Sunday, August 8, 2010

Adventures in Kisumu

On Saturday I needed to go to Kisumu to change my plane ticket. I'll be heading back to Nairobi next Friday morning to attend a few meetings and just have some time to rest before getting on the plane to New York. Since I didn't want to go alone, I asked Fred and Rodgers if they would come with me. I figured that it would be good to have company, and I also wanted them to have a fun outing. We left Majiwa at about 9:15 and walked down to the highway to wait for a matatu. The wait was not so long this time, and soon we were on our way. When you're in a matatu, the degree of cramped-ness is always variable, depending on the guy who is collecting the money, since he is the one who determines how many people are allowed inside. There's constant push and pull between wanting to get more money and the number of people who can fit somewhat safely. On this particular day, there were 24 of us in a 16 passenger vehicle, so you do the math! I was wedged between two men for most of the ride, and was sitting on the space between two seats. Not that I would have been able to fall anywhere!

When we reached Kisumu and got out at the main bus station (or, as they say here, the stage), everyone was coming up to me, trying to take me to Nairobi or Mombasa or a whole range of places. We walked quickly out to the main road and toward Oginga Odinga street, which is the main road in Kisumu. We headed to Mega Plaza, where the Kenya Airways ticket office is located, and I changed my ticket. This whole process took about 15 minutes, and then we had the rest of the day free just to hang out. I was interested to see what sorts of electrical components could be purchase in Kisumu and also wanted to know if they sold very small solar panels, like the ones that might charge a mobile phone. Fred and Rodgers helped by asking around, and we set out first to an electronics shop that Fred had been to once before with another friend, Lawrence. On our way there, we ran into Kevin, who is the doctor at ARO Centre. We knew he would be in Kisumu for the weekend, but it was definitely a nice surprise to run into someone that we knew. He decided to join us in our quest for a little while.

We headed first to this electronics shop, but found that they mostly had replacement parts for radios and TVs and things, but no electrical components. They directed us back to Oginga Odinga street, where there is a row of hardware and electrical stores that sell quite a range of different things. However, our search came up mostly empty. We didn't find a place to buy electronic components and there were no small solar cells to be found. The smallest size was a 10 Watt solar panel, and the price would definitely be out of reach for those in the village, who are the primary target of the solar rechargeable lamps that the Fab Lab is working on. However, we did find a solar charger for a mobile phone, so I bought that to bring back to ARO. The way it works is it has solar panels charging a battery, and then that battery is portable and can be used to charge other things, like a phone. At the very least it will be a good example of the circuitry involved in charging a battery from a solar cell, so it may help in developing the solar lamp further. Also, it will be a good way to get an idea of the specs needed for a solar cell than can effectively charge a battery. The ones I brought aren't working so well, so I'm hoping that this may help move the project forward.

Fred also was able to buy a new phone charger (his had been melted by high voltage), so overall I would say that our quest was somewhat successful. We had fun, anyway, going from one place to the next, each time being directed to someplace new. We also met up with Aggre, who happened to be in Kisumu for the day, running some errands, and the four of us went to lunch together. I had been craving tilapia and ugali, so we went to Railway Beach, as Westerners call it. The locals refer to it as the place with lots of flies. It's just a small strip of tiny restaurants that serve fish located right on the shores of Lake Victoria. It's a pretty place to eat. When you walk in, you see a table full of different fish. You negotiate with the restaurant owner as to what price you'll pay for the fish you want to eat. Then they fry them and serve them with ugali, kale, and broth. It's a very messy lunch, but so much fun to eat. While you're eating men come up selling all kinds of different things. I bought a few DVDs for us to watch this week and a gospel CD for Fred. It's about $2 per DVD, and each has maybe 8-10 movies on it, so it's a pretty good deal.

When our food came, we all dug in and barely came up for air. By the time we had finished, we were all stuffed, so we just sat and digested for some time. I had also spoken with Kalie, from One Acre Fund, earlier in the day. She said that she was in Kisumu and would be hanging out at Kiboko Bay, a resort right on Lake Victoria, but south of where we were eating lunch. Once we were ready to go, we found a tuk-tuk to take us to Kiboko Bay, which is in a place called Dunga. It was my first time in a tuk-tuk, so I had a lot of fun, despite the bumpy ride. We met Kalie at Kiboko Bay and I caught up with her a little bit. I talked more about my trip so far and asked her some questions about One Acre Fund. I learned that they employ mostly Kenyans - about 200, and then there are 7 ex-pats who work in Bungoma. They primarily do the strategic planning work, while the Kenyans are executing the programs and serving as field officers. The ex-pats help to kick off implementation of new programs or innovations, but afterwards this is run by the Kenyan staff. They seem to be doing quite well, and I know the organization is very focused on measuring results, which is always nice to hear.

After Kalie left, we took some pictures by the lake and just relaxed for a bit. When it was time to head back to town, we realized that we hadn't gotten the phone number of the tuk-tuk that dropped us off, and were worried we were going to be stranded. We were told to take a boat back to where we had come from, but that would be about $20 as compared to a $1.50 tuk-tuk ride. Luckily, a few minutes later, a tuk-tuk came to drop off some other people, so we got in and headed back to town. I stopped at the ATM to take out a lot of money to pay for the car on Tuesday and then we went to Nakumatt, which is the largest grocery store chain in the country. I wanted to get some chocolate for myself (I've been missing it!), something small to bring back for people at ARO, and some mangoes. Unfortunately, there were no mangoes! The season is really not here yet, sadly. After we finished our errands, we headed to the petrol station where we could find a matatu back to Majiwa. Luckily we arrived just in time to claim the front seat, which is arguably the most comfortable position.

The ride was uneventful, though when we were at Akala, a drunk guy wouldn't leave me alone. Our driver had to get out to do something and was gone for what seemed like forever. I could smell the alcohol on this guy, and he was just mumbling things that I couldn't fully understand. Finally, our driver returned, and we were again on our way. We arrived in Majiwa safely and it was just about to rain. Luckily we reached ARO before the rain began. My dinner was waiting, and Susan (the woman taking care of me) was very happy to see me. I managed to make it through dinner and to my room before the rain really came, then packed some things and walked over to the lab to watch a movie. Overall, it was a really fun day, and I was happy to bring Fred and Rodgers along. When we came back, Patric said I must have fed them well because they looked a little bit brighter. Rodgers and Fred both agreed that it had been such a good day that it was like a day and a half. I was happy to be able to give them a day of just relaxing and having fun.

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