Nairobi: Phase 1 – Preparation

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We have now completed our first days in Nairobi, and what an amazing ride it has been! Innumerable highs, lows, setbacks and sweet successes, all in the company of a handful of truly amazing men and women working for a common cause of saving the lives of malnourished children in Somalia.

Kim and I arrived at the Nairobi airport late Wednesday night where we met up with Margo of Project Peanut Butter (PPB), Dr. Amina of Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) and Winnie, our dear friend’s auntie who arranged an apartment for our lodging.  We settled in and tried our best to sleep despite our anticipation of all we had to accomplish in preparation of the following week’s training.

Day 1, Thursday – Peanuts Anyone?

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Our first full day in Nairobi started at 9am, when Dr. Amina and Warren (our driver) picked us up to go to the DHAF clinic where we would conduct the training.  In keeping with stereotypical Nairobi traffic (4th worse in the world), it took over an hour to go the 3km (1.86miles) to the clinic in Eastleigh, a predominately Somali area in which many Somali refugees live. After verifying the room would work, we set off to purchase supplies. We spent the entire day running around town purchasing RUTF ingredients, buckets, and other supplies, all the while on the phone working to source peanuts and someone to grind them into paste.

The great success of the day was finding Nicholas who’s company sells peanuts, which amazingly maintains higher quality standards than expected, <10 parts per billion for aflatoxin (the US peanut butter standard is 20 parts per billion).  We ended the day with a run to the grocery store and a lovely home cooked meal ala Kim, over which we ironed out plans for day two.

Day 2, Friday – Karate Chop (and grind)!

With a better understanding of how much time is lost in traffic, we decided to begin our day at 8am.  First on our list was finding a grinder for the peanuts.  After much looking and calling around, and stopping at several stores (which meant traversing the city in heavy traffic) we finally bought a small grinder at a shop called “Cute Kitchen” to grind our peanuts to paste.  Deborah, DHAF staff member, continued to call around, but worse case scenario, this could work.

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Second on our list was to get the production uniforms – white lab coat and white pants that are easily bleached for sterilization.  At the uniform store, they had lab coats, but no white pants…. We saw some white pants in the cabinet and inquired about them.  It turns out they were Karate uniforms.  Since they would not pair just the pants with our lab coats, our production uniforms are now Karate uniforms.  Lastly, we needed rubber shoes, that could also be sterilized.  Patricia, from the DHAF, found us Fuma’s (fake Pumas) … and the uniform was complete!

We were promised the peanuts would be available for pickup that afternoon, but to our disappointment, they were not.  We were assured they would be there by 6pm, which they were not. So we ended our day sanitizing our workroom and hoping that the peanuts would come through, as well as a larger grinder on Saturday.

Day 3, Saturday – Sweet Success!

The peanuts arrived!!  We picked up the peanuts from Nicholas in the morning and negotiated a deal for future purchases.  Nicholas is even going to look into purchasing a grinder so that DHAF can simply order the pre-ground paste from his company.

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Back at the office Kim and I started grinding peanuts in our small grinder to make enough peanut paste to create a test batch, the last step in preparation for the training.  However, after a short while, the peanut grinder “broke”.  We tried to come up with other solutions.  Margo went with Dr. Amina and others from DHAF to the market to buy mortar and pestles.  Meanwhile, Kim and I Googled and called a number of equipment manufactures and peanut producers about acquiring a “peanut butter making machine”.  We found a man named Kevin who kindly made some calls on our behalf.

When the team came back from the market, they got to work, attempting to grind peanuts into paste using four mortar and pestles, while Kim and I headed back to Cute Kitchen to exchange the grinder.  It turns out it was not broken, rather there is a little button on the bottom that works much like the reset button on a hairdryer.  So with that we went back and were able to grind enough to make our first test batch of RUTF.

In the meantime, Kevin connected us to Michael, who agreed to grind our remaining 35kg of peanuts for a good price on Sunday.

After so much work to acquire peanuts, oil, milk powder, sugar, buckets, grinders, etc. we created a successful first test batch of RUTF as the sun was setting, which is important because there’s not a light in our workroom.   The completion of our first batch brought tears to Dr. Amina’s eyes, as it’s a dream come true for her and DHAF to be able to treat more children.  The 78 250g jars of RUTF we produced will save the lives of children in Somalia.  Success has never tasted so sweet…(RUTF really is sweet.  We tasted it to make sure.)

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Day 4, Sunday, 10/6 – Relaxing Sunday?

On a high from 6-Kibera-pic-Bcompleting our first batch of RUTF and having everything in place for the first day of training on Monday, we decided to do a little site seeing.  Our driver, Warren took us to a hill overlooking Kibera (one of the largest slums in the world).  Typical of this part of the world, the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth creates an often uncomfortable, yet extremely authentic and unique experience that keeps me motivated to do what little bit I can to have a positive impact.

7-pic-at-lunchThe sites at Kibera were in sharp contrast with our next stops, which including the Animal Orphanage at Nairobi National Park, the Kazuri bead factory and Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden in a very posh, expansive and green area of Nairobi.

After lunch, Kim met up with friends from Serbia who recently moved to Nairobi and Margo and I went to meet Michael to accomplish our last task of grinding the remaining 35kg of peanuts.

We met Michael on the side of the road so he could direct us into his neighborhood.  This area could be characterized as a step above a slum.  There was some running water and electricity, but we had to park outside and walk through a few narrow alleys to get to our destination.  Upon arrival, we were immediately concerned about sanitation, but brought our cleaning supplies and figured we could make it work.  After waiting over an hour for our turn, we cleaned the machines and tried a 5kg sample. After an hour of various attempts, it simply did not work.  We left, knowing that we would have to grind 30kg of peanuts with a machine the size of a large coffee grinder.  Not ideal, but we knew we could make it work… we had no choice.

To be continued….

 A personal note

12-pic-with-the-ladies-and-R-in-scarfI dare say this has been the most fulfilling couple days I’ve had in a very long time.  The people we’re working with, the work we’re doing, the children we’re doing it for, the impact it’s going to have… I don’t have words to describe how very full my heart is, how alive my spirit is and how infinitely grateful I am to be able to do the work I do. 

Thank you a million times over to everyone that has supported this work and supported me to be able to do it.  I carry you with me in every moment of every adventure and every success. 

 For more pics and info on our journey…

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