Thursday, 30 August 2012

Last dance

It is officially our last night in Kenya. I guess one would call this feeling bittersweet… though for us, it’s a lot more bitter than sweet. We are not ready to leave! But, school awaits. It has been quite a while since I last posted – mostly because we have been busy and having lots of fun. We just returned yesterday from a week long vacation in Uganda. In a word, I think amazing would suffice. It is truly just a beautiful country. Bu before that let me back up. On our last full weekend in Kenya, we decided to do an overnight on Lake Naivasha, located just about 2 hours away from Nairobi. We arrived on Friday evening and stayed at a cool campsite/hostel place called Camp Carnelly’s. It is a beautiful property right on the lake with lots of room to camp, bungalows to rent out and dorm rooms with beds to crash on. 

Lake Naivasha at dusk
We (obviously) went the cheap route and opted for the dorm. It was fine… except for when we were attacked by biting ants during the night. Thankfully we survived the attack and got a little sleep. Camp Carnelly’s had a really great bar/restaurant area with big comfy couches, huge pillows, lanterns a nice camp fire. Perfect spot to spend an evening drinking beers and playing cards. In the morning Ellen, Ben and myself headed in to Hell’s Gate National Park. (Poor Nate had some sort of food poisoning and had to miss out on the fun.) Hell’s Gate is a really unique place in many ways, the first being that you can bike around the entire park. And bike we did – about 20 km in total. When you first start off on the bike path/road through the park you think to yourself “oh this is lovely, fresh air, nice scenery”… and then you come around the first bend. And everything changes. Some of the largest and coolest rock formations I have ever seen in my life. The scenery was just breathtaking, so massive, so much wide-open space that my photos could never do it justice.

Did I mention the animals? They were everywhere, just hanging out on the road or just off to the side. On our ride we saw I don’t even know how many zebras total – 200? 300? Something like that, maybe more. Warthogs, antelope, giraffe, baboons (tons!) and more. Not to mention the birds. It was really special to be on bikes because the animals don’t really hear you coming. It made for a more natural and surprising experience… both for us humans and the animals. 

Question: when a baboon crosses by you on a dirt path then waits on the side of the road right next to you, what do you do? Run by fast? Walk by slow? Wait? we waited until he walked away, pictured here.
Lunch time

At the end of the trail we chose to take through the park was a place called The Gorge. Literally just a huge crevice in the earth (carved by a river) that you can hike down in to and follow along through it’s winding path. Again, the unique beauty down there is not really something that can be captured on camera. We had lots of fun hiking around, climbing on, over and around rocks, and dodging the tour guides who were trying to lead us around (for a price of course). We prefer to make our own adventures.

At the end of our hike – we didn’t go all the way through the Gorge, as it was getting late in the day and Nate was waiting for us back at the camp – we climbed up out of the Gorge to one of the most breathtaking views I will probably ever see in my life. We could’ve sat there all day, that’s for sure.

OK, speeding up a week. As you’ve noticed I haven’t talked much about the challenging (and rewarding) work we have been doing in Kibera. There are a few reasons for that. Mostly, I have trouble motivating to write these blogs at all, and the fun stuff is more easy to show in pictures and I think more interesting for most people to read. Hopefully when I am back in the US I’ll do one more post about the work and all that I’ve learned (and perhaps unlearned from school) here. That said, if you’re interested in talking with me about the work – just ask! Anyways, back to the fun… UGANDA. Oh my, what a ______ (insert strongest positive adjective you can think of here) trip. We just had such a great time. On Friday of last week after finishing up our work we hopped on an overnight bus from Nairobi to Kampala. A bus seat is not the greatest place to sleep ever, but we made do. We arrived in the morning, got some Ugandan shillings, grabbed some food, and boarded yet another bus that was crossing the country to a place called Kabale, right near the border with Rwanda. Little did we know, we chose the worst bus company in Uganda. (Not my qualifier, we were told this by many Ugandans after the fact). The bus was supposed to leave at 11am and take 6 hours. Or so we were told. What happened in reality was it left at 2:30 and took over 8 hours. But alas we made it. And on the other end were greeted by Nate’s family friend Stan and his son Sam, who ferried us to our hostel. We all slept hard that night and in the morning headed to our real destination – Lake Bunyonyi. One of the coolest lakes I have ever seen – so many islands (27 I believe) and really cool shorelines. Our cab driver out to the lake let us stop at an overlook… what a spectacular view. 

Lake Bunyonyi from the overlook. Gorgeous.

