Camping in Kisumu

Actually it wasn’t Kisumu but Seme about an hour out of the city. The 8 hour drive was great until we got lost, in the dark, and the directions we had didn’t match what we could see. Then it became a 10 hour trip.

Seme (sem – aye) is right on the edge of Lake Victoria. It’s a very small village, up a long dirt road. Think of close to Uganda, just below the Equator and that’s where we were. It’s in the Nyanza District.

These students are in school for 11 hours each day. We got to spend an hour with them.

These students are in school for 11 hours each day. We got to spend an hour with them.

We were visiting some new friends who are helping with our visa requirements and are also putting up a childrens home. Pete has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to practical things but especially putting up buildings. Many people lose money in construction here because of dodgy builders who do a half decent job and never return.

How we got around Seme

How we got around Seme

While the weather in Seme was warm (29 degrees) we had to pass through rain and hail storms to get there. In fact we missed the turnoff from Kericho to Kisumu because we just couldn’t see anything, way too much hail.

From visits to other places I expected our hosts to live in a very small one bedroom house. Instead they had built a beautiful 3 bedroom, two storied place. On the second floor was an open walled meeting area which looked out over the lake. It was lovely.

The view from upstairs

The view from upstairs

Because we got there so late we slept in the house that night and pitched the tent the next morning. The weekend was full on with visiting families, filming for BeyondWater, giving out a health pack to a soon-to-be mother, playing games with the kids at church and even a community consultation forum. In between Pete was able to peg out the building on the land.

Lindah, our host, showing a soon to be mum how to use the things we had bought her.

Lindah, our host, showing a soon to be mum how to use the things we had bought her.

Sleeping in a tent is great. That is until your blow up bed unexpectantly goes down in the wee hours of the morning. And it’s not so great to discover that you’ve pitched the tent right next to the chicken coop where a rooster starts crowing at 4am. I can do without running water and electricity but a rooster…. He was lucky not to become dinner.

However, having a fire burning and everyone sitting around it having a good time is priceless. Last year we bought a bunch of fireworks but never lit them off in case the neighbours thought it was gunfire. So we took them to Seme and within 10 minutes they were all gone. I don’t know whether they just aren’t as good or when you’re small everything is bigger and better, but fireworks just aren’t as good as they used to be.

Teaching the kids 'River/Bank'.

Teaching the kids ‘River/Bank’.

At least in the country you can see the stars. There’s too many lights in the city. It’s quite noisy at night as the sound travels a really long way, especially when a lake is involved. It seemed someone up the road liked to party every night. In truth, it was probably miles away, but it still went all night. Of course, when it’s dark, it’s really dark. Our wonderful hosts are trying to organize solar power to their house because the electricity provider is making it impossible for the average person to afford to get it connected. We brought with us 3 small solar lamps which lit up their house (and our tent) wonderfully. Apparently since we left, they’ve invested into one and the kids love it.

The camera doesn't do justice to the sunsets we saw.

The camera doesn’t do justice to the sunsets we saw.

One thing I really noticed in Seme is that there’s this massive lake (Victoria) and it’s the only water supply for the area. It’s also very unclean. People bath in it, pollution comes from Kisumu onto the shores, it’s for drinking by humans and animals and for washing your clothes.

collecting 4

Lake Victoria is the biggest in Africa and it’s the largest tropical lake in the world. However, the people living around it have so many waterborne diseases. Thankfully our friends had a really good water filter.

When you live in this area you need a filter like this one.

When you live in this area you need a filter like this one.

Lack of clean water, no electricity, slow internet. If you’re fussy about any of these things, don’t go camping and don’t go to remote areas. When you’re there you find instead wonderful, hospitable people, young people hungry to learn, little children who love to laugh and communities who do it tough, but always with a smile.

With a face like this, why wouldn't you want to come back.

With a face like this, why wouldn’t you want to come back.

Our friends thought we had really gone bush by tenting at their place. We felt honoured and spoilt by everyone and can’t wait to return.

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Big Changes

We’ve been in Kenya for 20 months so I thought it was time that I shared about a few things we have had to change since being here.

1. No Hot Water

Our apartment is three floors up. If we had our water cylinder connected up it would cost us $200 a month on our power bill. Instead we had instant water heaters on our shower heads. So, before you jump in the shower at our place you have to flick a switch by the door. The good thing is that you don’t have to wait for the water to warm up before jumping in.

