Siaya County, Kenya: December 21, 2018

I slept until Benji woke me 20 minutes before our driver was scheduled to arrive to take us to breakfast.  I had a minor meltdown because I had planned to wear a dress and flip flops to the ceremony, but the Health and Safety Officer, aka Benji, put the kibosh on that plan, because, needles.   I begrudgingly put on my usual pants and closed-toed shoes and regained my composure quickly; luckily the driver was 30 minutes late so all was well – or, “sowa sowa” in Swahili.    

George met us and we quickly ate breakfast before heading to the hospital for the 9:00 commissioning ceremony.  True to “Kenyan time”, 10:15 rolled around and we were still waiting on the start of the program. People were trickling in the entire time and by the time the Minister of Health arrived, we had a full house.  

Before I get to the ceremony, I must acknowledge one small detail: Fridays are the day that families come to pick up the bodies of their loved ones from the hospital mortuary. The ceremony/incinerator site is located directly behind the mortuary.  The stench was overwhelming at times, and throughout the ceremony we tried to ignore the sounds of celebrating and mourning families as they arrived to collect bodies. Our view was thankfully obscured by a wall but it did little to deter our awareness of what was transpiring.

The ceremony began with Gottfried as MC – the appropriate choice, as he is the biggest man – a gentle giant who was annoyed with us the first day but who was a friend by the end of the week.  The program allowed for several speakers, including Andrew Hongo, Anthony Kibunja, George, and of course Benji. Following the Minister’s remarks, the ribbon was cut.  Abraham, the youngest of the Evolving Technologies engineers, officially switched the switch, the incinerator lit, and the commissioning was complete!

We all celebrated with lunch together at the County Club, then returned to the hospital for a final tour of some areas we had not yet gotten to see.  These included the operating “theaters”, the dental unit, the eye ward, the TB ward, the HIV support ward, the prosthetics workshop, the hospice and palliative care ward, and the autoclave sterilization room.  It is amazing just how much goes on at the hospital that isn’t apparent upon first glimpse!

The team gathered one final time for debriefing, per George’s command, and we all went around and shared our impressions.  Everyone shared their initial skepticism of the project, based on literally years of “talking” without perceived action; as well as their excitement and gratitude that the project actually came to fruition.  I got to share how impressed I am at the openness and kindness of everyone we have met, and how we have made lifelong friends. Everyone else shared a similar sentiment. It truly felt like the end of a family reunion – one during which a mission was set, worked toward, and achieved by working together.  In one Kenyan word: harambee.

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary

Siaya County, Kenya: December 20, 2018

This day opened with our usual breakfast at the County Club, followed by a planning meeting for tomorrow’s commissioning ceremony.   This meeting, as is becoming customary, was extremely long, but productive. A detailed plan was made for the ceremony as well as for the invite list.  The invite list included the Minister of Health and the Governor. Following the meeting, we went down to the incinerator site to check on progress and discuss a time to return this afternoon for a test-fire.  The amount of work completed was impressive; the incinerator refurbishment was basically complete and at this point, cleaning up and cosmetic adjustments were in progress.  We agreed on 3:00 for the test fire, which left a chunk of the day open for some touring around with George. We drove out of Siaya and into the countryside, heading toward Barack Obama’s grandmother’s home.  Our intention was just to view it from the outside, but when George pulled up to it, he suggested we go in to meet her (!!!). Benji and I were both very hesitant, as it did not appear to be open to the public.  As we sat at the end of the driveway discussing this possibility, a gentleman began walking toward us from the house. He approached the car and George spoke to him in Swahili, and the next thing we knew, he was telling us to park and come on in!  Who knows what George said to him!?! We entered the property and were told to sit in an area that was clearly designated for just such a purpose while the gentleman checked to make sure it was alright with Sarah Obama to receive visitors. Shortly thereafter, he returned and gestured for us to follow him into the home.  Sarah Obama was seated on a couch just inside the front door. We shook hands and exchanged greetings, and it became clear that she did not speak much English.  Via a translator, we thanked her for her contributions to her grandson’s upbringing and for the resulting positivity she has contributed to the world. I was thankful for the opportunity to meet her and that she graciously accepted us into her home with zero notice.

We departed with business cards for her orphan project, growling bellies, and a full bladder (me).  I made my needs known and we drove maybe 100 yards before we saw a restaurant/hotel establishment by the name of “The White House”.  

George slammed on breaks, reversed, and pulled in. Let’s just say that this establishment differed vastly from its namesake. An eerily kitschy painting of the former First Family graced the entrance, followed by an even stranger statue/sculpture of Barack and presumably his parents (??).  

The place was deserted but sported a sign that said “bar/restaurant”, so we were tentatively hopeful. I, at the very least, was going to find a toilet. We found a table (not difficult) and placed our lunch order.  After approximately 45 minutes, our food arrived. We all three wolfed it down in silence, paid, and climbed back in the car to make the 3:00 incinerator test.

We got to the hospital a few minutes late, but no one was at the incinerator site.  We essentially attempted to herd cats for the next two hours and finally the test fire was complete.  I am so proud of the operations staff – they have learned the incinerator inside and out, and are able to beautifully articulate their understanding and explanations of how it all works.  

We gathered for yet another meeting to finalize the plan for tomorrow, which took another hour-ish, and by that time it was after 6 PM.  We had a late dinner, arrived home by 10 PM, and crashed hard. Tomorrow is the day! The project will be complete, we will have to say goodbye to our new friends, and leave Siaya County Referral Hospital to carry through what we have begun.

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary

Siaya County, Kenya: December 19, 2018

Breakfast was set for 8:00, and George, Benji and I enjoyed a quiet breakfast together.  Afterward, we headed toward the hospital for a site visit and brief check-ins with hospital staff.  All was moving along quite efficiently at the incinerator site, so we invited Andrew and Cynthia to join us as we toured several other incinerators throughout the area.  We thought it would be important for them to get an idea of other operating incinerators, and as EWB representatives, these check-ins were on our list of requirements to meet while we are here.   

