Thursday, 31 December 2009

Heri Za Mwaka Mpya

I wish a 

Happy New Year

to all who follow my blogs, and to all who know me

the world over.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

What goes around comes around!

"We end this year and indeed this decade with the worst deficit in our history, the worst deficit in Europe, simply as a result of measures taken by this government."

Gordon Brown, 29 December 
1989

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Kisii Town, What Is It Really Like?

I can really only look at my second home from a European perspective. But, first impressions for most people, Kenyan and non-Kenyan,  on visiting Kisii for the first time must be that Kisii is vibrant, bustling, busy, chaotic.

They would not be wrong. Kisii is all of these things. But it is more. It is big enough to boast two national supermarkets, Tusky and Nakumatt, as well as the many independent shops and stores.

It has a large open market which is open on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has the illegal street hawkers and fruit sellers that, for the tourist, offer a chance to buy anything from safety pins to local craftwork, kangas, as well as the freshest fruit you will eat anywhere.

It is blessed with several hotels. I have visited many of them and I would not hesitate to stay in any of those I have visited. They do range from the very basic (with very basic prices) to 5-star quality, but even the cheap hotels offer clean accommodation, good food and good service, although it can be a little slow - this is Kenya!

All-in-all, Kisii is what most Europeans would expect in an African town, cows and goats mingling with the people on the street, matatus, motorbike taxis, and quite a few private and commercial vehicles. But traffic jams are largely a thing of the past as the council has built a large bus park and matatus are banned from the town centre.

Kisii is situated in the highlands in the south-west corner of Kenya, not far from the Maasai Mara, Lake Victoria, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kericho, Nakuru and the borders with Tanzania and Uganda. But it is not on the traditional tourist route, the A 104 Nairobi to Kisumu Road. Instead it is tucked on a quieter but well maintained road from Nairobi that runs through Narok and Bomet. Then close to Sotik, you take a left, pass through several typical Kenyan villages, such as  Nyansiongo and Keroka until you arrive in Kisii. This road, B3, runs through the hills and valleys and is most picturesque.

Talking to some tourists who have found Kisii almost by accident say that they left Nairobi to go to the Maasai Mara, then wanted to go on to Kisumu and the north. Rather than go back to Nairobi, they took a bus to Narok and then on to Kisii, which they found very suitable as somewhere to recuperate for a day or two before carrying on with their tour of Kenya.

Kisii is the centre for soapstone carving. The quarry at Tabaka is the only source of soapstone in Kenya and any Kenyan soapstone carvings for sale anywhere come from this quarry. There are several outlets in Kisii town where soapstone can be bought. You can also find Maasai bead and leather work for sale in Kisii, as well as more general souvenirs such as kangas.

When a white person (mzungu) walks through the town, he or she will be greeted with the call, "Mzungu! How are you?" Kids in particular will be attracted to a pale skin, there are so few in Kisii that white people are still a bit of a curiosity. Some braver kids will want to touch you, particularly your hair. They find it fascinating as, to them, it is soft compared to their tight, "wooly" hair.

So, what is Kisii really like?

It is typically African, dusty, chaotic, but also vibrant and busy. It is friendly. Europeans (wazungu) are always welcome in Kisii.

New Year's Resolutions

About this time last year, I made, and recorded on this blog, a couple of New Year's resolutions.

So how did I do? Did I keep them?

The first was that my glass should always be half-full rather than half-empty. Well, I have to say I think I have  been far more positive this year, and although I have had a couple of fits of depression, they have been less severe and much shorter than in the past.

As to the KCIS (and other) projects in Kenya, we have made good progress with the methane production and although it is not perfect, I am happy with what we have achieved.

And I have promoted a commercial project which will bring in a small but regular income in Kenya.

So, all in all, I haven't done so badly, two of last year's resolutions bore fruit!

I am not going to make any new ones for 2010, but will strive to keep those that I made a year ago.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Looking Back on 2009

On the whole, it has been a good year. I have been to Kenya twice, and I feel that we (that is, Kenyan Community Initiative Support or KCIS) have actually achieved something tangible.

On the first trip, in May, we cleared a small vegetable plot at the Twiga Centre, sowed some vegetable seed, with a view to supplying the most needy children with fresh vegetables all year round. OK, it didn't quite go according to plan - there is no one at the plot during the week, so if there is no rain, even for a couple of days, the plot dries out. This happened in June and we lost some of the seedlings. But we still had a fair few survivors, which as still growing and providing food.

What else did we achieve in May? Not a lot. We updated the register and put it on computer, which makes managing the files on the kids a bit easier - and we treated a couple of kids who had a ringworm infestation.

I also ended my relationship with my erstwhile girlfriend on the Coast. I got the impression that it was a give and take relationship. I did the giving and she ... well, you can guess the rest.

I am still fond of her and her kids. Children belonging to one party in a relationship can be considered excess baggage or a blessing. My two have long since flown the nest, so do not enter the equation. But my girlfriend had two and as far as I was concerned, they were a blessing. I am not saying that either was perfect, far from it, but they have really good characters - I miss them. Who knows? Maybe we'll get back together again. I sort of hope we will.

During the months between my first and second visits to Kisii, I worked on a final design for a methane generator. But it didn't matter how much work I put down on paper, I needed to build one and prove to myself that it would work.

So in November, that is exactly what we did. I didn't follow my latest design - that is for another day - but a simple anaerobic digester fed with cow slurry, and it worked. So I bought a table-top gas stove and that worked too. This is our most impressive achievement to date as it paves the way to providing free cooking fuel to the Twiga Centre as well as many rural Kenyans.

We built a swing at the Twiga Centre. This has been, by far, the most popular play equipment ever. In fact, if we had fitted it with headlights, the kids would be using it through the night.

But the swing was not all good news. It is the first time I have seen serious squabbles break out amongst the children. We are going to have to build some more play equipment on my next visit.

We planted more seed, all of which sprang up and looks very healthy. We also distributed seed to those children who wanted it and who had somewhere to plant it.

It is never good news when we have to take in more children, as it means that their families are no longer able to care for them. But, it is good to know that we are helping  them in a small way.

We took in three girls in November. This will help to balance up the boy to girl ratio. We were also able to strike off three children, two boys and a girl, as their widowed mother has finally received the legacy left to her by her deceased husband.

We also formalised the registration of all the children on the Twiga register. Each child had to get a form filled in by their closest relative or guardian, with enough detail for us to be able to help each child as an individual.

One of our new intake was born HIV+. This child is our only infected child. We had one last year, who was only three years old when she succumbed to her illness. I hope and pray that we will be able to hold on to our new little one for a lot longer.

While in Kisii, I thought it would be a good idea to revive the ailing business that I had started over a year ago. We did a whirlwind tour of some businesses and got some business, business that will bring in a regular income for a fair while. It is still in its infancy, but promises to be reasonably successful, by Kenyan standards, anyway.

Since my return to the UK, we have had a tentative offer of funding to start building the orphanage, good news indeed. We will not be housing every child on our register, only those who have no one to look after them. Eventually, we will take in more, those who are living with elderly relatives, for example. But we will still strive to keep family units together with other forms of support, if at all possible.

So that was 2009. What will happen in 2010? I can only guess, but we do have plans. We want to improve the anaerobic digester, and build more. We want to tie up with an organisation in Bungoma to look at ways that water hyacinth can be used. As I mentioned earlier, we want to build more play equipment, maybe a see-saw. And we want to start rainwater harvesting at the Twiga centre.

Not too challenging - I hope!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Waiting For News ... and Receiving It

Christmas ... a time for rejoicing, giving and receiving.

But at 8.00 this morning, as I logged onto the Internet, I was hit with the news from Kenya that the wife and two daughters of my good friend and business partner had been involved in a road accident on the way to church. They were accompanied by one of our Twiga children, Benta, who is living with them.

The four of them have been taken to hospital. That is all I know. So now I am waiting by my computer to receive news, praying that it was a minor accident resulting in nothing more than cuts, grazes and bruises.

What a way to spend Christmas morning.

But it is worse for my friend Vincent. It is his wife, they are his children, and even Benta, the Twiga child is one of the family.

He is at the hospital now, with his family, hopefully getting the news that no one has been seriously hurt.

Abigael, Faith, Yvonne, Benta, I am praying for you all. And I am sure that any reader to this sad blog will do the same.

Update

All are as well as can be expected having been spilled off a motorcycle taxi - nothing more than cuts, grazes and bruises.

Everyone is now back at home, and celebrating life!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

It's That Time of Year Again

... when the supermarkets are full of people rushing around buying too much, when some kids get far too much in their Christmas stockings, and when I look around me and think of my friends in Kenya, struggling to make a living, struggling even to put food in the bellies of their children.

And a song comes to mind:

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all

(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all



Just think about the lyrics. Says it all, doesn't it?

So, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Finding Uses for a Pest - Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth - its the scourge of the waterways of the warmer bits of the planet, including Kenya.

As I have posted in a previous blog, while I was in Kenya, we had a day trip to Bungoma - it should have been longer, but the car hire charges didn't allow us to stay - and I was amazed at what these people are doing with this weed.

But our visit was to advise them on the use of water hyacinth as a feed stock for a methane generator. Of course, any organic matter can be used, but some are easier to use than others.

The problem with water hyacinth is that it is a floating weed, so if it is put into an anaerobic digester untreated, it will just float. It is also full of water, being an aquatic plant.

It floats because, on the leaf stem, under the leaf, there is a bulb which is hollow and filled with gas (air?). These have to be burst or removed. Crushing the plant seems like a good idea. Then not only would these little gas bulbs be burst, but some of the water would be expelled as well.

So, to my mind, to make water hyacinth suitable for anaerobic digestion, it needs to be crushed and chopped up.  This can be done manually, but wouldn't it be good if we could devise a machine to do it? Or better still, to reduce costs, use or adapt an existing machine to do the job!

This has been on my mind since my visit to Bungoma, where I was shown a press to make briquettes for cooking. They now have three presses and I started imagining putting two of them together and adding some sort of press across the two of them which would crush the plants, bursting the bulbs and squeezing out excess water. Hopefully, I will soon be able to put ideas to paper.

While I was cogitating on the weed problem, I was contacted by someone in the USA who pointed me to a YouTube video. This showed how to prepare water hyacinth for human consumption. Apparently, it is very nutritious, and as there is an abundance in countries where there are food shortages (e.g. Kenya), I am now wondering if there is a way to use the plant as a regular food source. After all, there is a lake full of the stuff in SW Kenya - and I am sure it exists in other lakes and slow-running water as well.

Water hyacinth apparently makes a very good fodder for cattle. In Florida, USA, they spend millions on removing and destroying the weed. They also spend millions on cattle feed - well, there's a no-brainer!

If you have first-hand knowledge as to where water hyacinth is prevalent in Kenya, please let me know in the comments. In fact, if you have any experience in the use of water hyacinth for anything, please contact me.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Kenya Trip - Bungoma

During my stay in Kisii, I was asked by someone in the USA to travel to Bungoma (4 hours by road) to meet up with an organisation that is doing all sorts of research with water hyacinth, a water weed from South America that has found itself in the waterways of much of equatorial Africa.

The first thing we needed was a car, so we contacted the guy who had picked me up from Nairobi, Dennis. Of course he would hire me his car, a recent model Toyota Corolla. We negotiated a price (Ksh 3,000)and that was that.

Until it came to signing the contract. then Dennis decided that as the road was "not too good" he would prefer that I used one of his tougher cars, a Toyota Crown Mk II. It would cost me a further Ksh 500.

On the day in question, the car was to be delivered to the nearest road access we had at 7am. We were there, but the car wasn't. We phoned Dennis. his driver didn't have a phone, so Dennis picked us up and we searched for the car. We found it 100 metres down the road.

We followed Dennis to his office and garage where he filled the car with fuel and charged me Ksh 5,300. I was pretty sure that I was not going to use a tankful and spent the next half-hour wondering if I could syphon off the fuel I didn't use.

We were finally under way, on the road from Kisii to Kisumu. It is a switch-back of a road through the steep hills of the area, but it was in good condition and we made good time.

We passed through Kisumu without mishap, other than Vincent, who was navigating, only knew the matatu route, which took us through some of the more savoury parts of the town. But, eventually was cleared the town and started climbing out of the Lake Victoria basin, which is rather flat and uninteresting.

Two hours later, we were in Bungoma, another typically busy African town, full of bustle and nouise (and cattle). We met up with Salim and his colleagues in their office, where we exchanged ideas about whet weach organisation was doing and hoping to do.

We, that is Vincent and me, and Salim and his two colleagues went on a tour of their projects. At  this point, I was glad to have the larger car.

First stop was at Salim's house where he showed us a press, made mainly of wood, which is used to compress partially dried water hyacinth into briquettes which can be used as an alternative for charcoal for cooking. The press was impressive, and locally built, paid for by the organisation in the USA.

Next stop was the shamba of Salim's father. He had donated some of his land so that Salim could test composted hyacinth. The land was divided into small plots, the first being a control plot with no fertiliser. All the others had been enriched with water hyacinth mixed with various other ingredients. The tests were ongoing, but there was a marked difference between the enriched plots and the control.

We discussed the possible location of a anaerobic digester in the compound. This would use water hyacinth (possibly mixed with cow slurry to speed up the the anaerobic process), to see how efficient it would be for producing methane. There are issues with water hyacinth, which i will go into on another blog. However, it should be suitable with the correct treatment.

While we were at the shamba, Salim showed me another project of theirs, cooking stoves. That's nothing new, I thought, but these are made from mud (not clay) mixed with sawdust. These burners are hand-made, although at a casual glance, they look as if they came out of a mold - they were that good.

It was a good day and gave me much food for thought, like how best to treat water hyacinth to use it in an anaerobic digester.

We set off for home (Kisii) after a late lunch (see previous blog). By the time we arrived in Kisumu, it was dark, African dark. On the road out, I was constantly swerving to miss bicycles and motorbikes with no lights and it was a relief to get back into the countryside, where i only had to avoid bigger vehicles without lights.

Then we were hit by the thunderstorms. Anyone who has not experienced an African Equatorial thunderstorm has no idea what they are like. I hit a T-junction that I did not remember on the outbound journey and asked Vincent if we should turn left. He was preoccupied with the Swahili music blasting from the radio and nodded.

Then we were in the middle of a storm. I had to stop. I could not see the road ahead. But when the rain abated and we were on the move again, I was passing signs mentioning Kericho. This town is too far to the east. We had gone wrong.

Vincent could not believe it and instructed me to do a U-turn. He was now concentrating fully, looking for anything he might recognise. He didn't find anything!

We continued into the countryside, caught up with the storm, stopped and after it had passed, continued on our way to ... wherever.

We passed a couple of lads and stopped to ask directions. As their luck would have it, we would be passing their front door on the way back to Kisii, so we gave them a lift.

The pointed out the road we needed when we dropped them off in the middle of a small, dark village, and we continued on ... and on ... and on.

We passed a Police checkpoint at the entrance to another small, dark village and started to climb. After about 5 km, Vincent thought that we should have turned right by the checkpoint, so we did another U-turn. We were running low on fuel so we coasted back down the hill for 5 kms.

What a waste of time! The policeman sent us back from whence we had come, back up the hill. But at the top, Vincent said that the lights to the right were Kisii, a reasonable assumption as it is the only large town in the area.

We found our right turn and Vincent brightened up. He was starting to recognise things. I was still worried as the fuel warning light had been on for a long time - and I was running out of cigarettes!

But, we made it. We found a kiosk open and I bought a very expensive packet of ciggies.

The next problem was what to do with the car. In Kenya, you do not just park a car at the side of the road if you want to keep the wheels. We went to the nearest hotel to the house. Ksh 250 for the night. We phoned Dennis who told us to go to his house and he would drop us home, where we finally arrived at 23:30.

Dennis was disappointed that the Toyota was almost empty - that was his excess profit gone, but Vincent and I were very pleased with the trip and could even laugh about getting lost in the wilds to the east of Kisii.

Abuse!

I am astounded at how local workers for major charities are sometimes treated. As far as I can work out, there is a fixed pay scale for local people working for charities and NGOs, but many don't get anywhere near this, and some don't get paid at all.

I have been told of one case where someone worked for a NGO for over three years and has never received a penny.

The NGO is making placating noises but they are not paying up.

Now, I believe that it is often not the fault of the NGO head office, usually outside of Kenya, but of the local "management", who cream off the funding sent to them for their own use, leaving the workers on the ground with little or no money and with a shortfall of funds for a given project.

In the past, KCIS has been asked by a charity in the USA to "check out " the credentials of a group that wanted to affiliate and thereby receive funds. We investigated and found that the group, which was supposed to be fostering orphans didn't have a single child in their care, despite claims that they were looking after several children and consequently, did not receive any funding.

But all too often, funds that are supposed to be going to solve a problem, or to pay the ground workers, never reach their intended recipients, but the local managers get rich (relatively), build new houses, buy cars - it is all too obvious if only people would look and see and investigate.

But then, if the powers that be in the country are "at it", then why shouldn't those closer to the ground get their snout in the trough as well?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Kenya Trip - Clean Drinking Water

Apart from a shortage of food, one of the big problems in Kenya, indeed Africa, is the lack of clean water to drink.

