Thursday, 1 December 2011

More mzungu musings

As this was my last whole day in Kenya I thought I’d make the most of it by getting up really early to drive down to Lake Victoria to watch the sun rise. I hadn’t remembered how dark it is at five in the morning, but it was a nice trip. Our visitors left today and we had actually planned to do the visit to Lake Victoria a couple of mornings ago. Unfortunately rain stopped play at that particular time. The sunrise was slightly disappointing but we did arrive at the Lake in time to see the fisherman setting off for the day’s fishing. It was a very timeless scene. The same kind of boats must have been sailing out at this time of day for hundreds of years. We had a few offers of a ‘trip around the bay’ from the fisherman, (who clearly think they know a gullible catch when they see one). Fortunately time and common sense prevailed and we remained on dry land. At least one of the boats seemed to have almost as much of the lake inside as out.

It is always sad to say goodbye to visitors, especially when they have worked as hard as this team did. Massive thanks to Madeleine, Nicky, Catherine, Alan, Mathieu, Mike and John from the ‘European team’ and also to Ida and Siv, (who are still with us but deserve a mention in dispatches).

It’s always a pain finishing up a trip to Kosele. On the one hand it is great to anticipate being home and on the other there is always the job left behind that is slightly unfinished. That said this has been a very good couple of months. We have made as lot of progress in key areas, especially in relation to Farming God’s Way, (FGW), and starting the Agriculture College. Despite the weather our farm is in good shape and the harvest on the FGW plots is still looking promising.

My DIY skills continue to develop. I think it fitting that I had to do another minor repair on one of the solar systems on my last day in Kosele this year, (actually very minor – fitting a plug to two bare wires that had been poked into one of the inverters in the classroom system). I must be improving - I managed not to give myself an electric shock this time. I am trying to decide what tools to ask Santa for this Christmas, (having got fairly into the whole ‘right tool for the job’ mentality). I actually covet, (which is, I am sure, a major sin), a carbon fibre Leatherman multipurpose tool gadget, like the one Alan, (one of our visitors), brought out with him. Having previously blogged about how heavy the economy version that I brought to Kenya is I was amazed how light and usable the carbon fibre variety is. The only downside to it that I could see was needing a degree to work out how to actually open it up to get at the tools. This could, I guess, be a test of the user’s commitment to gadget geekiness and completing the job at hand.

Anyway, I digress. I’m not sure how easy it will be to blog from Nairobi airport tomorrow but I will try. If that fails I’ll have to wait until I get home on Saturday before the next instalment. It would, to be honest, be a major disappointment to miss the blog for a day. It’s mildly obsessional but is also a very therapeutic activity.

At this point it seems appropriate to thank God, the staff, the children, my family and followers for being so willing to put up with, (even encourage), my antics over here again, and to look forward to a very exciting New Year as our work in Kosele hits another gear.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Talent night

What an amazing day. It started badly with torrential rain that put paid to a planned early morning trip to Lake Victoria. It finished brilliantly with a ‘talent night’ put on as a team effort by the Cisco team and the children. In between a huge amount of classroom painting was completed. It now looks like we have a new school all over again.

All of the planning and preparation for a visit by a team from the UK brings you to a point where you wonder if the visitors will enjoy what has been planned and worry that something, (or things), will go wrong. Despite the weather this week has flown past in a blur of activity accompanied by a spirit of determination, fun and hard work. We have been so blessed by our visitors. It has been great to see the children who often stay in the background getting involved in new activities, relating well to new people and developing their practical skills and talents. Now that we are building visitors’ centre It will be fun rising to the challenge of keeping it as fully occupied as possible. The children learn so much from being around ‘mzungus’ and I know that all we visitors to Kenya learn a lot from them.

Tomorrow is my last whole day in Kenya for a while. I’ll be flying back to the UK on Friday evening and returning to Kenya towards the end of January. I think I’ve got most of the jobs I need to do in hand, (though you never know what will come up to knock you off track for the day). It will be good to be home for a bit, (though I’m sure the plotting and scheming for the next steps won’t slow down while I’m away from Kosele). At least it will give the staff a chance to catch their breath.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Too much of a good thing

I can't believe how fast this week is racing away. I shouldn't really be surprised, the last part of a visit to Kenya always rushes away with me. The Cisco team have, yet again, come up trumps in the hard work department and we now have five very smart looking classrooms. The second coat of paint will go on tomorrow. Weather permitting we should also do a version of the Farming God's Way training with the team, (I don't like to miss out on an opportunity to evangelise about our no plough, no nonsense solution to the world hunger problem).

We have only had a small amount of rain today, for which I think many of our neighbours will be grateful. It is hard to believe that we could have too much rain in Kosele, but a number of our neighbours are complaining about the effects of water logging on their crops and on their houses. It's easy to understand the problem of too much water running across the fields and spoiling the crop, (it has happened to us on a small part of our new land). It is more difficult to imagine what it must be like to have water rising through the floor in your house. Ian was out visiting in the community this afternoon and he reported on two cases of houses being badly affected in this way by the rain. For the families involved this is no joke. This is a tough enough place to live in at the best of times.

I keep meaning to get an early night but have so far not managed to get to bed much before midnight. Tonight is going to have to be an exception as we have an early start in the morning. We are planning a visit to Lake Victoria for our visitors and hope to be in time to catch the sun rising. All being well it should be a good way to start the day. Kenya really is a country of great contrasts. Great wealth side by side with grinding poverty. The destructive power of nature accompanied by great natural beauty. Optimism in the least promising circumstances. As our friends from Cisco start their last full day with us I hope that they will have been moved by their experiences of rural Kenya. They have been a great blessing to us. I hope that we will have had the same effect on them.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Running out of time

The to do list is shrinking, thank goodness, but it could still be touch and go whether I get everything done that I need to before flying back to the UK on Friday. It's been a useful but very administrative kind of day today – signing new teachers' contracts, preparing next years' timetables for school and making sure all the presents that sponsors have sent over have been received by the children and thank you letters have been written.

The Cisco team have been working like Trojans again, finishing the last part of a house build in record time before starting on preparations for painting classrooms. There is a really good atmosphere on the compound tonight. All of the children got involved with sanding the classroom walls before they get painted tomorrow. I can't imagine children in England singing and dancing while working the way our kids have this evening. All credit to them and the Cisco team for getting them going.

Listening to the place close down for the night it strikes me how much of a privilege it is to be here. It's going to be strange being back in England again. I'm sure I'll still find it just as hard to switch off at night and get to sleep. After it has rained in Kosele the noise of frogs, dogs, mosquitoes and overflowing water tanks can keep you awake for a while. At other times, like tonight, the place goes very quiet. Stepping outside at night, when there are no clouds and no electric lights to be seen the stars fill the sky. It is an awesome sight. It makes you feel very small. There are lots of things that I miss about Kenya when I am in England. The tranquillity and the sky late at at night are fairly close to the top of the list. They are a reassuring reminder that God is in His heaven and that whatever else happens there is a plan.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Three wheels on my wagon

What a day! We seem to have had a bit of everything Kenya can chuck at you one way or another. I think our visitors are getting a full taste of life out here. The day started off with a light drizzle, (not too encouraging), but, fortunately, this didn't last long and we actually had a really hot sunny day until about 4 pm. As it's Sunday today we went to church and I'd like to think that it was the joyful sound that we all made singing and praising God that turned the weather around.

The practical part of the day for our visitors involved putting mud on the walls of a house that is being built for a widow in the community. The 'smearing' part of the house build is always a popular activity and the team made a real go of it this afternoon – finishing two walls. The houses that members of the community live in would be described as 'wattle and daub' in Europe. Properly built they are an impressive testimony to local people's ingenuity in making the most of available resources, (principally wood and mud).

Taking our visitors to the site of the house build and later bringing them back again provided some 4x4 highlights for me. The journey to the site involved a shortish stretch of driving down a narrow, bumpy dirt track. After dropping the team off I had to make a three point turn and managed to drop one of the back wheels of the Landrover over the edge of a ditch, (it was a very narrow road for three point turning!). Engaging the low gears for the four wheel drive fortunately enabled the three wheels that were in contact with solid ground to pull us out of the ditch but it was a bit touch and go for a few minutes. The LR doesn't have a handbrake so doing a hill start out of a ditch on a dirt road was a bit of a challenge. Good old fashioned British engineering triumphed, (thank goodness).

The journey home was also memorable for a different reason. At 5 pm the heavens opened. It was the most severe rain I have seen for a while and it quickly filled the ditches at the side of the 'road' and turned bits of it into what looked like a small river. As I waited for our visitors to reach the pre-arranged rendezvous point I heard the most explosive lightning blast, and watched an electricity pole being struck full on about half a mile away. Some of our visitors were even closer to it than me – about 5 minutes walk away. We drove back along the rapidly growing floods across the road with the Landrover packed in classic Kenya style – three guys and me, the driver, packed into the front and fourteen people, (at least), in the back. It was a fitting end to a very African afternoon – the kind of thing that you don't forget in a hurry. The Cisco team and our two new friends from Denmark have been marvellous so far - it promises to be an interesting week.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Full house

Kosele is full of visitors now that our friends from Cisco have arrived. I have a feeling that we are in for a very busy week. The day got off to a slightly worrying start, as it looked suspiciously like it might rain again first thing. Fortunately the sun kind of sputtered into life eventually and the rain stayed away. We are all now praying for a return to the normal weather pattern of rain at night. It would be a shame if our visitors were subject to the Noah's Ark version of Kenya while they are here.