Our first stop was at the hospital in Ugunga.  We were greeted by two gentlemen who were happy to show us their new incinerator under construction.  It was wood-fired and an impressive scale for the size facility it is serving.

Next, we moved on to the incinerator and well projects in Uluthe, the original incinerator first installed by Asheville Engineers without Borders back in 2016.  All looked good with both projects. We got the brief tour of the clinic and I was blown away by the level of poverty and simplicity. It was basically a house-sized building with four rooms and a waiting area, filled on this day because it was “clinic day”.  Patients consisted mostly of mothers with infants – lots of them. Two kind clinic nurses took the time to show us around and then bid us goodbye so they could get back to the waiting masses.

From the Uluthe clinic, we headed to George’s house to meet his wife and see his farm.  His wife had quite the spread ready for us – corn and peanuts from their farm, African tea, and assorted bottled beverages.  For the first time, sitting around the living room, Benji and I were asked questions by Andrew, George, Cynthia, and George’s wife about our lives back in the US.  I have noticed that these people seem to avoid much personal banter, but something about sharing food and tea seemed to make them feel more trusting of us and less timid to initiate conversation.  Benji and I happily obliged and shared tales of Asheville which got lots of laughs.

Too quickly, it was time to move on to meet the Location Chief Wilifred Otino for a brief visit.  Location chiefs are appointed government officials who administrate and advocate for the people of a county.  We sat briefly with him in his office and made introductions, discussed our project, and heard more about other area incinerator projects.  This meeting at his office did not last long, as we were all heading to lunch at the same place – our friend Carol’s in Sigomere.

We arrived at Carol’s compound and were greeted by Carol, Sara, Rose, and Joaquin.  They had prepared a delicious lunch of pumpkin soup, bread, and fruit. We gathered around the table and shared this meal together, while learning each story of our hosts, as well as more about Sasa Harambee.  This meal was special and we concluded with a great picture of all of us around the table together.

From Carol’s, Sara and Joaquin led us to the hay storage location for the business they are getting off the ground of selling hay to area farmers.  They are seeking money for a larger storage facility so they can grow the business and provide income for themselves and local hay farmers.

From there, we went to Sara’s farm for a tour of her corn and other crops. She has started a cooperative of training area farmers who need help getting their corn crops to grow.  She has a passion for farming and it shows through the sparkle in her eye as she talks about helping those in her community do well for themselves. Sara and Joaquin might be the two sweetest, impressive individuals I’ve met in quite some time. I truly hope they are able to grow and sustain their respective businesses and continue to do good for others.  If I had an extra $1600 laying around, I would write Joaquin a check today for the seeds he needs for his hay business. However, as Benji says, it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him one, so the goal should be to help them figure out how to build their business on their own so that it’s sustainable long-term.

After one more site visit for the day (amazing progress!!!!), we bid everyone adieu and headed back to the compound to relax.  George is headed home early and we are awaiting a ride arranged by Andrew to get us to dinner, just the two of us. I am looking forward to some down-time alone.  While wonderful and rewarding, our packed schedule has been draining and I long for an evening with no one other than Benji. I’m sure George feels the same about time at his home with his wife.

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary

Siaya County, Kenya: December 18, 2018

We met this morning with the Siaya County Minister of Health, Dorothy Owino, along with several other public health officers and hospital administration.  The main purpose of the meeting was to establish connections and for us to answer any questions they had about the project.  It was truly amazing to come together with such high ranking officials and share goals and plans.

After the meeting and breakfast, we headed over to the hospital to check on progress on the incinerator.  They were working on the roof and chimney and moving right along. The old incinerator was burning and filling the air with the acrid smell of burning plastic and other debris.  While we were at the hospital, we joined Justin of Evolving Technologies for the hands on portion of the operation training. The operators once again wowed me with their determination to understand the process and become experts on what will ultimately be their future livelihood.  

And then it was lunchtime!  Benji and I enjoyed lunch with Andrew Hongo, hospital administrator and  twinkly-eyed jokester who captured my heart immediately; Cynthia, a beautiful, sweet, pregnant hospital public health officer whose laughter at my jokes made me feel good; Gottfried, who has taken to fist-bumping me regularly, so I think we’re forgiven for our 1st-day-tardiness; and George, our host and man of action.  

Following lunch, we reconvened at the hospital for another site visit and further planning.  We left the meeting feeling good about budget, long-term sustainability, and identification of issues before they become catastrophic.  A quiet dinner followed, then lights out at the end of an exhausting but fulfilling day.

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary

Siaya County, Kenya: December 17, 2018

First day.  Our trip from the USA to Kenya was long but uneventful.  George Oyeho, community leader and our in-country host, is a lovable character, despite his demanding demeanor – it’s clear he is a man of action.  I am thankful to have him as our host and plan to never make him mad.

The third world scene in Kisumu was intense – we drove through muddy slums filled with barefoot men, women, and children carrying bottles full of brownish water, presumably for consumption.  I saw no evidence of running water, plumbing, or any type of waste management.

We grabbed lunch in Kisumu before heading to Siaya.  Upon our arrival at the Siaya County Referral hospital, we met Gottfried, a hospital administrator in charge of all medical personnel,  a giant of a man who was initially disgruntled at our (unbeknownst to us) late arrival. He took us on a brief tour of the hospital grounds, and then on to an in-process training for the incinerator operation staff by Anthony Kibunja of Evolving Technologies.  We were blown away by the dedication and focus exhibited by the trainees.

Afterward, George took us to settle in at our accommodation and then we joined him, Gottfried, and George’s friend Carol for dinner before turning in for the night.  I think we made unspoken amends with Gottfried by sharing this meal. 🙂

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary


Siaya Incinerator Project Complete!