I have seen a few "gadgets" that allow people, particularly children, to drink dirty water through a special straw that filters the water instantly. I have seen others that the drinker fills with water and shakes, producing clean, clear water. But, will these ever get down to the grass roots? Who will pay for these implements?

SODIS is a means of purifying water using the UV rays of the sun. When a 1½ litre plastic (PET) bottle is filled with water and let in the sun for 8 hours, anything living in the water will be killed. No bugs, no germs, no live eggs.

So, we have started to show this to the children at the Twiga Centre. Now, they each have a bottle or two at the  centre, which they fill from the borehole and leave on the corrugated steel roof during the week. The following weekend, when they return, they can run around and then have a drink.

We are now encouraging them to do the same at home with harvested rainwater, so that they are sure the water is safe (they drink "raw" rainwater and sometimes pick up a tummy bug).

A small change in their routines, but, hopefully a big change in their health.

Kenya Trip - Tilapia

I have looked up tilapia, or Nile Perch on the Interweb, with a view to possibly breeding them in still waters for food, and also as a means to reduce mosquito larvae (tilapia love mosquito larvae).

But I had never eaten one, although they are common enough, being sold raw or ready-cooked in markets, on the roadside ... they are the East African MacDonald's.

A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to Bungoma to meet some people working on ways to use water hyacinth, which is a ... well, that's another blog, isn't it?

After our meeting, we were invited to a late lunch at a nice restaurant in Bungoma town. As it was pouring with rain, we dashed from the car into the building, but i had left my reading glasses on the dashboard. So when it came to reading the menu, I couldn't and relied on Vincent, my associate and good friend to order for me.

Vincent and one of our hosts were served first and I was horrified to see what was on their plates - a large fish, head to tail included, accompanied by a mound of ugali.

Then our other host was served the same and my heart sank. I don't eat fish as a general rule, and I am not too fond of ugali, especially in the quantities that Kenyans seem to eat it!

My plate arrived, with complete fish and ... chips! The waiter also brought me a spoon and fork, which I declined.

So there was nothing to do but tackle this monstrosity on my plate. I watched my companions to see how they tackled it. It looked easy enough, so I gave it a try. Pinching the skin between two fingers and my thumb, I felt the flesh come away from the skeleton. I gingerly put it to my mouth. It was delicious. No, it was better than that.

On the way home, I mentioned to Vincent that I rarely eat fish, but that I have really enjoyed the tilapia, and a couple of days later, for dinner, it was served again.

On my return to the UK, I was doing the weekly shop in a big shop starting with "T", and as I passed the fresh fish counter, what did I see? Fillets of tilapia. To be sure, it was not Kenyan tilapia. This was from Jamaica. But I bought two fillets anyway, and yes, it was just as good.

Kenya Trip - Methane

Soon after arriving in Kisii, I could be seen rummaging through the Kisii markets and street traders for bits to (finally) build an anaerobic digester, to produce methane, which i believe can be used as a cooking fuel, amongst other things.

I have ranted on about finding a sensible alternative to wood or charcoal for cooking and stating that methane is the best for most people in rural areas, so, I will not go into our reasons again - just yet.

The first component needed is, of course, a large gas-tight container. a 45 gallon oil drum is fine. At Ksh 2,500, it is not too expensive, but as a pale-skinned potential client, the price had risen inexplicably, but I am not a tourist and got the price back down again.

With a bag full of bits, mainly water plumbing fitments, I imagined that I could get the digester working. So we set off for the site and started to build.

Unfortunately, not all the bits fitted each other, other bits failed and yet others had the wrong thread (the hazard of buying in a market), but eventually, we had a sealed drum with an outlet with a gas-tight tap on it.

We loaded it with fresh slurry from the cow shed next door. Getting it through the standard 2" hole in the top of the oil drum was a trial - and very smelly - but we made a funnel from an old plastic container, which made the job easier. We topped up with rotted cow dung, mixed well and cooked at about 35C, the heat provided by the sun, of course.

According to all the reports I have read, an anaerobic digester takes about a week before it starts to produce methane, but maybe they didn't have the advantage of equatorial sun.

Being impatient, we could not wait the allotted week and tried out the gas that was being produced within a couple of days. It was not methane, or at least, it did not burn. We released all the gas out of the drum, hoping that we were releasing any oxygen, leaving only the product of the digestion process.

The next day was a success. The gas produced a flame!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

My Trip to Kenya - Arrival

Although I have posted a couple of blogs about my latest trip, I will now blog in detail!

I arrived at JKIA early on Thursday 12th November and was met by Vincent, who had hired a taxi in Kisii to take us back. We had negotiated the price beforehand (Ksh 7,500), so there were no nasty surprises in store - or - but this is Kenya.

The driver, Dennis, drove out of the airport and got us onto the Uhuru Highway, where we stopped for breakfast. It was agreed that, as Dennis had driven all night, I would take over and drive some of the way to Kisii, so I took over at this point.

The car was a recent Toyota Corolla (naturally! Are there any other cars in Kenya?) and a pleasure to drive until we hill an uphill. It was automatic, but there were so many protective mats on the floor that the kick-down couldn't work, so we crawled up the hills, being overtaken by overladen, clapped-out lorries and matatus that I had overtaken on the flat.

We crossed the Rift Valley, passing through Narok and Bomet, where I stopped. Dennis took over again and we made it to Kisii well before dark.

Then, Dennis told me that the agreed price was leaving him out of pocket and he needed another Ksh. 1,000 - naturally. I paid.

At the house, we got the greetings and present giving over, and I could relax, which was just as well as Vincent had arranged our first appointment for 8:30 the following morning.

I slept well and was ready for anything the following morning. The meeting went very well and I received an email to say that funding had come through for a particular project. We collected the money from the bank and planned our trip to Bungoma. We needed a car, so we went back to Dennis and he agreed to hire me the Corolla for Ksh 3,000. but more of this later.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Anecdotes from Kisii

I like Bob Marley, well, most of his stuff, anyway, so I brought along a few tracks on my PC to keep me amused.

I didn't reckon on Josephat (6 years) being totally in awe of the great Rasta. It is amusing, listening to this little Kenyan child, who speaks no English, singing in a Jamaican accent, "No Woman, no cry" and Buffalo Soldier".

He also loves Michael Jackson, especially "Thriller", although if any Michael Jackson is shown on TV, he immediately shouts, "Micheal Jaskshon, Michael Jackshon!"

Talking of TV, I thought I wouldn't miss the junk fed to us in the UK, but, it is prime viewing compared with some of the stuff broadcast in Kenya, which seems to comprise mainly of Mexican soaps, very old US cartoons and the odd US CSI, sprinkled with a few really good Kenyan programmes, such as Inspekta Mwala.

Mind you, Saturday morning Kids TV is, in part Kenyan, and despite my 59 years, I find it quite entertaining. So it would seem that Kenyans can produce really good TV. It is just a pity they don't produce more.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Methane Project

We should be reaching the final phase of our project to build a cheap anaerobic digester today.

We have the actual digester producing a gas of some sort, which I guess is methane, as it is flammable. Today, we connect it up to a calor gas table-top stove and we will see what happens.

We have been approached by an organisation in Bungoma that is looking for uses for the infernal menace, water hyacinth, which they harvest from Lake Victoria at Kisumu. So far, they are producing "charcoal" briquettes, compost, fertiliser and now they want to see if it will produce methane.

From what I can find out, it will, but due to the high water and gas content of the plant, it has to be crushed, pressed and at least partially dried, otherwise it will just float at the top of the digester and not rot down.

A bit more complicated than using slurry, but there is plenty of water hyacinth, which is a menace to fishing in Lake Victoria, so if we can find uses for it, so much the better. It is just a pity that it is not edible!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Internet in Kenya

As my reader may be aware, we have had a broadband connection problem since I arrived in Kenya. We had had a telephone line and broadband installed not too long ago, but as the cables are copper and unprotected, someone stole a length of cable along the road. It took Telkom 10 days to find the fault and it still hasn't been resolved. In fact since the problem occurred, more cable has been stolen (it makes very good washing line!).

Telkom have been sort of helpful - they have lent us a dongle whcih we have to charge up. But it is only offering a maximum speed of 236kbps, as against the Safaricom dongle we borrowed, which boasted 7.2 Mbps - big difference!

Oh how I miss my "no limit, flat rate" account at home!

Of course, as the dongle connection is not flat rate, we are being very careful  about how long we are connected. This means that apart from emails, we are doing little via the Internet. We pass a comment ot two on Twitter, just to let the world know we are still alive!

Oh well, I suppose we ought to be thankful for any sort of connection.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Producing Methane

As you, my reader will be aware, I have been dreaming and scheming for a long time to produce methane on the shamba at the Twiga Children's Centre in Kisii.

Well, last Monday (23/11), we did it. We opened the tap on the digester, put a light to a gas burner and got a flame!

