Maize in Mombassa.

Maize flour in a Mombassa grocery store.

Maize flour in a Mombassa grocery store.

Having spent the last few days in the coastal town of Mombassa in Kenya, I have borne witness (once again) to the reality of third-world poverty. In speaking with teachers here, whose students receive nourishment twice a day in the form of a wheat based porridge, it is clear the poverty here is far different from that in the United States.

Jane Omondi teaches fifth grade at the Kelegeni Primary School, a place where over 1,000 students are taught by just under a dozen teachers. Most of the students are orphans, and what little food they receive comes from an outside assistance program.

“Kenya is not a poor country, it is a mismanaged country,” Omondi said.

This is evident by the fact that government leaders rake in an annual salary of 800k shillings, while children starve in overcrowded school rooms.

To make matters worse, a teacher’s strike looms. Primary school teachers here are underpaid, and unwilling to take the government’s raise offer of 250 shillings. To give you an idea of how pathetic the gesture is, Maize-flour (a staple here in Kenya) is 120 shillings a pound (about$1.50).

The idea that these folks could do anything to overcome the situation is more than far-fetched. The city is crowded, school fees for secondary education are high, and jobs are few. This situation leads to higher levels of crime, and is an obstacle to overall safety and security.

For those with money, Mombassa offers resorts and golf courses, movie theaters and large grocery stores. For those without, there is burning trash, and bare feet.

While our economy is hurting, being here puts things in perspective.

14 Comments

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14 responses to “Maize in Mombassa.

  1. julie

    Thank you for continuing to post. As a physician, it was pointed out to me several years ago that American attracts the nurses (and physicans), engineers and teachers from such countries. I am in total understanding of the desire to come to the US for education and jobs. It is this migration that leaves countries, like Kenya, with out those who would form the middle class and (at least if peace prevailed) promote that which we all need. Clean water, proper sewage, good schools. Keep safe.

  2. Christopher,

    As you may know, I’m a friend of Pam and Mike’s.
    Do continue to write from Kenya…as I love to hear about your experiences and learn from you.

    P.S. I hope Kerri is doing well with you gone.

    Claudia

  3. You and the people there are in my thoughts.

  4. Sharon

    Please let your Kenyan and other African friends know about biointensive agricultural training at Manor House in Kenya. This shows people how to grow a huge amount of food in a small space. Participants can begin to get food from their gardens in just 3 weeks with the harvesting of their first radishes.

    http://www.mhacbiointensive.org/

    They could send a student who could return to teach them. Or there might already be students in the area who have graduated and returned who could help get people started.

    And Rotary might also be able to make it possible for one student each year to take advanced classes or a long term internship each year at the Willits, CA, USA site.

  5. We have a small food bank here in our little desert town. Someone goes to town and brings back from the supermarkets day old bread and produce that would be going into dumpsters. Some days there is an over abundance, some days nothing. I go and pick up bread and a few articles of produce once in awhile. On Friday there was a young man there who was very thin and said he wished he had some beans then his stomach would be full. There was plenty of bread and quit a bit of produce on Friday but today I’m going to go into my storage and bag up some beans to drop off. I had taken my extra eggs from the 6 little hens I have.

    We here don’t understand that many in this world live in little buildings like my chicken house and eat less nutritious food than I feed my chickens. I buy 40# bags of scratch at Walmart for under $9. to feed my chickens plus kitchen scraps and open range grasses. I have also ground this scratch in my coffee grinder, sifted it and cooked with it. It makes a decent type of porridge a bit like polenta. If I had to I guess I could live on that but don’t. It’s hard to imagine that teachers are offered pay less than a bag of cornmeal. Even here in this country teachers are way underpaid for the benefits they give to society. Why do movie stars get huge stepends for very questionable movies while teachers who work hard every day to educate our children get very minimal salaries? There is something wrong with our values too, our country has been mismanaged in my opinion and we all need to reevaluate our values.

  6. Yikes!

    And that maize (corn) flour is “fortified with soy” which has a high phytic acid content (anti-nutrient) that resists breakdown in cooking and digestion, without prior long fermentation (such as found in traditionally fermented soy sauce, miso, and tempeh).

    And I wonder if the locals soak the maize flour in lime water (nixtamalization), as the Latin Americans do, to neutralize the phytates in the corn?

    Relying too much on a grain staple like this, particularly in poverty situations, especially without proper in-home processing and preparation before cooking, can actually exacerbate malnutrition and contribute to pelagra and mineral deficiencies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytates

    Be Kind To Your Grains: http://www.westonaprice.org/foodfeatures/be_kind.html

  7. Thank you for writing your blog! This last post just is such an eye opener isn’t it?

    I put a link to your blog on my blog because I want folks to see things here in America with different eyes and realize how grateful we ought to be.

    Also–I have gotten accustomed to cooking so much food, it just amazed me that I worry about soaring food prices when I always have enough–more than enough.

  8. Jane

    which is what most americans don’t realize…we’re not in the depression anymore…our recession is nothing like when our grandparents were kids.

  9. Love your blog .. specially in these harsh times where you have to watch for every penny..

  10. Susan

    Hey, we know Christopher is off on the trip but won’t you post a new entry and let us know what’s happening with you.

  11. It’s always good to get a little perspective and grounding. Very sad to here.

  12. 2 observations:
    1 – America is th only country in the world where poor people are fat. In most poverty striken countries, they are emaciated.

    2 – In many poor countries in Africa, the governments are unbelievably corrupt. They put their own interests far haead oftheir people’s. They siphon off aid resources for their own enrichment.

    There is no just rule of law, which is essential for an economy to flourish, and bring relative wealth to the masses. This can happen, but we have to stop giving foriegn aid to these countries and stading by while the corrupt government officials use it to buy new Lamborghinis.

  13. Andy

    The American poor are rich compared to the real poor of the world. Nearly everyone in US has stable power to run their color TV, microwave, and refrigerator.

    In the book “What’s So Great About America” by Dinesh D’Souza the one line that I still recall to this day, I read the book years ago, is why do you want to live in America? “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” I recommend this book to everyone.

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