Last Sunday we arrived in Kisumu (Western Kenya) for our project with SWAP, the Safe Water and Aids Program. The project is to do with evaluating a pilot that involves a free trial and rent-to-own scheme for water filters, with payment in installments using mobile money – a system called M-Pesa is essentially ubiquitous here.
While we’re here, we’re staying at a slightly run down colonial hotel called the Nyanza Club. The rooms aren’t anything special, but we have a pool (I’m sitting by the pool typing this) as well as squash and tennis – we’re not exactly roughing it! Our first evening, there was a BBQ by the pool 🙂
Our first week and a half of work has been productive which is great since we weren’t exactly sure how things would go when we arrived. We’ve spent quite a lot of time in the field meeting customers and vendors which has been really interesting. We’ve been to towns and villages of various sizes, both nearby and a few hours into the field, and spoken with people who are relatively well-off, all the way down to people struggling to survive as subsistence farmers. It is certainly eye opening, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to make some valuable and actionable recommendations to improve the processes at SWAP.
It has also amazed us how friendly and welcoming everyone here is. Our driver, Zablon, is always smiling and joking; Collince, the SWAP project manager we are working with is becoming a friend and even invited us to his wedding; we’ve been going out to lunches with everyone at SWAP around town; kids in the village follow us around eagerly, saying ‘Mizungu (their word for foreigners), how are you?’; on a morning run (not many people go for jogs here!), a small boy dropped his school bag to jog with me; and everyone in the villages/towns is always willing to spend a few minutes talking.
In addition to working, we’ve been having fun exploring Kisumu. We’ve been trying lots of restaurants, like the Duke of Breeze which has a rooftop bar, Green Garden which has Italian and German food, Haandi which has good Indian … and of course lots of local places including Tilapia beach – the fish from the lake is fresh and delicious. We’ve also been to the coolest ‘club’ in town – Signature – which was a fun night and an interesting experience since we were the only Mizungu’s there. Zablon joined us for a dance though which was fun.
Over the weekend, Kota, Rodrigo and I decided to go on a safari to the Maasai Mara. It was an amazing trip and we’re so glad we went – although there were some adventures along the way. We got picked up from the Nyanza Club Friday afternoon and began the 7 hour drive (it isn’t far but the roads are awful!) to the Mara, where we were staying in a tented camp. The drive actually went by quite quickly as we took in the changing scenery, from sugar cane to tea, until suddenly about an hour before evening reaching the park we were seeing giraffes, zebras, gazelles and wildebeest! After entering the park however, about 30 minutes from the hotel, the adventure began when we got stuck in a huge mud hole and had to abandon the car for the night!
Luckily we were able to hitch a ride on a school bus heading back from an athletic tournament – although it was a serious squeeze! We were relieved when we reached the hotel and it was comfortable. Although it was a tented camp, the tents were permanent and had en suites, the weather was cool so we slept well, and there was a restaurant with pretty good food.
The following morning we got up early for breakfast and hitched a ride with another group of 3 girls from Holland to go and rescue our car – although we paid them back by pushing them out of the mud later that day, and then giving them a ride home on our way back to Kisumu when their car was having issues. With our car retrieved, we headed out in to the park for the day on safari, and it was amazing. We saw lions, hyenas, cheetahs, buffaloes, elephants, jackals, gazelles, giraffes, impalas, tobis, hippos, crocodiles, wart hogs – the list goes on and on. It was great fun cruising around in our safari van, which you could stand in and look out of through a raised roof. We were amazed by how the animals seemed not to be bothered by the cars and were often close to the road. Unfortunately, we didn’t see leopards or rhinos which are hard to find, but other than that we saw everything!
That night happened to be the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, which we were keen to see, but not confident we’d be able due to the minor problems of not having a tv, or power after 10pm (which is when the game started). Luckily for us, the driver of the other van was a big fan and took us to a bar in the local village. It was bigger than we expected and was packed with fans – all of whom seemed to support Chelsea. Rodrigo decided it was a good idea to change his loyalty and support them too – especially since they ended up winning in penalties and a long and exciting game. It was a fun evening hanging out with the locals (most of whom are Maasai’s), and drinking local beer (Tusker is our favorite) – but warm, which is how they like it!
Sunday morning we had a morning game drive before getting back on the road to Kisumu. To remind us what an amazing place it was, we saw another cheetah long after we left the park – a good reminder not to walk alone especially after dark! After the late night watching soccer, and all of the excitement during the day, we were happy to chill out and nap for the entire drive back. Here are some more photos of the trip for you to enjoy!
On Friday we’re off to Nairobi for some meetings with contacts at a few other organizations, before we spend the weekend in Diani Beach which should be beautiful. We’ll post more next week all about that, and to let you know how our work has come along – there is still a huge amount to achieve this week!
Ben, EB, Kota and Rodrigo