We had spent the last week building an anaerobic digester that was cheap yet safe. Kisii is not a town full of hardware shops selling gas connections so we resorted to anything we could find in the markets. Some bits failed, some were damaged, threads, etc., and some just were not what we needed, but eventually, we had our digester.

The next job was to feed it. We are using cow slurry, a horrible mixture of fresh dung and urine, straight out of the cow shed. We added some more solid dung later to give the mixture some body. I don't know about body, but it certainly has a smell.

We finished on the Friday and let it stew over the weekend. Now, anaerobic digesters usually take about a week to start producing, apparently, but we couldn't wait, so we had to have a test on Monday, and yes, it works.

For our next trick, we ar egoing to acquire funds to buy a twin ring gas burner so we can at last cook food for the children at  Twiga - but that's another story for another day.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

I've Arrived

I arrived in Kisii, safe ans sound and on schedule, only to find that some kind soul had stolen the recently installed telephone cable, which has deprived us, and many people to the west of the town with telephone services (and Internet connection)!.

We have managed to borrow a mobile Internet modem, but I have to use my cell phone SIM, which means no one can contact me while I am using it.

So I am restricting my time on the Internet to a minimum, so blogging will be sketchy until the line is replaced by Telkom (it has taken two weeks so far - but this is Kenya).

I am keeping notes of moments of interest and will post all as soon as I can.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

All Aboard the Skylark ...

It's nearly time for "All Aboard the Skylark" or whatever Sir Richard calls his infernal flying machines, and I am busy packing, checking, unpacking, weighing, repacking, re-checking, re-weighing, - well, you get the picture - . so blogging is probably going to be low down on the "To-Do" list until I get to Kisii, which will be late afternoon on Thursday 12th.

I do have wi-fi on my laptop but as the battery can only hold a charge for about 7 seconds, rules dictate that it has  to go in the cargo hold rather than as hand baggage, so I will not be able to blog during the interminable wait between checking in of luggage and actually getting on the Skylark (or Airbus).

I just hope that the check-in staff are lenient with people carrying stuff for charities! They were last time so I am banking on that, and the fact that the aircraft won't be full.

Isn't it weird that the word 'blog' is not in the blogspot spell-checker dictionary? Nor is blogspot, come to that!

Thirty-six Hours To Go

In a little less than 36 hours time, I will be on a Virgin Atlantic plane, winging my way to Kenya.

Am I ready? Is everything packed? Do I even know where my passport is?

No, no and no.

Oops!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Now I Know How a Headless Chicken Feels ...

I have a list, in fact I have three lists, one for what I've got to take to Kenya, one for what I have got to do before I go, and one for what I have got to do for Nyanya Mzungu before I go.

Unfortunately, I keep losing the lists, or start doing something on the list when I get interrupted by Nyanya Mzungu, who is making sure I have such-and-such on her list. She is not looking forward to being left alone while I am in Kenya, but at the same time keeps telling me I have to live my own life.

I have been to the bank to pay cheques in, probably the last I will receive from clients before I leave. While I was in town (somewhere I try to avoid), I had a look in the Pound Shop and got some little things for the Twiga Children's Centre, pens, pencils, and stuff.

I have collected my currency, which will last me about one day in Kenya as I will have to pay for the car that is picking me up from JKIA and taking me to Kisii - yes, I am travelling in style for once. It is a bit of a relief as I am taking two cases and that just about fills the back of a matatu, making me unpopular with the rest of the passengers.

I had arranged a lift to Heathrow, but my friend suddenly decided to take a 4-day break in Spain. I was worried that he might not bother to come back - but he has, so that's a relief.

I still haven't started to pack, although I have sorted through the six boxes of clothes (thanks Manuela for your help) that have been donated to the Children's Centre and decided what I should take. I won't be able to take all of it, there is just too much, but as least I have sorted out the stuff that I do not need to take, mainly the baby stuff - we don't have any babies at the Children's Centre at the moment.

As an aside, just to throw a small spanner in the works, I have to take Nyanya Mzungu to see the doctor tomorrow - just a check-up, thankfully. I also have to take her shopping. She has been through the freezer at least three times in the last 24 hours, just to make sure there is enough food for her while I am away.

So, what's left? Draw a bit of sterling cash to take with me, pack and go. Hey! I'm ahead of schedule!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Jim Humble's MMS

I have written about Jim Humble's MMS, or Miracle Mineral Supplement here. I am sceptical about anything that boasts the word 'miracle' in its title, so if its claims are to be believed, I have to see the proof - not reports from other people.

So I acquired some of this supplement, which consists of two bottles of liquid which have to be mixed together just before taking - it tastes horrible. All I needed was an ailment to treat and recently, I was in luck, so to speak.

I broke a tooth whilst eating, chomped the broken bit into the resulting cavity and pushed my other teeth out of place, all of which resulted in a pain under the damaged tooth, probably caused by an abscess.

Although I tried to get an emergency appointment with the dentist, I was out of luck, so nursing an aching face, I turned to MMS, I have to say, with no expectations other than a bad taste in the mouth!

I gave myself quite a hefty dose, swilled it around the damaged tooth and gum, then swallowed. I didn't notice any effect, but a couple of hours later, realised that the swelling had gone down and the pain was almost gone.

The following day, there was no swelling and no pain.

That's twice I have used MMS, and on both occasions my condition has improved very quickly. I still don't endorse MMS, but feel that it is worth further investigation.

We will remember them.




“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning

Saturday, 7 November 2009

I Really Must Start ...

... to get ready for my Kenyan trip. I leave on Wednesday, and I haven't sorted, packed or even given it any thought - I don't even know where my passport is!

I have my clothes to pack - that shouldn't take more than two minutes. I mean, just how many clothes do you need in a country where daytime temperatures hover around 25°C and at night never drop below 15°C.

I have the technical stuff to pack:
  • Laptop
  • Handycam & DVDs
  • Backup camcorder & tapes
  • Digital camera & memory cards
  • Back-up digital camera & memory card
  • Rechargeable batteries and charger
  • Tripod
  • Card reader
  • Video tapes for the kids
  • Mobile phones
Then there are the clothes that have been donated for the Twiga children. These are stored in boxes, all jumbled up. Probably the easiest way to sort them into age groups.

We have been given loads of toys and games as well. Some are obviously too big to take, even with an allowance of two bags at 23kg each.

So I have set tomorrow (oh, that's just over an hour away) to sorting all this out, finding two bags or suitcases (and my passport), and packing everything - more or less.

I still have some time available on Monday; Tuesday is a bit cluttered, and I leave on Wednesday. If I haven't got everything by then, it will be too bad!

And the Truth Is ...

"Words offer the means to meaning and, for those who will listen, the enunciation of Truth. And the Truth is, there is something terribly wrong with our country, isn't there?"

'V' from V for Vendetta.

A nice blog from 'Diary of a Geek'

Ambulance Service?

Involved as I am in the well-being of a small community in Kenya, I do a lot of reading about illness, health and prevention, and the one thing that strikes me is that there are a lot of unnecessary deaths due to illnesses such as malaria, particularly amongst children, because their immune systems are not yet fully active, and they dehydrate more quickly.

I have been told, on good authority that a child sick with malaria needs glucose to "kick-start" the body, but this is rarely available in rural areas. So, if a child is sick with malaria (and many other illnesses) a spoonful of sugar placed under the tongue is a good alternative.

But, at the end of the day, the child needs to go to hospital for treatment - as quickly as possible. And this is where the problems start. People in rural areas rarely have a vehicle, they may not even have a "proper" road to the village. So the child has to be carried to the nearest road and then it is a wait for a matatu to come along with enough space to take the child and parent. The matatu, of course, costs money.

This got me thinking. If a vehicle were available in a town where there is a hospital (Kisii springs to mind), just how much would it cost to run a free ambulance service covering the outlying areas. All it would take is a single phone call from the village to the ambulance control and it would be dispatched to pick up the sick person and transport them to hospital.

The vehicle does not need the state of the art equipment that is to be found in ambulances in the UK. I doesn't even have to be a specially-built vehicle. A minibus with a few seats removed or folded down to make room for a stretcher would be adequate. The crew would probably need basic first aid knowledge and be capable of driving in a safe manner.

Twos and blues would probably be useful, but not absolutely necessary. Other drivers would probably not take a lot of notice as many matatus are also equipped with these.

So, a basic minibus with a few seats modified, a stretcher that  can be fixed securely into the vehicle, a part-time driver, and we could have an ambulance.

The sick, particularly children would get to hospital quickly to be treated before it is too late.

There must be a hole in this idea somewhere, it is far too easy.

Oh yes! Funding. Money. Isn't it funny how the health of children comes down to money - or the lack of.

Friday, 6 November 2009

"What Is That Bad Smell?"

