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Obehi Ilenikhena

Obehi Ilenikhena- Happy Travels

I am O and this is my Happy Travels blog. A little about me: I attend the University of Illinois at Chicago and I'm currently working on my second degree in Public Health concentrating in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (EOHS) and Global Health, mainly focusing on Water and Wastewater Management. Since I am in EOHS and the Global Health Concentration, I chose an internship that will meet both requirements which is taking me to Kisumu, Kenya working with the Safe Water and AID Project (SWAP).

July 19, 2017; Budget Tips- Planning your Kenyan Trip for 2 Months

This post is mostly for students planning on doing their internship in Kenya. Most specially, students from UIC doing their Masters in Public Health.

SWAPKENYA logo
Where I lodge next to Lake Victoria

Being a Global Health and Environmental Health student focusing in water quality, I had to fulfill both requirements from both concentrations. So, I applied to the UIC SPH Kenyan Program. The program varies depending on your focus. Since I am focusing on water quality specifically, I wanted to learn about water quality in an African country (new potential career path); I was placed with SWAP– Safe Water and AIDS Project in Kisumu. This NGO has other non-water related project as well; so, it is a well-rounded organization. I think UIC students do their internship in Western Kenya, mainly Kisumu, due to the relationship built with the organization by UIC.

Where I lodge next to Lake Victoria
SWAPKENYA logo

The school took care of basic worries (housing and food). We did a home-stay with a family that has worked with a professor from UIC (Dr. Bob Bailey) and the UIC SPH. The home stay provides meals, except during weekdays when we are at work. You can decide to take lunch from home if you don’t want to buy food outside. However, if your work takes you out of the office constantly to do fieldwork, it is best to buy food outside. Besides, you need to eat local food to truly enjoy the country.

Anyway, the only thing not covered by the school is when the budget tip comes in.

Upon arriving at Nairobi, we got picked up by an arranged contact that has worked with Dr. Bob. Therefore, we didn’t spend money on a taxi.

He showed us part of Nairobi. P.S. Nairobi is a little bit more expensive in terms of eating out.

1.Giraffe sanctuary: 1,000ksh entrance fee (~$10) for people older than 25 years old.
2.Elephant sanctuary: 1,000ksh
3.Lunch (depending on what you ordered- >800ksh (>$8 depending on where you go).

2 months Budget in Kisumu

1.Transportation and Food combined for 2 months= $500
2.Flight: $1,200 maximum. If you spend more than that. You booked late.
3.Visa: Kenyan visa (can be bought in Kenya $50 or East African visa $100 if you plan on going to other East African countries.
4.Activities: Safari trip ($300 max, look for student discounts when booking. You don’t need luxury style of touring). Other trips: ~$250 if you take buses to your destinations. Total $550
5.Miscellaneous: making/buying an African print outfit, buy gifts for people, etc. If you budget your spending well, you don’t need extra money. Be smart about how you spend. Live within your means.

TOTAL = $1,000 + FLIGHT

Make sure you have an account/card in the US that doesn’t charge international fees at the ATM. If you do, it’s best to bring what you need and exchange the cash as you need. DO NOT EXCHANGE ALL YOUR MONEY AT ONCE BECAUSE RATES FLUCTUATE and the bank withdrawal gives you less than a money exchange center. So, change your dollars according to your needs.



Two months is almost over and I have spent about $700 and that is due to buying gifts for everyone in the US.



So, don’t freak out if this is your first international work. Due to the good relationships built by the school, we were received well. I work with hardworking and funny people at SWAP and they are more than willing to help. Don’t be lazy and do your work. Converse, be friendly and open-minded and I promise that you will not want to leave Kenya after your internship experience is over!

July 18, 2017; Trip to Maasai Mara

So, I told myself that I won’t become one of those tourists in Kenya that does a safari trip, but then I caved in when my co-workers told me the beauty of the Mara. N, my colleague, found a booking company that would help us arrange for the safari trip. I am not too sure of the company’s name, but there are tons of company in Kisumu for this trip.

Anyway, we booked the 3-day safari package. Since we are students, we did not want to pay the full price, so N tried to get us the student package. Normally, in order to guarantee a student discount, you are to book a month in advance, maximum 2 weeks. We booked our trip a week in advance and still got the discount! Also, the more people you have, the less you pay. In total, we were six tourists that would board a safari van.


