Saturday, July 28, 2012

Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara Day 2

I will let Wikipedia explain the park:
The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also spelled Masai Mara; known by the locals as The Mara) is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It is named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from afar: "Mara", which is Maa (Maasai language) for "spotted," an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area.

It is famous for its exceptional population of Big Cats, game, and the annual immense migration of zebra, Thomson's gazelle, and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, known as the Great Migration.
On our second day in the Mara, we spent the entire day in the park. According to our itinerary, we were supposed to get up early for the sunrise. However, after such a long day, none of us were that interested in waking up so early. We agreed to head out around 9 am. I was up earlier and could tell that the light would had been wonderful, but I was glad we didn't try to race the sun just for a couple of nice scenery shots. The likelihood we would have found any big cats on the prowl (which is the main goal for the sunrise excursions) were slim and the extra sleep was welcome.

Once again, immediately after we entered the park we found zebras. Next we spent a pretty lengthy time covering all the ground and peering into all the underbrush in an area where a cheetah was known to hang out, but luck was not on our side. Instead we drove further into the park, enjoying the scenery. One minute I would be looking out across the landscape at a sea of golden grasses leading up to distant hills, and the next minute someone in the van would call out [insert animal's name here] and point to a spot just to the left or right of where I was looking and I would discover an entire herd of antelope or a family of elephants. We had stopped close to one group of elephants, but I could tell our driver was a little antsy. He had something else in mind.

Maasai Mara Day 2

As we approached the area, I wasn't quite sure what we were looking for. However, based on the number of tour vehicles lined up and grouped around, it was something exciting. At first, I was looking all over on the ground, in the bushes. Then our driver said "leopard" and pointed up into the branches of the tree.

Maasai Mara Day 2

And there he (she?) was, curled up in the branches, taking a nap. We staked out a space with the other tour vehicles and watched the cat nap for a while. When I wasn't watching the cat, I was watching the lenses.

Maasai Mara Day 2

There were at least two vans of people with lenses like these, clearly getting better pictures of this leopard than I ever could. This van in particular was causing a little bit of a commotion. The driver had staked out the best spot and had no intention of moving. Unfortunately, the best spot also blocked the movements of other vans to and from the area where the leopard was and also kept other groups from viewing the leopard. There was a little horn honking, a little engine revving, and a little yelling as other drivers tried to maneuver around this van.

After the leopard, we made a brief rest stop at the Keekorok Lodge located in the heart of the Mara. A lodge at which I could never afford to stay. A lodge where I even felt unworthy of using the restroom.

Then we were off to find Tanzania.

Maasai Mara Day 2
Us at the Kenya/Tanzania border.

When you are in the Mara, you are not allowed out of your vehicle. There are many reasons for this rule, I am sure, however, the biggest reason is probably that it is bad for business when tourists are eaten by lions. I get the impression that the border is a common place for people to get out.

Not far from the border, we took lunch at a spot by the river that is clearly the lunch spot. We were joined by some little friends who are quite fond of the lunch leftovers common here.

Maasai Mara Day 2

Of course, at least one of them was quite fond of digging around in the hippo poop too, so that doesn't say much about our lunch leftovers.

Oh, did I say hippo poop? That this the true main attraction of the river. Not the poop, of course, the hippos.

Maasai Mara Day 2

Just as we thought it was time to leave, we discovered we couldn't leave this spot without paying a man dressed in camo with a semi-automatic WWII-era rifle to give us a tour. And so we followed this man down to the river to look at more hippos and some crocodiles.

After the hippos, we were heading on our way back to our camp when there was quite a bit of excited chatter on the CB. Our driver immediately diverted from the road home and started us on a long, circuitous journey into the hills. In the distance, we could see a herd of tour vehicles gathered on a side of a distant hill. We joined the pack and stared intently into the tall grasses. Hey, what exactly are we looking for here?

Maasai Mara Day 2

Ah, a cheetah. But where is he? We asked a man in a nearby vehicle. He pointed into the grass, "its just there, in the grass." No matter how much I stared, I could not see anything. Clearly, camouflage works. Cale, however, was able to capture this image. Suddenly, one of the tour vehicles darted off the dirt road and into the grass, circling around to the other side of the cheetah. After a few minutes, the truck then took off at top speed leaving behind the pack. After we had left the area, our driver explained that the tour vehicles are not allowed off the dirt paths, so technically, all the vehicles that swung around for a look at the cheetah were breaking some rules.

After the cheetah viewing, we returned to our camp. That night there were mashed potatoes on the buffet. I ate about a pound of them

— Sara

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Great Migration

Maasai Mara Day 1

Every year the wildebeests and other grazing animals, such as zebras and antelopes migrate in a clockwise circle through the Serengeti in Tanzania and into the Maasai Mara in Kenya. As these prey animals move to better feeding areas, the predators, such as lions and leopards, travel with them. The peak season for this migration into Kenya begins in July. Of course, so do the peak season prices.


The day Cale was in Kisumu paying for our trip to the Maara to see the animals the headlines in the local paper trumpeted the start of the Great Migration.

Our journey started on Saturday morning in Kisumu. We were supposed to be up and ready by 7 am for pick up. By 7:30 there was no sign of our ride. Cale called our travel agent, who said “they should be there; do we see a green van?” Nope. Finally, at 7:45 we decided to just walk the two or three blocks to the travel agency. Once there we discovered they were just opening up. The girl that could work the credit card machine (and could take our companions’ payment) hadn’t arrived yet. In addition, we had tried to pick up the itinerary the night before, but our matatu had not arrived in Kisumu early enough in the evening. Luckily we hadn’t tried too hard to make it in time because when the credit card machine girl arrived, she also typed up our itinerary. Though we were supposed to leave at 7am, we didn’t hit the road until after 8 am.

