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Archive for the ‘Personal Travel Stories’ Category

After a few days without internet access, I’m back in Nairobi and can resume my updates.  I’ll have a post with lots of pictures of the safari soon, but first I wanted to share a few observations around Kenyan hospitality.

When a house guest comes for a visit, hospitality can kick into overdrive in Kenya.  For virtually every meal I ate at someone’s home, not only would I be served first, but many times the children and even the other adults would refuse to serve themselves until I had at least started eating.  Often the children and workers would eat in a second sitting after us.  And trust me, the other volunteers and I tried insisting that they eat with us, but we were rarely successful.

I thought the level of adherence to hospitality customs was particularly interesting when I arrived at my latest host’s home.  As you may have seen in my last post, my former host, Joshua, had major car problems on our trip.  When we finally made it to our destination the next morning, my new host (Emmanuel) asked if Joshua could spend the day with us, but he politely explained that he needs to get his car fixed and then spend another 8 hours driving home.  Before he could get on the road, they first sat down for tea.  After tea, we all went to take a “quick” tour of Emmanuel’s school (both Joshua and Emmanuel run schools in Kenya).  After a very interesting but thorough tour, we of course had another round of tea.  That was followed by a short presentation by the students.  At that point it was lunchtime, and of course we couldn’t send Joshua off without lunch.  While we arrived that morning around 8:30 am, Joshua didn’t end up starting work on the car until early afternoon and finally hit the road around 2:30 or 3:00 pm.  What I found most interesting was that not only did Emmanuel keep politely offering things, but Joshua kept politely accepting.  I suppose it would have be considered rude for either of them to have acted any differently, even though they both knew Joshua had a long trip ahead of him.

Joshua, Emmanuel, and the headmaster

Joshua, Emmanuel, and the headmaster

I’ve encountered this custom several times while at the villages as well.  Often after meeting with a women’s group, there was no way I was leaving without drinking at least two cups of tea and eating something.  Even once when a storm was clearly about to hit, we still stayed for almost an hour, resulting in us standing in a random barn for 30 minutes on our way home to escape the torrential downpour. Overall I think it’s a nice custom, but be forewarned that there’s no such thing as a “quick visit” in Kenya.

I’ll be continuing work on the Kibera water kiosk model over the next several days, but I’ll also post a link very soon to some of the 250 pictures I took on my safari yesterday.

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My trip to Masai Mara is going right according to schedule, at least according to African time.  We were supposed to leave no later than 11:00 am, so we started out on time around noon.  The trip normally takes about 6 hours, but about two hours in after hitting no less than 500 potholes , we heard a very unsettling noise coming from one of the tires.  After a 30 minute pit stop at a mechanic, we realized that some part was partially broken.  Joshua decided to press on, albeit at a slower pace.

Kenya Potholes

Kenya Potholes

A couple of hours later we stopped in a small town to get something to drink.  When we got back in the car, it wouldn’t start.  Apparently some combination of the potholes and the first mechanic’s “help” caused the battery connection to break.  After another 30 minute pit stop with another set of mechanics, we were back on the road.  At 8:30 pm, we decided to call it a night and checked into a small hotel relatively close to my host’s home.  In theory, we’ll try again tomorrow morning and should get there by 8:30 am, so I fully expect to roll in no later than 11:00.

On the plus side, the hotel room has it’s own bathroom with toilet and shower, a television, and 3 electrical outlets, so I’m living in luxury right now.  All this for a whopping 1,000 shillings, or $13 USD, including breakfast.  Not bad.

As it turns out, there’s a small possibility that I’ll have internet access while I’m in the Masai Mara.  If so, I’ll try to post at least a few pictures every day.  If not, I’ll post a bunch when I return to Nairobi.

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The Common Ground Family

The Common Ground Family

Due to a minor scheduling change, it turns out I’m leaving Kiminini tomorrow morning.  I’ll be traveling to the Masai Mara for four days before heading back to Nairobi for several days.  I likely won’t have internet access until Wednesday or Thursday, but make sure to check back in to see pictures of the Masai village and my short photo safari.  I will also have some very interesting updates to share on the water kiosk project.

