Archive for December, 2006

The Ride from Hell . err I mean Nakuru. (Mark)

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

The road between Nakuru and Eldoret has got to be one of the worst roads in
Kenya. The short rains have made the pot holes into pot canyons. The road is
littered with trucks in various states of "broken downess" (yes I know its
not a word). Everything from flat tires, broken axles, smoking engines, to
the extreme: overturned trucks and trailers, usually miraculously short of
obliterating some small road side village.

Driving a matatu into one of these pot canyons would of course be certain
death for the matatu. So this means that the matatu driver must avoid these
at all costs. (Though the rear suspension must be different from the front,
because I swear we hit all the pot holes that the front missed.) Navigating
through these mine fields of pot canyons involves wildly swerving from the
left to the right side of the road, sometimes driving at a near 45 degree
angle on the side of the road. Since the effective kilometers traveled
doubles with all the swerving, the driver must drive twice as fast in order
to make up the extra kilometers. Of course not all the pot holes are
canyons, some are just ravines, and the good ones you'd just call holes. So
over the ravines you have to drive less than 5 kph, which means the matatu
driver constantly goes from 60 kph to 5 kph in a span of 100 meters, and
then back to 60 kph. The pot holes, well those are the good ones, so you
don't need to slow down at all. The trucks that aren't broken down move at
about 10kph, so the matatus have to pass them while navigating the pot
canyons. Then to make things even more spicy you have these big buses (think
grey hound size) whose drivers are practicing for the next trans Kenya rally
race. These big buses pass and swerve just like the little matatus. Just to
remind you, these roads are two lane roads, so all this is happening in both

I think we've talked about the inside of a matatu a bit, but if you sit in
the back seat, you have to slouch forward because the sloping nature of the
roof causes it to be very close to the top of your head. Any pot ravine or
narrowly missed canyon causes a sudden and violent reversal of gravity in
the back of a matatu, so to keep from smashing your brains out, you need to
slide forward till your knees are up against the seat in front of you.
(Please note that in case the phrase "slide forward" invoked images of
luxurious space, this really involves spanning a distance of an inch,
maybe.) Now that your knees are in contact with the seat in front of you
really start to get a feel for the road, and not in a good way.

It was raining so the windows were all closed, which meant that the natural
odor of the passengers, plus the odor of past passengers (not all passengers
are human either) was being pleasantly humidified into the air.

Lastly, imagine this journey taking four hours.

Karibu Kenya (Welcome to Kenya)

May I have a conversation (Mark)

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

A while ago Bebeth wrote about the train ride from Kisumu to
Nairobi. That morning while the train lay on the tracks, Sam, Matt, and I
were walking along side the train.
We passed a man who said, "Sirs, I was wondering if I could have a
conversation with one of you?"
Not seeing very much threat we all turned and agreed. Seeing us all
stop to listen he said, "Actually I am not confident enough to speak in
front of so many, would it be ok to speak with one person?"
Sam agreed, and Matt and I walked just out of hearing range and
waited. When they were done, Sam came up and said, "Oh he wanted to tell me
about his situation and if there was anyway that I could help him with any
So went an all too typical conversation of someone asking us for
money. It is unfortunate but when folks are friendly and outgoing with us, I
always wonder in the back of my head if they are going to ask me for