One of the nice things about having visitors is that it helps you to see Kenya from a different perspective for a while. It's easy to become so accustomed to your immediate surroundings that you stop noticing the small details. Having to stop and explain places, events and people provides a bit of space for reflection and, sometimes, reassessment.

The Cisco team flew from Nairobi to a small airstrip about an hours drive from our place. It was the first time that I had been there and I was surprised to discover a perfectly serviceable airstrip down one of the rough red roads that we are so used to driving on. The arrival of the plane turned into the usual spectator sport with a large crowd of people of all ages gathering to watch the landing and to weigh up the largish number of mzungus, (white people), that disembarked.

On our way back to Kosele in the Landrover John Appleton, (one of our UK trustees and the leader of the Cisco team), and I noticed a guy by the side of the road scooping something up off the ground and eating it. On closer inspection we could see that he was eating flying ants as they hatched. A freshly hatched flying ant is a real delicacy it would appear. I do remember the same thing happening on our compound when we first came to Kenya. The flying ants hatch in large numbers after heavy rain then burst into life and fly upwards in a great swarm. When it happened in Kosele we had a Kenyan girl who became my daughter Ellie's friend staying with us and she happily chased around after the flying ants, enjoying every, presumably, juicy mouthful.

During the journey back to Kosele from the airstrip we encountered the usual road hazards – potholes deep enough to break your suspension, other drivers suicidal overtaking and vindictive speed humps. Having moaned previously about the state of the last seven kilometres of the journey from Oyugis to Kosele it was really good to see that the earth moving equipment had been in action and scraped off the worst of the potholes, significantly speeding our journey up. It would be expecting too much to expect the road surface to be tarmacked but it does make a change to be able to get as high as third gear on the last leg of the journey home. Let's hope it is a sign of good things to come in the days ahead.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Big day out

It has been a very African day today. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because, in the end, everything that needed to happen happened. The down side is that the ups and downs of making it through the day aren't always very good for my blood pressure.

Anybody that has spent any time in Africa will be familiar with the idea of 'African Time'. It is a fact that very little happens on time in Africa the way that Westerners are used to. This isn't a problem for Africans and it shouldn't really be a problem for us Western folks who are, after all, usually just visitors to Africa.

Today was a big day for our oldest children – the pupils in Class 8 who recently completed their primary education by taking their KCPE, (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education), exams. As a celebration of this fact we arranged a nice lunch and small excursion for them. All of the Class 8 pupils and all of the teachers took part in the day's activities.

The day didn't exactly get off to the anticipated start due to rain. I have commented on the amount of rain that we have had a number of times but today's rain was unusual – it started in the morning and has continued on and off all day. As I type it is raining quite heavily. This was not, obviously, the ideal way to start the day. Fortunately Plan B – watching a video for a bit – worked, (thanks to our small generator). We were finally able to get off on our day out at about 10.30 am. It is perhaps just as well that the rain delayed the start of play as the bus that we had booked for 8.00 am was nearly two hours late arriving, ('African Time'). Once aboard the bus we piled off to Kendu Bay, a nearby town that is by Lake Victoria, stopping en route for a brief sightseeing visit to a new water project.

It has been a while since I visited Lake Victoria. We used to take the children their fairly regularly when they were small enough to fit all of them in our Landrover. Revisiting the Lake I was struck by how much the waterline has receded. An old cargo boat that was 'moored' (actually half sunk), by an old pier is now resting on dry land. The fishermen now land their catch at a different site, hemmed in by weeds and vegetation that is now colonising what was once the shore of the lake. Despite this change it was nice to be back at the lake, watching two fishing boats land their catches, (which were promptly bought up by Mary our manager who has a keen eye for a bargain). The Lake has a soothing effect. The fishermen that we watched plying their trade today could just as easily have been fishermen from Jesus' day. They use the same boats and the same 'technology' – ragged sails and fragile looking boats seemingly held together by prayers and string.

As we made our way back to the bus to go to our lunch appointment I noticed a group of our teachers stood on the pier by the old boat pointing at something in the swampy ground beneath them. “Shhh” they said, “there is a big snake down there”. Peering down into the grass I caught a glimpse of the middle section of a very fat, (and therefore quite large), Black Mamba as it glided through a gap in the the long grass – the first time I have ever seen one of these deadly snakes in the flesh in the wild. It was an exciting moment.

We had lunch in a restaurant called the Big Five in Kendu Bay. (Though quite when any of the Big Five animals was last seen in Kendu Bay heaven only knows). The meal was wonderful – between us we had chosen fish, beef and chicken dishes which were served very efficiently, (though the seating arrangements were a bit squeezed). The kids were served first followed by the rest of us. The meal was, (I think), a great success. As we finished eating the rain stopped, allowing us to extend our day a bit by taking a visit to a local 'historical site' – a volcanic lake called Lake Simbi. According to a travel website “Simbi Lake is a popular destination for birdwatchers and a footpath allows visitors to walk around the circular lake. There is a local myth about this crater lake. As it goes, an old lady was denied food and lodging by the residents of a village and she made the rain came down so hard that the village was swamped to become Simbi Lake.” We had a very nice walk round the lake and did seem some beautifully coloured wading birds.

I did have a 'mzungu, (white person), moment just before we set off for the Lake. The driver of the bus ate slightly later than we did, (because we had packed out the dining room), and so we were kept waiting, sat on the bus, for about twenty minutes while he finished his lunch and then had to do something to the bus before we set off. As I said, it was a very African Day. I'm sure I was the only person on the bus who was at all bothered by the unscheduled wait, and we did set off eventually. It may sound a small problem but this type of transgression of Western notions of service and efficiency is one of the most testing things about living in Kenya.

As we were waiting by the bus for the last stragglers from the walk around the lake to arrive back Madam Nyangwe, (one of our teachers), told me that a small gaggle of young children standing by the bus were very pleased about our visit. They had never seen a white person before. Another example of something you just wouldn't expect.

The route we travelled to and from Kendu Bay on was a 'short cut' that seemed to take longer than the road that we normally use. It was, to be fair, a much better “road” and it made a nice change to see some new scenery. On the way home there was a nice atmosphere in the bus – the kids were quite talkative and in good humour. As we alternated between hurtling and crawling along the red dirt track back to Kosele it was good to be able to reflect on the day. I think I must be mellowing. As long as you don't let it get under your skin African Time works. On the whole the delays didn't add up to much and everybody had a good time. Maybe us mzungus are just too uptight. Our Kenyans friends die from many tragic causes, but I'm fairly sure stress isn't one of them.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dead novelists society

It's been a really weird day with the weather today – the most torrential downpour mid afternoon. I feel very sorry for anybody that was caught out in it. It meant that I was stuck in the office so I decided I would do a job that I have been meaning to get round to for a while.

All of our work in Kosele depends on the support of sponsors and donors from the UK, so it is very important for us to keep good records about the children's circumstances. With a hundred and thirty children coming to our school as 'day scholars' it is a challenging task. As we open new classrooms next year we will be able to provide education and a feeding program for even more needy children in the community. I digress. This afternoon I set about typing up some of the children's stories and was struck, again, by how awful some of them are.

When I was about twenty I had plans to become an English teacher, so started a Combined Studies degree course in Northampton which included English as one of the subjects. We studied a number of the classic authors, and during the course of my first year I read a lot of books by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Reading through the notes that our staff had made about the children's cases this afternoon was very much like reading Dickens and Hardy. Stories of the most awful child neglect, rural poverty and family breakdown, often caused by premature death due to easily preventable diseases. The most tragic of Dickens and Hardy's characters have modern counterparts here in Kosele. Women get bought and are abandoned, children are forced to work from an early age and young girls are extremely vulnerable. Apart from the intrusion of the mobile phone a five minute walk away from our main road would bring you face to face with living conditions that are straight out of pre-industrial Europe.

Of all the details that I read and typed up today the one that gave me most pause for thought was the case of the two children whose parents had been 'lost' in the post election violence of 2008. The phrase he or she 'got lost' describes one of the real tragedies of modern Kenya. It has a variety of meanings but they all amount to the same thing. Somebody, somewhere is unaccounted for – probably dead. Men leave their wives and families to seek work in urban centres and don't come back. Young, single men and women leave home to make their way in life and aren't heard from again, or come back in a coffin.

When you take a look at life in rural Africa you can't help being shocked. Firstly by the sheer grind of it all but then by the resilience that so many of our neighbours show in the face of the most appalling adversity. I honestly don't know how some of them stay alive, or maintain the will to live – but they do. Thomas Hardy was often criticised for spinning many of his stories around implausible coincidences. If he'd lived around Kosele and written about the characters here the criticism wouldn't stand up. You couldn't make any of this stuff up!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Spanner in the works

Today has been another day of small victories – yes I’ve been DIYing again. I might need to be careful about continuing to blog about my small achievements in the fixing things department. I don’t want to build up any unrealistic expectations for my return home. That said I am much keener on maintenance and mending nowadays. I was thinking about the reason behind this new-found enthusiasm this afternoon. I think it boils down to the pioneer spirit. This might sound a bit odd so I’d better explain.