The drive to the Mara took seven hours. The landscaped changed dramatically has we headed south. We entered into an area of rolling hills covered in tea farms. We saw signs for huge companies, such as Unilever and Lipton. After the tea farms the hills became father apart and the vegetation more sparse. More cacti appeared and the landscape began to resemble the American southwest.

We had one lengthy hang up along the way. As we passed into the county that contains the Maasai Mara park, we were stopped at a road block. Men in camo jackets came out of a tin shack on the side of the road and an argument with our driver ensued. We, of course, had no clear idea of what was going on. After they had taken our driver inside the tin shack, we sat in the van wondering if he would ever return. In the end we learned that the county, which runs the park (not Kenya Wildlife Services), had decided to move the payment for entry tickets from the entrance to the park (which makes sense to me) to the entrance to the county itself (which is strange to me, especially since they were stopping cars for payment based on their guess of whether or not they contained people who intended to go to the park). Our driver, who had just taken people to the park the week before, had no idea that this change had been made and had no way of knowing if these guys were legit. Apparently, it was all sorted out eventually. The guys were in fact legit, and we were off on our way again.

When we arrived at the gate to the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve, there was brief wait as our paperwork to be sorted out. During that time, Maasai women enveloped the van, thrusting handicrafts into our faces. If the window was not open, they would open it. They would set items in our lap, piling them higher and higher. We had been warned about this in advance by a earlier group who had gone to the Mara, so we were a little prepared. We knew the name of this game was for them to pile up the most wares for the lowest price. Cale negotiated down four carved wooden items to 500 Ksh. Later we would buy an entire rack of beaded necklaces and bracelets for 1000 Ksh.

Maasai Mara Day 1

As we drove past the gate, into the park, I was immediately struck by the animals. On the outside of the gate, we had seen a few animals that fit into the category of what I am calling deer (impalas, gazelles, antelope, etc.) and wildebeests. However, just on the other side of the gate the landscape was filled with zebras, deer varieties, wildebeest, and topi. By the end of our time we joked that they must have some sort of special zebra feed just by the gates. Any gate we entered, there were always a herd of zebra nearby.

Maasai Mara Day 1

That first day we drove in the park from about 3:30 pm to about 6:30 pm. In only three hours we saw animals at every turn. Apparently, most tourists are particularly interested in the big cats. Seeing the lions, cheetahs, and leopards are a big deal. While we were in the park that afternoon, lions were spotted. Most of the tour vehicles have CB radios inside and the drivers keep up a constant chatter of what animals they are seeing and where. When word goes out about the big cats, most of the vehicles in the park converge on that spot. Our driver liked to keep us in the dark so we could guess what animal we were approaching. Unfortunately for him, even I understand the Swahili word for lion, simba. So we all knew we were coming up on some lions. Cale was able to determine that they were young lions as well from the word watoto (which is plural for child). We came upon at least three juvenile male lions sleeping in a bush. They were mostly covered by the bush (and flies as well), so they were hard to see or photograph. In addition, the bush was literally surrounded by tour vehicles with people leaning out trying to take pictures.

Maasai Mara Day 1

Speaking of pictures, I saw the photographic gamut in the park. From the cheapest camera phones to high-end cameras sporting $20,000 USD lenses. I experienced quite a great deal of lensvy. The best cameras and lenses were always in the hands of Asian tourists. I clearly need to go to Asia. I also experienced camera frustration. So many people with reasonable DSLRs, who clearly had no idea how to use them. I was also constantly amused by the people, hundreds of feet away from an animal aiming their little point and shoot at it in broad daylight, and the flash goes off. First, that picture is not going to turn out anyway. And second, that flash did absolutely nothing in this situation.

Maasai Mara Day 2

Once we had finished our drive, we were dropped off at our accommodations just outside the park gates. The Manyatta Camp (which is the Maasi word for house or home…I am told) was great. I took a hot shower. There were three different vegetable dishes for dinner. I slept soundly in the only place in Kenya where the bed I was sleeping in was in place that was both quiet and dark.

— Sara

Sunday, July 22, 2012


The day after our Fourth of July celebration, we made another trip to visit our interns in Mbakalo. Cale and I rode up on the motorcycle, while the Drs. W and Andrew made the trip in the car.

Side note: Dr. W's wife, also Dr. W had arrived in Kenya just before the mid-internship retreat. Andrew, who had been interning in Mtongwe (just south of Mombasa), had moved back to Mumias due to the travel warning in Mombasa. 

We were doing an intern swap. Jasmine had a very important wedding she was missing in the States that weekend. She wanted to come to Mumias in the hopes of an internet connection strong enough to let her watch the wedding on Skype. I was worried it wouldn't work, but it turned out to be a great success. Andrew was going to spend the weekend in Mbakalo so he could experience rural Kenya and hang out with Dani.

Cale and I decided since we would already be in Mbakalo, we might as well continue on to Eldoret and spend the weekend there. Cale had decided we needed to treat ourselves and had made a reservation at the Naiberi River Camp, which was about 16 km outside of Eldoret. Based on the pictures on the internet, it was going to be quite fancy.

The ride to Mbakalo was more than two hours. Then, from Mbakalo to Naiberi, we rode another three or more hours. Along the way a soft drizzle began to fall. In addition, we continued to climb in altitude to more than a mile above sea level. The combined altitude and rain made the temperature plummet. When we finally arrived at the camp after 5pm, my toes were frozen (I had only sandals and socks on), my teeth were chattering, and I was miserably damp. We made our way to reception, where a plaque on the door proudly proclaimed Bill Gates had slept here in 2009 (a copy of the plaque also hung behind the reception desk).

