Saturday, 30 June 2012

Two - Nil!

Our friends Ian and Hilda said good-bye to their visitors yesterday. Their son David and his wife Yvonne traveled back to Scotland – eventually. Like our inbound visitors they experienced a significant delay to their flight from Nairobi airport. I really hope this isn’t the start of a trend. It could make timing our visitors’ flights a bit tricky.

David would have been very proud of our football team this afternoon. He coached them during his visit and they had an extremely successful afternoon at the local “stadium” today – played two won two. (Both on penalties. It was just like Euro 2012). As ever it was a highly entertaining afternoon for many reasons.

The stadium is a large area of grass about twenty five minutes walk up the road to Kosele from our place. As previously blogged the road is in an ‘interesting’ condition just at the moment. Strewn with potholes which are currently full of water. The ‘river’ running down the side of the road creates a couple of deepish fords at different points and is host to a lot of insect life. The stadium is, fortunately, at a higher level than and slightly away from the road so it actually has a decent football pitch. When we arrived, (at about 2.45 pm), the pitch was home to a number of sheep and cattle.

David had set up a match between our school and the local primary school in Kosele. It was a shame he had to fly home yesterday and so was unable to see it for himself. We were accompanied to the stadium by our school’s coach, Mr Richard, who mustered everybody together once we reached the pitch and set the team off on an impressive looking set of warm up routines. I’m not sure if the main aim was to intimidate the opposition or make sure the lads were well honed and match ready. Either way it looked very professional. I did, at one point, worry that they might wear themselves out before the match. Our school pitch is about a quarter the size of the pitch at the stadium and the boys aren’t used to playing on a big space. (As it turned out my concerns were absolutely misplaced).

While the boys warmed up our young visitors were a big hit with the local children – especially the little ones who quickly launched into a frenetic game of chase the ball around with one of the footballs we had brought. All credit to Jessica, Daniel, Alex and Peter. They were brilliant with the children, playing games with them, learning to count to ten under the willing tutelage of some of the more confident kids and coping very well with being the centre of attention.

While this was happening funny things were happening to the goalposts. (Two tallish poles, more commonly used in house building stuck into holes on the goal line). The pitch looked a bit wide so it didn’t seem unreasonable to move the goal posts to reconfigure the pitch, (using the width as the length). Willing hands lifted the poles out of the holes they were in – and then carried them away to hide them in the bushes! I was a bit mystified by this until our teacher, Mr. Richard, explained that “they are Kosele’s posts”. Apparently we weren’t playing Kosele Primary School as originally planned. As most of the Kosele players attend the Seventh Day Adventist, (SDA), church, which meets on Saturday, not Sunday, he thought that the lads wouldn’t be available to play so had arranged a match with another school, Saye Primary instead. The Kosele boys had obviously finished church duties by the time we arrived at the pitch and had turned up for a practise anyway, bringing their goal posts with them. Mr. Richard suggested sending some of our lads back to bring our posts, but this would have meant the match started at about 4 o’clock. Instead we decided to have a three way competition with the three sides that had turned up, (us, Kosele Primary and Saye Primary).

The first match was our lads vs. Kosele, (winners to then play Saye Primary). Looking at the size of our players and the size of the Kosele team I began to wonder if they had played a few ringers from the village side. Because of our late start it was decided that the matches would be twenty five minutes each way. I have to admit I’m not really a huge football fan, but it’s different when you have turned up to watch your own kids. Ours were brilliant. They played with a lot of enthusiasm and held Kosele to a 0-0 draw. As there had to be a winning side, (to play Saye), a penalty shoot-out was arranged. The first Kosele player ballooned his kick over the crossbar, (or at least what would have been the crossbar if there had been one). We scored. The next Kosele penalty was brilliantly saved by our keeper, Calvins. We scored again. Calvins saved again. We won. Much jubilation.

Twenty minutes we kicked off again, this time against Saye. The teams were a bit more evenly matched this time, as both fielded a couple of older lads to make a more competitive game. I had to admire our lads’ stamina. They played their hearts out until the final whistle. It was a very free flowing match with good attacking moves by both sides. Saye scored the goal of the tournament with an amazing shot from close to the half-way line that left Calvins, our goalkeeper stranded. Our guys had the better run of play in the second half scoring two goals. Unfortunately one was disallowed so the game ended in a 1-1 draw and was settled by the now ubiquitous penalty shoot-out. There was a tense atmosphere in the crowd that gathered around the goal mouth. Calvins was, once again, an absolute standout and we won. Even more jubilation.

