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07 August 2017

Day 30 – A celebration of democracy or a well-known ending – elections are coming

On the 8th of August – tomorrow - there will be elections in Kenya. And unfortunately, many people are expecting riots on the 9th, there is hope mingled with fear, ethnic violence and also people saying that it has been blown out of proportion and everything will be well. So, we shall wait and see what wedensday will bring.
So, the story goes like this: The incumbent is Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta – son of the First president of Kenya. He is of Kikuyu ethnicity and his party is Jubilee. If he wins this will be his second and last term. (only two terms in Kenya). His rival is Raila Amolo Odinga, he is of Luo origin coming from Bondo, where I am residing right now, in the university named after his late father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga university for science and technology. His father was first vice president. He is of the ODM party that is part of the NASA coalition. There are 6 more rivals, but they are not expected to be relevant. 
There are many rumors on both candidates and how they “squander” the public funds. won't go into that it is tiering. 
Many people have high hopes for these elections and many also say they are rigged in advance and there is no way that the incumbent will lose because he won’t let it happen. It does not help the general atmosphere, when Chis Msando the ICT manager of the independent Electoral and boundaries commission was brutally murdered last week, and who in the past said that he has put in all the safeguards for a non-penetrable system. It is even more annoying that there are rumors now that the cause of murder is an illicit affair, which seems a strange coincidence to me.
The area in which I am is Luo territory so almost everyone is in favor of Odinga. They say, not only because he is a Luo, but because they believe that he will make a difference and move away from corruption so some people I talked to really believe that he will win and have high hopes. Having said that the polls disagree.
The elections have turned into an ethnic rivalry unfortunately, the case scenarios are like this, if Kenyatta wins and Odinga Losses there will most likely be rioting in this area and Kisumu county. If Kenyatta losses the rioting will most likely be in Nairobi. Other issues people fear, is that if you work in this area for example, but come from another county with another ethnicity, and if your group voted for Kenyatta you might face violence in Siaya county. That is the fear that I hear from some people and they have even made arrangements for sanctuary in the university if things turn bad. 

In any case it was stronly suggested to me not to leave the university premises from today until next Monday. So, I stocked on food. The U was kind enough to give me the key to a refrigerator and utensils for cooking. So, I will be cooking myself for the next 2 weeks, whilst under “curfew”. I actually don’t mind the curfew, since I have so much work to do, summarizing all my interviews and findings, which I have not even shared with you yet. You might think, I am just touring here, but that is not the case.

But whichever way it goes everyone I am talking to the optimist and the pessimist pray for a peaceful election and believe that the nation will get over this rivalry very soon.

05 August 2017

Day 25 – The Craziness of Transportation

        Kenya is very diverse with 46 M people (last census in 2009). So, as far as transportation goes there is everything here: bicycles, motorcycles and tuk-tuks, very old cars, but also new and luxury cars, I had been told that more cars are sold in Kenya per year, than in the whole of Europe???? There are buses and mini buses and everything in between. But most of all you see people walking very long distances, on rural roads but also on highways and inner-city roads. There are several reasons for the long-distance walking with the first being lack of means and cost saving but also, tradition, lack of transportation or just ease of movement. In Nairobi for example we preferred to walk to the university from the bus station, because if we took any mode of transportation it would take at least an hour because of traffic and by walking it only took us only half an hour. Since weather is quite mild it was actually nice. In the rural areas, people walk everywhere, to the water source for example, from 10 minutes to one hour. In my visits to people’s homes, I walk with them to their nearest water point and believe me 10 minutes back and forth, in the scorching sun, with a 20-liter load of water is not an easy task. Since I have arrived to Kenya, walking has become a significant part of my day, my Samsung step counter is very pleased.
 the ten min wakk to the open stream, and the stream below, this is cleaner water than usuall.

       Having said this, to really get by, I had to rent a car, Siaya is quite big and to get from one place to the other I need a car. A friend of Jackson allowed us to rent his car, for 30$ a day plus another 15-20$ for gas, which I am grateful for, since the renting prices at formal car rentals are between 60-100$ per day. Now you might ask why so expensive? Probably because the roads are really bad and every ride might result in some kind of breakage. And as sophisticated or as poor as your mode of transportation is, in the end everybody uses the same infrastructure and roads. The main roads are quite Ok, but most roads are under construction and this means that once started it can take several years to finish. And even if a road is paved it is seldom tarmacked, and even if it is tarmacked, within a short period, due to weather conditions and lack of maintenance, gigantic pot holes appear. This is really hazardous to any car. The places I visit can be accessed by dirt roads. These are bumpy, full of potholes, and eroded by rains, feeling like an amusement park ride. I am always surprised to cut into such a road and to see, village after village, market centers, schools and such all accessed by that kind of road.

