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Archive for November, 2010

Your clothes were made by a child.

When you look down at the clothes you are wearing, can you see the tiny young hands struggling to sew them and meet quota…some of whom are owned by a sweatshop and not being paid?

And does it make you angry?

If you don’t see it, look closer. I’d bet that the clothes you are wearing right now were made in a sweatshop. Just because it is far away doesn’t make it less real. Changing things is our moral responsibility.

(Of course it’s much more complicated than that. Check out the comments on this blog post for a reminder of that.)

Woyee – amazing

I was so happy to find this in my email this morning. Woyee Film and Theater Industry, an organization in Southern Sudan, a group of Sudanese people working in film and drama to educate and promote awareness, credits FilmAid in part with its founding:

Individuals within the group joined other community based clubs such as the Participatory Video Project (PVP) of FILMAID International which uses the power of film to promote health issues and entertain the refugees. it was after joining this club in 2006 that the members realized thier number and passion has increased into both acting on stage and film.

The initial members of about 5 begun to make short films using skills acquired from trainings offered by the FilmAid expertise. The members managed to make 30 short films and other stories which were later shown to the community by FilmAid, thus boosting their morale to take it a course that should be implemented even after the camp closed.

As repatriation began to take toll, most of the members returned home/Sudan.

What they do:

1.Produce local films based on the contemporary set up of Sudan especially Southern Sudan.

2. Nature young talents on stage Drama; Poetry, Plays, Narratives

3. Expose southern Sudan to international investors using documentaries that portray the ecosystem and Agricultural opportunities within the region.

4. Provide basic camera and production techniques to Sudanese youths to open doors for professional careers or jobs.

5. Engage the youths in Film and Drama festivals within southern Sudan

6. Produce local adverts and awareness campaigns that will impact postively on the lives of southern Sudanese and Africa.

7. Offer employment opportunities to Southern Sudanese youths by encouraging creative arts

8. Collaborate with government and institutions that promote development, democracy and freedom with respect to human rights in enhancing patriotism in southern Sudan

I’ve had a very hectic schedule but have about nine posts already lined up to go on the blog! So stay tuned…

Get iPhone/iPad style scroll bars now (and change your boot screen)

scrollbar example

scrollbar example

who knew a pineapple could stand for something?

who knew a pineapple could stand for something?

I’m a big critic of most of the changes coming in OsX Lion. Simplicity comes at a price, and in this case the Mac App Store thrusts control of a huge part of the computer/internet universe directly into Apple’s controlling hands. We have the opportunity to empower new computer users with an advanced understanding, but instead Apple is letting simplicity reign. It would be shortsighted to say these decisions have no impact on our future culture.

That aside, for now I am still a mac user, and one thing I won’t miss is scrollbars. Since I’ve had a multitouch trackpad with two finger scroll, I’ve never touched the things, and now that I have replaced them with simple bars the screen feels cleaner and lighter. It takes about ten minutes, won’t slow down your computer, and won’t cause any problems. All we’re doing is swapping out one image for another, and I’ve done all the work for you. The only downside is that the scrollbar sits in front of a white background instead of being transparent. Mac doesn’t support transparent scrollies yet.

I think this works only on Leopard and Snow Leopard, but if someone could try it on Tiger and let me know that would be sweet.

  1. Download ThemePark, a free tool that lets you customize tons of things in your mac theme.
  2. Open my iOs theme with the new scrollbars in the application.
  3. Hit Apply Theme
  4. Log out and back in, or restart your computer.
  5. You’re done! If you ever want to go back, open ThemePark and choose “Revert to Aqua” in the “Theme” menu. No risk.

I’ve also changed my startup screen to a sweet-looking black screen with the pwnage pineapple logo (pineapple..get it?) That’s takes even less time.



  1. Download BootXChanger, another free tool.
  2. Open it up and drag in the image files I created: either the Pineapple Logo (thanks to Dev-Team) or the Apple Logo.
  3. Click to change the background color and drag the lightness slider all the way down to make it black.
  4. Hit “Apply”. Rejoice! This one can easily be reset too.

