Tuesday, June 8, 2010

First Week in Kenya

Nairobi in a Nutshell
There is so much to tell about my five days in Nairobi that I would end up writing a novel that lets face it, no one has time to read. So I’m going to focus on some highlights. The first day my friend from school (we lived in residence together but he is from Nairobi and is spending the summer there), Eric and his cousins, picked us up and gave us a driving tour around Nairobi. I did not expect it to be so tropical and lush. We also went and watched a high school rugby game. It was Erics high school St. Marys vs their rival Nairobi School. The high school was ridiculously beautiful. It had massive fields and trees and numerous buildings. And all the students were really into the game and the rivalry.

The next day we were invited to Eric’s cousins house for dinner. We were served a traditional Kenyan meal with goat, beef stew, rice, ugali (ground up maize that is then hardened to this bland sponge-like thing – I wasn’t too crazy about it but most likely will eat it a lot), plain maize (which is not good at all) and kale. The dinner was delicious and we drank fresh milk with it. For desert were my new favorite fruit: stubby bananas! I’m sure they have a name but I have no clue what it is. They’re pretty much the same as our bananas but not as sweet. After dinner we went to a pub called Changes. Kenyan’s love to dance so I tried my best to keep up. Although my North American dance moves were far from up to par.

On Friday we had a meeting with Johnson Weru, the Director of the Economic and External Trade Division for the Republic of Kenya. We were meeting with him to talk about our projects and ask any questions we had. Mr. Weru is an extremely intelligent and well-spoken man and our meeting with him was really enlightening. He explained that he believes that the key to Kenyan economic development is through trade and greater access to international markets. He told us a little about the union between East African nations that will begin in July and how that is a step in the right direction. We turned to the subject of our probiotic yogurt project and Rebecca’s research, both of which involve work with small social enterprises. Mr. Weru’s take on it is that the details on the ground (ie what were doing) need to be sorted out and fine tuned for the bigger picture to work (ie trade). Our work is enabling people to be productive members of the economy, which in turn will benefit Kenya’s global economic position. It was a really interesting meeting and refocused us on the project and our goals for the next couple months.

Saturday we went to the Safaricom Sevens Rugby Tournament. There were teams from all over the world (no Canada or U.S. though) playing. The atmosphere at the tournament was unreal. Everyone was wearing the Kenyan flag in some form or another. Each rugby game was 14 minutes long and really fun to watch. No stop-and-go like football. I think by the end of the day I kind of understood what was going on. All day was non-stop cheering. When the Kenyan team played everyone went nuts for 14 minutes straight. They beat the other team 41-0 and ended up winning the whole tournament on Sunday. There was a grounds area set up beside the rugby field with food and drinks and promotional games. There was also a big stage and dance floor where a Kenyan singer (I have no idea what his name was but apparently he won a few MTV awards) performed later in the night.

On to Oyugis
Woke up at about 5am on Monday to head to the airport for our flight to Kisumu. We landed in Kisumu at around 9 am and were picked up by Bob from KEMRI (the government institution Western Heads East partners with here) who drove us to Oyugis from Kisumu. The drive was about two hours and absolutely beautiful. Everything is so green and lush and hilly. Way different than I expected. Arriving in Oyugis might be a difficult scene to explain but I’ll try me best. All the shops line the few roads there are with houses and fields scattered behind them. The shops seem oddly small to me and I can’t imagine more than 5 full-grown people fitting in one. Although there are many restaurants and pubs with more space. The roads are in bad condition and filled with cars, motorcycles, bicycles, people, cows, donkeys, chickens, etc. But the town is so green with beautiful trees and luscious fields that its beauty overwhelms the chaos on the road. The kids are also adorable. There so intrigued to see white people that they just stare at us. And when I wave or say hi they giggle or shy away. Amanda and the other interns last year bought some kids skip rope last year so we played jump rope with the kids for a while and they loved it. By the time we left there was a huge crowd of kids waiting to play.

Up Close and Personal with the Project
We went and checked out the yogurt kitchen and the Mama’s were really excited to see us (well excited to see Amanda but seemed just as excited to meet me). They gave us a tour of the kitchen and showed us their books. I was very impressed with the Mama’s recordkeeping skills and their dedication. One Mama, Mama Diana, comes in at 6am and stays until 7pm to make sure all the recordkeeping is done. I tried the yogurt – I think it will grow on me… it’s a little sour tasting. But now the Mama’s at Oyugis are making it with sugar and flavoring, which is very tasty. We also went out to Kabondo to check out the yogurt kitchen there. This is a very new kitchen (its only been up and running for two months) and is doing very well. The Mama’s are very hard working here and have been selling out of their yogurt daily. They were very welcoming and sang a few songs when we arrived. The kitchen is very organized and clean. And its painted purple for some Western pride. Were going to spend a full day in each kitchen observing the operations so I think it will be very interesting to see the differences.

Kenyan First’s
Today I had my first experience on both a matatu and a boda boda. Matatu’s are vans that have seats for 15 people but they squish as many people in them as humanely possible. On our way back from Kabondo (about a 20 minute matatu ride to Oyugis) there were 23 people in the car. And most of them are full grown men. Thankfully I was sitting in the front so I had a spacious and comfortable ride home! My luck will probably run out though as were going to be taking lots of matatus because they are a cheap and easy way to get around.

Boda boda’s are bicycles with a cushion on the back that you can sit on. It’s like a personal taxi bike. I loved it and was considering hiring a personal boda boda for the rest of my trip until I realized that it would be completely silly. But a lot of fun. We took the boda boda’s to a school in Oyugis called Agaro Sare. There was a huge track and field meet going on there between a bunch of schools across the region. A couple of the Mama’s were selling yogurt there so we decided to go see how they were doing. We arrived on our stylish boda boda’s to realize this was a HUGE tournament. There were thousands of kids. And we were of course the only white people there. Amanda played soccer at this school last year and recognized some of the boys. When we went to say hi and when we were talking to the Mama’s huge groups of kids formed around us. Just watching us. Completely transfixed by these crazy white people in front of them. It was pretty hilarious and a few touched my skin when I walked by just out of curiosity.

Oyugis is beautiful and I’m excited to finally be here and get started on working. We have a couple meetings coming up and will most likely be extremely busy by the end of the week with work to do. Our two main overarching goals for the project that all stakeholders are interested in are: making the two kitchens sustainable and expansion through Kenya. In the meantime, I’m going to keep trying to figure out this personal boda boda thing…

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily,

    Glad you made it safely and had a nice visit in Nairobi on your way to Oyugis. Very good news about the Orande women's book keeping and the Baraka women's group selling out each day! Fun to read your blog. Can't wait to see photos of the new kitchen. Say hello to Ellena for me.