I want to thank Joshua, Mama Sandra, and the entire family here at Common Ground of Africa for making this an incredible experience.  I’m excited to continue on with the rest of the trip, but I’m incredibly sad to leave.  I look forward to working with the water filter team as they prepare to launch the filters in the market, and I very much look forward to visiting Kiminini and Common Ground again soon. To learn more about Common Ground for Africa, check out http://www.villagevolunteers.org/common_ground/common_ground.php.

I’ll be posting some additional pictures to Flickr later today, so be sure to check back soon.

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Jeremy in Kenya

Jeremy in Kenya

I’m very excited that after roughly one month, today the Clean Water For All blog went over the 1,000 views mark.  I’ve received a lot of very positive feedback about the posts, the pictures, and the work I’m doing here in Kenya.  I’m really quite flattered that so many people are following along and are engaged in the project.

While I had another great day in the field conducting interviews in the slums outside of Kitale, I’m going to hold off on the write-up until tomorrow.  Instead, I thought I’d celebrate the 1,000 views by posting a bunch of new pictures.  If you go to the “more photos” link under the Flickr section on the right, you can find the 20+ new pictures or catch up if you haven’t seen the full 134 picture album.

Caleb on motorcycle

Caleb on motorcycle

Here are a few of my favorites from the past few days.  Enjoy, and thanks again for following along.

-Jeremy

3 sheep on a motorcycle

3 sheep on a motorcycle

Kenyan landscape picture

Kenyan landscape picture

Kenyan kids

Kenyan kids

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I like to take at least one weekend day to write about something non-work related.  Today, I thought I’d teach you how to respond to 80% of the questions you’ll be asked if you ever visit Kenya.  What’s more, I can do that with just one word, Mzuri.

Random Kenyan boy

Random Kenyan boy

You see, at some point in every Kenyan child’s life, somewhere around the age of 3 or 4, they’re apparently taught what to say if they ever see a Mzungu.  That phrase, which must be yelled with tremendous enthusiasm is, “How are you?”

After you answer with Mzuri, which means good, the next question will always be, “How are you?”   The following question will usually also be, “How are you?”   In fact, it’s pretty common for a group of children to repeatedly yell that over and over, regardless of what you answer, until you’re out of sight.  Of course, they may also decide to join you and wander a mile down the road while holding both your hands.  One kid who was maybe 5 years old saw me from a good 50-75 yards away and after shouting, “MZUNGU!”,  went into a dead sprint until he caught up with me.  At which point he asked, “How are you?”

Of course, if you really want to freak them out, you could respond back with something like, “Mzuri.  Habari asabuhi?” (Good.  How are you this morning?).  At that point, some will answer you with “Mzuri”, but others will burst out laughing and start yelling that there’s a Mzungu speaking Kiswahili.  By the way, if a Kenyan is laughing at you and you ask what they’re laughing at in Kiswahili (Unachecka nini?), they won’t answer you and will instead just laugh more.

Kenyan children

Kenyan children

Tomorrow is Market Day in Kiminini, when there are live performances to promote products.  I’ve seen these in passing, but have never gone to check them out up close.  Weather permitting, I’ll head over tomorrow and take some pictures.  I also hope to show some of the marketing mock ups for the water filters, so make sure to come back and see them.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

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I’ll return to writing about my work shortly, but I’ve enjoyed reading blogs from other international volunteers over the weekend and wanted to share one I found particularly inspiring.  Here is a short excerpt, and I’ll link to the full post below.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but re-think my time in Kibera and in the villages outside Kiminini and agree with Taylor.  Despite their rough conditions, the people here take comfort in what they do have, and are happy simply enjoying the company of their friends and family.  I know I could personally stand to remember this more when I return home.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

“I used to talk to people on the ground all the time.  I would ask them – what is poverty to you, and what is wealth?  You see you could have a house with a cement floor and hardly a roof.  You and your family eat rice and beans on the hard floor, maybe not even swept.  And someone sees that and thinks – my, you have a house!  And that is something, and you are rich.”

