Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Heri Za Mwaka Mpya

I wish a

Happy New Year

to all who follow my blogs, and to all who know me in Kenya and the UK

Friday, 26 December 2008

A Christmas message

It was Christmas morning and I was sitting in the lounge with my Mum, looking at the [small] pile of discarded Christmas wrapping paper when the mobile shrilled out "Jambo Bwana", the ring-tone signifying that the call was coming from Kenya.

"Mambo, vipi", I said, knowing that the caller was my friend, Vincent, in Kisii.

"Mambo, safi, David", came the familiar voice.

We exchanged greetings and then Benta asked to speak to me.

"Baba, when you come to see me?"

The lump in my throat grew and grew. I cannot answer that. I don't know. I was planning to go out at the beginning of January, but the economic crisis has hit my family hard and I have had to dig into the money I had put aside for the trip.

All I could say was, "Soon. I will come to see you soon."

I could sense the disappointment.

I could also hear Josephat in the background, wanting to speak to me, but this is impossible as he speaks no English.

This little conversation gave a bitter-sweet sense to the rest of the day. Of course, I want to be with my Mum for Christmas, but I yearn to see my girlfriend Liz and her kids, Benta and Josephat - all my friends in Kenya.

Oh well. I will just have to build up the pennies in the coffers again and hope that no more financial crises hit the family.

Benta, Jojo, I will see you both soon.

In the meantime, I raise a glass to absent friends.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Krismasi Njema

On this festive occasion, I would like to wish my reader a


Very Merry Christmas

Thursday, 18 December 2008

How to demolish a bunch of bananas

My Natasha hands out bananas to her cousins from a bunch that she retains control of (just look at that serious expression).

The three little girls feast on the bunch.

You are supposed to take the skin off first!

Natasha's brother, Ian, manages to get one.

The whole bunch disappeared within a few minutes!

Monday, 15 December 2008

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.

... or something like that. Apologies to any Scots if I got it wrong.

But I may have to put off my trip to Kenya as my son has been made redundant and is expected to replace his £350 a week wages with £60 unemployment benefit.

So Dad has had to step in and "lend" him some cash - that which was put away for my trip to Kenya.

Oh well, this recession can't last forever ...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Leap of Faith

I will not be ordering anti-malaria tablets for my next trip to Kenya in January. Apart from the fact that one month's supply costs almost £30, which is a big slice out of my meagre budget, they have horrible side-effects that I can do without.

No, I will be placing my well-being fairly on the shoulders of a solution for which there have been claims that it can prevent malaria, and if the user is unfortunate enough to contract the disease, on increasing the dose, will cure within a couple of hours.

This may be a dangerous action to take, but, I need to know if this stuff really works, and if I want to see the results first-hand, who better to test it on than me - not exactly scientific, but it's the best I can do.

If this stuff really works, then I will have in my possession a product that will flush the disease out of a body at the cost of a couple of pennies. Presently, treatment for malaria in Kenya costs Ksh 2,000, or about £17 ($25 US).

We intend to set up an education programme, aimed at schools. The idea is to show kids how the mosquito breeds in standing water, then show them where this standing water may be, in old discarded tyres, buckets, tin cans, puddles.

They will be encouraged to try and eradicate these breeding grounds, thereby offering fewer places for mosquitoes to breed.

We may also try a leaflet campaign in the town, as long as we can get support from the municipal council (we don't want to be accused of littering or fly-posting).

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Ugali - or how to eat without a fork

Ugali is a maize flour mix, similar to polenta without all the flavouring. It is the staple diet in Kenya, and indeed most of Africa, in different forms and with different names.
On my first visit to Kenya, I was staying in the home of an extended family, and as a consequence, there were a fair number of kids.
Mealtimes were fascinating, with all the kids lined up on the floor, each with a plate of sukuma and ugali. The kids, of course, all knew exactly how to use the ugali - pull a little off, mold it into a spoon, scoop up some sukuma and juice and eat it.

That doesn't look too difficult, I thought and gave it a go. The kids burst out laughing at my attempts. The adults tried not to laugh and I reverted to using a spoon for the rest of my stay. It saved on having to wash shirts!
It struck me as very interesting, how certain societies eat with their fingers. I had a friend visit us from Lucknow, India. He and his wife could eat just about anything with their fingers and not lose a drop. Kenyans are the same.
Communal meal for orphans
We in the "West" seem to have made life very difficult for ourselves by "inventing" cutlery. After all, what is the easiest way to eat a chicken drumstick? By picking it up and gnawing at it, of course. But no, we sit there attacking it with a knife and fork to get the flesh from the bone. Ridiculous!
I am not saying there isn't a place for using knives, forks and spoons, but why did we have to re-invent eating? If fingers will do, then use them!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Finger Trick

So there I was, sitting on my step outside my host's compound, watching the world go by.

I had shown Mwende, my host's elder daughter, a simple finger trick and she started to show all the other kids in the neighbourhood.

I was surprised at just how it caught on!

Mwende (in the yellow dress) demonstrating the trick

Jackson tries it when he thinks no one is watching

Timo gets it - almost ...

... and passes on his knowledge

Winston gives it a go.

Kids wandering down the road are trying it!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

More Vaseline


My friends' daughter, Faith, after finding a pot of Vaseline!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

I have touched on the use of Vaseline in Africa before, in the blog "The Colour of my Skin". Kids seem to love being greased.

But if you are a bit slow, they will set about it themselves. My friend's daughter, Faith, who is about 2 years old, decided that Mama and Baba were too slow and decided to Vaseline herself.

Now, Abigael, having four kids to look after, doesn't mess about with the little jars we get in England. Oh no, she has a 500ml pot. Faith found it. And she plastered herself.

We had to scrape it off her - the picture is after we had got the worst off her!

She was not happy.

-oOo-

When I was in South Africa in the late 80s, I fostered a few street kids. The first two, a pair of 12 year-olds loved the swimming pool, despite the fact that it was mid-winter.

When they dried off, they asked for Vaseline for their skin. I didn't have any, but I did have some Johnson's Baby Oil.

The first kid coated himself with the oil and was quite pleased with the result and was admiring himself in the mirror when the second child came into the room.

"What is this stuff?" he asked, turning his nose up. "You smell like a white kid!"

I wasn't sure how to take that.

Humbled

On my first visit to Kenya in September 2007, I planned to visit Kisii for a day or two to meet Vincent, Abigael and, of course, the children at the home.

I drove there with my associate, Muindi, and arrived late on Saturday evening, and after a wash and a meal, we were taken to the annexe to our host's house where five or six orphans were being housed.

When we entered, the room was in darkness. The light was switched on and before me was a bunch of kids sitting around a table, waiting for their supper. The smallest, who I later found out was Josephat, was sitting on a stool in the corner of the room. Upon seeing me, his eyes widened, his jaw dropped ... and he fell off his stool! I have never had that effect on anyone before, but Josephat was only just 4 years old and had never seen a mzungu.

Of course, the other kids laughed at him, but he didn't care. He soon composed himself and with a big smile, planted himself on my lap, where he stayed until I had to leave.

The following day, a Sunday, most of the kids met up at "the plot", all in their Sunday best. I had a bag of small presents donated by the people in my village, toothbrushes and pencils. I felt very awkward, giving out such mean, small presents.

But the kids were delighted. Just imagine giving a UK kid a toothbrush and one pencil as a present.

-oOo-

Jojo was the first to call me Baba Mzungu (Swahili for White Daddy) and before I left Kisii, he made me promise that I would return.

Of course, I did, the following March, and he was my shadow for the 10 days I spent in Kisii.

The only problem is language. Jojo speaks about two words of English and I speak not many more of Swahili. But it doesn't matter, we sort of understand each other.

And, whenever Jojo does try to speak English, he always precedes it with the word "English".

So, he might say, "Bab' Mzungu - English - Josephat good boy."

Friday, 5 December 2008

Chicken for Dinner

During my visit to Kenya in March of this year, I was called back from Coast, where I had been staying with my significant other and children. I had intended spending Easter there, but business called.

So, on the Thursday before Good Friday, I had to visit the offices of a client in Nairobi, after which I had little to do for the next week or so.

As no one in my hosts' household smoked, I took to sitting on their step outside their compound to partake in my filthy habit. This caused a lot of curiosity amongst the estate's children (and quite a few adults) as this neighbourhod is off the beaten track as far as either tourists or white Kenyans are concerned. In fact, for some of the smaller children, I was the first mzungu they had seen close up.

So, there I was, on the step, puffing away and keeping an eye on my hosts' two girls, who are not normally allowed to play outside, but as I was there to keep and eye on them ...