The Siaya medical waste incinerator project was a success!  Benji and I depart Kenya with full hearts, after witnessing a great need met by hard work and collaboration.  The hospital administrators and staff were amazing to work with, as were the engineers who made the repairs.  We were able to confirm that the incinerator has been brought to full working order, as well as the operating staff trained and prepared to sustain the project safely and properly.  

The hospital administration has included maintenance and future repairs in its budget, and a seed has been planted for future waste management expansion across Siaya County.  

Our week concluded with a commissioning ceremony that included the Minister of Health for Siaya County.  Her remarks brought hope for a future that will see bigger and better opportunities for handling waste, an important mission for an area that so desperately needs ways to decrease the spread of disease and increase general sanitation.  

We here in America take for granted the ability to throw something “away”, with our efficient and readily available resources for disposal.  In Siaya, there is no “away” right now, but after our time there, we believe that their wheels are turning toward a new way of thinking.  Thank you to all who donated, to EWB, and most of all, to Siaya County Referral Hospital for seeing a tough project through.  

Asante sana (thank you so very much), from the bottom of our hearts.  

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary

Sign at entrance of refurbished incinerator building
The Commissioning ceremony, with special guest Dorothy Owino, Siaya County Minister of Health
Exterior of the incinerator after refurbishing
Newly-trained operators performing first burn!  



 – – Asheville Professionals Engineers Without Borders
http://ewbasheville.org/donate
https://www.facebook.com/engineers.without.borders.asheville.professionals/

Part 2 of 2 – Dispatches from Kenya – March/April 2016

By Ed Williams – Member of Asheville Engineers Without Borders

This is part 2 of 2.  To read part one, click here.


Ed Williams

Below are text messages sent to my wife, Cathy, while visiting Kenya, Africa as part of the Asheville Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project to construct a medical waste incinerator inthe rural Kenyan community of Uluthe.  Tim Heim, engineer, co-worker, travel partner, and I were tasked with overseeing the final construction of and training the local health workers in the operation of the incinerator.

On a past EWB project, where a well was installed in the community of Uluthe at the site of the clinic, children were observed fishing a soccer ball out of a pit where medical waste from the clinic is burned.  It was then that the need for proper medical waste disposal was identified and the project idea was hatched.

The “De Montfort” incinerator design to be used was developed as an inexpensive but effective incinerator which could be built in almost any developing country, but would meet the criteria of a temperature of above 800 degrees Celsius with a residence time of over 1 second.  The small and simple incinerator is easy to operate. A small amount of firewood is used to get the heat up in the incinerator, then the medical waste is added and the heat from the burning of the waste plastics, syringes, etc.. is what brings the unit up to 800 degrees C. Its dual stage combustion destroys both pathogens and toxic organic emissions, making it the most sophisticated waste disposal device in a large region.

 

 

04/01/2016—-2200

George picked us up at the compound at 6 this morning and drove us to Kisumu where we met Winnie, our area travel agent and owner of the safari company, and Jonathan our safari van driver and guide. We had some breakfast then Tim, Jonathan and I headed for Masai Mara, about a 6 hour drive. The landscape changed as we gained elevation and got into tea plantation country. Very pretty green fields and less populated than where we came from. The last two hours to the game reserve were dirt, potholed and bumpy. We got to Masai Mara around 3:30pm, took a bite of lunch, and got settled into our quarters, a big canvas tent sheltered by a thatch roof. We also have our own bathroom with a shower. We headed out for an evening safari. There was a nice rain in the afternoon, and being higher in elevation, it was actually a bit cool. The first time on this trip I wasn’t sporting a layer of perspiration. Had to break out my jacket, which was kind of nice.

We drive through the entrance gate out onto the savannah and it wasn’t long before the wildlife viewing was on!

We saw: Banded Mongoose, Impala, Thompson’s Gazelle, Wildebeest, Warthog, Ground Plover, Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Grant’s Gazelle, Tope, Ground Crane, Yellow Billed Stork, Southern Brown Hornbill, Jackal, Guiana Fowl, Hyena, and a big ole herd Of Elephants that we managed to get in front of as they passed through. Darn tootin!

Didn’t see any big kitties, but hoping to see them tomorrow when we set out for an all day long safari. Going all the way to the Mara River where we might see hippo and crockadilos. Jonathan is an excellent guide and seems to know how to get in the right place at the right time.  As I write this sitting here, I’m listening to lots of cool sounds in the night. Also, my new binoculars are working famously. Wuv you!!

Can’t wait to see YOU!!

 

04/02/2016—2200

 

Was another beautiful day in Kenya. Will give you details when I get home, but a few highlights for now. Lots of lions!  ROAR!!! Came upon some lion families. One group we drove right up on were sleeping and cleaning one another. Our Toyota safari van is 4WD and the roof completely pops up so you can stand up and look around. We got so close to this group, daddy, two mommas and 5 cubs that you could literally spit down on top of them. Dadda was just sleeping heavily and the rest of the pride were just piled up on each other licking, loving and being sweet. Wait til you see the pics!

Went down to the river and saw a big mess of hippos. Lots of wildlife seen on the way. Jonathan is a great guide. On the way back we spotted a leopard up in a tree with his kill from last night, a Thompson’s Gazelle. You would have been sad.

Saw tons and tons of cool birds. If you came here just for the bird watching and the incredible landscape and hanging out with the Masai people, it would be well worth the trip. Throw in all the other wildlife and well, unreal.

In addition to seeing most of the wildlife species we saw yesterday, today we saw:

Lion, Attabeest, Lilac Breasted Roller, Waddled Plover, Masai Giraffe, Water Buck, Frangoline, Supobs Starling, Baboon, Black Bellied Bastard, Hamakope, Grey Heron, Red Billed Stork, Velvet Monkey, Egyptian Geese, Hippo, Ostrich, Secretary Bird, African Hooee, Hornbill, Leopard, Maribou Stork, White Winged Shrike, and all sorts of other cool birds. Heading back to Nairobi in the morning. Hope all is well in Asheville.

