Karibu Kenya Part 2 – Tim Arrives

Karibu Kenya Part 2 – Tim Arrives

Wow – I can’t believe I have already been here a week! Despite still looking for a place to work/volunteer, I have been surprisingly busy.  Let me try to go through a brief rundown of the things that have been keeping me occupied!

In Transit, SFO-NBO:

The trip from San Francisco to Kakamega was anything but short. Perhaps the longest part of my journey was the time I was not actually traveling while I was waiting in the airport in London. After 11 hours sitting in airport seats, walking through duty free shops, and trying to catch a nap while holding onto all of my luggage, I experienced a sensation I don’t know that I’ve felt before – I actually wanted to get on the airplane and sit down for the next 10 hours! Jet lagged and tired – I happily fell asleep on my flight from London to Nairobi.

In Transit part 2, Nairobi to Kakamega:

Upon arrival in Nairobi, I had to board a domestic flight to Kisumu. As I left the international terminal, I had to walk across and unmarked parking lot – vaguely following an arrow to the domestic terminal. Once there, I was happy to find that my gate was clearly marked “Kisumu.” As far as I could tell, there were only two gates: one for Kisumu and one for Mombasa. At least that made the domestic terminal much easier to navigate!

The Kisumu International Airport is probably the nicest airport I’ve been to in Africa. It is also probably the smallest airport of any kind that I have flown into. There are no ramps to the planes, just a small building next to the runway. I’m not sure there are any international flights, but the airport had a full area for customs and immigration in case they ever decide to fly internationally again. After collecting my bags, I finally met up with Marlene who was waiting there with a taxi driver to bring us to Kakamega. It was so good to be back in the same place after 3 weeks of distance and unreliable communication. John the taxi driver welcomed me and then almost immediately he asked me which English Premier League team I support (John the taxi driver supports Chelsea). I guess that I need to finally choose a team to support in the EPL if I’m going to fit in here. In my time here so far it appears that Arsenal and Manchester United have the most supporters with Chelsea a close third.

The road to Kakamega from Kisumu is a simple paved road that is intended to have one car driving in each direction. In reality the road often has a bus parked on either side, at least one bike/motorcycle carrying 2-3 people, and those two cars it was intended to have. As a result, the road can be quite an adventure. Fortunately we were in the hands of a very competent taxi driver who knew the informal rules of the road. I’m still not sure how it all gets worked out, but everyone does seem to get where they need to go.

Living in Kakamega:

For the first couple of nights we were lucky enough to stay with the Research Manager who Marlene had been staying with for the past several weeks. I spent much of the first two days sleeping in order to adjust to the 10-hour time difference. Fortunately I didn’t have to work as much as Marlene did and I was able to adjust pretty quickly. A few days after I arrived, we were informed that our new apartment was ready for us to move in! We quickly moved all of our stuff over into the empty apartment and slept on a loaner air mattress for the first couple nights.

With Marlene working hard during the week, it was my job to run around Kakamega in search of everything we would need in order to make the apartment livable. I spent the first day at Nakumatt, a gigantic store that reminds me a little bit of Target where you can get basically anything. They were the best place to buy a refrigerator and oven and they even offered free delivery! As is true with all things in Kenya, you have to work a little harder in order to get the things you purchase to work properly. In this case, the oven did not come with a propane tank and fuel and there is no such hookup to our apartment. I spent the next day searching for a propane tank and managed to find a stand that sold propane tanks not too far from the Nakumatt store. This stand had full propane tanks, but didn’t have the regulator necessary to connect it to an oven forcing me to go to a third place to get this oven to work!

After tackling the kitchen, I turned my attention to getting furniture for the apartment. Instead of going to Nakumatt (which does sell furniture) we had heard from the staff at IPA that a furniture store near downtown Kakamega had the best prices. I headed over there and found two stores right next to each other. Interestingly, these stores were made of big tree branches staked into the ground and wrapped with corrugated metal roofing material. Inside, there was so much furniture packing the dirt floor that you could barely walk and see any of it! This was their showroom. Out back, carpenters were actually making all of this furniture from big logs. At least I didn’t have to deal with any markups from middlemen. Over the course of two days I found a bed and dining room table to finish our apartment for now.

