“owahyou?”

007Walk past any group of children in many parts of Kenya as a mzungu and you will be greeted with this amalgam of three words. It is often surprising how clear the English is from such young children, but then it is a very well practised saying. As is the one which usually comes next “give me somesing”, or “give me sweets” or “give me money”, or “I am very hangry” (I can relate) or “give me your bag” or “give me your shoes, my shoes are very bad”. Sometimes all of the above, constantly, from about six children who follow you the half mile walk from the main road to the Bakehouse. Sometimes people greet you with a beautiful agenda-less smile, but not very often. This begging can be heart wrenching, amusing, and it can also be incredibly annoying. I will never forget the young woman’s face who asked for some money for milk for her baby as the car stopped in traffic in Nairobi, and the “please help us” as we pulled away. It is sad, but I have adopted a no-to-everyone policy, otherwise you would have nothing left. Sometimes this policy can be broken, and that was one of those moments when I wish I had.

For some kids it has become a game to see what they can get out of people, others really are starving, but not most of the ones I have met. You can be walking along thinking there is no-one for miles around and all of a sudden an “owahyou” will drift on the wind from a tree a quarter mile away and then a small hand waving in the distance. When walking through some of the poorer slum-like areas as you get closer to the lake in Nakuru, kids are not so used to white people and their assumed wealth, and the look they give you is not one of opportunism but of mesmerised fascination. Often a mother will sit next to you on the matatu, with a baby on her lap, and the baby will stare at you in amazement for what feels like minutes.

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Sometimes, it seems the phenomenon of a mzungu walking past is the most exciting thing that has happened all day. These moments, when they want nothing more than a low-five and to run beside you shout, are stunning. I had another incident today (they are very common) where a guy stopped me on my way out of the local supermarket “please help me, my wife is in hospital, I need two K (2,000 Kenyan shillings / £15) for her”. I felt sad, I knew my answer before I gave it, I didn’t even remember that I didn’t have that much on me, so automatic my response has become, “Sorry”.

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A bus of school kids arrive at the rift valley view point, taking the heat off me from the sales people

In other news, the Bakehouse is doing better. Sales are definitely rising particularly in light of a few events which have been held at the Rift Valley Motor Club which is just up the road. They hold go-kart races for kids there with the clientele being our target audience. In fact, at a ladies meeting there today, we sold thirty four large loaves in five minutes which has to be an Ujima Bakehouse record, but I could be wrong. More days like that and we could soon be demonstrating a sustainable business model. The cafe has had its fair share of delays in getting started. We will be working on getting permission from the local council ASAP and building will commence soon after. We are just ramping-up our fundraising efforts. E5 Bakehouse in Hackney will be holding some fundraising events as well as applying for grants and doing the usual request for donations here. E5 Bakehouse are also planning to send a baker or two to train our bakers in some new products, particularly pastries which is exciting. They have been waiting for me to get our pastry laminator fixed and buy a fridge. Both things should be easy but have been anything but. But I do declare that soon we will have such things and our esteemed friends from London will bring new and exciting techniques and therefore products to this rapidly growing city. We have also recruited a new member of staff who will help run the temporary coffee and sandwich bar which we will open while the proper cafe is being built, at the same location, and are advertising for a manager for the Bakehouse and Cafe to take over after I leave in October. I can finally say that things feel like they are tangibly progressing. But will it last?

Most of the picture below are from a sojourn to Diani. I highly recommend it. Beautiful white sandy beaches, palm trees, good food and accommodation. If you like it a bit wild stay at Stilts Backpackers. You sleep in elevated houses on stilts amongst a mini jungle of lianas, where sykes and colobus monkeys wake you up and you can feed the resident family of bush babies at 7pm every day. It is also very cheap. We spent most of our time hanging out at the obligatory Forty Thieves Bar where you can swim in the beautifully warm Indian Ocean, sip cocktails and eat decent food without getting hassled by hawkers. Also well worth a visit are Sails restaurant and Ali Barbours Cave restaurant for high-end dining. The latter is literally in a cave and is an amazing dining experience, serving excellent seafood in a charmingly antiquated style. Internal flights to Diani are relatively inexpensive and if the flight is delayed twice and you show them your cross face, you might even get a half price stay in a very nice hotel cottage.

