Life in Oyugis
The first week in Oyugis was very busy and full of meeting people and getting to know the project and town. Oyugis is not very big. But it is not as small as I expected. There is one main road that is paved (the highway) and then a few bigger dirt roads that offshoot from it. The hotel and hospital are on one side of the highway and the kitchen is on the other. There are a ton of little shops that line all the roads. They seem to sell more or less the same thing. There are little ‘convenience’ stores that sell a random collection of necessities from soap to mandazi (Kenyan’s equivalent to donuts). Most of these are more like stalls because you don’t actually go inside. There are plenty of hardware shops, salons, and cell phone stores and everyone seems to be making iron gates – not sure who’s buying all these gates… the demand doesn’t seem there considering most houses do not have gates.
The market and matatu stage (ie the matatu ‘bus stop’) are alongside the highway and we go through it everyday on our way from the hotel to the kitchen. The main market sells a lot of clothing (mostly used clothing), traditional African material, shoes, fruit, vegetables, peanuts, etc. Behind the main market is the food market which is lines of people selling bananas, spices, maize, mandazi, avocadoes, mangoes, etc. There is no differentiation between products so competition is intense. I’m pretty sure the main method of differentiation is who can yell at customers the loudest to get their attention. Mama Sophia sells yogurt and milk in the market every afternoon.
On Saturday, Amanda and I went to the market with her to sell. Even though I was for sure slowing Mama Sophia down, she let me help pour and sell the yogurt. I was horrible and getting yogurt all over me and I’m pretty sure everyone was laughing at me (I kept hearing ‘Mzungu’ – white person – followed by laughter) but it was a lot of fun. The yogurt stall was packed. Its one of the only differentiated products and with a couple white girls hanging around it really sticks out.
We’ve gone on a couple walks and the scenery is breathtaking. The children are adorable and every time we walk down the street to our hotel they run to the side of the road and yell ‘How are you!!” – the only phrase they know in English yet. Some of them have gotten in the habit of holding our hands and walking with us for a while. Not sure where that came from though.
On Sunday morning I had planned on sleeping in a little but found out that does not happen in Oyugis. At 8:30 am they start preaching into a loud speaker that can be heard all over the town. It started with a woman singing which was pleasant. But then a man with a painfully hoarse and scratchy voice took over. Apparently he was the main act and sang for the remainder of the morning. I just hope they alternate preachers every Sunday.
Meals have been delicious so far. Our hotel makes a pretty good Spanish omelet (omelet with tomato and onion) for breakfast. Lunch has usually been chapatti and beans or yogurt or fruit and dinner is usually a meat (chicken or beef), cabbage stew or beans and chapatti or rice. I think I’m addicted to chapatti. Its like a pita fried with butter. A thicker and oilier version of naan. People drink chai tea throughout the day and we usually have tea with the mama’s in the afternoon with bread.
Kisii for the Day
Saturday morning Ellena, Amanda and I went to Kisii to run some errands for the project. Kisii is the closest city near Oyugis and is about a half hour drive. The city is mostly on a hill and its a lot more bustling than Oyugis. After looking around for the best packaging for the kitchens and stopping at the bank we had lunch on a patio. They had a DJ at lunchtime, which seemed odd but it was nice to sit on a patio – they are few and far between in Oyugis. In Kisii, the disparity between wealth and poverty is much more apparent than it is in Oyugis. There are people with obvious wealth but you also see street kids who walk around sniffing glue. A couple of kids asked us for money and although we didn’t want to give them money that they could easily spend on more glue we bought them some fruit, milk and bread.
On Monday, Amanda and I took a matatu to Kisumu (the biggest city in Western Kenya and about a 2-hour drive from Oyugis) to pick up Kinleigh and Jackel, two Ivey students who will be in Kenya with us for the next couple months. They had spent the last two weeks in Mwanza, Tanzania observing the yogurt kitchen there. We also met up with Rebecca (the other Ivey student doing research in Kenya) in Kisumu. She’s there for the next couple of weeks and it was really nice seeing her. Jackel and Kinleigh’s flight got in at 6 pm so we spent the night in Kisumu. It was nice being in a bigger city and having access to the luxuries I’ve gotten used to not having, like pizza, milkshakes and Internet. In comparison to Oyugis and Kisii, Kisumu seems like a huge city – it even has a movie theater and shopping malls! Kisumu is on Lake Victoria and Amanda and I went and had lunch down by the lake the day we arrived there. There are a bunch of identical restaurants selling the same thing that line the lake. It was a beautiful view but tarnished a little by the fact that people drive their cars down there and wash them in the lake. And also that that’s where all the street kids hang out and sniff glue. It was interesting eating there but I’m definitely not in a rush to do it again. We returned to Oyugis with more ‘Mzungus’ then I think most Oyugians have seen in their lifetime, so we stand out a little.
