Kinangop

Whenever I leave Nairobi, my attitude towards Kenya improves dramatically. Fresh air, fresh food, greenery and lack of traffic all contribute to this improvement. Stuff happens in Nairobi, but if I were to live here again, “upcountry” is where I would want to be most of the time.

Yesterday I got to visit an aquaponics project in Kinangop, at the base of the beautiful Aberdare Mountains. The day before, I looked up YouTube videos of aquaponics projects in Kenya, called the guy and arranged to have him drive us the 2 1/2 hours to go see it. Since we’re looking for a manager for our Food Source aquaponics project, I took our strongest contender for the position, Kennedy, he took off work and we were good to go.

The next morning, Edward instructed us to meet him downtown at 10:00 AM. He called at 10:00 saying it would be 11:00, then at 11:00, apologizing but telling us it would be 12:00. At 12:00, he told us he was having car issues and wanted to meet us across town at 1:00. We took a matatu (mini bus) there, called him when we arrived, and he said he was stuck in traffic. At 1:30, he finally arrived and we began our journey North. With only a quick stop for Nyama Choma (grilled meat, intestines and all) along with some roads that had probably not been re-paved since independence, we made it without much ado.

Posterity Farm was beautiful. At an elevation of around 8,000 feet looking up at Aberdare National Park, it felt like a cool autumn day in Colorado – perfect. Everything was a vibrant green and I felt like I could breathe again. Life is simple and people make a lot less money than Nairobi, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. People already have many of the things you can buy with money – and some you can’t. It reminds me of the Mexican fisherman story in The 4-Hour Work Week. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Posterity Farm with Aberdare National Park in the background

Posterity Farm with Aberdare National Park in the background

The business includes a dairy farm, a trout farm, some soil farming and of course, aquaponics. The aquaponics greenhouse contains 5,000 fish (including 1,000 catfish), and grows strawberries that are sold to grocery stores in Nairobi. Although they were fighting a slug invasion – many of the strawberries had lost the battle – it was awesome nonetheless and Kennedy began to see the potential for aquaponics in Nairobi. It was cool seeing him light up, ask questions, and think about growing high-quality produce like this in Nairobi.

Kennedy and I feeding the fish

Kennedy and I feeding the fish

These were delicious

These were delicious

After a quick tour of the trout farm and dairy farm, we hit the road again by sundown and trekked the 2 1/2 hours back to Nairobi. Long day, but extremely interesting and informative.

I wanted to try mile straight from Bessie but even the Kenyans thought that was a bad idea...

I wanted to try milk straight from Bessie but even the Kenyans thought that was a bad idea…

Kenya Banking Crisis

I have no news about the state of Kenya’s banks. Only a personal crisis last week trying to get a bank account registered. Returning to Kenya makes me realize that this project is going to take the entire 9 weeks I am here (and maybe more) because nothing moves quickly…

My only goal last week was to set up a bank account so we could transfer money for our project. I went to the bank the day after I arrived and they told me I needed an introduction letter from an existing customer. No problem. I trudge back 2 miles the next day through mud and pouring rain (the buses fill up when it’s raining), and present my introduction letter, only to find that I need my visa receipt and I must open the account at the same branch as the existing customer. Incredibly frustrated that they did not divulge this information sooner, I go to the other branch the next day, only to find that I’m missing an official application form, which the existing customer must sign and stamp. After giving it a rest on Sunday and getting all of my documents together, I wait in line a mere 3 hours on Monday and finally open the account. Overly ambitious, I go for the home run.

“I want to apply for online banking while I’m here”

“Oh, that will take another 2 weeks sir” :)

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Back in Kenya

This post is a little late due to my recent lack of internet connectivity…

I arrived in Kenya yesterday. As I descend from the steps of the airplane, cool Nairobi air and the smell of exhaust greet me. “Ah, I’m back”. A bus to the temporary international arrivals terminal comes – the permanent one burned down last year and reconstruction hasn’t even begun yet. Although I am worried the most about immigration and customs, the former because I have been to Kenya on tourist visas now at least 6 times and the latter because I’m carrying live plant material (vegetable seeds), I breeze through both. I go outside to the passenger pick up area expecting to see the family I am staying with. They are nowhere in sight.

I look again and wait a few minutes, worrying slightly then letting my mind go into Jason Bourne mode. “I could hire a taxi since I know the way home… but I don’t have any Kenya shillings. I could pay someone to call Josephine for me… except I forgot to write down her number.” And so on. In the end, I ask the customer service booth to charge my Kenyan phone for me, buy credit, and hope that my SIM card still works. It does and I call Josephine, who says her husband, Pastor Brown, is on his way.

Halfway home, the road turns from nice tarmac to potholes. This is one of Nairobi’s many notoriously jammed roads and is not good for much besides an “African massage”. Dust rises into our open windows as dirt used to temporarily fill the potholes gets trampled again and again. It’s still better than when it rains and the streets turn to mud. We turn onto a smaller street that’s completely dark – the power has been going on and off all day. Dark figures dart in and out of our headlights – it’s a miracle more pedestrians don’t die crossing the road. Finally, we turn into an alley that will lead us to Pastor Brown’s home. The “road” looks more like a cross between an urban mountain biking trail and a war zone, rocks jetting out, trash littered everywhere and dogs roaming in packs.Harare

 

The house where I’m staying temporarily houses 3 teenage boys (Along with a younger boy, a university girl, and a mom with her bay). When I arrive, one of them is playing games on his ipad, another practicing the electric guitar, yet another giggling to YouTube videos and showing the other two his favorite. Josephine makes them carry my bags upstairs and we chat politely, but like any teenager, they are more interested in their gadgets. As I eat my late dinner, Josephine and I chat about our families, our project and what we are going to do the next day.

These are the sights and smells that let me know I’m really back. There are great things about Africa and there are difficult things. Will live here again? – It’s possible – but after being in Japan I realized that I feel more at home there. Is this place still really important to me? – Absolutely. What I have learned is that I can learn something from wherever I go, each time I go, especially when I go with open eyes and an open mind.

Keep reading to hear more about our aquaponics project in Kenya and please follow this blog to get updates!