Monday, July 13, 2009

Welcome to Kisumu!

After we arrived in Kisumu, we ran errands for a while and drove through the city center. It was fairly small, but there was a lot of activity. There was a big, outdoor market where there are wooden tables that remain in the square always, and each day people show up to sell vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, clothing, and so much more. They set up their little shops on these tables and hope to make at least a few sales. Many people in the Kisumu area live on less than a dollar per day. The poverty around here is the worst in the country. The market in the city center was large, but most of the small markets in the rural areas are just the same. However, the small markets only happen once per week. Everyone in the village knows when the market day is, so they go to buy their food for the week on that day. If they don’t have enough money on that day, then they buy what they can and make do for the week. This limits the flexibility in their schedules because they have to go to the market on that day; they can’t wait. Few people can afford to go to the grocery store, on the well-to-do. The majority of people never buy food at the grocery store, only from outdoor markets.

We headed west down one of the only paved roads in the city, the main highway that goes all the way across Kenya, from Mombasa to Busia and into Uganda and DRC. Once we got to our turn, the roads were all dirt for about 20 minutes before we arrived at Clarice’s house. And it’s not just that the roads are dirty, they are ROCKY. Even with a car, you go slow, there are huge puddles when it rains, and the trucks from the nearby quarry degrade the roads even more when they carry their large loads. Along the way were many homesteads, on both sides of the road. One family lives and farms on each homestead. Most of the houses are built out of mud and wood, and some are able to use rock in addition to the mud to strengthen the walls. The roofs are thatched and the doors are typically corrugated iron sheets. Interestingly enough, it is considered an upgrade to move into a house made completely of corrugated iron. We saw many of these on the sides of the highway, but once you get away from the highway, everyone lives in mud houses.

Clarice’s house is beautiful. The inside looks very similar to her house in Nairobi, but this house has an amazing piece of land surrounding it. There is a big field in the front, then a second gate, then the front yard, filled with trees (some mango!) and flowers. I have eaten multiple mangoes per day since I’ve been here, and I’m already dreading returning to the U.S. where you can’t get mangoes like these. How sad. In the backyard is a stone gazebo and through the back gate is another stretch of grass before you get to the lake. Lots of hippos live in the lake, so they’ve left the fence open to allow them to come and graze on the soft grass. Also, then they don’t have to mow. Women from a nearby village gather down by the lake to collect water and do their washing. The lake water is full of algae and other fecal matter, but as this is the only convenient water source, the people drink it anyway. Almost no one has access to electricity here, because they can’t afford to pay the bill, so at night you see the lights from fires and lamps inside all of the homesteads. Otherwise, it is pitch black.

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