 

04/03/2016—-1400

We left the Masai Mara this morning about 7 for the six hour drive to Nairobi. The drive was nice as we descended into the Rift Valley, the Cradle of Mankind, then up and over its eastern escarpment and down into the big city. It was a bit of a shock to all of the sudden be in the noise, dirt and hustle & bustle of Nairobi. We headed into the city center and to our little oasis in the middle of the madness. The Fairview Hotel sits on a hill overlooking the city and just next door to the Israeli Embassy. It’s actually run and owned by the Israeli’s and the security is tight. The hotel is beautiful with gardens, courtyards, swimming pool and plush accommodations.

Peter, the student studying engineering in South Africa, called to see if we want to do something. He’s staying with his parents in Nairobi for another week or two before going back to school. Not sure what he will have in store for us this evening. Will report back later if I’m not too tired.  

Ps: I saw a pair of little Dik Diks on the drive out of Masai Mara!

 

04/03/2016—1430

Hello hot water, my old friend

 

04/03/2016—-2300

Peter and his Scottish girlfriend Nikki came by the hotel, had a drink and brought us back to his parents’ house in a suburban neighborhood called Karen. It was all the family members we had dinner with at the compound in Sigomre plus his sister. Their house was incredible and had a big yard with gardens and sitting areas. They served us a nice dinner with grilled beef and chicken and veggies. Had the first cauliflower since leaving the states. It was Peter’s 25th birthday so we had cake and custard and we all sang happy birthday just the same as we would at home. His mom even threw in a last verse similar to the one my mom always sings me about the monkeys and the donkeys. We talked, had lots of fun, and Peter’s sister brought us back to the hotel since she lives close by. We’re getting the full local culture experience for sure.

Finished off the night by the pool. Lots of kitties running around and velvet monkeys in the trees. Goodnight Wifey!  

 

04/04/2016—1530

 

Today we did the Nairobi tour. Had a 1st class breakfast at the hotel (included with the room fare), then Jonathan picked us up at 9:45. Went by the Galleria Mall and got some goodies before heading over to the Baby Elephant Orphanage for the morning feeding, 11-noon. They brought out the first group of babies, about fourteen 1 to 2 year olds, and fed them two big bottles of milk each. They use a human baby formula mixture. After sucking down their bottles, the baby elephants chewed on branches and leaves and mingled a bit with the tourists looking on from behind a rope. One came over by me and I got to pet it some. After that, another group of fourteen babies came out, 3-4 years old. They told the different baby elephant names and how they came to the orphanage, mothers killed by poachers, conflicts with farmers, mothers dying of natural causes, babies getting stuck in wells and watering holes, etc..  It was cool to see the babies, but sad that such a place must exist.

We then went on to the Giraffe Conservancy. It’s a captive breeding program for endangered species of Kenyan Giraffes. There are several giraffe types in Africa. We got to feed and pet some of them. Beautiful animals!

 

From there we went for lunch at Carnivore. It’s popular restaurant with locations in Nairobi and Johannesburg. It’s a big ole meat fest. You pay one price and they come around cutting you off pieces of choice meat. We had: Rump Steak, Leg of Pork, Beef Striploin, Leg of Lamb, Pork Sausages, Pork Spare Ribs, Beef Sausages, Lamb Chops, Turkey, Beef Ribs, Chicken Wings, Lamb Sausages, Rabbit, Rabbit Liver, Ox Balls, Crocodile and Ostrich….phew!

We waddled out of Carnivore and cruised on over to Bomas Cultural Center where we sat and watched dancers performing traditional dance from different tribes of Kenya. Very cool. We also strolled around the grounds looking at homesteads of the different tribes, thatch huts and so on.

We’re back at the hotel relaxing after a long day.  Mary and her daughter are coming by at 6:30 to bring your dress and things.

It’s been unreal, but now I’m ready to get home to my Wifey.

Love you!!  Have fun with Emma!  I’m having my evening tea I’ve grown accustomed to. Kenyan tea with hot milk…African tea.

 

04/05/2016—1530

Tim and I are sitting at the airport waiting to board for our long journey home. George met us this morning at the hotel and we went to check out a few sites and have lunch before going to the airport.

We went by a bookstore at the mall where George turned us on to some books about Kenyan culture. Then we went to the Karen Blixxen museum. She’s the author who wrote “Out of Africa” and other books. It was the home and coffee plantation where she lived with her husband, Baron, and then her lover after she and her husband split up. We had a tour guide take us around the grounds and house complete with most of the original furnishings and artwork. It was way cool and you would have loved it.

After that we went to where they make Kazuri beads. We got the tour of the facility and rooms where at least a couple hundred women were busy making ceramic beads and jewelry. Pretty cool.

Then we went for some lunch, hamburger and fries. Need to start acclimating to life in the US. George ordered me some chocolate birthday cake which was pretty good. Tim and I wolfed it down, since George can’t eat sweets due to his diabetes. Then on to the airport where we parted ways with our friend, George, a very wise man and teacher from whom we learned a hell of a lot.

The other night at dinner, Pamela said Africa is a land of extremes: extreme natural beauty and extreme environmental degradation; extreme wealth, extreme poverty; extreme vastness, extreme overcrowding; and so on. Not sure how or if Africa has changed my way of thinking. It will take weeks to process it all. So much packed into two weeks. It certainly was an eye opener. So many new friends made, so much seen. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a culture so welcoming and friendly. The Kenyan word for Welcome is Karibu, a word I heard many times. Maybe someday we can come here together and I can show you around and take you to meet my new friends. Can’t wait to get home and see you!

Part 1 of 2 – Dispatches from Kenya – March/April 2016

By Ed Williams – Member of Asheville Engineers Without Borders

This is part 1 of 2.  To read part two, click here.


Ed Williams

Below are text messages sent to my wife, Cathy, while visiting Kenya, Africa as part of the Asheville Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project to construct a medical waste incinerator in the rural Kenyan community of Uluthe.  Tim Heim, engineer, co-worker, travel partner, and I were tasked with overseeing the final construction of and training the local health workers in the operation of the incinerator.

