[Pictures coming soon once I have better wifi]
We were picked up early in the morning by Fredrick Mango, the RainCatcher country lead in Kenya. We drove in two cars to the Nyanza Club which is hotel where we would be staying for a few days. The car ride itself was a memorable experience. I firmly believe that there are only two traffic laws in Kenya:
- Stay generally on the left side of the road
- Don’t kill anyone
We arrived fairly early around 9:00 am. Fortunately I didn’t have a lot of setup to do so I was able to nap for a couple hours before we left for the first installation site. Jet lag man… it’s a drag. Hopefully a few more days will help me get shifted around.
It was a short drive through Kisumu to get to the Bar Korumba Secondary School. During the whole drive all I could think was “first world problems.” If I tried to do justice in describing the city I would utterly fail. There’s so much that I don’t understand about this place, this culture, these people.
I feel foreign.
I’m trying my best not to other-ize everything, but it truly does feel abnormal. So far the best I can do is maintain the perspective that I am the thing that is “other.”
That said, I will attempt to describe Kisumu.
There are as many if not more motorcycles and pedestrians as there are cars. There aren’t really any lanes or dividers on the road, driver generally keep to the left but even that isn’t a hard and fast rule. Often a large truck will make a turn across the road, but instead of halting, all the vehicles sort of swerve around the truck and keep on a’goin. Along some portions of the road there are parallel paved or dirt lanes which seem to be mostly reserved for pedestrians and motorcycles (called boroboro), but I’ve seen cars in those lanes too on occasion.
It seems to be a free-for-all in which the name of the game is to get to your destination as quickly as possible at any expense (other than death). Most of the vehicles have injuries ranging from minor dents to missing doors or hoods. Besides standard cars and trucks there are these box-shaped 8-seater vans which are a form of public transportation. Most often I’ve seen them barreling along filled to at least 150% of their intended capacity. Where they are going I couldn’t say. They don’t seem to have anything identifying their destination or route, but most of them do have a short phrase on the back window such as “In God’s Hands” or “The Jesus Wagon.” According to Martha, a RainCatcher board member who is traveling with us, this is supposed to serve as a safety guarantee.
Hop on, you’ll be safe. We promise. You’re in God’s Hands now.
I can’t decide whether this is cute or terrifying.
When we flew in to Kisumu I noticed something odd about the city: while the roads were sometimes organized in a grid, the buildings hardly ever were. A residential block would have perpendicular streets, but the houses were constructed at odd angles. If the houses were lego blocks, someone decided to toss them into a square tray and leave them where they fell.
What was most striking about our trip was the amount of people out in the city. Walking must be a strong part of this culture, or maybe foot travel is a substitute for the many people without cars? It makes me wonder: where are they going?
Maybe there are just as many people moving from place to place in US cities as well, they just seem more visible since they travel by foot instead of by car.
According to Fred, most people walk between 1 and 4 km to work each day. They live in suburbs and then come in to do their job. I don’t know the key things which drive the economy here, but there are some roadside kiosks which sell all sorts of things. Some were made of wood and others of corrugated metal held together by magic. Behind these small structures were storefronts and sometimes larger buildings like banks or government buildings. There were no cement sidewalks, but well-trodden dirt paths littered with plastic, other trash, and the occasional live cow or goat.
As we drove to our destination the road changed from asphalt to dirt and back again several times. There are many new asphalt roads being built around Kisumu, but there isn’t an organized construction zone as we are used to seeing in the US. No helmet-clad traffic director spinning their sign from “Slow” to “Stop.” Pedestrians and vehicles alike weave their way around the construction machinery wherever they can. There wasn’t any work going on at the time we drove by, but I imagine that it wouldn’t be the same even during working hours.
The school was off a dirt road which intersected one of these under-construction roads. To turn off, our driver had to drive down into a steep ditch and then back up agin onto a heavily rutted dirt area. Thankfully the dirt was all dry. It would have been a lot more gnarly if it had been raining.
Once arrived at the site, we quickly got organized and installed our sensor. It went pretty smoothly for a first install and it worked the first time! Amazing! Everyone celebrated. I think Prof Spencer has more faith in us now. It remains to be seen whether these sensors will function long-term, but that’s the purpose of this pilot test. We hope so.
After finishing installation work we went into the schoolhouse where school was still in session. This is a Christian secondary school which is probably privately funded through some church. It was cool to hear the students singing praise songs at the end of their school day. The headmistress introduced each of us including Prof Spencer, Martha, and Fred, and then encouraged the students to talk with us outside. They were very impressed that we all studied science. As most high school students, they were shy and awkward, but a few bolder students asked us for our email or Facebook account.
Talking with the students was my absolute favorite part of the trip so far. It was wonderful to meet them and hear about their lives even if only for a few minutes. I am only a few years older than most of them. People are so amazing!! Our lives are so different, yet we are all still human. The extreme difference in our circumstances make me much more aware of how blessed and privileged I have been in life. What a reality check.
We went back to the hotel for a couple hours of down time and then had dinner. The food is good and inexpensive at the restaurant here, but it took forever to get it. I think Africa time is a real thing…
Last night I got about 5 hours of sleep but still woke up at 5:00 am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I tried to go back to sleep for about an hour, but was unsuccessful so here I am writing a blog post and watching a large snail crawl up the side of a neighboring building.