A chicken was foraging along the pavement, then running for her life as the local kids chased it. When the kids got fed up, she would go back to foraging - until she was in front of me. She cocked her head to one side as she regarded me. At this point a little boy decided to throw a stone at her and he was a pretty good shot. The chicken squawked and ran towards me.

To my surprise, she jumped up onto my step and roosted beside me, really pressed up against me like a puppy or kitten might. This amused the children and they all gathered round to see what the strange mzungu - or the chicken - would do.

I didn't know what to do, so I started to stroke her head, then her wings. Now, I don't particularly like birds. It's the feathers, I think. I like to look at them, I am fascinated when the starlings make wonderful patterns in the sky, but I do not like to touch them.

So, there I was, sitting on a step, stroking a chicken! And surrounded by the neighbourhood kids - lots of them, and the chicken was making cooing noises, which I took to be contentment, although she could have been telling the kids that chased her that she had won this particular round. I don't know. I don't speak chicken.

But my strategy worked. A little boy sat the other side of the chicken and started to stroke her gently. Then the other kids joined in, and the chicken seemed to be enjoying this unprecedented, non-violent attention.

That is until the kid from next door came out and said, "That's where you are. Sir, this is our dinner for tonight!"

Happily, the chicken did not speak English. But I bet she was one of the happier chickens to meet her maker.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

More tea, sir?

As in Britain, or at least, England, when you make a social visit in Kenya, you will be offered a cup of tea. Now, the Kenyans are justly proud of their tea, most of which is grown in the western highlands around Kericho.

Which begs the question, why, when they can produce such wonderful tea, do they slaughter it in their preparation of it for drinking?

Tea is served from a Thermos, with a lot of milk and sugar already added. Now, I like tea with a dash of milk and a slight sprinkling of sugar, so I find that tea, as served to me in Kenya is a little too sweet and a little too milky.

In a café in Kisii, I ordered coffee while my two companions had tea. I was not surprised to see the waiter approach the table with a Thermos, but I was surprised when my coffee was served. I was given a pot of hot water, a cup and a tin of Nescafe - do it yourself coffee.

Now, this wasn't a greasy Joe café, this was THE place to be in Kisii!

OK, so I traversed the country to a small village on the coast, not far from Malindi, to spend some time with my to-be significant other and the children. As Sig. other was working, it was my job to get the kids ready for school and make sure they had breakfast before they left. This second was a bit of a trial as they were very keen to get to school (Kenyan kids love school - how refreshing!).

Ian (6 years) usually takes tea with his breakfast. Not thinking straight, I made it with a tea bag in the cup with the usual splash of milk.

"What is this? This is not tea!"

I apologised and offered to make him tea à la Kenyan.

No, Baba, I like this, but what is it?"

"It is English tea. Tea, the way we make it in England."

"I like English tea. You take me to England. Now!"

My Sig.Other also liked my version of tea, although I guess that she will have reverted to the Thermos method while I am not there.

I was not so lucky when I got to Nairobi. Since the PEV, my host's house was (over?) full and making special tea for the mzungu was a task too far.

I did, however persuade the little café next to the office to bring me a tea bag, a pot of hot water and a little milk - so refreshing.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Juggling Money

Although I am based for 9 to 10 months of the year in the UK (more's the pity), I still have "living expenses" in Kenya, not least of which is the rent for a little house on the coast, where I stay when in the area, and where my significant other half and her children live.

The rent is not excessive, but it means sending money from the UK to Kenya every month. I have found myself recently watching the UK pound against the Kenyan shilling on a daily basis to get a good rate. When I took on the rent at the beginning of the year, the rate was about 130 bob to the pound. Now I am lucky to get 115. So my rent has gone up £10 a month

It is quite something when the Kenyan economy is doing better than that of the UK!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Two nations separated by a common language ...

No, not the United States and Britain, but, the United States and Kenya.

Whilst Amy (see The colour of my skin, below) was staying in Kisii, she gathered some of our kids together and sang an alphabet song to them. Some of them knew it and joined in.

But when she came to the letter Z, she pronounced it "Zee" whereas the kids pronounced it as "Zed", as in British English. This surprised her and also spoiled the song as she was expecting to have to rhyme with Zee.

She mentioned this in an open letter to us. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Kenyans speak English, not American.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The worth of Stale Bread

Not too far from my house in South Africa, there was a play park with swings, roundabouts, and a stream that ran through it, feeding a duck pond.

I used to take the foster kids there at the weekend to let off steam and during the week, I collected stale bread for the smaller ones to feed the ducks.

So, one Saturday, I trotted down the the park with a 7 year-old. He looked at the ducks and swans with interest. I threw a piece of stale bread amongst them and the little boy laughed like a drain as the birds scrabbled about for it.

"Good," I thought and handed the boy the bag of stale bread.

He promptly sat on the bank and ate it.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Colour of my Skin

I am white English, hence the name that I was given in Kenya, Baba Mzungu, which is "White Dad" in Swahili.

But when I was in Kenya last March, one little boy tried to change all this.

After his morning wash-down, I applied Vaseline to his skin. It makes him look good, and it keeps his skin from drying out.

After I had finished, he took the Vaseline pot and started to grease my bald pate, stating that he was greasing me to make me the same colour as him!

-oOo-

During the Summer, the home had a visitor from the USA, an American student volunteer called Amy.

Benta, one of our little girls, asked Amy what colour she was, to which Amy replied that she was white.

Benta tutted and shook her head. Later, as the Sunday dinner chicken was being plucked, Benta pointed to the chicken and then to Amy's arm. She was telling Amy that she was not white, but the colour of a plucked chicken!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Fears Unfounded

So, the US has just voted in Barak Obama as their 44th President.

What a country, where the son of a Kenyan goat breeder can become the most powerful man in the world, and for now, it is really the land of opportunity.

And Kenya is rejoicing; Kenya is celebrating. Kenya has declared a public holiday on Thursday!

The thing that strikes me is that Barak won over the black vote. It was not a forgone conclusion. He is not like most black Americans. His ancestry did not come out of slavery. He is a first generation American from Africa. The black voters were wary of him, but he won.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

US 08

Kenya is suffering election fever again, especially around Kisumu.

I so hope that Barak Obama wins the election tonight.

I don't think Kenya could stand another spate of post-election violence ...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Leisimane - a bit more is added

Little by little, just for the one or two who are following the story of a 12 year-old Sotho boy, Bafana and his escapades, I have just published a couple more chapters.

The link to the beginning is HERE

Friday, 31 October 2008

Jambo, jambo Bwana ...

Jambo
Jambo, Bwana
Habari gani?
Mzuri sana.

So goes the song you will hear, sung by kids as soon as they see a white skin. The other word all kids will use when seeing a Caucasian is "mzungu" (plural, wazungu), meaning white person. It is not offensive, it is a statement of fact. As a general rule, kids love white people. They can usually get sweets from wazungu. But I digress.

The song in English:

Hello
Hello, Sir
How are things?
Very Fine

Jambo!

It means Hello. Everyone says it, tourists particularly. It is often the only Swahili word they know - it isn't, but they don't know that they know others:

Safari - swahili for journey
Simba (as in the Lion King) means lion
Hakuna matata, (also in the the Lion King) means No problems
Daktari - Doctor (those of you of a certain age will remember a TV series of the same name, with Clarence the cross-eyed lion)

But I digress (again).

To gain a bit of street cred in Kenya, (or Uganda, Tanzania), rather than the usual Jambo, you can try Mambo, to which the usual reply is "Poa" (cool), or "Safi" (clean/fresh)

OK, so 'Mambo' is sheng, street language, slang. So if you want to be a bit more "grown-up", try

Habari? - How are things?
Habari gani? - What's new? How are you doing?

To which you reply Mzuri (sana) - Fine (very fine)

Hujambo - a variant of Jambo, also meaning How are you? Answer: Sijambo - I'm fine

Other useful words are:

Asante - thank you
Karibu - welcome (or you are welcome)
Kwa heri - goodbye
Baadaye - Catch you later

I find that although my Swahili is very limited, sprinkling a conversation with a few words is very welcome, and in bartering, lends credibility to your claim that you are not a tourist!

-oOo-

I was shopping in the Nakumatt in Kisii (a chain of supermarkets). They were running a prize draw where, if you spent more than 2,000/- (about £15), you were entered into a draw, the prize being a weekend at a Maasai Mara lodge, with safaris thrown in - nice!

As I was getting stuff for a party for the orphange kids, I spent well over the 2,000/- at which point, I was pounced upon by the floor manager (Remember, I was the only white skin in Kisii), who very enthusiastically explained the draw, the prizes and how to enter in very fine detail.