On a past EWB project, where a well was installed in the community of Uluthe at the site of the clinic, children were observed fishing a soccer ball out of a pit where medical waste from the clinic is burned.  It was then that the need for proper medical waste disposal was identified and the project idea was hatched.

The “De Montfort” incinerator design to be used was developed as an inexpensive but effective incinerator which could be built in almost any developing country, but would meet the criteria of a temperature of above 800 degrees Celsius with a residence time of over 1 second.  The small and simple incinerator is easy to operate. A small amount of firewood is used to get the heat up in the incinerator, then the medical waste is added and the heat from the burning of the waste plastics, syringes, etc.. is what brings the unit up to 800 degrees C. Its dual stage combustion destroys both pathogens and toxic organic emissions, making it the most sophisticated waste disposal device in a large region.

03/24/2016—1230

Love you!!!  We are sitting on a Kenya Air plane getting ready to take off to Kisumu where George will meet us. The flight from Washington to Addis Ababa was kinda nice. They wined and dined big time. Almost too much food!

 

03/24/2016—2200

It’s the most intense third world scene ever. Sensory overload. I haven’t had much sleep in last 40 hrs. Going to bed.

 

03/25/2016—2130

Hi Wifey!! Miss you!  Wow, this place is a real eye opener! Where we are is away from the big city but still lots of people and lots going on.  Most people get around on foot, next mode of transport is bikes, then motorcycles, then cars and trucks, but it seems like most folks in cars or trucks are conducting some kind of business. Most rely on subsistence agriculture, few in the countryside have electricity or running water. They have to walk to the hand pump wells or worse water sources with big jugs to fill up, then they carry them home on top of their heads or strap them to a bike or motorcycle. Lots of motorcycles are carrying three passengers. All that said, they are the nicest people you’ll meet anywhere and most speak English. You can tell they don’t see many white people and I haven’t seen another white person since we left Kisumu. The children are really interested in us and love to wave and say hello.

Since this was an English colony, you drive on the wrong side of the road and it really is scary chaos. George has been driving the whole time, but I had to drive a little ways a little while ago and was definitely humbled.

The compound we’re staying at is nice compared to surrounding area. We have power some of the time and running water. Shower is cold but that’s welcome. Two ladies, Sara and Jane come in the morning and make breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having three squares is not an African thing but they are nice enough to provide us fat Americans with what they think we need.  Dinner tonight was yummy with some good rice, fish and some kind of corn/grits like concoction called ugali. There are chickens, sheep, cows and some wary dogs walking about the compound. It’s a bit hot up in here and we need to keep the windows closed to keep out mosquitos which aren’t too bad, but we still skeered of em. No fans.

Apparently there is a 7th day Adventist church next door having a revival. It’s Easter weekend so festivities must be in full force. Last night it started with some African music coming from a loudspeaker. Kinda nice. I thought I might want to venture on over, but the thought of leaving the compound after dark was too much. Probably wise. Of course by bedtime last night after 40 some hours with little sleep, there’s not much that’s gonna keep me awake. I pass out dead to the world. About midnight or so I’m awoken to it, except I ‘m not fully awoken, more of in a dreamlike/nightmare state where I don’t know where I am. When I start to become conscious, I sit up in bed to only find myself trapped in the mosquito net before I realize where I am and what’s going on. Good times

This morning at breakfast, we told George about our experience and he told us they were 7th day Adventists and were celebrating their Sunday.

Ps: We decided all these first world problem whiners need to spend a month in western Kenya.

03/26/2016—2130

Hi Wifey!! Another big day in Kenya!  The project is going well. Tim couldn’t have timed it better. Questions have arisen that needed an engineer’s consultation, so being here during the final stages has been very helpful. The contractor is working hard to meet Wednesday’s deadline and he has lots of workers on-site. Fortunately, Muhammed Ali the contractor, is Muslim, so the Easter holiday when most of Kenya shuts down is not keeping Muhammed from working. Muhammed and his crew are super nice and we have a great positive vibe goin’ at the job site.

The project manager is Suabija. She shows up kinda dressed up in a stylish hijab and silky dress, yet she gets in there and hauls bricks and whatever and keeps the crew on their toes. She’s fun to work with.

 

Tim and I were working hard today in the hot sun. We were determined to fill in the hole of the old medical waste burn pit. That involved many wheelbarrow loads of dirt. Apparently, there really was an issue with kids sifting through the waste to find something to take home. None of them wear shoes, so the likelihood of cutting their feet on contaminated glass or needles was certainly there.

Today was a holiday so lots of children showed up to watch the activity. I had a lot of fun taking group photos then showing them the photos on the camera screen. They loved it!

We just got back from walking to dinner down the road. The scene was surreal as we walked along the dirt road, motorcycles and people everywhere, a ton of dust in the air with sun setting behind. We were a little scared heading down there, but it turned out to be pretty cool. Had dinner then moseyed on back to the compound for a much needed shower. Tomorrow we are going to attend Easter mass at George’s church. He’s having us over for dinner with his family. We are really enjoying our time here and feel like we’re doing good work.

 

03/27/2016—2230

Wow, Wifey. Whatta day….  I’m pretty mentally and physically worked from all the goin’s on, but will do my best to write it down while it’s still fresh on the mind.

First thing this morning, Peter, the first grade teacher came by and collected us and we drove to the Catholic Church in the village of Uluthe. As we got near the church, people were walking along the road in their Sunday best carrying chairs, many of them balancing them on their heads. Turns out the church is not quite finished. No pews, dirt floor, very rustic. As we stood outside waiting for George to show up, people would come up to say hello, shake our hands and welcome us to the church. It was really nice. Many women were dressed in beautiful, traditional African dresses with head scarves. Some of the women wore outfits kinda like Mother Theresa. Men wore anything from suits to whatever.

I gotta take a much anticipated shower. Be right back.

