Bumpy Roads – Day 4-6

Day 4

Our second day in Kisumu was productive and enlightening. We breakfasted at the Nyanza Club and then hit the road. Since there were seven people in our group we split between two large-ish vehicles capable of handling the roads in this region. The car trips were fun because there was so much to take in along the way. Kisumu City was a entangled, busy maze of roads and buildings. Once we got 10-15 minutes outside of the city the tall buildings disappeared. Everywhere there were people walking, going about their business for the day.

I was constantly reminded of the many lenses through which I viewed the world. “I would never do that.” “That must be so difficult.” “If they had ________ that would be easier.” But Kenya is the way it is. Imagine if this was normal. Imagine if I had always lived the way these people do.

The first school we visited was a Primary School called Usare. The downspout for this site was partially shaded which was not optimal conditions for the operation of our monitoring device which runs off of solar power. Nonetheless we went ahead with the install and hoped that it would get enough sunlight during some part of the day to send messages. When we began school was currently in session but shortly after we arrived the students poured out of the building on a break. They were so curious and encircled us, pressing close to see what we were doing. For at least 30 minutes we were in a sea of children. Most of them would not speak to us except for one typical exchange:

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. How you are?”

You could say it to almost anyone and get this far. As we drove sometimes kids or teenagers would call to us as we drove by. Martha said that this is because they don’t often see white people (mzungu) and are excited to see us.

A few of the older students responded when I asked their name and their class in school.  They seemed very shy in conversation, but were certainly not afraid of coming close to watch us. After awhile the bell rang and they reluctantly filed back inside.

Our next location was a nearby Primary School called Lusika. This one had direct sunlight almost all day so we were very pleased about this. The students at this site were also excited to see us, but it was their lunch break so they were on their way home. It sounded like most of them would walk home for lunch and then return to school in the afternoon. A few students stayed at the school during lunch break and were fed there.

Between the second and third installation we did something very cool: we crossed the equator!! Yes, the equator is just a line, la di da. But there is actually some exciting magic (or physics) that happens there. In the Northern Hemisphere, a draining tub of water will swirl to the right in a clockwise direction. In the Southern Hemisphere, just a few yards away, IT SWIRLS COUNTERCLOCKWISE. We saw it happen.


It was rad.

There is a small establishment called the Equator Cottages right at that location. Unfortunately the toilets here don’t contain enough water to swirl, but staying at these cottages might be a fun holiday nonetheless.

After each installation we stayed at each tank site for almost one hour in order to wait for the first round of data collection. During our wait there Jozi and Senghor played soccer (football, depending on which you prefer) with the kids. Their ball was a rolled up plastic bag which was full of some kind of stuffing and banded with a bungee cord. Jozi said playing soccer with the kids was on her bucket list :). Goal achieved.

I asked one little girl to see her notebook and saw that it was donated by Unicef. She had one in Kiswahili and one in English. Most of the exercises for for learning reading and writing and some fun pages like connect the dots.

Our final site of the day was another Primary School some distance away called Eloube.

Before we left we were shown inside the school and introduced to each teacher and the headmistress. Their schools were cement buildings with cement floored and furnished simply with wooden desks and chalkboards. They had no glass or coverings for the windows and doors.

After our third installation it was getting towards 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon so we decided to call it a day. Once back at the Nyanza Club we showered and changed our clothes and then went to The Acacia, which Fred said was a 5-star hotel. We were greeted by the hotel manager who was a friend of Fred (everywhere we went Fred had friends). At the Acacia we enjoyed an African-themed buffet. The food was good but I couldn’t tell you the names of the dishes. We had pan-fried tilapia, something that looked and tasted like green mashed potatoes, and cream of pumpkin soup. There were other dishes that I can’t remember, but they tasted pretty good.

Let me tell you I may have a new addiction. I’ve started drinking Coca Cola while I’m here. It’s made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup and consequently about a million times better. I hope I can smuggle some home with me, but if not I’ve already collected two empty bottles. In Kisumu there is a series of very suggestive Coke ads which I’ve attempted to partially document.

Day 5

On our fourth day we ran into problems. Throughout the morning we expected to received messages from our previous four installation sites, but we didn’t receive anything until well into the afternoon. When our device loses power overnight the device is programmed to wait until it has collected enough charge via the solar panels and then it resumes data collection. The amount of power it needs to send a text is higher than the amount it needs to collect data so it waits until the supercapacitors are charged to at  least 2.4 Volts before attempting to send.

We spent most of the day at the first site, Bar Korumba, where we attempted to understand why that site had not been messaging us. We found that it had been collecting data for awhile, but gotten stuck somehow after five readings. We conducted some tests which tested the device’s ability to revive itself after a brown out and these all seemed to go fine. Eventually we reset the device and instead had it attempt to send on an hourly cycle instead of daily.

Throughout the final day of work we found that the hourly program seemed to function better than the daily. This was very encouraging since we can now leave Kenya with at least some degree of overall success. Prof Spencer informed us that we will need to write a Final Final Report which documents our work and recommendations based on this trip.

You’re not really done with Clinic until Clinic is done with you…

Day 6

Today we revisited one site which had not yet transmitted any messages and found that it was working properly after all. It had been collecting data but did not yet have enough power to collect 24 data points. Satisfied with this result, we went on to install one final prototype on a new primary school called St. George’s. Although we had one more prototype, Nithya and Michael found that it wasn’t working very well so we called it a day around 1:00 pm. Through our work here I think we found several ways we can improve the device if/when RainCatcher wants to deploy it on more tanks.

We went for lunch at a place called Tilapia Beach by Lake Victoria. There we ordered two “wet” fish and two “dry” fish which we ate with our hands in the traditional way. We also had a dish called Unage which is a dense corn cake very effective at mopping up sauce from the wet fish. This was probably the best meal I’ve had so far in Kenya!

After our lunch stop we bought ice cream from the store, but forgot the spoons. Jozi and I shared a small container, she eating with the blunt edge of a pocket knife and myself making due with the cap from a water bottle. It was not super effective, but it got the job done. Having finished our ice cream we went to the edge of the lake where Fred bargained with the owner of a boat for a short ride around the lake. We searched for hippos, but unfortunately they were all gone for the day.

When we got back to shore we still had about an hour before we needed to be at the airport. Rather than sit in the airport we opted to sit in a nearby bar and enjoy some cold drinks. Several team members had a Tusker, a local beer, while I had a Coke. I may be developing an unhealthy habit…

Sitting in that bar on the edge of Lake Victoria with the team, enjoying a mostly successful conclusion to our project – that was the life. I’ll remember that for awhile…. at least until next week when our prototypes stop functioning. But, hey, I’m optimistic.

Now we are on a short flight back to Nairobi. It was a very good day.