Now, I had several bags of food shopping, four hula hoops, footballs, and other unwieldy objects, and a 4 year-old who was standing cross-legged, wanting to go to the loo, and I was a little flustered.

I said the most stupid thing to this poor manager. "Do I look like a tourist?"

Let me point out that I was wearing khakis, desert boots and a wide-brimmed hat, and as I had only been in Kenya a few days, I daresay my skin was more than a little pink in places. A more touristy tourist you couldn't hope to see - and of course, I am usually the only mzungu in town.

The poor man didn't know what to say. If he said that I did look like a tourist, I may have been insulted - but I did look like a tourist.

I pointed the little boy to the toilet and then tried to make amends to the manager, who eventually claimed that he could see the funny side of the situation. Whether he did or not, I don't know, but he personally helped me to the car park with all the shopping (and child), asking me where my car was. I didn't have one, I was catching the matatu.

Then, he finally believed that I wasn't a tourist.

All was well, the little boy didn't have an accident in his pants, I got all my shopping to the matatu stand, and the manager went back into his store, feeling that he had done the right thing.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Leisimane - the next two chapters

One or two may have noticed a book starting to appear here, and someone has even read the first two chapters thanks, Potty Mummy).

So, I have posted the next two chapters.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

At the end of each chapter, there is a link to the next, if it has been posted, that is.

Bartering

Being English through and through (apart from a bit of Welsh inherited from one of my grandfathers), the idea/concept of bartering is totally alien.

So, in September last year, I ventured to Kenya. I was chaperoned by a friend whilst in Nairobi and was amazed that he never paid the asking price for anything without an argument.

I watched, listened and learned, but didn't participate.

On my second visit, in March of this year, I was on my own a lot more. My first task was to change some sterling into the local currency. In the bank, the girl behind the counter offered me a rate, let's say 128 shillings to the pound.

"What?" I exclaimed. "I could have got 136 in England. How about 134?"

"I cannot go that high. 130, "says the girl.

"132," I counter. She goes to see the manager and come back with a broad smile. "Yes, Sir, we give you 132."

Wow! Try that in a high street bank over here.

-oOo-

I got on the shuttle to Kisii.

"How much?" I asked.

"800 bob."

"I paid 600 that last time."

"OK, 600 bob."

-oOo-

In Kisii, staying in a house without electricity and a loo at the other end of the plot, I thought a torch would be advantageous. I found a rechargeable LED model on a hawker's stand.

Like and idiot, I showed a little too much interest.

"This wonderful torch, sir, it is only 300 bob."

"You are joking?" I retorted. "I'm not a tourist. I'll give you 250."

"Sir, you are taking the food from my daughter's mouth." But as I turned to go, "OK, 250 bob."

At the house, my hostess was so taken by the torch, the next time I was in town, I decided to get another. It was a different hawker. He saw me coming from a long way off - not difficult as I was probably the only mzungu in town.

I glanced at his wares, safety pins, shaving mirrors, tweezers - and a similar LED torch.

"Mambo." (A sort of slang 'Hello') "How much?" I point at the torch.

"Ah, for you, sir, only 350 bob."

I went through the 'I'm not a tourist' routine again and paid 260/-. It was a better torch, having 6 LEDs instead of the 5 of the previous one.

I am learning. Never pay the asking price for anything if the price is not marked on it. Of course, in the supermarket, it doesn't work, nor in cafés where the menu is marked with prices.

But if you are buying from a market, or a hawker, haggle. You will save a small fortune - or rather, you are less likely to get ripped off. If you are offering too low a price, they won't sell, so they aren't losing - you are not taking the food from his daughter's mouth, believe me.

Oh, and learn a few different ways of saying hello. "Jambo" is used by everyone, native and tourist alike, but to make an impression, try something different.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Being Green ...

Kids in the UK are now being encouraged to be green - no bad thing. But they are also being encouraged to report parents and neighbours who are using too much power.

Don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of saving this planet. It is rather useful - to live on, for example.

But kids in Kenya don't give a damn. All they are interested in is whether they have something to eat. And they don't care how it is cooked, over kerosene, charcoal, wood, whatever. They will chop trees to get fuel to cook. Or buy charcoal (for which someone has to chop down trees). What choice do they have? None. They have to eat.

A difference in priorities.

  • In the UK - Survival of the planet;
  • In Kenya - Survival.

I bet the kids in Kenya would love to have the opportunity to use a bit less electricity, a little less petrol, switch off the lights when they leave their bedroom, not leaving the TV, computer, games console on standby.

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Threat of Power-cuts ...

It is all doom and gloom at the moment, the UK news. Banks going bankrupt, the threat of power-cuts, food price hikes, fuel prices - it goes on and on.

I thought back to last March when I stayed with my friends in Kisii, SW Kenya, and how happy I was.

There was no electricity at the little two-bedroomed house, occupied by three adults and four young children. There was no running water - it was delivered daily in 25 litre drums and had to be boiled for consumption. The loo was at the end of the plot and was a glorified hole in the ground. There was a wet room and a room for preparing food. I cannot call it a kitchen.

We had a battery-powered radio, a kerosene lamp for the evenings - and each other's company.

And, that last is all I needed. I was happy.

It was a little strange at first, standing in a bowl of tepid water to wash, but I soon got used to it.

I did not have to cook, which is just as well. I don't know how well I would have coped over a single kerosene ring and a charcoal brazier.

I did not miss TV, or a home computer.

In town, there were frequent power cuts and it was a bit annoying if I was in the cyber café, checking emails etc., but I soon became resigned to the fact that this was Kenya.

The two things I really missed were my car - and oxygen. I am mildly disabled and walking any distance is uncomfortable. Kisii is a town on a hill, a town at 5,500ft, so oxygen is a bit scarce. And everywhere is either up or down, there is nowhere flat.

From the house to the town was about 2km, uphill, and I couldn't do it. I had to wait for a taxi or matatu. So I really did miss the ability to jump in my car and go wherever I needed (or wanted) to.

But apart from that, I was happy.

Mind you, the average daytime temperature is 25°C and at night it rarely drops below 16°C. So heating is not an issue.

In Britain, if the power goes, everything goes, no lighting, no heating, no cooking (and no blogging).

Frankly, if the prospect here is to have electricity rationing, I think I'll go back to Kenya.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Before I was Baba Mzungu

I have not always been called Baba Mzungu - of course

When I was in South Africa, I was Leisimane, which means Englishman in Sotho, the language of the people of the same name.

While I was there in 1989, I fostered a couple of street kids, then another couple and then ... etc.

And I kept a diary. All the little anecdotes about these kids from a different culture, speaking a different language. I found it interesting but to anyone else, it was just that, a diary. So I decided to change the perspective and re-wrote it from the point of view of the first of my charges, a 12 year-old Sotho boy, living in a township during the apartheid era. Obviously, my diary only covered the time that they were with me, so I had to plump it out a bit. I had a good idea about what these kids got up to when not with me, but writing about the life of a 12 year-old in the style of a 12 year-old was a challenge.

Well, here's a taster:


Leisimane

You can never guess the consequences of a simple mistake.

A young boy is begging in a suburb of Johannesburg. He is very competent, but he suffers a slip of the tongue, a Freudian slip perhaps, when instead of asking for money to buy bread for a fictitious little sister, he instead asks for money to buy the chicken and chips he longs for.

What happens next could never have been imagined in his wildest dreams. The person he is asking is a visitor to his country, and is not yet impervious to little black kids begging. He takes pity on the child, and as a result, a whole set of events transpire, changing the lives of this boy, his family and friends, and even total strangers.

Want to know what happens? Click Here!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Still Raping and Pillaging ...

As a born and bred Englishman, I am sick, tired and ashamed when I hear of UK companies and organisations "ripping off" our erstwhile colonies. I am also ashamed when I read about UK companies being involved in graft and corruption in deals with other countries.

The latest, of course is the debacle over the De la Rue Currency and Security Print Ltd, where it is alleged that said company obtained the contract from the Kenyan Government to print their currency by fraudulent means.

At least the Serious Fraud Office is looking into it and I hope that, at the end of the day there will be a full and honest outcome, unlike the Saudi Arms deal, which was swept under the carpet by the British government.

When I was last in Kenya, it was also mooted that many international companies with subsidiaries in Kenya were avoiding paying tax on profits to the Kenyan Government by salting away the money to their respective head offices. I don't know if this is true, but if it is, Kenya must be losing billons of shillings every year in revenue - revenue that can hardly afford to lose, bearing in mind all those 4x4s and elevated salaries they have to pay as a price for political stability.