It is best to do these trips on a Friday, that way, you enjoy your weekend. Also, July-October is the best time to see wildebeests migration. We did our tour towards the end of June, so the migration had already begun. The wildebeests migrate from Tanzania to Kenya.

On Friday, we met with the agent and paid the fee of 12,300ksh (~$120). Then, we boarded the tour bus. From Kisumu to the Mara, it takes about 6 hours. Now, the safari trips come in packages. The more you pay, the better the accommodation and tour van. Like stated, we are students and did not want to spend more than we can afford, hence the price. So, upon arriving at the Mara, we lodged Mara Sida Camp which was a three-minute drive from the Mara. That means we lodged outside the Mara.


After paying the gate entrance fees (we ended up paying $45 instead of the initial $80 as we showed our student ID), we learned the rules of the Mara. At the entrance of the Mara, it is guarded by park rangers and soldiers. There were also women selling some Maasai items. Be warned! They swarm you like flies and you have to be ready to say no and hold your ground or buy something. They are pretty affordable than in town, but you can still negotiate the prices.

When we began our first tour in the Mara, I was in awe. Words cannot express my emotions on how beautiful the savanna was. We toured for 2 hours coming across wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelle, common-ground zebras, cheetahs, lions, elands, birds, acacia tree, etc. Below you will see many pictures from the tour!








There were a lot of tour vans/buses that surrounded these animals, so the animals were on high alert. There was a group of loud private tour cars and we felt it was best to drive away from the crowd before we saw a person get attacked by the lions and/or buffaloes. Buffaloes are unpredictable, so it’s best to stay far away.

Around these animals we were told to be quiet as not to draw attention. We drove off and came across a wounded lonely hippo. We got closer to get a picture, when hippo sensed our presence, stopped, stared at us.

We continued the drive deep into the savanna and it is just beautiful the way the mountains and plain lands mesh. Wildebeest, zebra and Thomson gazelle co-habitat. We continued to drive when we spotted a small landing site where planes come in. I guess you can fly into the Mara because not too far were some camps inside the Mara.



After our day adventure, we rested for a while and at about 4:30pm, Lucas had arranged for us for the Maasai security guards to give us a tour in this Maasai region. First of all, the Mara (reserve) is located in the Maasai land. Secondly, since this is their home, they are the security guards found in most camps. The reason being that they are experienced in knowing how to “deal” with wild animals that occasionally come into town. It is a clash of humans and animals. Anyway, our tour guide, Makeno was a delight. Not only does he speak English, but he was funny.


Many do not know, but the Maasai of the 21st century are now integrated with the western ways. So, they are advocates for education, especially for the young ones. Hence, they have a community center and a school inside the center. I am not sure if this is in every Maasai unit, but, this was the case in this particular town where we were lodged. Upon entering the village, we were greeted by Makeno’s younger brother, John, who is a university student just visiting home. He encouraged us to take pictures and/or record our interaction with them.

They performed a lovely welcoming dance, taught us how to make fire and we were split into groups to go into their homes where they told us more of their lifestyle in modern age. Afterwards, they persuaded us to buy some items, which we unfailing did. Though, they are pushy bargainers, so you need to know how to bargain, or you end up paying the price they call at you. At the moment the exchange rate is ($1/100ksh). So, paying them in Kenyan Shillings or dollars was the same. I did some transactions in dollars and shillings. Most items can be found in the Maasai market in Kisumu, but the prices vary, (though, I found them to be similar, recently).


*Touring the Maasai village costs about 2,000ksh and that’s because the money goes to the community center. Thankfully, Lucas spoke to them and they gave us a discount of 1000ksh. I know this because I confirmed with a different guide who said he charged his tourists the regular price.


On Sunday at 7:30am, before leaving, we had a “photoshoot” with the Maasai guards and I gained a “husband” in Makeno as he took a huge crush on me, haha! We headed out of camp, after having breakfast, heading home. We had the option of touring again before leaving, but Saturday’s day-long tour was enough. If we had decided to tour again, we would have spent an additional $45 for a two-hour tour. Overall, we had a great experience. Our tour guide, Lucas, was the best! I will find out more details about the booking and update the information. Lucas, a vet in his field, is the best. He has been doing this tour for 9 years and he loves it. If you love your tour guide, it’s best to appreciate them after the tour. He knows a lot about the animals and what there is to know about the reserve.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I am glad I went. Make sure you hold a scarf or long-sleeved shirt. On our way, it was hot and dusty, but at night the temperature dropped. Also, it gets cooler in the van when touring.