We were shown to our "log cabin" room, which turned out to be a cement cell with a lumpy bed that sloped off to one side. Damp and cold, I whined to Cale, "What happened to the rooms in the pictures on the web site?" So we investigated. As it turns out, the web site pictures were "executive rooms." So we had them show us the executive room, which was significantly better. It had a large bed that was very comfortable. We were particularly excited about the spacious porch that overlooked the valley and treated us to the sound of the river flowing below. It seemed idyllic.

Unfortunately, it was also freezing! Immediately after we got the room, I crawled into the bed fully clothed, piling extra blankets on top. Cale found hot water bottles in the closet. After they were filled, I hugged them to my body under the covers. Cale went to the restaurant to arrange for drinks and chips (fries).

While he was away, the dance party started. The nature sounds and the rushing river were replaced by booming bass punctuated by the occasional shout and scream.

We were able to drowned it out in the room by playing our own music while we ate fries and hugged hot water bottle. While we were eating, someone came to start a fire in a standalone fireplace on the porch. Once the fire was nice and hot, we went to sit on the porch by the fire. It would have been a perfect setting it it wasn't for the dance party still rocking up the valley.

We retired to bed and waited for the dance party to end. If anything, it got louder. I tossed and turned, getting angrier and angrier. I tried calling the office several times, but there was no answer. Finally, as it worked its way past midnight, I could not handle it anymore. We were paying 7,000 Ksh a night for this room. Almost $90 USD a night is a lot to pay for any place to stay. You would expect to at least get some sleep. In addition, we were pretty sure that the people having the dance party were the teenage children of the (we assumed) owner that we had seen earlier in the evening.

We climbed out of the warm bed and tromped through the cold damp to the restaurant. I demanded to see a manager. The employee at the entrance to the restaurant didn't want to find a manager, but she kept insisting that she would end the noise. However, she also said the party was other guests. I kept asking, how, if this party is for other guests, can you just end it because two people complained. Yet immediately after we returned to our room the music ended. Even so, it still took me several hours to get to sleep around 3 am.

The next morning, we made our way to reception to dispute the bill. There was no way we were going to pay 7,000 Ksh for a night of no sleep. If we had wanted that, we could have stayed in Eldoret town for less than 2,000 Ksh. The argument over the bill was quite interesting. We were first informed that it was our fault for not complaining earlier. Cale continued to point out that their shirts all said "Back to Nature," yet a dance party is not nature. Then they decided that it was our fault for not telling them when we made the reservation. Really? We should have know to tell you when we called to reserve a room at a nature lodge that we didn't want to stay by a dance party? Cale reasonably offered to pay half (3,500 Ksh) since we were able to sleep half the night.

During this entire interaction, we continued to ask to see the boss or manager. Finally, we were introduce to a Raj. We were told he was the boss. Raj insisted he was not the boss. He claimed he was the designer of the lodge, but that someone else was the boss. Either way Raj decided to use his business skills on us. He declared we could stay another night in the executive room and pay the price of the "log cabin" rooms for both nights (5,000 Ksh per night), and he would pay the difference from the price of the executive room. His treat. In exchange for this deal we would have to have dinner with him that night. None of this sounded like a good deal to us. It was just a way to get 10,000 Ksh out of us rather than the current argued price of 7,000. Plus, we could still stay in town for less than 2,000 and get just as much sleep. We were having none of it. Raj then declared it wasn't his problem and walked off.

During this entire transaction the lady at the desk was growing increasingly sullen and accusatory of us, which did not incline us to see it from her perspective. An additional employee arrived, and she was quite nice. She agreed that the noise wasn't good. She said that the person with the room next to ours is usually up at 6am, but was not up that day. She assumed because he was kept awake all night too. Just having someone validate our problems made me feel better. If we had been working with her all along, things might have gone better. However, she also confirmed for us that the party consisted of Raj's kids and the tour drivers. It was not guests, but employees and employees' kids.

Finally, the sullen woman spoke with someone on the phone (or so she claimed, I still wonder if this Raj guy was not the boss all along, despite his claims to the contrary) and agreed to our offer. So we paid 3,500 Ksh, hopped on the moto, and headed back to Eldoret.

Though it was still raining and bitterly cold, we decided not to head directly to Watercrest. We knew that once we got to our room, we would not go out again. Instead, we dragged our wet, cold, mud-covered selves into Nova Cafe, and the day became 100 times better. Cale had real coffee. I had a real chai latte. We also had eggs benedict (which were nothing like eggs benedict, but were still amazing).

Cale called Watercrest. They totally remembered us and totally had a room for us. We climbed into bed there and pretended that Naiberi never happened. That night, we had dinner at Mama Mia. We had eaten there before and were not impressed with the pizza. Despite the Italian name and fare, the restaurant is owned by Indians. We deemed it a smarter practice to order Indian dishes from an Indian-owned restaurant and we were not disappointed.

While we were waiting for our food, Dr. Mamlin and his wife Sarah Ellen came in with a large party. Sarah Ellen peered at us suspiciously and came over to our table. She explained she was the warden for the region (which the internet tells me is an embassy liaison) and she usually knows all the Americans in the area. We explained we were just visiting and were actually staying in Mumias. I also told her that I had seen her presentation at the Women's Philanthropy Conference in Indianapolis.

That night we slept soundly at Watercrest and were up the next day breakfast at Nova Cafe before heading back to Mumias.

— Sara

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

July 3rd Cale and I took the moto to Kisumu to drop off some keys with a student who had forgot them in Mumias after the mid-internship retreat. Since we were already in town, we decided to stop at the Nakumatt to find the fixings for a proper Fourth of July. We knew we weren't going to find any fireworks, but we figured we might find some hotdogs or hamburgers. After looking at every tubed meat product in the cooler, we settled on something that most looked like hot dogs. They were labeled as frankfurters and the package guaranteed at least 65 percent meat! How exciting, 65 percent meat!

