Fran’s Kenya Diary – Monday 9th January
We get an Uber to the airport at some time with a 5 or 6 in it, can’t exactly remember. We discuss the morality of Uber with Peter, who seems unconvinced. The Jambojet (yes, that’s a real airline) aircraft has been replaced by a Kenya Airways one which is larger and faster, so we only take half an hour to get to Kisumu. I’m not sure if this is a last minute replacement or a genuine codeshare. The cabin crew just about manage to dispense a croissant and coffee in this time. We are all in separate seats around the back of the aircraft. James is next to a man who appears to be a western Buddhist monk, who prays out loud throughout the flight, especially loudly when a galley trolley breaks loose during the safety talk and the steward nearest has to decide whether it constitutes a greater risk to safety than abandoning the demonstration. He decides it does, then also tries to secure a flapping overhead locker which resists taming. Buddhist monk does not look at peace. I want to thank him for praying for our flight, but feel too awkward.
Kisumu now has a terminal building, completed in 2012, which is a great step forward from when we last flew there, 24 years ago on our way to Lucy and Simon’s wedding. Peter gets a hire car from an uncle (there are very many uncles) and we head for the city and the coffee house. The car gets checked by a security man before we can park in the shopping centre car park.
We continue on the next leg of our Java crawl of Kenya with some very un-Kenyan chocolate croissants and discuss what we are hoping to take from our meeting with Golda. James and Peter disappear outside and I tell Julie about the idea of the menstrual cups as a possible alternative to the expenditure on sanitary pads. She has never heard of them and I show her the sample I brought for just such a reason, furtively hiding it under the table. She looks a bit alarmed, which is pretty typical for most women on first sight, but those who have used them swear by them and would never go back to the disposable alternatives. These are no second rate solution to dump on those that can’t afford anything else, or just for hardcore eco-mothers, like washable nappies. We also discuss welfare systems in Kenya and Julie’s work. There are pensions for old people and a benefit for severely disabled people, but that is all. We discuss the relative merits of means tested and universal benefits.
Peter and James return with Golda and her husband Ben who runs the Golden Girls Foundation with her. She is an amazing woman who has numerous projects on the go in Masogo, which is Ben’s family home and hers too now. She is highly organised and has taken time to understand the issues in the community and engage the people to express their own needs, not those perceived by outsiders. She has distributed several thousand Ruby Cups over the last 5 years over quite distance in her rural area. She gets out her sample and is happily waving it around showing it off to everyone. She is an MBA and has put in place a highly organised programme monitoring the uptake after various time intervals and has understood the practical and cultural barriers to acceptance amongst both the users themselves and their wider families. It is therefore important to engage men in the education so that they are not concerned that their wives and daughters are furtively doing something they might find to be a problem. She has shown that the take up is highest in the areas close to the centre of her operations, where most ongoing support is available, and is reduced in the more remote rural areas where they are not able to be as often. There are all sorts of beliefs and reservations about the product, such as is it a form of contraception, will it cause sexual stimulation, will it take away a girl’s virginity and many others. For her, she sees it as vital that the cups have a positive branding, being seen as “cool” and not as something for poor people. We wonder if that might be less of an obstacle in Kibera, where people are more needy. As with other organisations in this line of work, they participated in Menstrual Hygiene Day, marching through their area to encourage people to be more open about the topic of menstruation, not to regard it as taboo or shameful, but a normal and natural function. The taboo is so strong that pre-pubescent girls often know nothing about menstruation until it happens to them. They then think something terrible must be happening to them when blood suddenly starts flowing from their body and are bundled off to an aunt to explain things to them. We thank Golda and Ben for sharing their wealth of amazing experience so freely.
It is still only around 10, and we head next to the tractor dealership, CMC Motors. Peter has bought a tractor as a business venture whose profits will be used to support the ministry of SYN. It is a New Holland TD80 with a 3 disc plough. It is to live in Grandma’s village and be hired out to local people for ploughing their land and other related activities. They currently hire tractors from neighbouring Kalenjins who charge higher rates, so this will benefit the local people and make money for Peter to invest in his ministry. There are two growing seasons in the year, so it should be kept very busy. It has been bought largely with a donation from the Fellowship, but also some of Peter’s own money and another donation. It is very high tech, has a tachograph affair that sends details of all activity to Julie’s phone so she will know exactly how much money she should be receiving from its work. She will manage its finances, with a local man John who is in charge of managing the bookings and maintenance. Peter’s business plan is that this tractor will pay for itself in a year and they will be able to buy a second one. Sorting the tractor takes some time. There is a problem with the insurance, but eventually it all happens and the tractor is off on the back of a lorry to the village. We depart too in the same direction.