*Total money spent on this trip $168 as compared to the $270 I had budgeted for. WORTH EVERY PENNY. As a student, DO NOT FORGET YOUR STUDENT ID in order to get the discount and do ask for a student discount or you pay the foreigner’s price.*

July 15, 2017; Getting Around Kisumu

Transportation by Bodaboda is a cheap way to get around, but also a way to test your negotiating skills. So, in my previous blog, I mentioned how easy your life will be if you become short-time “bffs” with a bodaboda man. Having a trusted bodaboda guy will save you the hassle of negotiating prices anytime you go out. Just tell them your agenda for the day and when you would like them to be available. They are easily reliable.

I have made friends with some of them; however, calling them and making arrangement is bothersome on my part. I usually just hop on any bodaboda, but before I do, I ask for the price. From Dunga (where I stay) to work is 50ksh. If I don’t go with my regulars, I get charged 70-100ksh. I look at the man and tell him flat out, “I am paying 50, don’t think I don’t know you are trying to do.” I say this all the time, so they just smile and tell me to hop on and off I go. Usually from home to town is 50, but if going further it can be 70-100ksh. You just have to negotiate if you believe the price to your location is unreasonable.

From work back home, the bodabodas try to charge me 70-100ksh and that’s due to the fact that my work is located in a richer suburb, so they assume I should have the money. Even though I’ve made friends with all of them and they greet me by my nickname every morning I come to work, they still insist I pay 70ksh. If they keep insisting I pay 70 instead of 50, I walk to either a different bodaboda stop or just walk home. It is not about the money, but sometimes, the bodaboda charge more than they should just because they can. Therefore, you just have to be smart and stick to a strict negotiating manner, or you get ripped off.

Tuk-tuk Rider

There are also other ways of getting around. Hopping on a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled bike) which is a little bit more expensive, about 200ksh can take you to places that are a little bit farther. I haven’t taken a tuk-tuk because my personal travels are within town.

Another form of transportation is a matatu (bus). This is when you are going to places farther than town. I use this when I am going to the field, but hardly. It depends on where you are headed, but the price usually ranges from 100-200ksh. You just negotiate with the conductors. If you don’t speak Swahili or Luo (Kisumu is mostly Luo tribe), then just pay the amount because the conductors are harder to negotiate with.


Matatu

Lastly, a bicycle is an option to get to your nearest destination. They are the cheapest form of transportation, but sometimes, they charge the same price as a bodaboda. As you can see, if you don’t have a car, there are quite a few options of getting around. If you are super rich, you can board a taxi and call it a day. Otherwise, live like a local and enjoy the adventure.

Passenger on a Bodaboda and a Bicycle

July 14, 2017; Equator Line

Who knew the equator passes through Kenya? Now, I know. Apparently, “Kenya is among only 13 countries in the world that the equator passes through and with some of the most impressive landscapes and wildlife on earth.” (Africa geographic).

P and I

So, doing fieldwork, my colleagues and I went to a different county, Vihiga county; Vihiga county borders Nandi to the East, Kisumu County to the South, Siaya County to the West and KAKAMEGA County to the North. We stopped at Luanda constituency in Vihiga to assess the water kiosk located in the market, as we plan on installing chlorine doser at some water kiosk sites that do not treat their water.

Equator Line resort

On our way back to the worksite, B, our driver, asked if I had been to the equator. Coming out of Luanda, we hit Maseno, which is a town in Kisumu county. Less than 20 minutes from where we left Luanda, I saw the sign, EQUATOR LINE.

Equator Line @ Maseno

We stopped at the roadside to take a picture when a guide approached us and told us about the “magic” of the equator. “The equator runs across Kenya almost in the middle, passing 6km north of central Kisumu. Here you are able to stand with one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and one foot in the Northern Hemisphere as you face the mystery of the line that separates them.” (Africa Geographic).