Kenyans, don't expect the British Government to step in. They are too interested in saving their own skins at the moment. Our Scottish Prime Minister and Chancellor are making sure they gain a few extra votes at the next election by pandering to the banks with bases in Scotland.

Yes, tribalism exists in the UK. Each looks after its own.

So, Kenyans, don't think you are alone!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

They Do Not Represent the General View ...

This was the plaintiff cry this morning after first Siobhain McDonagh, then Joan Ryan, both junior minions within the Labour Party called for a look into the leadership of the party.

These two do not represent the general feeling of backbenchers was the cry. Oh, really?

Then why has George Howarth (Lab. Knowsley North) written to the party asking for a leadership election?

And in any case, it is not what backbenchers, front benchers, ministers, or good ol' Gordon thinks. It is what the electorate thinks. That's us, I do believe. And I am pretty sure that a majority would like a change of Prime Minister, if not a change of Government!

Come on Gordon (and your supporters), give in before you are forced to, as was Maggie. You really don't want to suffer any more indignity, do you?

Corruption in High Places

No, not Kenya, not even Africa, but in the great and good Europe!

For the 14th year running - yes, that is 14 years - the European Union has failed to manage to balance its books. They auditors have refused to sign off the accounts in 17 different areas.

This is a body that spends about £95bn per year (of which the UK contributes around £7 billion) and has a staff of around 170,000 people, but they cannot get its accounts to add up.

Now, maybe this is just government incompetence at its worst, or, as I suspect, it is due to total corruption of the system.

This is supposed to be Government, European Government - you know, that which we try to impose upon the rest of this world full of despots and commies.

Well, I reckon that we have taught the world well, by example.

Tony Sharp has the full story here

Friday, 29 August 2008

Who will do What about Which, to Whom?

An interesting report has been issued from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights regarding who was responsible for the post election violence, naming names.

Names like Uhuru Kenyatta from President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, Sally Kosgei, Henry Kosgey, William Ruto, Najib Balala and the late Kipkalya Kones from Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (to mention but a few) are mentioned as "alleged perpetrators".

I am not going into the rights and wrongs of the actions of these people or the reasons for the PEV. Readers who are au fait with the post-election problems in Kenya can draw their own conclusions.

What interests me is that the state-funded KNCHR has produced this large report (159 pages, I believe) about the problems as a result of the Kenyan elections in December, alleging that MPs and other people in high places were involved. But, what is going to do be done with it?

Will evidence be collected to prove these allegations? And if so, will those who people in high places be prosecuted? Will they be at least be relieved of their posts?

I will watch with interest.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Kibaki -v- Githongo. Round II

OK, now maybe I can see why Kibaki snubbed Githongo. I thought it was because the whistle-blower was touching base a bit too close to home.

But I have read another blog criticising Githongo for washing Kenya's dirty linen in public, that is the BBC et al.

That's fair enough, but the problem is that "we" expect African governmnets, including the Kenyans, to be corrupt. Nothing that Githongo said could have surprised anyone over here.

But in a way, I envy Kenyans. Some of your legislators are corrupt. You are not surprised. You assume that, even if there is no proof, they are crooked.

We, in the "West", generally expect our politicians to be honest and aren't we disappointed when some sleaze or graft comes to light. We are outraged.

I am not sure which I would prefer. But I would still choose to live in Kenya rather than the UK, given the choice. At least you know where you stand in Kenya.

Kibaki snubs Githongo

I don't want to get bogged (or blogged) down in Kenyan politics, but I find it incredible that President Kibaki has refused to meet with Githongo, the whistle-blower on one of the major graft cases during Kibaki's first term.

If I were a Kenyan, I would be very suspicious. What has Kibaki got to hide? Why will he not meet that man he appointed to counter corruption in high places?

Thursday, 14 August 2008

My Take on Kenya

There is no doubt. I love Kenya.

There are some places I like more than others, but that must be true of just about any country in the world - and of course, I don't know the whole country, only little bits of it: the Nairobi area, especially the business district and the eastern suburbs, Kisii and Malindi.

That's quite a spread, though, Coastal, to over 5,500ft, village to major town to rural town.

I find the Malindi area too hot and too humid. I don't really like it.

Nairobi and its suburbs are fascinating. But I am a country boy and I have an inbuilt dislike of big cities. The public transport system has deteriorated since I have been going to Nairobi. It used to be reasonably easy to get from my base in the east suburbs to the office in the business district on top of the hill. Now it is virtually impossible.

Kisii is what I would expect a large African town to be. Chaotic, dusty (when it is not raining) noisy, busy. I like Kisii.

And then there are the people. Naturally. top of the list is my love interest, beautiful, intelligent, well educated, living on the coast.

There is the man in Nairobi that started my Kenyan adventure. He is very very friendly, plausible and pleasant, but is always finding ways of borrowing money to "invest". I don't suppose I will ever see it again. He is always trying to impress, introducing me to Daktari This and Hon. That. His promises are big but never forthcoming.

And then there is the couple I met in Kisii, young, enthusiastic, well educated, friendly, caring, honest.

I like Kisii, and I have good friends there.

So I have set up business there, with a view to ecventually settling down near the town.

Why Aren't I there already? That's personal, but I have good reason to remain at my base in the UK - most of the time. I will travel to Kenya whenever I can. The only restraint is the money for the air fare. I have managed a couple of visits within the last year, and I am about due to go out there again, as soon as I have found the money for the ticket.

But one day, I will arrive and never leave.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Bedroom Menagerie

I am in bed, under the mosquito net, sleeping like a babe, when I wake up. Why? I hear a scurrying noise, that's why. I fumble around for my torch (there is no electricity in the house) and switch it on. I sweep the walls and there they are, the biggest bl00dy cockroaches I have ever seen in my life - three of them. They are big, about 4 cm long, mid brown, but slow-moving.

They scurry away from the beam of my torch and I draw a circle around them. They are confused now. They can't escape the light. I find that I can herd them with the torchlight.

Then I hear a crunch. I scour the walls with my light. In the corner, there is a small, pale lizard. Sticking out of its mouth there is the back end of another cockroach. It's legs are still wriggling slowly.

The lizard doesn't move. It just sits (or stands) there with its prize in its mouth. It is almost too small to each its catch, let alone catch the others with its meal still in its mouth.

The other cockroaches are trying to escape the hunter, but to do so, they have to go into the light of my torch, and they don't like that!

But soon (not soon enough for the cockroaches), I grow weary of my "game". You can only herd cockroaches with a torch for so long before it becomes tiresome.

I switch off the torch, and hear the free cockroaches marching across the wall, away from their predator.

A short while later, I switch my torch on and sweep the walls again. The menagerie has disappeared. I can hear no more crunching, or the scampering of tiny feet on the plaster.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Raila, you are wrecking my business!

I don't suppose the Right Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya has done it on purpose, but he managed to stop our clients visiting our establishment.

He turned up and held a rally in the town, and of course, everyone went to see him. This is, after all, one of his strongholds.

But, while the town went to see their hero at the stadium, they were not visiting our emporium to spend their money.

Shame!


Saturday, 2 August 2008

Bribery in the UK Government? Surely not!

I have just heard over the radio that the Secretary of State for Justice, Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, is calling for a measure to bribe the British public.

Apparently, the latest ploy of our esteemed socialist government is to bribe the electorate at the next general election.

According to Straw, the idea is that if you turn out to vote, you will be entered in a draw to win a plasma television, presumably regardless of which party you vote for - at least I hope this is the case!

I know that the turn-out at elections is dropping, probably due to the total apathy felt towards our leaders, but this is a pathetic attempt to get us into the polling stations.

Surely, it would be more plausible to have a manifesto that fires the imagination of the public - love it or hate it - you would feel obliged to vote for or against it.

But then, of course, manifestos are usually conveniently forgotten. What a party promises to do in order to get voted into power, has little bearing on what they actually do when they win.

Admittedly, the British Labour Party has hit a popularity low since Tiny Blur abandoned the Premiership (and the country) to Gordon Dour. The Scots want to break away from the rest of the UK (and who can blame them?), the Government cannot hold on to its safe seats in a by election, and the opposition parties are winning other by elections with ever increasing majorities.

So, I suppose Straw is hoping that if, at the next election, the Labour Party can get their apathetic voters to the polling stations, they will manage to hold onto power.