Dirty Helen and the Hongs
We were met on the shore by two men in dug out canoes who helped us paddle across the lake to where we were staying for the night - on one of the small islands at a hostel/resort called Byoona Amagara. This might have been the best decision we made all summer – what a place! All these little cabins and geodomes built into the lush vegetation on the island, with spectacular views. The bar/restaurant was fantastic and cheap… overall just a perfect place to relax for a few days. And that we did. The next day we rented a canoe ourselves and paddled around to a bunch of the islands. We even came across a rope swing (on private property but open for public use!) and had a grand old time playing around on that.

Our island home

That evening we headed back to Kabale, where we were treated to a home cooked meal by Stan and his family. It is always so nice to be welcomed into someone’s home, but I think never more than when traveling. It was a great meal and good company, followed by a great night sleep back at the hostel before hopping on yet another bus back to Kampala. We arrived late on Sunday afternoon and had just a bit of time to explore the capital city, eat some delicious Indian food and head to bed… we needed a good night sleep before our day of rafting on the Nile. Yup, you read that right. We went white water rafting (first time for all of us except Ben) on the Nile.  It was the most badass thing I’ve ever done. No doubt about it. Nile River Explorers company does a really great job and our guide Henry/Loco was awesome. They have several guides on kayaks who travel with the rafts, both for safety and to take your photos as you crash down the 8 rapids (levels 4 and 5). Here are a few…

 All in all a great day, and we stayed at their awesome hostel camp that night, right on the Nile with a gorgeous view. Again, a great spot to drink beer, play cards, and spend the whole next day relaxing before another overnight bus back to Nairobi.
view from the bar on the nile where we stayed. paradise.
And that brings us to now. Our last full day. Sigh. We said lots of good byes today, paid some grant money we owed to contractors and the like. Feeling quite lucky to have spent my summer getting to know these wonderful people (Anthony, Rina, Sylvia, Chris…. So many more) and the community of Silanga, and I could not be more sad to say goodbye. They all wish we were staying longer to do more work and the feeling is mutual. I can only hope there will be an opportunity in the future to return and, as Chris put it to me today, “see what happens with the seeds we’ve planted”.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

wow, that's nice

After a few week hiatus, I am back on the blog. Between our travels and a busy schedule - not to mention the fact that we are coming to the end of our time here - it's been getting more and more difficult to find time to write. Oh, and our power keeps going out at night so that doesn't help either... though it does make for some great card games by candlelight. 

Anyways, last time I updated we were headed to Kisumu to do a hygiene training with a group of midwives there. I am happy to report it went really well! We actually stayed outside of Kisumu in a small town called Ahero, and the training took place in another, even smaller village called Achego. It was a pretty awesome group of ladies - there were some things they knew a lot about, but were eager to learn more about hygiene practices and improving community health. It is especially important for the midwives to be in the know on these issues, as they serve as prominent health care providers in areas where there are very few formal health facilities. Teaching them to make soap was so much fun - turns out that unlike in Kibera where soap is just expensive, it is next to impossible to come by in the village markets. Not only will selling the soap be an income generator for these ladies, it will truly benefit the community as well. I think one of the most fun parts of this training, for us, was how much these ladies loved to sing - and how beautiful it was to hear! They are all part of the same baptist congregation so most were church songs, but with a Kenyan flair. Well, I guess a Luo flair to be exact. All of these women were from the Luo tribe and spoke their native tongue almost exclusively, as opposed to the Swahili we have gotten accustomed to. Luckily, our girl Sylvia came along for the trip - she is Luo and was able to do all of our translating during the trainings. 

View of the Great Rift Valley from an overlook on our drive to Kisumu. My iPhone pic doesn't nearly do it justice.

Rift Valley again. Thanks to our awesome driver, Saidi, for stopping. Side note, he looked exactly like Damon Wayans. Smiley as can be... so great!
Lucky for us, our trip went through the weekend and on Sunday, we had the day to sightsee in Kisumu. The ladies, of course, could not miss church so our training resumed on Monday. Shem and Daniel, the two guys who run the church's volunteer group and organized for us to come do the training, took us all around the town. We started by seeing a hospital where Daniel runs the pharmacy. It seemed pretty well run, but he took us through the pediatric unit which was rather heartbreaking. After that we spent the rest of the day around (and on) Lake Victoria. So beautiful! Hard to imagine how big the lake is.... considering all you could see was water on the horizon, and Kenya only houses 6% of it! There were lots of pockets of beautiful water hyacinths, and the lake is known for having tons of hippos. We rented a boat for an hour and they took us on a hippo hunting tour! We were lucky to see a family of hippos and they kept coming up to say hi! After the sightseeing we headed to a lake side restaurant to gorge ourselves on fresh fried tilapia. Yum yum!