Living out in rural Kenya makes you much more aware of how easily we come to depend on other people to come to our rescue. The problem I was fixing today wasn’t especially complicated. Yesterday afternoon James, one of our security guards, told me that the starter rope on the generator we use for our borehole had broken. This really is a pain as the borehole is so deep that it needs a powerful electrical pump to raise the water up. We do have a back up generator but it does not generate enough power for this job. One of James’ jobs is to make sure the water tank that we use for drinking water is kept topped up. It runs out after about three days and, with about two hundred people to provide food and drinks for a day, running out of water is a serious problem.

There were two possible solutions to fixing the generator. Either replace the starter rope or attach a car battery to the generator to start it automatically. A quick trip to Oyugis, (our nearest ‘town’), this morning made the repair the only option, (there weren’t any suitable batteries for sale anywhere). There were plenty of ropes to replace the broken one. Whilst in Oyugis I also experienced one of the joys of Kenya. The idea of the happy, helpful African is, perhaps, sometimes an unhelpful and patronising stereotype, but it is, none the less, based in fact. Today a really helpful mechanic in Oyugis dropped the job that he was doing to help me locate a shop that sold decent quality spanners, (also required for the generator fix). It turns out that he was assisted by a French organisation to train as a mechanic and set up shop in Oyugis because there was too much competition in Kisumu, (a much bigger town about ninety minutes drive from Oyugis). He was very keen to point out that he, unlike many other people he knew, took great care of his tools and that he had in the past come up to our place to fix the Landrover. He was good company.

Anyway. Back at base, new spanner in hand I was able to make fairly short work of taking the rope starter bit of the generator apart and putting the new rope in. Certainly not rocket science but it was very satisfying hearing the generator roar into life at the first pull. Which is where the pioneer spirit kicks in. Back home there are relatively few occasions when failing to fix something yourself will threaten your ability to keep things going. Inconvenience perhaps. Failure to fix the generator today would mean that, as I type, we would have run out of drinking water. That kind of problem is a great stimulant to effective action. So, the generator is now fixed. I did eventually stop feeling smug about it and I’m now wondering what will go wrong next that I can apply my new enthusiasm and rapidly growing tool kit to.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Follow the cow!

The cow, (and its by products) have a number of uses in Africa. Status symbol, savings bank, life insurance, dinner, fertiliser, wall finish, clothing. It’s quite an impressive list, (and I’m sure there are other things that cows are good for that I’ve missed). Almost poetic. I am musing about cows this evening because we have been doing Farming God’s Way, (FGW), training again and I have had a revelation. It was very exciting.

A few weeks ago we started our push to persuade as many farmers as possible in our community to turn to Farming God’s Way by training some of our church leaders. The idea is to plant a number of 6m x 6m plots with maize and beans to demonstrate how effective Farming God’s Way, (a non tillage approach to farming), is. With proof that it works to show we are equipping church members to train others in the new approach. We are making good progress. Today’s session was set up to give everybody who has been trained so far an opportunity to deliver a bit of the training themselves. The session was co-ordinated by Ian and we moved at a good pace though all of the practical and biblical aspects of the course.

We have, over the years, wondered what the best way is to help members of the community here in Kosele. We are aware of, (and actively working against), the tendency for outside help from an organisation like ours to create dependency – doing so much for people that they are not encouraged to work on ways of helping themselves. Farming God’s Way is a great tool for discouraging dependency and encouraging food security. It depends on working to a high standard, performing tasks on time and with minimal wastage. One of the important ingredients of successful, sustainable farming, is fertiliser. Most people think of fertiliser as a kind of boost for healthy plant growth. Whilst this is an important consideration it is equally important to recognise that applying inputs to the soil before planting is also enriching the soil. Sustainable soil management involves putting in as well as taking out. In FGW terms “you reap what you sow”. Sowing without applying fertiliser produces a poor yield and, in the long run, kills the soil. The problem I have been wrestling with is how poor farmers in our area can afford to fertilise their soil. So today’s revelation was very welcome.

We were digging a Well Watered Garden on Kennedy’s land today. Kennedy is one of the church leaders and he has one, small, skinny cow. To be fair to Kennedy most of the cows around our area are fairly small and skinny. Like all cows it does produce fertiliser – naturally - every day. I know because I went round Kennedy’s fairly small piece of land counting the number of cowpats and termite mounds. This might seem like a peculiar obsession but it had a purpose. Manure and anthill soil, (our friends the termites again!), are both good farm inputs. Poor farmers’ inability to afford farming inputs is a constant complaint around Kenya – yet it lies around the fields uncollected and, therefore, unused. I did an experiment with one of the dried up cowpats. First I chopped it up with a panga, (a big lethal looking machete), and then put it into a 350 ml cup, (the amount of manure required to fill one FGW hole). One cowpat nearly filled the cup. So I added a bit more from the next cowpat and took my cupful of dried up cow poo back to our gang of trainers. Exhibit A!.

When we came to the part of the training that involved the fertiliser I got the team to duplicate my wander round the farm counting piles of poo. We agreed that there were about twenty. Going by my, admittedly slightly unscientific, experiment with the poo and the panga that would be enough fertiliser for about fifteen of the holes that we dug on the Well Watered Garden plot, (there are sixty-six altogether). A five-minute search for poo provided the Eureka moment for fertiliser. Follow the cow! We talked about how often a cow delivers a deposit each day. Four times seemed to be the general consensus. (We will have to conduct scientific research). At a conservative three times a day that means that Kennedy’s small, skinny cow will deposit three times ninety piles of poo by the end of February. At the end of February everybody around our area will be ready to plant their seeds for the long rains. That lead in time gives Kennedy fertiliser for at least two hundred holes – as long as he and his family develop a commitment to following the cow.

In our discussion Kennedy made the interesting observation that many local cattle owners graze their cattle some distance away from the land they grow crops on and therefore wouldn’t be able to collect the manure they create. “What should they do?” he asked. “Take a bucket and spade with them”, I replied. This caused a bit of amusement initially but then, (I think), it began to dawn on people that a fantastic, free, source of fertiliser is being systematically wasted - fertilising rough grazing grounds. I don’t know whether the idea will catch on but I think it should. If we and our Kenyan friends want to escape the dependency syndrome we will have to work together to seek novel solutions. Following the cow might be one of them.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Slow news day

The clock is ticking on the days left before returning to the UK for a short while. At this point my to do list seems to have taken on a life of its own and I am wondering if I’ll manage to get everything done in time. As I’ve been through this process a few times now I’m not unduly worried. Things have a habit of unravelling one day then coming back together the next. As I’ve said before the unpredictable nature of days out here makes it a more interesting place to be.

The rain is becoming a little patchier. I think it is now in wind up mode – threatening to pour down then quietly disappearing leaving a somewhat hot, sweaty night behind. I will have to look up the requirements for our maize in what remains of the growing season. Duncan is still making a morning pilgrimage to the plots and is working on a mid December harvest. I am disappointed that I won’t be here to see it come in. I’ll have to make sure Ian and Hilda take lots of pictures.

We have two new visitors staying with us – two young women from Denmark, (our first visitors from there). They promise to be a blessing to us as school winds down to the end of term and the children get less inclined to study. Given the examination overkill that we have experienced in the last month I’m surprised any of the children want to come to school at all. They will, hopefully, enjoy the more practical ‘curriculum’ that we have prepared for them for the next two weeks. In the run up to the Cisco team’s visit at the end of the week the teachers and pupils will be preparing to paint the classrooms, enjoying some mini ‘sports afternoons’ and doing some Art work. It should give us all a nice opportunity to wind down.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A good read

If you have been following my blog you may have drawn the conclusion that I enjoy reading. You would be right. I like devouring books. I blame my Mum and Dad and the library at RAF Tengah in Singapore, (to which I was a regular visitor for a couple of years at an impressionable age). Reading occasionally feels like a guilty pleasure – a real indulgence. I justify it on the grounds that it's one of God's greatest gifts for unlocking your mind. In the absence of TV and a broadband Internet connection I am greatly blessed here in Kosele by having time to read.

Sunday is a good day for reading. We usually have very few visitors requiring payment of any kind, (which I am responsible for as Mary, our manager, has week-ends off). I find it very difficult to resist the temptation of buying a new tome to get through when I am travelling. On my way to Kenya in October I bought a book called Africa – Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden, who has made Africa a life's work in a number of roles but principally as a journalist.

If you only ever read one book Africa read this one. Since first coming to Kenya in 2002 I have been fascinated, shocked, amused, moved and overwhelmed by Africa. As a result of being a participant in development in Kenya I have become a keen student of African politics and history. Africa – Altered States, Ordinary Miracles achieves the extraordinary feat of making a very complex historical, political and cultural narrative immensely readable. The chapters in the book move from one country to another, each one casting light on, for me at least, previously half understood details. No wonder the Independent review said it is 'a remarkable, ground breaking achievement, capturing the complex texture of a rapidly changing continent. It is also terribly moving'.

With the festive season rapidly gathering momentum, (in Europe and America at least), go mad and add this book to your list for Santa. Even better – rush out to the shops and buy it for yourself now as an early gift. You won't be disappointed, (though you may end up having a few late nights).

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Back on the farm

It’s been another good day on the farm today – ooh aar. A group of people from a church in Kisii, (our closest ‘big’ town), visited today to find out more about Farming God’s Way (FGW). One way or another I’ve had a fairly office based week so far so it was nice to get out and do something practical again.