In addition to the hot dogs, we also had actual Heinz ketchup (there is nothing that we would consider ketchup in Kenya) and yellow mustard. In addition, I made potato salad; an avocado, tomato, onion, and lime salad; and a mango cobbler. Cale made tortilla chips for the avocado salad.

Fourth of July

We sent out an invite to the interns in the Mumias area and had a small celebration of America. The meal was quite the success.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ACCT International: Mid-Internship Retreat

As an indication of how far behind I still am in blogging, I will now write about the mid-internship retreat, which occurred three weeks into six-week internships. Internships that are now two days from being over. Hmmm....

As part of our program, we wanted to bring the interns all back together in Mumias at the half-way mark so they could commiserate, share their experiences, and possibly learn from each other. In the Peace Corps we had a Mid-Service Training. Basically, you all get together, you bitch a lot, and you feel better about things when you have to go back to your site. In the Peace Corps, it is a sanity check that happens after a year. I had hoped for something similar for the interns, with the understanding that three weeks and one year are vastly different periods of time.

Luckily, in addition to my plan for guided bitch sessions, Dr. T. had actually planned some activities related to the assigned readings and the students' mid-internship reflection essays. So it qualifies for a six-credit, graduate-level course much more than what I had planned, sitting around with Tuskers and sharing stories.

However, the most important part of the mid-internship retreat was probably the salon and kinyozi that ended up happening on Pam's back porch.

Haircuts and styles at Pam's

All in all, I think it took five of us to successfully cut Dani's hair. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes all of ACCT International to cut Dani's hair.

Haircuts and styles at Pam's

Though Dani was quite brave. It was clear, at times, she was a little worried.

Haircuts and styles at Pam's

— Sara

Kenya: Tidbits

This is a random collection of notes I have taken:

In Kenya, everyone introduces himself or herself. Everyone. Any time our group of 13 students, plus three faculty, plus one student leader, plus at least one driver, plus most likely a Mumias Sugar representative, and possibly plus Cale went anywhere another group of people will have also assembled. We will all introduce ourselves to each other.

On a few occasions, during these great introductions, I took note of someone introducing themselves by saying, “My names are…,” typically followed by their first and last name. When thinking about this, it makes complete sense. My name is Sara. My names are Sara Reeves. Obviously.

A phrase from one of our mentors I will endeavor to use in the future: “Polite rudeness.” Also: “The pocket has to talk.”

Keys in Kenya are fabulous, as illustrated below. These aren’t just the keys to an old freestanding wardrobe or some sort of treasure chest. These are the keys to your front door (or, in the case of the keys below, to your back door). These are not old or antique front doors either. Stop at any hardware store and you will find brand new locks sporting these keys.

Kenyan Keys

So I made a note that the TV is always on in Kenya. However, it has occurred to me that it is likely the TV is always on in the States too. So…nevermind on that. However, I think I have determined why it stands out to me here. The TVs that are on all the time here are also blaring at top volume, whereas the TVs that are on all the time in the US are usually on mute.

Whatever brief period of time in the early 2000s that Eve and Gwen Stefani made a song and JLo and Ja-Rule made a song, you know, when Nelly still existed? Music from that period of time keeps popping up randomly.

Also, one day we were at this other local guesthouse, Guesthouse 70, and song after song were straight out of the Samoa play list. Maybe there is just a developing world mix CD that contains that Akon song and Beyonce music from five to seven years ago?

You know those tiny grocery carts in the US? The ones for kids to push along side their parent so they feel like they are grocery shopping too? Those are just a normal shopping cart option here in Kenya. You walk into a Nakumatt and you are faced with a small selection of what I would consider a normal-sized grocery cart, a small selection of baskets (the kind you carry), and a large selection of the tiny, kid-sized carts. I find it a little hilarious to see all these grown adults leaning over to push these tiny carts around the grocery store.

Have you washed your car recently? How about today? And yesterday? And the day before? How about every day at every opportunity? Ah, well then you must be Kenyan. Kenyans LOVE getting a car wash.

Most heard phrase in Kenya: “Feel welcome. Feel most welcome.”

Bata is the Starbucks of Kenya. Not that it sells coffee. It doesn’t. It sells shoes. But in any town, it feels like there is one on every corner. In addition, Cale points out that shoes are the coffee of Kenya, in the sense that you can buy shoes just about anywhere, the same way you could pick up a coffee just about anywhere in the States.

Speaking of coffee, what is it with the rest of the world and Nescafe? That is nasty instant coffee. I could sort of understand it in Samoa and SE Asia where they do not grow coffee. But they grow coffee here in Kenya and they are right next door to a country famous for its coffee, Ethiopia. Yet coffee in Kenya means Nescafe. When we first arrived we were speaking with a Kenyan who was telling us what nice coffee they had here in Kenya. Cale was excited for some delicious local brew, until she pulled out a bottle of Nescafe.

Speaking of Ethiopia, Laura from Samoa is there right now (and by right now, I mean she just left and is in South Africa now). She raves about the food and coffee. A sign of a delicious cuisine is when you can find restaurants specializing in that food outside of the country of origin. There are, for example, Ethiopian restaurants all over the US. I have never seen a Kenya restaurant. I am just putting that out there.

Every morning, thousands of insects commit hari-kari on our back porch.

— Sara

ACCT International: The Greenhouse

When interns Dani and Jasmine arrived at their internship site in SOTENI Village of Hope Mbakalo, they first completed a Community Asset Map. This is a common participatory development tool that involves taking inventory of a community’s assets. It is considered more positive and productive to start with what is right, rather than what is wrong. This empowers a community to build off of its strengths, rather than feeling overwhelmed by its problems.

