Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Introduction to the Fab Lab

At the airport, I met a girl from Australia, who was also flying to Kisumu. She said she was going to be volunteering for some NGO nearby. It seemed like she had been traveling for a long time, since she had been in Europe for some time, then flew from Athens to Dubai to Nairobi and then straight to Kisumu. She seemed a bit nervous about flying on Kenya Airways, but I reassured her that it was a safe airline, and that seemed to help. We saw a lady with the best shoes I've ever seen board the plane to Mombasa that left just before our flight. They were glittery leopard-print pumps. Does it get better than that?

Upon arrival to Kisumu, about 30 minutes late, I met Tom, the Fab Lab manager, as well as Dr. Wasuna, manager of ARC-Kenya, an NGO that is run out of the ARO Centre, where the Fab Lab is located. There were also two university students, Frederick and Marvin, who had been with Tom and Dr. Wasuna at the trade show in Kisumu for the day, so they rode with us to Majiwa. Majiwa is just outside of Bondo, Kenya, about an hour west of Kisumu on the highway. The car trip took a bit longer than that because the road from Kisumu up to the Kisian junction was so bad. Once we got onto Bondo road, the conditions were much better, probably because the Prime Minister is from Bondo – at least that's what I was told! By the time we reached the ARO Centre it was a bit late, so I had dinner and went to my room to get settled. The lady who is taking care of me is Susan. I told her that my mom's name is also Susan, which she thought was very funny. She has been making my meals and she cleans my room, so much like a real mother.

This morning I was to meet Dr. Wasuna and Tom at 9 am, so I had my breakfast and went to the meeting-place, which is near the center of the compound. The ARO Centre has close ties with a Norwegian NGO, and one of the projects they did was to build a large water tank to collect rainwater. On top of the tank, they built a great gazebo-like structure, which serves as a meeting-place. Also, they put in solar-powered water pumps to pump the water from the collection tank to the other buildings in the compound.

When I met Tom and Dr. Wasuna, I also met Michael and Patrick, two other guys who work at the ARO Centre. Michael is in charge of VCT, and does HIV testing and sex education, and Patrick is in charge of the Solar department, where he works on solar energy at the centre. Michael took me on a tour of most of the compound, introducing me to all of the other men and women who work here. They have a group of women who do weaving, a traditional medicine center, the VCT office where Michael works, a tractor and microfinance department that rents out a tractor for plowing and towing and provides loans, a childcare department that cares for orphans, a small and not well-equipped hospital, a guy who takes care of the dairy goats and chickens, a catering department, and then the solar department.

And, I almost forgot, they also have the Fab Lab. This was my last stop, where I sat and talked with Tom for quite a while, asking about the various projects going on and just trying to get to know him a bit. Patrick and Michael also sat with us for some time. I don't want to start doing any formal interviewing until I am acclimated and feeling more comfortable in my surroundings. Also, I don't think it would be good to jump right in and start hounding people I have just met with questions. I will be arranging interviews starting next week. Besides, I am under strict instructions from Clarice to lay low this weekend in case there are any flare-ups due to the coming referendum, which takes place next Wednesday. She just doesn't want me in any public places, though I'm sure I will be fine since she tends to be a bit overprotective. Not that that's a bad thing – I really appreciate her support while I'm here and she keeps telling me that if I ever think I am headed for danger, I should call her immediately, so that's really comforting.

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