Now you can show your support for good UI and freedom of application deployment, all in one go!

The terrorists have won

Seriously, the USA needs to step back and breathe. From Hudson Hub Times via Boing Boing:

A man in Hudson, Ohio called the police to report a suspicious package on his doorstep. When the officer arrived, he noticed the “AMAZON.COM” printing on the box and asked if the man had recently ordered anything from Amazon:

The man reportedly said “Why yes, I did.”

The officer told the resident his order had arrived. The resident then said he was comfortable opening the box. The officer then left the scene, according to the report.

FilmAid Blog: Beginning of shooting

Check out what we’ve been up to in my recent post on the FilmAid blog, with photos!

FilmAid Dadaab has begun production on a new public service film, “Not Me But The Law,” and the first week of production has been a blast!

Not Me But The Law, written and directed by Denis Otieno, is a film about sex and gender based violence and the destruction it can cause. The film features Fadhumo, a 14-year-old girl who is raped, and Amina, her 15-year-old sister who is arranged to marry a wealthy older man. Through their stories and discussions of Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act of 2006, the film explores issues of violence against women and restriction of their freedoms. The film concludes that no matter how individuals feel or what religious institutions mandate, there is no choice in the matter when it is a legal issue – it is not me, but the law.

On Poverty Porn


From NYT

Dadaab is featured in the New York Times this morning! And I thought the world wasn’t listening…

Sadly, this overly sterile, vaguely concerned, intellectual blurb doesn’t do the camp much justice. What I wonder is whether the reporter has any idea how things are or was toured around a sanitized part of the camp.

It’s a difficult struggle to present information to the world on behalf of disenfranchised or impoverished people. I have met countless people in the nonprofit world who speak privately about the reasons and frustrations that drive their work – the awful conditions of people they work for – but when they speak to donors feel hamstrung and forced by necessity to paint only positive pictures of improvement, growth, and sunshine.

The self-censorship comes from practicality: the drive to present an uplifting message that does not imply that the donor is selfish for not doing more – “things are like 90% better and if you give they will be 110% better!” It is also done out of a very legitimate respect: it’s not right to turn a human being who has allowed their photo to be taken, or a friend of yours, into a poster child for squalor. It also comes because nobody wants to listen to somebody who is angry for the 100th time unless they are deeply religious.

But sometimes (usually) the truth is overwhelming and undirected frustration. Sometimes that is not only the truth, but also the message people need to hear. Sometimes the raw emotion is the why of what we do, and the specific agenda is an afterthought. As a filmmaker (and absolutely 100% independently of any organization) I would like to see what it feels like to be a bit more confrontational.

They call showing horrific conditions “poverty porn,” and I understand and tend to agree with the sentiment. But the very thing that we deride as poverty porn is the reason most of us are doing it, and we then refuse to share our uncensored outrage with the world. I have no idea how to reconcile this.

Thanks! And thanks for reading this blog.

Unspeakable, but I tried

A shoe on the ground in Ifo camp, Dadaab, Kenya

I visited the heart of the Ifo camp in Dadaab yesterday and witnessed the conditions of the camp firsthand for the first time. I have lost my innocence.

I wrote an essay about it but it will not be published on this blog. The world has to know, but not in this forum, at least not now from me. I can’t be a poverty pornographer and take advantage of the kindness of those who showed me into their homes.

Instead I offer this letter to the world, written by a group of Dadaab refugees called the Refugee Silent Welfare Committees. What they say is real and true, and I hope we can create a world that has the capacity to stand up, take notice, and forbid people from destroying without check, countered in vain by the futile sympathies of others.

From A Voice from the Voiceless:

Dear All the concerned Memebers,

With humble respect, on behalf of the refugees living in the camps of Dadaab, we would like to share our grievances with the world and ask for you to help us find our way to freedom.

Our lives in the camps are far worse than you can imagine. We live in an open prison, far away from justice and humanity. We talk, but our voices are never heard. We move, but only inside a cage. We have many skills and talents, but we are denied our chance to maximize our potential. We are chained to a life full of stress and despair; a life for which many would prefer death. We are denied opportunities for education and employment. We live in a condition without adequate water, food, or health facilities. We are arbitrarily beaten or detained by police within the confines of the camp. We lack the ability to freely express ourselves or have control over the decisions affecting our lives.