We started the training with a tour of the latrines and the farm. Starting a tour with an in depth look at the toilets might not seem like the obvious way to get going but our visitors seemed suitably impressed by the Ecosan latrines and the compost we make from them. On then to the farm… It is difficult not to gloat over the cobs of corn that we have on the FGW plots – they really are huge. Having a field full of the evidence that FGW really does work gets our training off to a good start. We are really hoping that a very, very large number of people in our area will adopt this method of farming but will not go out on the stump shouting its praises. We are hoping that leading by example will stimulate real interest in FGW.

The best part of the training is the ‘science bit’ at the end of the hole digging. (For a fuller explanation of the steps involved in setting up a FGW plot follow either one of these links) – – (Our website) – FGW site – FGW videos

The experiments demonstrate how wasteful traditional approaches to farming are and help to explain why so much of Africa’s topsoil is being deposited in oceans! Our visitors seemed convinced by the demonstrations and I am optimistic that some of them will be Farming God’s Way in the next growing season. Pastor Peter, who led the group, has promised to let us know how his church members get on and I hope that we will be able to post pictures of good harvests on our website in the coming year.

Friday, 18 November 2011

It's a crazy world

It’s been a long day today. As ever a collection of unpredictable things to deal with and a to do list a mile long. I’m not complaining – I like being fully occupied and appreciate the fact that every day is different. I’ve been continuing to grapple with the problem of longevity, (of Hope and Kindness, not me), and have finally finished Built to Last, (the book that I have been drawing inspiration from). As I have blogged previously it has been a very stimulating read and has generated a lot of doodling on my planning pad.

I haven’t been consciously abstaining from news but had been news free for about a week until this afternoon. The transition from news junkie to news free has been easier than I would have thought a few months ago. Very few withdrawal symptoms. I did have a quick flick through the Standard, (Kenya’s ‘other’ daily newspaper). It would appear that Kenya is winning in the fight against Al-Shabbab. It will be interesting to see how much media space this has generated in the West. The press in Kenya is, understandably, full of news and views on the situation. Opinion seems fairly mixed about whether Kenya’s involvement in the current war in Somalia is a good or a bad thing. It is certainly very significant for the Horn of Africa. It’s difficult not to be pessimistic about Somalia’s future prospects, and very hard to imagine what life must be life for the average Somali. We live in a crazy world.

In a couple of weeks I will be heading back to the UK for a bit of a break before returning to Kenya to start a new school year in January. I always find it difficult readjusting to life in the West after a few months over here. I will be flying back via Dubai and will, I am sure, find the ‘Dubai Experience’ as perplexing as ever. Dubai is a miracle of modern urban and airport design – a temple to all things buildable. Like most airport terminals Dubai seems to lose its charm after a couple of visits. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Having said that it is impossible not to be impressed by it’s sheer audacity – common sense says that it shouldn’t be possible to build such a structure in such an unpromising and inhospitable location.

Wikipedia contains some interesting facts about Dubai. “Currently, human waste is collected daily from thousands of septic tanks across the city and driven by tankers to the city's only sewage treatment plant at Al-Awir. Dubai's rapid growth means that it is stretching its limited sewage treatment infrastructure to its limits. Because of the long queues and delays, some tanker drivers resort to illegally dumping the effluent into storm drains or behind dunes in the desert. Sewage dumped into storm drains flows directly into the Persian Gulf, near the city's prime swimming beaches. Doctors have warned that tourists using the beaches run the risk of contracting serious illnesses like typhoid and hepatitis.”

“The Burj Al Arab (Arabic: برج العرب, "Tower of the Arabs") is a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates managed by the Jumeirah Group and built by Said Khalil. Its construction started in 1994 and ended in 1999. It was designed by Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC. The hotel cost $650,000,000 to build. At 321 metres (1,053 ft) and 60 floors, it was the tallest building used exclusively as a hotel until being succeeded by Rose Rayhaan by Rotana in 23 December 2009, again in Dubai. The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 metres (919 ft) out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. It is an iconic structure, designed to symbolise Dubai's urban transformation and to mimic the sail of a boat.”

From the sub-slime to the ridiculous!

It will be great to catch up with my family again but anticipating the return journey from a developing country to a developed country via an over-developing country always makes me more acutely aware of the sheer injustice of Kosele’s existence on the margins of sustainability. Tomorrow we have a group of visitors coming over to see what Farming God’s Way is all about. I pray that their visit will inspire them to audacious visions for their own communities. Somewhere between Kenya, Somalia, Dubai and the UK there must be a place where people live in peace and enjoy rich, fulfilling and sustainable lives. That would be an interesting place to visit!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Good News

I’m really hoping that this will be the last blog about the war against the termites. The moat around house 4 is now deeper, (down to the foundations), and we have applied the serious chemical treatment. A last few survivors are trying to escape through cracks in the floor of the house but there has been no new activity outside. Looking on the positive side of the whole thing it’s reassuring to know how deep the house foundations are. Jared, the guy who has done the digging for us, is one of the hardest working people on planet earth and it took him a long time to finish the digging.

Further good news – this time about the Landrover. The clutch has now been fixed and the test drive only revealed one funny noise from under the vehicle. The guys didn’t finish working on it until quite late so we haven’t had a chance to really do the final inspection in daylight, but things are looking good so far. Mary, Ian and Hilda will be taking a trip to Kisii tomorrow so we shall see.

We had an unexpected visitor today. When we first started our work in Kosele in 2002 a number of young people from Kisumu, (our nearest very large town, about ninety minutes drive away), stayed with us. One of them was a young man called Nick. We lost contact with him after he returned to Kisumu in 2003 but earlier this year he got in touch to say that he was working as a mechanic for CMC, one of the largest car dealerships in Kenya. CMC are agents for Landrover and Nick is very close to finishing his training with CMC – making him a fully-fledged Landrover mechanic. It was really good to catch up with him again and great to know that he has done so well for himself. In the current gloomy economic climate, both here in Kenya and the rest of the world, it is encouraging to hear a success story.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The battle rages on!

The battle against the termites continues. They will have to go on the list of questions for God, (along with mosquitoes and bed bugs!). House 4, (where Ian and Hilda are staying), is beginning to look like it has a moat around it. If it rains tonight it might well do. The termites seem to have stopped trying to invade from inside the house and have switched their attention to a patch of earth to the left of the porch. It doesn’t look like there is any alternative to the serious chemicals tomorrow. This is, to be honest, slightly disappointing. One of our neighbours came over to suss out the problem first thing this morning, (hence the moat that has now been dug around the house). This evening, armed with the sprayer that we used on the maize in the battle against stalk borers, he sprayed the most lethal smelling stuff down the various termite holes. It would certainly have put me off burrowing any more. It might be fairer to leave our final assessment of the first stage of the battle until the morning –perhaps the stuff takes a while to work.

There was great excitement this afternoon for a number of the boys in our school. Following an initial visit by a local mechanic to assess the situation with our broken down Landrover, what seemed like a small army of mechanic’s assistants turned up to start dismantling the gearbox and clutch. Watching mechanics fix cars is a popular spectator sport in Kenya and our lads stood and watched in time honoured fashion. I’m not sure what the fascination is. There is usually a lot of noise. To be fair to the mechanics there didn’t seem to be much cursing but nearly all the parts that needed to be removed seemed to need the encouragement of a hammer. It was fascinating to watch. First the front seats came out, followed by the gear stick, bulkhead and assorted bits of the floor. As I type what remains of the gearbox and clutch housing are hanging under the vehicle. The head mechanic has assured me that it will all be fixed by tomorrow evening.

We seem to have hit a bit of a dry spell for the last couple of days. This is a bit more like the pattern of rainfall that we are used to at this time of year and will, most likely, come as a relief to a number of our neighbours. It seems that there is often no happy medium in Kenya – there is either too much rain, causing flooding, or too little. Duncan and I took a walk to Kosele this morning and couldn’t help noticing that in a number of our neighbours’ fields the maize has grown tall but shows little evidence of cobs. That said there is still optimism in the community that this season the harvest will be better than the last one. We have already heard reports of people picking and then boiling the maize that they have in their fields at the moment. This is not such good news. It means that maize is being harvested before it has had time to fully mature and dry. The high cost of maize in the local markets has driven some of our neighbours to this poor state of affairs. We will pray that our area enjoys the right combination of sunshine and rain to bring a good harvest from what remains of the maize. It would be good if the rain stays away until we’ve sorted the termites out though – we don’t want to have to build a drawbridge for Ian and Hilda.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hakuna Matata (there are no worries!)

Life here in Kosele is never dull – there is always something happening that keeps you on your toes. Having had a really up, efficient kind of day yesterday it was back to situation normal today. It isn’t entirely discouraging – just highly unpredictable. The school is back in exam mode again. We have a supervisor back on the scene, (but no armed guard this time). Now that the KCPE, (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education), is over and done with the other classes get their opportunity to shine. It’s a shame the powers that be can’t!

