’t be working there, but the following week, it sounds like I’ll be taking over a 4th grade and a 5th grade class for a teacher who will be gone for a while. Science and math, funnily enough the two subjects I did worse in when I was a child. Ironic.
I’m going to hold off on bringing my camera until everyone’s more acquainted with me. Taking pictures in Kibera is a sensitive subject. I have heard of slum tourism tours before, and I am somewhat indifferent about them. I think it’s a great way to get people to see what’s out there and for them to raise awareness, but at the same time I don’t want my subjects to feel like zoo animals. I told my new friend James, a Kenyan who works for volunteer organization, that I’d really like to just get to know his Kibera friends. And if after some time they’d feel comfortable to have their picture taken by a new friend, then that’d be cool. And if not, no big deal.
I’m kind of exhausted. What a day…
I arrived at Nairobi’s airport, and after a long fight to get my big backpack off of one of the conveyor belts (the one it was supposed to come off of broke down), I was picked up by a nice Kenyan guy named Anton. I also had my first naive run in with a dude, who I thought worked with Anton, but turned out to just want money from me for pushing my luggage cart five feet to Anton’s car. Needless to say, I gave him none.
Anton is a quiet guy. I asked him a few questions, but he just seemed shy and not very talkative. Perhaps he had had a long day, it was 9pm by the time he got me. That was okay though, because it gave me time to soak in my first impressions of Nairobi. This city reminds me a lot of Saigon actually: Crazy driving on the streets, big industrial warehouses and fancy hotels juxtaposed next to shacks and dirt roads. Very few mopeds, but they have these tiny little busses for public transportation that squeeze in many many people. Sardines in a tin can.
Anton dropped my off at a volunteer apartment, populated by mostly girls . Bunk beds and everything. I will only be staying here until Monday it seems, when orientation starts. I’ll be moving closer to my placement to a volunteer house near Kibera (but definitely outside of it). I met three people here at the house that were still socializing in the living room: Nikki from California (who has been here for a month already, and had great stories to tell of guys proposing marriage to her within the first few days), Alli from Mexico, and June, a lovely lady from England. All three of them are placed in orphanages around Nairobi. I’ll probably go visit them at some point to check out their surroundings.
Tomorrow, the four of us will take the bus (20 cent rides!) to the city “Junction”, where I will have some internet access to send off a few emails and this blog post, get a phone, and perhaps a better map. Time to learn the lay of the land.
I have been here a mere three hours now, and already I have three mosquito bites. That mosquito net that a little angel gifted me on my last day in the states will definitely come in handy. I don’t do well with bug bites. I itch like crazy. In fact, I am quite annoyed at the bite on my big left toe. These things bit right through my socks. And the constant humming near my ears is making me nervous.
I guess now would be a good time to start blogging again!
I have this thing at home, called the vision board. Really, what it is are my window blinds, with scribbles made by black and red permanent markers. I have written or doodled some ugly looking goals I want to achieve in life. And now, as I am sitting here in Dubai, waiting for my connecting flight to Nairobi, I will soon be able to check off some of these goals:
Volunteer/work/live in Africa
Go on a Safari
Read, learn, dream, smell, eat, see, record… and while, I realize that I may be going with a somewhat naive and idealized notion of dancing in the wilderness next to lions and giraffes, of changing the world in my own little ways and leaving perhaps a very slight indentation (if not an impression) on other people’s lives, I am nonetheless excited to see what life will throw at me. And I know that not all of it can possibly be positive. There is just no way. But I remain hopeful that this experience will add to my overall wisdom and general happiness in life. One thing that I learned about myself already with this trip, is that I realized that I have never been afraid of the unknown. Nervous perhaps. Maybe even to the point where I can’t sleep. But not afraid. I’ve come to appreciate that about myself, even though there is quite a fine line to be walked between not being afraid and being stupidly ignorant. I hope never to cross to the other side there, as in certain situations, in can really cost you your life or your health. I intend to live a long and happy life, so I shall I be extra careful and conscientious of my surroundings.
I’ve been so caught up in the film world and have done less photography projects in the past few months. My writing work has also been keeping me a bit more private these days. Time to share again!
“nightdreamblues” (yes, writer West Liang insists that it’s spelled lower case!) is the first feature film project that I recently directed and wrapped. What a fun time.
Visit our facebook page here
Name dropping time! The wonderful cast includes West Liang, Eddie Mui, Brian Yang (for all you “Hawaii 5-0″ fans, he’s none other than the awesome Charlie Fong!), Rex Lee (“Entourage”, “Suburgatory”), Kara Crane and Emily Chang and some great cameo appearances by the great Tzi Ma (“24″, “Rush Hour 3″) and Diana Lee Inosanto (“The Sensei”, and of course the Goddaughter of legendary Bruce Lee).
People have been asking what I believe the biggest difference to be between directing short films vs features. Well, given that even though this was a feature, I was still working with an extremely low budget and had to come up with just as many creative solutions to make a five figure budget look like a six figure one, it almost felt the same. There are just as many restrictions to work with, red tape to bypass, and people to guide and motivate (and sometimes elbow). It feels strangely satisfying and at the same time horrifying to be responsible for other people’s money, but alas… I feel confident that this little gem will make audiences laugh and cry, or at least make them scratch their heads and think.
Here are some production shots:
We are now currently in post production and are looking for bands to supplement our vision. Here’s the CALL FOR BANDS
Our first public appearance as a team happened at this year’s CAPE 20th Celebration Gala, where cast members Emily Chang and Brian Yang and I got to plug our little project for the world to look out for in the near future.
And here’s a link to an interview by ASIANS ON FILM
Does anyone remember the time, when I was on the other side of the carpet, holding the microphone up to people? Aye. Times change.
My little sister Sandra is quite the special lady. She is one of the most kindhearted, funniest, and smartest people I know. She’s just awesome!
She came to visit me a few weeks ago, and we decided to take some pictures together with the use of our remote controls. Double remote control action, baby! We had so much fun. And my favorite part is that both our shirts are hella wrinkled. That’s how we roll….!
Can you believe that she’s a scientist?
Who also likes to climb really high walls and dangerous rocks in the wilderness?
Who also goes by the name Duck or Panda?
Oh man, yeah… she’s trouble!
Doesn’t matter. She’s so fun, she can do anything she wants!
We should eat a big big turkey together…. Yeah, that would be a great idea!
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
Yesterday, I remembered that my sister got me a remote control to my camera as a birthday gift this year. We had experimented with long shutters and night shoots, and I thought it was so cool and helpful that she had one for her camera (we be nikon babies!). Sweet as she is, she actually got me my own little remote. Why did I forget about it???
Finally, after months of collecting dust, I finally found another use for it. Self-portraits! I kinda enjoy them. In fact, I might make that a regular thing. It’ll be nice to track my growth/age/mood over time. Yesterday, I was feeling silly. And with the strange heat wave, apparently also sweaty.
Unfortunately, I don’t look anything like that today. I woke up with a swollen eye. Goshdarn bugs!
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