It can't be that bad if there are birds, right? Dadaab 1

I am not yet qualified to write this post. In five days I have seen and experienced so much and yet understand almost none of it. A state of shock (due to heat, culture, exhaustion, going off caffeine, and malaria pills) means that I don’t really know how I feel or what is going on in my head. I suspect it will only begin to really hit me when I first eat that Manhattan chicken caesar salad I’m currently craving and break down. But we press on and we blog, so here goes.

I departed for Dadaab camp on Wednesday morning at 7AM, using my last kenyan shillings to buy a copy of the Economist. For the one-hour flight, I spent about 10 minutes marveling at the wonder of the African savannah and the intimacy of a propellor plane, and then 50 minutes passed out cold. The exhaustion lasted about four days.

Landing in an open field. (These photos are from the video above.

We touched down a wide open field and the plane’s passengers (most of them Italian) were greeted by various aid groups and taken away in large UN trucks with canvas-covered backs, leaving me alone on the field. The Lion King-esque trees hunkered over barren sand and I wondered what I would do if nobody came. It was at that moment that Lorreta pulled up in a canvas-covered van of her own. “Welcome to Dadaab,” she said, “are you hot yet?”

And I was. Dadaab is not as insanely hot as it’s been made out to be, but it is definitely hot. Supposedly it gets up to 110ºF.

On the way from the airport to the compound I bombarded Lorreta with questions, and after about a ten minute drive we arrived. A guard stood near the gate and let us in with display of our badge. Watch the video to see the compound: It’s about 3/4 mile on a side and surrounded by stacks of barbed wire that have grown over with weeds. The best comparison I can give is to sleepaway camp: dirt paths connect small buildings that are either offices or dormlike groups of individual rooms. It’s quite nice for what it is and very comfortable. As for food, I brought about 30kg of food from Nairobi and have been relying heavily on that and the vegetarian cafeteria at the Lutheran World Foundation next door. I can’t adjust to the staple of goat meat right now, so thank god for beans and rice.

Open African sky

The floor of my room is a menagerie of insects – I’ve learned more about the varieties of roaches than anything so far. A few days into the trip I lay in my bed surrounded by a malaria net, taking my malaria medicine and typing on my MacBook Pro, my copy of the Economist laying on the floor, the front cover page in the trash surrounding a dead roach. I laughed at how I am, as usual, a walking caricature.

As for the refugee camp, it seems much more open that I expected. The oft-repeated fact is that 300,000 people are crammed into a camp built to hold 80,000, but I have only been on the outskirts and they seemed very spacious. It doesn’t feel right to chronicle misery that I don’t really understand yet, and trying to synthesize the few experiences I’ve had into conclusions or a story would be unjustly reductive, so I’ll just share a few experiences:

I’ve only been to the camp twice so far. I brought a ton of petty cash on the plane so we went on Wednesday afternoon to pay contracts for mule transport of equipment (yes, we transport equipment for screenings on mule-carts in Daddab.) We sat in a small meeting hall that reminded me a lot of a traditional Cherokee Indian meeting hall and is a standard design throughout the camp. A number of people filtered into the room, some affiliated with FilmAid and others not – I’m told that there is such boredom in the camp that any small thing happening draws a crowd. Some seemed quite happy, others fidgety and preoccupied. A woman, Dahabo, translated between English and Somali as they negotiated the contract and of course asked for more money. I’m one of very few white people working there (usually the only one in the room) so I attract a lot of attention; an apparently deaf man approached me, placed his hand on my thigh, and kept gesturing to his mouth and his stomach, making the international signs for money and “please.” I was frozen into inaction and kept asking Lorreta “what do I do?” I actually had no money and figured it would not be a good idea to begin handing it out to people who asked on my first day; eventually the rest of the group shooed him away.