According to our planning the pupils in classes 3, 5 and 6 should be doing zonal exams next week. The pupils in class 7, (who are now the ‘pre-candidate’ class, as they become KCPE ‘candidates’ next year), should have started divisional mock exams yesterday. All of these exams are set externally and the papers should be delivered to the school. For reasons, which were not entirely clear today, the class 7 exams have been postponed until Thursday and the other classes started their exams today, (instead of next week). Given the early start for the majority of the school a teacher was despatched to Oyugis to buy exam papers for the pupils in classes 1 and 2 to ensure that all of our end year exams are conducted this week. You have to remain nonplussed by it all – it’s life as normal out here. Nobody seemed to expect an explanation and none was given. No parents will come to the school to complain tomorrow and the children don’t seem to mind. I couldn’t imagine a response like that in the UK!

To add insult to injury the clutch packed up on the Landrover this afternoon so it had to be towed back to base.

The termites, (see yesterday’s blog), seem to have been shaken but not seriously deterred by the hot bath last night. They are still excavating a small amount of soil in the house, (though there aren’t as many termites in evidence as there were yesterday). One of the side effects of the anti malarial drug that I take is that it gives you very vivid dreams – I'm anticipating dreaming about the house sinking into a huge hole in the ground and then being eaten by monster termites in the near future, (the dreams seem to take a couple of days to catch up). Fortunately they don’t seem to want to eat any of the other buildings so we don’t have too big a problem to deal with.

As the day draws to a close I wonder what will happen tomorrow. It makes sense to plan ahead but it can drive you mad if you take it too seriously. ‘African time’ really is at a different location on the time, space continuum. Some days it seems crazy, some days it doesn’t. According to wikipedia hakuna matata is a swahili phrase that means "there are no worries". Under the circumstances it's the only sane way of thinking.

Monday, 14 November 2011

We don't like termites or snakes

It was a long day but we have managed to appoint two strong candidates as teachers in our Agriculture College next year. The day got off to a good start as the candidates arrived on time, (a minor miracle in itself given the state of the roads and public transport). The interviews were conducted ‘mzungu’ style, (hence the long day), and the interviewees responded with enthusiasm. The tour around the farm was a success. Our crops are growing well. The cobs of corn are “admirable” according to Duncan, our farm manager. This is high praise indeed as Duncan is a master of the understatement. The cobs on many of the maize plants are actually huge, and still have some growing to do. Our interviewees appreciated the vision that we have for farm productivity and experimentation and we are looking forward to their input into the work. Finding two teachers at this point is a great relief and makes the next stages of planning easier in many respects. Working on the principle that three heads are better than one I am hoping that our newest members of staff will ease the burden of leadership and will fire up the students with enthusiasm next year.

It promises to be an interesting evening. I’ve just taken a short break from blogging to investigate a couple of wildlife problems over in the house Ian and Hilda are staying in. We have noticed an increase in termite activity around the house over the last week and had been planning to get something lethal to treat them with next time we are in Oyugis. For such small insects termites are incredibly destructive. They have now excavated a hole about a couple of inches wide next to the front porch of the house and, even more worryingly, have started to emerge in the small space between the living room and kitchen through a crack in the floor. This means there is a termite tunnel under the house! We must act quickly.

The termite problem also alerted us to another wildlife issue. Whilst looking for evidence of termite activity outside the front of the house Ian and Hilda spotted a baby black mamba – a small version of a somewhat dangerous snake that is native to this part of Africa. Leonard, one of our security guards quickly killed it with an axe, (which he has now armed himself with for the rest of the night). It would be a bit more of a problem dealing with mummy mamba. I suspect we will be praying especially hard for the next few nights. (It certainly spices up a trip to the latrine once it has got dark). Big sticks have been issued and the guards will be extra vigilant. The snakes become more active when it rains, and we have had a lot of rain recently. Further investigation of the termite problem revealed a large frog sat over the top of the termite hole, waiting for them to emerge. The frogs also become more active in the rain. We are hoping that the top link in the food chain finds easier pickings elsewhere. We will have to encourage the children to be noisier than usual tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Strictly no time wasters

I have had a fairly restful day, for once, and feel well prepared for what will, I hope, be a big day tomorrow. The main reason for my current trip to Kosele is to prepare the ground, (literally), for our Agriculture College, which will be starting in January. Tomorrow we will be interviewing three candidates for the teaching post(s), which this new venture creates.

It is a both exciting and challenging prospect. We have advertised more widely than usual for these posts and have got good candidates to choose from. There will be four of us on the interview panel; Mr Dedans, our head teacher, Mary our manager, Duncan the farm manager and myself. Between us we should be asking a series of carefully honed questions to really put the interviewees through their paces. I am trying to decide whether or not it would be mean to get them to answer a short exam paper as well as do an interview.

It is encouraging to see how much agriculture is being promoted in the Kenyan media. One of the key things we will be looking for in the interviewees tomorrow is a good understanding of the challenges facing Kenyan agriculture at present and a real enthusiasm for doing something about it. As part of our drive to become a more self-sufficient organisation the teachers in the Agriculture College will have their pay tied to the performance of the farm. We are hoping that this will deter any but serious applicants. If we are unable to appoint anybody tomorrow we will have to cast our recruitment net further, (and I will have to teach the students myself for the first few weeks of term). This shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The most exciting part of this whole project is its unique character. Planning a curriculum and timetable around the agricultural calendar presents a number of opportunities for creative approaches to teaching and learning. I can’t wait to get stuck into it with our first group of students.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Making it all add up

One of the other things I never imagined was turning into an accountant, (as well as a dodgy electrician). I’m actually better at accounting because it’s a computer thing. At least it is now. It probably says a lot about me but I do really enjoy setting up spreadsheet packages. I have spent some time fine tuning our books so that they are easy to enter and audit. It took a long time but we finally bit the bullet and stopped keeping any paper-based accounts in Kosele this July. I think I was probably more nervous about the switch over than anybody else. Up until July we’d been keeping a dual system – entering the data in job lots onto the computer from the paper based system. It was a bit labour intensive at times but did at least provide the reassurance of being more or less computer proof.

We have had somewhat mixed experience with computers since starting our work in Kenya – hence the reluctance to trust a completely computer based system. For one thing it’s a much tougher environment for electrical equipment. The amount of dust that clogs everything up is incredible. We’ve had a couple of hard drives collapse under the strain. We also seem to have had more than our fair share of problems with power packs and USB drives. This has, in the past, been compounded by relying on solar power, (though our present system seems quite robust). Our current accounts manager, Mary is much gentler with most of our electrical equipment than all of her predecessors. So far we’ve only had to replace one power pack, (and to be fair to Mary Judi’s own laptop in the UK, which is the same type, suffered a similar problem).

The hardest thing really has been the amount of support needed to make sure all ICT related eventualities are covered. Anybody who has had the dubious pleasure of trying to solve a computer problem using a telephone or email based support system will know how easy it is to get to the ‘throw it out of the window’ stage in this situation. If you add the problem of the computer user, (in our case mostly Mary), being fairly new to the task you will begin to appreciate the problem of maintaining our mission critical ICT systems at a distance, (in our case about 4,000 miles). Until very recently It has been easier to trust the low tech, (but very reliable), approach of paper, pen, tippex and a regular trip to the local photocopy shop. It’s not quite Staples but it does a wonderful job.

So, today I’ve been burning the midnight oil convincing myself that we have a dependable system. I’m fairly happy with it so far. We should be able to give Mary the required amount of support between us over the next few months without resorting to the call centre solution. Next step in our rapid march into the twenty first century will be the school systems. Onwards and upwards into a ‘data rich’ future.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Thriving on chaos and built to last

I’ve been reading again. In the absence of my usual media vices, (CNN, The Today Program and the DVD box set of The West Wing), it has been really good to have an opportunity to catch up on a number of books that I’ve bought in the last couple of years and just dipped in to. The book I’m reading at the moment is called Built to Last by a guy called Jim Collins. It’s not particularly new, (published in the 90s), but comes billed as “one of the most eye-opening business studies since In Search of Excellence. This is an interesting comparison as Tom Peters, (the ‘uber guru’ of business gurus according to The Economist, and author of In Search of Excellence), is quite critical of Jim Collins. They are both a good read and both books are very challenging.

Built to Last (subtitle Successful habits of visionary companies) is giving rise to yet more scribbling and quote jottings in my inspirations pad. Working in Kenya is both exhilarating and exasperating. The potential for change is huge but the inertia created by badly designed and corrupted social structures is also substantial. Some days you feel you’ve taken a number of steps forward. Other days you wonder how you will recover from taking steps backwards. In addition to writing In Search of Excellence Tom Peters has also written a book called Thriving on Chaos. I'm sure I bought it just for the title. As Tom Peters is such an influential thinker a number of commentaries on his work have appeared. I like a question posed in one of these, culled from the Internet. “How has eternal confusion affected your organisation’s fortunes?” In the Kenyan context it’s the same as asking “Haven’t you nailed that jelly to the wall yet?” Some days it’s up, some days it’s sliding down.

Today has, on the whole, been up. Thanks to Built to Last, (which I note from a review is “even referred to by trendy pastors”), I have found some more nuggets to add to my collection of inspirations and practical steps to take to make sure Hope and Kindness runs the race for a long time and finishes well, (see the Apostle Paul’s thoughts on this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Shocking truths

The Class 8 pupils have finally finished their exams and are now looking forward to a bit of a break and then the next part of their education. Having known most of them since they were seven or eight years old it makes me feel quite ancient to think of them flapping their wings a bit and moving on to the next stage of their lives. A number of them will stay with us and attend the Agriculture College that we are staring in January next year. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

I did some more DIY this evening and once again surprised myself by really enjoying it. We have been having a bit of a problem with the solar power on the school buildings due to the absence of sunlight. The problem this evening involved a plug socket that we use for running the TV and DVD player. The children in our home watch a film most Friday and Sunday nights. As a special treat for the Class 8 pupils we were also planning a film night this evening. Unfortunately the power didn’t want to play so, assisted by our head boy Kennedy and Duncan, the farm manager, I set to fixing it.