I doubt it. Listening to interviews with life-long Labour supporters after the Glasgow East by election, Labour have a snowball's hope in Hell's chance of winning - unless they bribe the electorate - and I don't mean with a plasma TV.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Getting Used to Kenyanese - part II

I am not even going to try to explain the nuances of Kenyan English - sorry. There are other blogs out there, written by Kenyans that can explain this. A good example is:

http://howdidigethere-kenyanchick.blogspot.com/2006/07/kenyans-guide-to-kenya-vol-i.html

However, there are certain idiosyncrasies that I could point out. I have already touched on the "Yes" meaning "No" and the constant use of the word "Sorry" in a previous blog,

http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=4528548932849801742&postID=1892084776095471150

But now I want to touch on more general differences. Firstly, it has to be said that to a Brit, Kenyans can seem to be very rude. They are not. In my experience, they are very warm, polite people. But they can be a little abrupt. Do not be surprised if, when giving someone something such as a cigarette (or stick as it is known in Kenya), you will not necessarily receive a "Thank you". It is implied, though. Accept it as said.

The same goes for "Please". This seems to be used as a plea, a last resort. I child may say please when asking for sweets, for example, but only after several attempts to ask for sweets without using the word. This is not rude. Again, the please is implied, not spoken.

"Oh pleeease buy me some sweets," is accompanied by a cute (girl) or cheeky (boy) smile, a fluttering of those beautiful brown eyes (girls only, though).

Be warned: If you like Kenya and Kenyans, you will not resist the pleas of the children. They are masters of the plea. They are not begging, well most aren't, they just want you to be friendly and buy them sweets. Simple.

Even when travelling by train between Nairobi and Mombasa, you will not escape the children asking for sweets. They line the track-side, calling out how much they like you ("Mzungu, I love you. Pleeeease give me sweet!"). The trains only runs every other day and are slow, I mean like you will be overtaken by tuk-tuks.

The kids living in the villages next to the line know when the trains are due, and will even break from school classes to ask for sweets. Many a time I have seen an open-air classroom with only an exasperated teacher standing by his chalkboard, his charges running next to the train, carrying plastic bags in which they put their spoils.

It is a Government thing ...

The buck stops here ... But these days, we have to ask ourselves where "here" is. Because, once upon a time, it was at the desk of the President of the United States, Harry Truman.

These days, it seems, when there is a problem, the minister in charge of the relevant department takes a quick look around, and tosses it to whoever is nearest.

In the latest cited case in Kenya, secondary schools are complaining about funding. President Kibaki announced in January that secondary education was to be free. Hurray!

But had he given a thought about where the money was coming from? Obviously not, because he and Raila then went on to create a 42-minister government, just to make sure that all their friends had jobs.

Did they wonder where the money was coming from to finance the extra "ministries"? Obviously not.

Now the Ministry of Education, which is strapped for cash as all ministries have had to rein in on their budgets, are blaming school administrators for the delay in payment of government funding to the schools.

During the school riots, is was the fault of the parents, mobile phones and buses with music systems installed.

When will they wake up and face their responsibilities?

I would guess that, because they are just like most other governments in the world, yes including ours, never.

While they earn their inflated salaries for doing little more than bickering among themselves, or selling of Kenya's "family silver" for a song, and making sure that they don't have to pay income tax like real Kenyans, they don't have time to look at real issues, and find a real solution.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Clarity at Last

My business partner in Kenya and I (still in the UK) have been battling with emails from an important potential client because the English used by said client is not as precise as I would like. We have been going round in circles for the past week, trying to understand each other.

Finally, the veil has been drawn away from my eyes

Apparently,there is a trade agreement between Kenya and the country of origin of our potential client and our contract has to be notarised, at our cost. That's not really a problem, so, with a bit of luck, we are ready to advance to the next stage.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Nerve-racking ...

As well as opening a cyber café in Kisii, I have found that I am a partner in an export business. This came about quite by accident when we offered a foreign trading company photographic samples of the ware we have on offer.

To our surprise, they wanted to place an order, not the usual 15,000/- but lots of zeros after the US$ sign.

Now, we are not an export company, which is not to say we don't have some experience in the field of international commerce, gleaned from a previous life. But that was in Europe, where there are rules to be obeyed, guidelines to follow, etc. Yes, I know we moan about all the red tape, but believe me, when it's not there ...

So, here we are, in a backwoods town, off the beaten track, receiving an order for umpty-tump thousands of dollars-worth of goods.

Now the next problem is that English is not the first language of the buyer. Nor is it the first language of my partner. The problem arises because their first languages are not the same! So, there are issues raised, and we have to guess what they are by deciphering the "English" emails sent to us.

It has taken a week @ three emails a day to get this far and I think (hope ... pray) that we are approaching the final straight ... that is, the straight that hands us the contract.

That's the easy part. Then we have to ensure that the products are of the correct quality, are produced within the right time frame, and are packed to withstand international shipping, not least of which include the Kenyan roads!

Of course, in a rural town anywhere in the world, you are not going to find a bubble-wrap manufacturer or supplier. That has to come in from somewhere bigger. Then there is the need for a fork-lift truck. "What is one of those?" OK, maybe a tractor with a lifting attachment on the front? Maybe.

Then there is Health & Safety. In gB (that's great[?] Britain, not Gordon Brown), you have to be qualified to drive a fork lift. Try explaining that in a country where many car drivers have never passed a test!

So, it looks like I will be going out rather sooner than I had anticipated, to make sure that all things are safe, and that the quality control system, insisted upon in the contract, is in place.

It's a tough life, but someone has to do it. ;)

Look out kenya, here I come - again!

Friday, 25 July 2008

The bell tolls for Gordon?

The last few months must have been a nightmare for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. His Labour party lost the Henley election (not surprising) coming in after the Conservatives, Lib Dems, the Green Party and the BNP.

They lost at Crewe and Nantwich, they lost the mayoral election in London, and now, they have lost one of their safest seats, Glasgow East.

This morning (Friday), Gordon Brown stated that he realises that he has to listen to the people. This afternoon, he stated that he had a job to do and he was going to get on and do it.

Excuse me, Mr Prime Minister, but, what do you think the people want you to listen to, taking the last four elections into consideration? Are they saying, "Please, Mr brown, we are voting your party out, but we want you to carry on?"

Or, are they saying, "Mr Brown, you are not what we want, please leave - now!"

Personally, I think the people, to whom Gordon insists he is listening are stating the latter.

Parliament is now in recess for their elongated Summer break (for which they still get paid), so absolutely nothing is going to happen until September.

But what then? Will there be a coup? Will he call an election (fat chance)?

Or will he try to muddle on as he has been for the past 13 months?

Mr Brown, practice what you preach. You criticised Mr Kibaki for hanging on to power. You criticised Bob Mugabe for hanging on to power, so ...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Guilty as charged ...

I plead guilty, as charged. I have been wasting my time, not only writing a blog, but also reading others' blogs.

And it struck me. Why are all the best blogs [in my humble opinion] written by the females of the species?

There are a few good blogs written by males, but the majority tend to be rather dry. Have we men lost our sense of humour? I look at my past efforts and shudder.

I look at the blogs written by Mzungu Chick, Mom de Plume, Nutty Cow, Reluctant Memsahib, etc., and in every case, there is humour, usually about little things that happen in life, or just life in general.

Conclusion? I need to get a life.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

I will always be white ...

During my stay in Kisii, Josephat frequently asked (through an interpreter) why I was so pale. As he is a Luuya, his skin is very dark, and I was particularly pale, having just escaped from a British winter.

So Josephat took it upon himself to make me dark. After I had bathed him and Vaselined him, he decided that if he greased me, I would become dark like him.

[Note: The character that resembles a European Buddha is, unfortunately, me. However, I was happy to find that after a month in Kenya, I lost about a stone - no biscuits or cake, no chocolate, a lot of walking, only fresh food!]

[Note 2: Josephat was abandoned at 6 months and deposited with Mercy Gate Children's Home, Kisii. On my first visit in September 2007, Jojo adopted me, calling me his Baba Mzungu. Whenever I am in Kisii now, Jojo is an almost permanent attachment to my hand, shoulders, neck or lap.]

Monday, 21 July 2008

Riots in Schools

I read an article today in the Daily Nation about students in several schools going on strike.

The answer from the powers that be? A suggestion that the ban on caning should be abolished.

And whose fault is it? Why, that parents, of course.

It obviously isn't the fault of the education system, but no one in the system thought to ask why the students were rioting. So, why were they?

They say that the food is atrocious and the hygiene facilities were terrible - and they had heard that, after the debacle of the KCSE results last year, the mock results were going to be used this year. It is well known that the mocks are much more difficult than the real thing. Also, they are set and marked internally, so there would be no national standard. That doesn't sound very fair.

Of course, the education system [?] in England and Wales is not without its problems. The SATS test results were late.