SOTENI VIllage of Hope Mbakalo

One asset identified by the community was the greenhouse. The greenhouse is located next to the town dispensary / SOTENI offices. It is clearly not operational. It was in such a state of disrepair, that I immediately took notice of it when Cale and I visited Mbakalo. Dani explained to us that the likely abandoned structure was a community asset. “Are they growing anything in there?” I asked. Dani admitted that she had not looked inside yet, so we wandered over to peek in. Obviously, no. “Do you suppose they ever grew anything in here? Where did it come from? Did SOTENI build it?” I wondered. But, we had no idea. Since it was time for Cale and I to be heading back to Mumias, we left the greenhouse a mystery.

Several weeks later, I received a text message from Dani, “I learned the story behind the greenhouse.” And so, I eagerly awaited Dani’s upcoming trip to Mumias to learn the mystery behind the greenhouse (oh so Nancy Drew).

The Greenhouse: An International Development Parable

APHIA Plus is a USAID-funded umbrella program present throughout Kenya run by a consortium of organizations. It seems to incorporate a wide range of programming. I say seems because an ongoing joke for our SOTENI Mbakalo interns is that no one really knows what APHIA Plus does. Dani’s internship project is supposed to be with the APHIA Plus programs in Mbakalo, and she was having a hard time figuring out what APHIA Plus was and what it did. When we met with the SOTENI International executive director, she too was unclear on the program and welcomed any information Dani was able to gather.

Apparently, several years ago, APHIA Plus decided all the villages it operated in needed greenhouses to grow tomatoes. And so, APHIA Plus went out and built greenhouses. However, as far as Dani could determine, that was the end of it. The people of Mbakalo did not know how to farm in a greenhouse and the correct type of tomato seeds were not available in Mbakalo. The greenhouse was never used. The plastic sheeting used to create the greenhouse began to disintegrate and break off. Later, children came and pulled more of the sheeting down, leaving the greenhouse in its current state of disrepair.

So, despite the greenhouse having never been used and currently being entirely unusable, the community considers it an asset. I also assume that APHIA Plus counted it among its output indicators: Number of greenhouses built? At least one in Mbakalo.

And that is the story of the Mbakalo greenhouse.

— Sara

ACCT International: Mbakalo

SOTENI VIllage of Hope Mbakalo

Cale and I made an unexpected trip to Mbakalo to deliver something an intern had left behind in Mumias. We made this two-hour trip on the moto (piki-piki). That was when I made the video footage Cale used to create the moto in Kenya video. The video did not show the true situation of driving in Kenya. For example, I wanted to get footage of driving through Bungoma on a market day (as Cale and I first did when we took the moto too Eldoret). Though I did shoot driving through Bungoma on the way to Mbakalo, it was not a market day and not nearly as crowded. I was also unable to get any footage of all the cows randomly in the road or being herded down the road, making driving more of an adventure. In general, during times when the driving was most adventurous was when I didn't want to have more than $1,000 USD in camera equipment hanging out the side of the moto.

Mbakalo is a SOTENI Village of Hope. SOTENI is one of our partner organizations and we have interns placed at two of their villages, Mbakalo and Ugunja.

Mbakalo is beautiful. Dani gave us the tour, including the dispensary:

SOTENI VIllage of Hope Mbakalo

which houses SOTENI's office:

SOTENI VIllage of Hope Mbakalo

It it was interesting to imagine the amount of work done and the number of projects managed from this small space with inconsistent electricity from a single solar panel and no internet access. Our interns are getting the opportunity to see conditions on the ground in international development.

— Sara

Monday, July 16, 2012

The After Party

Post-Game Dance Party

Pam traditionally invites the entire team back to her house after a game in Mumias town for a cookout and, clearly, a dance party. We got to party with the team. It was a successful cultural immersion/sharing experience. The footballers introduced us to Kenyan song and dance

Post-Game Dance Party

We introduced the footballers to flip cups.

Post-Game Dance Party

There was also a little awkward hugging and photograph taking.

Post-Game Dance Party

It was at this point that Cale decided we should act more conspicuously married, which basically entailed Cale standing next to me a lot and holding my hand.

All in all, the night ended well...if late. Cale and I finally bailed around midnight. However, since our bedroom was next to the dance party, we knew the fun went on until 2 am.

— Sara

ACCT International: Football Match

AFC Leopards v. Sony Sugar
Cale took this amazing shot. 

As I mentioned before, Pam is like the team mom for the Mumias Sugar national football team, the AFC Leopards. I also mentioned the team was in Mumias for a couple of weeks of training (which is how we ended up eating lunch with the team at the Impala Sanctuary in Kisumu).

Later that week, the Leopards also played a match against their rivals, Sony Sugar. The Sony team is sponsored by a competing sugar company, South Nyanza Sugar.

AFC Leopards v. Sony Sugar

Pam was kind enough to invite those of us in the Mumias area to the game. Since the game was on a weekday, Pam said there was not as large a crowd as you would see on a weekend. The Leopards have quite the following and people will caravan in buses from Nairobi for weekend games. We will have the chance to see the crowds when the Leopards play in Mumias again this coming weekend.

Regardless, there were still quite a number of enthusiastic fans, including this guy, who is wearing a Mumias Sugar bag for a shirt. Oh, and has painted himself blue.

AFC Leopards v. Sony Sugar

— Sara

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Name This Plant

Name This Plant

Typically, for a Name This Plant, I only post the outside of the plant and wait until after it is named to post the inside. However, I think this plant is so obscure that I am going to post the inside too. Of course, someone will now prove me wrong and know what it is immediately.

Name This Plant

— Sara

Friday, July 6, 2012

Impala Sanctuary...with the AFC Leopards

Impala Sanctuary

On Sunday, after I had "recovered" from my fauxlaria, I just happened to have lunch with the AFC Leopards at the Impala Sanctuary in Kisumu.

Hmm...let me explain.

