A Travellerspoint blog

Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria

I haven’t updated my blog in a few weeks and several people requested another “riveting” update. I’m reaching the point in the first half of my assignment where I’m over the novelty of being in Kenya and looking forward to going home on September 12th. I’ve discovered that eating out every night is not fun and why there are no Kenyan restaurants in the US. My assignment at the clinic has become work. They are using the digital pens for capturing fistula patient data but on a much slower pace than I like. I have stressed that the NGO is relying on this data for their fund-raising efforts in the US. After my break, there is another project where I will go to the remote villages with a One-by-One representative when she conducts follow up interviews and capture this data as well. The interviews are 6 months after the women have been discharged and we want to determine the impact has had on their lives. Some women are given goats or solar cell phone charging stations for the many people who don’t have electricity in their homes. That will be a welcome break from going to the office every day. I have captured the requirements for the patient records system that will be used for non-fistuala patients. This is basically the form you complete when you goto a doctor’s office yourself. Because of the literacy rate in Kenya the staff must document this information. A free software application called OpenMRS is available for small to medium sized clinics. My goal is to install and customize OpenMRS at Gynocare, and then train the staff on using it in their daily work.

Two weeks ago I went back to Kisumu along with another GSK Pulse volunteer from Nairobi Garret Dunn. We took a ferry out on Lake Victoria to Rusinga Island with the 4 people based in Kisumu. This is the place to go if you want to really get away from everything. Our driver from the OGRA foundation came with us and we drove the 22 miles around the island. We stopped several times to check out the beaches from a high point and look out at the lake. The views are spectacular with nothing but the locals’ small houses and farmland. I kept thinking if this was the US, every inch of coastline would have huge houses with docks surrounding this island. Every little kid on the island waved and called out the now familiar “Mzungu” to us. Many did not speak English. I found out later that they speak the tribal language Luo. While driving along we spotted a sign for ‘Beach Resort’ and turned down the road. A woman named Linda from Washington, DC lived there. She had married a man from Kenya many years ago and had recently moved back after he died. I didn’t ask if this was President Obama’s real mother in hiding. Several small guest huts were being built each accommodating two people. It was right on the beach with great views of the surrounding hills. We looked around while taking coffee. The only other hotel is the Rusinga Island Lodge (www.rusinga.com) where we attempted to have lunch but it required reservations. Imagine that. Besides this trip I haven’t done much except work. I have been watching soccer matches in the English Premier League. People here have a favorite team that they follow very closely. The quality of play in the Kenyan league is not the same quality. Games from the Spanish & Italian league are also shown on TV. Anyone who wants to hear about my tour of the Eldoret cheese factory last weekend will have to setup an appointment for when I get home.

Next Friday I am going with the Kisumu group on a long weekend safari to the Maasai Mara. Joan from the UK will have her two grown children along. This will be the Africa that I expected. We are staying at a nearby hotel (http://www.serenahotels.com/serenamara/default-en.html) and take several trips into the park. I’ll take lots of pictures and update my blog before I leave for home.

Now some observations to finish the sentence You know you’re in Kenya when…
• ..the word Hotel does not mean a place to stay. Most likely it is a butcher shop.
• ..you never see any kind of postal, delivery or trash truck. Most trash is simply burned.
• ..you answer that call on your cell phone and talk very loudly to your bff no matter if you are in the middle of a meeting, a meeting, or in a movie theatre.
• ..driving is an all out sport with no rules and driving on the shoulder or other side of the road can be expected.
• ..70 degree weather is cause to bundle up in thick coats & hats like it’s 40 degrees at home (note this does not apply to wimpy people who live in FL)
• ..the best cuts of meat including filets & chicken breasts mysteriously cannot be found anywhere.
• ..your choices of wine out of a box are red or white / sweet or dry.
• ..drinks are served room temperature if you don’t specify. Ice is an unknown substance.
• ..anyone who approaches you with the words “Hello my friend” is never a good thing.
• ..every house or group of houses has a protective fence around it and guard manning the gate.

Posted by bjmccrudden 02:24 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Lost in Eldoret & The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve commented many times how small Eldoret seems after being here for awhile. Yesterday I decided to venture a little out of town on my bike and see if I can find a hidden restaurant or enclave of ex-pats. I found the football (soccer) field which had a market in the parking lot. I then turned down a dirt road that paralleled Uganda Road. Dirt roads are not that unusual as only about ¼ of the roads are paved. As I went down this road I kept coming to dead ends. I passed a group of 20 houses that would be considered a housing development in the US. Each house was about 300 square feet with farm animals roaming freely and very few cars. On this bumpy dirt road I discovered that my bike was built more for paved roads and the chain came off. As I worked to get the chain started on the back spoke, an older man stopped to help. He quickly popped off the cover from the front spoke and attached the chain. He only spoke about 20 words of English but told me that I was his “brother” and pointed out where he lived. I thought this was very interesting and wondered how he came to this conclusion. He pointed the way to Uganda Road following a fence around a steel plant. I used one of my few Kaswahili phrases, “Asante Sana” (thank you very much) and gave him 100 shillings. He seemed very happy.