We have a nice stop at the equator for a bit of minor tourism in front of a large blue sign. The roadsides are all full of all kinds of stalls and businesses. You can’t go far without seeing a posho (maize) mill, where dried sweetcorn kernels are ground into coarse flour to make Kenya’s staple dish, ugali. In the towns, the market places are bustling with activity with every kind of product and services being traded. One thing that strikes you when coming from a “developed” country is the self-sufficiency of the rural areas. You can get all kinds of things made and done in the local towns, which in the UK would probably need a trip to a large urban centre.
We stop off just before Peter’s grandma’s house at the land he has bought for his retirement home. He has already planted some trees as a pension fund. The tractor is already here! We get a proper look at it and meet John, who is going to be managing the day-to-day work of the tractor, taking bookings and making sure it gets to clients and does a good job for them. The tractor is going to live here and Peter (another Peter) who lives here and manages our Peter’s land, is going to watch over it when it is parked up. Peter and Julie discuss where the tractor should be parked, away from the track leading past the property and where it will not interfere with any trees and crops. Then there is a discussion about the tractor, that the exposed pipes on one side would be better protected by a panel, which John proposes to have added. Greasing the joints is also discussed. Then, we all pray a blessing on the tractor and its work in the community.
We check in to the Distinction Gardens Guest House close to Peter’s grandma’s. Last time we visited, 10 years ago, we stayed in her house, but because both of the rains were bad last year, she is stressing about not having enough water and Peter thinks it will be easier for her if we all stay at the guest house. Kenya has an equatorial bimodal climate, that is, there are two rainy seasons in the year in the spring and autumn: the long rains in March-May and short rains in October-November. Both were quite poor this year, with many crops struggling and a shortage of vegetables particularly. The situation is extremely bad in parts of the country that are usually drier anyway and are now suffering proper drought conditions, such as the northern Rift Valley. We have a nap – all these early mornings and lack of sleep are starting to take their toll. While we are napping, we discover that Peter and Julie have interviewed and engaged a driver for the tractor.
We go to dinner at Grandma Joan’s house in Bar’Agulu village. A village here is not how we conceive a village, a small cluster of dwellings close together, possibly with a shop or pub. It is more a continuous scattering of family homes with a relatively small amount of land attached to each one. We meet Pastor Chris and Pastor Enos, who are Peter’s uncles. Pastor Enos is the pastor of the church in the village here. Pastor Chris was the pastor of a church in Nakuru, which survived the violence of 2007 when the rest of the family abandoned their home there. He said when people came to burn the church, they all recognised some of their own relatives being cared for in the church school and turned back. He came to the village when the health centre opened 5 years ago to manage it. We have a quick look around the health centre, which is pretty quiet by this time of night. We see the different wards and rooms. There is one lady in a ward receiving some treatment. The building of the new ward means that the clinic has been moved to a higher government designation of “nursing home”, which means that it has facilities for a significant number of inpatients, not the same meaning as in the UK.
There are lots of other relatives around that Grandma has taken in, and even a few who aren’t relatives that she had pity on anyway. Peter and I watch some geckos on the back wall of the house as we wait for dinner to be ready. Two geckos size each other up, then one bites the other on the neck. Are they going to fight, or something else? They turn out to be a boy and a girl. They also eat a few flies, just to remind us of their wonderfulness.
We go out with Pastor Enos to visit a widow and her family. She lives with 3 of her teenage grandchildren whose parents are dead. One of the girls, Mercy, is doing very well at secondary school in form 4. There are 8 years of primary school, which is now free in Kenya, and 4 years of secondary school, which is not free. Peter and Julie are helping her with school fees as she is so able academically. We take the family a food parcel and pray for her. We talk to them about how they are doing. The old lady gives us a chicken (gweno) in return, which I am given to take away. The poor thing is shaking a lot.
Dinner is chicken, with rice and ugali. Grandma doesn’t come and eat dinner with us. We discuss the climate and poor rains last year. Pastor Enos is very angry about the political situation, with the president making an executive order to require all voting to be manual, not adopting the electronic systems that many believe would counter alleged fraud, with suggestions that 2 million illegitimate votes were cast in the last presidential vote. This is particularly interesting given the recent accusations of hacking into US electronic voting systems, with people there suggesting sticking to the old-fashioned system may be safer. We compare the education systems and the requirements to be admitted to university.
Back at the guest house, we hide under our voluminous mosquito net and settle down. From time to time there is a very mysterious clanging noise, it is repetitive and speeds up, then slows down and stops, often accompanied by barking. Maybe there is a very frustrated dog tied up to a metal post. We are plenty tired enough not to be kept awake though.