The AFC Leopards are a professional football team here in Kenya (that's soccer to you Americans). They just so happen to be sponsored by Mumias Sugar and Pam is sort of the team mom. The team was in Mumias for a couple of weeks for training and a game. Pam wanted to take them on a field trip, so she had arranged a bus to Kisumu and a lunch at the Impala Sanctuary. Pam was kind enough to invite the ACCT International participants who were in Mumias along for the field trip. Most of the students rode on the bus with the team. However, due to my still delicate intestinal situation, Cale and I rode with Dani in the truck with Kwena and Athman.

From my experience, the Impala Sanctuary is a zoo in Kisumu. And a sort of sad zoo at that. Granted there are impalas and zebras wandering the grounds uncaged. Leslie and Meredith survived a zebra stampede of sorts. I did not see any zebras myself.

Impala Sanctuary

However, what little else I saw were large animals in small cages looking sad. There was a white rhino missing its horn in a tiny enclosure and a cheetah looking like it desperately wanted out to eat the people staring at it from the other side of a chain link fence. In general, these sorts of zoos make me sad, so I decided not to continue exploring.

However, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service web site, there may be more to the sanctuary than I saw:

"The Sanctuary, grassland and woodlands ecosystem is located about 3km from Kisumu city. The ecosystem hosts leopards, hyena, olive baboons and vervet monkeys. It also provides grazing lands for Hippos, habitat for numerous small mammals including the threatened Sitatunga, and supports a variety of reptiles and birds species."

After lunch, Cale and I went in search of a guesthouse for the night. The plan was for us to spend the night and for Dr. W to come back the next morning so we could continue on together to another town about two hours away where two of our interns would be staying the last three weeks of their internships. Due to extenuating circumstances the next morning, that I cannot remember now, Dr. W. was not able to meet us. Instead, Cale and I rented a taxi (with the assistance of Leslie's host mom) and made the journey ourselves. We took a look at the homestay house, gave it our seal of approval, turned around and headed back to Kisumu.

It was a long day and we stayed in Kisumu once again. We had dinner at Haandi, which I highly recommend, and drinks at Green Garden, which I also highly recommend. The next day we caught a matatu back to Mumias. We made the mistake of getting on one that went to Kakamega first, so a journey we thought might take two hours took four. In addition, during one point when the matatu stopped to pick up an additional passenger, the conductor added a box to the trunk and failed to latch it properly. After we had continued down a road just a bit, we stopped suddenly and the conductor ran out. Cale and I looked back to see that the trunk had swung open and our bag had fallen out on the side of the road. The conductor was running back to pick it up. We appreciated him.

More later.

— Sara

Eldoret III

On Wednesday in Eldoret, I woke up feeling sore all over. I attributed that to our 12-hour day on rural roads. However, I was also feeling a little of the gross belly. I attributed that to the lunch we had at one of the schools the day before.

When the call came for Rivatex around 9:30 am, we went to pick up Cale’s suit. It was a definite improvement over Monday; however, it was still quite large in many places. There was extra fabric in the legs and arms. In addition, the stitching in some places wasn’t too impressive. The buttonholes, in particular, were not professionally finished. In general, it was not a stellar suit. The suit shirt was also still wrong. Cale had requested French cuffs, but the shirt was regular cuff. On Monday, he had painstakingly explained French cuff to confirm they knew what he was talking about. However, the shirt was still regular cuff when we returned on Wednesday. We knew there was no point to attempting to have additional changes made, so we decided to go with it. We were then a little surprised by the price. Cale had originally been quoted 3,000 Ksh for the entire suit, but when he was given the bill, it included an additional 800 Ksh charge for the shirt. Based on the exchange rate ACCT got for our wire transfers to our Kenyan account, it looks like Cale’s entire suit still cost less than $50 USD. That is nothing to sneeze at. However, it is every penny of a $50 suit and not a penny more.

During this entire transaction, I was mostly horizontal on a bench not feeling super well. We debated if I felt well enough for the four-hour ride home. I didn’t want to spend another night in Eldoret though and decided to just suck it up and head out. It was a good thing I did, as later that day is when we suspected I had come down with malaria…though after only two days of fever, it was probably not malaria.

Speaking of my fauxlaria, the Kenyans of our household were insistent that riding the motorcycle is what caused the malaria. According to the general consensus, riding the motorcycle makes you cold and can get you sick, even with malaria apparently (a disease well known to be caused by mosquitoes).

— Sara

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ACCT International: Kapsabet

To Kapsabet

Tuesday we woke up in Eldoret with plans to meet up with Isaac, one of our intern mentors with our partner organization Aqua Clara International. ACI has offices and a guesthouse in Eldoret and we planned to check it out to see if it was a place the interns could stay if they came into Eldoret for work.

Isaac picked us up at 9 am and drove us to the guesthouse/offices. It was a relatively simple space that was clearly originally intended as a single family living space. The living room had become ACI's offices that consisted mainly of a couch, a desk, and a laptop. There was a kitchen and three bedrooms, which served as the guesthouse. The main purpose of the buildings seemed to be storage. Two areas outdoors were housing the materials for the biosand filters that ACI supplies to local schools.

After we had seen the space, he asked if we wanted to go to Kapsabet. Two interns were stationed there at the time, and he had plans to visit schools in the area and planned to take them along. Having nothing else to do that day, we hopped in his station wagon and headed out.

When we arrived at the host family's home we discovered the interns were at a local university meeting with a professor. After we spoke with the host mother and shared some chai, we were on the move again to locate the girls. Isaac told the host mother he would have them back near 4 pm. When we picked up the interns, we discovered they had no idea they were heading out on this trip. It appears we were all in for a surprise adventure.