Then a man walked in and began talking to me in perfect English, telling me he saw money being handed out and had a mind to “rob that woman” but wouldn’t because there were so many people there. I laughed uncomfortably, having absolutely no context with which to place that remark. He told me he was working with Care (the group that runs the refugee camp) and asked me about our recent election. He knew a ton about US politics; I explained to him how representation was different in the House and the Senate and he asked why there are two houses. Then he said hello to Lorreta and left.

Dahabo took us to the Somali market, which was like a scene out of Aladdin. Small kids riding mule-carts and hitting the mules with long reeds to make them go faster. Goats chasing each other. Women lying face down on prayer mats. Structures made of wood, canvas, and sheeting material with the word USA printed on it. Lorreta was searching for a stool and we went from stall to stall, uprooting their supply to find the perfect one. A crowd of about ten kids grew almost immediately and they stood, staring at me. They stared unabashedly and did not avert their eyes when I looked at them, which made this American massively uncomfortable. “Hi!” I tried many times, with the biggest smile and wave, which did not change the stares. “Salaam?” One kid spoke English and introduced himself – it looked from his body language that he was being very brave by doing so. I asked all of them their names and then the conversation fell silent. I resolved to learn some basic Somali.

Sometimes the adorable kids stare and there's just nothing you can do about it!

I’ve realized now that I am entertainment and something new, and am learning to ignore the stares and act naturally. Yesterday I encountered a group of five 10-year-olds on the street. The younger the kids are the better their English, and these spoke it perfectly. I racked my brain for what to ask them. It felt like an awkward blind date.

“Where do you live?”
“Over there, about 5km”
“Are you in school?”
“How do you get to school?”
“By bus.”
*long pause*
“So do you live with your parents?”
“Both my parents have died.”

Oh. Right.

Some look awful, but many people in the camps speak eloquently, smile a lot, and dress well. When the reality escapes it is, for me, always a new shock.

Practicing lines

We had rehearsal yesterday for our production, “Not Me But The Law,” which will take a few weeks to film. I will be helping in the filming process and editing the film. Then I’ll be teaching a three-week course. I’m also working with a company here to rebuild the FilmAid website around what is happening on the ground and looking for more ways to improve what we do, with tech and otherwise. Hopefully I will find good luck and good grace from the mosquitos, scorpions (!!), snakes, Malaria, Dengue, Giardia, and of course Somali warriors trying to infiltrate 🙂 All we have to fight them is Malaria pills and Tusker brand beer.

Looking at the board that tells people when they will be interviewed to repatriate to different countries.

Yes there are some little tweety birds, but there are vultures everywhere.

Ditch Flash, go open, have no regret

It’s hard to take sides in the he-said-she-said technology wars when everyone has an interest at stake. Steve Jobs panned Flash and called it slow and buggy, which many of us dismissed at the time. On second thought, it’s completely true. Ars Technica has confirmed that running Flash can kill your battery up to 33% faster. Plus, it’s supposedly responsible for a huge percentage of crashes on the Mac.

What you probably don’t know is that you can go totally flash free on the Mac – today! The solution I am using brings Firefox in to play video in HTML5 instead. Firefox, unlike other browsers, has refused to support the h.264 codec in favor of Google’s open WebM one. If you want to know why that must be done and we are lucky to have companies like Mozilla and Google standing up for it, you must read this essay. Written a while ago, the essay explains why h.264 is dangerous – like GIF and MP3 before it, the company who owns the codec is planning to allow open licensing until it is adopted universally, and then begin charging content providers up the wazoo even while they make free players. WebM, on the other hand, might have slightly worse quality but is totally open. And all of YouTube is available in WebM as well.

Also luckily, Chrome contains its own version of Flash, so you will be using it as a backup whenever you need Flash to access something (hopefully increasingly rarely.) So here’s the guide, adapted from John Gruber’s guide, which you can use if you want to do this on Safari. It’s of moderate difficulty but I think most people can figure it out. It should take about 15 minutes and save you hours of battery time and frustration!