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Superb Starling

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Hell’s Gate National Park

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Bush baby feeding time at Stilts, Diani

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Diani Beach from Sails Restaurant

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Diani Beach

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Golden orb spider (male also visible)

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Giant Millipede, Stilts, Diani

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Diani Beach from the air

 

 

 

 

public transport

Apologies for the two month hiatus in blogging, the reasons are numerous, but the main one is that apparently laptops are not plants and do not appreciate watering. But insurance paid up and now I have a shiny new one.

“The problem with Kenya is the corruption”.  He’s right. According to Transparency International, Kenya ranks 139th out of 168. Apparently the top spot is shared by North Korea and Somalia who seem to be joint 167th (http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015). Obviously such assessments of corruption have their limitations and are dependent on certain assessment parameters, but do check out the website for more information and as always, if you’re interested, do your own research.

Day to day the only glaringly obvious evidence of corruption that I can perceive is the police. The only police I have seen have either been escorting some official in an absurdly large convoy or, much more commonly, standing at the side of the road. In fact, the only discernible police activity I have seen involves them standing at the side of the road in their flourescent jackets pointing at matatus and tuk tuks and whoever else they think should be “taxed”, indicating to them to pull over. The driver of the vehicle expects this and always has fifty shillings ready in the driver’s licence, which he then hands to the police officer. The police officer never actually looks at the documentation, in fact their body language is exactly the same as a drug dealer. They look around while their hands do some swift movement and then hand the pouch back to the driver and walk off. Here’s a picture of them doing some sterling law enforcement.

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I have come to realise that there is more of a police presence than I previously realised. There are the Administration Police, who dress like the army, carry machine guns and seem to do little else other than look threatening. I asked my friend what the emergency phone number is in Kenya, he smiled and said ‘it’s 911 but if you ring it no-one answers’.

So much has happened since I last posted, I am not sure what to write about. But I have a title so I will stick to it. Public transport in the UK is often a fairly unpleasant experience, whether it is surrounded by fat businessmen with bad breath or being sat next to some chav who doesn’t understand that you don’t need to shout into your mobile phone to be heard, or that not everyone wants to listen to their crap music played through impossibly small speakers. Or trying to navigate a bus system that seems to rely entirely on it’s customer’s familiarity with it’s routes as there is virtually no information on when a bus might come or where it is going. Trying to look online at how to catch a local bus in the UK is a bit like piecing together a riddle. In Kenya, if the buses had websites, they probably wouldn’t work, like many of the websites I have tried to use here. I think a good measure of your familiarity with a place, is being able to work out the buses.

I avoided taking public transport for the first week or two, using tuk tuks and relying on lifts from colleagues, but tuk tuks are expensive and that was never going to last for long. The cheapest way to get around Kenya is on a Matatu . These are generally beaten-up Toyota Hiace minivans. of about 14 seats, but it is possible to fill them with as many as 30 humans, and they regularly do. Passenger comfort is apparently irrelevant. You are generally beeped or whistled at by about 20 matatus, motorbikes, push bikes, and tuk tuks for every 100 metres you walk, so there is certainly no shortage of transport options. If you are lucky enough to come across a matatu with free seats, and this happens more than I am making out, don’t take the seat closest to the door, because that belongs to the conductor and although he may well offer it to you, he will then sit on your lap. The conductor is usually a very noisy man, with a bunch of bank notes between his fingers. It is his job to get the attention of people standing by the road to try and coerce them into getting a lift as apparently without this stimuli, people would just wait by the side of the road forever. He uses a coin to tap the window, once means go and twice means stop. Money is collected at random when he decides to turn around and ask you for it. Like buses anywhere, it is a good idea to have the right money, or at least no large notes.