O, B and guide

In the southern hemisphere, the water runs clockwise and in the northern hemisphere, it runs counterclockwise and in the center, it doesn’t move. Pretty cool. So, for 100 shilling (<$1), the guide did a quick demonstration which I think is cool. There are different places that you can cross the equator line and the location we stopped at is one of them. Hence, the description of Vihiga county.


Chapati and Fried Tilapia


Ugali and meat

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch before heading back to work. The results for the fieldwork came out to be disappointing because we did not get kiosks or sites that met the requirements and it was raining and cloudy for the most part. I think that this was the highlight of the day that made our mood brighter.

July 11, 2017; Ozone Disinfection

Can ozone disinfection provide clean and safe water?
K, a colleague from UIC is in Kenya for two weeks and he is doing some quick research on using ozone to disinfect water.
Simple research question: after ozonation, how long will E. coli remain in the water?

Solar panel, Ozone generator and Aerator. Device was made by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

So far, the easier method being used to disinfect water is by chlorination. However, by ozonation, that can change. Ozonation is layman’s term for when oxygen (air) gets mixed with O2 from the device that produces it, and it turns into O3. Using solar as a source of power, we turn on the device and place an aerator in the clay pot of water we are testing. It then bubbles and we leave that to do its work for about 2-3 hours.

Clay pots commonly found in rural homes

First, the water source is from River Kisian, about a 30-minute drive from SWAP. About 80L is fetched because we want to have at least three different samples of disinfection, ozonation, chlorination and control. Ozonation is what I explained above and chlorination is the simple technique of placing 2 caps of waterguard in the water, stir up and allow to sit. Meanwhile, the control is just untreated water which sits for the duration of the trial. We conduct the test every day, but do new trials every other day; meaning, we fetch water every other day from the river because the trial takes 24 hours to get the results. We want to know after ozonation, do E. coli activity occur when the water sits out for a duration of days? How long can the water sit out for, for people to use? In terms of chlorination, water can sit out for at least 3 days.



We try to replicate people’s lifestyle by using clay pots that are common in most rural homes and sitting the water out for at least a day; K is on a time-crunch. Also, the cultural belief is that when people see water bubbles/hot/boiling, they believe that their water is being disinfected. Ozonation does a similar chemistry, only it doesn’t get hot. Besides, boiling is not a sure effective way of disinfecting water. There are some bacteria/viruses that have a high boiling point. I digress, but, one challenge we faced was when it rained. Water from the river was highly turbid (due to heavy rain which can cause run-offs into the water-defeats the purpose and most don’t fetch water from the river when it rains, they collect rainwater). So, we took a pause on the study and will resume again on a good day.


Using UV light to read the E. coli results after conducting the tests

Once this study turns out to be successful, this method of disinfection can be implemented in rural homes. People can easily disinfect their water without them having an excuse of stating that the water tastes or smells funny (an effect of chlorination). Though, while ozonizing, it produces a funky smell, so we did the study outside the lab. People will be advised to disinfect in a well-ventilated area.


E. coli results. The dark ones suggest activity. The less the better

While we are not fully there yet, we are halfway there and K and Dr. D are making huge efforts in making sure that we get the right results. We conducted community assessments and it turns out that people are ready for this device to be installed in their homes/community. Most do use chlorination, others allow their water to sit out, but with this new method of disinfection, they are eager.

Of course, there is more to this, but this is a simple, non-boring explanation of ozonation and how it will be implemented in regions that are prone to water-borne illnesses.

June 9, 2017; Market Day- Kibuyen

Sunday is Funday!
We decided to explore some more on Sunday and no better way to familiarize yourself in town without knowing where the market is. Not the fancy supermarket, but the let’s get down to business market. This is where your bargaining skills come in handy, so you don’t get rusty.

In Kisumu, Sunday is where everything and everyone gets down. Vendors, retailers, wholesalers and whatever “-rs” there is, Sunday is the day to be out. Claimed to be one of the largest open markets in East Africa, this place is not a place for a child. If you are not ready to buy, step aside, because the next customer is awaiting.

So, “Diya,” our host relative, took us to the Kibuye market. From the house to town, we rode on bodaboda (bike) which cost about 50ksh to Jubilee market, where we then jumped in a matatu (bus) for 10ksh to the market. Upon arriving at the market, the weather changed from breezy to hot and humid.