At almost any fairly formal gathering, (even at a football match), it is difficult to avoid being asked to make a speech if you are an attendant Mzungu, (white person). Our coach Mr. Richard gathered all three teams together and asked if I would say a word. He kicked off the end of tournament formalities by celebrating the fact that the matches had all been played in a good spirit of friendly competition and congratulated all of the players. These were very appropriate sentiments – it was a great afternoon. I then said how much I had enjoyed the matches and congratulated everybody involved. This was followed by introducing our four young visitors, who then had to introduce themselves. One of our visitors, Jessica, was a big hit with the lads and they asked her to say a prayer to round off the day. I don’t think I have heard such an appreciative response to a prayer for a long time.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Entirely and uniquely Kenyan and something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Everything happens eventually

Today there has been very little rain so we have had a chance to dry out a little. Our school field looks a bit less like a mud bath now. The bank came though with the money, (see last night's post), so we were able to pay the man from the borehole company to arrange a visit to service our control panel. Quite when he will turn up is open to speculation but we are hoping that it will be tomorrow. As This Is Africa, (TIA), I'm trying to develop an approach to timing that is kinder to my blood pressure so am working hard at not fretting too much over the situation. We do have lots of water so it's not the end of the world if the borehole is not serviced until the beginning of next week.

A new team of visitors arrived today, (eventually). They had an early introduction to “African Time” as their flight from Nairobi to Kisumu, (the nearest airport to our place), was delayed for two hours. They finally arrived in Kosele at about five thirty pm to a rousing welcome from our children. It's the first time I've seen them do a conga style handshake as part of the welcoming visitors song. It was very funny.

The next four weeks look like being very busy. Our visitors are all up for helping in whatever way they can. Two of the guys, Alex and Peter, have brought touch rugby equipment with them and will be coaching the children. This will be a completely new activity for all of them and I can't wait to see what they make of it. It probably won't do any harm to tell them a bit about the Kenyan 7s rugby team, who are competitors on the world stage. It would be great to sow the seeds of a new generation of players in our school. We are also looking forward to some intensive coaching, especially in maths, for some of our older pupils and students in the agriculture college as well as art and crafts sessions for the younger children.

My daughter Ellie and her boyfriend Andy will be joining us half way through July and will add to the mix of activities for the children. Ellie is keen to do some basic self-defence sessions with the girls. We are really keen to do our bit towards improving the life chances of young women. Girls and women have a very tough time in a community like ours. The daily grind of keeping a home, feeding a family and simply staying safe in the community present challenges that would make most of us in Western countries despair. A few self defence skills and a good education won't guarantee our girls a brighter future but should give them a decent head start.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Never a dull moment

Life is never dull in Kosele. There’s usually something out of the ordinary to make the day more interesting or challenging. Today our borehole has stopped working. I’m sure it’s only a temporary setback but it’s more than a little inconvenient. (I had a rather bizarre spell check training experience when I first typed the word borehole into this installation of Word. It didn’t recognise borehole and suggested brothel as the only alternative. Makes you wonder what they put in the pizza at Microsoft). I digress.

The borehole issue has some far-reaching consequences if we don’t get it sorted out fairly quickly. (This would make a good scenario in a job interview). Feeding about 200 people twice a day means we get through a lot of water. The water we pump out of the borehole does not need to be treated before we drink it, which makes our feeding programme possible. The main tank we store the borehole water in is empty. Without the borehole we can’t refill it which makes cooking and drinking water a bit of a problem. There is, fortunately, a Plan B.

We have the capacity to store 48,000 litres of rainwater in large tanks on the end of our classrooms and the visitors centre. They were originally installed for irrigating our farm if there is a drought. These tanks are currently full thanks to the extravagant amount of rain that has fallen recently. It should be safe to drink and cook with so we shouldn’t have to shut the school as long as the engineer fixes the control panel very soon. (I did have a look inside the control panel but apart from re-setting a trip switch and checking that the generator was pushing out mains power I though it best to leave the repair to the professionals). To add to our woes the recent computer problems experienced by UK banks means we will have a cash flow problem if a transfer I made before travelling out to Kenya is delayed. This could make paying the technician an interesting negotiation.

You have to be an optimist to work out here. It can be very exasperating solving some of the problems but it’s always satisfying when a plan comes together. One of my key tasks while I’m here this time involves stepping up the training for our senior management team. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble in finding real day to day challenges to bond together over.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Big Hairy Audacius Goals

It doesn't take long to get back into the nitty gritty of life and work in Kosele. Our team have done a great job of managing everything while I have been away making it easy to pick up from where I left off in April.