Hyacinths on the edge of Lake Victoria.

Sylvia, Rina and Nate being weird before we got on the boat. Turns out, Nate is even better at carrying things on his head than the Kenyan ladies.

The crew, ready to set sail. Gotta love Daniel's cheesy grin... very un-Kenyan of him.

Hungry hungry hippo!

So awesome! Again, iPhone just does not do this beautiful creature justice. Also, I need to learn how to keep my finger out of the photo when using said phone.

Deeeelicious fish! Sukuma on top and a yummy sauce to go with it. Also, can't forget the Stoney's. Hands down my favorite soda ever. I am considering starting an import business to bring them into the US. This ginger drink is especially delicious when mixed with whiskey.

So that was our lovely Kisumu trip in a nutshell. Since we've been back we've been quite busy finishing up projects here. Renee, our professor, headed back to the US last week so we've been holding down the fort. But this has been a long enough blog post so far, so I'll write again soon with actual work we've been doing - more pad trainings, water governance interviews, bringing in a new 10000 liter tank, business trainings, incinerator installations and more. 

I will leave you with photos of our awesome chapati making lesson last night. Our project manager/BFF Anthony came over for dinner and was kind enough to show us how to make our favorite Kenyan staple food. Apparently he hadn't made them himself in 10 years.... since he got married. As Anthony is absolutely hysterical and a joy to be around, we had a lot of fun. The first half of the process was done by candle light, as our electricity has been having some issues this week. But luckily it came back on.... and our chapatis were fantastic!

Dough by candlelight.

Me, Anthony... and my very first CHAPATI

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Destination Mombasa

Last night we arrived back into Nairobi from a great trip to Mombasa, a beautiful city on the coast of Kenya. It was a mixture of work and play... and we were all very happy to get some play time in. Work wise, we checked out the construction site of a new bathroom facility in a slum there called Bangladesh. They have a fantastic community based organization (CBO) there who are taking on the management of this facility as part of their activities. It was pretty cool to see a facility under construction, as we have only thus far seen the finished product. It was also really interesting for all of us to experience how different this slum is from Kibera. In addition to having a much smaller population, the slum itself is much less dense - spread out over a large territory, open space everywhere which you are hard pressed to find in Kibera - the construction of buildings seemed much better and there was quite a bit of agriculture. Overall I think you could say we were experiencing a bit of slum culture shock. 

OK on to the fun part. I'm going to tell this part mainly through photos because 1) we are leaving for another week long trip tomorrow morning and I am running out of time and 2) I was able to take photos before I dropped my camera and it died. Sad, I know. Anyways...

After spending a night in Mombasa town, we headed out to Diani Beach where were settled in to this lovely little cottage for the rest of the weekend. Fun story - there are lots of monkeys who inhabit these trees. I mean LOTS. And Monday morning, what did we wake up to? A monkey who had gotten into our house, had eaten ALL of our bananas... and proceeded to hang out for while. He was not small. But it was hysterical.

The view from our porch of the Indian Ocean.

The beach, with Rina's name visible in the sand.

Nate, Rina, Anthony and Renee chillin on the beach. I had fun teaching Anthony how to look for shells (treasures) on the beach. Turns out he's pretty fantastic at it and it's now his favorite thing to do. He also now thinks I am a pirate.

Camels on the beach. They charge a ridiculous amount of money for people to take a very short ride down the beach on them, but they are funny to look at.

Rina in front of her parent's newly built retirement home, in the lush highlands of Mombasa. So beautiful! We were lucky to meet her mom, Angelina, and spend an evening there.

The incredible, delicious meal Angelina prepared for us. Like I said we were lucky... and very full by the time we got home. Pictured here: chapatis, chicken, sukuma, corn, cow peas, lentils, potatoes, kachumbari. Yum Yum Yum. I wanted to move in.

And finally, sunrise on the last morning of our trip. Unfortunately the clouds were not cooperating, but it was still beautiful (my camera had died at this point and my phone doesn't really capture it). Luckily the clouds all went away shortly after sunrise, so we got in a few more glorious hours on the beach.

OK friends, that's all for now. Time to get ready for the next trip. Off to Othoo (spelling? we're not sure) a small village outside of Kisumu where we will be doing a hygiene training with 100 midwives. We'll also have some time to explore Kisumu and check out Lake Victoria :)