"David, please, what this bad smell in die house?" So asked one of my foster kids as he walked in after school.

I don't profess to be a good cook, but I like food - I love food! So, I have had to teach myself to cook the meals that I like, one of which is cassoulet, which is a dish from SW France.

Now, I don't want to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that a lot of preparation goes into this dish, and it takes me the best part of two days to get it on the table.

I was in the outskirts of Johannesburg at the time, and decided that a cassoulet would be a good meal that would last a few days. I started preparation on Wednesday, and started to cook it as soon as I got home from work on Thursday.

But that's when disaster struck. I had not long been in South Africa and was still struggling with the lack of oxygen at 5,500 ft. So, having put all the ingredients on to simmer for an hour or so, I fell asleep.

I was rudely awakened by the smell of burning meat, not the "Oops! Dinner is a bit scorched" smell, but the "seriously burned to a cinder" smell, which is stronger and horrible.

And I had no dinner.

I opened every window and door in the house to try to dispel the smell, with little success. Hence the question on Friday afternoon,

"David, please, what this bad smell in die house?"

My Little World Has Gone Mad!

When I am not in Kenya, I am an IT consultant serving clients in a smallish village in North Hampshire, fixing things, taking viruses off, upgrading and swapping data from old PCs to new ones.

But, just recently, I have had to take up another occupation, that of twiddling thumbs. There was no work. Everything was dead. So I decided to go out to Kenya for a month, leaving on 11th November.

But since last week, my work diary has been full! I can't say that I have earned a fortune, I never have and doubt that I ever will, and I wouldn't want to, but this last few days has brought in the money.

I had been wondering where the money was going to come from for this trip. Well, it has arrived!

Today, I trotted down to the post office and ordered my Kenyan shillings. On Monday I will bank a few cheques and draw the money. My anti-malaria tablets have been ordered. All I need to do is pack!

Now I am really looking forward to this trip - I can actually afford it, as long as I am careful.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Feeding the Children

No, not the Twiga OVCs* this time. I was staying with a friend at the coast and looking after her two children, an almost-5 girl and just-7 boy.

It was lunchtime and I was rummaging through the kitchen trying to find something to stop the regular cries of "I'm hungry!"

There was little to give them as we had planned on doing some shopping that afternoon, so, what to do? Then my eyes settled on a bag of rice. "A-ha!" I thought and put some on to cook in a 50/50 mix of milk and water. I added sugar AND honey, then when it was cooked, called the chldren.

"What! Rice? By itself?" complained the boy.

"Try it," I said

The boy dipped his spoon into the rice and tasted a couple of grains. The look of surprise on his face was a picture. "Wow! Natasha, come and try this!"

In the end, I had to make a second batch as they enjoyed my take on rice pudding. It's a pity I didn't have an oven to do the job properly.

It also occurred to me that the Twiga OVCs would have been happy with a bowl of cooked, unsweetened rice. Different strokes ...

*OVC: orphaned or vulnerable child

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Daily Conversation

When I am not trotting off to Kenya, I am the 24/7 carer for my mother (87 years young).

This is the conversation that we have several times a day:

Mum: When are you going [to Kenya]?

Me: 11th November.

Mum: When are you coming back?

Me: 11th December

Mum: Do you really have to go?

What do I say? "If I don't go, I will go mad!" " I have to lead my own life!" or "I will be back before you know it."

This last is of course not true, she suffers every day I am away.

Guilt trip!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Meandering of the Mind

The date for my next trip to Kisii is fixed - I have bought the ticket (the cheapest available, so I cannot change it without penalties) and I leave these shores on 11 November.

Despite preferring Kenya Airways (marginally), i am going with Virgin as their fare was £101 cheaper at the time of booking. Still, the one thing that I didn't like when I used them last has changed, that is the return flight. It used to leave JKIA at 09:15, but it has now been put back to12:50, which is better for me as I have to get back from Kisii to Nairobi.


I want to get the hut on the plot somewhere close to habitable. It needs a good clean-up as  two rooms are used for storage of ... stuff. The stuff needs to be sorted and that which is beyond use, disposed of or recycled.

The biggest problem is the windows. They are metal frames but they are not glazed. And I would guess that glazing them would be expensive.

But why do they need to be glazed? Purely to keep the mosquitoes out. Rain never gets in due to the overhang of the roof.

So, there I was, lying in bed, thinking about how to glaze the windows for as little money as possible. And then it came to me. Cling film. I have seen it used as a cheap alternative to double glazing, so how about wrapping it around the frames of the open windows? Not too strong, but mosquito-proof, I am sure.

We'll see.

I am going to have to apply myself to packing very soon. I don't need a lot for myself in an area where the daytime temperature is always around 26°C and never drops below 17°C at night.

But I will be carrying  two video cameras, a digital camera, laptop and if I can, some external PC speakers.

Also, I have been given a lot of children's clothes (and some of the Twiga kids sorely need clothes) and toys. I would love to be able to take all the toys, but I fear that I would exceed my baggage allowance (2 x 23kg), so I will be doing a lot of juggling before I go. Decisions, decisions!

I need to get to the post office very soon. They offer a very good exchange rate, and although I can usually get a better rate in Kenya, I don't like arriving without any currency. Changing money at the airport is not a good idea, and I will be going directly to Kisii, so will not be able to visit one of the banks in Nairobi centre.

Oh well, I think that's covered everything, except travel insurance and malaria pills - that's £100 blown before I even start!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Generous People Will Make It Christmas At Twiga

Since the beginning of 2008, I have been collecting old cell phones for sale in Kenya. Last year, this effort raised enough to buy all our kids a new pair of leather schools shoes!

I have continued to collect cell phones, but they are becoming rarer. So I put out a plea for toys and games, as we approach Christmas - and my departure for Kenya.

Orphaned kids in Kenya don't do Christmas. They go to church, but other than that, Christmas Day is just another day to survive.

Anyway, I just want to say a big thank you to Sophie, 10 years old, who lives in Newbury. She has given up her complete collection of Barbie dolls, 15 of them! Her little brothers gave 4 or 5 cars and a few other bits and bobs.

Anne, also from Newbury, gave us a load of cuddly toys, and some games, such as chess, draughts and card games and a junior Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Mia, a South African, also from Newbury gave us some games and some seed for our vegetable plot.

Our kids at Twiga are going to have one very good Christmas, even if it will be a little early - I will be back in the UK for the day.

But we still need money to feed them (and to build the much needed children's home), so if anyone is feeling generous, or wants to do some fund-raising, please feel free. Donations can be made with the PayPal button in the right margin.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

OK, I'm British - Official

While I was pushing my mother around hospital in a wheelchair, I was rammed unceremoniously from behind by one of those motorised mobility scooters.

What did I do?

I turned round and said, "Sorry!"

Only in England ...

Monday, 19 October 2009

I Wonder If I will See ...

I am about to embark on my fourth trip to Kenya since September 2007. The previous trips all lasted about a month as will this one. But during all these trips, I haven't seen a wild animal close up.

That's not quite true. on my first trip, I was driving from Nairobi to Kisii, via Nakuru, and while on the floor of the Rift Valley, a small herd of zebra weaved is way through the almost stationary traffic, passing immediately in front of us. There were also  a few baboons sitting on the rocks at the side of the road, watching us go by.

On my second trip, travelling from Kisii to Nairobi by matatu, I saw, in the distance, a herd of giraffe mingling with a herd of goats, tended by a very small (Maasai?) boy. He looked very small against the giraffe.

Other than that, I have seen lizards scampering across the walls of every home I have stayed in, the largest cockroaches in the world (probably), and a centipede as think as my little finger.

In Kisii, close to the  house, there are a lot of raptor birds who nest along the river. They are good to watch, but when they are the only wildlife to be seen for a couple of weeks, the novelty wears off.


While staying at the coast, I saw a hedgehog wandering around the compound in broad daylight. The kids were delighted until they realised that it could not be stroked!

So this time, will I actually see what Kenya is famous for? A lion, or rhino, perhaps a hippo, an elephant, or my personal favourite cat, a cheetah would be nice.

It would make a change from the goats, cattle, chickens and dogs that roam in, around and through every town and village.

When I was in South Africa, twenty years ago (OMG, was it that long ago?), I visited two game parks regularly, as well as the Sandton Lion Park and a reptile park, not too far from home. I made the most of my stay there. I was licked by a giraffe, charged at by a rhino, and hissed at by a puff adder.

(Note: I don't recommend the being charged at by a rhino experience. It was bigger than our car.)

So, I think it is about time I experienced some of the animals of Kenya that aren't found sharing my bedroom / compound / shoes / food, or that aren't destined to become my dinner one day.