This year is very much a 'suck it and see' time. It's exciting having the new farming and agriculture college initiatives under way and very encouraging to see the progress that we have made so far. The crops are growing well and the students are keen to get on. We set them the challenge of growing their own crops on some of small plots that we tried out our Farming God's Way approach on last year. They seem to have taken our offer of buying whatever they grow from them at market price seriously. I think they will be anticipating a good return for their work at the end of July when they harvest what they have grown. The spirit of enterprise is alive and well in Kosele.

This is just as well as the economy, as in much of the rest of the world, is in the doldrums. Our neighbours continue to struggle and unemployment among young people is rising. It has been interesting talking to Mary and Duncan, (our manager and farm manager respectively), about the difficulty of persuading people to take farming seriously – especially 'the youths'. Both Mary and Duncan have taken our agricultural projects to heart and are real evangelists for improved farming methods. Mary is carrying out her own experiments on the new piece of land that she has just bought and it would seem that there is a genuine interest in what we are doing in the community. As we develop our skills and confidence in what we are doing I really hope that we will be able to share our experience with our neighbours and help them to get more out of their farms.

Every time I come out to Kenya I seem to make new resolutions. My current goals include getting more sleep, not eating biscuits and drinking less sugary drinks, (lemon squash makes warm water a lot more palatable). Whether or not these goals are big, hairy or audacious enough, (to quote Jim Collins amongst others), remains to be seen but I'm going to give them my best shot. In the interests of the first of these I'm hoping to get to bed before eleven o'clock so will sign off now.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Back on the blog!

It seems strange being back in Kosele after my most recent interlude in England. On one hand it's a bit like riding a bike – i.e. an easy routine to get back into. On the other it feels very different knowing that my wife Judi is back home undergoing chemotherapy and having days when she feels less than great and is really frustrated at not being able to come to Kenya, as previously planned, from July 12th to August 9th. We are both sure that it is important for me to spend the next seven weeks in Kosele, as there is still a lot to do and we have visitors from England and, hopefully, South Africa staying with us between now and the end of July. Those of you of the praying persuasion might like to pray for Judi's health and well being. The next few weeks will be very tough for her.

The journey to Nairobi from Heathrow was probably the best I have had for some time. The gremlins must have been ironed out at Heathrow terminal 5 as checking in was very straightforward. British Airways have a generous hand baggage allowance so I was a bit slow through security. I have an annoying tendency to over-pack my hand luggage, (with books, laptops and a fleece on this occasion). As I stuffed the fleece, (which I had considered leaving behind), into a back pack it occurred to me that I could probably make money, (or at least get free samples), testing backpacks for capacity and zip strength.

Having regretted packing the fleece in London I was grateful for it in Nairobi. The world's climate is becoming increasingly erratic – floods in England as I was leaving and cold, wet weather in Kenya. What have we done? Whichever model of global climate control you subscribe to it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that something will have to change very soon or we are all in for a really tough time.

Traveling back to our home in Kosele this morning I was able to catch up with the latest developments from Duncan, (our farm manager), who came to meet me. The last thirty minutes of our journey, following the rough road to Kosele, was more challenging than usual thanks to an excessive amount of rain in the last few days. The “road” becomes more of a 4x4 work out each time we use it. The most recently added features include a small stream by the side of the road, (occasionally meandering across to the other side via deep ruts), and extra mud.

I am very impressed by the progress that has been made on the farm during my absence. When I left at the beginning of April the maize shoots were just about peeping through the mulch on the field. Now the cobs of maize are bursting with potential and mostly huge. The farm has been transformed into a “land of milk and honey”! In addition to the maize, sweet potatoes, cassava, mung beans, millet, banana trees and Mango trees that have been planted and lovingly tended we have a very impressive greenhouse housing 579 extremely healthy looking tomato plants. Mary, (our manager), Duncan, and the Agriculture college teachers Mr Isaiah and Mr Harrison have worked very hard and have encouraged the young people in the college on to a very high level of commitment. Our farm team are, as ever, modest about their achievements but I am very proud of all of them.

Progress is also being made preparing our oldest primary school pupils for their end of year Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education exam. Our new headteacher, Madam Nyangwe, has upped the pace in the homework and revision stakes. I spent a very enjoyable, (if somewhat challenging), couple of hours this evening helping out with maths revision. Fortunately some of the young people who are visiting us this summer are good mathematicians so our students won't have to depend on my somewhat rusty maths skills.

As I type the temperature has fallen a bit – we've had a good drop of rain this evening which has had a decidedly cooling effect. I can't remember the last time I actually felt in need of warmer clothing in Kosele........ where did I put that fleece?