N trying to bargain

Diya showed us around the market, where to get clothes, shoes, food items, etc. There is a section for everyone and we were not about to leave empty-handed. We priced and haggled, but no avail. We searched and didn’t find what we wanted. We walked and sweated, but our thirst could not be “cured” by drinking water. Fine, I am not a poet. But, we itched our throats to bargain and at the end, we came out defeated.

Okay, fine. I came out defeated. I didn’t get what I want. I wanted a skirt and sandals, but the skirts were either overpriced, too big, too small, or not what I wanted. Also, who knew Kenyan women had small feet. I do not have freakishly long feet, but I could only find my size in bathroom slippers!

It was a fun experience. We chatted with the vendors, some made fun of me for not buying, others tried to get me to purchase what I didn’t want after calling me madam and stating that if I purchased their goods, I will look younger. They spoke to me in Swahili or Luo and I realized that I innately have deer-doe eyes because I was confused as to what was spoken. My mzungu (white) colleagues fared better than I because the vendors communicated English to them. Oh well, this is a learning lesson. I will do better and come back home with my skirt next time.

June 9, 2017; What Exactly Am I Doing in Kenya?

SWAP has couple of water kiosks that provide clean water in a low-income community. In collaboration with Stanford University and other partners, there is ongoing research where Stanford has provided SWAP with four refined prototypes of venturi chlorine doser.

Added 4 chlorine bottles

These dosers will be installed in four different water kiosks in Kisumu, Siaya county. In partnering with SWAP,  the SWAP team is responsible for evaluating the device’s long-term dosing consistency of chlorine (treated water) and community acceptance. Then, they send the data collected to Stanford. In layman’s term, SWAP is helping Stanford in these local communities get access to clean water.

What is Venturi Chlorine Doser?

Chlorine bottle

The dosing device automatically doses water with chlorine at the tap and the purpose of the dose is to provide consistent and correct dosing across a range of flow rates and at various types of community water points.

Level

At each station, there is a kiosk owner and all they have to do is refill their chlorine tanks with a small bottle of chlorine that is provided to them, since the doser automatically dishes out the “right” amount of chlorine. The objective is to make a convenient device for the kiosk owner, so that they don’t feel burdened to not provide clean and accessible water to the community.

20170608_121414

If this project is successful, the device would offer a new way for water treatment in low-income areas. That is to say that, there will be little required from the community members to change their behavior in terms of where to get clean water from. There is hope that it would become a widespread acceptance in the community.

Os at Site 4

What SWAP team does is send two field water testers to the four sites, one person is in charge of two sites, and everyday, they conduct water tests on the device dosing consistent chlorine at these community faucets with differing sources and flow rates. The results collected will be sent to Stanford where they begin to plan for the next stage.

What’s the Purpose of this Research?

Site 1

Kenya was going through a drought and some places did not have water access (clean water). Water was being rationed to flow few hours a day. Currently, that is not the case. Since it has been rainy for some months, most collect rain water and there are less people at the kiosk. What I learned and have noticed is that there are stores that sell chlorine-water treatment purposes, yet I see those chlorine still fully stocked. Most people do not take the extra step of purchasing chlorine or chlorinated water (treated water) at the kiosk because of the smell and taste of chlorine.

Cholera Outbreak

Chlorine residual stays longer after water leaves the tap to prevent contamination. My concern is that there are people that fetch water from the untreated sources, when a treated source is available and are aware of this fact but they continue to purchase untreated water. Earlier this year, Kenya went and is still going though a bad season of cholera outbreak.

Doser

Cholera is caused by drinking contaminated water. With the option of buying treated water ranging from 2ksh (2 cents) to 5ksh (~5cents) for 20L of jerry can, you wonder why the outbreak is still rampant. People stick to old habits. I asked Jared, the lab manager, about some of the questions I thought of as I visited the sites and he states that due to limited resources, they cannot conduct a community assessment, which I thought would be a great way of understanding why the community stick to the old ways.

How does water testing work?

OS

Now, the purpose of this study is to provide clean water to the community and making sure that the dosing device automatically doses water with chlorine correctly. So, at these sites, the field water tester uses a portable device called a colorimeter. A reagent (DPD free chlorine) is added to the water being tested. It reacts with the chlorine in the water and turns the solution pink which is proportional to the amount of chlorine in the water.  The instrument measures the absorbency of light at a certain wavelength and converts it into a concentration of free chlorine in the sample.

