Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Saturday 14th January 2017

We get up at a more civilised time as the traffic is less bad on a Saturday. We go to the SYN office via the bank. We arrive promptly at the bank at 5 to 9, but then discover the bank does not open today until 9:30. We are supposed to be at the SYN office at 9:30 for a surprise birthday celebration for James. I have been instructed to bring a change of clothes for him as chucking water all over him is claimed to be a traditional practice. The bank finally opens and Peter does what he needs to do.

We are going to be late for our meeting with Camilla of The Cup Foundation, but none of us can find her number anywhere. I have forgotten my phone, which in any case has no data available and she didn’t reply to all in the email with that has her number in. James’ laptop obstinately refuses to connect to the wifi despite Hirum giving it the password multiple times. Eventually, I manage to log on to my gmail account on Peter’s laptop, but the email is reluctant to show itself even then for some reason, I get there in the end and we phone the poor woman, who has been waiting by the DC office to pick us up.

The team are still keen to do the whole birthday thing. There is a big cake and they have all made cards for James. There’s some cool Kenya renderings of Happy Birthday on the laptop. We really are too late though for the drowning as we are already messing Camilla about, so James escapes.

Jamie’s birthday cake

The team all made birthday cards © Lee Pitts Photography

Birthday cards © Lee Pitts Photography

We get into the car with Peter – Zainab and Lucy are both coming to this meeting too. We drive up to the other end of Kibera where Camilla’s office is and she spots us arriving, then leads the way to her small office. She has another colleague with her and we all squeeze in. As she is also working in Kibera, we are hoping that her experience of the particular cultural and practical issues in this location will be particularly valuable. Camilla and her team have not heard of SYN, so we tell them about the work and especially the Jitambue clubs. She asks which schools we work in. When we tell her, she says she has been in every school in Kibera, including those, distributing cups to all the girls throughout 2015 and 2016. There is a long list on the board behind us of every school, the number of girls receiving cups and other details. This comes as a bit of a shock to all of us as none of the girls in the SYN clubs have mentioned this to anyone. Lucy was a pupil at Star Rise and did have a session about cups, but never received one to try. This was some years before Camilla’s recent mass distribution. Zainab had also heard of cups being around in Kibera, but never come across one herself. Camilla surmises that girls are selling the pads we are giving them. There is a culture of taking – many organisations appear distributing free stuff and they get very used to taking whatever they can, which is hardly surprising. We wonder if maybe they are not using the cups. All the previous conversations we have had point to sustained ongoing support being essential for good levels of cup adoption. Camilla feels that those in Kibera are more desperate than other communities and will find a way to make the cups work for them. Their programme is to give the cups out and to take 3 sessions in the school over 3 weeks, including material about the cups themselves and how to use them, also more general reproductive and sexual education and human rights. Camilla is keen for all the organisations working in Kibera to get to know each other and we can see why from this conversation. There probably is a tendency for individual NGOs to go into a situation with their own agenda and objectives they must fulfil to satisfy their funders. We conclude our meeting and thank Camilla for her insight. Peter and the team will have reconsider what to do next. What had seemed like a simple plan has just become a lot more complicated.

We suggest to Peter and Zainab that they may be able to discuss the situation with some of the lead members of the clubs, those who run the sessions in the weeks when SYN team members are not there. If they ask non-judgmentally what the situation is, maybe they will answer honestly. If the girls are using cups, then what are they doing with the pads? They are likely to have many needy family members who could use them, who are not in school, or they could be selling them. If they are not using the cups, do they still have them? Maybe SYN could support them in learning to use them successfully. If they no longer have them, would they like to try again with more support? They will need to do this research before deciding how to continue.

