Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tick Tock Goes the Clock...

This week I went to the kitchen to meet the Yogurt Mamas. It was definitely one of the highlights of the week. All of them were so nice and had so much to say about the project. Of course, all of what they said was translated back to me in English. Jen and Amanda were unable to come as they were ill. So I was with Roy and the Mamas. It was fun, a lot of the morning was spent talking to the Mamas about the project, their roles in the community and the impact they will be making, the perceptions associated with the yogurt they will be making, their own goals and responsibilities etc. After that I went around and asked each Mama to introduce and share something interesting about themselves with the group including their occupation, why they joined the kitchen, and why they feel this project is important. After I got home I organized all the answers given so I could make a short profile on each Mama that will be posted on our NGO’s website and the kitchen walls.

An observation I noticed is that time is of not a huge essence here. People here really do operate on their own schedules. For example, we had told the Mamas to arrive by 9am, the first one arrived by 10 and the last one had trickled in by 1pm. I guess that may have to do with folks around here waking up between 4-5am and calling it quits late in the evening. When you have so many hours to carry out your tasks, I guess it doesn’t make a difference what you do during the day as long as work gets done. Also, getting anything here done will make you wish that you were going through a root canal procedure instead. I kid, just exaggerating! Jokes aside, getting the kitchen up and running has been a huge ordeal. We still don’t have electricity as we don’t want to cave in and go the corrupt route. The painter keeps canceling on us without informing us, and he is the 2nd one whose help we have solicited. The list can continue to go on forever.

Remember how I have told you all about the three girls who are our neighbours: Evaleen, Sachbea and Tracey. Well Tracey (the youngest) has finally opened up to us and has started saying our names! We have been so delighted that we keep taking videos of her saying our names. She has also started to smile at us a lot which is so great as she really does have a beautiful smile!

Want to hear about Murphy’s Law striking again? So a couple of days ago Jen, Amanda and I ventured out to the school to play with the kids. Pretty normal for us right? Well, as it turns out not so much as today I was going to join the game. Before I get to the game though, the three of us decided to climb a tree. Jen and Amanda climbed farther than I did and I jumped off the tree sooner than them too because of the bugs. Whatever, I don’t like crawling critters. Well, when the two of them started climbing down they both realized they were stuck so I climbed back up to help them down only to fall from the tree on my descent thus ripping my pants at the knees and taking home a pretty large scrape on both of my knees. That was strike one for good ol’ Murphy. I then decided that a couple of scrapes were not going to keep me from playing soccer, the game had already started. So for the first time! I was going to brave playing a game of soccer, a game that involves flying objects. Think I am being melodramatic, I don’t think so. Within 10 seconds of standing on the field, as I was asking Amanda and Christopher (goalie) whose team I was going to be on, Christopher who hadn’t seen me come on to the field kicked me in the stomach with all the power he could put in a kick (he usually kicks the ball couple of stories high). Knocked the wind out of me. Suffice it to say I am going to stay clear of soccer for a bit.

I almost forgot, for those of you who know me really well will be surprised to know I have gone the vegetarian route. Now being a carnivore before I embarked on this journey, I am not sure if this is a permanent change but I have not had meat for about a week now. An accomplishment? I think so.

As Jen has continued being very sick, we have been spending more and more time at the hotel. After lunch, we all decided to sit on the balcony and wind down from the week’s activities. My plan was to write in my journal, but I ended up people watching as there was always something interesting to see. I took so many pictures and videos. Since I can’t upload them yet I will tell you a bit about them below.

Interesting and Memorable Sightings/ Quotes!