So, back to church. We walked in and were seated in some plastic lawn chairs. Then the priest began mass spoken in Luo, the native language of the local tribe. There are 42 tribes in Kenya. Occasionally, he would speak a little English. The mass seemed informal and the priest had more of a dialog with the congregation than a typical Catholic mass. To the side of the pulpit was the choir. Men play drums and other percussion instruments while mostly women sang. It was incredibly beautiful and moving. The congregation would kinda wave our hands back and forth in the air, then break into clapping to the beat. It was all gentle and pretty, not high energy like gospel. At one point they set up some donation boxes, then we all got up and got in line to give a donation. Some brought bags of dried maize. Of course George was called to the front and then he asked us to come up front where he told everyone what we were doing and we told them our names. According to Tim’s calculations, there were about 750-800 people in attendance. At the end we all shuffled outside where we did a lot more meeting and greeting. George bought some sugar cane from a girl and we headed back to our compound to chill awhile.

 

Once back at the compound George showed us how to peel the cane with our teeth, cut it up and chew it. It was pretty good and considered a social thing. About half way through the chewin’, George got a phone call and he sounded a bit excited talking to his wife.  He said we must go, my house is on fire! We jumped in the SUV and hauled down the road to his place. When we got there, smoke was coming from the side of his house. Apparently, the outside breaker box was on fire, so he grabbed a stick and beat it out. Everything except the breaker box was fine, so he called an electrician and we went inside to eat lunch.

 

After lunch at George’s today, he said let’s go to Ugunja. We needed to stop back by the compound to get a few things. There we ran into another Peter who is the grandson of Mrs. Odera and an engineering student at a college in Capetown, South Africa, home visiting for the holidays. We promised earlier to take him to see the incinerator, so George told him to come along and we would see the incinerator straight away after getting the car fixed.  It was cool to get Peter’s young, educated view on things.

We checked out the incinerator, a bunch of kids came to greet us, then we continued on. George said “Do you mind if we do a quick stop at my cousin’s? He’s an engineer and would probably like to chat.”  When we pulled up his cousin came out and greeted us with open arms and invited us into his home as everyone we visit does. Inside was a living room full of people and we went around the room greeting everyone individually. We sat down and the women and girls brought out drinks, everyone in their Sunday best. After a while, about half the people left. Turns out they were having a “negotiation” where friends and relatives from a prospective groom come to negotiate a dowry. Actually, it was kind of an informal, maybe a prelude to a negotiation where nothing was actually settled.  More like an “introduction”. Interesting nonetheless. Most of the folks visiting were from Nairobi. One of the women was wearing the most beautiful African dress and I told her so and how my wife would be loving it. She said well I’m a fashion designer and make them. I said could you make my wife something like that? We will be in Nairobi next week. She said of course, what is her dress size, height, etc. It’s gonna come with all the accessories. She’s also gonna make me a beautiful knit shirt. She’s bringing it all by our hotel in Nairobi.

Then, they brought out the food. Before eating someone will come around the room with a bowl, soap and pitcher of water to wash your hands. They had a full spread of beef, fish, greens, chapati, and lots of other stuff. We ate our fill, then Peter said get ready, you will have to eat again when we get back to compound!  Oh brutha. We got back about 830 after a very long day and sat down to more food and conversation. Experience of a lifetime I tell ya.

 

03/28/2016—2230

Had another very productive day. We picked George up by the road at his house and went to the clinic/incinerator site. There we met Lucas, primary school teacher and leader of the Uluthe Community Organization. Lucas lost one of his legs back in 2008 while working on one of the local development projects. He’s tried a prosthetic but couldn’t get used to it, so he gets around on crutches. After meeting up with Lucas, George said this morning we’re going to an organic farm. We drove down a winding dirt path and entered the farm of Paskalia Shikuku. I have to say Paskalia may be one of the most interesting people I’ve met so far. Hard to say since so many interesting and cool people have been encountered. Paskalia came out to greet us in a traditional and colorful African dress, cornrows and her hair tied up with a colorful scarf. We met Paskalia at church yesterday morning. First thing she showed us was the compost bin, a wooden cage like structure set up off the ground on four posts. She explained how the different levels of material are put in the bin, organic matter, some kind of local grasses, then water, cow dung, and some other stuff. The bottom of the bin is lined with plastic with a small hole cut in the center. She keeps a big jug below the hole and when she adds water, a liquid, which she calls tea, flows down through the compost, through the hole and into the jug. The “tea” is very rich in nutrients and she sells it to local farmers to put on their crops. After that, we walked down through her fields. The land slopes down to the river and she terraced the fields back in 1998 to prevent erosion and have a more level growing surface. In the fields were the most beautiful crops you’ve ever seen, kale, peanuts, nightshade, and other cool stuff. Her kale had very little damage from bugs due to treating them with a mixture of hot pepper and garlic. Walking back up to her farm we saw a group of young boys running around an area of thick vegetation with their little dog in the lead. They were hunting rabbits and were in full trot waving machetes in the air. Don’t think the hunt was successful, but they were definitely getting after it!

After the tour, Paskalia invited us into her home for hot tea and peanuts (ground nuts) from the farm. She had a sweet kitty sitting on the sofa. Actually, it was the first kitty we saw on the trip and the first pet that would let you pet it. Tim asked its name and she said it didn’t have one, so Tim asked what Luo name for it was and she said “kitty”.

After the farm tour, we met up with Joseph and one of his colleagues.  Joseph is from the Lake Victoria South Water District. Turns out that the Kenyan government with grants from the EU wants to tap into the well at the clinic (the one that EWB [Engineers Without Borders] drilled back in 2014 when Teddy came) and build a big water tank at a high point near the clinic, pump water from the well to the tank, then distribute to the community via gravity lines. Most people in the community have to walk a long way to get clean water. The well at the clinic that EWB built turned out to be very high yield for the area. It’s an election year and the government is looking to do projects that can affect a lot of voters. George’s wheeling and dealing led him to Joseph and now Joseph is keen on putting together a proposal. The money has already been allocated. This could be a big win for the community and EWB!