As I road along a walking path along this fence I heard the chain come off again. This time the chain had broken. I pulled it free and for the first time in Kenya felt uneasy about my situation. I was miles from the main road if I backtracked. I decided to follow the old man’s directions and continue forward. I quickly found that I was in the middle of more houses in a place that mazungus (white people) don’t commonly stroll through especially pushing a bike. I kept walking and continued to ask directions to Uganda Road. Probably every group of kids in the village called out to me “Mazungu how are you?”. I called out “Sawa” (OK) but really wanted them to call a helicopter to come get me. Many times I saw men working under cars in their yard and thought about how my grandfather Joe Saxon would have fit into this place. I eventually made it out to the main road. I remembered passing this road when I took a trip to western Kenya and saying to myself that I would never go down that road. I eventually found a gas station and someone to fix my chain.

While I was waiting to get my bike fixed, I went to one of the two restaurants that serve brewed coffee. All of that African coffee must be exported because most restaurants serve Necafe instant (yuck). A woman from a group of older Americans came up to my table asking what I was doing in Kenya. I ask myself the same question some days. It turns out she is associated with the University of Indiana House where many American medical students stay while they work on an exchange residency program. She took my e-mail address and said that she will invite me over. They have functions on the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. It looks like my trip did end with me finding a group of ex-pats afterall.

Posted by bjmccrudden 01:26 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Weekend in Nairobi

When I first arrived in Kenya in mid-June and stayed at a hotel near the Nairobi airport, I thought that I never wanted to go back to Kenya’s capital. I’m not sure whether it was the nervousness of being in a foreign country or how primitive the city looked. My coworker Garret invited me for the weekend and I gladly took up another chance to get out of Eldoret for the weekend. I took a short 45 minute flight on Friday morning and spent the day working at the AMREF headquarters. Garret is working with AMREF on a project to educate 250,000 health care workers throughout Africa. Sending out an e-mail with a link to a video won’t work for people living without electricity, computers & internet. Nairobi is a very modern city with skyscrapers and traffic lights that drivers actually follow. Garret and his AMREF partners Kim from the UK took me to a local restaurant that served real beef hamburgers. The food was incredible and I felt like I was back in an urban setting similar to Philadelphia or Chicago. The more I travel throughout Kenya, the more I realize that even though Eldoret is Kenya’s 5th largest city, it is in the boondocks.

There are six Pulse volunteers from four different countries (US, UK, Turkey & Estonia) living in two extremely modern apartments. On Saturday three of us ventured out to some tourist attractions in town that they had not yet explored. First stop was the Nairobi Train Museum. We learned that the country of Kenya was actually built around the railroad infrastructure. Starting in the late 1890’s they began building a rail line from the port at Mombassa through Nairobi and eventually to Kisumu & Uganda. An interesting story from out guide was about lions regularly attacking and eating the workers during the construction. While driving through the middle of town, the taxi driver pointed out the previous site of US embassy that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb in 1998. The site is now a park with a wall to commemorate those killed with pictures of damage to the surrounding buildings. This act was one event that led up to the USS Cole and 911 attacks a few years later. The next stop was the Maasai market where you can buy any African souvenir from a Maasai spear used for killing lions to a 6 foot giraffe. A “guide” met us as we entered the market and offered to be our procurement representative. The pressure to buy was incredibly high and everything is negotiable. But once we told them that we actually live in Kenya and will be here for 6 months, they relented. The last stop was a huge park that runs through the center of town. We hiked up a hill to an observation point to see the whole town. We walked past hundreds of people asleep in the park. They didn’t look homeless and it was almost noon. Much too early to take a nap people.

On Sunday Garret and I went to the Yaya Centre which is just like any US mall but with another outdoor market selling the same African trinkets (I hope that I can get three Christmas present spears through customs). As we travelled away from the center of town, the scenery began to look more what I’ve seen in western Kenya. Sunday afternoon horse racing was our next stop. There were 7 races of various distances. Bets could be placed starting at 40 shillings (~48 cents). It was very family friendly with many children running around on the grass, and there were many ex-pats (foreigners like me). We had lunch and enjoyed watching the races. Note that I won’t be flying home first class or quitting my day job to pick horses for a living. The best part of the weekend was the camaraderie with fellow Pulse volunteers and talking out our home countries and assignments. The group here takes turns making dinner and I was very grateful to not go out to a restaurant. I learned more about the country of Turkey that I ever knew as Sibel discussed her homeland. Everyone is here for similar reasons and it’s nice to bond with people that I never would have a chance to met otherwise. Now I have to find my boots and hope it’s stopped raining in Eldoret.

Posted by bjmccrudden 05:23 Archived in Kenya Tagged nairobi Comments (1)

Kisumu and Lake Victoria

Impala Place Zoo

I was happy for a chance to get out of Eldoret for a weekend with the four Pulse coworkers in Kisumu. Eldoret has begun to feel very small to me after 6 weeks. I feel like I have found every decent place to eat and did all of the tourist things in town. To get to Kisumu, I knew that I did not want to take a 14 passenger Matatu (van) that stops frequently. I took a shuttle that held 6 or 7 people and did not stop between Eldoret & Kisumu. The 12:00 shuttle eventually left right on Kenyan time at 1:45. While I sat in the front seat I must have been approached 50 times by someone selling anything from candy, soda, music CDs, watches, or hand-made trinkets. You can only say “Asante no” politely so many times. I eventually rolled up the window.