At the first school we visited we met up with a local teacher (though not from this school), who was serving as the local project manager Waterlines, an international NGO that does water projects. According to Isaac, the teacher was volunteering to manage this project, and Waterlines was not compensating him. From what I could tell, Waterlines had funded guttering systems and water tanks for several schools in the area. In addition, Waterlines was now partnering with ACI to provide each school with three biosand filters, three clean water storage containers, and three hand washing stations. The purpose of these school visits was to check on the gutters and tanks and for Isaac to negotiate a date to bring the ACI materials, train the school in their use, as well as provide training to community guests in water-related health and sanitation issues.

At each school a large group of people was assembled to meet with us, ranging from the principle and head teacher, to representatives of the school committee, to a majority of the teachers present that day. We all introduced ourselves to each other and, as visitors, we were required to sign the guestbook. At each school we were also treated to a gathering of the students and, typically, a song.

At the first school, inspection of the gutters and tank were very disheartening. The cement tank had been constructed on the highest point on the school grounds, making it impossible for any rain water collected by the gutters to be fed into the tank. The tank was not in use at all. In addition, the gutter system was only installed on a single side of a single roof and was poorly constructed. Even if the water could be funneled to the tanks, the school would continue to lose out on a significant amount of water from the un-guttered roof space and the leakage in the one guttered section. The second school we visited also did not have a functioning gutter system. Of the other three schools we visited that day, two had relatively functioning systems. However, one had an impressive system gutter system that collected water from all the roof surfaces on the compound and then piped them underground to a huge cement tank (I cannot remember, but maybe 60,000 litres) that was easily filled in only two or three days thanks to the efficient system. What was interesting to me was that this was clearly the most affluent of all the schools and that school already had a water tanke before Waterlines had partnered with them to build the second one. Each school was required to put in some part of the construction costs and it is clear that this wealthy school was able to build a functioning system, while the other schools struggled.

Isaac took the opportunity of arranging the installation of the donated water purification materials to educate the people in the meeting to the needs of the school children and the responsibilities of the school towards these needs. According to UNICEF, children need 2-3 litres of water per day. Most of the schools we were visiting that day had 300 or more students. In order to meet the needs of the student body, the school would need the capacity to filter at least 600 litres of water per day. Each of the donated filters could produce up to 60 litres of filtered water. However, only three filters were being donated (up to 180 litres) leaving the schools short of the needed filter water for their students (though I am assuming that at that time the students were probably not drinking the amount of water they needed anyway, much less water that had been filtered or boiled). Isaac explained the effect dehydration can have on children and how properly hydrated children could be better students. He also stressed the importance of the hand-washing stations. Isaac indicated there should be one for each classroom. For most schools, this would require an addition seven to 10 hand-washing stations. He stressed to the schools that it is important for them to contribute towards their students needs as well and that they should consider ways to purchase these additional materials. However, he was also insistant that they wait until after the first three had been installed to ensure they knew how to properly use and maintain them. He made it clear to the schools that if the donated materials were not used properly, he would remove them for use in schools that could use them properly.

When we left in the morning, Isaac indicated he hoped to visit two or three schools. However, as the day drug on, it was clear he intended to visit all five of the schools in the partnership. The hours slipped by as we rode six people in a five-seater car. I spent most of the rough ride over dirt roads in poor shape sitting with one butt cheek on a sliver of car seat between Cale's legs or just sitting on his lap. When we finally dropped the interns off at their host family around 7 pm (three hours later than indicated), I was exhausted. However, we still had the ride back to Eldoret, another hour. We offered to take Isaac out to dinner, as we were starving. When he finally dropped us at our guesthouse, we had spent 12 hours with him that day. Cale and I dragged ourselves into bed and passed out.

— Sara

Monday, July 2, 2012

Eldoret Part II

We woke up leisurely on Monday morning in Eldoret and eventually made our way to Rivatex. As it turned out, our guest house was not very far from the factory showroom and we were able to walk. The main mission of our trip to Eldoret was to pick up the suit Cale had ordered when we visited with the student group several weeks before.

The suit picking up was immediately hilarious. When Cale took the shirt out of the bag and held it up to his body the bottom of the shirt hung down to his knees. Hmmmm....this seems a little large. Let's just try on the rest of the suit shall we?

Cale disappeared behind a curtain and emerged a child playing dress-up in his dad's suit. He was just swimming in this suit. At first glance, there was not a single measurement that was not comically large. Cale has a 40 inch chest. The suit jacket measured at a 46 inch chest. The pant legs were so large Cale could trap the fabric between his hands up against his leg and still have extra fabric hanging out beyond his hands. The shoulders had an extra two inches on each side. Strangely enough, the waist fit perfectly.*

*In addition to the fit, the fabric was surprisingly green. Cale was pretty certain that the fabric he had picked out was much more khaki colored, but this fabric was clearly an olive drab. However, at that point, there was no point in arguing the fabric was also wrong.

Then began the half joking, half serious inquiry from the staff at Rivatex, "Is this not a suit for your dad?" Cale was not super amused and pointed out that even if it was, his dad is smaller than he is.

The tailor who had taken the measurements and made the suit was called over to inspect his work. He brought along his book with the measurements written down. First, the suit was measured and these measurements were compared to what was in the book. Hmmmm....the suit chest is 46 inches, yet 44 inches is what is written down in the book. The suit shoulders are so many inches, yet there is a slightly smaller number written down in the book. And so it went, which just about every measurement (except that perfect waist) the measurement of the suit was several inches larger than the measurement in the book.

At this point, Cale had to intercede and point out that he was of the opinion that the measurements in the book were not right either. As Cale went about instructing the tailor how to re-measure him and demonstrating how the material should be, a look of realization came over the tailor's face. "Oh," he said. "You want it fitted?" I believe that Cale was a little flabbergasted. What is the point of having suit custom tailored for you if it is not fitted? He said as much. Everyone else in the room seemed to think a fitted suit was pretty funny.