We'll see.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

More KCIS on the BBC

As the UK representative of Kenyan Community Initiative Support, I have been invited to appear* on BBC Radio Berkshire again, immediately after my next trip to Kenya, that is 14th December.

We have been there before, twice now, on Clare Catford's Sunday Faith programme, but this invitiation is for the weekday afternoon programme presented by Sarah Walker, who has a "Desert Island Disks" slot from 3 to 4 pm.

A whole hour of free promotion of our cause. That can't be bad.

*Not strictly an appearance if it is radio. What is the right word?

Stacey Dooley; Where Did She Pop Up From?

... and I don't mean Luton Airport (like Lorraine Chase).

With little else to watch on the 40 or so channels I receive on TV, I was channel-flipping when I came across a programme, Stacey Dooley Investigates. As it was about Cote d'Ivoire, I stopped flicking and kept one eye on the box.

My immediate impressions was that the investigator was a young air-head looking for fame. Oh, how wrong I was!

Stacey Dooley may be young, but she is no air-head wafting in from Luton Airport. She is not a "professional" broadcaster, but what she lacks in experience, she more than makes up for with genuine passion and feeling for kids who are unscrupulously exploited for the desires of the developed world - fashion clothes from India and chocolate from Cote d'Ivoire.

OK, it is true that only a small number of children in a small village will benefit from her efforts. She managed to re-open a classroom at the local village school. One more and the school will be recognised by the government and will then be supported.

One small step. But it also brought home to us, the fashion-loving, chocolate-munching developed world, just how we get these delights that we don't even think about.

How kids are working 12 hours a day to produce T-shirts. How small kids with machetes are harvesting the beans to make our chocolate. Now, I look at a bar of chocolate and think of those children.

Judging from comments on Stacey's Facebook and on YouTube, I guess I am not the only person to be moved by her programmes.

So, all I can say is 10/10 for effort, Stacey. I hope you take up a career as a reporter of child exploitation in the future (if you haven't already). And I hope that you will visit us in Kenya one day. We could show you a thing or two.

Kisii - Here I Come

I have finally managed to book the flight for my next visit to Kisii in Kenya. I nearly didn't manage it - I had been monitoring the fares for the three carriers that fly direct from Heathrow to JKIA and they had remained stable for a while at around £390 return, which i find reasonable.

However, yesterday, I was finally in a position to actually book the flight, so logged on to the Kenya Airways website, only to find that the fare had increased to £491, £101 more than I could afford.

My heart sank, as the three carriers usually follow the trend together. But not willing to give up, I logged on to the Virgin Atlantic site and was overjoyed to find that their prices hadn't increased. But, I have to phone to book with Virgin Atlantic as their on-line payment system does not recognise my debit card, Maestro.

45 minutes of musak later, I had booked my flight [at this point, I would like to say that the VA booking staff are first-rate] and a couple of minutes later, my e-ticket was in my email Inbox!

So, I am leaving the UK on 11 November, arriving at Jomo Kenyatta on 12th at 9:05am, and should be in Kisii in time for tiffin.

During my stay, I hope to meet like-minded people in Kisumu, Nakuru and eslewhere. I will also be working on perfecting the methane collector (otherwise known as the anaerobic digester), setting up rain harvesting at the Twiga Children's Centre, and finding a potter who can make some clay gadgets that could be popular.

I will also be talking to the local council on various matters. I would love to see a few tourists visiting Kisii. It has a lot to offer, but I would not like to see it spoilt. Kisii is a typical dusty, chaotic African town with a lot of charm, but it would benefit from a little injection of tourist money. But the town needs to clean up, roadside rubbish is a big problem, but as a lot of it is vegetable waste, it could be composted. Some of it could even be used to make methane which can then be used to power generators or other static, petrol fuelled machinery.

I will attempt to footage for a new video showing the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Kisii, including those at Twiga. Although I have a half-decent camcorder, I am not a film producer/director/cameraman, and although I have an idea as to what I want to show and how I want to show it, I don't know if I am capable. Only one way to find out!

Luckily, VA have not changed their baggage policy - yet - and I am allowed two pieces of hold baggage at 23kg each, as well as small hand luggage. This means that a lot of clothes and toys that were donated to the Twiga children will finally get there.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Power Cuts

We have just suffered yet another micro-power cut. These are no long, but just long enough to crash all our computers, and I now need to tour the house to reset all the clocks and the central heating timer.

These usually occur during high winds, when trees touch the overhead power cables (yes, our village is still in the early 20th Century), but there is little wind today.

In Kenya, and particularly Kisii, we know when there is going to be a power cut. They usually occur when an electrical storm is approaching the town. But the town has a generator and after a few minutes without power, we can hear the old diesel engine fire up and a few minutes after that, we have flickery power back - usually.

I have learned to save my computer work when a storm is approaching, when in Kisii, so I rarely have a catastrophe. But here in the UK, although these micro-power cuts are frequent enough (and longer power cuts aren't unheard of, when a tree comes down and takes out a section of line), I cannot get used to them.

So, which do I prefer? Oh, definitely the Kenyan power cuts. they are predictable, to a degree, and we can almost rely on the diesel backup - almost.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

False Starts & I'm Planning My Next Trip

How many blog posts have I started in the last few weeks, only to abandon them? Too many, either because the content is too political, inane, or just me bleating because I was feeling sorry for myself.

So, let's see if this one will actually get posted.

I am getting really irate with British politics at the moment - or rather, with British politicians. They have just returned from their extended Summer holiday to the row that was going on when they broke up for said recess, that is, their expenses.

It turns out that the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who declared that a room in her sister's home was her main residence and therefore had the right to spend a lot of taxpayers money on refurbishing her house in Redditch, has been told that she had broken the rules and should apologise to the House of Commons - not to the people whose money she stole (that's us, folks!).

Our illustrious leader, Gordon Brown, having paid back the money he creamed off the taxpayer, tells other MPs to toe the line, but some are apparently refusing to do so. I suppose that if they know they don't have a snowball's hope in Hell of being re-elected, they have nothing to lose. The elections next year promise to be ... er ... interesting!

Oh well, same old same old.

So, to calm myself down, I have been looking at my finances. That didn't work. Situation normal, empty barrel.

Well, almost. I do have just enough to get a return ticket to Nairobi, as long as I choose my dates very carefully. At this time of year, air fares can vary from just under £400 to close on £1,000, depending on the dates of travel, and, it would appear, the length of stay. And it is worth looking at all the carriers who fly to JKIA.

I usually use Kenya Airways. I like them. They are very professional, but at the same time are sort of relaxed - typically African.

Last time, I used Virgin Atlantic. That was also a good trip and T3 at Heathrow is something else. But their return flight is early morning which makes it difficult when travelling back from Kisii, which is 350km from Nairobi. On my last trip, to ensure catching the flight, I spent the night at the airport, which I do not recommend.

So, Kenya Airways it is. Night flights each way. And the date? Well, 10th November looks good to go out and probably 11th December for the return, although this may be a bit sooner.

So, if all this is decided, all I need to do now is let my aged parent know (I am her 24/7 live-in carer). This will be traumatic for the two of us. It will take a long time to convince her that I will be coming back.

And what will I do when I am in Kisii? A lot of people in the area want to meet up and discuss their projects with me. I think they hope that I will help with funding - I won't - I can't. I can barely fund our projects, although I have had an idea for a little money-earning project that may keep us going, and it could be rolled out in just about any town.

I must finish the design for the methane collector and drum up some interest for our mosquito control programme.

Then there is the hut on the shamba. It needs cleaning out, the windows need glazing and a means of getting water to it would be good.

And then there are the kids. I have promised myself to make a good video of their living conditions - those who are living in the worst circumstances. I have only visited the homes of a few. I need to see the others.

Busy, busy.

Oh well, if this blog gets posted, it means I have committed myself, doesn't it? After all, there are at least 10 people who read it!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Bio-gas and Aquatic Weeds

KCIS has a number of projects going at the moment, one of the big ones is the production of methane to be used as cooking fuel and a fuel for static petrol engines (generators, borehole pumps, etc.)

In the general scheme of things, methane collectors are fuelled with "organic matter", usually animal waste, of which there is an abundance in Kenya, with cattle and goats being everywhere.

But organic matter also includes plant life, and in particular, a certain aquatic weed that is causing major problems in Kenya, the water hyacinth.

I have not seen it first-hand, but I have read that the shallow waters in Lake Victoria are being choked by this plant, which isn't even native to Africa, let alone Kenya - it originates from South America.

My brain went into overtime when I read this. I was imagining a biogas processing plant somewhere on the shores of Lake Victoria processing tons of water hyacinth and producing methane to power a large power plant, with fertilser as a useful by product.

Not impossible, I admit. Water hyacinth lends itself to producing methane, but it would have to be dried out to some degree, then pulped or chopped up to assist rotting.