The downside is that we don’t have any hot water that comes out of the taps. We put on a large pot of water to boil while we’re having dinner and because we have gas it doesn’t take too long to heat up.

This is our showerhead.

This is our showerhead.

When there’s no power in the mornings I only have 2 options – a cold shower, or heat up water in our trusty pot  and have a wash. I’ve done both and guess which one I like better?

 

2. Electricity

One thing you can guarantee about the power being on, is that it won’t always be on. For 3 weeks out of a month it seems to be pretty good and then for one week it’s off and on. If the electricity goes off I don’t even bother resetting the alarm clock until I go to bed at night. We have a solar lamp sitting on our windowsill so it’s always charged up. The longest we’ve been without electricity is 24 hours. We got so bored that night we went to the mall to do grocery shopping. When we bought a washing machine we especially got one that restarted at the same place when the power came back on.

 

3. Towels

I was really challenged by one of our colleagues about how we used new towels every second day. She said ‘Why, you come out of the shower clean, I wash mine every 2 weeks?’ It got me thinking as to why we do what we do. While we have lots of towels, my friend has ever only had one. Of course, when I heard this I was shocked and even though she never asked for it, I blessed her with some more. She had never had a new towel in her life before. So, just to shock you, we use the same towels for a week before they go into the wash.

 

4. The Car

Carjacking’s happen here often. So, every time I get in the car the first thing I’ve got into the habit of, is locking the car doors. Even when we go through smaller towns where traffic moves slowly and there are plenty of people around the car, the doors are locked. I often have my phone hiding under my thigh so if I’m ever carjacked they can take my money and my car but I at least have a way of contacting someone. The number one rule though is never run out of petrol.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

5. Don’t Shop Just At The Supermarket

We have a good number of supermarkets here – Nakumatt, Uchumi, Chandarana and lots of shopping malls. There’s also smaller shopping centres dotted around the place. To get any gluten free food I need to go to a shop called HealthyU. Stuff there is awfully expensive but what choice do I have for such things as flour and cereals that I can actually eat and not get sick.

The best place to buy fruit and veges is at roadside markets or out of Nairobi. Generally people think that everything in Africa is cheap – I wish! We travel an hour each Thursday to a place called Kiserian where we spend the day on a training farm. Bananas are half the price there. Overall fruit and veges are cheaper here than back in Aussie but besides that groceries are way more expensive.

duka

Dukas are handy little shops all over the place.

If we need credit for our phone or we’ve run out of something we don’t need to travel up to the supermarket, instead we have around 3 little dukas (shops/stalls) around our place. Be in avocadoes, dishwashing liquid or a bottle of Coke, they have it all. I only meat I get at the supermarket is chicken and mince, anything else is a plain ripoff. Instead we go to independent butchers. Mind you, we found this one around the corner from our house and it stinks to high heaven – never a good sign.

meat

I’ve never bought meat from a place like this.

When stuck in a traffic jam you can buy bags of fruit from the vendors who walk amongst the cars. They also have newspapers, kites, earplugs, maps and toys available.

We haven’t bought any of our furniture at the shopping mall or any furniture stores – it is just way too expensive. Instead we got things made by fundis (tradesmen) who make furniture at the side of the road. If we ever had to leave the country we would definitely get stuff taken back that was made here.

 

6. Flowers

Oh my goodness, they are so cheap here – all of the time if you shop at the right place. For $2.50 you can pick up a big bunch of roses. This price is only from the small stalls on the side of the road. If you buy flowers from the florist or in the malls they will be the same price as back in Aussie.

flowers7. Security

I noticed when I was back in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year I didn’t have to worry about security and we got really slack. Here you will find guards at every gate, bank, ATM, shopping centre and car yard. It’s not unusual to find guys from the army or police officers with rifles walking around. When you go into the mall or even a church your car is searched. It’s a hassle but better to be safe than sorry. Mind you, Pete asked a guard one day what he would do if he saw a bomb in a car and he said they would all run! Once you enter into the mall your bags and body are checked. Poor Pete, he has a metal pin in his leg and it often goes off. When there’s a threat in the city we are pressured to avoid any public place. We get security updates from the NZ and Australian High Commissions. While we don’t ignore them, we pretty much carry on life as normal. There are a lot more dangerous places to live in the world and we have this philosophy that when it’s your time, it’s your time. I just don’t want it to happen slowly and bit by bit. There is more danger travelling on our roads than terrorism.

guards

It never feels scarey having the army or guards around, unless one of them jumps in your car and points the gun at you!