I think the most enjoyable bit of this type of practical work is the problem solving. Trying to work out why the plug wasn’t working involved a process of elimination, starting with a visual inspection and ending up in swapping plug sockets, re-routing the power temporarily through me via a metal filing cabinet and finally finding a new four way power adapter to plug into the rewired socket. I’m probably just a bit thick with electrical problems. I’m sure a half way competent electrician would have sorted it all out in half the time that I did. I’m not sure he would have had as much fun though, or the same sense of satisfaction when it all finally worked. It still amazes me that we can get electricity free from the sun and that our system works as well as it does.

Running on solar power does sometimes do funny things to you. It is a cliché to say you don’t really appreciate what you have until you don’t have it any more, but it is, none the less, true when it comes to electricity. I think I have now tried most of the different kinds of ‘alternatively powered’ torches and lamps that it is possible to buy. My own electricity consumption on a daily basis is fairly basic. I need enough power in my office and room to power up a laptop and provide light to read and make notes by. So far, despite the lack of sunshine some days, the solar power that I tap in to has stayed up and been reliable. In case of emergency I have a number of backups – a torch that has a lever you squeeze up and down to produce power, a wind up portable lamp, a re-chargeable torch, a solar powered reading lamp, a 'head torch' and the good old-fashioned hand-held torch that runs on batteries. Every once in a while I go into Apollo 13 mode and try to get power consumption down to an acceptable minimum. (For those of you who don’t get the Apollo 13 reference rent the movie. It’s a great film and will help you to really appreciate those ‘little luxuries’ that you take for granted). As a result of my research I can recommend the following:

Don’t use the torches that are powered by squeezing a handle up and down. They make a dreadful noise, produce a pathetic amount of light and make your hand hurt. If you are into this kind of exercise you’d be much better off squeezing a squash ball.

Don’t buy anything that claims to be re-chargeable if it says it was made in China. The only good thing about the re-chargeable torch that I have is its bright yellow colour, which psychologists say is good for cheering you up. The light that it produces certainly doesn’t

Don’t be fooled by the small lantern that you charge up by winding up a handle. It looks convincingly like a decent light, (modelled on the old-fashioned kerosene lantern) and does produce a fairly bright light for a short time. The only problem is that the light only covers a very small area. Using the handle to wind it up is not too taxing but it is easy to over wind one of these lamps. You know when this has happened because the winding action loses all resistance and you end up winding away and getting nowhere. If this happens throw the lamp away immediately as it is now useless.

The solar powered reading lamp is brilliant. There are a number of models on the market. The one that I use every night for reading looks like a little orange flying saucer. It is probably made in China but it must be from the bit of China that makes stuff that works for longer than a week. The light stays bright enough to read by for fourteen hours and it charges up quite easily in a day. You can also buy a more expensive version of the same thing from Ikea. The solar battery is like a little plastic brick that you leave out in the sun to charge. It is a bit expensive but very good.

Finally the humble battery driven torch is great if used sparingly, (batteries aren’t really very good for the environment). This is particularly true if you have an outside toilet. It is difficult to beat the assurance of a steady light if you have to use an outside toilet during the night, (as happens here in Kosele). Actually the best type of torch to use for this particular purpose is the kind that you wear on your head. It produces a brilliant white light from LED bulbs which is obviously very directional, (unless you opt for the dual light version which has a red night vision bulb – I have yet to work out the value of this feature. I think it is a gimmicky add on for would be assassins or wannabe SAS types). It probably goes without saying that the squeezy lever torch is absolutely useless for a night-time trip to the toilet. For one thing the pathetic light it creates means you keep on tripping over things. The constant need to squeeze the handle for power and the consequent disability of having to use the toilet one handed creates problems which I’m sure you will be able to appreciate. Kind of a co-ordination and rhythm thing!

The ramblings of a self-satisfied DIYer, celebrating another small victory or not you will be glad you read tonight’s blog when peak oil happens and all the lights go out.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Rain stops play - and revision

It is encouraging to know that the educational powers that be in Kenya are reading my blog. Having felt cheated yesterday about the absence of police security, today we had armed supervision for our KCPE exams. The policeman who watched over us today arrived in good time dressed in a camouflage uniform and toting a semi-automatic rifle loaded with 20 shells. He was a very nice guy and patrolled our exams very efficiently. It’s the last day of exams tomorrow with one paper remaining. I’m sure our candidates will be relieved when it’s all over.

Had a very good day today planning with the teachers. It is a real pleasure working with them on our plans for next year. We are considering ways of enhancing and improving our curriculum and have come up with some good ideas today. Having run the same discussion activity about the purpose of our school twice now it is very interesting to see that none of us mentioned passing exams in our list of priorities. Making sure the pupils become responsible citizens, self-disciplined and self-reliant, good members of the community and have a good character were unanimously selected as the most important tasks of our school. I guess that teachers and schools all over the world have wrestled with the same problems for years and tended to come to similar conclusions. It’s still encouraging to know that the decisions we make in our school will help to build up a school that we really want to work in and, as a result, the children should really enjoy learning in.

I had to spending some time this evening rushing about rigging up a generator to supply light for the class 8 candidates to revise by. The rain situation is great news for our crops at the moment but causes a few problems for our solar power system. Today the cloud cover has meant that our batteries haven’t been charged so we had to resort to the backup method – currently a small generator. I think we will have to review our Plan B for electricity. Fortunately the power in the classrooms is mainly used for lights, so it should be easy to set up a fairly simple alternative to the solar system in the case of prolonged heavy rain. It’s a nice problem to have – in recent years the rainfall has been very sporadic and has caused great hardship and hunger. It would be great if the deluges that we have experienced over the last few weeks becomes the norm again. In a basically hostile environment predictable rain would be a significant improvement and a great blessing to everybody in the community.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Exams, visitors and blowing up the curriculum

I am definitely feeling cheated today. Despite all the advance publicity there was a no show by the police guard for the KCPE exam today. Apart from that the exams went well and most of the kids sound confident about their performances. It might be a tougher day tomorrow with Science and Kiswahili papers to look forward to. The candidates are all busy revising as I type. I’m still very impressed with their whole approach to these exams.

Today was another busy day for visitors. We will have to employ a tour guide. Most of them came from Finland and are staying at the hospital up the road. A very nice young lady in the group is studying for a Masters Degree and is looking at the use and management of Ecosan latrines in Kenya. We had a good walk and talk around our site and chatted about the ways we manage the latrines and what we do with the by-products. Our visitor was pleased to see the progress that we have made in applying the compost to our maize crops.

Other members of the visitors group included an ENT doctor and a team of Kenyan dental health workers who came to do a check-up on the children’s teeth. Given the large number of children who were seen by the dental team I was pleased that only a small number of them needed any treatment. The teaching staff also took the opportunity to have their teeth checked over. One or two cavities to deal with in their case!

The exam chaos has helped us to get some work done on the farm and gave me an opportunity to make a start on planning and team building work with some of the teachers. I had a very enjoyable morning working with three teachers on some new ideas for next year. There is widespread agreement at all levels in the education system in Kenya that there is a pressing need for reform. Work has been started on looking at alternatives to current educational practises and curriculum design. It is not really clear when any reforms might be introduced – I got the impression from our staff that they are not holding their breath for rapid change. We are fortunate in being a private school. As long as the children are taught what they need to know to be successful in the KCPE exam at the end of their primary education we can organise our timetable and curriculum to match our values and priorities. It is perhaps no coincide that we have started our work on curriculum change so close to November 5th – celebrated as bonfire night in the UK. We are looking forward to having more success blowing up the curriculum than Guy Fawkes did blowing up the House of Lords in London.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Down on the farm

It’s a hot sweaty night in Kosele, despite the rain we’ve had. I hope this isn’t the start of a hotter, drier spell. We still need another couple of weeks of rain for the best yields on our farm.

Although I hadn’t planned it, today has ended up being a down on the farm day. Our Monday morning planning sessions are becoming very fruitful now. Mary and Duncan are both really getting the hang of what they’re for. As a result of the school closure due to exams we have a larger army of child labour to exploit than usual for the next three days. Weeding and land clearance will be happening as well as bean harvesting. I can’t wait to see the bean harvest figures. They will be our first proper harvest on the new land we have acquired.

The ‘big green tractor’ trundled off to one of the local primary schools today to fetch more grass for mulching our Farming God’s Way, (FGW), plots. We have done really well in our quest for one hundred per cent mulch cover. Our God’s Blanket is really thick on most of the FGW plots now. It’s amazing how much grass you can squeeze inside and on top of a Landrover – not to mention down your shirt, trousers and throat. The kids swept into action once we’d got our precious load back to base and we soon had the mulch sorted. Even the smallest children pile in to carry off big bundles of mulch. They really enjoy themselves playing with the grass.