  1. If your flash player is in the default location, you should find it in /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/. Move “Flash Player.plugin”, “flashplayer.xpt”, and “NP-PPC-Dir-Shockwave” out of that folder and into a new folder you create next to it named “Internet Plug-Ins (Disabled)”.
  2. Download the latest Firefox 4 beta. Be the envy of your peers. You may want to rename your old Firefox so that it doesn’t get overwritten and you can go back to using it if you want. Be sure to drag the current Firefox icon out of your dock and the new program into it, to make sure you’re launching the correct version.
  3. Install this script. It will turn videos with the old-style embed tag into HTML5 embeds. A bar will pop up at the top of your screen, choose to allow it. (I have compiled it myself from Mahmoud Al-Qudsi’s script which I compiled in order to save you the hassle of downloading the Greasemonkey beta)
  4. Go to the YouTube HTML5 beta page and opt in to the trial
  5. Download Chrome browser. It has Flash built in and will be a backup for you if you absolutely need to access something in Flash or h.264
  6. Enjoy an open, free web! With Firefox you won’t have access to h.264 video, but you have all of YouTube and there will likely be a plugin soon to show h.264 video in Firefox. In the meantime, though, you always have Chrome as a backup and are supporting web standards (have you read the essay yet?)
  7. If you need to watch full screen video, hit the full screen button. It zooms the video to the size of your browser – now press Command-Shift-F to make your browser fullscreen.

And there you have it! I already notice a speed boost now that I’ve got less junk in the trunk.

Snake orgasms for halloween

This post was from 10-30-2010…agh slow internet!

Halloween party? Antipas and I at an empty bar

Don’t go out in Nairobi for Halloween. Just don’t.

The weekend began with the news that my Monday morning trip to Dadaab had been rescheduled to Wednesday. The UN and various organizations run these flights for their own missions, so we get on only when there is room and they can cancel any time. Oh well, better make sure I’m slated to return to Nairobi long before my flight to the US..

On Friday night I went out with Stella, her husband Rex, and several of their other friends. Our first stop was a big, open bar with great reggae music playing. It turns out (are you shocked?) that literally every song you can think of has a reggae remix. We heard a lot of African musicians as well as some very American music, all to a reggae beat. We ate some amazing street food, which was just two eggs cooked around a slab of bread with tomatoes but tasted like heaven itself. The next stop was a club with dance music – they played some great stuff including mashups I’d heard at Bootie before (you can see my mashup playlist of 2009 here.) The dj didn’t have any dubstep – I’ve been introducing the Kenyans to it (as well as my speaker backpack) and many are intrigued.

On Saturday Antipas was kind enough to take me all around town. We went to the Nairobi Museum and viewed a brief history of Africa, evolution, and tribal practices. The coolest part of the museum, though, was the snake sex. At the snake park we noticed two snakes loosely wrapped around each other. They were going up and down the tree, around the pond…are they having sex, we wondered? fighting? When we came back about ten minutes later the answer was overwhelmingly clear, which you can see in the video. They were even more tightly coiled than before (look down by the pond) and one was thrusting. Then, they both shuddered and one quickly scampered off…to take a nap or smoke a cigarette, presumably. I have no idea how snake sex actually works, but at least I can check that one off the ol’ to-do list.

We then went to the closing ceremonies for the Kenya International Film Festival. I wish we’d known about it beforehand, as some of the films sounded awesome and I would have loved to see contemporary Kenyan filmmaking (the country does not have a strong film industry like the US, UK, India, etc. but it appears to be growing. I’d love to know more about Kenyan tropes and styles, if they exist as such.) We did some networking there and are hoping that there are some collaboration opportunities with FilmAid (we’ve worked with them in years past.)

Our next stop was Halloweening. There was no hope of finding costumes (and nobody would have understood if we did) but we went on a quest guided by the iPhone google “Nairobi halloween.” Some very well-planned parties had no turnout whatsoever, but it could have been because we retired at 11pm. EDIT: Yes, yes it was.

Instead of our planned wakeup at 7:30am, I slept through my alarm and Antipas woke me up at 9:30. We both agreed that it was not a day to wake up early and see the giraffes. Ah well, another time. I woke up at 2pm and am now enjoying the first lazy Sunday I’ve had for a while 🙂

Three more days to Dadaab…time to restart the Malarone.