Of course you also have to change how you speak, and not just in language. You have to learn how individual friends come from different cultural backgrounds and how to respond to them appropriately. What works in your home country doesn’t always work here. You can’t wear short shorts, travel long distances at night and yes, the food tastes different. Driving is insane. The people different.

If it wasn’t different here what was the point in coming?

 

Living Without Technology

The last month has been one of the most frustrating all year – for technology anyway. Technology is great, when it works. When it doesn’t I feel powerless and want to throw my laptop out the window – which of course I don’t do even though I feel like it.

techI’ve spent endless hours and Skype calls between Nairobi, Auckland and Sydney trying to sort out our new website and emails. I built this new website but couldn’t get it launched because of name servers, login details and email systems that wouldn’t work. Then of course, there’s the electricity which decides to go off for hours. In fact we had almost 2 days without power. Just to top it off the battery in my laptop decided to crap out so it decided all by itself when and where it would go.

Can you imagine being without power, the internet, your phone or computer – for a whole day? How do you work, talk to people overseas, find out addresses, look for businesses, design material, contact people or prepare school lessons?

masai

Masai warrior

I see people on Facebook who say they are going to do a fast for a week or month from it. While that’s nice, I see other people complaining that the power went out for two whole hours and their life was miserable. The thing is, we are so reliant on technology that I don’t think any of us can really do without it. I see Masai men herding their cattle in the middle of nowhere who access apps to see what the price of meat and veges are going for at the market.

lap

The only way to make my charger work.

One of the things we miss is the convenience of life, including access to technology. Living without it is a pain in the butt however it’s the reality of life for millions of people. So we learn to celebrate when we do have it, and survive when we don’t.

Here’s how we manage our challenging situation in Kenya:

  • Keep electronics charged 24/7
  • Put on surge protectors
  • Make sure you have enough credit on your phone for both airtime and the internet
  • Carry a plug in internet flash drive (with credit loaded)
  • Put at least 1,000KES (about $10) on your Mpesa system
  • Remember the cafes that have free wireless internet
  • Have a solar lamp powered up and ready to go
  • Have spare lights around the house
  • Buy a washing machine that automatically goes on when the power returns

What is your plan of action for living without technology?

Thank you, thank you very much (Elvis)

In October last year Pete, Liz and I left our home, our family and friends and our youngest daughter to move to Nairobi, Kenya.

Note that I said moved and not just to visit.

There is a huge difference from going somewhere for a couple of months each year to actually packing up and relocating. Sure, people will put up with your habits, idiosyncrasies and weird ways of doing things. Give it 6 months and they may want to quit before you do!

There are days when it is really satisfying, especially when you can help one of the local leaders do their job better, or when a teenager who never talks to you comes up and says ‘Thanks, keep on doing what you’re doing, it’s great’. Other days suck to the max.

You get over every second guy on the street yelling out ‘Muzungu’ (yes I do actually know that I’m white but thanks for pointing it out anyway). Or the traffic is so bad it makes you want to beg the next driver to do you a favour and run you over. Or you just want to be with old friends but know that YOU’VE made the choice to leave them.

Moving country, especially to a developing one, is not for the faint hearted. I think I’ve discovered more about myself than anything else in the 7 months we’ve been in Kenya. I don’t always like what I see, but I hope it’s a passing phase.

Sometimes we just want to escape Nairobi and get away from it all. We do that by going to look at potential water projects out of town. That may mean driving to another country but it’s worth it. Personally, I’m looking forward to going to Tanzania later in the year. It’s only about a 5 hour drive (okay, add another hour at the border) but that’s nothing. We’ve a number of friends there doing stuff like schools and training programs and I think I’m going to enjoy just being with them for a few days.

While you can’t always escape a situation, you can always do something really out there. For me, it means having a latte. Sure, you can mock, but I’ve never been into coffee so to go and actually pay for one and drink it is a huge thing. Pete and I have found it a way of doing cheap therapy. Mind you, there’s this really nice gluten free brownie that is phenomenal.