• “be Christ-like on the field,” a soccer coach mentoring his students before a big game. I thought it was pretty silly. I mean being nice to the opponent’s team is not going to win you the game. There will be shoving, pushing and blocking involved. I don’t think Jesus would approve that kind of behaviour....
• Fred (hotel staff) killing a HUGE bug with bug spray and then air-freshening the room as if there was nothing wrong. Meanwhile we bolted out of the room as the combination of two had created a pretty putrid smell.
• Kids no older than the age of 8 caring for their infant sibling(s).
• Five guys riding on the back of a truck that is piled with long pieces of wood. So not safe!
• Women carrying their day’s worth of groceries on their heads. I feel like bags here are so “last season.” It is now all about the head balancing act. Saw a woman carrying a brand new mattress on her head, and a double one at that!
• A sheep struggling away from its owner. I think that is because he/ she knew it was their last day. I took a video of it =/
• Wearing coats here are so popular. I saw a man wearing a winter parka in middle of the day. It was blistering hot!
• Families of four ride together on one motorbike. That is definitely a balancing act, and one I hope always stays balanced...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Hi everyone! Miss you all! Not so much though, life here is so fun and adventurous =P. Like I said before, Oyugis already feels like home and I can’t help but marvel at how quickly that transition occurred. Everyone stopping you to say hello, animals roaming everywhere, and kids yelling “Mzungu” is now an everyday occurrence.

I met our Project Coordinator, Roy, today with Jen and Amanda. As he had been out of town for the past we all we had a bunch of issues to go over. Unfortunately the water tank at the kitchen had toppled over and replacing that will be another expensive investment. None of us are sure how it happened, a possibility is that someone may have been trying to steal it, for which if that was the case then it was a dumb idea on the instigators part. The water tank is massive and can hold up to 3 000 litres of water, not an easy job to pull off...

I was also able to experience first-hand how bureaucracies are slowing the start-up process so much. To just get funds released there are so many signatories involved including travelling to Kisumu which is at least a 1 ½ hour drive. Also for us to purchase a lot of things, out suppliers need to be approved by KEMRI which is so annoying as the process then gets dragged on for weeks! I also learned that there is a straight and corrupt way when it comes to getting access for electricity. Straight way gets you electricity in about 3 weeks if not more, while corrupt way will get you electricity in 2 weeks. Weird eh...

Yesterday was just frustrating for all as the goal was to have the kitchen’s production started on June 1st, 2009 which was then pushed back to July 1st, 2009. It is almost the end of the month and the Mamas have yet to be trained as we need the Mwanza Mamas to come down for the training but they were unable to come this week as they also have their own kitchen commitments to keep. It is just difficult getting things to move forward because of the interdependencies that exist between the tasks. To put it in perspective, what needs to be done now should have been done more than 1 ½ years ago. Getting projects started and keeping them sustainable is of huge concern to the parties involved.

So for the past couple of days we have been introducing Oyugians the card game President. For those of you who have played this game, you know at the end of every game there is a President, Vice President, Vice A-hole and A-hole. It is just how the game works. Well the first time we played it here we played it with Nick, a guy who we befriended from the Internet Cafe. This was a hilarious game as Jen and I in each round played were either the pres or VP and Nick and Amanda switched around the roles of a-hole and vice a-hole. What makes this game even more fun is that the a-hole has to give their 2 best cards to the pres, while the pres returns the favour by giving them their 2 worst cards. VP and VA also participate in this exchange, only that a single card is exchanged. We all had a great time, and it was such a novelty to not be in the a-hole group as I was always a fixture in that group in the past. Haha

We have also been spending a lot of time with the hotel staff today who are so much fun to be around. We mostly hand out with the staff that we are able to communicate in English with. I know our friend circle is limited, but we converse in Luo with the other staff. You can bet these conversations are not long as our Luo is very limited. Anyhow, we also introduced the game President to a few of the staff at Hotel Vesture Villa. Many of the employees here are similar to us in age. They are: Fred (the receptionist), Angela (so sweet and caring, I have dubbed her our Kenyan Mom!), Beatrice (another receptionist who is hilarious), Lencer (pronounce Lenza) and Anok (also works in the reception area). We played President with Beatrice, Anok and Fred last night which was loads of fun as Beatrice and Anok kept winning. What was hilarious is that Amanda again was always the a-hole or the vice a-hole. I had a great time teasing her, especially when she would try to give advice to the other players in the game!

Interesting and Memorable Sightings/ Quotes!

