Kitengela Diary

Last Sunday two things happened: there was a nationwide power cut across Kenya, and the rains finally arrived in (and flooded) Kitengela.  The internet has been down since last Saturday so I am really excited that today I can blog again!  It’s 4.25pm and I have just got back from school.
Last weekend was quite dull; Sophie and I tried hard not to die of boredom, as the family were away in Nakuru, there was no water at all, and then no electricity on Sunday, and very little food.  Plus we are not good at cooking without electricity or water, in fact we can barely even light the lantern!  On Saturday we went out to Nomads clubbing with Salome, and Colin, Sam and a woman joined us.  It was a really good night, and we came home about 1.30am.  The next day Salome left to go and visit her parents.  Antony phoned me to say he was going to take us to the Ostrich Farm to ride ostriches, but as the hours passed we waited and he never arrived!  For dinner that night we had a truly delicious meal of bread that we singed on the flame from the gas hob, ice cream, and vodka.  We were so very bored that we started drinking at 4pm.  Without water it is difficult to do so many things, you don’t even realise all the ways in which we use water, until it stops running.  The obvious things are that you can’t have a shower, wash your hands, have a drink, and the less obvious things are that you can’t wash any clothes (we don’t have many clothes and we need to wash each weekend), do the washing up, collect any drinking water to purify, or even flush the toilet.  Then the electricity went off as well, which meant we couldn’t listen to the radio, use the water purifier in the lounge, or have any light when the sun went down.  When Priscilla, David and everyone came back, Sophie and I had been sitting talking in the darkness, drinking vodka for such a long time that we couldn’t even remember when we’d started!

That was the night the rains hit, and it rained all night and all Monday.  Because Kitengela is just dust and mud and rubbish, the streets just turn to liquid mud in the rains.  The only place to walk on Monday was down the centre of the main road, which is slightly higher, and a lot more solid, than the rest of the ground.  It is very dangerous to walk there as this is where all the big trucks drive through on their way to Tanzania.  The matatu stage/depot was completely flooded, and the street down the post office was entirely underwater as well.  I waded through in my walking boots, once again being very glad that my mum made me bring them!  The electricity came back on Monday, but the water came back and went off again.  It’s really strange to think of there being a nationwide powercut, a whole country having no electricity for a day.  Just think of it for a moment, and you realise it could never happen in Britain.  Anyway it happened here, and I’m pretty sure the fact that the whole of Kenya was without electricity didn’t make it into any international news.

Since Sunday, I’ve been at school.  Francis the headteacher has decided that I now don’t have to take any big classes since I much prefer working with small groups of children.  Sophie told him this so I have her to thank for the change in my fortunes!  Yesterday I took two children, Benjamin and Catherine, to St. Therese Dispensary, a private medical centre in Kitengela.  They both have sores on their heads where they have been infected by a contagious fungal disease, so I got them seen by a doctor and given a course of antibiotics and ointment.  Catherine also had a fever so she had a blood test for malaria (she doesn’t have it) and some medication for that as well.  I waited at the Kobil petrol station for about two hours for Francis to come down from the school with the children.  He was definitely running on African time!  Luckily I saw Leah and Edwin, two other teachers who were also running on African time, as they were making their way to Nairobi.

