Friday, 1 January 2010

Just Look At That! ... What?

I have suffered from it, becoming blasé about my surroundings.

When I lived in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacré Coeur, became everyday sights and soon, they became invisible.

And so it was for my associate in Kisii. We walked into the reception of Kisii Hotel and the first thing that struck me was the garden. It was just a canvas of colour, vibrant, eye-watering colour, lilacs, reds, crimsons, oranges and yellows. It was magnificent.

"Just look at that," I said to Vincent, pointing out of the window to this vista of bright colours.

"What?" he said. "What are you looking at?"

Then it dawned on me. He sees colours like this every day in Kisii. In fact, many places in Kenya are this colourful. I thought back to my train journey from Nairobi to Mombasa, with trees covered in flowers of all shades. Yes, Kenya is a colourful country.

But, getting back to the hotel, they have several gazebos set out on the lawns, many covered with colourful flowers, and I could imagine a British family, Mum and Dad sitting under the gazebo, sipping ice-cold Tuskers, watching their 2.4 children running around on the grass under the mature trees - paradise.

As we toured the hotel, I glanced out into the gardens once again. The gardeners were at work, raking the lawns, and I saw little piles of rubbish, all lilac, pink and crimson, and I thought of when i rake our lawn in the UK, with piles of moss and pine needles.

Kenya is a wonderful country ... but when will the colours become invisible to me? Never, I hope.

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 

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!