• There is a church called “Oyugis Happy Church!”
• Sunday sermons here are LOUD with the priest practically screaming the sermon. The gospel music played is so loud that the boom of the music echoes throughout the crowd. Also, there are so many churches in the neighbourhood, so you can imagine how noisy it gets on Sunday.
• A drunk man “honouring” us as being his sisters. He asked us to transfer money into his account two minutes later =/
• Having a photo shoot with the hotel staff after a game of President!
• “Buy me a present,” is frequently yelled at us by the kids
• The next door girls being introduced to coloring books and crayons. That was fun.
• Seeing Tracey (next door girl, 2 ½ yrs old) smiling more often! It is so hard to make this girl smile that we have taken it upon ourselves to make her smile more often! She is incredibly photogenic, just like many of the children here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On Top of the World


Today bought a new set of adventures. Since my sleeping schedule has not quiet adjusted, I almost refused to head out today but thanks to Jen and Amanda we left to go watch sports at the local school with a few of our friends.

After breakfast we arrived at the school where different schools were competing in football (of course), badminton, volleyball, basketball and field hockey. Girls and boys were both competing in football to reach the provincial level. There are three levels of schools here: district, provincial and national (very competitive). The schools have better curriculum as you go higher up in the levels with the national schools selecting the brightest kids in the country.

The games were fun to watch, I watched my first football game for the 1st time! Amanda was shocked, but then the girl was practically handed a soccer ball before holding a bottle of milk. The day was really nice, but as usual the sun was blistering hot. It was funny because our friends wanted us to sit in the shade while we were adamant to sit in the sun. We later found out Oyugians around us were worried we could not handle the sun. We found that very amusing. I even got a slight tan from our day out in the sun, although I am not too enthusiastic about my “flip flop” tan.

After having lunch (egg wrapped in chapatti!) we headed back to the hotel where we hung out for a bit while entertaining the children who were outside our hotel. We keep telling them we all have names since they keep calling us “Mzungus” (white person) A lot of people think Jen, Amanda and I are sisters. A bunch of folks also thought Jen and I are twins because of our tanned tones, even though Jen is darker than me! Even setting that aside, we look nothing alike! Oh another thing I almost forgot to mention, people are only classified into “blacks” and “white” here. Indians, Asians and Caucasians are referred to as whites/ mzungus here.

We discovered our favorite place in the town yesterday. We are honestly a trio of explorers. After realizing that Jen had been missing for a while from the room Amanda and I set out to look for her in the conference room which is on the 3rd floor of the building. After getting there and finding her we realized there was another level to the hotel. We of course proceeded upstairs where we found a ladder that took us to where the water tanks were located. Clearly, we could not resist seeing what was up there and much to the staff and construction workers amusement we climbed the very sketchy ladder. The climb was so worth it! It was really stunning up there. The children on the ground must have gotten worried for us when we set on the ledge, which also was sketchy as it is easy to fall over as there are no railings, because they kept yelling things to us in a worried/ frantic tone. I am sure phrases like “are you dumb” was exchanged since I am sure it is not a normal practice for people to climb to the highest spot in the building where the tanks are located. It was loads of fun though. Our new reading and journal-ing spot is now on top of the world.

Another thing I discovered is that people think my name is “Ronnie” or, this is even better, “Rainis;” Amanda is always confused with “Emelda,” and people just add another “f” to Jens name. I suggested that we should start wearing name tags around the town as we always get called a different variation of our name!

Well I am now! Also wanted to add that I love reading the emails being sent to me, and keep them coming!



Interesting Things Learned and Seen!