Pink color

This testing is done daily, so that at the end of the research, the next stage is planned to know how to properly design a prototype that doses out the correct amount of chlorine without the smell/taste affecting people from getting treated water.

Are there other options?

Me

Chlorination is not the only way of disinfecting water. Before coming to SWAP, I was working with a professor (aka my boss), PhD students, a recent undergrad in microbiology and my water management professor. They are conducting a study on using ozone to disinfect water and that is to be a prototype that would be used in Kenya with SWAP’s assistance. In addition to using a solar device to disinfect water, there are other ways to make sure that one has access to clean water. The question is how sustainable and affordable will they be and how well will these low-income community receive these new gadgets? Time will tell.

June 6, 2017; Nairobi, Kenya

After landing in Nairobi, the next day, our host decides to take us to acouple of places, just to unwind, get a few things and get settled in Kenya which will be our home for the next 2 months. So, off we go.

First stop, David Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage. Gate fee, 1000ksh ($10.00). Our host and his wife took us to see the baby elephants that were orphaned due to numerous causes. Hearing their stories, mostly human cause, made me realize that as humans, we need to be compassionate to ourselves and every other living creature. We need to not let our greed cloud our judgments.

Anyway, this orphanage is a haven that protects wildlife and conserves habitats in Kenya. Depending on the state an elephant or rhino is found, they are sent back into the wild after recovery. Though, in my mind, I do not think that is possible for these animals to survive in the wild because they are being domesticated as they rely on humans, so their chance of survival is 20% or less in the wild. However, for the time being, it was nice to see the elephants enjoy themselves in their relaxed environment.

There were some mischievous elephants that just wanted to put on a show, hehe, but it was a nice moment with the elephants as people were able to see them in their domesticated form. Though, I did not touch one, they came really close at certain times.

 

Next stop, Giraffe Centre in Lang’ata (Karen county). Gate fee (children under 3= free; 3-23 years old 500ksh [$5], >23 years old 1000ksh with student id [$10]). A, N and myself said we were older than 23 years old, so we paid adult price. Our host chided us for not stating that we were younger than that. Hehe. Anyways, once we entered the center, we were given pellets to feed the giraffe. We meet Kelly, Ed and other giraffes.

By now, you should get the sense, that I am not a big fan of animals, so I did not feed the giraffe. I did manage to stroke Ed’s neck it with my index finger, hehe, while he was being fed by other people. If you got close to the giraffes and you are not paying attention, you get headbutted by them. Hehe. Overall, it was a nice visit as some people tried to get slimy kisses from giraffes. Ew.

Lastly, we drove to the mall to get exchange money, get a sim card/phone line and eat at ArtCafe. Then, we stopped on a hill roadside to see the city center of Nairobi. Such beauty.

I am really sad that I lost my videos and pictures, luckily, N was able to upload some photos. Hence, photo Credit: Nicholas Andrew.

 

June 6, 2017; A Day with Bob

Each division has a Field Experience Advisor who can meet with students to discuss their interests, brainstorm possible projects, and answer questions.

Saturday, 8:30am, it is time for a hike.What a day! So, my colleagues (A and N) and I (3 in total) took a boda-boda (motorbikes-50ksh/~50 cents) to our professor’s home, Dr. Bob. Upon reaching, we almost immediately leave as we jumped into his Toyota pick up truck.

We left Kisumu headed for Kakamega Forest Reserve. It is a tropical rainforest located in the Kakamega and Kisumu Counties. It is also close to the border of Uganda. So, we set out on our hour and half journey and got to our destination at about 10:15 am. Before we set out into the forest, we stopped at Rondo Retreat, which is at Kakamega village.

Rondo Retreat

After dropping off the car at Rondo’s. We begin our walk into the rainforest. It rained the night before, hence, wearing white sneakers was not the best idea I set out to do. 2 minute into the rainforest, I got stuck in the mud and almost fell, luckily, my stamina was good. Hehe. We continued into the the muddy, wet rainforest. We hear sounds from left and right wondering what made that noise when suddenly Dr. Bob stops and looks up. What do we see, a blue monkey hanging in the forest canopy.

