Just back from two long trips. First I went to Shanghai for the Chinese Friendship Association Conference. There were non-govermental groups from all over the world and the Chinese were really strutting their stuff...which was easy for them to do because Shanghai is the most modern city I have ever seen. The goal of the event was for China to conduct public diplomacy with interested groups from around the world and to highlight ideas about what cities of the future will look like. During the conference there was a lot of talk about how cities are coping with the current economic crisis. It was really interesting to me how a number of the Chinese speakers were describing with some pride how China has been able to grow during the crisis and moments later describing China as a developing nation whose poor and uneducated people are saddled with the environment degradation caused by manufacturing the worlds goods and how the West owes them a debt. I guess both Chinas exist. I was shocked to see a high speed magnet train cruising over a beautiful garden...that was being mowed, not by a lawn mower or a scythe, but by individuals plucking handfuls of grass. I have a lot to learn about China and this trip really enticed me. Another weird observation, on the plane ride home there were Chinese on their way to visit the United States, obviously wealthy tourists...and they were all huge, tall Chinese who obviously had plenty of food and nutrition growing up. I felt like I was looking at the future.
The Kenya project is all about water and sanitation. Politics in Kenya couldn't be more interesting right now or more promising. The newly adopted Constitution allows Kenyans direct election of local officals, the creation of state (or county equivalent) officials who will have more decentralized control over resources then in the past. This change creates (hopefully) the best opportunity for Kenyan NGOs to play an active role in political life in the country's history.
I met with some great folks in Kisumu, a group of leaders who refer to themselves jokingly as the "Big Five." And some powerful women leaders in Mombasa who work on HIV Aids, female genital mutilation issues, as well as families struck by poverty. This is a new project for Common Cause International, we also have staff in Ghana right now doing a similar preliminary visit with groups there. I am really looking forward to getting this project off the ground and getting to know my colleagues better. The personal highlight of the trip for me was serving a group of monkeys a banana brunch on my patio in Mombasa. I loved seeing all the animals so free there, and was amazed about how it all worked out with traffic and the natural choas of the streets...I had to close my eyes a lot driving around because sometimes it was hard to watch.