Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First few days in Kenya

I've been in Kenya for three days now & it's been a reasonably relaxing few days, but with a few little things worth talking about. Also, if I do little spurts of story-telling, it won't be as tedious (for both reader & writer) to read as one big narrative. A reasonable enough nine hour flight straight through to Nairobi - but I don't particularly recommend Virgin Atlantic (they don't stop talking over the PA, the check-in is a nightmare, the entertainment is not on-demand [so if you miss the start of the movies every two and a half hours, you have to wait another two and a half hours] & the food is poor - I think I've been spoiled by Air NZ). But we did land early & I was through buying a visa, collecting my luggage & convincing customs that my bike was two years old (& therefore of no interest to them & their duty) before Adrian could get to the airport. As it was nine-thirty on a Sunday morning, the traffic driving northeast through Nairobi was sparse - but still the typical crazy one expects from a big third world city.

We stopped off on the way home at quite a western cafe (WiFi if I wanted it) for breakfast & continued the catch up. Adrian has been in Kenya for about a year and a half & is working for an organisation that arranges volunteers to come over & do work on various projects around East Africa (very busy, but by all accounts better than selling automatic sliding doors to shops in Auckland). Thankfully, ACTS is based a bit out of the city & it wasn't too long before we were at the house where Adrian lives with a workmate & a couple of guys who work for a similar organisation (GC) - the house also has accommodation for some of the volunteers. It's a good arrangement with the few permanent tenants (ACTS & GC rent it) & a stream of other expats staying for a little while or longer. I haven't quite worked out the history of the house, but it must be thirty or forty years old & I like to think maybe it was at the centre of a tea plantation. It's quite a large house (I think the lounge is almost bigger than the flat where I am staying in London) & comes complete with a great staff - there's always a guard at the gate (three at night), the maid comes in everyday (I'm not really used to my bed being made every day) & a gardener who has got the grounds in immaculate condition. It's all a little strange & takes a while to get used to. It's still quite odd that the internet here in Kenya is so much faster than what we had back in NZ.
After meeting a few housemates over (their) lunch at Brackenhurst (the nearby compound where the ACTS offices are), it was back to the house & I somehow got motivated to put my bike together. That afternoon Adrian took me on his running loop (I rode of course) that goes around Brackenhurst & through a lot of tea fields. Embarrassingly, no sooner had we got out the gate & Adrian veered off around the corner on a dirt track & I followed around on the grass, I put my front wheel in a big unseen hole & went straight over the bars - only damage was to my pride & a bit of a bruise on my thigh. I had never seen tea fields up close & was surprised to see how well established the little bushes were - for some reason I though that tea plants would be ones that are replaced every season or so. We were riding/running on dirt roads & tracks between the tea fields & it made for some good riding - unfortunately the hills quickly showed me up as being very hungry, tired, jet-lagged & most of all, quite out of shape. The downhills were a blast though (but one did have to be mindful of people walking up the opposite way) & I worked out that the hundreds of speed bumps everywhere aren't so bad on a bike - they are pretty horrendous in Adrian's short wheel base Suzuki (it brings back a lot of memories - it was one of these that I learnt to drive in). Adrian has been introducing his housemates to Flight of the Conchords so a fair few episodes were watched that night before a rather long sleep for me.
I've had to run away to the cool inside (thick stone walls & floors do have their advantages) as it's too hot sitting in the shade on the balcony. Monday was a pretty lazy day for me - nice sleep-in, sorted out my stuff a bit, watched the first half of NZ's innings in the third ODI against Pakistan, went for another ride around the same loop (knocked twenty minutes off the time) & then went out for dinner to see Inglorious Basterds with Joe & Nick. The roads are little bit easier to handle in long wheel-based Prado.

I was up well too early on Tuesday, as Adrian's work & house mate Carmen had organised for me to go in to a school in a slum in Nairobi with a couple of their volunteers. Jeff & Christina (from Montreal) had been to the school the previous week & in the meantime bought a whole lot of school supplies to give to the children & teachers. I wasn't too sure where the slum was, but it turned out to be near the airport as the big jets were coming in to land over the corrugated iron shacks. We had a later than intended start after two flat tyres on the ACTS van, but even so the trip took three times as long through the traffic as it did on Sunday. Naturally, as we got further in to the slum the squalour increased & the roads deteriorated - it was all pretty horrendous & looking out of the van on the drive reminded me of Nepal (except the skin colour is darker & there is a lot more English around). The head teacher was particularly pleased to have visitors & I was the only new visitor I was paraded through each class; upon our entrance all the students (the classes ranged from about four to eleven years old) would stand & then burst in to a welcome song, the students would introduce themselves in turn & then I would introduce myself. It was all very cute (they do love to sing). After we had distributed all the gifts & there were an awful lot of speeches & singing & dancing the kids went back to their homes for however much lunch they could get. After lunch I somehow found myself alone in front of a blackboard trying to teach ten year olds how to convert from metres to kilometres and vice versa. As I always suspected, there is a good reason I'm not a teacher - it was just as well the content was pretty easy & they all seemed to know what there were doing. I slowly managed to get hold of writing on the blackboard & avoiding the potholes in the concrete floor without falling over. Hopefully that is the end of my teaching career, as interesting as it was.
Yesterday I finished the book that I had picked up the day previous. It was a well thumbed copy of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I'm not sure where I had heard of it before, but was pretty certain that I had. It gave a fascinating insight it why America is so disliked around the world. This guy's job, in a nutshell, was to go to developing countries & provide very inflated & unsubstantiated economic forecasts of what their country could do with a new infrastructure, convince them to borrow the money needed to develop the infrastructure from the World Bank or IMF or such-like, spend all the borrowed money on American firms to build the infrastructure & then when the forecasts didn't prove quite right they are saddled with billions of dollars of debt & in America's pocket when needed for oil, votes at the UN, military bases & so on. That's my very quick summary, but it was very interesting book.

Carmen is taking me to another project this afternoon, but I have no idea what....

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