Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The end is near...

It's been a little while since I've posted, but that's because we've been on the road and busy! We took our trip out to Kisumu, and - aside from getting violently ill and missing out on one of the training days - everything went really well! We took a nearly 12 hour van ride to our destination. It was long but very beautiful. About an hour outside of Nairobi, we turned a corner and came upon the massive Rift Valley…a very green and nearly uninhabited valley, as far as the eye could see. We made a quick stop, very crowded with tourists and tourist shops selling polar bear rugs and hats (what?!).  After that, we passed kilometers and kilometers (excuse me, miles and miles - when will we finally join the rest of the world and start using the metric system?) of tea farms. In Achego, a small village outside of Kisumu, we trained 75 midwives. They came ready to learn, share stories, sing (there was lots of singing!), and bring what they learned to their respective communities. What a great group of women! We managed to fit in one day of free time, and our hosts took us out to Lake Victoria. We rented a small motor boat, saw some hippos (yes, again!), then went to lunch where I watched everyone thoroughly enjoy some giant, fresh tilapia. We rode home with a much less cautious driver in about half the time, and made it back to Nairobi completely exhausted.

We've spent the past couple of weeks wrapping up our work. We completed one last sanitary pad training with the women (and one very interested and entrepreneurial man) in Kambi Muuru. This is one of our new facilities and the group seems very eager to take advantage of any business opportunities. They are very into selling soap and Waterguard, and I have a feeling they will be making and selling their own pads when we check back in.  This past Friday, we had an incinerator delivered for each facility for the purpose of disposing of the sanitary pads. They are made by a company called re:char, and they actually convert the burned waste into charcoal. For the agricultural communities where they normally work, the charcoal can be incorporated into the soil to drastically improve yields, but in the case of Kibera, the coal can be sold for cooking. A guy came out to do a demonstration, and they should be up and running as soon as we can install sanitary bins into the facilities. One last step to wrap up this project for the summer!

This weekend we were able to take one last trip to Lake Naivasha. We stayed at a small hostel right on the lake, where we were able to relax, have some Tuskers, and continue our epic BvG euchre battle. On Saturday, we rented some mountain bikes (from a fellow named Dan- but you can call me the Philosopher- also known as Crunchy) and rode into Hell's Gate National park. What an incredible place! As soon as we entered the park, it was like we were in a completely different world. It was wide open, green, and we were surrounded by giant volcanic rock. We rode about a total of 20km and saw zebra, giraffes, wart hogs, antelope, and baboons - some of them were right next to the road! We have a little bit of a run-in with a baboon. Does anyone know what to do when you encounter a baboon? Yea, we didn't either. We made it out alive, with nothing more than an adrenaline rush :) If the biking and wildlife wasn't enough, the best part about the park was the gorge. We ditched our bikes at the top, and after fending off hundreds of swarming tour guides, we hiked down and wandered around for a couple of hours.  I wish my pictures could do it justice! We walked at the very bottom of the gorge and were surrounded by incredible rock formations on either side. We climbed, repelled, forged streams, risked our lives (okay I'm exaggerating, but there were a bunch of obstacles, and it was super fun). We eventually made our way up to see one of the most stunning views I'll probably ever see. It was just so HUGE! The feeling was hard to describe.

We've got a couple more days in Nairobi before we leave for Uganda. We'll be spending our time doing some data entry (from all of the household surveys), spending the last of the grant money, meeting with partners about future plans and follow-up, and saying goodbye to all of the new friends we've made over the summer. I can't believe that it's already time to wrap up and head out. These two months went by way too fast, and I wish I could stay longer. I am super pumped to explore Uganda, though, and we've got some pretty exciting plans. Canoeing and staying on an island in Lake Bunyonyi, white water rafting on the Nile, no biggie. I'll be seeing you suckers soon!

Lake Naivasha

Campground near the lake

There were birds. Lots and lots of birds.

Hell's Gate NP

A view of Fischer's Tower

We saw tons of zebras!

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A geyser at the park's geothermal station

Inside the gorge

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Just a quick update while I'm passing through Nairobi. We just got back from Mombasa last night and we head out to Kisumu early tomorrow morning. It's a whirlwind!

Let me start with all of the fun stuff. A couple of weeks ago (has it really been that long?) we spent the weekend exploring Nairobi. In 2 days, we visited the elephant orphanage, the Kazuri ceramic bead factory, the National Museum, and the City Park. I don't know what I liked best! At the elephant orphanage, they brought out 19 baby elephants. They only allow visitors for one hour each day. None of the elephants are over 3 years old, and they are preparing them to re-enter the wild. They told the story of each elephant, how they found them, and how they were rescued. At the Kazuri bead factory, we were given a tour and saw each phase in the process of making the beads and ceramics. They employ over 100 women, most of whom are single mothers. All of the beads were so beautiful - I think we spent a couple of hours in the shop trying to decide which ones to bring home! 
At the elephant orphanage
Kazuri bead factory - millions to choose from!

The National Museum had some remnants and almost full skeletons of some of the earliest hominids. Many of the earliest humans identified have been found near Lake Turkana region in Kenya. The skeleton of one boy in particular (Turkana Boy) is 1.6 million years old! The museum also had a bunch of cultural artifacts and history of the different tribes in Kenya. We spent almost the whole day wandering around - educational and fun! We ended our Sunday at City Park. It was jam packed…with people and monkeys! The monkeys just roamed around everywhere, climbing all over the trees and people. A little terrifying, but they were cute :)

National Museum
Turkana Boy
After a couple days of work, we headed out to the southern coast of Mombasa. We spent some time getting to know the community group in the 'Bangladesh' slum. It's so different from Kibera. It's much more spaced out, organized, the houses are bigger, and there's even agriculture. It felt very much like a rural village compared to Kibera. But they didn't have a single toilet facility. Maji na Ufanisi is building one there, and it’s about half-way finished. The group was wonderful. With the location (near the school and market) and their support, this facility should be a success. We spent most of our time in Mombasa relaxing on the beach. We're about half way through our summer, and this was the perfect time for a little vacay. I ran on the beach each morning, swam in the Indian Ocean, and enjoyed the sunshine! We woke up one morning to a monkey in our house - he ate all of our bananas and pooped on the floor. Other than that, we had a great time!

Diani Beach, Mombasa
Outside of vacationing and being tourists, the project is still going really well. We got a group of about 20 women together and did a sanitary pad training. We taught them how to make the pads, and - more importantly - gathered their feedback on how to make them better and cheaper. They had some great ideas! They will be experimenting over the next few weeks to determine the most feasible and affordable way to make a pad that will meet the needs of the women and girls in Kibera. We also found our solution for disposal of the pads. We met with a guy from an organization called re:char. They make a simple incinerator that turns the contents of the burn into charcoal. In an agriculture context, the charcoal can be used as 'biochar' and incorporated into the soil to produce a better yield or better crops. In the context of Kibera, the charcoal can be sold and used as another income-generating activity for the facilities. So, ideally, the women will make and sell the sanitary pads, the attendants will incinerate the used pads, and sell the resulting charcoal at the facilities. We are just laying the groundwork this summer, but things are off to a good start!

Off to Kisumu tomorrow. We're doing a hygiene training with 100 midwives, and our hosts have been planning some other fun activities for us. I've heard rumors of Lake Victoria and hippos…fingers crossed!