We return to the SYN office and meet up with Lyonne. He takes Peter’s car to take us on our afternoon of sight-seeing. Peter meanwhile goes with Chris for cow negotiations. Lyonne takes us from Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, to the posh suburb of Langata where the Giraffe Centre, a popular tourist destination, is located. The car gets scratched by a very impatient motorbike trying to squeeze through a gap that isn’t there while we’re stuck behind a bus blocking the road. We stop off at the Galleria Mall in Langata Road for some cash, then continue following the screenshot map to the giraffes. The road is looking very unpromising and suburban and Lyonne thinks we must have gone wrong as there are no giraffe signs, but we remember it being in a very quiet area from the previous times we have been, then we pass the botanic garden as we expect and find the giraffes just where the map said. Lyonne is a professional photographer who makes his living from photographing events like weddings and parties, but his hobby is wildlife photography, principally big game animals. He has never been as close to giraffes as you are at the giraffe centre. There is a large paddock where the giraffes come as they please, with a 2 storey building with a balcony where visitors can stand to feed them. Giraffes are highly evolved eating machines and will headbutt anyone who is not offering them food. They have very long tongues that go searching for the biscuits the centre provides. Lyonne is particularly taken with their huge eyes. There is a thorn tree behind the fence kept as an example for the visitors of the giraffe’s main food in the wild, the thorns are seriously large.


Lyonne meets a giraffe

Giraffe eye © Lee Pitts Photography

They’re friendly so long as you feed them © Lee Pitts Photography

Giraffe food

We noticed on the way in a sign for a nature trail through the woods opposite the centre, so we have a pleasant walk, including a bright bird posing for James and Lyonne and some wart hogs exploding from the woods onto the path and disappearing. Lyonne isn’t so used to trying to photograph smaller animals and birds, but seems to enjoy having a go at them.

We also see an amusing array of solar panels on a side building. Normally our panels in the UK are lined up like soldiers on parade all facing the same way, but these are at all different angles, one directly upwards and two either side facing slightly into the middle – this is the equator after all and the sun wanders from one side to the other through the year.

Local bird, maybe an olive thrush

Woodland walk © Lee Pitts Photography

We had a lovely, relaxing afternoon © Lee Pitts Photography

Wacky solar panels

There are more of Lyonne’s pictures on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Leepittsphotography/

We continue on to the botanic garden. There is a sign by the gate saying “No paparazzi” – probably about the greatest contrast conceivable after spending the morning in Kibera. The gardens get hired out for parties, there is a kid’s birthday party going on today, so presumably that’s where the paparazzi come in, either that or they are trying to get the latest gossip about the bouganvillea. Lyonne looks a bit more lost here, not sure how to take photos of plants. James finds some mouse birds flitting about, but they don’t pose nicely, and lots of great plants, and a tiny beetle.


Small blue flower


Twisted stems


We return to Prestige Plaza to wait for Peter, dozing in the car park. Peter turns up eventually having had a successful afternoon. The result is 15 cows. That sounds a lot to us. We go home via the city centre as it is now dark and not safe to take usual route through Kibera. We discuss Copts as we pass a Coptic Mission Hospital in Ngong Road where Peter’s children were all born.

We have dinner with Peter’s brother, Milham and his wife, Jackie. Jackie is a psychiatrist and on strike, like all doctors in Kenya have been for the last 40 days. The government reckons they are going to replace the striking doctors with doctors from India and Cuba, no doubt another part of the president’s discussions on his jaunt to India earlier in the week. Indeed Jackie says they received dismissal notices that day. They are also threatening to jail the union leaders for allegedly calling an illegal strike, even though they have given far more notice than they are legally required to. There follows much venting of frustration about the government and the elections in August. There is amusement about the new president of Ghana whose inauguration speech blatantly plagiarised an assortment of American presidents’ inaugurations. Is he not familiar with Melania Trump’s humiliation at the Republican convention? There is more mirth about the embarrassment to Kenya’s president who attended the funeral of a prominent Kalenjin politician, Mark Too, in Eldoret, only to find that all the speeches were conducted in the local language which he, a Kikuyu, does not speak.

Jackie and Joy

We finish the evening similarly to yesterday, with family prayers, but tonight, this includes goodbyes as we will be leaving early in the morning to catch our flight. I have been attempting to check in, but without success, so will probably have to do it at the airport. Joy does some more singing and Baraka pulls out the stops with all the memory verses ever learnt. Then we go round everyone with some reflections on the week and thanks and we all pray.

Milham, Peter, Julie, Abby and Baraka

All posts in this diary series:


Getting There


To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum


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