Motorbikes are the fastest way to go short distances and also cheap. No one ever recommends that you take motorbikes due to the safety issues, but without them, I wouldn’t get anywhere fast. The first time was scary, sure, and occasionally you get a motorbike driver who either goes way too fast, or seems to have no idea how to operate his bike, and then it’s scary again. Helmets? Don’t make me laugh. I felt so proud of myself the first day I took a matatu and a motorbike. Currently, to get to work I take 2 motorbikes and 2 matatus a day, although it is often more. Actually, one of my favourite feelings is being on the back of a motorbike after a drink or two, weaving through impossibly small spaces between oncoming traffic as the evening light begins to fade.

And now for some unrelated photos.

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A brilliant sign

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The Menengai Crater

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Lake Naivasha

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Dusk over Lake Naivasha

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acclimatisation part 1

That first night after arriving in Nakuru was not a pleasant one. I didn’t realise I had become so soft. It was late when I arrived. The latter part of the journey I had been worriedly checking my phone battery, wearing it down even more, because I needed to call to get the exact location. In Nakuru there aren’t really addresses. Even now I don’t know the exact address, it’s one of many houses on Tiriki Ave. I guess it’s not quite so essential because there is no door to door postal service. But looking at the leafy suburban gated community in which I currently reside, you would be forgiven for thinking it afforded all the amenities we enjoy in the UK. That first night and for a few afterwards I just felt alone, intimidated by my surroundings and the enormity of the task in hand. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that my mum gave me nearly a months worth of cards to open, one for each day. Each with a little note of encouragement and a bible verse to the same effect. As she handed them to me at the airport, I couldn’t hide my look of concern at having to add them to my overflowing luggage. They really helped me to stay positive during those first few weeks.

 

The next day, I had arranged to be collected by a colleague. There were two young Kenyan girls who were staying with my hosts and my hosts told them to walk me in the right direction. As we left the gated community and walked down the street toward the hospital, I could feel people’s gaze follow me. Passers by stare openly at me, motorbikes slow and ask me if I want a lift somewhere, people stick there head out of matatus and ask me the same.  Much of the time I can only assume what people are saying because I cannot discern any English words. Sometimes the words are surprisingly clear. Roadside shacks selling fruit, fizzy drinks and phone credit line the road, the owners trying to get my attention. There are no other white people that I can see.

 

The sim card I was given did not work in my phone. I thought, having looked at the instructions that I needed to wipe my phone and set it up again. After doing this I realised that I had also deleted the back up which I had and the sim still did not work. I have another phone with me, on which I put all the essential contacts I need. As soon as we are away from wifi all the contacts disappear from my phone. Unbelievable. How can technology be so useful and infuriating at the same time? How can I be so stupid? I am now unable to call the person I need to meet. I try to buy phone credit and ask a person beside a stall. They point in the direction of the stall next door. I feebly put my head in and there is nothing there. It is either closed or there is just nothing there. Bewildered I give up and head to the entrance to the hospital where I think we are meeting. Fortunately he calls me and tells me he is at gate two. I walk to gate two. It is closed and there is no one there. I walk back to gate three and wander around looking for anyone who might be looking for me. There are about six people with motor bikes looking for a fare. They are called boda bodas. One of them says “where do you live?” I say, “that way” pointing in the direction of my residence. He says “get on” and swings his leg over his motorbike. “I’m meeting someone” I say and walk away. It would be easy to just get on a bike and end up going somewhere you had no intention of going, I thought. Fortunately, I hear my name and turn around to see another mzungu wearing sunglasses leaning out of a four by four. He looks as out of place as I feel. It is a comforting site.

 

That hedgehog is pounding on his wheel again. He must cover miles on his wheel. I guess that means they must cover miles when in the wild. I assumed they didn’t go very far. At least it’s not squeaking any more. One evening it was squeaking so much I had to lube the hinges with some of the oil my American hosts like to deep fry their hash browns in.