Yesterday Frank (another volunteer) and I met Bebeth at the POSTA.
There is an askari there, called Henry that has been very friendly with us.
After Bebeth got our mail we attempted to make our way to the door. Lightly
tapping my arm, Henry asked me in a quiet voice if I would be available to
meet him later today so we could have a "conversation".
Aiee, I thought. He wants to ask me for money. What a
disappointment, another person being friendly because they want to ask for
money. Well, I thought, why not, at the most he'll ask me for money, I'll
say no and that will be that. What else was I going to do today. So I agreed
to meet him at five after the POSTA closed.
At 5 I walked back to the POSTA to meet Henry. In my head I was
rehearsing various ways to tell him that I didn't have any money. When I got
to the POSTA I didn't see Henry, so I thought I would wait for 15 minutes
before going back. Henry, who was closing the POSTA, called out that he
would be outside soon.
He comes out and greets me and says we should move to the side of
the entrance to talk. I'm thinking great here it comes. Instead he asks me
for contact information, my phone number and address where I live. My next
thought is "Great, now he wants to know where I live so he can rob me". Of
course since I was rehearsing in my head fifty ways to tell him I don't have
any money, I was caught off guard. Seeing my hesitation he continued on to
say that the reason he wants it is that he wants to keep in good
communication with me. Of course I'm thinking, "Uh why?"
He proceeds to tell me that he has "seen me to be" a friendly person
and that he wanted to welcome me to Bungoma. If we didn't have any plans for
Christmas we were invited to spend it with his family. We talked for almost
45 minutes. I found out that he is a pastor at a small Pentecostal church.
He told me he lived on his father's compound with several other brothers.
They all work in a 8 acre shamba growing sugar cane and corn. He told me,
"god willing" that he and his wife want to buy property somewhere else for
when his younger brothers get married it will "get very congested" at the
family compound. He told me how in the bible it says that when a man and
woman becomes married they become one entity, and that means that a man and
wife must communicate about decisions, not just the man dictate to the wife
and family. He talked about some Canadian friends that he had made a few
years back that worked at a NGO. How they had written several letters to
him, but had lost contact with them.
The one thing he did not talk about was money or his lack of money
or how much money could I give him or was there anyway for my organization
to help him with money. Money never came up. In a country where foreign aid
has created an epidemic of dependency, it was refreshing to meet someone who
was not well off and yet, for now at least, only wanted to talk and welcome
me to Kenya.

Where in the world?

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Where are these guys? Seattle or rural Western Kenya?

A trip to the forest (Bebeth)

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

At the end of my walk on Wednesday morning I met a very interesting man. His family runs a hospital in the area, he has some fish ponds and his family also owns a 30 acre forest nearby. He said that it was 2km away. We made plans to meet again at 7:30 on Friday morning to walk to the forest. When we left the house on Friday we figured we’d be gone about 2 hours….we should have known better. As we set out Kevin told us that it was 5km, not 2km. That still wasn’t too far.

So we headed down a dirt road that went behind our house. Very quickly you felt like you were no longer in a large town. It was quiet, the houses didn’t have electricity, and the people just seemed different. We were back to the world where people were surprised to see wazungu. As we walked Kevin quizzed us on the Swahili we knew and taught us new words. As we got farther into the bush Kevin seemed to know more and more people. When we asked him why he told us that we were getting to his ancestors land, which meant that everyone around was somehow related to him. Various family members would come out and walk with us for a bit and then head back home. Kevin was so friendly and helpful. Most people spoke a combination of English and Swahili, but those who could only speak Bokusu (the local tribal language) Kevin would translate for.

After around 1.5 hours we arrived at the forest. One of the important aspects about his forest was that it was a forest made up of indigenous plants and trees. Which is rare as most land has been cleared for farming or been cleared and then planted with eucalyptus trees? His family really wants to turn it into a park that people can come for picnics, camping, walking and experience/see the old indigenous ways, a sort of Kenyan Plymouth Rock. They have already started putting up signs and have built a few buildings. In the first picture you can see (L-R) Kevin, Mark and Patrick (the caretaker of the forest and Kevin’s cousin) standing in front of the welcoming hut. Patrick took us all on a walk through the forest. They say that there aren’t too many animals b/c most of them have been scared off by the people. (Although Kevin did tell us there were monkeys in the area that could be seen in the early morning.) They have been trying to get grants from the government to do more improvements, including putting a fence around the forest to keep the animals in, but as of yet they have been unable to secure funding.

