Monday, 23 February 2009

Fruit 'n Veg

When I have been in Kisii, fruit and vegetables were always in abundance, for sale in small stalls or stacked on blankets all along the Rongo-Kisii road, in the open market, in fact anywhere someone could set up a stall.

However, having been indoctrinated in the buy-everything-in-one-shop mentality of most Brits, if I was in the local supermarket, I would go through the fresh food department, only to find two or three shriveled carrots, a moldy mango, no sukuma, and little else.

It soon struck me that if I wanted fresh fruit and veg, I had to get it outside. But, buying from these stalls along the side of the road, so close to the road, where overloaded lorries laboured up the hill, belching out black, choking diesel fumes all over the wares, was very off-putting.

Venturing into the open market by myself was also a little daunting.

Don't get me wrong. I don't feel threatened in Kisii, or anywhere else in Kenya, but I am aware of pick-pockets, and I have been accosted more than once by people asking for handouts, sometimes quite forcefully. So I only venture into the market when accompanied by a friend (or two!)

So why do the supermarkets have such a poor selection and quality of vegetables and fruit? It's not rocket science. I guess they can't compete with the stall-holders. It is just not worth their while to stock quantities of the stuff. After all, right outside, there is a stall selling mangoes, pineapples, apples, bananas, as well as various fresh herbs and spices - no contest.

Thinking about it, most fruit comes well wrapped in its own skin. Once peeled, with a bit of luck, they are just as wholesome as the sterilised, force-ripened, over-priced junk we buy from our supermarkets in the UK.

And we have fruit on our plot. This is well away from the main road. The soil around Kisii is very fertile and of course, it rains all year round, so growing two or even three crops a year should not be impossible.

There is nothing better than fruit ripened on the tree. I am always disappointed when I get back home and tuck into a regulation straight banana that was cropped green and ripened on its way to the UK. They are tasteless.

We have avocados growing on the plot as well. The problem is that I have yet to meet anyone in Kisii that knows what to do with them! Maybe I should ship Jamie Oliver, HFW or AWT over there - or how about Steve and Dave, the Hairy Bikers? They would know what to do with a tree-full of avocados- and enjoy the ride as well.

Food - for thought

Interesting Point of View

KCIS has recently posted a blog, asking for donations to get a project off the ground, and it brought an interesting comment from a Kenyan, apparently in the town where we are based, Kisii.

"I could give you a donation, but I'm opposed to this kind of aid, because it encourages dependency and entreches the aid industry. Poor people don't exist in Africa so Westerners can get an opportunity to "help" them and feel good about themselves."
I could not agree more that poor people in Africa are not just "feel good" toys for Westerners, and it made me think long and hard about what I am doing, and why.

  1. KCIS is run mainly by Kenyans, I am the only non-Kenyan in the organisation.
  2. Second, I was asked to join the organisation. The other directors, both Gusii, asked me to join their efforts to help them to offer shelter to the children in their care. They were my friends before I started to work with KCIS.
  3. My main role is to raise awareness of KCIS in the developed world, and to try to raise funds for the organisation.
  4. As a mechanical engineer, I have designed systems that can be built for little money, that will improve the lives of the poorest families, those who have lost the bread-winner and are literally scraping a living. These people do not have the time to worry about building a safe water system. They are too busy surviving.

OK, that's what I do. So the next question is why?

Do I do it so that I get plaudits from people, either in Kenya or here at home? Definitely not.

Do I do it so that the kids at our home treat me like a demi-God? Again, no. I like the kids and they like me. Why? Because I am friendly towards them, and probably there is the curiosity factor. My skin is the colour of a plucked chicken, theirs is dark. My hair, what little i have left, it straight and soft to the touch, theirs is black, curly and course. So, especailly to the little ones, I am odd.

So, why do I do it, why do I work for a Kenyan organisation?

I like the people. I like the country. I like the climate. In other circumstances, I would be living in Kenya. But that's another story.

It also gives an outlet for my low-tech approach to engineering. If people can benefit from my possible solutions to their problems, why shouldn't they?

I am not offended by the comment in the KCIS post. It did make me wonder, but now, in my own mind, I plead "Not Guilty".