We continued our walk after taking pictures and trying to find other blue monkeys. We spotted some berries, guava and other fruits. Also, spotted some faunas that were beautiful. Anyways, about forty-five min into the hike, I tripped on a huge branch and an hour into our hike, we finally got to the edge of the hill. Whoo! We stopped to rest (Dr. Bob knew I was struggling to keep up, so he suggested we stop). Finally, we are out of the rainforest as the sun shines its radiance on us. Five  minutes later after the rest, my heart rate is back to normal, but, we begin again. This time, we are climbing higher on the dry, sunny hill, out of the forest.

Stuggling As we climb up the hill, my heartbeat was beating fast and my breathing was almost to the point of wheezing (I am so not fit). I get half way and stop to rest, when Dr. Bob comes by my side to check up on me. By this time, I could see the nice view and decided to stop. However, that was not the case, Dr. Bob did not want me to sit under the sun. So, he urged me to climb up the hill just a little bit farther to rest underneath the shade.

 

Looking up the hill, I thought, yea right. “Dr. B, please go ahead. I can rest here until you guys get down.” “O, it is just a few climb up, I will help you.” Not to be a party pooper, I took his challenge as I screamed up the hill. Remember my white sneakers, those shoes had no traction whatsoever. So, I kept sliding and screaming. I decided to climb with my hands and with the guidance of Dr. Bob, I finally got to the shade. Yes. Success. As I was catching my breath, my two colleagues took a walk inside of a old gold mine, now bat cave, as Dr. Bob kept me company.

The journey wasn’t over. Though, the view from the cave/shade was beautiful, it wasn’t as beautiful as getting to the top of the hill. Regardless of the view, I love my life so much. so, I set to rest under the shade, while Dr. Bob and colleagues went to the top of the hill to look at the view from the other side. As they were gone for about 20 min, I had a battle of my own, chasing away annoying flies and bees. I sprayed my eucalyptus and lemongrass concoction and that seemed to take no effect to chase away the annoying pest, instead attracted them closer to me.

Anyways, the gang were back and we headed back to the Rongo. Though, going down the steep hill was no joke, and my whole body was shaking intensely. Luckily, one of my colleague lent his shoulder as support and we walked sideways downhill. It was a success. Though, there was more screaming and cursing involved hehe.

Exit

On our way to Rongo, we spotted some Colobus monkeys. We got to the retreat center and cleaned up. Then, had a nice and filling lunch: salad, spaghetti bolognaise and banana pudding. We chilled underneath the shade outside the huge garden space of the reserve. An hour and half later, we set out back to Kisumu in the rain.

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Before our ride back, we quickly stopped at Kakamega Forest Reserve, a stone throw away from the Rongo, and there are rented bamboos huts in the middle of the forest. Inside the bamboo huts is really cool. I believe that the reserve is eco-friendly due to the environmental projects we see before getting to the hut.  If you love monkeys and want to watch them being natural, this is for you. The keeper of the compound explains the prices if you want to be more adventurous with the monkeys.

One night =9,000 ksh (~$9)

Gate fee= 600ksh (~$6)

Meal preparation = 1000ksh (~$10.00)

Overall you spend less than $30/per person at this reserve

Overall, it was a fun experience, even though, muddy hiking or elevation is not my thing. I still enjoyed my time and enjoyed the day with Dr. Bob, A and N.

June 5, 2017; Dunga, Kisumu, Kenya

It has been a week and four days since I have been in Kenya and one week and two days since I have been in Dunga, Kisumu. What an experience. Kisumu is a big sub-county in the Siaya county. I leave, literally behind the second largest lake in Africa, Lake Victoria.

Though, I cannot see the lake with my eyes due to reeds growing in the backyards, I am able to hear the ripples of the water at night, the grunts of hippos that live in the water, the calls Hadada Ibis birds make over and over again “HADADA” and the howls of local dogs at the wee hours of the morning. We do see hippos at night at the backyard grazing which is pretty neat. It is always too dark to get a good picture, but hopefully one day I will.

