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Sunday, December 1, 2019

[Africa 2019] Welcome to Kenya

While working in San Francisco I met incredibly bright and creative individuals. One of them, whom I lived with in the Folsom hackhouse was Nyabuti. He's a microbiologist from Kenya who came over to SF to accelerate various lab processes via deep learning (details here). I was impressed by his hacker mentality and tendency to explore everything. I decided I wanted to visit him in Africa and see where on earth this kind of talent is coming from.

Nyabuti and I had a video chat early May to discuss trip options. A couple weeks later I booked a ticket to Kenya, and on July 6th I arrived solo (first in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) a week after finishing Uni courses. Time for an adventure!

The language used in the flight tutorial was new to me. I think the language is Amharic. It felt like I just unlocked a new map in a game and have to figure out how to navigate it.

The flight was 17 hrs 33 min total, it went by quick. Winnipeg(Canada) to Toronto(Canada) = 2 hr 23 min
Toronto(Canada) to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) = 13 hr
Addis Ababa(Ethiopia) to Nairobi (Kenya) = 2 hr 10 min

Upon arrival in Ethiopia I setup my laptop to handle some urgent work on my startup between flights. I couldn't find wifi. I searched for a place with wifi in the airtport, then realized I was thirsty. Come to think of it, where do I get water?

I prioritized wifi before water supply... This was the first of many reality checks I expect to face, and this is why I travel.

Arrival in Kenya
When I landed in Kenya and saw Lion King tourist memorabilia, I went "aha!" so this is where lion king came from! Behold, I had less awareness of East Africa than someone from the West whose scholarly pursuits ended at the Lion King. Leading up to this trip I refrained from doing thorough research. I wanted a completely new experience, without preexisting thoughts or opinions on East Africa. I don't wish to have any opinions during the trip either. I'm here to listening, feeling, exist.  

Nyabuti and his brother met me at the airport, and escorted me to their place. I'm staying with their family in a beautiful house within the Ngong region.

I noticed a lot of farm animals in the city: chickens, cows, and -- ok you're probably thinking "wow kyle animals exist in Canada too" -- yeah, I get that; I'm just saying you don't see farm animals on the street where I'm from. They felt more like part of the community here, rather than part of my dinner.

On the first night, I had to learn to sponge bathe (ok tbh I skipped bathing for a couple nights because it looked confusing but figured I had to learn this eventually right?).

For the first few days, I felt like baby again. I don't remember being a baby, but I imagine this is how baby's feel. I had to learn how to navigate, take transportation, bathe.
Navigation is especially hard because most of the city isn't on google maps so you need to actually know where you're going. *screams millennialy*.

In most of my posts, I ramble on about everything I see. I'll still do that; but I also felt like making a more conclusive video showing 1 full day of me roaming around Kenya, solo, with a GoPro camera strapped to my head.

Kenya is awesome, it's hard to summarize it like a story. So I'll just write out a bunch of other cool stuff I noticed for my first week here.

Gangster Rap Matatu 

When you go to the bus stop in Kenya it feels like you're an esteemed prize, and a bunch of people are competing for your attention, slappin' their buses, gesturing for you to get in. The buses (matatu) had elaborate artwork on them, rather than generic fleet-wide branding I'm used to
I try to pick buses that ft. tupac or easy-e because they usually have cali rap blasting inside. (see more @ here)


Nyabuti's family was more than accommodating, preparing healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and welcoming me to join at any time. They introduced me to Ugali, a cornmeal porridge that is a staple in Kenya, with kale.  I felt so much energy each day I was out there. perhaps this is what it was like actually eating healthy food...

The MPesa Monopoly

There is a dependency on phone providers and data lines for payments in Africa. MPesa is one such provider and has a monopoly here.  It would be like needing a phone provider like Bell or MTS in Canada so you could use Paypal. Interesting...
I saw more Mpesa in Kenya than Starbucks+McDonalds in Canada combined.


In Canada if you ask someone "How are you doing?", most will say "good, you?" as if it's just a template response.
In Kenya when I asked someone how they are doing, they responded with something like "My close friend recently got married, I don't fully approve, but I'm managing it well and will continue work, I'm just going to the store now to buy some new clothes for my daughter".

In the West such a sincere response would catch someone off guard. They'd almost be thinking "woah, I asked how you're doing, now HOW you're doing"

I feel more welcomed talking to strangers in Kenya, because the conversations appear more genuine and unique in their initial depth and transparency.

Karen Blixen

I went with Brenda, Nyabuti's sister one day and she brought me to the Karen Blixen Museum.
Karen Blixen was a famous colonial author who settled just nearby Ngong hill and owned a lot of land. The museum was her house, and part of her coffee plantation.

I explored the museum, learning the basics of colonial history

a thought dawned upon me...

What I'm doing:
I build tech that displaces certain workers from jobs. I believe technology is a positive thing in the world and it's our responsibility to keep up to date with it. Hence, by displacing people upwards into more tech-oriented skills I'm ushering in a better future.

What colonialists did
In a very terse sense, colonialists believed they were civilized and knew how to develop the world. They took over aboriginal land and justified their actions by claiming the existing inhabitants were uncivilized and colonialists were doing the gracious act of ushering in a better future.

So... in this sense, I'm a tech-colonialist. This thought perturbed me, probably because colonialism has a bad connotation. Traditional colonialism looks barbaric, and crude; yet my beliefs and actions seem to mimic the colonialist narrative in modern society.


I usually have opinions about things, but I'm not writing this post to play historian or act like some expert voice on colonialism. I'm just bouncing around my thoughts that were spawning at the time. There's an extensive history to colonialism that I feel there's a lot of value in studying.

I enjoy having control and doing what's best for me, but if I'm seriously trying to create a more efficient world -- if this is the schtick I'm pitching to people -- I'm going to have to put the world first. I need to understand those around me and rigorously dissect my beliefs instead of just projecting my own desires on the world as if my way is the right way.
I'm fine with having beliefs and pushing for them, but I don't want to become delusional and push for things as if they are an extension of my identity. If one of my beliefs is false, I want to realize this as quickly as possible and change direction. For example, if automating a certain process DOESN'T create a net add for the world, I don't want to automate it.

Thanks all for letting me stay with you

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