“Poverty is relative,” I nod.

“It is, indeed.  Not just relative to others who have more or less than you, but relative to your expectations.  It’s a question of vision.  When you look at your life and it doesn’t look like your vision, it’s then that you feel poor.”

http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2010/04/30/microfinance-skeptics-rethink-your-vision-of-success/

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As promised, I thought I’d take the weekend to upload my backlog of photos.  I’ve been privileged to meet some wonderful Kenyans and volunteers since I’ve been here.  I’ve also enjoyed all the animals that wander around the streets or come to visit me in my hut.  I’ve posted well over 30 pictures in Flickr (link to the right), but here are a few of my favorites.  I’ll continue to upload pictures and posts every day or two, so don’t forget to check back regularly.

Alastair and Steve

Alastair (KCP Volunteer) and Steve (Kenyan college student)

Paka Mweosi

Paka Mweosi - my adopted pet (Black Cat in Kiswahili - clever, huh?)

The gang

Josie, Esta, and Emmanuel - Friends and Kiswahili tudor

Kenyan baby sheep

Random baby sheep on the side of the road

Kiki and Caleb

Kiki and Caleb - Kids in the extended family

House guests

House guests

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I mentioned in yesterday’s post that you really need to dig to uncover the truth in the field interviews. There’s a powerful combination of people wanted to give the “right” answer, people assuming the Mzungu knows best, and people thinking that maybe they’ll get something for free if they express interest. Today I had a bizarre conversation with a woman who knew we were from the water filter plant that basically went like this:

Do you treat your water today?
– No. Nobody is sick and the water is clean
Are you familiar with WaterGuard? Have you ever tried it?
– No . There’s no need. The water is safe.
So would you be interested in purchasing a 1,500 shilling water filter?
– Yes, I would very much like to purchase a filter
Why? You said the water is clean and no one is sick.
– I’d want it as a precaution. The water would be safer if I purify it.
In that case, why don’t you use WaterGuard as a precaution today?
– I don’t know. How much does it cost?
20 shillings treats your water for a month
– Wow, very exciting! I didn’t realize that.
So will you start using WaterGuard tomorrow as a precaution since the filters aren’t ready?
– Silence.

Actions speak much louder than words. Even with these challenges, I’m still learning quite a bit from these interviews. I’ll have another post plus a bunch of pictures over the weekend, so be sure to check in.

Kenya Village Interviews

Kenya Village Interviews

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I thought I’d take a break from the serious stuff and share some random observations I’ve found interesting as well as some pictures of where I’m staying.  Keep in mind that these observations are based on my very limited time here so far.  If any Kenyans find mistakes in what I’ve written, please let me know.

  • I’ve been told that if someone gets caught stealing, the thief tries to run to the police station for safety.  If he’s caught by the people in the community, the consequences are far more dire.
  • Caucasians are called Mzungus.  Interestingly, some people I spoke with said Barack Obama is a Mzungu because he has “light skin” and talks like an American.
  • In Kiswahili, the primary language in Kenya, many words or phrases are different if you’re speaking about a living thing versus an inanimate object.  For example, “where is ____” is different if you’re asking where a person is versus a table.  There is no distinction based on the “gender” of the word like in many languages.
  • You don’t subscribe to a monthly/annual phone or internet plan here.  Most people prepay for minutes.  There are little shops everywhere that sell cards in many different amounts.  You can go by 30 minutes of cell phone service, text the code to the phone company, and off you go.  It’s actually a pretty efficient system.
  • Kenyans, especially less wealthy ones, by and large deal with expense management on a very short-term basis.  The same person drove me around in Nairobi for a few days and filled up the car with a couple gallons of gas ever day instead of just filling up for the week.  Similarly, I haven’t seen anyone buy more than a week’s worth of cell phone minutes.
  • There are very few leisure activities other than sitting with family and friends and talking.  Other than the lack of rock climbing gyms, it’s not too bad.  There is television, but it doesn’t seem to be a cornerstone of leisure activity like in the US.