Amongst it all, I am truly grateful for what we have right now. We have electricity, which is a bonus, especially since it’s been off for most of the last 3 days. Today, we got curtains for two of the bedrooms. It’s got to beat having a blanket up there. Last week, a very generous business offered us the funds for a car – that is absolutely huge. I love it when I get Facebook messages, text messages or emails from people to let me know they haven’t forgotten we exist.

Thankfulness is a real key to being in a place like Africa. You get to rejoice in the little things – like having access to a flushing toilet or a car that someone lends you. But it’s also being thankful when things don’t go your way. The Bible says to give thanks IN everything, not necessarily for it. I’m not overjoyed when I know that some of the kids in the child sponsorship program are struggling with alcoholic parents, aren’t making it in school or may be married off in their mid teens. But I am thankful that they can actually go to school and get a chance to make their future different.

So, I can sit and whinge that there’s no electricity to cook Pete a nice roast meal, or I can get over myself and get the gas going and put it in a frying pan.

thanks

Yes, this is sometimes us.

The Challenges of Living in the Third World

I hate the wording ‘Third World’ it seems so second handy and demeaning. I’ve been living and working in Kenya for 5 months. While it’s early days yet, there is no time for putting one’s feet up and enjoying the scenery.

There are some big challenges here though:

1. Language

Just when you think you start understanding Kiswahili, you try and enter a conversation and you’re blocked out. On top of that there’s the different languages in different areas and then the slang called ‘sheng’ which is the street language in Nairobi. Having lessons is like going back to school. I’ve taught English as a second language for years, now the teacher has become the student.

2. Electricity

Or the lack of it. When we travel to the farm, an hour away, it’s in a rural setting. You expect the power to go off there and brace yourself for heating up water on the gas stove and use the headlamp to get around. You don’t expect to be in the city and have no power for days on end. So, you have to compensate by using solar, making sure everything is charged when there is power and know where the torch is. I’ve got my laptop down to 2% just before the power returned.

It’s amazing how having lights and access to electricity can change your mood. Sure, we have a TV and an office on solar power but to be able to work in the light makes you feel better.

3. Internet

Where we are living there is wireless internet but for no apparent reason it just stops working. This usually happens just when you urgently need to find something on the web. I’ve resorted to getting a plugin modem that I can use anywhere. $2.50 of internet can last for weeks, so it’s rather handy.

It’s amazing that you can be in the middle of nowhere, and you run across (as opposed to over) a Masai warrior dressed in traditional clothes and there he is on his phone Tweeting about events in the field. I’m off to Uganda next week so here’s hoping I have no hassles in getting the internet there. Not that I;m addicted to the internet but without it I can’t work.

4. Clothes

The clothes shops in the malls are so expensive, I’m talking about label price for something that isn’t. There are plenty of places you can buy cheap second hand clothes but I don’t have the time nor the patience to go hunting for them. Pete refuses to buy second hand, it’s below him. Import duty here can be between 75 – 125%, uping the prices hugely. We bought enough clothes to last us a year but now I realise that most of my tee shirts are black. I’m not a floral person (I do like flowers) and a lot of clothes have flowers on them. I hope to head to Sydney in February next year and I sure will be shopping there.

5. Being Forgotten

We made the choice to come to Kenya. Nobody forced us, no one twisted our arms, we came of our own free will. I totally understand that everyone’s lives are busy but it’s frustrating when your old friends don’t keep in touch with us. It is true that when you are out of sight, you’re out of mind. In our online world no one has an excuse to not keep in touch. I remember the CEO of Compassion years ago saying that the thing that breaks his heart is that so many sponsors don’t write to the children. I totally understand this. Not that I’m expecting a letter but the odd SMS, email, hi on Facebook goes a long way. I work about 90 hours a week and sometimes the work is overwhelming. Then, I get an SMS from a friend just to say hello and it encourages me to go on.

To me, relationships are the most important asset we have in life.

All the other things like terrible roads, limited money, distance from family, long hours and still not being in our own home pale in comparison to the opportunity we have in impacting the lives of young people here.

Challenges are here not to break us but to make us into better people.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself anyway!

Me and the girls

Me and the girls