We toured around the community looking at the water tank site and areas where kiosks (water distribution sites) will be located. We went to where a well was dug a few years back at the site of a future polytechnical school, think three room building. It’s also a convenient site in the community to get water. A year or so ago, the hand pump fell into disrepair and was removed so it could be replaced. In the meantime, some local kids threw rocks down the borehole, stopping it up and making it virtually irreparable.  At least that’s what we and some others were thinking. Well, while we were standing there looking at the well, a guy drove up on a motorcycle. We went through the normal meet and greet formalities. There’s a certain structure to how you do things here. Turns out he is in charge of a crew that plans to dig around the well to depth where they can remove the rocks and restore the well. It may be that a big rock lodged in the borehole not too far down. They said they could dig by hand to a depth of 100 feet! Sounds way sketchy, but if it can be done, these strong Africans can do it. It’s weird how things have fallen into place like that on this trip. You’ll be somewhere and someone will arrive and bam it’s on!

We parted ways with Joseph, then George, Tim, Lucas and I headed back to the incinerator site. We greeted Chris, who Tim and I admire greatly.  Chris is the incinerator project foreman for Haikal and a member of the neighboring Kiisi tribe. He is the coolest, most warm, gleem-in-his-eye person ever!  We meet with a firm hug, the kind where you put your head to one side of his head then the other. I’m instantly filled with a burst of energy from his super positive vibe. We talk about the project a little then head to Ugunja to get supplies, gas and other goods. We buy a couple soccer balls, actually they are volleyballs, to give to the children who come to the project site to watch the activity. We get water and other essentials and George says hey, you want a snack?  When George says you want to drop in for a short visit or a snack, expect something more. Ugunja is a bustling little Kenyan town with all sorts of street vendors and fast paced goings on. We drop into a little cafe, George orders us some Cokes and some food. He asks us if we like spicy food. Of course! George can’t drink Cokes due to his diabetes. Turns out it was one of the best meals yet: tender beef, greens, tomatoes, and ugali, the local “cornbread” which is made with a cornmeal, but is nothing like cornbread. It comes with about every meal. Washing hands is mandatory since it’s common practice to eat with your hands. They also brought out some fresh red and green pepper. Yum!  Between that and the Coke, I was quite refreshed. We headed back to the incinerator site.

We crossed the river, just down from the site, where the local kids were swimming. They saw us and said “we’re coming up!”.  When we got out of the SUV, I threw them the ball and they couldn’t have been more excited! They said “oh, volleyball!” And proceeded to play volley ball, not soccer (football) as we expected. That’s when it all came full circle. They played over the freshly filled medical waste hole where a couple years ago, when Teddy was here, they watched the kids fish the ball out of the medical waste hole and hatched the plan to build the incinerator. Chris and everyone watched on. Chris said, “It’s so amazing. Now they can play safely. Also, there’s no way they could afford a ball like that.” It’s a five dollar ball, the price of a local micro-brew, but could not be afforded by local families. Instead, you see homemade balls of twine and other stuff they put together. I was very touched, close to tears. Getting a bit worked up just writing this. Will leave you now and go have dinner before I really turn the water works on. Luv you!!!

Forgot to mention, for the little bit that most folks here have, they are impeccably clean. Floors are spic and span, homes very neat and you don’t see piles of trash everywhere. I think that part of the lack of trash is that they just don’t have much to begin with, ie: there’s no waste to generate. This trip is very rich and I’m not even scratching the surface, just hoping to paint a little picture of the experience.  

 

03/29/2016—-2200

 

Got up early and Tim, George and I drove to Kisumu (about 1.5 hrs away) to meet Joseph to get a tour of the water plant and pick up bottles to sample the local wells. Joseph works for the regional water district and his office is basically a Kenyan version of the Asheville Regional Office. Cool to see the similarities halfway round the world. We rode with Joseph and his driver up the mountains which stand over Kisumu to the water plant sitting high in the watershed. It’s up there to capture better quality water and get a good head of gravity for flowing down and distributing to Kisumu. Kisumu has another older, smaller water plant on Lake Victoria too. We got a first class tour of the water plant.  Forgot to mention that Emily, George’s wife rode with us to Kisumu as well. We dropped her off at the hospital to visit her good friend who just got out of intensive care after collapsing on the public transit yesterday evening. Emily’s a sweetie.

After the tour, we picked up Emily and headed back to Uluthe. Emily’s friend was doing much better and able to walk around. Once back in Uluthe, we dropped Emily off at home and had to rush to collect samples so Muhammed’s driver could rush them back to the lab in Kisumu. No cooler or ice so the samples couldn’t sit around. After collecting samples we went to meet Rose, a public health worker in Ugunja. Rose will be a key player in training clinic workers to operate the incinerator. We had a long, productive meeting, then we all went to the incinerator site. Chris was there and greeted us in his enthusiastic manner. Then we drove back to Sigomere and the compound for some chill time. We are busy busy!

We have tomorrow then the big incinerator training and celebration on Thursday!  Then on to the safari and Nairobi.

 

03/30/2016—2240

The plan for today was to start late, 10 o’clock, then go pick up George, so we slept in a bit. About 9:30, George shows up at the compound and says we need to get going. He’s having a guy with a tractor come to his farm to till rows, and he wants to go see the town Chief to let him know what’s going on before catching up with the tractor man. We go to the Chief’s office in Sigomere, just down the road from the compound. We go into his office for the familiar formalities, and sit down around the meeting table. Another one of the Chief’s colleagues is there and after a while, the assistant Chief comes in. All of the government offices have a picture of President Kenyatta on the wall. We had an engaging discussion. They asked good, critical questions, then we got in the SUV and drove the 4 kilometers to Uluthe to show them the incinerator first hand. By the time we got back to Sigomere, the tractor man was waiting for us so we dropped off our passengers and got the tractor man to follow us back to George’s farm in Uluthe. There, he got busy with his Massey-Ferguson as we watched on. This was the first time George got the farrows in using a tractor. Typically, he gets some workers that will take a few days. The tractor took a little over an hour. George paid the man using his phone–Kenyan e-money. Many of the fields in the area are tilled by hand using just a tilling hoe. Unbelievable, especially considering the toughness of the soil. It’s good planting soil, once it’s loosened up a bit.