• Folks here always ask “how are you?” as we walk back because the literal translation for their hello is “how are you?” Interesting to notice is that you can tell a person’s fluency in English through how they reply to our greeting as many just say “I am fine” regardless of how they feel.
• When writing letters to our friends and family in Canada, I found out that we have to write the name of the continent where the country we are mailing to is located.
• “Oyugians” (name made up by me, I don’t think they are formally known as this) are always surprised with our eagerness to learn Luo as to them their language is not that great.
• Oyugians also tend to constantly apologize as I stumble or trip as I walk along; as if my clumsiness is their fault. I know it’s sweet, but I bet you they must be exhausted from saying it so much by now, and its only Day 3! For those of you who know me well, know that I continue to be clumsy on paved paths so imagine me walking on dirt paths cluttered with rocks of all sizes.
• People have to pretty much clean their residences on a daily basis because of the dirt that collects as the day goes on.
• An amusing thing I noticed is that Amanda, Jen and I never tan although we think we do, but that is just how dusty we get every day. We return to our original skin tones at the end of each day much to Jen’s and Amanda’s dismay.
• A peace sign here “V” means “Say no to Sex.” We found that out later after we told a bunch of kids to pose with the peace sign. Haha, well at least we were preaching something good!
• Thumbs up sign here means “love.” We also found that out after we were going around giving the thumbs-up to kids after they did a good job at something
• The Luo people do not practice circumcision for either sex.
• Favorite music genres here are Blues and R&B. Blues for them includes every other genre.....including music by John Mayer.
• Kenyans consider black a “cool” color, whereas red and white are bad, “hot” colors.
• Bob(s) are also known as shillings like “bucks” in US/CAD when referring to money.
• Saw a woman today holding a chicken by the wings under her arms. What was interesting to note was that the chicken alive and quiet. I think that was because he/she realized that it was near the end of their demise =/
• Saw a woman carrying a huge pot made out of iron on her head casually walking down the street as if it was no heavier than a pillow! I want to try carrying something on my head before I leave. I am thinking perhaps a bundle of clothes, but I will probably drop that within a minute as I have no sense of balance. Haha
• I also saw a woman carrying a couple of egg trays on her head! I think I am going to try that...
• Women and men here give no importance to one’s body image as citizens of industrialized countries are known to have.


June 18-19th

Ahh Oyugis is such a great town! I cannot believe I have been here for only a couple of days, it seems like it has been forever since I left home. Oyugis is already home. Although it is a small town there is always so much to do. Had the best chapattis ever at a restaurant down the street from our hotel. We were told that the restaurant makes 600- 900 chapattis a day. Crazy, I know. I also went to the marketplace yesterday and had such a time. The market place is enormous! There was everything being sold from tools to food to clothes to shoes made on the spot! When shopping around for clothes, every stall was pretty much selling the same stuff: same skits, kangas, shirts etc. This theme continued in most of the stalls we saw like the health product stalls, daily essentials, food and many more. We had planned on spending about half an hour at the stall but it ended up being a good hour and half cause the marketplace was so huge and tricky to manoeuvre through. We kept running into dead ends when trying to leave.

Later on in the day I met tons of more kids when we went to go play soccer with the kids in the neighbourhood. It was loads of fun. Also earlier in the day we went to the local school, Oyugis Primary School (grades 1-8) where we took group pictures of all the students and teachers present. That was amusing to watch as there were children EVERYWHERE with the teachers running after them to create some sort of an order. There were so many children that not all of them could fit into one picture. We had actually gone there hoping we could tutor the children in English or answer questions about Canada but the Headmaster and Head teacher just kept talking to us. I kept thinking that perhaps this is what schools are like in rural areas of Pakistan/ India. At one point it was interesting, and also kind of appalling, when the Headmaster pretty much snapped his fingers at the children to come get us chairs. I guess it is a common practice here, just like how younger children always have to listen to elders, even children older than them regardless of anything. Age seems to trump everything else. I also noticed that children who speak English, not all but most of them acted in almost an arrogant manner. It was really interesting to watch the dynamics of those relationships unfold. Don’t get me wrong though, many of the children I have met are so nice and know how to good time, at least at my expense. I found out last night that a lot of the Luo the children have been teaching has been wrong =/. I am going to get back at them!