After walking for awhile we came to the herbal clinic/nursery. There they grow plants/trees to make herbal medicines out of and have a clinic with an herbalist. We saw rows and rows of small trees all with purported medicinal healing properties. They took us through the workshops where they clean, dry, and prepare the medicines. There was around 30 – 40 drying racks for different herbalists. Every Wednesday herbalists from all over the area come to trade recipes and techniques.

After leaving the forest we headed back to Kevin’s family’s house. There we met his 72 year old grandmother. We spent about an hour resting there. We talked about how many children she has and where they all are. One of her daughters went to the US to study at Champaign, IL and is still living there. This woman lives an hour walk from town with no electricity, and yet she still communicates with the daughter via emails (which another daughter delivers). Technology is amazing sometimes.

We left her house and proceeded to the great grandmother’s house. She was 101! She spoke no Swahili, so everything had to be translated. It was a bit confusing, but very cool none-the-less. After sitting with her for awhile (she was sitting on the ground and didn’t look like she could walk,) Kevin told her she was being rude and she should get up and show us that she could walk. Given that we couldn’t speak her language it was hard to argue. So she got up and came outside to take a picture with us. In the picture she doesn’t look nearly as old as she did in real life. She was pretty much blind, but she told us that she knew we were wazungu because our hands were so soft! Before she left she gave us 6 eggs in thanks for visiting her!

Finally we started the long trek home. At this point it was 2pm, we hadn’t eaten anything, and I was completely out of energy. Kevin tried to teach us some Bokusu on the way back, but I barely had enough energy left to put one foot in front of the other. We finally arrived home at 3pm. It was totally exhausting, but well worth it. We got to see a beautiful forest, see an herbal clinic, and meet some new and interesting people. We’ve got days and days in front of us to rest! :)

Telling time … (Mark)

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Not being able to speak and understand the nuances of the language and culture often make it difficult to get reliable information in Kenya. This requires that you often ask the same question multiple times to multiple people. For example when you go into a store and ask if they have an item, if a Kenyan doesn’t know, they never say “I don’t know” they say “No we don’t have.” So if you think they really do have it, it pays to ask again, or find someone else to ask or come back later. Anyway, so Bebeth and I are walking back from dropping a couple of friends off at the EZ coach stage. Knowing that the POSTA (Post Office) closes early on Saturdays, we decided to walk up and ask Henry, the askari (think rent-a-cop), what time the POSTA opens and closes.


Bebeth: Habari Yako (How are you?)
Henry: Mzuri, na wewe (Fine and you)

Bebeth: What time does the POSTA open?

Henry: It opens at 9.

Bebeth: What time does it close today?

Henry: It closes sharply at six.

Bebeth: SIX!? On Saturday?

Henry: Yes it closes sharply at six.

Bebeth: But on the weekdays it closes at six. Doesn’t the POSTA close early on Saturday?

Henry: Yes it closes today at six.

Bebeth: (Silent for a moment.) Ahhh you mean saa siita (6 o’oclock)?

Henry: Ahh yes pole (sorry) saa siita (6 o’clock).


So after reading that you are wondering, what is the difference between saa siita (6 o’clock) and 6 o’clock. Kenyan’s have two different times that they keep. One is just like ours, whatever time it says on your watch and then there is Swahili time. Swahili time starts at 7 am, which is saa moja (1 o’clock). So to figure it out, you just subtract six from your watch and then say it in Swahili. So when Henry said saa siita (6 o’clock), we needed to translate that to noon our time. Anyway one of those funny cross cultural experiences.







Blog Decorations

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

We decided to decorate our blog a little and uploaded some pictures. If you go to and log in you can see the pictures we posted at the top and along the side. In some browsers if you hover your mouse over the picture a little cpation will show up giving a short description of the picture.

Cheers from Kenya, Mark


Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

For those of you who don’t know, your job in Peace Corps is nothing like a job at home….especially in the beginning. As you know we are “attached” to the NGO Pride Africa. This means that it will be our primary job in the beginning, although as time goes on we are supposed to find “secondary projects.” Peace Corps tells these organizations that they are not supposed to expect/require much of us for the first three months. During this time we are supposed to get oriented to our new community, set up house, etc. Being Americans, however, we are ready and wanting to do work as of day 2!