       Since I am spending so much on inner transportation I decided to save the 72$ per way plane trip to Nairobi which takes 45 mins and take the bus, which takes 9 hours (hmmmmm). there are many different options in buses and almost anyone can get by, but on the other hand, some of the cheaper options (the ones in which you are cramped like sardines in a box) are not for me. Then there are the high-end buses such as the Easy Coach which are considered very safe and cost around $14. Not so expensive for us, but apparently quite expensive for most locals. The ride was not too bad, three stopes and nice scenery until we reached Nairobi and then it took 1 ½ hour to get across town. The way back was with the night bus, hoping to save time, but lost sleep, so was not so much fun.
In Nairobi, I slept in the suburbs at my hosts home Dr. David Ndegwah, we decided not to take his car into the city for obvious reasons, and that meant we had to drive in a Matatu. Before I explain that, just that you know, to enter Nairobi in the morning is an ordeal, so to surpass it, we woke up at 4, left the house at 5 and reached Nairobi at around 6:30 after the different stops. If we would have left at 6 or later, it would take us up to three hours. The Matatu – small shuttle buses (Mat means 3), the name is based on the fact that their ancestors originally carried 3 persons. This costs ~ 100 KES around $1. They are the main means of long-distance transportation in the inner cities, they are cramped, usually overloaded with people and cargo, stop anywhere and have a real bad reputation on the roads.
I will send a pictuer of a matatu later

        For the short-distances you take the Boda Boda, they got their name from being the ones to take people across the border, these are motorcycles, ride costs between 30 to 100 KES, depending the distance. I have taken one already, quite a freighting experience, they rarely use a helmet, and they are very fast. Known for their notorious riding and cutting, it was quite a freighting experience, not to mention the bumpers, which are situated around every 100 meters in urban areas, which are very important of course but are quite a challenge for any vehicle. They are also the main means of water transportation, they will bring 20L jerrycans of water to people. The jerrycan with water will usually cost 5KES, but the ride an extra 15KES, making the cost of water 4 times higher than it should be. 
or donkey
tommorow I will tell you all about the comming elections and my seige in the universty

30 July 2017

Day 20 - Stung by a bee

I am not pestered by mosquitos, as I wrote yesterday, I have all the measures to keep them away, but I was stung by a bee today and where…….in the shower, unbelievable. Thank god, I am not allergic, so I was calm, took the sting out, finished my cold shower, have to remind you guys, of my suffering…ha ha ha. And then wrote Eli a WhatsApp- he called me within 1 second, so my pains went away, with the help of Eli and fenistil gel. I came prepared. I have almost any medication, a small pharmacy in fact.
The crime scene

So today all about my day to day

Today is Sunday, when Gertrude and I clean the house, it amazing the amount of bugs I find everytime……. I really like Sunday, because I get to wake up late and after cleaning, I get to sit in clean room and summarize the meeting and interviews I have done in the week. I try to do it, that same day, but sometimes, I am just too tiered.

In the weekdays, I wake up early and between 7-8 we leave the house to different places around the county and come back by 6-7, not much to do when it is dark, hardly any lights so driving is also quite difficult. There are six sub counties, so we are trying to see the different establishments, households, villages in each sub-county. The whole county is not so big only 2,530.4 sq. km, but when it rains in Siaya town, it does not necessarily rain in Bondo town around ¾ of an hour drive away. I have between 4-5 meeting a day, some are spontaneous, some arranged. With a record of 11 one day, it was house to house. Jackson my assistant researcher, lovely caring and diligent person, usually makes the appointments the day before and the appointment is not made for a specific hour but for a time frame. The morning, afternoon or just the day. It is very different to my usual time schedule arrangements, but I find that it is very convenient here, because it allows for spontaneity. Some people we just ask, do you have time now and they usually say sure, Karibu – welcome, how are you?  And we might spend an hour or two and it would be fine and acceptable. Very convenient for me. I must say that people are being very cooperative and trying to assist. Water is a dire problem here and anything to do with it is taken seriously as well as my research.  So, they share quite a lot of information with me. and looking forward to getting a copy of the paper at the end and I am happy to share. I am hearing some fascinating stuff, from theories about world war four happening in Africa over water. To the Riparian law, that does not allow Kenya – a food insecure country - to use Lake Victoria for mass irrigation, because of a colonial law that protected the water of the Nile (mid you the Nile needs to be protected, but not like this, people are on the lake and cannot water their crops, so they wait for the rains. From self-criticism, about the Kenya culture to anger and disappointment with government and leader that quote “only look after their stomachs”,

I have No AC in the room, so I open the window, this of course lets the bugs in, since it is quite mild weather I am still ok, but come august I have to prepare and get a fan. This is my next task, I eventually found a water scooper in Nairobi. Real upgrade. Next time about transportation – quite fascinating. By the way – bee sting – still hurting.