After dealing with the mulch I found myself doing guided tours of the farm for the head teacher at the school we got the grass from, followed by the District and Area Education officers. They were all very enthusiastic about what they saw and I am hoping that their enthusiasm will give me opportunities to take the FGW training into some of the local schools. The two education officers had to put up with a somewhat extended talk through the principles of FGW due to a downpour that lasted a couple of hours. I am a bit of an evangelist for FGW and they are both keen on developing it so we had a very fruitful time together. One of the great things about the training is that it gives opportunities for a number of very effective experiments to demonstrate the science of this method of farming. Kenyan school pupils have relatively few opportunities for direct experience of scientific experiments, data gathering and analysis so it’s really exciting being able to share ‘doable’ science with influential and keen education officers.

Mr Dedans, our head teacher, confirmed the possibility of a police officer turning up at school tomorrow to supervise access to the exam area. He did reassure the kids that there was no need to worry about being arrested. The new exam desks that Joseph has made look very impressive in the exam room and the grass in the school compound was ‘slashed’ by some of the boys in Class 7 as part of our general tidying up for the exam supervisor’s arrival. Slashed is probably a bit of an exaggeration, (although it is the term that is used for cutting grass). The lads just tried to beat it into submission with the slashers, (long bits of metal shaped a bit like hockey sticks with a sharp edge). I think the grass won really.

The exam supervisor turned out to be a really nice guy. He is a teacher in another primary school and is very keen on farming. He also did the farm tour and made some really helpful suggestions about plants that act as weed and insect repellents. I will be arranging a visit to his farm to see the tissue culture banana trees that he is growing, (it sounds like he has a small forest of them – five hundred altogether). This is REALLY exciting news as we have been planning to grow tissue culture bananas for some time. They are specially prepared to make the seedlings that they are grown from disease free and consequently higher yielding trees. The local, ‘indigenous’ trees are generally not disease free and do not produce very high yields.

Must try to get an early night tonight, (though I suspect the heat might make it a bit difficult). It’s a big day tomorrow and I, like the Class 8 pupils, want to make sure it goes well.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Aiming high

On Tuesday our oldest pupils will start their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, (KCPE), exams. The exams last for three days and will be conducted under the most stringent security conditions to avoid cheating. None of the teachers except the head teacher will be allowed on the school compound. All the pupils except the members of class 8 will be at home for the duration of the exam period. Mobile phones within earshot of the exam room will be confiscated and I am sure that someone told me a policeman will be in attendance as well. It would not surprise me.

Our ‘candidates', (as they are now called), must be the best-prepared group of students I have seen. They have been drilled since at least August and have sat three mock exams in the last four weeks. I’m actually very proud of them. One of the mock exams they sat recently was the divisional mock. Our school came 13th out of the 131 schools in our division. We came 2nd out of the 22 schools in our zone. Out of 3649 candidates our top pupil, Kevin, came 3rd in English. He came 85th overall, (he is our only pupil in the top 100), with a score of 395 – 5 more marks would gain him admittance to a prestigious National High school. The results are encouraging and show improvements in maths. We can do better in future but are heading in the right direction. We are top school in English in our zone and 4th out of 131 in the Division at English. If this sounds a bit like boasting I suppose it is but I think the pupils and their teachers deserve a pat on the back.

The candidates have also been well prayed for. There was a day of prayer in Kosele, (our local village), on Thursday that was attended by many local schools. The other pupils in the school prayed with them on Friday and our church prayed for them today. This might seem like spiritual overkill but it is very encouraging to see that the spiritual dimension of our young people’s live is taken so seriously. The KCPE exam is a very big deal in Kenya and is a significant transition point for all of the young people taking it. Despite the possibility of cheating and corruption the marks will be eagerly anticipated and will feature prominently in the national press when they are released. Asking for God’s favour at such a time is the right thing to do. It seems to have been done very well.

Tomorrow, in addition to checking that all the final preparations have been made for the smooth running of the KCPE exams, I will be working on a cunning plan to spend some time with the teaching staff. Assuming the teachers will actually be allowed onto our compound at all, it should be a good opportunity for us to prepare for dominating all the exam performance tables next year. I hope we don’t have to resort to an excessive amount of subterfuge to ensure our meetings can take place. It will be difficult to disguise the fact that the teachers have arrived for work. Our compound is not very big and the teachers tend to be quite well dressed. Disguising them as a group of itinerant labourers come to erect fencing would be a bit of a challenge. I am hoping that sanity will prevail and that it will be possible for us to work in peace, without disturbing the sanctity of the exam area or incurring the wrath of the police officer. The police in Kenya are usually armed. We will need to be careful in our discussions about aiming high.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


I love it when a plan starts to really come together. I’ve been planning to do some serious management and leadership training with our team in the home and the school and have been reading my way round books by Stephen Covey, (The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People) and John Maxwell, (Developing the Leader Within You). The basic shape of the training has been kind of emerging over the last few days but needed resources to give it legs. I was made up yesterday when I managed to buy three John Maxwell DVDs and two Stephen Covey audio books in Kisumu for less that £10. They are just what I need.

It is always tempting to write off the various leadership/management gurus as clever people who are very good at mining the personal development market for all its worth – helping people to scratch their various aspirational/ego itches. In the case of the two writers I have mentioned I would have to say that this is not true. What they write and present are genuine servant leadership principles. Putting into practise what many people simply preach. Once again I find that resources are lining up with our growth and development needs. Very encouraging answers to prayer. Many people would write ‘answers to prayer’ off as coincidences -  When I stop praying the coincidences seem to stop happening.

Carrying on the biblical theme I had a real moment of revelation today which helped me, in a matter of minutes, to write a personal mission statement – something I have been mulling over for some time with varying degrees of frustration. Having made a start on my new resource collection I was inspired to write the following in my notebook:

“The key to our future success and longevity lies in bringing up a new generation of Kenyan leaders of Hope and Kindness. I will, therefore, invest my heart, time and resources into identifying them, equipping them and trusting them with the future of Hope and Kindness.”

Having a personal mission statement might sound a bit pompous or pretentious but I find it a really helpful tool for focusing my time and energy. This version might need a bit of tweaking but it felt like a real leap forward today. Thank you God for the gift of ‘coincidences’.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Highway Code

Today Duncan, Mary and I made our postponed trip to Kisumu, (nearest big town about and hour and a half away). Following a last warning by a local police officer we have had to get the cracked windscreen on our Landrover fixed and Hamir, the owner of a good garage in Kisumu called Silverline Motors, offered to fix it for free. We set off at 7.30 a.m. to make sure we got to Kisumu early.

Driving in Kenya is an interesting experience. You have to drive very defensively and assume that everybody else on the road is out to get you. The national papers frequently carry stories about horrendous pile-ups involving buses and matatus, (mini bus taxis – pronounced ma ta too). The constant carnage on the roads is a national scandal.

Our Landrover is a very old vehicle. It was made in 1987 and has seen some pretty tough action on unforgiving roads. You don’t really steer it. It’s more like sailing, as the steering is probably the most fatigued part of the vehicle. It’s quite safe, once you get used to it, and we regularly have it tightened up. With a top speed of 80 kph, (50 miles per hour), we aren’t exactly setting land speed records on any of our journeys. Driving defensively basically means driving fairly slowly.

The most harrowing thing about driving to Kisumu is the buses. They come hurtling towards you as they race to Nairobi, hell bent on being first there and making a quick turn around for the return journey. I have visions of the bus drivers as drug fuelled speed merchants who never sleep and have a casual disregard for life and limb – especially other people’s. The roads between Kosele and Kisumu aren’t very wide and the drop off at the side of some stretches would be enough to give the Landrover a serious shaking at the very least. In addition to the break neck speeds the buses travel at the way they ‘crab’ across the road is also very worrying. Nearly all of the buses that come towards you look like the body is set at a slant to the chassis – a kind of extra side swipe capability to make sure they get you one way or another. The only thing you can do as they come past is grip the wheel firmly and try to maintain a position just your side of the white line down the middle of the road. Sometimes this manoeuvre feels a bit to close to playing chicken for comfort.

The other problems on the roads are; the matatus, (minibuses that provide a fast ‘bus’ service between towns), white taxis, all the other drivers, motor cyclists, pushbikes and potholes. The matatu drivers are probably nice friendly, home loving kind of guys when they aren’t matatu driving. Unfortunately that probably isn’t very often. The only way the matatu operators can make a living is to pile as many passengers as possible in per journey and to get from A to B as fast as possible to maximise the number of journeys in a day. They too probably stay awake on all kinds of concoctions and hardly ever sleep. They tend to fly up and down the road in packs, racing each other to the next passenger and beeping their horns at anything or anybody that gets in the way. They have inspiring names like ‘Determination’, ‘Never Say Die’, 'Terminator', ‘Jesus Saves’ and the like.

In England white van drivers are, stereotypically, the worse drivers on the road. In Kenya it is, to be honest, hard to differentiate to this extent. I do think, however, that anybody who has the desire to own or drive a white taxi, (these days usually the estate car version that I have blogged about previously), should automatically be barred from driving for life. I have had similar thoughts about white van drivers in England. The economics of operating a public transport vehicle make it impossible to drive safely and make a profit. Speed and turnaround time are of the essence. The white taxi drivers are sneakier than the matatus. As they are generally quicker and less easy to spot in the rear view mirror they can kind of creep up on you. Once rammed up your rear bumper they blast the horn for you to get out of the way so they can squeeze past in the space between you and the oncoming traffic. This is particularly hazardous if you are, at the same time, trying to pull out into the road to avoid the cyclist carrying a wide load on his passenger rack, (like a door frame or settee – I kid you not!).