Why? Because the government had sub-contracted the marking to a US company - a company in a country that does not even speak the same "English" as the British.

There was a case of one kid's work, using correct punctuation and no spelling errors was marked below another's where there was no punctuation and a plethora of spelling mistakes.

When are politicians - in any country - going to realise that they are playing with the future of children? These kids are the future of their countries. Let's get our respective governments to stop playing around and take education seriously!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Why has China bought Mugabe a mansion?

IT MAY not be surprising that, as befits any mad dictator, President Mugabe is now the proud owner of a palatial £4.5 million mansion in Harare and a similarly lavish country hideaway, each fitted with the latest electronic security systems, including anti-aircraft missiles. But why should all this have'been provided for him by the People's Republic of China?

The explanation lies in a deal struck in 2005 whereby Mr Mugabe handed over to China his country's mineral rights, including the world's second largest reserves of platinum, worth £250 billion. In return for allowing the Chinese to cart away more than half a billion pounds' worth of minerals a year, Mr Mugabe not only makes a vast personal fortune for himself and his henchmen, but is given all the arms he needs to keep his criminal regime in power, including guns, jet fighters and military vehicles. (For further details, see my colleague Richard North's EU Referendum website.)

Contrast this with our own Government's response to Mugabe's tyranny. Since Zimbabwe is included in the 28 areas of "common foreign policy" we have ceded to the EU, we can do nothing except in conjunction with our EU colleagues.

On Monday we saw the humiliating spectacle of Gordon Brown pleading with the EU's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to add 36 more names to the list of Zimbabweans on whom the EU has imposed pathetically ineffectual "personal sanctions". Otherwise, the EU's only contribution is to give Zimbabwe €25 million a year in aid, which Mr Mugabe welcomes as a way to give food to his supporters while the rest of his people starve.

All this provides a remarkable parallel to what is happening elsewhere in Africa. In Sudan the tyrannical government is given full support by China in return for a monopoly on its large reserves of oil. Meanwhile, EU politicians wring their hands over the tragedy unfolding in Darfur, while a pitiful EU military force in Chad notably fails to protect a million helpless refugees from the genocide waged on them by China's friends in Khartoum.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as we learned from an excellent report in The Daily Telegraph last week, China last January signed a "minerals for infrastructure" deal, worth £2.25 billion, under which it bought the rights to some of the world's richest copper and cobalt reserves, in return for building roads, railways, hospitals, dams and airports. This is the country where, five years ago, the EU proudly sent its first military force bearing the ring of stars insignia - to achieve precisely nothing.

All over Africa, the Chinese dictatorship props up ruthless and corrupt regimes We now learn that the Congolese government had first proposed such a minerals deal to the EU but, according to the country's deputy minister for mines, the EU replied that it "did not have the muscle that was needed".

All over Africa we see a similar story. The ruthless but canny Chinese dictatorship props up equally ruthless and corrupt governments, as in Angola, in return for that continent's fabulous mineral reserves. Britain, which once ruled much of Africa, has handed over its policy-making to the EU, which does little but make sanctimonious and irrelevant gestures. Yet this is the continent which, in 2005, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown proclaimed was "at the top" of their international agenda. It was in the same year that, as the EU's acting president, Tony Blair flew to Beijing to sign an agreement making the EU and China "strategic partners". It is only too obvious which "partner's" strategy is proving the more successful.

I cannot guarantee all the statements in this blog. They were complied from a vatiety of articles

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Remote Business

Things have suddenly taken a turn for the better (or at least, busier) in Kenya - as far as my business partner and I are concerned, anyway.

But he won't do anything without my agreement, and vice versa, so to get anything done at either end involves a lot of emails, SMS and faxes! It is a wonder that we get anything done.

At this moment, it would be so much easier if I were there and we could talk to each other face to face and make quick decisions, especially just at the moment, when we are negotiating a deal with a client.

And, just as we are getting busy in Kenya, work here is coming in - and I also have to write a proposal regarding another project that only really got started yesterday - the proposal is for the Ukraine! It's not a million miles from Kenya, but it might as well be.

Still, anything that gets picked up in Ukraine will surely be replicated in Kenya eventually, so I suppose it is worth the effort.

I will just have to get a few more candles that I can burn at both ends.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

PC in Britain

Police Constable? - No
Personal Computer, then? - Nope

Political Correctness, that's what it is. The mindset that lets white Christian people decide that we should not have Christmas decorations in the towns because it may offend non-Christians (who make up 4% of the population. I believe) - these same non-Christians who join us Christians in the festivities!

And now for the latest.

A mother of a severely epileptic child has to take him to school every day. If she were using her own car, there would not be a problem. But she doesn't. She uses a taxi provided by the authorities - so she has to undergo a Police check to make sure she has no criminal record of child abuse. She only accompanies her own child, no other children are in the taxi. So now, until the checks have been carried out, she is not allowed to accompany her son to school.

The child needs constant supervision. She and her husband are the only people trained to administer drugs should the need arise.

Is it just me, or is this situation really - REALLY - crazy?

I agree that children need to be protected and a mechanism has to be in place. But checking out the parents? Come on, that is a bit stupid.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Time to call - Heads or Hearts?

It is now more than a quarter year since I was last in Kenya. And I am getting withdrawal symptoms ... cold turkey.

So, having planned out what I must do with regards business and the River Cottage Kenya project, I am now looking at my personal plans, aspirations and whatever else I should be looking at in my circumstance.

I suppose the question is 'where, when I make the final plunge, should I be based?'

I only know three little bits of Kenya, all poles apart - location, ethnicity - different in every way!Firstly, the Nairobi area. When in Kenya, I work in the Business district, where we have an office, and I stay with a colleague and friend in the eastern suburbs. I have an important client in the Lang'ata area, who I would like to visit from time to time.

Then there is Malindi, or a village close thereto. I rent a house there and my girlfriend and children are installed. One of the schools/orphanages that we support is situated here.

Lastly, but not leastly (if there is such a word), Kisii. My business is located here. I have some very good friends, and, of course, the other orphanage.

In the best case scenario, I will have to make a decision as to where to set up "home".

So, toss a coin! Heads or Hearts?

Nairobi.

  • The centre of everything business.
  • The centre of opportunity in Kenya. [?]
  • The altitude keeps me breathless for days. Still, I would acclimatise if I stayed long enough.
  • Getting into town from the eastern suburbs is a nightmare, but how about from the Lang'ata, Ngong, Karen area?
  • Close to the airport, so I can get home easily (the UK one, that is).

Kisii.

  • My business is here, but Vincent is perfectly able to run it without me. Still, it would be nice to have an active part in it.
  • The larger orphanage is there. But I don't need to be there to work for it.
  • The altitude keeps me breathless for days, but I would acclimatise if I stayed long enough.
  • Housing is cheaper than on the Coast or Nairobi.
  • Kisii does not rely on tourism.
  • River Cottage Kenya is to be based in Kisii.

Coast

  • No altitude problems here, but the heat ... I can't bear it. As for working in it!
  • My girlfriend and children live here. But would she be willing to move? Yes, if it meant a better life and prospects, especially for the children.
  • We support a school/orphanage in the village, but I don't have to be there to support it.

So I have pretty well ruled out Coast, unless of course better half digs in her heels. Here we have an ethnic problem. Although she was born and raised near Malindi, she is, in fact a Luuya, from near Lake Victoria (for those who are not familiar with tribal homelands). Apparently, the Luuya and Kisii historically were not the best of friends and she is a little reticent about living in Kisii.

The Nairobi/Narok/Bomet/Sotik/Kisii roads are being repaired and the journey will eventually be acceptable, even by matatu.

I am talking myself into setting up base in Kisii, aren't I? So, for those of you who don't know the town or the area, what is it like?

Firstly, it is off the tourist map. It is a largely agricultural area and the economy of the area is strong in its own right. The land is fertile, not too hot, (average daytime temp is 26°C) and humid. The town itself is typically African, bustling, chaotic and big enough to boast two supermarkets.

It is cosmopolitan. I have met Kisii, Luo, Kikuyu, Maasai, Luuya, an Afrikaner and probably many others. They seem to be able to live together for the common good.

It is in the mountains, there are a lot of trees, it is very green, although the earth is a rich red.

Yep! My heart says Kisii! My head though, still whispers Nairobi.

But I think my heart will win.

I've been what?!!?

The other day, my favourite blogger, Lost White Kenyan Chick, AKA Mzungu Chick (no relation) was tagged with a UU by another famous blogger, Bell of 'Diary of a Housewife'.