Fortunately yesterday and today (Monday and Tuesday) we actually got some real work to do. Our organization is looking for more farmer groups to work with. There is an organization here called Farmer Field Schools (originally started somewhere in Asia) that has thousands are farmers in organized groups. Kenya’s FFS program sets the standard around the world. Our NGO had a meeting with FFS yesterday to explore the possibility of working together. There were 4 people from the Nairobi office plus the two of us. We went to the nearby town of Kakamega (about an hour away) and met with the head of FFS and then with 4 of the farmer leaders. At both meetings there was a lot of excitement about working together. If we can get Drumnet to work with this first group, the speed and potential growth of working with FFS could be amazing. In the coming months both of us will probably be going to the smaller meetings to explain the project to the individual farmer groups.

This morning I got up early and took a Matatu to a nearby town to meet the Pride Africa group for another outing (Mark was tracking down a cable he needed to work on the Drumnet video.) We were headed into the country to meet with a farmer who is our main contact with the current group of sunflower growers. We needed to get concrete data on how many seed had been sold, how many acres were planted, how many loans has been made, etc. Unfortunately this farmer is playing hard-to-get, so to speak. After many phone calls he finally agreed to meet us at his duka (tiny store.) So we got in the car and started the 1 hour drive. About 45 minutes into it he told us to go to his house instead. So we arrived at his house and his wife told us that he wasn’t there, but he had left the info with her. When we took a look at the books there were small bits of information, but certainly not everything that we needed. After much discussions Jonathon got on the phone to the farmer and tried to explain that we really needed more information and we needed to meet in person. Unfortunately mid-sentence the call ended. Now in Kenya that could mean many things…a) the network dropped the call, b) the farmer ran out of power, or c) the farmer hung up on him. Unfortunately option C is most likely since when Jonathon called back he got a message saying the call was blocked. We were not a happy group driving back to the main road. It looks like the meeting with FFS came at just the right moment since we may not be able to work with this farmer any more.

That’s probably enough for now (for those of you who are even still
reading.) We’ll try and get a good description of what Drumnet is exactly sometime this week since I know many people have been asking us about that.

Life as of week one (Bebeth)

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

So, everyone asks what we’ve been doing now that we’re actually at site.
Have you started work? How do you fill your days? Haha…that’s a good

Before we left, we knew the first few months would be very slow. It
takes a while to get to know a community and our organizations are told
that we shouldn’t be doing much work in the first few months in order to
give us time to orient ourselves to our new towns. However, being a
group of Americans, we are all rearing to go. We want to get stuff done,
see results, and move on to the next task. Unfortunately life here
doesn’t quite work that way. So, here’s what an average day this week
looked like. We wake up around 7:30 (actually we were woken up around
4:30 by the many local roosters, but fortunately we get back to sleep,)
then we cook some breakfast. Breakfast usually involves bread and eggs
because both are cheap and easy to cook. Next we sit down and try to
come up with some task that might require us to leave the house. In the
beginning of the week it was easy because we had nothing in our house,
so there was lots to buy. We intentionlly didn’t get everything in one
day so that we would still have something to buy the next day! Each
place we go we usually meet someone. Either the person who is selling us
something or maybe someone we asked a question of. In Kenya it is
impossible to simply ask a question. You have to have a whole
conversation. With us, that usually means learning who we are, what
we’re doing here, and too often asking us if we have money.

Sometimes all of that takes a whole day, and sometimes it only takes an
hour or two. There’s always plenty of time to nap, read, eat, read/write
letter, etc. I thought that when we left the US I wouldn’t be watching
movies anymore. By 7pm at night we have already read for a few hours,
cooked multiple meals, written in our journals, etc. There’s nothing
left to do. So, it turns out, getting to watch a movie on our laptop is
just perfect. Fortunately someone in our group brough a TON of movies
digitally and we were able to (Matina, don’t read this) copy a few onto
our laptop. For now, its great.