And KCIS? We are an organisation of three people with no regular funding. So what can we do to get things started? And of course, a project of this size would probably need government intervention, either at local or national level. And I cannot even imagine what sort of problems that would raise.

Since my first excitement, I have found that there are already organisations working on this, but cannot find out what stage they have reached.

So, I shall return to working on small household or community methane collectors, but I will maintain the dream of one day finding a way to minimise the hyacinth in Lake Victoria while at the same time producing virtually free fuel and fertiliser.

Typha is another water weed that causes problems in water ways. I have been told that it is edible. With the food crisis growing in East Africa, shouldn't someone be looking into this? Or are they? I can find no information, but if you know different, please let me know.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Trees, Charcoal and Rain

Once again I read that Africa is suffering because people are cutting trees for fuel and to produce charcoal. Generally, the charcoal production is illegal, but this can be sorted out with a back-hander - no change there then.

From what I have seen and heard on my trips to Kenya, the solar cooker, which can be made for pennies, are very efficient, but do not fit in with the East African psyche, they take too long to cook a meal. From my observations, it seems that Kenyans like to prepare and eat with little or no gap in between. So they need an instant heat source to cook on, wood, charcoal, kerosene or, if they are modern (and can afford it) butane gas.

So, trees will continue to be decimated until an alternative instant fuel is found, that is acceptable to those who have to use it.

You can read an article on the BBC website here

I have been working on methane collector design for a while now and have come up with a version that is easy and cheap to construct, and easy to use.

My contention is that if butane is acceptable, then so is methane. The difference is that methane occurs naturally, and to collect it is a simple matter. It is FREE!

Looking at its use ecologically, burning methane forms water and CO2, which is a good thing. Why? Because methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it is far more acceptable to have CO2 floating around rather than methane, isn't it?

But most people living in rural East Africa are not interested in that, they are too busy surviving.

So, what about the charcoal makers? They will not be happy seeing their livlihood disappearing as people convert to methane for cooking.

So, show them how to make methane collectors, install them and maintain them. Yes, they need maintaining. A 45 gallon methane collector will produce gas for about six months before it needs refurbishing. But, the by-product is fertiliser, just what is needed on a shamba.

So, to recap:

  • Methane is free
  • Using methane saves trees
  • A methane collector produces fertiliser
  • Using methane helps to eliminate a potent greenhouse gas that would normally escape to atmosphere.
  • Methane is a clean fuel, so there are no particulates to irritate and inflame eyes and lungs.
  • Charcoal producers can be easily trained to make, install and maintain methane collectors, so they will not lose their income. In fact, with a little persuasion, maybe they will even promote the use of methane.
Methane can also be used as an alternative to petrol, so it will run a generator or water pump.

What is the next step?

KCIS has produced a working model. We can produce free methane. We are willing to spread the word.

We have contacted various charities and NGOs who are supposed to be interested in saving trees and protecting the water catchment areas. What is their response?

NOTHING!

If you are interested in saving trees in Kenya, contact us. We will work with anyone who is serious about making people's lives better in Kenya, or even East Africa.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Shock Video

Whenever I am visiting the Twiga Centre in Kisii, the kids are usually well-dressed, having just returned from church, they are happy and smiling, giving their all in the games we organise for them.

This is not surprising as they get few chances to play organised team games when not attending the Twiga Centre.

So, I take photos, and lately, videos of happy, smiling, clean kids. They are relatively healthy because we keep a check on their health.

But they all have a story to tell. Loss of one or both parents, living with elderly grandparents or in the case of four children, living with no adult supervision, other than that which we can provide.

My photos and videos do not reflect this. They show shiny, smiling children. So, having just acquired a "new" digital camcorder, I am determined that on my next trip, I will film the children in their real environment.

I will follow a day in the lives of Aloys and Nyachuba. Aloys milks his cow, buys food, cleans the house, washes clothes, cooks the meals and still finds time to go to school and do his homework.

Or Edwin and Dennis, who live with an older teenage sister, but she has two under-fives to bring up as well as her siblings. So the boys sow and reap, and help their sister as well as going to school.

I could probably shoot hours of shock video about Evangeline, Emmanuel and Imani.

Or Morfat, Boniface and Shaida; or Rister, Duke, Brian and Divina; or any and all of the children we support.

They all have a story to tell, a sad story. And they are just the tip of the iceberg in Kisii.

There is Simon, the little deaf boy I met on my last day in Kisii. His story is slowly unravelling.

Yes, I will have to order the kids not to smile every time they see me with a camera!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Bananas

As you walk through just about any town in Kenya, there will be hawkers and street traders offering you just about anything you could possibly want, or not.

Favourite among the goods is fruit and vegetables. These are piled in pyramid shapes on colourful blankets at the side of the road, where they get a liberal coating of diesel deposits from the passing traffic. But, no matter.

But this isn't the issue. What I found is that bananas are small, as much as half the size of those usually found in a British supermarket. But, unlike those sold here (in the UK), they are yellow all over, not a hint of green skin, and they are sweet. The flavour of these 'picked off the tree when they are ripe' fruits is unbelievable to those used to eating the 'picked green and ripened whilst in transit' fruits.

And it is not just bananas. In Kisii, where I spend most of my time when in Kenya, there are piles and piles of oranges. This is a mis-nomer. They are not orange at all. They are almost as yellow as grapefruit, and if you were offered them at Tescos (other supermarkets are available), you would turn your nose up.

But they are good. Sweet, juicy and delicious, despite their skins indicating the contrary.

You will never buy a pineapple with any hint of green on the skin. They are bright orange, and again, so sweet and tasty, you will wonder why you ever bothered to eat the sour fruit offered in the UK.

Avocados are ready to eat. There is no need to "ripen" them at home. Corn on the cob is delicious, roasted over a charcoal burner with no butter. I didn't think I would like it, but it is so succulent, it doesn't need anything added to it. And the vendor will thoughtfully leave some stalk on it for use as a handle as you nibble your way around the cob.

Little of the produce would pass muster in Europe because it is misshapen, or the wrong colour, but everything I have eaten in Kenya has a flavour we in the UK could only dream about.

So, if you are planning a trip to Africa, don't be put off by the shape or colour of the fruits on offer, unless, of course the colour is black from the diesel deposits!


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Cabbage and Manchester City

A BBC researcher, Nejra Cehic recently visited Kisii (as reported on previous blogs) and visited our children at the Twiga children's Centre.
She interviewed some of the kids who had helped to prepare our new vegetable plot.
The conversation went something like this:
NC: Aloys, did you help to plant these vegetables?
Aloys: Yes. I like carrots.
NC: And Dennis, which vegetable do you like?
Dennis: Cabbage.
NC: And what do you like Esther?
Esther: Cabbage
And it struck me, how many children in the UK would prefer cabbage with a selection of 10 different vegetables to choose from?
To be fair, some of the Twiga children had never heard of, or had only seen but not tasted, many of the vegetables we had sown, but cabbage?
And I wonder what UK children would make of sukuma and ugali, especially if it was the only food on offer?
Later, Nejra asked some of the boys which football team they supported:

Edwin: Manchester United
Aloys: Arsenal
Dennis: Manchester City
No Chelsea or Liverpool supporters then. But again, these children don't have television, so they cannot watch their favourite teams. But Man U has supporters the world over, don't they? I was a little surprised by Dennis's answer though!
The two broadcasts can be heard here. If you have never seen the living conditions of orphaned children in Kenya, it is worth a listen. There is also an audio slideshow

If you’re bored in Kenya it’s because you’re dead!

I read this blog some time ago and it had me in stitches, being a visitor to Kenya who is often puzzled by the local "English". So, for those who missed it the first time around, I reproduce it below for your delight .

A Kenyan's Guide To Kenya, Vol. I
by Kenyanchick on Sunday, July 23, 2006

I’ve often been terribly disappointed by the tourist guidebooks written about Kenya. Most of the time they tell you stuff you already know, like “you can go on safari and see some lions.” That’s probably why you wanted to come here in the first place, so that’s not helpful. Other times they give you all manner of useless information. For example: what’s the point of telling you how to ask for directions in Kiswahili if you’re not going to understand the answer? (Sometimes they seem to be written by a malicious Kenyan who hates tourists. One time I was lying on the beach and was accosted by an earnest American who said, “Jambo. Nyinyi muna kula viazi?” First of all, no Kenyan says “Jambo.” Secondly, I was lying on the beach, I was alone and I definitely wasn’t eating potatoes.)

These books never tell you about all the amazing people you can meet in Kenya, or how to understand what they’re saying. Determined to correct this horrible wrong, I’m issuing the first of many useful, practical tips for our many visitors. Herewith Volume I of “A Kenyan’s guide to Kenya.” (Disclaimer: this is written from a Nairobi perspective. Other parts of the country are a whole other story and will cost you extra.)