 

Even after a month, I am still not used to this place. But every day another experience brings me closer to making sense of it all, or at least just being less terrified all the time. An essential part of making a place feel like home, and I am nowhere near there yet, is simply walking the streets. Such a seemingly simple task is a little more daunting here than anywhere else I have done it. For me, going for a run in a new place massively accelerates this process. It helps to familiarise yourself with your surroundings, learn you way around, essentially by getting thoroughly lost. But there’s something else about running, which helps you feel more at home in a place. Here, there are no runners that I have seen, despite Kenya producing the best long distance runners in the world. Being the only person running, the only white person around and the only white person running really puts yourself out there. there’s something about getting used to the fact that that people stair at you, by encouraging them to do so. That said, if I was a slow runner, I wouldn’t be brave enough to go running most places, let alone here. So  hats off to those who run relatively slow, and still go running, that is much braver, in any context.

 

Somewhat ironically, Kenyans don’t really wear shorts. Especially when you consider many an idiot in the UK will be walking down the road in shorts and flip flops in the middle of winter. I was obviously starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin when two days ago I walked to West Side Mall to get my hair cut wearing a vest, shorts and flip flops. As if I didn’t stand out enough. I was stupidly staring at my phone like a typical disengaged youth, when I kicked a stone and split my toe open. I resolutely limped the rest of the way, trying not to get too much dirt in the cut. As I was waiting to cross the road to get to the mall, a car full of twenty something Kenyans slows and one of them leans out of the window to tell me “you don’t look good”. I may not walk to the mall in that same attire again. Or perhaps he was referring to my general pallid appearance. Such literal ventures of peoples impressions of you are fairly commonplace.

 

Well nothing much I have said, warrants any photos. So I had better say something about something that I have pictures of. As part of my “induction” week, it was arranged that I spend a night at Maili Saba Camp, where the bakehouse is located. The camp and bakehouse are owned by the Ujima Foundation http://www.ujimafoundation.org/nl/, which trains young adult orphans, who have responsibility for a sibling, in hospitality to improve their employability. Many of whom go on to work in places like Maili Saba Camp long term. One of the things that stands out, is that they do a really good job  of training their recruits in providing excellent customer service, something which is not especially common here. The camp is located seven miles (Maili Saba = mile seven) outside Nakuru, on the road to Nyahururu. Practically, each village name along the road translates as “mile one”, “mile 2” etc. I like that. The camp also overlooks the stunning Menengai crater, which means even after being up all night baking, I am often greeted with the most spectacular sunrise, which makes all the hard work a little less hard, and a little less work.

 

Apologies if my updates seem a little banal. The truth is, this is all highly censored. If you want the real version of events as I see them, you will have to buy my book, which will only see the light of day, if ever, once enough time has elapsed that what I am writing about is no longer highly sensitive, or likely to offend everyone. I shouldn’t have befriended so many family on Facebook ;).

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Maili Saba Camp bar / restaurant

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The Bandas, where guests stay

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Sunset over the crater

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The view from a Banda, over looking the Menengai crater

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relative wealth

The fact that I came to Kenya with the remains of my last pay check, no income and little more to my name makes me feel vulnerable. I have never really been any good with money, so have never really had any savings. Growing up, my family were relatively low earners, especially given the affluence of the area we lived in. But our house, the Manse, came with the job, so that meant the low income could go a long way. My father, the Pastor of the Free Church was, is still, excellent with money. My mother, a nurse, claims she is not so good, but I don’t think she can be all that bad either. So, a thousand pounds, an extremely expensive laptop which will probably get stolen, a similarly overpriced yet powerful smart phone of the same brand, and my new guitar are just about all my assets in the world.