My coworkers (Doug, Matt, Stephanie & Joan) have a beautiful house with a full kitchen, 4 master suites, huge living room, and just about every comfort of home except a dishwasher (that was me for the weekend). Joan has located fairly priced weekend safari in the Maasai Mara and invited me to go along for the trip in September. Six of us including Joan’s two grown children will be leaving from Kisumu on September 7th. On Friday night we went to a roof-top restaurant that is popular with the mzungus (white people). The food was great and it was the first time that I’ve seen ice available for a mixed drink. They bring the ice in a separate bowl so you have made your own drink. Three of them work for the OGRA NGO which owns two hotels one of which has a pool. Doug & I took a 3-wheeled tuk-tuk over and had lunch by the pool. The locals were looking at us strangely for going into the 70 something degree water. Saturday night was a treat for me – a home cooked dinner! Matt made tilapia while Doug made mashed potatoes. Going out to eat every night is not as fun as it sounds.

Sunday was a very full day of adventure. The OGRA group has a driver available to them even on the weekends. Peter picked us up and took us down to Lake Victoria. He negotiated a rate for us and we went out on a boat with 2 guides looking for wild hippos. Lake Victoria is the world’s 2nd largest fresh water lake behind Lake Superior and is surrounded by Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania. We didn’t have to go far before we spotted a group of 6 hippos near the shoreline. It was kind of like whale watching with them surfacing and then going under frequently. But they stay pretty much in the same location. One of our guides said that there was only one male in the group. If another male approaches they fight sometimes to the death. When they find a dead hippo, they drag it back to shore and have a feast. He said it tastes like pork.

Close by was the local zoo called Impala Place. This was very different than any zoo in the US. We were met by a guide who took us around to each area. At the leopard cage, he went into the cage to “play” with the 2 year cat. We were extremely close to the animals. At the monkey cage we were encouraged to shake hands. I didn’t see the monkeys sanitize their hands so I passed. We were in for a real surprise at the cheetah cage. There was a large male and female in a pretty big area. Our guide asked if we would like to go into the cage with the handler an pet them. He said the cheetah was very gentle. Someone mentioned a recent story about a woman getting mauled by a cheetah while the husband filmed it. This seemed like one of those once-in-a-lifetime events so we all entered the cage. We took turns petting the female which purred and rolled around like a house cat. The fur was much rougher than expected. When the big male started getting up and walking over, the handler shooed it away with a little stick. We decided it was time to go after everyone had a chance. They had several lions but there were no offers to go pet them. The other interesting fact was that several animals roamed freely around the zoo, mostly impalas and monkeys. We spotted a group of kids feeding Cheetos & lollipops to the monkeys. The monkeys would grab something to eat out of their hand and then run up the tree. This was the reason I got my rabies vaccinations.

It was great to get out of town and be involved in group activities. The OGRA house is big enough that everyone has plenty of space. Outside are screened in gazebos and they are building a pool and BBQ area. The front porch has one of those massage chairs that you see at Brookstones. This is really roughing it in Africa! I’m sure that I will be back for another visit soon. This weekend I’m flying back to Nairobi for the weekend with my coworker from North Carolina Garret. He is sharing an apartment with 2 other Pulse volunteers. I expect a very different trip than when I first arrived at the airport in Nairobi and was very uneasy about the environment.

Posted by bjmccrudden 07:19 Archived in Kenya Tagged victoria lake hippos kisumu Comments (0)

Western Kenya & Nandi County

The drive from Eldoret to Kisumu

On Thursday Jared & I rented a car to drive 2 hours out to Kenya’s 4th largest town Kisumu. Just to clarify Jared drives while I sit there using my imaginary brake like I do when driving with my daughter as we pass trucks on mountain roads. This is the closest town where four other Pulse volunteers are based. We needed to search for a particular printer that is capable of printing the coded forms for the fistula patients, and meet with some people at the OGRA foundation where the others work. It was nice to get out of Eldoret and see more of the country. The route to Kisumu winds through Nandi County where we drove past tea & coffee plantations, sugar cane & corn fields. The mountains were beautiful and reminded me of the Tuscany region in Italy. It was very picturesque but different. Italy has the endless grape vines, groves of olive trees and quaint villages. Nandi County is very green with an occasional small village and isolated houses sometimes made of packed mud. I’m not sure how they hold up with all of the rain in this region. There were many people picking tea in the fields which looks very labor intensive. I’ve attached some pictures of the hills & homes.

Next weekend I made plans go back to Kisumu which seems 10x bigger than Eldoret, and do something with the crew there. There is a boat tour out onto Lake Victoria to see hippos. That would be my first encounter with anything other than farm animals here in “wild” Africa.

Posted by bjmccrudden 00:50 Archived in Kenya Tagged mountains Comments (2)

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