Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Why Kisii?

Kisii is a town, but also a District in the province of Nyanza, Kenya. It is situated in the SW of the country, in hilly country, mainly above 5,000 feet. Although it is only some 70km south of the Equator, the climate is pleasantly warm, around 25°C during the day and rarely drops below 15°C at night.

There is no rainy season as such. It can rain pretty much all year round, and the soil in the area is extremely fertile, except where it has been over-farmed.

The area was a coffee-growing area, but due to difficulties in receiving payment, the local farmers have reverted to subsistence crops.

The area also supports bananas, avocados, pineapples and other exotic fruits.

So, why have I made my base in Kisii town? I have been asked this many times, so it is about time to put the answer down "on paper".

First, I think it is necessary to explain briefly my connection to Africa.I was contracted to South Africa in 1989, during the apartheid era. I was politely asked to leave when the authorities found out I was too friendly with the ethnic population. I always wanted to go back to Africa, it had got under my skin.

Then, a few years ago, I was asked to manage the Rhino Ark website. Rhino Ark is a conservation charity in Kenya, so there it was, a (rather tenuous) connection to Africa.

A little later, I was contacted by ACIS, a Nairobi-based organisation, asking if I could supply cheap computers to schools in Kenya (I was, and still am a computer consultant in the UK). I couldn't help, but in conversation, I got roped into building them a website.

Soon afterwards, a children's home in Kisii contacted me, also looking for computers. Again, I offered to build them a website. We communicated regularly and became cyber friends.

Then, purely by chance, I met a rather pretty, intelligent, educated, Luyha lady over the Internet. She lives on the coast with her two children.

With all this going on, I was beginning to plan on going out to Kenya, which I finally managed in September 2007.

I was hosted by the director of the Nairobi-based organisation, who made me very welcome. He booked my coach to the coast so that I could meet up with my lady friend (that worked out rather well, by the way!).

On my return to Nairobi, I met people at WHO and KeNAAM. Then I arranged a trip out to Kisii to visit the children's home.

As soon as I arrived, I was "adopted" by a cute little boy, Josephat, who dubbed me his Baba Mzungu (hence the blog name). I met many of the kids, and was shown the plot where it was hoped the orphanage would be built.

I returned to the UK after a month in Kenya, and vowed to return as soon as possible.

I did, in March 2008, after a delay caused by the post-election troubles.

I went straight to Kisii, where I stayed for about 10 days as a guest of my friends Vincent and Abigael, the directors of the children's home. I made another vow. I wanted to work with Vincent and Abigael, in Kisii.

After another 10 days on the coast to see my "New family", I returned to Nairobi, where I stayed a further 10 days.

Upon my return to the UK, I started to work on the projects we had discussed.

Vincent and I eventually decided to form a new organisation, KCIS, of which we would both be directors, or trustees, and we would incorporate the children's home, renamed Twiga (giraffe in Swahili).

Vincent, Abigael and I are now ready to start the practical work that we have been planning for a year. We will turn the plot into a shamba (farm), where we will install the projects, grow food for the children, hopefully with a surplus that we can sell.

So, that is "Why Kisii?" Pure chance, if you believe in chance, or was I guided there?

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Matatu

When in Kenya, I tend to try to live Kenyan. I am there on a budget so I am not going to hire a car, and the only car I did have the use of was destroyed during last year's PEV.

So, it is public transport for me, usually matatu or shuttle, or coach, when going to the coast (because going to the coast is 'holiday').

Matatus and CitiBuses are fine to get from the suburbs into town. Mataus are 14 seater minibuses that run a specific route which is displayed by a hand-painted number badge in the windscreen. This is fine as long as you know where the routes go, not so good if you don't. You can always ask a tout. They are usually very helpful.

On a short matatu journey, it does not matter too much where you sit. Every seat is uncomfortable and these vehicles are usually packed with people and luggage, which can include livestock.

For longer journeys, there are the shuttles. These are 12-seaters and provide a non-stop service between far-flung towns, stopping only for a refreshment break.

When using shuttles, there are a few points I would make.

Firstly, there is fierce competition for your custom. Touts will guide you to their vehicle. Don't be bullied. At the very least, check the tyres and if possible, get a general idea of the state of the vehicle.

Shuttles do not leave until all seats have been filled. Having found one in reasonable condition, try to get a seat between the axles. The back seat is to be avoided at all costs, unless you like being bounced between the seat and the roof of the vehicle. Personally, I like second or third row, right window seat. If you are brave, you could sit up front, next to the driver. But in a head-on crash, front seat passengers are the first things that get hit. Avoid the seat over the engine. Six hours on that will cook your butt!

When travelling by matatu or shuttle, remember that fares are the premium for the driver and tout, and more journeys mean more fares. So they get to wher ethey are going to as quickly as possible - they have two speeds, stop and full speed.

And to give you an idea, I was once in a matatu during a driver change-over. The driver got out while the vehicle was still running and the new driver jumped in to take over. We lost about 3 seconds on the journey!

Also, don't be surprised if the vehicle breaks down en route. But don't worry. The tout will climb under the bus and usually get it going again.