 

 

George wanted to go around to area clinics to pick up medical waste boxes and we decided it might be best to not get so much exposure to potential biohazards so he dropped us off at the compound and said he would pick us up a 2. At 2 o’clock sharp he was back and we picked up Rose in Ugunja then headed to the hospital in Siaya, about 40 kilometers from Uluthe, to have a look at their incinerator. We went to the administrator’s office, had the usual sit-down, and then went out to see the incinerator out behind the mortuary. It was a rather large, compared to our incinerator, gas powered unit. Lots of medical waste was piled in the corner since it broke down from overloading the unit. They were running the old antiquated unit instead to try and keep up with demand.

 

That’s how things go over here. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. We made a few more stops to visit, then headed back to Uluthe to see how the incinerator was going. On the way back, it began to pour rain, and the ditches began heavily flowing with red mud water. George said a couple more rains like that and they’d be ready for planting. Things were going well at the incinerator, so we continued on to the Small Home for disabled children, which is a home run by nuns for children of varying disabilities.

Our plan was to visit and give them the art supplies I purchased from WalMart. The power was off, I guess from the storm, so the place was a little dark inside. We were greeted by one of the nuns and went inside for introductions, then we went to see the children in another wing of the small, well-kept complex. Well-kept goes without saying, since all places we visited tend to be well-looked after. We met the sweet children and had a little giving of the gifts while Tim snapped photos. Tim and I also gave a donation. We then went back to the nun’s quarters to sit down to home-made tea and fresh baked rolls. We talked about different things and the orphanage in a close by town where one of the nuns came from. We’re planning to go there tomorrow. I told everyone that my 50th birthday is on Tuesday, and the nun who showed us around said they would plan to pray for me on that day. Very sweet and touching.

We dropped Rose off in Sigomere then George left us off at the compound. After getting settled, Tim and I walked up the road to have some social time.  

Btw, every day the house keepers do our laundry by hand. You can’t imagine how clean and fresh it comes out. I’ll have to try and get some hints for when we’re in the road. Tomorrow’s the big day…training and the big shin-dig!  Wuv you, miss you!!!

 

03/31/2016—2300

Had a very special day.  Rose came by the compound a little after nine and we sipped coffee and tea while going over the agenda for the training and what our roles would entail. George picked us up a little before ten and we went on to the incinerator site. There was a tent with chairs all set up and we brought refreshments over and set them in the shade. The Haikal crew was busy working. Health care workers from the Uluthe clinic and surrounding clinics started to trickle in and by the time we started with introductions, we had about 15 in attendance. George started with some background about the project. He’s a wonderful facilitator and speaker, a real natural. Then Tim and Rose covered several topics from medical waste sorting, to safety and operation, and so on. They both completely nailed it. I had a small part covering the maintenance of the unit. The training overall went off beautifully. We broke for some warm sodas and ground nuts grown on Paskalia’s organic farm. Then we had a ceremonial lighting of the incinerator. We couldn’t bring the unit up to full heat since the brick work hasn’t had time to completely cure, so we just burned some sticks and paper. The head of the clinic lit the fire. It actually had a good draft even with the small amount of fuel. We snapped pics and shook hands. Very nice.

“Big mama” sounds like she’s brewin’ up a big one outside. That’s what George calls the big rain lady in the sky. She might pass us by, but hoping she does her thing so it cools off the evening.

There were plenty of sodas and nuts left, so the health workers handed them out to patients at the clinic who were very grateful. George said they would remember this day because of the nice treats that came their way.

The health workers went back to work and we said our goodbyes to the Haikal crew, since we are leaving tomorrow and won’t be back to the incinerator site. We got together for some group photos in front of the incinerator, then the Haikal folks presented us with a parting gift. Suabija presented Tim with wrapped package that contained a beautiful full Muslim garb, gown, hat and another item (not sure what you call it).  Then Chris presented me with a package that contained the same. Can’t wait to model it for you! It was all so sweet and sad to say goodbye to our friends.

 

Here comes BIG MAMA!!

We made a few stops on the way back to the compound. Checked out the progress of the crew hand digging around the broken well that had been clogged with rocks that the kids threw in. You wouldn’t believe it. They’ve already dug down about 25 feet and I’m confident they will get it fixed. These Kenyans are amazing and strong. Went by Paskalia’s farm to say goodbye, then to the compound where George, Tim and I took our lunch and discussed future projects. After that, it was time to go pick up Sister Mary and drive over to the orphanage in Rangala.

We drove up and got out of the vehicle and were instantly swarmed by a pack of beautiful children about 3-4 years old. They were all shouting Hello, Hello!!  Tim and I both had a child holding each of our hands and a few holding on to us as Sister Mary walked us through the facility. The orphanage is for children ranging from first born to four years old. Most end up going back to family members once they are of an age where they are walking and easier to handle than when they are babies. The abandoned children may or may not get adopted or go on to foster homes. The home has about 45 children total. After touring through the different sections with different aged children, the Sisters invited us for tea as they like to do. The orphanage is also a working farm where they have laying chickens, a small dairy and other crops. The tea is made right there and it is most delicious with fresh milk from the dairy. Also some yummy homemade cakes.  We finished then took Sister Mary back to the Small Home and George dropped us off at the compound.

And so ends our stay here at this little peaceful corner of Kenya. George will drive us to Kisumu first thing in the morning so we can get on the safari van for the drive to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. I dreamt most my life of going to the African plains and seeing the lions, elephants and other game animals big and small, but now I’m pretty sure that even that can’t top the incredible experience we’ve had so far. So much love in this place. My heart is full.