What is a UU? Well, to quote Mzungu Chick, this is how it goes:-

The UU must list the three things their husband (or wife) (or significant other!) (could be a pet, in lieu of all of the above.) (no pet? got a plant?) (if you have none of the above, you should go get one.) knows about them. The rules of this UU are that at the end of the post, the player then tags a randomly chosen number of people and posts their blog names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged. The comment must end with the word 'pthththth'.

Huh?

Now, I have a problem. The nearest I have to a significant other is my girlfriend. She lives in Malindi - and I live in the UK, about 4,500 miles apart, and we communicate by SMS or email only, and not regularly at that.

Unlike MC, I don't have an 8-year-old to interrogate and the dog looked at me as if I was mad (no change there, then!).

So, I asked my mother. It took a while to explain what a UU was, but then, she is 86 years old, and doesn't really understand, or want to understand computers, let alone blogging.

Anyway, Mum thought for a couple of moments and then rattled off a list of things. This is a precis:

  1. I love Kenya
  2. I want to help any waif or stray that crosses my path
  3. I am too soft for my own good.

The list could have gone on for another page, but basically, Mum thinks that my life revolves around Kenya ...

Hmmm! Can't argue with that.

Well, that wasn't too painful. I am sure that Mum could have found other, less favourable things to say about me - she has known me for 58 years.

As for tagging other bloggers, looking at my list of blogs that I read, and looking at Mzungu Chick's 'FAB LINKS' I see that I don't have any links that MC hasn't already UU'd.

So ... pthththth to nobody in particular.

I reserve the right to tag someone in the future if I find a blog that deserves it.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

More lies from the UK Govt.

Our esteemed leader, Gordon Brown, who reckons that he is rather like Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights (a drinking, violent, womanising killer? - oh well, Gordon, whatever trips your trigger) wanted to change the rates for vehicle excise licences. When he proposed it, he stated that most people would be better off.

Fine, so far.

But now, the Treasury has admitted that 9 million people will be worse off, mainly poorer people with older cars.

As it stands, it will not affect me, as these changes will only be enforced for vehicles first registered after 2001 and I cannot see myself ever driving such a new one (my present vehicle was first registered in 1996).

What annoys me is the blatant lie - it seems that the Govt. thinks that it can say whatever it likes and we will believe them.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Expanding? Already?

The cyber café is open. We are getting clients in - not enough of them, but it is a start, and I am confident that the numbers will build up.

But, as Vincent is known in the town as the local IT guru as well as the director of the children's home and the manager of the new cyber café, many clients are asking if he can obtain bits and pieces that are either not available in Kenya, or are very expensive.

So, we are now looking at the possibility of diversifying our services and are looking for a supplier of the bits and bobs that we are being asked for.

Other than the major computer manufacturers, very few companies are represented in East Africa. So, that's the way we are looking to go, as long as we can find a supplier willing to deal with Kenya, of course.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

So, why DO we pay more for diesel?

Well, it is easy really. Not too long ago, the government encouraged people to buy the more expensive diesel cars, citing the fact that they are more fuel efficient and greener.

When diesel cars became really popular, the government slapped more tax on it so that a litre of diesel is now £1.33 (and climbing), whereas petrol is £1.20. Clever government!

Now, it is estimated that you have to do at least 40,000 miles a year to make owning a diesel car worthwhile.

But it doesn't end there. The government offered free parking spaces to people who bought an electric car to commute to London. What happened? Commuters bought electric cars, and now the government has scrapped the scheme because it is costing them too much - and they have run out of parking spaces!

Our government may not be corrupt (although nothing would surprise me), but they are totally unscrupulous - and inept.

Recession looming for UK firms

The "Experts"* have announced that the UK is heading for a recession! WOW! Like you need a degree to work that one out.

With petrol and diesel (why do we pay more for diesel than petrol in the UK?) prices rising by about 1p a day, food prices are going up in proportion.

Our fuel is heavily taxed - by percentage. So if the price at the refinery goes up, the taxes at the pump go up and the government rubs its collective hands as it trots off to the bank to deposit the increase. But a government spokesman tried to tell us that the government was actually losing money with the fuel price rise - I bet he didn't pass his maths GCSE.

People don't have the money to spend, so high street shops, especially the independent ones are closing.

Walk down any high street in any town, and you will see empty shops. It is depressing.

The bottom has fallen out of the housing market and mortgages are very difficult to get since the debacle in the USA.

And what does our esteemed Prime Minister suggest? Don't waste food. Don't throw food away! According to the government, we are throwing away £460 worth of food per household per year!

Why? Because all food is date-stamped and people (some people) will no eat anything that is past its use-by date. It has been stated by many people, the food manufacturers for example, that these dates are artificial, to protect themselves, just in case someone is poisoned by their products.

The UK Government has run out of ideas. Gordon Brown is trying to stay afloat in a tsunami. I wish him luck.

Well no, actually I don't. In my personal opinion, the sooner he resigns or is forced out by his allies, the better.

I am not saying that all the ills of the UK are a direct result of his management, but at least we in Britain would regain some of that 'feel-good' factor if he went.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the impending election in Glasgow. This is considered a Labour safe seat, but they are having difficulty getting anyone to represent them.

Looking at their performance at recent elections, they will lose, probably to the SNP.

But Gordon clings on to power like a demented despot, the only difference is that he doesn't have a Fifth Brigade to bully people into voting for him.

And we have to wait two years before we can force him out - the Prime Minister we didn't elect.

* Definition of Expert: Ex=has-been; spurt=drip under pressure

Friday, 4 July 2008

Now for the website

We opened on Wednesday, the cyber café, that is.

Now DABIVAM Technologies has a website. - not fabulous, but it is a start. We needed something on the web just to give ourselves a presence.

So we are on the way!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Today IS the day - Official!

The cyber café is open!! Vincent, the manager has contacted me from the café, where he is supervising two clients - not bad for the first hours of the first day.


Once word gets about that we are open, we are hoping that things will really take off.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Happy Birthday to ...

So our esteemed Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP has completed a year in office as leader of [Great?] Britain.

In the last year he has aged about 10 years, but he insists that his way is the best way (Hmm ... didn't Robert Mugabe say something similar not so long ago?)

We in GB are lurching from one crisis to another, lost sensitive data on CDs, laptops, in briefcases ... the great and good who fund the Labour Party are pulling back ... abolition of the 10p income tax belt - there is another revolt looming over this one ... fuel prices soaring (GB - that's a world problem, not mine!, despite the fact that we are the most heavily taxed country in the world when it comes to petrol and diesel) ... inflation is climbing above the Government's own targets ... house prices are falling ... mortgages are almost impossible to get ... it goes on ... and on ...

Local and by-elections have been a disaster for the Labour Party as well. But Gordon is insisting that he is running the country, not a popularity contest.

He could have fooled me on the former and he wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Hell on the latter!

Yesterday WAS the Day - or not!

OK, so I was wrong. Yesterday was not the grand opening of our new Internet café in the bottom left-hand corner of Kenya.

It should have been, but apparently, Internet connection was not available yesterday - not just for us, but for a large swathe of Kenya!

I got a text from Vincent last night explaining all this, and also to tell me that we now have all the necessary equipment, printer, scanner, fax machine, etc.

So ... Today's the day ... or not.

Inside Mugabe's World

I have just read excerpts of an interview with President Robert Mugabe, by Heidi Holland, which took place last December.

When the Ms Holland suggested that his policies had caused the economy to collapse, he sat up straight, his eyes flashing.

"Our economy is a hundred times better, than the average African economy. Outside South Africa, what country is [as good as] Zimbabwe? ... What is lacking now are goods on the shelves - that is all."

On his reasoning behind the land invasions, he said: "We had hoped that the British would take notice of it and that they would say: 'Let's meet and discuss this'"

It became clear that Mr Mugabe has arranged himself in a bubble of denial to avoid facing what he has done in Zimbabwe.

What a sad old man he must be ... a despotic, sad old man.

Excerpt from "A glimpse inside Mugabe's world" by South African writer Heidi Holland.

-oOo-

On another tack, I see that Kenyan PM Raila Odinga is urging the African Union to suspend Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe until he allows free and fair elections.

As to the other members:

South Africa's Thabo Mbeki is the key mediator. He has not criticised Robert Mugabe, despite pressure from the ruling ANC.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has taken the toughest line. He's called Zimbabwe a "regional embarrassment". But he has just been rushed to hospital in Egypt.

Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is one of Robert Mugabe's closest allies. He has urged Mr Mugabe to end the violence.

Botswana has summoned a Zimbabwean envoy to complain about the violence. It has supported Zimbabwe's opposition.