While at the Internet cafe yesterday I found out that my African name is, Atieno! Atieno is a name given to those born at night. Met a lot more people at the cafe, all with interesting backgrounds that they shared with us. I am impressed that so many people here speak English. Also the guys at the Internet love western music. The song by Ciara ft Kanye, Knock You Down, is a favourite at the cafe. I am pretty sure it was set on repeat the last time we were there. I am pretty sure the Cafe owners are going to be crushed when we leave. Not because they love us, but because of the steady stream of income we give. Each of us use the computers for at least a good hour every time we go there.

Overall its great here, the air is always heavily scented with the smells of coals and what is being cooked. The streets are always busy with the different animals, people and vehicles frequenting the roads. Have not ridden a Boda Boda again, but maybe I will do that tomorrow with the girls. Serious work for the project starts tomorrow (Sunday). Have to get work done from no onwards! My project coordinator returns from Nairobi tomorrow, don’t worry though I will keep the stories coming. I will also post pictures when I have better internet connection. Trying to do at that the internet cafe will take days!

Interesting Things Learned and Seen!....This is going to be long =D

• Restaurants are called Hotels here, and hotels are also called hotels.
• There are signs of Coke everywhere! From store banners to flyers to everything!
• We know of only two places that have flushable toilets in their washrooms. 1) Our hotel and a restaurant called La Mulo (apparently they have awesome Spanish Omelettes but they were closed today =( )
• Children who are young kids themselves parent their younger siblings. I have seen so many kids as young as 5 who have already started tending to their younger siblings while their parents are out.
• When at the soccer game only a few girls who we play soccer have shoes and socks, all the other girls play barefoot; whereas, when we were watching the boys play, all of them had proper shoes and socks...
• All the food is cooked on coals, which is great cause I love the flavor it adds to our meals
• The irons here are heated by hot coals which are placed in an iron’s cavity
• The ball used for football is made out plastic bags stuffed inside each other then tied together with rope. I must say, it is fun to play with!
• The guys here are very affectionate, I saw tons of guys holding hands and/ or hugging each other while walking down a street in groups as large as 5!
• The school down the street has 1500 children who are taught by 28 teachers!
• English and math are taught to the students everyday while other subjects such as social geography are rotated throughout the week.
• Tuesdays and Fridays are the main market days! On these two days, Oyugis must at least double in population, or that is what it seems like as there is barely any room to move!
• Average income for people here is around 10 000 KSH. I CAD is equivalent to about 70 KSH...


Friday, June 19, 2009

Nango!...Hello in Luo =D

Ahh, spent my first day here discovering the town of Oyugis! Started the day off with a HUGE breakfast! Jen and Amanda were not kidding when they told me the portions here are massive! After chilling in their rooms for a bit we headed out on a bit of the town’s sightseeing. Well sightseeing for me really as they have already been here for two weeks. First stop was to see Francis at the Rachuonyo District Hospital where we will be working to fulfill some of our tasks for the internship. After that took the coolest mode of transportation ever to the kitchen! I took a Boda Boda, which are the bicycle taxis here. I was terrified for the first bit while because the roads were so bumpy but soon relaxed after I was able to confirm that the ride was not going to end with me lying in a ditch somewhere along the path=D. Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to take it again! After the Bodas Bodas dropped off at the kitchen Jen and Amanda showed me where the Kitchen is, could not go inside as our Coordinator who has the site’s key was out of town.

Next stop was the marketplace. This place is definitely the heart of the city. There are so many vendors selling all sorts of goods! A shopaholic like me can spend days here and not get bored! I will be able to spend more time here today as Jen and Amanda want to get some dresses made. Also need to pick up some daily essentials like water and of course, hot sauce =D(can’t eat meals without adding a flavourful & spicy kick to it!). The grocery store I purchased the things from yesterday was so high-tech! The register had a computer, a scanner and a receipt printing machine. Def not what I was expecting but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

After that we stopped at the internet cafe where I got a taste of the speed of the internet here. But it was access to internet nonetheless! Will be going back today. Later on in the day, the three of us headed to the field to play football with the kids here. They are absolutely crazy about this sport. I of course watched from the sidelines cheering the teams on. I did the teams a favour by not playing since my clumsiness is a factor that needs to be considered especially when playing sports. I did get hit with the ball though, but I just attributed that to the “Murphy’s Law” striking. We are going to go back and play with the kids again; I might even join this time. Can’t wait! I have made so many friends here already! The kids here are so respectful, intelligent and fun to be around. I shall take more pics and post them up soon.