The tailor clearly did not want to do anything about the ill fit of the suit and the other employees were clearly amused by the tailor's discomfort, commenting on the poor fit and indicating he would just have to start over. I could tell the tailor was hoping if he stood there long enough with out saying anything, Cale would just accept the suit as is and leave. Cale was having none of it. Finally, the tailor had to agree to fix the suit. Seeing as how Cale had not paid for the suit yet it was really his only option. Initially, the tailor wanted another two weeks. That was unacceptable. We were not going to have to return to Eldoret again in two weeks. Cale countered with tomorrow. They settled on Wednesday. The tailor wanted 4 pm. However, if we stayed in Eldoret much past noon on Wednesday, we would just end up having to stay yet another night since we did not want to be on a moto on the way home during the afternoon rains. Cale countered with 11 am. It was finally settled that Cale would call at 11 am to see if the suit was ready and that we would have it by 2 pm at the latest.

After the suit debacle, we went to hang out with the local Peace Corps Volunteer Hannah. We met her at the Nova Cafe (which Cale and I immediately recognized as the Eldoret Sydney Side Cafe). Cale had a burger with bacon and cheese. He said I could have a bite, but the next time I looked up the entire thing was gone. Next we wandered the city trying to find an open bar where we could sit and have a drink and relax. This turned out to be more complicated than we thought. We commented on how Kenyans are not day drinkers. We never see Kenyans having a drink at the club in the afternoon. Hannah shared that technically it is illegal to sell alcohol before 6 pm in Kenya. Well that was news to us, as no one had ever had a problem selling us a drink before then, but it sort of explained the no day drinking phenomena. We eventually made our way to Shakers, which had outdoor seating and cold Tuskers.

When we left Hannah, we caught a moto back to our guesthouse. Immediately after jumping on the moto, we found ourselves in a giant traffic jam. The boda-boda didn't want to wait and drove off the road and up onto a dirt pedestrian path on the side of the road, causing pedestrians to jump off to the side. The path had a light pole in the middle and rose bushes on one side. We escaped with only a few thorn injuries.

Tune in later for our surprise kidnapping where we spent 12 hours visiting schools in rural Kapsabet.

— Sara

Sunday, July 1, 2012

31 Years Young

Sara's 31st Birthday

I forgot to mention, I turned 31. The ladies at Pam's house bought be a cake at the Khetia's and decorated my chair. I also had a guest of honor badge. The cake was hilarious. It was so hard, Lauren had to use a knife to carve out a circle in which to insert the candle. It took all my body weight to cut through it. We all decided it must have been the display cake. However, later we discovered shelves of them at another store. Apparently, a rock-solid, upside-down heart is a birthday tradition here.

— Sara

Dear Doxy

Heat Rash
Contrast enhanced to highlight toe rash, which does not photograph well. The toe rash is shy?

Before coming to Kenya, I had declared my intentions to not take anti-malaria medications.*

*It has just occurred to me that I start a majority of my blog entries with a prepositional phrase. Cale has also pointed out that I split an infinitive. So there is that.

We never took anti-malarials during our three months is SE Asia and were fine. I never got dengue in Samoa either. I was utterly convinced that I had wonderful mosquito-bite avoidance techniques. I was also insistant that Africans live in Africa all the time and don't take anti-malarials all their lives. Of course, people pointed out to me that they also die of malaria.

There were two reasons I did not want to take anti-malarials.

  1. I listened to an archived This American Life about a Fulbright Fellow who lost time and had complete amnesia after having a sort of psychotic break caused by his anti-malaria medications.
  2. I didn't like the idea of taking long term a medication that is not recommended for more than four weeks with out the risk of liver or stomach damage.
Dr. T was particularly unhappy with this decision. To appease her, I asked about anti-malarials during our interview with the nurse in the IU Travel Clinic. This was when I discovered that the medication that Dr. T takes (and was recommending) is a rather common antibiotic that I had even been on before. I took it for my boils in Samoa. Apparently, you don't have to take the ones that are also hallucinogenic. 

And so, I agreed to take doxycycline every day for four months starting the day before we arrived in Kenya and ending a month after we get home. 

One point that Dr. T kept making was that doxycycline makes you more susceptible to the sun and that you will have to wear more sunscreen and cover up more. I completely dismissed this. I figured, hey, I was on this drug in Samoa and didn't have any sun problems. I also figured, eh, more risk for sunburns?  I am a redhead that rarely burns, what's the worst that could happen, I become like a regular redhead?

This was a mistake.

As it turns out, the more susceptible to the sun is not just you will burn faster or more easily. It is you will get a random painful itchy rash in random places on your body. Say, for example, on the tops of your toes (even under the nails) and the tops of your hands (mostly on the knuckles) and no where else.

As Wikipedia explains, "An erythematous rash in sun-exposed parts of the body has been reported to occur in 7.3 [to] 21.2 [percent] of persons taking doxycycline for malaria prophylaxis. One study examined the tolerability of various malaria prophylactic regimens and found that doxycycline did not cause a significantly higher percentage of all skin events (photosensitivity not specified) when compared with other antimalarials. The rash resolves upon discontinuation of the drug."

So I am in the lucky seven to 20 percent. I always knew I was special.

I suppose the toe rash is my own fault. I did ride the four hours up to Eldoret in sandals. With the tops of my feet facing up at the sun the entire time. I also had our frame backpack on my back with our supplies for our overnights in Eldoret and in order to balance myself on the bike, I leaned forward with my hands on my knees. So the tops of my hands also faced up at the sun for four straight hours. I learned my lesson and when we took the bike to Mbakalo (more on that later), I wore socks with my sandals. There are just some situations in life where you have to forego style I suppose.

The rash actually persisted for two weeks or more. I finally bought some hydrocortisone and that seemed to speed up the healing process. My right hand is still dry and scaly feeling and still itches occasionally, but in general I appear to be rash free now.

More on the rest of the Eldoret trip to come.

— Sara