 On the shores of Lake Victoria
Jackson Achuti - Lake Victoria

29 July 2017

Day 19 - Food and other stuff

So how is the food you ask. Two answers for that: first it is not bad at all and second, I have an arrangement with the university caterer that they feed me. So, since someone is cooking for me on a regular basis that keeps me calm. I don’t eat meat, so not much choice, but I eat on a regular basis Ogally – a maize dish prepared like sticky rice, this is eaten with some kind of sauce, other starches are rice, or chapatti and from time to time I am surprised with spaghetti. For protein it is either eggs, fish, lentils or beans. And veggies are a salad, not bad at all, I supplement it with the avocado I bought in the market. Or saquma wiki – a kind of Kale that is grown here that is very nutritious, and many farmers grow it because it has a high return. Last night I bought a pineapple, 5 shekels, was very good. I usually eat my dinner with my roommate Gertrude Yogback.
 Now to less Fun things: Malaria – Siaya county and the whole western area is considered a Malaria zone. Every night, at 22:00, you have to take it at the same time, I take my Melarone pill, then I fix my net, which I am very grateful for it. Jackson my research assistant just got Malaria, last Thursday he seemed not his usual, perky, and energetic self, he started feeling not so good, he thought he might have a fever and had achy joints. On Friday he came to work, but I could see that something is wrong, he even left in the middle of a meeting and went to the car to rest and then when we came back he went to the doctor and was informed that he got malaria, this is his second time in seven years. He is one of the lucky ones because he has health insurance from his job and supplement insurance from the university since he is a student. So, he got an injection and then the pills. The side effects of the medication are weakness, dizziness and sweating. Two days have passed since the medication and he is still weak. But being very brave and does not want in any way to disturb the research. On Monday, he was in perfect condition, treatment works very well, if you take it immediately, if he had waited even a day, it could have been much worse. We will see how he is tomorrow. So hence the pills and the net and I supplement it with a terrible mosquito replant spray, that I think is affecting my lungs, but at least I feel safe. I am even luckier than Jackson, because I have all these supplements to ensure I don’t get it. Melorone is very expensive, but even if the cost is bearable, you have to take it every day and that is not so logical for the average Kenyan. This is of course not the first time I have seen malaria, but when it is so close it makes you think.

27 July 2017

Pictuers from the house

The living room library
The kitchen
The guest house
The cleaning space

Day 16 one determined village

So very tired. But could not help it and wanted to share with you my day's experience. It was quite fascinating on two levels personal and academic. On the personal level. I walked today from 09:30 till 18:30. Probably more than 10 km. Within a village. Just walking from house to house. I did not eat and was not hungry. On the academic side. I was talking to people. The rich the poor the widows and youth. They talked about their water issues and how the local water company was formed from a community based organization. And practically the whole village has access to water from communal taps and even 30 percent have water to the home. That is the dream of all the rest. This is very unusual for Siaya and for Kenya as a whole. Quite remarkable. The story is about struggle and persistence and how the community eventually got their water because of a group that was determined. Fascinating.

23 July 2017

Day 13 - A home away from home

How are you?
I am doing very well, better than anticipated.
It has been 13 days in Kenya and I have had so many different, strange to me, and exciting experiences. My supervisor told me in the beginning of my stay here: One adopts to anything within three days. She is so right. That is what has happened. So, as you know I was fortunate enough to get a room at the university Guest house. The university is called Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology – JOOUST. It is named after the first vice president of Kenya who comes from Bondo, the town where I am residing, in Siaya county the county that I am researching. And his son Ralla Odinga, is the current opposition leader running for presidential elections on August 8th, against the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta the son of the first president of Kenya. People are warning me that there might be rioting, but I have no worries the university is very safe, security guards everywhere – that might be a reason to be concerned on the one hand, why do they need so many guards, but it is general practice in Kenya and coming from Israel it is natural for me. More about the elections another time.
In my daily routine, I try to do everything as local as possible, but my limits are eating foods from market stalls, cooking or drinking water out of a tap. Although I must say the water in JOOUST is very clean, they have their own treatment plant that supplies water to around 9000 people in any given day and it is clean. Tried it myself.
So, I was thinking that every day I will write about a different life subject. 
Today the house the room and everyday issues.
I live here with my roommate Gertrude she is a young Ph D. student from Cameroon, who is researching the biophysical aspects of the water here and comparing it to Cameroon, so we have similar interests and she joins me from time to time on my tours. We have made a home for ourselves here with a routine. 
The guest house is a nice compact structure, with a living room – which is currently a storage storage room for books from the library – so we cannot use it, kitchen – has a kerosene cooker, sink and storage, no refrigerator, Gertrude cooks here, I preferred to get my meals from the university caterer, there is only so much that I can do………these are on the ground floor with a guest toilet and an exit to a garden, where we dry our laundry. The upstairs has two bedrooms and a bathroom - no hot water, so I shower everyday with cold - told that it is good for the circulation, not convincing..... The inside seemed very humble to me in the first day, but touring around the area, I came to realize that I am truly lucky and other homes are much humbler. So, after a thorough cleaning, life was good again. 
Every Saturday we do the laundry, Gertrude taught me some hand washing tips and on Sunday we clean the house. We in Israel, are used to having our homes sparkling clean, here it is different, you have to start understanding that it is really living with nature. There are bugs, bees, (hardly seen any flies), but many insects that I don’t recognize and ants of course they are everywhere and actually you cannot control it so you try to do the best. I am starting to understand. Monday through Friday, I leave for interviews and go to visit people in rural areas. Next time about the food. could not download pictuers, so none today.
good night!