My first week in Oyugis was spent getting updated with what’s going on at both kitchens. For the past year the World Bank has been funding both kitchen’s operations. The World Bank has been conducting a study looking at the benefits of probiotics for people living with AIDs. The Oyugis kitchen has been supporting the study and gives out most of the yogurt they make to clients of the study on a daily basis. The study terminates in July along with the funding. As of right now, one of the biggest challenges both kitchens must deal with is sustainability once the funding from the World Bank ends. Each kitchen has their own set of obstacles to overcome in the next couple of months in order to ensure their sustainability in the future. Since Jackel and Kinleigh’s arrival, we have spent a lot of time at both the Oyugis and Kadongo kitchen observing daily operations and getting to know the Mama’s. We’ve also been getting out into the market and trying to get a sense of the consumers perception of our product. Our goals for the upcoming couple months are the following:
- Develop and implement a marketing/advocacy plan for the product
- Standardize both kitchen’s products (same size and price)
- Look into getting the Quality Mark for the product so the yogurt can be sold in stores
- Develop packaging for the product
- Find a consistent supplier for the packaging
- Help Mama’s develop their selling and recordkeeping skills
We have our work cut out for us but I think the biggest challenge is going to be making sure we work WITH the Mama’s rather than imposing the systems and methods that we’re used to and work best for us at home. Business in Kenya is very different than at home and takes some getting used to. Meetings, for example, are a full day event. A meeting that is scheduled for 1 pm will not actually start until 4 pm and then last at least 3 hours. We had a meeting on Sunday with representatives from both kitchens to set a standard price and volume of the yogurt to sell. We prayed before and after the meeting, which was a new experience for me. Throughout the meeting, there was no outright leader and everyone was reluctant to voice their real opinion. Making decisions was a slow process and it was difficult to know if everyone was actually on the same page in the end. Our meeting on Sunday was with just the woman from the Kadongo kitchen to discuss internal issues within the kitchen such as theft in the kitchen, wages, woman coming late to work, etc. At this meeting the woman were far more outspoken because the issues directly affected them on a day-to-day level. Again, we prayed before and after the meeting and I’m not sure that everyone was on the same page at the end of the meeting. The meeting was completely in Luo (one of the Mama’s translated for us) but I think some of it must have gotten lost in translation. So that is one obstacle we’ll have to continue to work on. Next week will be a very busy week of work with lots to get done!
Kenya: The Heart of Africa
The past few weeks I’ve spent in Kenya I have found that everyday has been a learning experience. Like every culture across the world, Kenya is incredibly unique. Their culture, lifestyle and perspective is so greatly different from what I have I always known as second nature. Everything from how they interact with each other to how they do business varies from what I’m used to at home. People are incredibly welcoming and always make a point of inviting you to their home every time they see you. They always have the time to greet you and stop on the street and shake your hand. Since I’ve been here, I have yet to see someone who looks like they’re in a rush. People are incredibly considerate and caring towards other people. They always ask how everyone is doing and where they are, even if they have only met them once. And they will randomly call each other to simply say hello and see how their day is going. They take the time to care about other people and what is going on in someone else’s life. But I have noticed an odd relationship with foreigners. It seems like there is almost a sense of entitlement, where people think that foreigners come to Kenya with unlimited funds to give away. And it seems like because of past experiences of receiving aid from foreigners that has, for some people, become the expectation. Of course, as with all generalizations, this certainly does not apply to everyone I’ve met. I have met people here who are incredibly generous and eager to extend their Kenyan hospitality. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances that a lot of people live in, they have a lot more to gain than lose by asking a foreigner for money or some form of charity.
Although I’m not in South Africa and Kenya did not actually qualify for the World Cup, the excitement about the World Cup being in Africa is contagious. Kenyan’s are proud that Africa is hosting the World Cup and the games are always exciting to watch here. We met a girl who works for a U.S. aid agency that is setting up big screen blow up TV’s around Africa in underdeveloped areas that would normally have limited access to TV so they can watch the games. They have a site about 10 minutes outside of Oyugis and we’ve gone and watched a couple games. The whole community comes out and watches the game. It’s a really fun atmosphere and great idea.
It’s also an interesting time to be in Kenya right now because on August 4th the country is voting on a new constitution. The new constitution is very progressive thinking and I think it would be a huge step forward for the country. It would create more power sharing in the government and work towards limiting corruption. Right now Kenyan ministers are among the highest paid in the world and don’t pay any taxes. They also decide their own salary and as far as I’ve been told the elections are mostly based on who can pay to get the position. I’ve also been told there’s a lot of nepotism. Either way, they’re not the most legitimate appointments. The new constitution would put limits on the ministers and give the President less unquestioned power. It would also give women more rights, etc. But it does have some controversial aspects such as legalizing abortions and gay marriages. There is a No camp and Yes camp and right now there is a lot of debate as to whether there will be violence or not. Surveys are saying that the vote is leaning towards Yes but it will be very interesting to see the lead up to the vote and what happens.