Just nailed two mossies. One was a one-hander. I caught it and then tightly squeezed my fist together. The rookie mistake is to open your hand to see if you caught it before you squeeze. The blood on my hand most likely belongs either to myself, my missionary hosts from Georgia, their twenty something intern from California, their two dogs Magi and Rafiki or their cat Paka (which means cat in Swahili), or a combination of the above. Three..and another is still after me. My dad once told me that it is only the silent ones which bite you. I don’t know if this is true, and I can’t be bothered to google it right now. But, I can tell you that I can hear the noisy ones from anywhere in my room (I guess my tinnitus isn’t so bad after all, though it is louder that the whine of a mosquito) and I wont rest until the noise is silenced. But these ones are silent. Outside, I can hear the incessant squeak of a pet hedgehog on a wheel. Yep, you heard, a hedgehog on a wheel. I had no idea hedgehogs were indigenous to Africa, but this one was taken from the wild and is now a pet. Could be it’s blood too.

Sorry, massive digression.

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The bakehouse

On that first journey from Nairobi to Nakuru, Richie stopped at the Great Rift Valley Viewing Point for me to take some pictures of the view. And what a view it is. The sun was just setting, and I scrabbled around clumsily trying to work out my new camera. The auto settings were fine, but I knew that I could get something much better if I messed around with the more manual settings. Behind me I hear “Jambo”. I know that this means someone is about to try and rip me off. That might seem harsh but most of the time it is the reality. I continue fumbling with my camera trying to get a better shot, and also with my phone camera, knowing that phone cameras are so amazing these days they take stunning shots with very little photographic understanding. “Cheating” as my oldest brother might say, and I would be inclined to agree, but whatever works. Eventually the voice behind me demands my attention. He reveals his wares. Beautiful black and red stone, carved into the shapes of Africa’s most famed animals. I try not to show much interest, knowing that it would only take a few purchases like this and some inevitable and necessary sight-seeing before my money was all gone. Safaris or game drives cost non-residents something like £250 a pop. But he demands my attention. He is an excellent salesman. Actually the best I have encountered so far. He offers me a special “evening price” of 2000 Kenyan shillings, about £13, not much to us but a lot in Kenya. At this point I have no idea what Kenyan shillings are worth, but I know that the first offer is going to be very high. I say “one thousand”. He looks dismayed and tells me it is already a “very good price”. I apologise and tell him “I really shouldn’t be spending any money” and turn back to trying to get a better picture of the incredible view, self consciously aware that the devices I am flashing around demonstrate enormous wealth to this young man of about twenty. He tries again. Actually, it’s only been three weeks to the day and yet I cannot remember exactly how the conversation went at this point. But I do remember that he tells me he needs to feed his family and I feebly say something like “I know, I’m sorry”. Eventually he goes down to 1700 shillings and I give in. I actually really like what he is selling. A deep smile spreads across his face and he shouts to his assistant to fetch a bag. As we drive away I feel a bit silly at being forced into buying something when I was planning not to, it is the first day after all.

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Yesterday, we went to the local church’s easter egg hunt. This church is also to be the location of the cafe which I have yet to facilitate the design, build, equipment purchase, fundraising, menu development, staff training, opening and solving all the problems in between. The previous night we baked through the night, as usual, but this time we made sourdough hot cross buns, golden raisin, macadamia nut and orange brioche couronnes (crowns) as well as the usual sourdough breads to sell at the easter egg hunt. I was very pleased with the way the products turned out but we didn’t sell enough for it to be very profitable. It was however, a very useful networking and marketing exercise.

IMG_0231IMG_0240Just 3 hours before, having had 10 minutes sleep while the bakers drove me around town delivering our bread to various addresses, constantly being jolted awake by very bumpy roads or to the sounds of “eh, mzungu!” being shouted at me from any direction, we went to give some samples to a couple of guest houses. One such guest house could be a big deal. We drive for about forty minutes outside of Nakuru and turned off the highway toward Lake Nakuru. It’s funny, when telling my friends and family about my upcoming adventure to Nakuru, I was full of tales of flamingos, tree climbing lions, leopards, and giraffes, yet I haven’t even seen the lake from less than a couple of miles away. The head baker, a young man of twenty five, who has lived in the area all his life, has never seen the lake close up either.