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Dunga is home to some of Kenya’s prestige, yet it is home to some who are looking for an affordable place to live. A mixture of modernized home and rural is Dunga. With cows, chickens, goats and sheep, with local dogs parading the street, you assume you are in the village. The next turn you make, you see famous tourist sites, like Hippo Point, Kiboko Bay Resort, Yatch Club, Dunga Hill Camp, the Dunga beach, the famous fish market, Impala Sanctuary, etc. I don’t know about you, but these places do not sound rural. At these famous site, you can lookout at the Lake and enjoy the most beautiful sunset.

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One morning, on my way to work, one of the boda boda guys who usually gives me a ride to work started chatting. At the end, he said he is glad that we are in town because we are doing a lot for the community, also, it is good to see different faces almost every month because he gets to talk about something different. Getting familiar with a boda boda guy will take you far. Not only will they respect you, they won’t take advantage of you, being new in town and all, they are familiar with lots of places. So, advice. Get to know who they are. They will be your best friend within the short amount of time you are in town.

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June 5, 2017; First Day at SWAP- Kenya

So, I have officially started my internship at SWAP. What an amazing two days experience before the weekend. I already have learned so much on the different projects that SWAP embarks on. It is crazy how one small NGO is able to do so much with limited resources, staff and funding, yet they are able to uplift a community within their scope.

Awasi

I jumped right into action on Wednesday after introduction day on Tuesday, May 30th. First of all, by now, you should know that I have emphasized on Kenya’s beauty. On my way to site visits, I was able to see what Kenya has to offer, also the lack of what it yet to offer. Going deep into the villages and how one village has one health center that is understaffed, or one village having one source of clean water is amazing how the people of these communities are surviving.

They are resilient people, yet there is so much to be done. I have come to learn that Kenya is a country that is heavily reliant on donors and NGO. The question is once donors and NGOs decide to stop funding these projects that sustain a community, then what?

What is the government doing for its country in order to have a fallback plan? At the moment, there is a lot that needs to be addressed, but a lot of donors, sponsors, NGO are the main source of provision or are the one entering the community to help it live. However, with the recent U.S. administration and lots of donors pulling out of Kenya or stopping its funding due to the current election period in Kenya. The question is how sustainable can Kenya be?

Aheri

May 30, 2017; A Homey Welcome

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After leaving Nairobi at 8:30pm, we set out to the Western part of Kenya. You know the stereotypes you hear from people in the west as an African: “are elephants living side by side with you?” “Do you see lions everyday? Or do you play with monkeys?” Well, that is definitely not the case in Kenya or anywhere in Africa. However, I fell into that stereotype when I asked Chief, our host in Nairobi, on our car ride to Kisumu, if Zebras were considered pets. Well, he laughed and quietly said sure, “if you want it to be.”Of course, as an African, I can make this silly joke. Why? Because for a second, I was a tourist in a foreign land.

9Baboons, Zebras, donkeys, snakes, etc.  were commonly found by the road side as we drove by to our destination. “Now, these animals are in certain parts of the area” as Chief  stated, “in an hour, we will see baboons on the road.” And surely, that we did.

Anyways, animals were not the only attractions. We saw the Rift Valley and popular lakes, one of which is called Lake Nakuru. According to Chief, flamingos are common in those areas. After taking our oictures of the fantastic views,  2.5 hours into the ride, we stopped at a mall in Nakuru, called Westside Mall; not too far from the lake Nakuru and the Rift Valley. It is the hub of Nakuru, the fourth largest city in Kenya.  A modernized, commercial mall in the heart of the Rift Valley. “Nakuru”means “dust or dusty place” in Maasi language. 

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Well, after our short stay (bathroom stop at a fancy KFC- Kentucky Fried chicken and Java House), we were back on the road. We saw different plantations, one in particular, tea. I have not seen so much tea vegetation in my life. Tea is a major cash crop grown in Kenya and one of the people’s favorite pastime. Everywhere we went, restaurants, Chief’s, in Kisumu, “would you like some tea?” “Coffee?” “Tea?” I had to cave in and what do I know, Kenyans grow some sweet tea. Anyways, it was a beautiful site to behold and I believe it is one of the county’s tourist attractions, Nandi County.

Finally, we arrive at about 2:13pm Kisumu. More precisely, Dunga. Such a friendly welcome at Dunga in which I will talk about next blog.

“KARIBU”= WELCOME

KWAHERI = LATER

 

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