Here’s what you should know:

When we want you to pass us something – the salt, say – we’ll point with our mouths. Example: We’ll catch your eye then say, “Nani.” Then we’ll use our mouths to point at the desired object. This is achieved by a slight upward nod followed by an abrupt thrusting out of the lower lip, which is pointed in the object’s general direction. There’s no explanation for this. (“Nani” can be roughly translated as, oh I don’t know, “Whats-your-face,” “You,” or “Thingie.” We’re unfailingly polite.)

Frequently, and for no reason whatsoever, we’ll refer to a person as “another guy.” However, this MUST be pronounced/slurred thus: An-aa guy. This also applies to “the other day,” which is when some momentous event in our lives always took place. We do the same thing with Kiswahili words like ‘bwana’, which is pronounced ‘bana.’

Example: “I was driving in town the aaa day and this guy comes from nowhere and cuts me off, bana. Man I abused him!” ‘Abused’ in this sentence must be drawn out and emphasised for maximum effect: a-BUSE-d.

We claim to speak English and Kiswahili, which technically means that we should be able to communicate with the English-speaking world and Tanzania. What we really mean is that if you’re not Kenyan you won’t understand a damn word we say or why we say it.
Example: “Sasa” in Kiswahili means “now.” We use it as a greeting.
Correct usage: “Sasa?” “Ah, fit.” It confuses us that Tanzanians don’t understand this.

We also, just as randomly, might greet you by saying, “Otherwise?” Common response: “Uh-uh.” There is no explanation for this.

Kenyans are multi-lingual, but all this means is that we believe that if we translate something word for word from one language to another it will make sense. A Kenyan might say, for example, “You mean you’re not brothers? But you look each other!” Be kind, they just think that muna fanana can slip into English unfiltered. Speaking of filters, that’s why some people (tribe/ethnicity withheld to protect my uncles) will claim to ‘drink’ cigarettes. If you’re not Kenyan you won’t understand this. Let it go.

We can buy beers at police stations. Grilled meat too. Heck, in some cop shops you can even play darts. I am NOT making this up. Example: “Man the aaa day I pitiad (pass through) the Spring Valley cop station after work. I was leaving there at midnight, bana. I was so wasted! I told those cops to just let me go home.”

Oh, that’s another thing: when we’re leaving a place (your house, a wedding, the cop shop bar) we tend to say, “Ok, me let me go…” We’re not implying that you’re holding us against our will; we’re just saying that we’d like to go. (The plural is, of course, “Us let us go.”)

When Kenyans say that you’re mad, it’s a profound compliment. “Man this guy is mad. You know what he did…” then they’ll go on to recount some of your admirable exploits. It’s high praise. Smile modestly and accept it. By modest I mean look down, draw a circle in the dust with the toe of your shoe (or just your toe) and then smile, draw your mouth down into a brief frown, and smile again. Alternate quickly a few times. This is known by English-speaking Kikuyus as The Nyira Smile, or The Sneering Smile. Then say “aah, me?” in a high, sing-songy voice. However, only do this if you’re female.

On the other hand, if Kenyans ask, “are you normal? (Sometimes pronounced “nomo”), then they’re getting a bit concerned about your state of mental health. Reassure them by buying another round.

Which brings me to Alcohol. Our national pastime. You know that myth about Eskimos having thousands of word for ‘snow?’ Well, our beloved drinks are known by a thousand names and phrases too. Kenyans will ‘catch pints (or just ‘catch’),’ ‘go for a swallow,’ have a ‘jweeze,’ ‘keroro,’ ‘kanywaji,’ ‘jawawa…’ really, no list can be exhaustive. Be aware, though, that the words you use will immediately tip off your audience about your age. (For the Kenyans reading this, no I was NOT born during the Emergency, you swine.)

Our other pastime is religion. (What contradiction?) If you’re broke on a Sunday – and your hangover is not too bad – stroll over to one of our parks and catch some open-air preaching. Jeevanjee Gardens in town is a prime location. There you will see us in our full multi-lingual, spiritual splendour. There is always, and I mean always, a freelance preacher thundering in English while his loyal and enthusiastic sidekick translates into Kiswahili.
Sample:
Preacher: And then Jesus said…
Sidekick: Alafu Yesu akasema…
Preacher: Heal!
Sidekick: Pona!
Preacher: HEAL!
Sidekick: PONA!
It’s hypnotic. We suggest you go with a Kenyan who understands both languages because sometimes the sidekick nurses higher ambitions and, instead of translating, tries to sneak in his own parallel sermon. If you’re bored in Kenya it’s because you’re dead.

As you’ve probably figured out, we like abbreviating things. (Why would the word ‘another’ have to be any shorter than it is? Why would the Kenyans reading this find it odd that I keep talking about ‘Kiswahili?’) This can lead to unnecessary confusion. But by now you should have figured out that when you’re catching and someone says, “Si you throw an-aa ra-o?” they of course want you to buy another round of drinks. Don’t worry about the ‘si;’ like so many words in Swa it’s impossible to translate. Embrace it, sprinkle it liberally in your speech and move on. There are several such words, which will be tackled in Volume II.

Unfortunately, as far as I can find, Volume II never made the blog. If you know different, please let me know!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Sign Language

On my last trip to Kenya in May of this year, I came across a few deaf people. Not surprising really as the first school for the deaf run by the deaf is situated in Kisii.

On my last day in Kisii, I met a deaf child, Simon, who was 8 years old. He was accompanied by a friend, Brian, who signed for Simon. Both children seemed proficient in sign language, as is my co-director, Vincent.

At the time, I was actually in the process of packing to leave Kisii so I did not get to know more of the circumstances of Simon and Brian. A lot of thoughts were running through my mind. Were they street children? They were certainly very grubby, even by the standards of rural Kenyan children. Did either or both of them go to school? Who looked after them? Did they have families? Etc.

When I returned to the UK, I asked Vincent to find out a little more, which was not difficult as Simon visited Vincent regularly, asking for money.

Anyway, it turns out that Simon does not go to school, despite the fact that there is a good school for the deaf in Kisii. He stays at home with his mother. Why?

Brian does go to school and also lives with his mother.

Neither child mentioned anything about fathers. Are they half-orphans?

So, as well as trying to learn a few words of Swahili and maybe a couple of words of Ekegusii (the local language of the Kisii area), I now want to learn sign language. And this poses another problem.

I cannot just go to the local college in England to learn it. In Kenya, they use Kenyan Sign Language - naturally. There are schools for the deaf that use British Sign Language or even American Sign Language, but KSL is the offocial language in Kenya.

I have searched the Internet and found a couple of useful sites that give a few words in KSL, but nowhere can I find a site that goes into any depth. So I guess that Vincent is going to have to teach me. I am sure it will come in useful while I am in Kenya.

Friday, 21 August 2009

BBC features KCIS & Twiga Part 2

Last Sunday saw the second and last feature by BBC Radio Berkshire on KCIS and theTwiga Children's Centre in Kisii on the Clare Catford show. It can be heard on iPlayer here, rolling it forward to about 2:37:00

It featured the voices of some of the children, Aloys, Dennis, Edwin and Esther, as well as a group of the children singing.

The BBC Radio Berkshire website also features an audio slideshow and a short writeup about KCIS.



Thursday, 13 August 2009

BBC features KCIS & Twiga Part 1

The first part of the feature on KCIS went out on BBC Radio Berkshire's Clare Catford Show at about 8:44, last Sunday.

The spot included recordings made in Kisii, with children reciting poetry and singing, as well as their reporter visiting the home of two of the chldren in our care.

The feature can be heard by clicking here and winding forward to 2:44:00

A second part will be broadcast this Sunday (16th August) at about the same time, with more reports from Kisii and a studio inteerview with yours truly.

If you are in the Berkshire area, listen in and hear some of our children in Kenya, or you can pick it up later in the day on the BBC iPlayer.

Friday, 7 August 2009

KCIS on the radio

There is excitement in the KCIS camp as the broadcast date approaches for a feature to be run over two weeks on our local BBC radio station.

It was pure luck that we got the slot. A researcher for the station was going to Kenya with a charity that she volunteers for and as luck would have it, she was being sent to Kisii, where we are based.

On of her colleagues had been following our blog and pointed it out to the researcher, and we were contacted.

We had a meeting and off she went, with contact details and a broad outline of the activities of KCIS.

She has now returned with loads of sounds effects, interviews with the Twiga children, poems, songs, etc., and she is now compiling the feature, the first being a short slot this Sunday, comprising all pre-recorded material, followed the following week by a live interview with yours truly.

This is not the first time I have featured on local radio for KCIS, but this time, it is far more structured and much better prepared. I just hope that I hold my own in the live segment - I am not a natural public speaker.

Time will tell.