IMG_0242We drive down dirt track for miles, using my phone to navigate to the guest house where I have arranged to meet the owner. The head baker loves the fact that my phone is telling us which way to go in it’s american voice. He has recently obtained a smart phone, but is not yet acquainted with google maps. It looks like maps has let us down, there is nothing but scrub as far as the eye can see, but we continue, blindly trusting the technology. We come to a gate which tells us we are in the right place. The “soldier” (colloquial term for guard) lets us through the gate. He leeds us to the reception and the building is lovely. It looks like something you would expect to see on a safari I guess, but it still came as a surprise. As we enter the place is not, shall we say, glitzy, but oozes success. The guard points to the owner and I introduce myself and the two bakers. The owner is american. It seems quite a few of the mzungus around are. He greets us enthusiastically and tells me he is extremely hungover, which I find endearing. He excitedly tells everyone within ear shot who we are and about the bread. He introduces us to his chef, who like any chef looks stressed. He tells them to bring a bread board and knife and we sit at the bar and chat. The bakers look around excitedly and start taking pictures of the building and of me and the owner. He chats enthusiastically about bread and sourdough and how he “can’t get decent bread out here”. The bread board and knife arrive and he gestures to me to start cutting. He loves it. The people start arriving and he tells me to cut some for them, and more people, and then more. One loaf is nearly gone. He tells me he might order a hundred loaves some weeks “can you do that?” “yes” I say. As we drive away, the bakers are full of excitement and enthusiasm at the apparent success of our visit. The head baker tells me to “forget your homeland, Dave, stay here”.

As we drove out of the church where we were selling our goods, one of the guards stops us and says to me”I am having problems with lunch”, the head baker who is driving says to him “he cannot understand you”, I say “you are hungry?” he says “yes”. I look at what we have in the van and give him a loaf of three day old bread. He takes it gratefully and I say “it is not very fresh, is better if you toast or warm it” immediately remembering he won’t have a toaster, grill or oven.

Mossie death count while writing = 12.

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what’s culture shock?

Fear, I think. Those words, culture shock, are inadequate to the point of meaninglessness.

I stroll through Doha airport with my beautiful brand new white and gold guitar case, frequently looking down to admire it’s beauty, and watching people’s gaze follow it as I pass by. I notice some dark powder appearing on the top, just underneath the handle. I blow the powder away and carry on, when a few paces on, the handle breaks and the case hits the floor with a thud. Unbelievable. The case had been a leaving present from work. Well actually a black case was the present, which wasn’t quite the right size. I was chuffed to bits with the present, which I had requested, and my boss had had the foresight to keep the receipt. I took the case back to the shop and asked if they had any that were a better fit. The salesman went downstairs and came up with this white and gold beauty. He said that he hadn’t been able to get rid of it because lots of people took one look at it and said ‘oh, that’s a bit loud’. Obviously it was perfect for me. Except he neglected to mention that it must have been sat in a damp cellar for the better part of a century, quietly corroding.

You would laugh if you could see me as I type this. There is a mosquito, with impressive determination, repeatedly trying to ambush me from behind. Every time I hear it’s vindictive whine, I reach for an orange fly swat and swipe maniacally past my ear in a vain hope that I might cripple the thing. The trouble is, I am sat in a dark living room with lots of dark furnishings, making the murder of mosquitoes something of a roulette. If I was in my bedroom with white walls and a white mosquito net, it would be dead. Like the rest of them.