The weather here is gorgeous! The skies are so clear and the sunsets are absolutely breathtaking. Also the streets here are so vibrant with the different species that are frequent residents such as cows, chickens, roosters (I swear I am going to eat them soon as they keep waking me up in the morning, I wish they had a Snooze button to them!), goats and the usual array of bugs. I feel like I am going to go the route that of a vegetarian as it is just weird thinking that some random and innocent animal I see on the streets might just end up on my plate. Their unfortunate demise just becomes way too real for me when put into perspective like that =/.The food here however has been really delicious so far! My favourite are the freshly made chapattis, I can’t wait to try it with peanut butter and jelly, thus making my own Kenyan version of PBJ!

I am also learning the Luo, the language spoken here. So much for learning the few Swahili words before getting here. The locals here find us really amusing when we speak Luo. Even saying a simple thank you will cause them to erupt into a fit of giggles! My Luo has improved a lot even though the kids find my accent hilarious and don’t hesitate to correct me. Although it has gotten confusing cause I now have like 10 kids teaching me what sounds like a different pronunciation of the same word =/.

The goal is to considerably improve my Luo by the time of my next post, I shall even post some words and phrases that I will have learned by then!

Well, I am out now to experience a new day that brings with it a new set of adventures!

Oriti! (Thats in Luo for goodbye =) )

:o) Rani

African Time!

I am finally here! After traveling almost 10 000 miles via planes and cars I am finally here! It was an exhausting journey but it has been great so far. Oyugis already feels like home. I had planned on writing earlier because I wanted to talk about what it is I will be doing here in Oyugis, a rural town in Western Kenya, but due to the short life of my laptop and lack of internet access while I was travelling, that plan did not succeed.

I am going to be living here in Oyugis, Kenya for about 2 ½ months as an intern through my university’s NGO, Western Heads East and my program at the Richard Ivey School of Business. I am going to be working, alongside my two peers Jennifer and Amanda (also from my program), with two local women’s group in helping them establish a sustainable business operation. We are going to help the women set up a yogurt production facility that is currently being funded by grants from the World Bank for researching the health benefits of the yogurt produced at this facility. This pro-biotic cultured yogurt when consumed, increases ones immunity against infectious diseases and improves overall quality of life. It is similar to Activia in Canada for those of you who are familiar with the brand. The strain for this particular yogurt was developed by a few professors at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and is now going to be used at the kitchen (yogurt production facility) here in Oyugis. It is already being used at the original site in Mwanza, Tanzania (started about 4 years ago).

This internship will be based and supervised by the Ministry of Health at Oyugis, which is working with the women’s groups in the area of health, nutrition and social entrepreneurship, in collaboration with Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)and the World Bank. In addition, key players from organizations such as African Medical Research Foundation, Mildmay International, and other government departments will be involved. Continued support from such partners has enabled women’s groups to establish viable and sustainable income generating activities.

My responsibilities for the purpose of this internship are going to revolve around benefiting the various women’s group as they start their operations. Specifically, I am going to be researching the possibility of replicating the business model across other communities once the Oyugis site is successful so other local groups can get involved in this venture. Next, I have to study the intercultural differences and issues when researching on reaching a larger market base of consumers for the pro-biotic yogurt. Research will also focus on increasing collaboration with NGOs and government levels to help with increasing the product reach to more rural and urban areas through funding provided which will subsidize the cost of the yogurt for consumers. Finally and also more importantly, I have to focus my efforts on developing social marketing tools to increase the acceptance and usage of the pro-biotic yogurt. In Lehman’s term I will have to find out what it is that is going to make the locals here spend money on purchasing the yogurt, and are willing to spend, as opposed to putting it towards another household expense which may be important for survival.

:o) Rani