Here are some pictures of where I’m staying.  There will be more on Flickr later today.

Common Ground for Africa

Common Ground for Africa

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Guest Hut

Guest Hut

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Inside my guest hut

Inside my guest hut

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Chickens taking cover in the rain

Chickens taking cover in the rain

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After a fun day at the elephant orphanage yesterday (pictures on Flickr), today was the kick off to the real reason I came to Africa.  I had the opportunity to take a 4 hour private tour of the largest slum in East Africa with two men who were born and raised there.  While I have pictures of Kibera, they simply cannot deliver an accurate assessment of this massive community.

Kibera Slums

Kibera Slums

First of all, let’s just say that the lack of proper sanitation is extremely apparent to all senses as you walk through the streets.  Second, the sheer size of the area isn’t adequately portrayed in a photo.  Finally, from the high level pictures, you miss the most intense element – the people.  There are just so many people, thousands upon thousands out in the streets.  Most people not only live here, but operate tiny shops out of their homes.  There are children everywhere.  The most incredible thing is that while I wouldn’t last a week there and you generally equate extreme poverty with extreme crime and despair, most people are high spirited and exceptionally friendly.  I can’t even count how many random strangers came up to shake my hand or welcome me to their community.

During my tour, the guides and I discussed numerous topics including water cleanliness (obviously), financial services constraints, population control, education, public housing, and more.  While there are numerous areas for improvement (which may be the understatement of the year), the locals told me that they considered sanitation and water to be the most pressing issues.  I can completely understand why sanitation ranked #1, as a handful of pit latrines are shared by thousands of people and overflow, forcing people to resort to a far less desirable option when relieving themselves.  Water obtained from the public (though not free) tap is unclean and stored in dirty jugs, when available at all.  Due to these conditions plus the density and openness of the slums, disease spreads like wildfire throughout the slum.

Paying for water at the tap

Paying for water at the tap

We discuss two different options for providing access to clean water with the ceramic water filters, and they were both received very well.  In fact, they told me that if I could bring samples back from Kiminini, they would be able to put me in touch with the leaders of several community groups.  I have little doubt from my research and conversations with the other volunteers that having community leaders promote the filters is one of the best ways to obtain high adoption.  I’ll discuss these options in far greater detail very soon.

We also discussed many of the financial challenges that the residents of Kibera are faced with on a daily basis.  High unemployment is a critical problem, and there are simply too many people for this to be easily resolved.  In addition, the economy is largely internal.  By that I mean that it’s poor people buying and selling to and from each other.  There is little opportunity to inject new capital into the system and fuel economic growth, so their scarce resources just circulate amongst themselves.  There is massive redundancy in terms of the products and services offered and little to no economies of scale.  Identifying opportunities to consolidate and export / sell to higher income areas is worth additional research.  Cash management is also a topic that the locals brought up several times, and that is very consistent with prior research.  I’ll discuss this topic in more detail at a later date as well.

Orphanage

Orphanage

The last two pictures I’ll post here show a privately run orphanage dorm and school, funded primarily through donations.  The dorm was stifling hot when I was in there alone, and the children share 4 to a bed, cramming 64 people into a room I would barely find suitable for storing old junk.  The school consisted of 3 rooms of less than 100 sq. ft. each that accommodate up to 20 children per class.

For additional pictures, check out the Flickr link on the right.  I head to the village of Kiminini tomorrow morning, and will start learning about the similar but distinct challenges faced by the rural poor.  I look forward to sharing more stories and pictures with you.  As always, don’t hesitate to comment if you have thoughts you’d like to share.  Thanks.

School

School

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