I am met at Jomo Kenyatta airport by Andrew, the other of my employers, and husband to Madeleine. He is co-founder of Peek Vision, which my work is directly or indirectly going to help fund. It gets confusing.  It is a relief to see a familiar face as I wait in the airport queue to get my Visa, despite every piece of travel information stating adamantly that you cannot get a Visa on arrival. He kindly collects all four of my items of luggage and piles them onto trolleys. The immigration officer asks me my purpose for visiting Kenya, and I simply state ‘Tourism’. He looks up ‘Tourism? For three months?’. ‘Yes’ I say, and he issues the Visa. It’s actually six months but I am coming home for a couple of weeks in the middle. This is one of those necessary lies because a work permit is extortionate. Anyway, I’m not getting paid.

IMG_0503A driver called Richie meets us outside the airport and fetches his Matatu. Richie, I am told is the best driver in East Africa. He may also be one of the most expensive. The reality is that while you can get from Nairobi to Nakuru at a fraction of the price we paid, my employers like to pay people they trust well for doing a good job. And that is a good thing. It was, however, a little frustrating when a week later I tried to get a receipt from him, and he once again turned up without his receipt book and tried to charge me a fifth of what I paid for a seven hour journey, for a fifteen minute one.

That mosquito is now dead. It came at me from the front.

IMG_0419When it comes to acclimatising yourself with a place or culture, it doesn’t help when everyone tells you that most people will try and rip you off, or that you are not safe to travel at night or when they regale you with stories of civil clashes between tribes at election time, leading to thousands of deaths. The things is, out hear, you never seem to be far from death. People stand on the edge of the highway with apparently no fear of the traffic speeding past. When you need to overtake in Kenya, which is all the time because many vehicles can’t go at the average speed, you just start overtaking and ask questions later. I would estimate that on average you are about 0.8 seconds from a head-on collision at any one time. Richie, ploughs through traffic which seems to part like a liquid before us. When you seem that someone is driving directly at you in your lane, you simply both flash your lights until one of you bottles it. Yes, it’s like a never ending game of chicken. At night this game become decidedly more terrifying. I don’t have any actual photos of this game of death, probably because I was too busy clutching the handle above my head. So here are some random ones of driving in Kenya. Don’t worry, soon it will be just endless shots of sunsets.

IMG_0484I guess this proximity to death is why people say Africa makes you feel so alive. But for someone that gets anxious when people put their drink too close to the edge of the table, this is quite a lot to deal with. Oh yeah, and the hard shoulder is not for break-downs, it is for motorbikes and pedestrians.IMG_0482.JPG

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excess baggage

IMG_20160227_163205.jpgThe inevitably last minute dash to pack up my life and clean my room before heading to my Dad’s house was not as stressful as perhaps it might have been. Still no real feeling of excitement at what lies in store. Mostly just determined focus on what needs to be done before I go to Kenya for the next five months. The point of it all? To try and help a struggling social enterprise bakery make money to support a local eye hospital provide eye care to low-income Kenyans, while providing hospitality training to orphans and set up and open a cafe for the same cause. Easy.

I arrive at my Dad’s house and Madeleine, my employer, is there waiting. Sue, my step mum child minds her kids, which is how I ended up with this ‘job’. I look around at the things I need to take to Kenya: my bag (20 kgs); a visual field analyser (19 kgs); 60 bannetons / bread proving baskets (15 kgs); my guitar (6 kgs); and my hand luggage. I transfer the three boxes of bannetons into a large bag, which Madeleine has provided, reducing the overall weight of the baskets to 13 kgs. So all in all that’s 58 kgs. I had already contacted the Qatar Airways asking for as much extra luggage allowance as possible for free because I was donating things to charities in Kenya. They gave me 10 extra kilos free of charge which brought my total up to 40 kgs. That’s 18 kgs too heavy. The website says every kilo of excess baggage will cost 40 USD in advance or 50 USD when checking in. After some discussion, we decide to take it all and see what they say, but we wont pay for extra as it costs more per kilo than the value of the bannetons.

As they wave us off (Dad is taking me to the airport), it suddenly hits me that there is nothing left for me to do. It is really happening. Adrenaline squirms through my nervous system, widens my eyes and makes me smile hysterically.