I was sitting on a large log in front of the Kobil garage, beside a Maasai man in his red shawls, carrying his herding pole.  I could see his knife that the Maasai carry in a leather pouch from their waist.  I saw a whole car full of white people pull up, which is an extremely unusual sight; I smiled at them but they just stared blankly back at me.  They sat there for a while but none of them got out of the truck.  That was when I saw Leah and went over to talk to her.  Leah too had seen the Mzungu carload and she said they were in a U.N. Nissan truck probably on their way to Amboseli National Park, or Tanzania.  “They’re not stopping in Kitengela?” I asked, and she laughed and said “No, only volunteers come to Kitengela.”  I was very amused by the tourists after that, who won’t even step out of the car in the place where I live and go to work.  To be honest though there is nothing to get out for, and I doubt if I was in their position I’d be any different.  You’d have to be insane to visit Kitengela as a tourist.
After I had waited with Leah for a while, Edwin turned up, and I talked to him as Leah disappeared off to the internet cafe.  I have no idea how she took 50 minutes seeing as I know that the internet wasn’t working, but I had a nice talk with Edwin, and then Francis arrived on his motorbike, with the two children on the back.  He drove them to the medical centre and then he came back for me.  It was my first time ever on a motorbike, and I hope it is the last motorbike ride I take in Africa, because it was scary.  There was nothing to hold onto, no helmet, I was wearing shorts, t-shirt and a baseball cap, there was no road where we drove to, it was just potholes, mud, dust (the rain has mostly dried by now), litter and lots of rubble.  All it would need is to hit one stone, the motorbike would crash and I’m pretty sure we’d die!  It was kind of exciting but in a scary way.
Francis left the hospital to go and meet somebody, for about two hours in the African way, and me and the kids got everything sorted out at the hospital and then waited around in the sun.  The medical centre is very nice, one of the two nice parts of Kitengela, which could almost be Western, as they have paving stones (even ones that aren’t broken!), plants growing, and are clean places.  The private medical centre is one nice area, and the street with the internet cafe and the bank, which has an armed guard inside, is the other clean area.  The rest of Kitengela is indescribable.  I wish I could construct a holodec so you could all experience it, the way it looks, smells, sounds.  The stench from God only knows what, the absurd amounts of rubbish everywhere, the huts of corrugated iron, the donkeys and cows meandering across the main road, being beeped at by overcrowded, speeding matatus.  The donkeys pulling carts and the men pulling carts, often laden with big tubs of water being transported somewhere.  The crazy amounts of dust, the recently flooded areas, the mud, the billowing black smoke from trucks with engines that seem to have been discarded by the West twenty years ago as unfit for use, and are being used again in Africa, and will carry on being used until they literally fall apart.  The people cooking corn-on-the-cob on the side of the main road, selling fruits like pineapple, watermelon, mango, avocado; the men making and selling sandals made out of old tyres; men welding bits of metal together with ancient, dangerous equipment – I really can’t do it justice.
I gave the children lollipops after they had been to the doctor. Benjamin informed me that he really likes sweets and biscuits, and they are very good.  I was like, “right”… I think most people do, Benjamin!  The kids make me laugh, a lot, very often.  We walked with a nurse back to the main street, and then she showed me a barbers to take the children to, so they could get their heads shaved so it would be easier to put the ointment on them.  I gave her the money and she paid the barbers for me, so that they wouldn’t rip me off because I am white.  Which happens all the time, everywhere, and everybody knows that it happens.  Francis arrived later and we took the children to lunch in a place called Smile Cafe, which is basically in the slum, but I am no longer phased by slums and I walked in there as if I had been walking into slums my whole life.  We all had a cooked meal and a bottle of Fanta or Sprite each for under £1.  By the time we were finished it was too late for it to be worthwhile me going to school (since it takes about two hours to get there, with waiting for the matatu to load, driving there, then walking from the main road up to the school).  Benjamin really wanted me to meet his uncle, who is one of the men who make shoes out of old tyre.  Benjamin told me his uncle has only has one working leg because he fell out of a tree years ago and broke his leg, and there was of course no money to go to hospital.  There wasn’t time to meet the uncle so we put the children on the matatu and then I walked home to our house behind the Tosha petrol station.  I had a headache from being in the sun and was feeling very tired.  I played with Peter who was very excited to see me home earlier than usual and gave me a big hug as I came in.  I took some photos of him but as soon as you look at him through a camera he stops smiling, even though he normally smiles all the time!  The only way I could get him to smile while looking at the camera was if I pretended to be a horse.  But it is difficult to take photos when one is pretending to be a horse!  Then I made a video and Peter was very funny; as soon as I pressed record he went up and looked in the back of the camera, and then got confused why he couldn’t see himself there.  He didn’t understand that you have to make the video before you can watch it back again.

This morning I went to see Sophie’s school, Kepiro Primary School.  The library that she and Jessica have made is fantastic!  It is painted blue with lots of sea animals drawn on it: an octopus, tropical fish, a turtle.  And they have lots of new books that Jessica bought and Sophie did all the organisation today.  Priscilla drove me back to my school at Korrompoi and then came to meet Benjamin and Ndolo, the two boys I am helping.  It was really good she got to meet them as now she will be able to go and see how they are doing when I am not here anymore.
On the way home, Ndolo, Serah (one of the teachers) and I got a lift in a private matatu van.  They were very keen to talk to me and didn’t charge us a fare.  I did some supply shopping for our trip tomorrow and then came to the internet cafe.  Sophie turned up a bit later, but both of us have to leave soon as sunset is approaching.
Tomorrow Sophie and I are starting our big exciting adventure into Western Kenya and Uganda!  We are leaving tomorrow morning to go to Nairobi and catch a long-distance matatu to Kericho, which is an old colonial town where the lifestyle is still orientated around the large, very green, tea plantations.  After that we are going to Kakamega to see the rainforest and we’re staying in the “budget Treetops”, a lodge in the forest itself!  The Kakamega rainforest is the only real piece of rainforest in Kenya, and is an isolated part of the central African rainforest, which stretches east from the Congo river.  Then we’re off to Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya, which sits on the edge of Lake Victoria.  Then we are heading to the border town of Busia, and into Uganda!  Where we are going to stay in Jinja and from there travel to Bujagali Falls and see the source of the Nile!  We are both very excited and a little scared as Sophie is just as wildly adventurous and optimistic as me!
That’s all for now, I won’t be able to get online for a week now, but I will try to take lots of pictures.

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