So that’s a typical day. We’ve been here a week and I think its going
about as well as its supposed to. Every day certainly has its ups and
downs (right now maybe more downs than ups) but I just keep reminding
myself that its ONLY been 7 days.

Blog problems

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

It appears that sometimes people are having trouble logging into our blog to see the pictures. We are working on fixing this, however, we have been unable to get the error message. If any of you happen to have that happen again could you please email us the *exact* error message? In the mean time, if you close your browser and then try again, it usually seems to work.

Mark and Bebeth

Life (Mark)

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Over the next week or so I thought we would share some pictures of the basic things we are getting to live our maisha (life), what our apartment looks like, and what the surrounding town looks like

The first picture is a picture of Bebeth the very first night at our apartment. The only things that are in this apartment are our clothes and items that we brought from America. (Oh and a full extra duffel of Peace Corps manuals). Here she is checking email and writing up the “we’ve arrived” post.

So you are probably like, “Checking email?” how are they doing that. Wireless technology is pretty amazing. In Kenya and probably all of East Africa cell phones have been growing at an exponential rate. In the last five years cell phone subscribers have grown from hundreds of thousands to over 6 million subscribers. In Kenya there are two major cellular providers, Safaricom and Celltel. The government currently has started to de-regulate the communications industry tentatively releasing its monopoly. A third provider, I believe eco-net, is trying to make inroads into the industry.

So you are probably wondering why I’m showing a cell phone and a blinky thing that looks like a flash drive. Well this is how we connect to the internet on our laptops almost anywhere in Kenya. The cell phone, a Motorola L6, about 7,900 shillings ($100 US) in Nairobi, can be connected to your laptop with a USB cable. You use it just like a old dial-up modem. It gives you around the same speed.

The blinky flash drive is actually a high speed cellular modem. It’s cost is about 15,000 shillings ( $200 US). Our company that we are working for purchased it for us. They are currently paying 2500 ($34 US) shillings a month for 300 mb of data, after that it costs us 10 shillings (13 cents) a megabyte. Only certain urban areas provide the higher speed connection, fortunately we happen to be in one.

Another interesting thing about cell phones is that most people are on plans called “pre-paid”. Which means you go to the little dukas (Swahili for shop) or supermarket and you buy scratch cards in various denominations: 50, 100, 250, 500, etc. The back of these scratch cards are just like lottery scratch cards in the US. You scratch off a section on the back and you reveal a long 11 digit number which you then enter into your phone. You hit send and it adds the amount to the balance on your phone. When you call or SMS it deducts an appropriate amount off your balance until you run out. You can send a special code on your phone that will display the balance at any time.

So the first night in our apartment we slept inside our tent. Here’s a picture of it. We left our Thermarests in Seattle, so we ended sleeping on the concrete floor in our sleeping bags. None of the windows have curtains so we hung Bebeth’s laasos up over the windows to give us some privacy. (Laasos are large squares of fabric that women of certain Kenyan tribes wrap around themselves to keep their dresses clean) After the bumpy and tiring bus ride, we actually slept pretty well.

The next day we asked the local caretaker, Halad Ali Murunga, about furniture. He helped us secure our first piece of furniture, a bed. In two days the fundis (Swahili for carpenter, repair men, almost anyone that builds things) custom built a simple 4ft x 6ft bed for about 2300 shillings ($23 US). In the US you couldn’t buy enough raw wood for half the bed at that price, and the wood is pretty good quality.

The next picture is a picture of our “gas cooker”. It is a 6 kg container of gas, what kind I’m not sure. We bought a simple burner and grill plate that sits on top of it. If we find that it is too slow to cook with just one burner we may spring for a two burner gas cooker that we can attach to the container. This should probably last us about two or three months especially since we’ll be using a water filter instead of boiling all of our drinking water.

Well that’s all for now, I hope all is well, till next time.