The rules for driving at night in Kenya are the same as stated above only more so. We were a bit late getting away from Kisumu tonight so it was dark after about the first half of the journey. Three extra hazards present themselves at night. Pedestrians, cyclists and speed bumps. (Actually the speed bumps are also a problem in the daytime, but they really come into their own at night).

As you drive along a road at night in Kenya people and bicycles kind of loom up out of the dark at you. The people are spookier than the cyclists, though usually less dangerous, (apart from those who have a death wish and seem to wait for you to be driving along before they dash across the road). In the early evening you have the impression of some large, ghostly army on the move, made up of every kind of individual. All with the sole purpose of freaking you out and getting you to crash into the vehicle approaching from the other direction.

The cyclists are also a nightmare. More likely to be carrying passengers than wide loads at this time of day, none of the bikes that you pass have lights. There is an almost uniform look to bicycles in Kenya. Most of them are made in China and have black frames. They tend to be pedalled by black people and to carry dark coloured passengers. They are, to all intents and purposes, the ultimate stealth weapon – invisible until you are on top of them, at which point they force you into evasive action.

The west could learn a thing or two about traffic calming from Kenya. Kenya is home to the most effective speed bumps in the world – capable of forcing vehicles to go from 60 to 0 miles per hour in seconds. They come in a variety of forms. The most irritating type consists of two to six thin, shallow bumps with a tiny gap between them Whatever speed you cross them at you feel your teeth rattle and get the impression that your vehicle is going to shake itself apart before the crossing has finished. Then there are the mountainous bumps – only passable in first gear at very low speed. You kind of crawl up and over this type of speed bump or risk serious damage to your vehicle. The most lethal kind is the ‘vigilante’ type. This speed bump is usually made of a combination of mud, rocks and occasionally concrete and is put up by members of a community once they have got completely fed up with the Grand Prix that races through their town or village every day. They are erected without warning or signposts and are just the right height and shape to make every passenger in a vehicle crack his or her head on the roof if passed over at speed. This often happens. The vigilante speed bump must, I imagine, be made in the dead of the night, (perhaps that’s what all the people on the move are doing), as this gives maximum advantage to surprise the following morning in the war against reckless driving.

Having said all of this we did get home safely - shaken by the last bit of rough road and surprised by the number of new, deeper potholes, but otherwise OK. I was, at least, able to see all of the hazards described above with extra clarity thanks to the new windscreen, and was able to dodge around obstacles with ease because of the newly tightened steering. Thanks Hamir.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Without land you are not a man

We learnt yesterday that we had to attend a meeting of the Land Board today to formalise our most recent land purchase. The Land Board is a type of court which sanctions land transactions, after carefully checking that all family members are in agreement about the sale. Land is a hugely important matter in Kenya. While we were waiting for the proceedings to start I was chatting to a Kenyan guy about the case he was involved with. He told me “without land you are not a man – however big or small the land”. This explains the formality and significance of the Land Board. Proceeding were supposed to start at 10.00 am but didn’t get off the ground until midday. (We had anticipated the delay and all brought books to read). It is always interesting watching a crowd gather in Kenya, whether it is for a church service, a football match or a land board. Peak numbers are usually achieved about an hour and a half after the official start time.

I had expected to be kept all day by the Land Board but, due to some miracle, our case was called first. The Land Board members, (about 12 of them), checked that all parties were present, (me, Mary and Ian on our part, plus two members of the family selling the land and their witness). There were questions about whether or not the full payment had been made for the land. It hadn’t so I wrote out the two cheques required after a brief discussion about whether this was acceptable. The Chairman then made sure that we were aware of the problems that might be caused if any family members who were not at the court decided they had been cheated. The seller and her son assured the Board that all the necessary agreements had been made within the family and I explained that we had met the family in August. This satisfied the Board and we were told that we would have to return next Thursday to collect the official approval form. As we walked out of the meeting I got the impression that the crowd had grown in the few minutes it took for our case to be heard. I couldn’t imagine a crowd in England waiting as patiently as they do in Kenya. Admittedly the weather was very nice for hanging around in but nobody seemed bothered by the fact that the start was delayed by two hours. Only us mzungus, (white people).

The lady with the malnourished baby has not come to see us today, so I am assuming that she and the baby are improving. I really hope so. I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to watch your child’s health deteriorate so badly and know that you are unable to do anything about it. I am passionate about Farming God’s Way because I believe that it is a very powerful tool for the poor in Kenya. Something that can lift them up from the desperate conditions so many of them are living in and give them a hope for the future.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Where there is no doctor

Day two of our Farming God’s Way, (FGW), training has gone well. Yesterday we holed out, (dug all our holes and furrows). Today we planted out and covered the plot with leaves, twigs and grass, (mulch or God's Blanket). We have planted in faith, prayed for a good harvest and rain and – guess what – as I type we are having exactly the right type of rain. A gradual downpour - not too heavy and designed to really soak into our mulch. An encouraging start. Today were also the day for the science bit – demonstrations of the why behind not ploughing and using mulch. The demonstrations worked well on the training DVD, were obviously doable in the field because we did them in Lesotho and they worked on our plot today. The next step, (apart from the bumper harvest!), is to make sure that the team I have just trained can do the same for our church members.

I’ve written before about the ‘playing at God’ problem of our work. Making the right response to people’s requests for assistance is very challenging. Making sure we don’t create dependency but at the same time being compassionate is a really difficult juggling act. A young mum came to see us late this afternoon with a very young child suffering from severe malnutrition. Instinctive response is to rush the child to hospital but that didn’t feel right in this case. Further investigation revealed the fact that this lady had a younger baby, one month old, (which is why the older child was no longer being breast fed), and a husband who had just started a new job. Our standard reference for a second opinion in cases like this is a remarkable book called “Where there is no doctor”, which is specially designed for situations where there is no doctor! The child had the classic symptoms of kwashiorkor – swollen legs, sores, bulging tummy, and swollen face. We decided to invest in the ingredients of a local ‘super food’, which mothers in our area use to build children up. Creating this wonder food involved a trip to the market in Kosele to buy some Omena, (small dried fish) for the food mix, vitamin tablets and an anti-biotic. The other ingredients were available from our stores - rice, groundnuts and porridge flour. As we don’t have a blender the ingredients were sent to the local posho mill to be ground into flour.  While all this was happening the little lad happily munched a few bananas and was already starting to look like he had perked up.

The lady and child will be coming to see us on Saturday for a progress report and we are confident that there will be a significant improvement. I’m sure that we made the right decision but it’s not easy. What if we got it wrong? I’m sure the lady will be back quickly if the child takes a serious turn for the worse. Then we can start to consider the alternatives. In the meantime we can only pray for the child and for wisdom the next time we find ourselves in the same situation.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe

I've had a quite tiring but very rewarding day today. Our plans to roll out Farming God’s Way to our church members got off to an excellent start. Altogether ten of us spent the best part of the day, (from 9.15 a.m. to 2.15 p.m.), transforming a 10 metre by 10 metre patch of land into a Well Watered Garden. The reference to a Well Watered Garden comes from Isaiah 58. The garden itself is a 6 metre by 6 metre demonstration plot designed to encourage members of the community to develop an interest in Farming God’s Way, (FGW). One of the most important principles of FGW is that the land is not ploughed. Today we put our backs into hoeing the land into shape. It was hard work but there were, fortunately, a good number of hands to do it. Seeing mzungus, (white people), out digging in the fields is a novel experience for most of the people in our community. It is, to be honest, a novel experience doing it. I think I'll have to get a hoe with a specially long handle to keep my back in shape.

I was, initially, quite nervous about running this training. Having had a great week in Lesotho at the beginning of August learning a lot about working and training with a local community I was fired up and well motivated to get going. The main aim of the training this week is to help members of our church to understand how to do the practical bit of FGW and to start them off on a training track that will enable them to train other members of the church.

As well as the practical tasks, (which you can see details of on our website if you follow this link, there are some important biblical principles behind FGW. These focus on care for the land, abandoning traditional practises of witchcraft and ancestor worship, and living a godly lifestyle. The trainees were a very receptive and responsive group – including a curious onlooker who joined us to see what was going on and ended up staying for the whole training session. Grant Dryden, the driving force behind FGW, describes it as “the Bible with boots on”. From our experience today it’s a very apt description. It was most encouraging to receive the rain that we prayed for during the late afternoon – just enough to prepare our holes for placing fertiliser and seeds in tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s session includes a lot of the science behind FGW, with some great practical demonstrations of the benefits of this type of conservation farming. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m also looking forward to forthcoming visits from Cisco teams – one at the end of this month, two in February and one in March. These teams of volunteers from Cisco, the global ICT company, always go the extra mile to make sure their visits bring maximum benefit to the children and our neighbours in Kosele. This evening I was able to join a conference call via call back from Cisco, (Webex), from Kosele for the first time. I still find it quite mind blowing that it is possible to do this – even though I was an ICT teacher for most of my teaching career. The rapid growth of ICT and communications infrastructure in our part of Kenya is very impressive and will open up many opportunities for our young people. It’s very exciting.