Namibia is an ally of Robert Mugabe. It wants to re-distribute white-owned farms to black villagers. It has not criticised the violence.

Mozambique has hosted some white farmers forced out of Zimbabwe when their land was seized. It is seen as sympathetic to the opposition.

Tanzania's ruling party has a history of backing Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Its foreign minister has condemned the violence.

DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila is an ally of Robert Mugabe who sent troops to help his father, Laurent Kabila, fight rebels.

Malawi is seen as neutral. But 3m people from Malawi are in Zimbabwe and many were badly hit by the farm invasions.

As for the EU, Italy has recalled its envoy to Zimbabwe, and called for other members to do likewise.

And the British? Oh, I expect we are making a nice cup of tea to calm the situation.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Today IS the Day - probably

I received a phone call at 8.30am this morning from Kisii. It was my friend, Vincent. I haven't heard from him for a few days as he has been busy getting the Internet café ready and trying to get electricity, phone lines, Intnernet connections ... er ... connected.

He phoned just to say that in principle, all is now ready and he is hoping to open the doors today.

Here's hoping!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Winter has arrived in Nairobi

A friend and colleague who lives and works in Nairobi emailed me to say that he was in his office and feeling the cold, as winter had arrived.

On questioning him, he told me that the outside temperature had crept up to 19°C at 10.30am. That's 8.30 here and our outside temperature, was at 6°C, but forecast to rise to a glorious 16°C in the afternoon.

He concluded that he preferred winter in Nairobi to Summer in GB! So do I.

Time for a change and mental ramblings

It is summer (in the Northern hemisphere at least) and I felt it was time for a change. Nothing devastating, just a minor change to format and colour. The previous template was dark and serious. I don't feel dark and serious at the moment, just a bit frivolous.

-oOo-

In the UK, I drive a multi-purpose vehicle with 7 passenger seats. I have this urge to paint a broken yellow stripe around its waist and MATATU across the front - perhaps route 19C (my route from office to home when I am in Nairobi).


[Yes, I know this is a Nairobi~Kisii shuttle, not a matatu - but it has the yellow stripe!]

Can't do that. I want to sell my ol' bus, and turning it into a matatu would not be conducive, unless a local Kenyan wanted to buy it. It is too old to take to Kenya, although it would be put to good use at the ophanage.

-oOo-

There was a South African choir in our town yesterday. They sounded very similar to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo Choir and were very entertaining.

But the most entertaining for me was a little girl, braided and beaded, wearing what looked like a kanga, moving to the music. I had forgotten just how easily black kids pick up rhythm.

-oOo-

That little girl reminded me of a winter a few years ago. I was in town when it started to snow. A few feet in front of me, there were two little black girls with thick quilted jackets and wooly bonnets. As the snow fell, they both stopped and looked up. Their wide-eyed amazement was fascinating. As the snowflakes settled on their upturned faces, they looked shocked, then they both burst into giggles - as only little girls can.

I just had to speak to their mother. These girls had just arrived from Uganda for the Christmas holiday, staying with friends in the area. And, naturally, they had never seen snow before. I wish I had had my camera with me.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Getting used to Kenyanese

"Sorry!" When in Kenya, I hear this all the time, even when the speaker had done nothing to be sorry for.

I have to say that I am clumsy. I can trip over my own feet while standing still, or even sitting down - no kidding. And it is not the alcohol - honest - OK, not all the time.

So, I will be walking down the road and trip on a matchstick or whatever. "Sorry," my companion would say. It took me a long time to understand this. There is no real equivalent in English English ... er that is English as spoken in Great Britain.

Another one is "Yes" when we would say "No". Because the speaker is saying "Yes, I agree with what you are saying," as opposed to "No, I don't think so either."

Confusing.

But once I came to terms with these little nuances, I soon found that most Kenyans, even those upcountry, speak excellent English. And the kids in Nairobi speak better English than many kids here. They speak grammatically correct English - innit - and don't interject any "Y' know", "er", "like", and certainly don't swear - well, not in my company and not in English, anyway.

I sometimes wonder how a well-spoken Kenyan could possibly survive over here, where we beat up our own language until it is an unrecognisable pulp!

Ask a Kenyan kid "How was school today?" and the reply will be. "It was good (or bad). We did math, english and geography."

Here, the answer would be something like, "Er, well, y'know, it was, like, yeah, good. Innit."

And to think that I was considering bringing my girlfriend and her children over here! No way. I don't want to ruin their education - and their good grasp of the English language.

Friday, 27 June 2008

What does this mean?

Trawling through the hundreds of photos that were taken with my cameras while I was in Kenya (not all taken by me), I came across this one of Ben, a five year old Nairobi boy. I have seen this sign many times, both in Kenya and the UK. I didn't take this photo, so couldn't ask him what the sign meant, if anything.



Ben bears a striking resemblence to Tyler James Williams, the boy who plays a young Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris ...


... don't you think? (Ben is the one with hair!)

Water -v- Oil

Michael Grunwald, a correspondant for Time Magazine who has been commenting on Florida's attempt to restore the Everglades to their former glory commented, "There is an understanding that one day water will be as precious as oil."

I am sorry Mr Grunwald, but we can all live without oil, albeit with very different lifestyles, but try to live without water.

Water is the most precious commodity on this planet. We survived for thousands of years without oil, but we have always needed water.

Even in this modern age, there are still people who do not use oil or its products, but they need water every day. Needless to say, most of these people do not have enough water.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Getting about

I am always looking for new ways to get to and from Kenya, preferably quick, easy, cheap and comfortable.

But this must take first prize ...


Does this Nairobi bus really ply between Heathrow and Nairobi? Or is there a Heathrow in the Nairobi area that I don't know about?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Developed -v- Developing

I was sitting in a traffic jam on the Thika Road when a man cycled past me. His bicycle was laden with what looked like the steel rods used for reinforcing concrete pillars.

He crossed the road to his "shop", untied his bars and set up his gas welding kit.

That evening, I was passing back along the same road when I saw this man at the side of the road, in his shop. In pride of place was a magnificent wrought iron coffee table. I just had to stop and look.

Yes, this was made from the iron rods I had seen him carrying that morning. Yes, it wasn't finished - he was waiting for his friend to supply a sheet of glass to go on the top. Yes, it needed painting. But, on close examination, the legs were perfect, the scroll work was symmetrical, and this man used only a welding torch, a charcoal brazier, a large hammer and a length of steel railway track as an anvil. No drawings, no rulers, just his eye - brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

-oOo-

We needed cubicles for our new Internet café. I would be hard-pressed to know where to start in the UK, and would probably end up with ordinary office tables, with partition screens mounted on top. Not in Kenya. You go to the local carpenter and explain roughly what you want. A couple of days later, you pick up the finished product, which is perfectly made and ready for painting.

-oOo-

Our car broke down last September. The front disk brakes seized up. Luckily, we were in Thika Road, where there is a plethora of mechanics. I pulled into a dirt yard which was formed by a semi-circle of sheds serving as a body shop, spray booth, a mechanic, a greengrocer and a bar.

The mechanic came over, carrying his toolbox, comprising a hammer, a half-set of open-ended spanners and a lump of wood. He had an apprentice with him. The kid looked about 10, his overalls swamped him.

I sidled over to the bar where I sat sipping soda and chatted to the clientele drinking their breakfast beers. These were an off-duty tour bus driver, an off-duty policeman, a municipal worker taking a break for refreshment, and a "property developer".

I was soon relieved of my cigarettes and one of the men sent a youngster off on his bicycle to get more. Obviously I had to tip the boy.

90 minutes later, the mechanic told me that the car was fixed. We both jumped in and took it for a spin, testing the brakes. They worked.

I asked how much and he thought for a while. "Even if you are mzungu, I will only charge you 1,350 bob," he said.

I gave him Ksh 1,500 and he made a show of looking for change in his many pockets. I told him to give it to the boy.

The following day, I drove from Nairobi to Nakuru, Kericho, Sotik and finally, Kisii, then back through Narok to Nairobi. I don't know how far it was, but it was a long journey going up and down the escarpments, and the brakes never let me down.

-oOo-

I am sure that this sort of service and inventiveness can be found all over Kenya. To me, a visitor, it is astonishing to see at first hand these artisans working with virtually nothing to produce works of art, perfect furniture, or sturdy car repairs.

Here - anywhere in the "developed world" - you can get the same finished products, the difference being that most would be produced by machines. The workers are merely machine minders. They could not produce the coffee table, the cubicles for the Internet café without detailed drawings and a host of power tools. They could not fix the car without a workshop full of tools and a manual.

We, in the developed world have lost that ability to make things, to bodge.

What a shame.