We get to the airport and I start looking for a trolly, already cursing the amount of stuff I have to take. At the airport my mum and step father, Ken, are waiting for me. I try to remember when my mum, dad and I were last together. I explain my worries regarding the baggage situation to mum and Ken. Dad catches me up and we proceed to check-in. I explain the situation to the lady and she understands. She makes hopeful faces and noises. But she calls another lady over and asks her if I can take my guitar on. The lady says I should have bought a seat for my guitar, misunderstanding the situation. But she wanders off to check. She comes back saying that it is fine this time as the flight is not full. Miraculously, they take everything without charging extra. Suddenly, I feel like anything is possible. As if. That was the easy bit.

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the first summer

To be honest, I have not given my allotment the time she deserves. After the set back described in my previous allotment post the wrong allotment, and a lack of money and trying to juggle work, the band, playing table tennis, trying to write a blog, training for a marathon and having a fun and busy summer, my plot is feeling somewhat neglected. But that’s kind of the point. Life is busy and we all have to make time for the things which matter to us the most, and despite my plot being one of my favourite places to be, I have not visited enough.

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what I have to work with

I began by hacking down the waist-high grass and weeds with some rusty old sheers and digging over four beds of about six by four foot, removing as many bramble roots and other weeds as possible. I then put a layer of leaf mold and manure in each bed and purchased a builders dumper bag of compost which I divided equally between each bed. All of this had to be wheel-barrow’d up the rather steep hill using a wheel barrow which (thankfully) came with the plot, but has an almost flat tire and if overloaded ceases to move. I did this over a matter of weeks rather than days.

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lovely sunny day on the plot

Having very little suitable space at home for raising plants, and it already being late in the season for sowing, I tried to sow directly into the beds. I decided to opt for a four bed rotation system. One bed would contain brassicas (cabbages), another solacanae (potatoes and tomatoes), another legumes (peas and beans) and the fourth roots (onions, carrots celery etc). I have a few books as reference but the one I used was the River Cottage Handbook no. 4 Veg Patch. After the first sowing I returned to the plot, as and when I could, to check on progress. The first time I returned to find all the beans and peas which I had sowed, laying strewn on top of the soil rather than in it. I am still not sure what happened. Perhaps they were dug up by some animal, perhaps the rains had leached away some soil leaving the seeds exposed. I studiously resowed and resowed over the following weeks. Very little in any of the beds grew from seed. I managed to get the broad beans to germinate but it was too late and they had insufficient support so suffered from bad black fly and remained fruitless. The rainbow chard did better, but was constantly full of holes like Swiss cheese, due to slug damage. The rest either didn’t germinate, or got eaten by slugs the second it poked it’s green leaves above ground. The climbing beans suffered the same fate, as did the purple carrots, celery, beetroot, brussel sprouts, and, well, you get the idea. The only successful(ish) crop was the potatoes, which required very little looking after: the slugs don’t like them and they didn’t mind my crappy soil. Oh, and the chard.

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the first potatoes (at the back) and raspberry canes stuffed ignominiously into the front of the bed

I did use slug pellets which are approved for use in organic systems, but not enough of them. The year before I used nematodes and the slug pellets in the garden at home. Next year I will ramp up my pest control, although I am about to go to Kenya for 6 months, so will miss all the crucial part of the growing season. I bought plugs (seedlings) from St Werburghs City farm and other places, but by then it was a bit late to get any significant yield. Currently in the plot overwintering are purple sprouting broccoli, chard, celery, and some raspberry canes and a blackcurrant bush.

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looking it’s best (until I covered it in comfrey leaves)

In preparation for spring, I sowed some broad beans and peas this autumn in the plastic green house in my garden, but a mouse ate every single one. I also sowed some some garlic and onions this autumn for harvest next spring. I did try to sow some winter purslane or claytonia which is a good winter salad crop, but guess what ate all that, the slugs.

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main crop potatoes