In the process of setting up our apartment I really felt like I got to know Kakamega and I’m starting to feel at home here. Though it is definitely a different lifestyle than I came from in Menlo Park, I am looking forward to this change of pace. Now that I’ve gotten the apartment sorted out, I’m turning my focus towards what I will be doing here day to day. I’ll keep you all posted on any developments!


PS – You can see pictures of our apartment here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3762154927464.2145875.1084290209&type=1&l=646a6e1dc6


Karibu Kenya!

Well it has truly been a whirlwind of a week, and I am just now finding the time to update you all on everything that has happened.  The short version is that I am here in Kakamega, it’s beautiful, the people I’m working with are wonderful, and I have been VERY busy as I’ve hit the ground running at work!  Read on for the long version…

I arrived in Kakamega at last after a long long journey – if you ever have to spend many hours sitting in an airport I would recommend Heathrow over Nairobi! After a ten hour flight, a ten hour layover in London, a nine hour flight to Nairobi, six hours in the airport in Nairobi, a one hour flight to Kisumu and a one hour drive to Kakamega, I was falling asleep standing up. Quite literally – I almost fell over a few times. After dropping off my things, Michael (the previous lab coordinator) took me straight to the lab. I met the people, got the lay of the land, and fell asleep having not eaten anything since “breakfast” on the plane from London.  Suffice it to say that traveling is not my favorite.  I am always excited to reach my destination, but hours on a cramped plane, jet lag, and grabbing whatever food you can find are just the necessary torment you must endure before the adventure begins! I never feel more miserable or out of control of myself than when I am jet lagged – and a ten hour time difference is a lot.  It’s embarrassing to be unable to keep your eyes open or your head up straight while you are trying to meet new colleagues and trying to learn the ropes.

Things at work this past week have been very challenging, but have gone well at the same time. In short, my position as the Water Quality Lab Manager means that I make sure that water samples collected by a survey team are properly processed and data is properly collected to evaluate the level of fecal contamination in the water.  Right now I’m also keeping an eye on a team collecting data on parasites – which means that there is a lot of poop floating around the lab right now! I wouldn’t recommend stopping by between 12:30 and 1:30, when the smell is particularly ripe.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t made any mistakes, or that I didn’t fall off a stool while counting colonies because I was so tired, but overall I think I have gotten to the point where I know my way around and the staff respect my judgment and guidance.   While I am clearly needed to be sure that things run smoothly, protocols are followed, and big decisions are made, I am lucky that the staff is truly fantastic.  We have two lab technicians and two interns right now.  The lab techs keep me busy trying to help me improve my Swahili, and the interns have been rock stars when it comes to taking care of a lot of tasks that the lab has fallen far behind on.  One of the best things about this job so far has been working with the talented and educated Kenyan staff.  I have not had the opportunity before to work with so many local professionals, and I love seeing the expatriates and the nationals on staff working together with so much mutual respect and appreciation.  Also, I am very lucky that when I need to get emergency distilled water, my lab staff happens to know where I can purchase some.  So overall things are going well – but since I worked 16 hours most days this week, I am looking forward to things slowing down a bit.

So today I am finally getting a chance to breathe, watch movies, and write this post.  There was a group that went to see hippos near Kisumu today – but I have a whole year to see hippos and I am totally beat. But I am not completely anti-social – last night I went to a gathering with a bunch of staff at one couple’s house and had lasagna! The food was amazing, and the opportunity to relax and hang out with some fellow Americans was fantastic.  Today I feel like I finally have both feet firmly planted on the ground, and I am getting excited to move out of my boss’s apartment where I’ve been staying and get our own place!  I just can’t wait until Tim gets here and we can set up our home together. I’ve certainly already seen that this year will hold many challenges, but once Tim gets here I am particularly excited to face the difficulties and enjoy the good together. There is so much that is wonderful about Kenya, and I can’t wait to travel, explore, work, and make this our home for a little while. I am so excited for Tim to join me one week from today! Stay tuned – once Tim gets here and things calm down a bit at work, we will have much much more to share!